Sunday, September 23, 2007

GC / EC Tour Diary #5

When we arrived at the Grape St. in Philly, we were scolded for being 15 minutes early. I have never, in my 42 years of touring, been scolded for being early to a load-in. It was fascinating. Santi's mom brought us two huge boxes of italian/argentinian food, utensils, drinks, and salad. I asked her if she was single. There were these stuffed croissant-like things called "Veggie Empanadas" that made it hard for me to concentrate on the task at hand. At one point, I squirreled up in the corner of a bathroom stall, jamming them in my face while they called my name over and over again from stage. Looking back, those Empanadas may be the single most hindering thing to my career as a tour manager - I've dealt with violently drunk band members, whorey women bumrushing the mic mid-set, smoking engines, misplaced hotel rooms, and disappearing promoters. But I've never had to choose between the road and Empanadas. The bouncer (who seemed to be on his post a bit early, I noted) told Santi's parents that they could come in and hang out for sound check, because they weren't going to be able to stay for the show. Also, they were his PARENTS. Once sound check began, Santi was nowhere to be found. He finally came rushing in upset. Apparently that same meat-head bouncer, who probably knew nothing of his mother's wizardry in the Empanadas circuit, told his parents they weren't allowed in because they weren't on the guest list. This is FIVE MINUTES AFTER HE SAID THAT THEY, THE GUITARIST'S PARENTS, COULD WATCH THE SOUND CHECK (and 3 hours before doors open). Now - to be fair, there's a good chance that he'd misspoken five minutes earlier. It could just be a miscommunication - "you say tomato, I say tomaaato." We hear, "sure, your parents, whom you haven't seen for two years, can sit in the BIG EMPTY ROOM and watch sound check for a few minutes," but maybe he actually said, "I'm a doosh." All kidding aside, it was a crappy, unprofessional, power-tripping thing to do. That same bouncer was entirely sarcastic when I tried to supply him with a guest list. This is all before the show, mind you, so we hadn't even bombed yet! Maybe I misheard him. Maybe it wasn't sarcasm... but where I come from, when the tour manager is discussing business with you, you have the decency to remove the other bouncer's genitals from your fat ignorant jowls and articulate. You also wear sleeves.
Anyways, shut up about them for five seconds so I can tell you about the show...
I played after two blues rock bands that seemed to be overly familiar with the Phily circuit. The room was fairly empty, but attentive. I remember doing a really trippy version of 90 East. Usually when I do a track, I take a second and try to consciously steer myself back to where I was when I wrote the lyrics, so I can address them properly and honestly. But that night, the protagonists, antagonists, and recipients of all the songs were transformed into Empanadas. My hands shook as I sang love song after love song to those tiny pastry pockets of magic.

Later that night we all camped out on the floor of Sheel's cousin's apartment, after venturing out on the town for a minute. I delicately stored the remaining food in his fridge, and then we watched the Justin Timberlake HBO special. I asked Dua, "If you could touch any part of Justin Timberlake's body, which would it be?" He got real quiet, either because he couldn't decide or because he was afraid to face his true emotions.

The next morning we lounged around on the internet and continued to downsize the food supply. At 5pm, when we finally went to retrieve the RV from the lot across the street, I got in a fight with the lot attendant, in a manner not unlike Larry David. Truthfully, we were completely in the wrong and owed the guy $50 for taking up two spots with this hulking stench-ridden mass of steel. But the band, never missing an opportunity to question my managerial loyalties, insisted that I prove myself as the "TM With The Most BM" in the trial-by-haggling they call "Jewing-it-up" [I did of course point out that this was an offensive term and a bad stereotype but they quickly pointed out that bass player Graham is Jewish, and he is always haggling and I really couldn't argue with that]. So I fabricated, gesticulated, exacerbated, Californicated (that's when you shave a tone-deaf monkey, pump him full of heroin, and have him write preschool-level lyrics to a song featuring the hook repeated eight or more times) until this man offered us half off. By the end of the "transaction" we were both red in the face, but he was Indian so that could've been his normal state but then see even as I just thought that, I offended myself.

Our next stop was New Brunswick, NJ, which turned out to be a very high point on the tour for me. The venue was not unlike the basement of an alcoholic and possibly incontinent grandparent: thin wood panelling walls, weird dark corners with couches, a dart board, low ceilings with cement floors. I've played rooms like this in places like Hartford, CT, Worcester, MA, Springfield, MA, backwoods NY. The sound system was disproportionately large for the room, and was surprisingly clear. The sound guy was very kind to us. I had one of my best shows there, because my music sounded so clear, and I was such an oddball on the show. People were attentive, responsive, and polite, even as I berated the JT special as "unrehearsed, low budget, and talentless." We closed my set with a cover of Phil Collin's In The Air Tonight where the band slams in on the big fill. People responded just as they should under the barrage of roto-toms and drop D power chords. My man RP, who I've since resolved most of my issues with, brought it MVP style on keys and guitar simultaneously. The headliner, Thing One, turned out to be one of the most pleasing acts I've seen in months. It's funny how you can spend an entire tour publicly bashing New Jersey, and then you realize it's a little slice of heaven in a way. Hmmm.

We drove all night to arrive in The Hamptons at 4:30am at Miss Murda's beach house. She stayed up and welcomed us under these glorious stars. Graham welcomed her to some of his horrendous gas, and the whole process got awkward.

I was the first to wake up, so I ventured out alone to this long pier and watched the ocean like a rich person. I tried to meditate, but I couldn't shut my brain up. We were close to home and I missed Lumas like the dickens. I'd spoken to him on the phone every few nights and he'd seemed more and more detached. Looking back, he didn't really even say anything to me, just groanin and squeakin that stupid caterpillar toy he'd stolen. I remember looking out at that crazy expanse of Atlantic and thinking, "this crazy world can tear a good relationship apart if you let it." I was wearing really blowy clothes - thin white cotton stuff that the wind was really taking charge of. The top few buttons of my shirt were unbuttoned, and I had really nice teeth. It was kind of like an ad for Fruit of the Loom or maybe Viagra.

So then we frolicked all day. I capsized Rob, who was riding in a Kayak that he insisted was a single-seater. I told him that "if we both remove our swimsuits, there's more than enough room for two in this thing" but he was afraid of his emotions so I tipped him. We played with Hannah, the attention-sponging 7 year old daughter of our host. There was one point where most of the guys in EC were playing with Barbies on the beach with her. I tried to get a picture, but they destroyed the evidence. If I disappear, I want you, the reader, to carry on the truth with you and bring it to light about this.

We arrived at the venue sunburned but on time. We had a leisurely sound check, played some pool, snacked. My set that night was the worst on the entire tour. Like a harbinger of death, a slovenly drunk woman interrupted my sound check to ask if she could make an announcement on the mic. She wanted to let everyone know that it was Tanya's wedding party and everyone had to help get her "fucked up." Then she started banging on my keyboard. Not in a "I-know-how-to-play-the-Star-Wars-Theme" kind of way, more in a "my-hands-are-beef-slabs-that-I-wield-like-I-just-grew-them." I asked her to leave. I performed a lengthy and beat heavy version of Chameleon, which the wedding party seemed to enjoy. When I began to build the beatbox loop for 90 East, a clean cut man in a nice suit yelled, "Get a drummer! Get a band!" I let the beat continue and stared at him for a while. When I finished 90 East, which most people seemed to be ok with, and began to play 2007, another man in another nice suit yelled, "Last song!" Something in me kind of snapped. I was thinking, "how can an adult, who has a job, wears a suit, and live in the Hamptons, be so disrespectful to someone who is putting it "out there" like this? Were these people born with manners, and the alcohol deleted them? Or is it precisely because they live in the Hamptons, mostly likely had privileged upbringings, and suity jobs that they behave like heathens? I left the stage mid sentence. The irony was too thick for my fragile brain - 2007 is a song from my new album about giving up music because of a lack of impact and the over-saturation of what to me sounds like meaningless music. And I couldn't complete it because these inebriated frat-slappers were shouting "Black Eyed Peas!"

I went upstairs to the green room, cursing myself and these people and weddings in general, and took a swig of Cranberry Juice. I calmed down, went back down onto the stage, stopped the music, and declared that we would now play Phil Collins. We did, people clapped, whatever. A few minutes later, EC began a solid 1 hour set of all their hits. At the time it was possibly the best I'd seen them play. After that first hour or so, the bar manager asked me if they could take a fifteen minute break, then come back out and do a fifty minute set to close out the night. So they did. But after fifteen minutes and one bottle of Jameson, the band had somehow transformed into the Sex Pistols. They staggered through some impromptu funk jam, and then fell face first into a Snoop Dog cover. Salim had this goofy grin on his face as he abandoned his guitar and began "rapping." Noni and I looked on in terror as the band, who'd spent a majority of the tour trying to buck their "hip-hop party band" reputation, sweat out buckets to secure it. It was both strangely depressing and incredibly amusing. The dance floor thinned. Those that did remain were a mishmash of different stereotypes: a fratty guy swaddled in sports paraphernalia groping a sixty year old chain-smoking woman-of-the-sea type thing, both completely oblivious to the beat (and possibly each other), a 400 lb banker physically wooing a pencil-thin librarian, a cowboy with a stewardess... that sort of thing. Things got weirder and weirder... Miss Murda was sort of standing on stage for most of the set looking nowhere while Sheel played the drums like an Animal (literally, Animal from the Muppets). It was a mess. A good tour manager probably wouldn't have let this happen. But I felt like an even BETTER tour manager would make sure there were photos taken. So I went out to the RV and rummaged around for a digital camera.

Before I could document the band's transformation into aural feces, the set was over. The band staggered around, asking me how bad it was. I told them I was in the bathroom the whole time, talking to RP's girlfriend on video chat.

We rolled out at 5:30am... or tried to. Santi stumbled around somewhere in the house looking for shoes and his soul while I tried to figure out how many ferry's exactly we needed to get through to get home and make the GPS speak in that British accent I like. Three. We took three ferry's. On the second one, Graham "Jewed-it-up" with the ferryman, who, it turns out, plays a very neat bass guitar and so gave us a 50% discount. I fell asleep parked in line for the final ferry, nearly missing our chance at getting home early. Graham Jewed it up yet again by claiming that there were only 2 people in the RV. Since it was 6:30am, our grip on reality was probably slippery, so we covered the unconscious bodies of Eclectic Collective with couch cushions, bags, and Empanadas (that part was my idea - if we got searched, they would be distracted by the tasty pastries and forget all about the fact that we'd completely lied about our cargo. After a few of those they'd probably even buy a CD!). It turns out we didn't get searched, we just rolled on. Graham and I went inside and got a pathetic ferry breakfast and cashed out on some benches. A few hours later we were home.

We landed in Brighton to find our cars still parked on the street where we left them 3 weeks prior, unscathed. My car keys, however, were no longer in my bag. The band quickly dispersed to clean up and meet their prospective girlfriends with their pathetic tails between their huge thighs, Dua. I used Graham's AAA to get my car unlocked, and my spare key was not there either. Went to a friend's house to shower and eat, then went back to the RV to roll out to the Paradise.

The Paradise show has gone down as one of my top 3 favorite solo shows of all time. I barely remember making music, I just remember dancing a lot. Weird dancing too - like a crossbreed of the Bill Cosby dance and some Salsa steps... and maybe Elaine from Seinfeld. The audience was wonderfully attentive and respectful, the crew and sound was impeccable, and my equipment all worked. It was the antithesis of The Hamptons... or I was just inspired - that's what it is! On many nights of the tour my improvisation didn't feel very inspired. I felt short on ideas, or limited by the songs instead of set free by them. But at the Paradise it all flipped, and I was finally in charge of my music again. I played first, so a good 1/2 of the total attendance did not see me, but I felt really good about what I did in front of those that were there. On a side note, I’ve never been approached by so many Gruvis Malt fans at one show... I stopped counting after 22 people mentioned having watched me play with GM in their youth. Started making me feel kind of old at some point, but I appreciated the kind words. Overall, it's become a routine at pretty much every show, I have to explain to at least a few kids how we released a record in 2006 (that most often they've never heard of) and decided not to tour because we're doing all these other things. That's the part where they tell me if we played another show they know a lot of people that would go and then I do this stupid mini lesson in GM fanbase demographics and tour economics and they eventually concede, "true... true... but it'd be cool!" and I say, "yes, yes it would."
Eclectic Collective headlined the show like gangbusters. There was Beatlemania when Noni and Dua did a delayed entrance. I have not seen a show that loud since I saw Glassjaw. It was ill. Luckily, people calmed down when I got up to do You Put the V4G!N& in the Pon Pon and Bad Rabbits with them. They got so calm, they talked about the drinks they were holding. Loudly. It was still very very dope, and by the end of Bad Rabbits pants were missing everywhere.
Even though I'd seen EC in Boston 3 times before, this was very different. I could understand why the tour would be rough for them, going from rags to riches in a way, even though all audiences generally respond really well to them, it's never like the hometown crazies. I tried to sell them my "maintain a really tiny fan base everywhere so you never get let down" approach, but they didn't see the genius in it.
After the show we hugged alot. Lumas was there and our reunion was joyous. My friend brought a key from my house so I could drive home. I nodded off a few times on the way, but somehow fell into my own bed at 4am. Spooned Lumas like a champ, and woke up at 2pm still glowing from my newfound dance career.

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