It's strange, but we were looking forward to spending some time in the van. We keep using the phrase "game changer" regarding our new ride (named Van Diesel, Falcor, or "The Ol' Girl" depending who you talk to). It certainly has done that. This is our first week-plus tour in our new Ford Transit van - Ford's equivalent to the Sprinter. Our old one, Ludwig Van Baandthoven, was an Econoline 350 - the classic 15-passenger "church van." You couldn't stand in it. Lying down was pretty uncomfortable, but sleeping helped pass the time. We had some much-needed upgrades done to our new one - namely, the seats. The standard ones might be fine to take you to the airport or something, but for long drives, they're too small and hard. If you lie down, the seatbelt buckles dig into your sides unless you put a pillow or several rags over them. We took out two rows of seats and installed two reclining minivan chairs, and replaced the back row with a sofa bench that folds into a bed.
We hauled all the way to Salt Lake City on day one. Sarah was behind the wheel the whole time, and I think we still owe her something for that. Still, after so many 12-hour drives over the past couple years, it's pretty doable. I wrote much of this on another long haul, from Basalt, CO (10 degrees F) to Lincoln, NE (3 degrees F). After some Mexican food in Salt Lake, we went to sleep. The next morning we drove to Laramie, WY where we played at UW Laramie. Not at all a bad way to start a tour! I've said it before and I'll say it again, a little goes a long way for hospitality. A veggie platter with a couple dips and something to drink that isn't garbage beer, and we'll be pretty happy. But give us a bunch of local menus to order off of, some coffee, and enough hotel rooms for us to each get our own bed? Uh, can we play again tomorrow night?
The set felt solid, especially for the first night of a tour. At this point all of the material has been played before an audience, and even the newest tunes are pretty solidified, though we often tweak small things. The first night always has a couple hiccups where people miss an entrance or forget a section. The crowd was attentive and enjoying themselves, and they filled the room out nicely. About all we can ask, really!
Night two was in Fort Collins, CO at Hodi's Half Note. It's a club the band has played a few times, and it's the only date we missed after Luddy's transmission gave out in SLC last year. Our memories aren't particularly fond, as the last time we were there A Band That Shall Remain Nameless didn't want to share equipment or even make an effort to move their stuff around onstage, leaving all seven of us to set up in front of, behind, and generally in the middle of all their gear. Honestly, this time was not much better. The draw was not great at all, and the sound engineer was completely checked out. We're pretty sure he turned the house volume down to spite us. Weather was partially to blame for the draw; it was a cold snap and a lot of people stayed in. We almost never cut songs from the set but there was just no point in wearing ourselves out. Sarah's trying to really take care of her voice, and the new in-ear monitor system is really helping (when the sound tech does the bare minimum), but less singing is always the best option. Even with the cut songs, nobody on stage was checked out. That's something I've noticed about this band from the beginning: even an empty room will still get our best effort.
Night three, Denver. Our own night at Cervantes! There are two performance halls there - last time we played we were in the smaller room (The Other Side), the first of... five acts? Six? We were a last-minute addition to a sort of mini-festival, and opened for some guy with a laptop (but hey, the owners heard us and loved it and wanted us back). I think they had the doors open between the main room and our room for that show, which wasn't the case on Friday. Between that and the cold snap, the crowd was thinner than we'd hoped. Still, it's a fun room with a good sound system (and pro sound engineers), and it felt like an accomplishment to be the headlining act. The other two acts were several notches above most openers. The first was Wonderlic, a kind of jammy-folky outfit that in some ways echoed the Dead. Interesting to have one guy on electric mandolin (exclusively, I think). The second act really won us over: Backup Planet. I bonded with their keyboardist (also named Ben) before the set - he had a very similar setup to mine, plus a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano. Hauling one of those around is no joke, they're a good 175 lbs or so. The set was heavy, heavy psychedelic funk. I almost wondered how they'd keep the energy high, as they seemed to be putting everything out there from song one. They managed to! Our approach has always been to build sets with arcs to them, sprinkling in some slower or lower-energy tunes as kind of a palate cleanser. But if you can keep it balls-to-the-wall for 60 minutes... hell yeah. They even covered a Rage Against The Machine tune (Bulls On Parade). We're hoping it's the start of a good band friendship - it's a good pairing stylistically (we're similar, but not stepping on eachothers toes playing the exact same bag). We also seem to play different parts of the country, so it's great to have a sort of partner-band with a draw when you come to new markets. We've got that going with a couple bands, including Midtown Social (who, in fact, bought Luddy and Trailer Swift from us after we got the new van).
Night four - Basalt, CO. I was wary of this one. People in Denver asked where our next date was, and when we told them, they all said, "Where the hell are you gonna play in Basalt?" The name of the venue is The Temporary, which does not instill confidence - but it's run by the same people that run Belly Up in Aspen, which always pays artists well and takes great care of them. The drive out I-70 was beautiful, if a bit treacherous from the snow and ice (it was about 19 degrees leaving Denver). We came in from the snow and checked the room out - nice space, about 100 to 150 capacity. The sound engineer looked familiar, and we realized he'd run sound for us in Ridgeway, CO at the Sherbino Theater about a year ago. We were in good hands. The walls looked like flat concrete, which is not good acoustically. Flat, hard surfaces don't absorb any sound, which means things echo like crazy and makes stage sound generally a pain. On closer inspection, it was actually painted drywall. Between that, the curtains on the stage, and the acoustic foam they had sprayed the ceiling with, it was one of the best rooms we've played in a while. In every sense, really! Again, our own hotel rooms, plenty of provided food and drink, and an energetic and enthusiastic crowd! These small towns love their music. We all hope to play there again on our way through Colorado.
We also played in Davenport, IA, but that'll have to wait until the next post.
Until next time,