So Cold Tour, Weeks 2 & 3

Week two started with a drive from Basalt, CO to Davenport, IA. We broke it up into two days and spent the night in Lincoln, NE. That was our first experience with single-digit temperatures on this tour - the van thermometer got down to three degrees, and I never saw it get lower than that (perhaps it doesn't go any lower?) Three whole degrees! Three entire degrees. The fog on the inside of the van windows froze and turned into frost. When we got to Davenport the next night, we looked for restaurants in the area - Jon Shaw found a Mexican place called Nally's Kitchen. We were pleasantly surprised! Pretty authentic Mexican food that held its own against Portland offerings.

The next morning we had a recording session for Paste Magazine & Daytrotter. They live-streamed the video and audio of our performance in the studio. It was mostly an exposure gig, as Paste has a pretty sizable following, but we also now have a recent live performance video to share. Before we got into the studio, this super wound up guy handed us two six-packs from a company he ran. We were pleasantly surprised until we learned they were energy drinks, not craft beer. He reassured us, "yeah man, they're not even that great, but you can mix 'em with alcohol and make cocktails and stuff!" He handed us his card (he goes by "Chopper") and bounded off. It was called Rude Boy Punch, and the cans sat in the van unopened until they froze and exploded red syrup slush under our bed.

The Paste session went well. They had some vintage keyboards for me to use - given the songs we chose, I decided to use their vintage Wurlitzer electric piano. It was a 146B, a kind I hadn't played before. It sounded a lot like the 200A (the model I own) and only had one or two noticeable issues. The set we chose was Pipe Dreams, Happier Place, a new tune we're calling Litty Committee, and Chuck (named for Charles Bradley). Pipe Dreams is based on Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night (also covered by Nirvana). Happier Place is one we've been playing for a while now, and just added a verse for Evan on this tour. Litty Committee has sort of an 80s pop tune vibe, and Chuck was written in part at a music festival in Bishop, CA last year.

It was a good experience, my only complaints are that the sound wasn't synced properly, and the keyboards were real low in the mix. It was recorded live to two tracks, so we can't go back and adjust things.

We had planned to return to Nally's for dinner, but the videographer at Daytrotter had several suggestions for Mexican food. It turns out he runs a blog and has tried all of the offerings. We ended up getting massive burritos at La Finca.

After the Daytrotter session, we loaded our gear into the Redstone Room at River Music Experience. RME is a very cool space which is part bar and venue, part museum, and part lesson and practice studios. Last year we played between the RME building and another one in the courtyard outdoors. Instead of that muggy heat, it was blanketed in snow. The band before us was a really young group - I wanna call them "kids," which shows I'm getting older - called 35th and Taylor. Vocalist Anna Taylor fronts the group; they've got a hard rock kind of Black Keys vibe going on. They have been a band for longer than us, as they started in middle school, and recently opened for Bon Jovi at a stadium in Chicago. They're goin' places, alright! The venue was a nice space with good sound, but unfortunately it was not well-attended.

The next day was a day off in Chicago. On arrival we found some more food - Rex Italian Foods, a spot visited by Guy Fieri. We have a strange fascination with Guy in this band which I can't explain. I guess it's that his sense of style is so garish and uncool, but he picks out the greasiest, saltiest food that we all love. Rex was all bread, cheese, and meats, and it was all delicious.

The next morning we had another recording session - this was with Steve McKeever of Hidden Beach Recordings, a label that has worked with numerous heroes of ours including Jill Scott. I can't fully divulge the details of how we crossed paths with Steve, as we're contractually obligated to not talk about it, but I can say it was from a TV show we filmed that should be airing sometime in March. The studio is on the 40th floor of a Chicago apartment building, owned by Ivan Dupee (Dupee Productions). Kareem Wells shares the space with him - the "Bar Mitzvah King" of Chicago. Seriously, the dude is booked 18 months out if you're looking to throw a Bar Mitzvah. The project we were there for is a series called Unwrapped, which is a series of instrumental covers of hip-hop tunes with soloists. Past performers include Marcus Miller. In fact, another bassist that worked with Miles Davis showed up while we were in the studio - Richard Patterson, who played in the final iteration of Miles' band, and currently plays for Boz Scaggs. That was a deep hang.

After the session (which included too much deep dish pizza), we headed to our gig that night at Bourbon On Division. It had potential, but the owner got cold feet due to low ticket pre-sale numbers and pulled the opener. Bad idea. The opener was a local group, which probably would have had good draw - and usually pre-sale is low for local groups because the fans and friends just come out and don't bother with purchasing advance tickets. The opener ended up playing a free show elsewhere that night - can't say we blame them, we'd probably have done the same - so we were left playing for maybe 20 people. Still, they seemed into it, and the whole crew from the studio came out and stayed the whole night. We'd even gotten a "polite bail" from some of them (oh, I might be able to make it later, etc). That night Terry slept in the van to make sure it didn't get towed. At some point people from the city tapped on the window and told him he had to move it, so that worked.

The next morning we stopped for some Vietnamese food on the way out of town. We parked in a little strip mall lot instead of on the street. We got back from breakfast and... where's the van? It got towed. Instantly. Most of the businesses in that area watch the lot and get a cut if they report a tow. We had figured the trailer might make it too hard to bother towing, but that's not how it worked out. We got everything back, but it cost us $738.50, making the real cost of that Vietnamese food about $150 each. Still, it was better than the break-in that happened on our last Chicago trip. We headed out to Madison, WI.

In Madison we played at a place called High Noon Saloon opening for a band called Pho. We were the second of three bands and only played about an hour. Honestly we'd prefer to play longer - we drove all the way out from Portland, and want to share the music we've worked hard on! Pho delivered some tight instrumental funk, and the place was pretty full. I was exhausted, so I went to get a burrito and go to bed.

The next morning we ate at a spot called The Old Fashioned in Madison, which has some of the best fried cheese curds we've ever eaten. We ordered three baskets. "Oh no, what have we done?" "We did A Fat Thing." That night the gig was in St. Paul at a spot called The Turf Club. Again, we were second of three acts opening for Pho, and I think we were able to extend the set a little bit. Another good draw! Unfortunately, the sound engineer really didn't know what he was doing. It's more crucial than ever to have a competent sound tech now that Tom and Sarah have in-ear monitors. You can really mess your hearing up if the tech doesn't know what they're doing, and we're worried that may have happened to Sarah. Random stuff was getting turned up and she got blasted pretty bad at one point, and her ear hurt for the rest of the tour. She was also getting vertigo, which may have been a sign of eardrum damage. It's hard to say, since she also had a pretty bad cold and congestion, but it was worrisome to say the least. The set went well, at least, and the crowd seemed to dig it.

Following the Turf Club, we had a day off in Minneapolis. I took the van for an oil change, and a few of us got dinner at a place that served cheese-filled burgers. Not cheeseburgers - the patty is stuffed with cheese. It was honestly too much - we had out-meat-and-cheesed ourselves.

The next gigs were in Montana, so we drove to Bismarck, ND to split the drive up. Again, bitter cold - and I don't think the temperature went above freezing at any time after Denver. First up was the Pub Station in Billings. It's a converted bus station that we'd played at before. They'd done a lot of work since our last visit, adding a whole second stage and performance space. It used to be a large unfinished area - I think there were bus shops there. We played the same smaller stage as before, but enjoyed a much better turnout than the previous show. It wasn't sold out, but for a Tuesday night in Billings, we were stoked. They were engaged and responsive, and the venue had a nice green room for us to hang out in.

Following Billings was Bozeman, at the Filling Station, a venue we've hit at least twice before. Honestly, the place is a little on the dumpy side of things. I'm pretty easy to please, but it always smells like mildew, there's no door on the men's room or on the stall, and this time the roof was dripping water onto my keyboards. Then again, it was pretty good money and there were lots of fans there! It was the closest spot to Big Sky that we hit on this tour - Big Sky was the first date of our last pass through Montana, and it was one of those nights that unexpectedly went off! Maybe half the people in Bozeman had driven 50-something miles to see us.

The next night was another Montana date. We were at a bar in Whitefish, MT - a spot we'd hit on our last big tour at an outdoor festival. This time we played in a bar called the Great Northern. It was probably the low point for me - I was exhausted, and the crowd didn't really seem with us. It was our longest set yet, which was actually kind of fun - we got to pull out tunes we hadn't played in a long time. They provided us with an apartment above the gig and a hotel room, and we got to leave everything packed up onstage overnight, loading it in the morning.

Things really picked up for the last two shows of the tour. We left Whitefish for Missoula, where we were playing the Top Hat, and visiting one of our favorite food stops, Notorious P.I.G. BBQ. They were out of our favorite menu item, the "burnt ends" (a brisket cut), but still had other favorites. We love the place so much that we put all the employees on the guest list, and they threw in a free half-rack of ribs for us to enjoy later.
Top Hat always takes good care of us with good food and drink. The last time we played there was a little weird - it was supposed to be just us, but they managed to double-book us with another band, so we split the night. This time it was just us, and I was a little concerned about draw given all the other dead nights we'd had, but wow - people packed the place! We played two sets, again getting to do a few tunes we'd hardly played on this tour.

The last night was in Sandpoint, ID - we had no idea what to expect. I don't think any of us had been to Sandpoint, even Tom (who's from Moscow, ID). It's a ski town, so there's actually a lot of money there, and a very nice venue called The Hive. The front-of-house sound engineer was saying that the owner holds the patents for the case of the iPod Classic, and has more than a few dollars to spare. I guess the space used to be exposed brick, but now the exposed brick is actually acoustic treating material that looks like brick. Pat (front-of-house) said they probably spent a million dollars on sound treatment. The capacity was 850, but it felt more like a 350 to 450 room. Great sound onstage, and a super receptive crowd. I guess there was some event on the mountain, fireworks or something, so the crowd came a little late. I wore a Che Guevara t-shirt that I'd picked up in seventh grade because I thought it looked cool. Now I have a more nuanced understanding of him. I got the full range of responses - stepping offstage, the first guy I encountered said, "who's that on your shirt?" I told him, and he didn't seem to have heard of Che. The second guy said something like, "man you were killing it up there, in that rad shirt too, yada yada" and the last one, and old white dude, said "for a socialist you play keyboard pretty well!"

See ya next time,

Snacks

So Cold Tour, Week 1

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.
    Game changer.
    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,

Snacks

Southwest & Home

Hey y'all. It's been a great run so far. We had a lot of fun in unexpected towns like Big Sky, MT and Jacksonville, IL - we've met so many great people and experienced so much love. We saw Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial, Chicago, Kansas City, and the amazing scenery driving from Albuquerque to Phoenix, where we're playing tonight at Crescent Ballroom. Only big setback was having our van broken into in Chicago - Sarah and Ben had their bags & laptops stolen. That sucked. Well, onward and upward!