Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let's Wrap This Up: "Skeeter Pomeroy" Tour '11, Part 10: "Sorry, Someone's Fucking in the Bathroom"

Here i sit, in front of my computer in what will soon be my former apartment, slowly allowing my life to return to a state of post-tour normalcy. I've got a lot to deal with this week--i need to move the rest of my stuff to the new place; i need to figure out when i can go visit Dad; somewhere in there i have to get back to that little annoyance of trying to find a job. But for now, i'm chilling out, petting my cat, and putting the finishing touches on our 2011 tour journal, because i know all twelve of you who've been reading can't wait.

Lansing, MI - Mac's

Paulding/Arson/Sleeperhold/Imp Walker/Defenestrate/Telescope/NMM

By the time the show began at Mac's on Friday, many of us were wiped out and cranky. The Wizard was snapping at people and many of us needed naps. I blame a combination of things, but the one thing we were most excited for--leisure time--was probably a huge factor. Thanks to the 90-minute drive from Detroit to Lansing, we had lots of time to waste for the first time all tour, and we opted to spend it in East Lansing among the college dudebros. Record stores and comic book shops were descended upon while Yale took to a coffee shop to do some day job work. At one point i met up with him and overdosed on the most amazing of mango smoothies. After two weeks of just staying afloat, health-wise, my body reacted to such a brazen intake of nutrition by slightly altering my consciousness to the point where i couldn't tell if i was in a food coma or if i was tripping balls on vitamins and nutrients. Add in a stop at a pita joint on the main drag and my only option was a power nap while the rest of the gang watched Punch-Drunk Love in the bar. Fortunately, the brief 15-minute crash was just what i needed.

Still, it felt like the prevailing attitude among some in our little party was "let's just get these last two shows over with," which is a dangerous frame of mind to be in. It screws those bandmates of yours who are actually trying to give the paying customers a memorable show, and it screws those customers, who are paying money to see you play and be 100% entertaining. It's the ultimate in selfishness, and no band should tolerate or suffer it. As Skeeter Pomeroy once said in the pages of the venerable, long-discontinued Milwaukee zine Milk, "if you're going to be sad, you have to be mad, or it's not going to work." In other words, if you're not rocking out, then fuck you, and the audience is well within their rights to let you have it.

Fortunately, this time, neither band's performance was adversely affected, and all crankiness was exorcised by the time HiFi played to what was probably the best crowd of the entire tour. Mac's was fairly packed for both our touring bands (even though we had to play before the two local bands instead of bookended between them, but whatever--chalk it up to miscommunication), and we blazed through some of our finer performances of the tour. I think it was Pittsburgh where my body finally managed to make sense of the endurance test i'd been putting it through; while most of the tour found me playing Zebras songs in a very tense, barely-held-together fashion, by Pittsburgh my arms and posture managed to find their zone (as well as my brain finally realizing that if i play the fills in the lightspeed "The Sun" as triplet sixteenths instead of standard sixteenth notes, i'm not pushing my arms to their dropoff point), and it's been clear sailing ever since.

Ft. Wayne, IN - The Brass Rail

Pot. Energy/Paulding/We Fiddle/Imp Walker/Arson/Black Holes/Success

After some more time spent in East Lansing, an incredible breakfast at a pancake house that served peanut butter and banana French Toast, and the realization that the bass cab was going to be fine for the last show (it blew because of mismatched ohm ratings between head and cab--an 8-ohm head pumping into a cab with two 8-ohm speakers that apparently cancel themselves out into a 4-ohm rating or some shit, so with only one speaker connected the ohms matched...I DON'T KNOW I'M JUST THE STUPID DRUMMER), spirits going into the final show were crazy high. We also had done a count of the cash in the HiFi band fund and realized that we were finishing this tour far ahead of where we started, somehow. We began in a $95 hole thanks to the fun times with the van impound and an oil change; even with that money reimbursed, we still ended the tour with around $290 in our previously depleted band fund. BRING ON THE STRIPPERS!

The Brass Rail is a killer little punk rock/rockabilly dive, and apparently the only cool thing happening in Ft. Wayne, a town where people apparently still drive past the punk bar and yell "hey, is that a gay bar?" at you when you're outside it. Pal, if this place were a gay bar, the drinks would be even stronger than they already are, so i don't know why you consider that an epithet.

On this night the HiFi played after a touring pop-punk band from Detroit and before Zebras and the local headliners, Kan-tis, a sort of more metal Primus (complete with funky bassist wearing a propeller hat and...a Primus shirt. Fuck yeah). After the pop-punksters' positive reaction from the crowd, HiFi set up, opened with "(The HiFi Vs.) Potential Energy," and were immediately greeted after the opening number with the following from some visibly pissed burly dude:


Well, strap in, buddy, because we're about to get a whole lot worse. Meanwhile, a dance party was breaking out in the front row as two well-dressed individuals couple-danced and one complete knockout gyrated near her boyfriend (or someone who wanted to be? I dunno). All in all, i'd call our completely face-melting set a win, and this set the best tour-closing performance HiFi's had since 2004, when we closed our tour that year with a killer show at Madison's High Noon Saloon and two of our girlfriends surprised us at the venue.

As i tore down my drums after a similarly killer Zebras set (possibly the best one of the tour, complete with rowdy fans who had seen the band before and a great sequence in "The Gift" where The Wizard took the theremin into the crowd and played it against people's heads), i bemusedly observed a fairly amorous couple lose the ability to wait until they got home to take matters into their overly-rambunctious pants. The girl disappeared into the ladies' room while her boy stood guard at the door and then not-at-all-surreptitiously went in after her, locking the heavy bolt on the door behind them. I can't say it was a bad plan, as that bolt was secure as hell--i used it myself when i had to drop a deuce at the venue earlier (normally i do my damnedest to avoid pooping at a punk bar because the men's room is never a crap-safe area--there's never a door on the toilet nor a lock on the bathroom itself. But we were talking critical goddamn mass and so the women's room was my only choice. Funny thing--ladies' bathrooms are covered in WAY fewer band stickers than men's rooms).

A girl showed up to knock on the door, but i broke the news that the facilities were due to be unavailable for a while. "Sorry, someone's fucking in there." "Are you serious? God, i really have to pee!" I had been chatting with a guy friend of Kan-tis' (and explaining the restroom coitus to him as well), so we assured her that if she used the men's room we'd stand guard. As she attended to her needs in the dude's room, we heard the megabolt unclack and the glowing couple emerged. I greeted them with a loud "YYYYYEAAAAAAAHHHH!" and Friend of Kan-tis lost his shit laughing. To the couple's credit they merely grinned, giggled and went about their evening.

Every touring band was paid $100 at the end of the night, which solidified the Brass Rail as Completely Fucking Rad in my book. Despite their weird-ass oddly-shaped stage (more long than wide, which made our stage plot a bit weird to sort out and meant that i was about 4 miles from the rest of the band on stage), and because of their patrons' willingness to voice their displeasure in hilarious ways (along with the dude yelling at us during the set, at one point i went back to the men's room, where i had tagged the celing with a HiFi sticker, only to see that the sticker had been removed), i would highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to play a show in one of those small towns where they're happy to see decent punk rock of any kind come through.

We followed a years-old HiFi tradition of driving straight home after the last show, arriving in Milwaukee around 7 AM with bleary eyes and happy hearts. Was this the best tour IfIHadAHiFi has ever been on? I don't know if i'd say that. I'd call it a pretty damn good one, however. Sure, we played in front of some ambivalent zombies in Nashville, and had shows with audience numbers in the single digits, but as i've said before, getting our name "out there" is, at this point, a secondary goal behind visiting pals and taking in this incredible country of ours. Sure, there were times while driving through torrential rain on precarious New York bridges where none of this touring nonsense seemed worth it, but we also finished strong with four consecutive shows that reminded me exactly why we do this. Am i already planning next year's two-week tour? Fuck no, but i'm definitely not against doing another one.

I'd rather not drive as much next time, though.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Bass Speaker Blowout Tour '11, Part 9: "Keep Playing"

Detroit. Small's.

We Fiddle/Arson/Black Holes/Magnets/Imp. Walker/Telescope/NMM

I'm at the bar after both my bands have gone over big time at Small's. Sure, we somehow managed to blow the second bass speaker of the tour, but throw all the HiFi feedback into the mix, and no one really noticed the flappy flap that much. We're selling some CDs and hearing killer compliments. One dude is adamant that he being us back in the Spring to play with his band and Child Bite. The bartender is pouring me my third whiskey & coke and a cup of water when the cute brunette in the oversized Descendents t-shirt next to me makes eye contact.

"The drummer." It's a statement, but she's squinting, looking for confirmation, as she has been drinking. I confirm her suspicion.

"Your talent...rises...above. Really." She's being exceedingly complimentary, almost fawning. She's a piano player who is trying to learn drums, and she's asking question after question about my ability to sing and play drums at the same time. I give her my usual boilerplate when it comes to the whole singing drummer thing: it was tough as hell to learn, i used to listen to The Pop Machine sound board recordings and hear my tempo accellerate out of control on the songs that i sung, i've been drumming for over 20 years, practice, practice, practice. All the while, the girl is getting more intense and more inquisitive, and i can see this conversation is leading to something that she needs to get off her chest. It's been on her mind, and she's been waiting for the right person to unload on--the person who'll understand the story she needs to tell. And i'm not sure how much she's had to drink tonight, but suffice to say it was enough to guarantee that this story will be told tonight, because apparently the singing drummer in the touring band, it has been decided, qualifies as the sympathetic ear she needs tonight.

"Have you ever had anything in your life that has kept you from doing this?"

I'm not sure where she's going with this, but i've never been considered an under-sharer, so i'm not uncomfortable telling her that i once had a relationship that ended because of the distance that resulted from me not moving to another state and choosing to remain with the band. But essentially, no, i've chosen jobs that enable me to tour and make music, and i've always made it a top priority.

The dam breaks, and my new friend, fueled by a night of rock n roll and lots of alcohol, let's 'er rip. You see, she wants to do what i'm doing--touring the country and rocking out, but her father is incredibly sick and it has fallen to her to take care of him. It takes up nearly all her time and she can't dedicate the time to her music that she wants. She's on the verge of tears several times during her story, and while i'm a little uncomfortable--after all, i've known this girl for ten minutes at this point--my heart is breaking for her.

I'm thinking of, and i tell her about, my grandma, who lost most of her adult life to a combination of single motherhood and caring for a parent (my great-grandma) who was unable to care for herself after my great-grandpa died, for various reasons including her health. I've at times, on my grandma's behalf, resented her immediate relatives, who never bothered to help with her mom. I most assuredly feel for this girl.

What i don't tell her is that as we're speaking, my father is in a hospital recovering from an infection and dealing with the fact that his cancer has returned and he will soon be losing his jaw and may never eat solid food again. I don't tell her this because this conversation is about her, and all she needs to know is what my mentioning my grandma accomplished--that i empathize.

Every child has to face the possibility at some point that the tables may turn and that they may become their parents' caretaker. Perhaps selfishly, i've always been a little thankful that since i live in Milwaukee, that responsibility may fall to siblings of mine that live closer to my ever-aging parents. But faced with it now, with this sweet, sad-eyed girl living out my worst-case scenario, thinking about how my own father is fighting right now, there's little i want more than to drop everything and be at his side.

She's wondering aloud how she can possibly have her own life, to the fullest that she wants to live it, when she has this stifling responsibility. I manage to say something trite about how important finding balance in life is--figuring out how to reconcile life's responsibilities with finding a way to live life to its fullest--but i have no idea how she should go about this. I don't know her life, and as much as i'd like to dole out a magic, cure-all answer to life, the universe, and anything, i don't have it. So all i say is all i can: "you've gotta keep playing."

She's said all that she wants to say. She asks me my name because she wants to remember our conversation. I tell it to her but i'm skeptical that the beers will allow her to remember it. I thank her for her truly flattering compliments and i adjourn to the performance room to watch the last band of the evening play, our conversation spinning around in my head.

I guess that was really all i could say to her, right? "Keep playing." "What happens if he finally dies, and suddenly i'm 40? I've already lost so much time." You've gotta keep playing, for yourself at the very least, or else, in her words, you'll explode. Would my dad be happy that i bailed on tour to be with him? I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture, but ultimately he'd want me to finish my shows. Does my new friend's father know that she's put her music on hold for him? I have no idea, but if he's a good dad, i can't imagine he'd be happy about it.

So at the end of the night, i make sure to find her one more time. "It was very nice meeting you. Thank you so much for the nice things you said to me tonight." She gives me a new-friend hug, and i say to her, "keep playing, and take care of yourself."

"Thanks. You too."

I'll be home soon, Dad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"You Look Like You Need a Giant Lollipop" Tour '11, Part 8: "I feel like I'm in Dayton in 1994"

The following is the Yelp review i plan to post when i get home regarding the Newport, KY Johnny Rocket's Family Fun Diner of the Apocalypse:

I feel bad for the waitstaff at Johnny Rocket's. Not only are they required to shout mass salutations at every customer who enters the establishment, which personally makes me feel extremely self-conscious, but our poor waitress, a lovely woman who kept her energy up as much as could be expected while drawing ketchup smiley faces in cardboard bowls for no discernible reason other than that maybe toddlers would find it cute?, performed her job with the thinly-coated veneer of an employee who just under the surface very obviously wants to shoot herself in the damn face.

It's easy to see why. Early on in our Johnny Rocket's experience, it was pointed out by our server that gratuity is automatically added to the bill. We thought nothing of it initially, but after receiving our food, it was obvious that the tip is automatically added on to prevent what had to have been a rash of tip stiffings resulting from wide-spread dissatisfaction with what initially seems like a reasonable menu. How many waiters and waitresses have ventured in and out of this place after the thirty-second tip consisting of three pennies and a loose button? The "help wanted" sign was prominently displayed in the bay windows. I can't imagine they ever come down.

A quick note about pricing: if your sandwiches are going to float in the $8-$9 range, industry average dictates that this is a price that includes a side. The fact that your fries come in a "darling" little metal deep-fry basket does not justify charging an extra $2.75. And let's not even get into your cheese fries. Nah, fuck it--let's get into them. If they're gonna be $7, shouldn't the pile of nacho cheese, jalapenos and sour cream have more than 10 fries underneath them?

No chorus of hellos, no army of corn-syrupy ketchup smiley faces, can conceal the fact that your food is the saddest joke since the final scene of Solondz's Storytelling. The difference here is that no one should feel remotely bad for laughing at your cluelessly misguided "product."

By the way, tonight we played at Southgate House for the first time ever. The fact that the best conversations of the evening involved discussing Brainiac with the sound guy and our new awesome friends in the Jesus Lizardy Swear Jar should tell you all you need to know about how awesome the evening was. While only 11 people paid, which wasn't enough to garner any gas money from the door, the combination of band dudes and audience members filled out the room to the point where, after a night of playing for three people in Pittsburgh, it looked like a packed party house. I personally played the best sets i've played in days; not sure why, since i only got three hours of sleep the night before. But my wrists were more relaxed than they've been all tour, and my fills benefited from whatever zen trance i managed to put my body into.

HiFi Southgate Set: Tunguska/Paulding/Imp. Walker/Black Holes/X-13D/Pot. Energy/Arson/Success

Tunguska was played as a special request for our pal Dale Freeman, who's been following us since the old Pop Machine days, but man, was it sloppy. Everything else sounded great, though, and based on the CDs we sold, most of the people there agreed.

But most definitely, the best part of the night was yet another example of Why Bands Tour--to find link-minded people in different cities. One such dude was Shane from Swear Jar, who shares my love for noisy punk rock, snark, and calling bullshit on most of the lightweight, MOR nonsense that passes for "indie rock" these days. We were instant pals and i can't wait to drag these guys up to Wisconsin to play and hang out.

We had a minor designated driver incident tonight, as everyone thought someone else was the DD, which resulted in Yale willing himself sober enough to drive us to our friend Jonathan's house to stay the night. The designated driving--hell, the driving all tour--has been very unevenly distributed, and my resentment is starting to bubble out in all sorts of passive-aggressive ways. In Brooklyn as we were led to our friend Patrick's house, i cranked Reign in Blood in order to drown out the distracting, drunken jabber going on in the van. Because i've been trying to keep my body from wearing down while drumming two sets per night, i haven't been doing a lot of drinking on this tour, which suits me just fine, but results in the DD position defaulting to me a little more often than it should. It's been irritating, but so it goes.

Tonight, though, was not one of those nights, as the Southgate House parlour's bartender does not fuck around with the whiskey. The Jameson shots Dale bought us all were clearly doubles; still, i slammed mine in one go, much to the protestation of my gag reflex. Screw you, body, you're going to take this rapid-fire inebriation and like it. For once on this tour, anyway. After all, writing Yelp reviews is the most fun when drunk, i have just decided right now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Work is Overrated" Tour '11, Part 7: "Dude, when did the X Games become 'Nam?"

It's a rule with our band (and probably with others as well) that the shows that involve the longest drive end up being the strangest and most sparsely attended. You may guess that with an intro like that, one of those shows will be recounted now. Well, i won't be giving you credit for that educated guess, because frankly it was a pretty obvious lead-in.

The drive from New Brunswick to Pittsburgh was supposed to be six hours, but tack on an hour waiting to get through a Pennsylvania toll booth where the lanes dropped down to one immediately after, then another half hour navigating construction in Pittsburgh, and we ended up rolling into Gooski's Bar around 8:15 after leaving at noon. This place was one of those charming dumps: writing adorned loads of square footage on the black walls, band stickers everywhere in the performance room, cheap greasy food, and the Milwaukee Brewers pounding the tar out of the Pirates on the television. I briefly pondered saying something about the Super Bowl or wearing my Packer NFC Championship t-shirt on stage, but think better of it after some online friends warn me that the van may be set on fire if i pull the trigger on my shit-talking scheme.

Band number one was named "Lightweight," and as it happened, it wasn't just a clever name, as their singer was mad slop-nuts wasted. He threw guitar picks at Yale, yelled at the audience, flailed into his band members, and whipped out his penis at least twice--once to drape its limpness (hey, some dudes are showers and some are growers) over his guitar and hump it at the end of the set. Despite how uncomfortable his bandmates and friends were rendered by the spectacle, the actual band sounded really good! Unfortunately, GG Allin Jr.'s antics broke a microphone, leaving the room with two working ones, limiting the HiFi's choice of songs. Ah well.

Sloppy McStaggerstein continued to impress during the Zebras set, resting his chin on Lacey's Moog and grabbing Vince's mic during "Diablo Blanco" and yelling into it, earning him a swift ejection from the premises. The exit from the show of Flashy McWiener and the friend who guided him out the door reduced the audience by 40%, dropping the number of people watching us from five to three (John from Microwaves, who set up the show; Vince's brother Dan; and the drummer from the second band). The HiFi set was a simple, bang-it-out six-song affair with the same number of people watching (like in Nashville, a bunch of people watched the locals and bailed for the touring bands--way to get the most value for your five dollars, numbskulls).

We Fiddle/Arson/Sleeperhold/Take the $/Imp. Walker/NMM (half tempo)

Yes, half tempo. Before we played "No More Music" John yelled out a request: "whatever song you're going to play, play it REALLY SLOW." We acquiesced and proceeded to crack ourselves up rocking out on "No More Music" in half time, complete with Yale and me singing the lyrics at 33 RPM. I'm pretty sure i saw John do a legit spit take with his beer while The Wizard and i would half laugh, half yell (a yaff?) at Yale for constantly wanting to change to the next part early. I'm really bummed that there was no video.

As we tore down our gear, Vince wandered over to us and said, "watch out--things are starting to get tense." A tat-sleeved dudebro was having a very quiet, but very intense conversation with John while the rest of us looked on, confused. When he finally wandered off, John explained, "i've never met that guy before in my life! But he's all, 'you know me. YOU KNOW ME. I know you from 16 years ago. You don't remember me? I was a pro skater. I was on MTV, man.'" What any of this had to do with the guy wanting to kick John's ass, we're not sure, but before the dude wandered away, he had turned to Vince while John had gone to talk to the owner.

"WHAT'S THAT GUY'S NAME?" he asked Vince.

"Uh, i don't really know him that well..."


"Uh, ok?"

Things kept poor Vince's blood pressure sky-high when the dude walked to his truck to drive away (wisely, given his drunken state)--a truck that coincidentally was right behind our van, and that he needed to walk to as i was walking to our van. After he muttered something about "follow [my] honky ass," i kept glancing back at him until his stopped, threw his arms in the air, and said, "WHAT?" "Nothing, dude!" He staggered past me as Vince nearly had an aneurysm, but we had successfully navigated the "washed up and sad" level of Skate or Die for the Band Wii.

The crowd wasn't quite as thin for Sunday's show at Don Pedro in Brooklyn, but a similar scenario played out in that we got to endure the most white-knuckle drive of the tour in exchange for playing in front of a handful of people (who, unlike Pittsburgh, actually paid attention and enjoyed both bands thoroughly). A two-hour trip from Philadelphia to Brooklyn was stretched to four and a half hours by torrential rain and gasket-blowing traffic that had me convinced that this was my last tour ever as i gritted my way over the Gorgonzola Bridge (or whatever the fuck it's called) in one of two narrow, precarious-as-hell lanes of bumper-to-bumper.

The entire drive on Sunday, as my senses worked at peak efficiency to avoid hydroplaning and colliding with the semis that would pass mere inches from my head, i resolved that the fun parts of touring were no longer worth the aggravation, and this was it. No more after i get home. I quit. Fuck this for eternity.

Of course, as soon as we saw our friends Patrick Walsh and the late, lamented Mount Vicious' Bri Bri and Alli, my resolve to give the fuck up melted away with the rest of my bad mood. Both bands played killer sets and we were treated to some badass Hot Snakes-tinged screamy punk courtesy our friend Steve and his band We Ride. If we hadn't played with Maple Stave in Durham i'd say We Ride were the best band we've played with on tour.

Brookyln: Paulding/Ratings/Pot. Energy/Sleeperhold/Arson/Grace/Telescope/NMM

The only real drag of the Brooklyn show was that way more of our friends promised to make it out than actually showed up, but whatever. We'll see 'em in three years, maybe!

Just as the long drives resulted in low attendance, the shortest drive of tour, Brooklyn to New Brunswick, resulted in one of the most packed and fun. Our friend and PRFer Kelli's basement hosted a birthday party for her bassist Colleen (she turned 23, and i immediately re-evaluated why i was hanging out with a bunch of kids 13 years younger than me), and their band kicked things off, setting the tone for Zebras and HiFi to burn through a pair of high-energy, brief sets with an eye on getting the noise done by 10 PM in order to avoid noise ordinances.

New Brunswick: Paulding/Arson/Imp Walker/Pot. Energy/Telescope/NMM

The basement show may not have had a blasted guitar player waving his dick around and humping his guitar, but it did have lots of excited kids, awesome vegetarian food for us to nosh on, $75 in donations, and quiet time by 11 PM. Perfection in basement show form.

We have four shows left now. The end of this tour honestly can't come fast enough. I've finally started feeling the effects of playing two sets on a nightly basis, and i'm frankly starting to get tired. Goofy facial expressions are now at a premium, and my shoulder is starting to demand detachment from the rest of my body about halfway through Zebras every night. Gotta fight through it now. But at least i know that i can finish the tour, because i got an update on Dad's condition today. While his condition is improving and he's eating soft foods and his infection is clearing, we have confirmation that his cancer has returned to his jaw. Once his infection has totally cleared up, he'll be moved to either Madison or Milwaukee to have another huge chunk of his jaw removed and replaced with a graft of bone from his leg.

While i'm relieved to at least know what's going on, and am relieved that i can finish the tour, i know that in the back of my mind there's a paralyzing fear that i'm not letting myself feel until i get home. The night before my dad went into surgery in 2000 ranks a solid #1 with a bullet on the list of the worst days of my life. I don't want to have to deal with this. I really don't.

But like a raging thunderstorm on the New Jersey Turnpike, i'll fight through this shit, because i have to. Because making it to the next show is sometimes all we have.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Thunderstorms and Car Accidents" Tour '11: Part 6 - Philly Redeemed

No, but seriously, thunderstorms and car accidents have been following us everywhere on this tour. We drove past the worst wreck we've seen yet on our way to the Danger Danger Gallery in Philly: car completely flipped; telephone pole cracked in half about 20 feet in the air, top half dangling in wires; 35 MPH zone. Someone needs to do an expose on city drag racing, i think--that shit's making a crazy mad comeback.


We had an OK show in Philly in 2006 when we played a house venue called The Big Pink House (although we severely dropped the ball that night when, after two weeks of making John Mellencamp jokes, we opted for MotownPhilly jokes EVEN THOUGH WE WERE IN A PINK HOUSE), but our 2008 show in Philly with White Wrench Conservatory was a nightmare. Not only did we get to sit in a bar called The Fire and watch CC Sabathia get positively shelled by the Phillies during the Brewers' first playoff series since 1982, but then no one in the bar hopped across to the band room to watch us. We ended up playing in front of two of Dixie's friends, and that was it.

So we weren't all that thrilled to have to try to book a Philly show on this tour, and did all we could to avoid it. But our friend in Lancaster wasn't able to close a deal for us, and so, out of desperation, i emailed Danger Danger, a gallery that had never returned my emails in years previous. This time, however, they responded (!), and invited us to play their big anniversary benefit party to raise money for the gallery. Unfortunately, it being a benefit, it meant that touring bands would get no money out of the door, and we'd have to rely on merch sales. Having no other options and realizing that probably most all-ages kids in the area would be there, we agreed and decided to hope for the best.

Amazingly, we got pretty close. After a pair of, shell we say, more "sensitive" musical sets in the basement room of the gallery, HiFi set up and prepared to give these kids a good old-fashioned punk rock kick in the teeth. The venue did a great job of herding the audience into the room where the next band was playing, and--TAKE A LESSON FROM THIS, NASHVILLE--the kids were actively engaged with what was going on, which was excellent. I opened our set with a "We're IfIHadAHiFi from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We're a dance band. That's a hint, and you should take it," and launched into "Paulding Light." Yale kicked his stage antics into overdrive and we blasted those kids to the back of the room, much to their delight based on the loud, enthusiastic response. As all sets were limited to 25 minutes, we made sure to pack them with only the most crucial party jamz.

SET LIST: Paulding/Arson/Imperial Walker/Pot. Energy/Black Holes/Success

Zebras had an equally exuberant audience, including the occasional three-person circle pit during the more speedy numbers like "Me U God" and "Wiener Kids." All in all, these kids redeemed Philly in our eyes as a town where the kids know what's up.

HiFi managed to sell about $18 in merch, of which we proceeded to spend $12 upon our return to the previously lamented Fire. Our labelmates Trophy Wives were playing there and we not only wanted to see some solid bros in the middle of tour, but we wanted to help fill the room for them, because of course, based on our sample data of one weeknight show with no local band, shows at The Fire never draw. As it turns out, they had a few people there ("about...twelve?" their singer Billy estimated outside the venue), but we did a solid job of beefing up the attendance with our seven bodies (six of us and one Marissa Berlin). The TWives blasted through an as-usual killer set of tunes from their just-out-now-on-Latest-Flame record Old Scratch and handily dealt with a drunk Yale screaming at them to play a Wipers cover that they've forgotten. Post-show, Yale spied Billy by the side entrance and said "I'm gonna go punch him," to which i responded, "yes, that's a great idea. Punch Billy," knowing that Billy, being a man-mountain cross between an Appalachian pro wrestler and a bear, would be more than capable of ending that encounter like it was one of those "Messin' with Sasquatch" beef jerky ads. All Billy did, though, was ignore Yale and calmly walk into the bar, letting the door slam shut behind him while Yale drunkenly bellowed "BILLY I'M GOING TO PUNCH YOU!" Hilarity.

A recount of this evening would not be complete without a salutation to the fabulous Michael Markowski, who bought us all dinner at a killer pizza place/brewery across from Danger Danger, and filmed our performance. Another above and beyond gesture of graciousness from another awesome tour pal.

We are currently chilling in Marissa's parents' palatial estate, which is large enough to have me convinced that they are Hank Scorpio-level supervillains. A Jacuzzi tub? A shower with two heads? COME ON! Our hotel room at the Marriott was less luxurious.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Virginia is for Road Head" Tour '11: Parts 4 and 5

It occurred to me that i totally forgot to list off any of the set lists post-Nashville, so before we jump into it:

Knoxville: We Fiddle/Arson/Ratings Spike/X-13D/Black Holes/Take the $/Telescope/No MM

Athens: Ratings/Pot. Energy/We Fiddle/Black Holes/Arson/Take the $/No MM/Certain Fate

Wilmington: Paulding/Arson/Black Holes/X-13D/We Fiddle/Sleeperhold/Probalos/Success

Part 4: "Hey Man, Her Name's Kim"

Something we made sure we questioned on stage at both the Wilmington show and in Durham was what in the blue hell the deal is with a theme park we drove past on the SC side of the SC/NC border called South of the Border. We couldn't decide whether or not this place was the most casually racist theme part we've ever seen, but whenever we asked, audience members laughed and shrugged with slight expressions of embarrassment. I dunno, you tell me--are a giant sombrero drop and drunken Mexican caricatures ethnically sensitive?

Not pictured: dignity

The good vibes and generosity of North Carolina continued in Durham, thanks to our pals in the crushing Maple Stave. Their drummer Evan sprung for a hotel room at the downtown Marriott not two blocks from the Pinhook, the coffee-shop-vibed bar hosting us for the evening. It was here where i proceeded to play the sloppiest Zebras set of the tour thus far, questioning how my endurance has held up during week 1 of this two-shows-per-night escapade. Fortunately, when you play as fast as Zebras does, the drumming is such a blur that no one can tell when i'm fucking up, it seems, because Evan (one of the few drummers i'm legitimately self-conscious playing in front of, because he is dazzlingly incredible behind his kit) was totally into it.

I played better during the HiFi set, where the tempos are less insane and more geared toward dancing, and a decent-sized crowd at the Pinhook got into it enthusiastically, a few people even taking photos!

Durham set list: Paulding/Rating Spike/Fiddle/Imp Walker/Arson/Chance-Medley/Telescope/NMM

Zebras even officially outdrew HiFi in Durham, as a lovely lady by the name of Kim attended the show to see Zebras specifically. She attends a lot of Those Poor Bastards shows (Vince's other band, a synth-tinged country duo) and was psyched to see Zebras (which happens a lot with TPB fans, it seems, which is beyond cool. I still haven't explored a lot of TPB, but it seems that Zebras is nowhere near the TPB wheelhouse, so for their fans to come to Zebras shows and "get it" is pretty rad).

Vince, Lacey and Kim hung out quite a bit, which apparently cheesed off one of the bartenders (Vince suspects said bartender was trying to chat her up). In Vince words, "when i started talking to her the dude got really salty. I think he thought i was some sleazy creep, but then she walked away and the dude leaned over and said, 'hey, man, her name's Kim,' like he decided to help me out or something. It's cool, i know who she is, dude!"

Durham, North Carolina: gorgeous downtown, a cheap bistro with awesome salads and sandwiches (visit Toast when in Durham, for serious), and some seriously awesome rockers (honestly, Maple Stave threw down the best performance we've seen on this tour so far. Absolutely pummeling). This tour is officially good vibes all around now.

Part 5: DC Will Do That To You

One of my worst tour nightmares came close to coming true last night in Washington, DC. It still may.

We had loaded in to the Everlasting Life vegan cafe in Washington, DC and had just eaten some incredible mostaccioli when i got a text message from my brother Kris. "Call me at your earliest convenience."

As my parents and grandma get older, i occasionally feel mild pangs of guilt that i don't live closer to them and spend more time with them than i do. Granted, that would entail living closer to the Fox Valley and not in Milwaukee, which would kill my soul, but that doesn't stop me from feeling bad about geography cursing us by distance.

So when my little brother calls me while on tour to drop the bomb that Dad's back in the hospital in serious shape, it's a surreal, sobering thing. Dad is a throat cancer survivor, having had surgery in 2000, but he's fought health problems for years after, including problems with his teeth stemming from the radiation therapy (they've basically rotted out of his head and caused infections left and right). He's back in now, and the doctors are fearful that his cancer's returned.

My mind raced on the phone--do we need to bail? Do i need to be back in Wisconsin? My brother and mom talked before he called me and we all seem to agree that there's no reason for me to cut bait and bail on the tour, as there's nothing i could do if i were there while they do tests anyway. But if his condition worsens to a point that i can barely type without my throat going dry, i won't have a choice.

It was with all this hanging in the back of my head that i took the stage at this charming little vegan cafe and proceeded to thrash away in front of 20 paid attendees. Kris had ended our conversation with something he's heard me say before--"take it out on the songs." It's my personal demand of myself to never let personal shit get in the way of a good performance on stage. For one, it's selfish to let me shit ruin a show for the other guys in the band, and for two, it's the best therapy in the world.

I also had old friends in the audience to keep the dark thoughts from taking over--an old internet pal named Andy whom i hadn't seen since around 1996; and my best friend from childhood, Sean, who now is a hardcore Republican working for the US Chamber of Commerce. I dedicated "Imperial Walker" to him as "the song that got me in the National Review before him," which was his reaction when that hilariously misfired "review" hit. It's reassuring to me that two old pals on the opposite sides of the political aisle can remain good friends.

So i bashed away at my drums to entertain my old friends, and i bashed away to work through the stress of being 894 miles from my family in a legit time of need. As of now, i'm keeping myself optimistic that i'll be able to finish this tour, merely having to deal with the shadow of my dad's health as a ghost following us in the background. If you could do me a favor, dear person reading this, shoot a few positive thoughts our way to reinforce my positive thinking, won't you?

DC set list: Grace/We Fiddle/Imp Walker/Black Holes/Magnets/Arson/NMM

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Cool Story, Bro" Tour '11, Part 3: Kindred Spirits

I needed a new head anyway

I am sitting in a hotel room hooked up by our hotel employee friend Steve in Wilmington, NC, after hanging out post-show in the moonlight at the beach, feeling the tide pull the sand out from beneath me. This is why i went on tour, for this moment: stepping into the ocean with tourmates and friends from far away places, letting the earth kiss us with its salty tongue like an animal claiming us as its own.

Only ten people showed up tonight, but that's not important. If the primary purpose of going on tour were to try to expose large numbers of people to our music in a way that encourages memorization of our band names, this would be a wholly inefficient method of doing it. Knoxville on Monday and Athens on Tuesday were delightful; enough people turned out for both shows to allow us to put enough gas in the tank to make it to the next city, and most of them responded positively to our tunes. But as i stood around at the Caledonia Lounge on Tuesday night watching everyone drink, chat, and completely ignore our merch table (save the bartender and Chris Dragon's friend Sarah, who accounted for our first CDs sold in four days), i thought about the hundreds--thousands?--of touring bands i've seen over the years from the Concert Cafe in Green Bay to the Cactus Club in Milwaukee, and i'm sure that many of the ones i've forgotten were damn fine. Do any of the attendees at the Longbranch in Knoxville even remember the name "IfIHadAHiFi?" Or are they more likely to say "oh, man, that band...I Wish I Had A HiFi? They were great," their memories of the bands they saw on a random Monday night in August 2011 already fading into a jumbled mash of beer and feedback? As in love with our self-constructed image of the band too crazy to ignore as i am, i realistically get the feeling that by tomorrow it'll be "those bands with the crazy drummer" and "yeah, that night our pals played with some touring bands" by September, if not Friday.

The hard truth is that bar patrons (or basement show kids, for that matter) do not value touring musicians. Sure, they appreciate that we drove for several hours to play for them, but put a price on that appreciation and you can bet it ranks below that next PBR. Tonight a member of the audience drunkenly told me, "i really like your band," after both the Zebras and HiFi sets (both of which, if i may say so, were the best performances of the tour thus far and featured the most dancing audience members of any show to date). When he said it again post-BLACKS set, i responded, "then you should buy some of our CDs!" He squinted at me and slurred "what you may not know is that i spent all day selling textbooks so i could come here tonight and get drunk."

"And you definitely achieved your goal!"

*squint* "I don't think you believe me."

"I believe that you're drunk!"

"At least i don't have a Jewfro."


"At least i'm not...Jewish."

"Uh, neither am i?"

Puzzling racism aside, it's clear that this dude, whose dancing and rocking out was genuinely appreciated, will forget about us in no time. In an age where the supply of touring bands chokes the demand into a dazed submission, i'm not so sure that being a blistering live act is enough anymore, if it ever was.

But that's why, at 3:30 AM, i'm standing in the Atlantic Ocean with Steve, The Wizard and Lacey, staring at the sky and talking silly shit. I wanted to come to Wilmington and play with Steve and Keith, aka BLACKS, and rock them silly. And then i wanted to hang out with Steve on the beach.

Steve, incidentally, redefined "above and beyond" today. Not only are we sleeping in free hotel rooms tonight, but he used his corporate card to fill our gas tank and tossed an extra $50 from his own pocket on top of the $35 collected at the door. He sort of gets it, you see. He's in a band that his hometown doesn't quite understand, or maybe politely tolerates (not for long, as they're breaking up), but he lives for that moment where his music clicks with someone who's never heard anything like it before. Tonight we swapped tales of minds blown and expectations tweaked, and of hometown shows where no one turns out to see our friends. Wins and losses--we have similar tales of both.

Kindred spirits, connected across the country through music.

This is why i'm out here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"I'm The King! What're You Into?" Tour '11: Part 2 - "Yep...Sunday in Nashville"

Pictured: the only photo i took in Nashville, because obviously

I've quite literally been to mass graves livelier than the audience of dead-eyed, apathetic kids at the Springwater Saloon in Nashville last night, but their overall indifference toward non-local bands was only part of what was so aggravating about this show (although it was the largest part). The show began with promise, as the sound guy, upon my introducing myself and explaining that we were the bands from Milwaukee, asked, "do you guys know Peter J. Woods?" Hey! Mutual pals! This is a good sign! He introduced himself, if my memory serves, as "Acme," which should have been a warning sign right off the bat--the name respected coyotes trust to fail spectacularly. We discussed the lineup for the night--two locals bookending three touring acts (HiFi, Zebras and Spelling bee from St. Louis, a dynamite little duo featuring a four-foot tall Asian shredder girl and a dazzling experimental/jazzy drummer dude). He set up two mics; when i asked about the availability of a third, he answered in the affirmative.

Things began to go south when we started setting up and i heard him defensively explaining to Yale and The Wizard that he only had two mics after all. The Wizard asked about a third stand, as he brought a spare mic along for situations like this. "This is all i have. people keep stealing our shit," spoken with a vindictiveness directed apparently at us for representing All Touring Bands Ever. Meanwhile, Rev.Ever struggled with his pedal board and lost. Either the power supply for half his pedals died, or the master strip of outlets did; we're not sure yet. OK, lovely.

Meanwhile, some anonymous girl (Lacey suggests she may have been the sound guy's girlfriend, but that's just speculation) storms up to Yale and Wizard and says, "you guys need to hurry up and start." Um, maybe blame the club for starting a five-band show at 11 PM, and don't blame the touring band? Sorry you need to get home to your DVR'd Jersey Shores.

So we set up and reconfigure our set to deal with our limitations. No more "Black Holes" because we only have two mics. No more "We Fiddle" because Rev.'s sound effects are out of commission. Gah. It only takes us through half of "Paulding Light" to get back into the pocket, but i'm already cheesed off, as the roughly ten kids who were standing around watching the first band, as well as most of the first band (save the guitarist), are nowhere to be seen. Outside talking, presumably.

I feel as though i should clarify things, as i overheard someone post-set being amused that anyone would be upset that a Sunday show drew nobody. Please. This ain't my first rodeo, Nash. Low attendance on a Sunday is expected. People liking our band is not expected or required, but if any of the kids at that show were to say "IfIHadAHiFi sucks," they wouldn't have a leg to stand on because none of them were in the room at any point while we played. C'mon, kids, we take pride in our room-clearing abilities; if you don't like our music, at least give us the satisfaction of being in the room when we start.

HiFi set: Paulding / Arson / Sleeperhold / Imperial Walker / Spy / Success

When Zebras plays some kids actually wander into the room; by a few songs in, they're all seated in booths, staring blankly ahead like they have yet to deduce that the flailing bodies on stage are powered by delicious brains. With about two or three songs to go, the microphones mysteriously shut off; by the time Spelling Bee play, they amazingly are working again. HMMMMM.

The last time HiFi played in Nashville, we played an overly-swank bar on a Sunday night with a pair of alt-country bands. The five people in the audience were driven out by our abrasive volume, but the alt-country bands were complimentary and the bartender was apologetic, loving our set and paying us in four Pabst tallboys because he had nothing else with which to pay us. As of August 2011, that 2006 trainwreck still stands as our best Nashville show to date.

We are currently chilling out in front of the Longbranch Saloon in Knoxville. The front door has our tour poster prominently displayed, and the local band tonight made a flyer that is also on the door. If five people are at the show tonight, it will still already rate as better than last night.


"I have never had a good experience playing in Nashville."

"Man, Nashville is just not friendly. I don't get it."

It's not just us, Nashville! Signs point to "Music City" being a crap town for touring DIY music!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"The Golden Girls' Rage: Kill Whitey" Tour '11, Part 1: FALSE START

It's always smart to kick off a tour at Quenchers: we're generally guaranteed a sweet turnout, they feed the touring bands, and they make sure there's money to go around. I pretty much don't care if i never play another Chicago venue other than Quenchers ever again (which is not to say that we hate the other ones; just that Quenchers is that far above the others).

What is not smart is blowing up the one bass cabinet we're taking on tour right before the HiFi set. After a pretty decent Zebras set and a fantastic set by Chicago's The Cell Phones (one curly-haired singer lady with golden pipes, one dude with an acoustic bass distorting it through a pair of fuzzy fuzz amps, and a speedy drummer--highly recommended), The Wizard plugged his bass into Lacey's amp and, after cranking up the signal, promptly blew the 18-inch woofer. Whoops. On the bright side, we suddenly realized we'd be crashing in our own beds after the show, since we'd have to drive back to Milwaukee to grab The Wizard's gear (bad news for any of the ladies in the audience who were looking to grab The Wizard's gear after the show...HEY-O).

Anywho, Keith the sound guy ran the bass direct and, while it severely cut down on The Wizard's feedback, it apparently fazed no one in the audience. We gutted out a spirited set and Yale apparently has decided that this is the "Yale moves his mic stand into the crowd for at least one song per show" Tour '11, which i'm totes fine with.

SETLIST: Ratings Spike / We Fiddle / Sleeperhold / In&Out of Grace / 99 Probalos / Defenestrate / Arson / No MM

We're in the middle of a run where we play Chicago once a month minimum, so i did my best to mix it up and play some stuff we never play. Of course, posting these set lists means that people are gonna start requesting all kinds of crazy shit. NO, WE HAVE NOT RE-LEARNED "YOU'RE NO PIRATE"...yet.

Three copies of the new CD sold and one each of the old stuff. Dolla dolla billz.


We now have (slightly) more room in the van, thanks to replacing Lacey's white-dwarf-powered three-ton bass amp and cab with The Wizard's setup. We left Milwaukee and proceeded to embark on the longest drive to Bloomington, IN in our long, storied history of Indiana drives. [Obligatory snark-ass remark about Chicago's consistently shit traffic goes here] After passing a billboard in Gary that advertised a strip club called "Polekatz" (which, sorry, but while i am pro strip-club, i will not be patronizing one called "Polekatz," no matter how hot that Looney Tunes skunk was), we drove head-first into what felt like Jesus' watery revenge on a state that abandoned him and voted Democrat in 2008 for the first time since Christ wished the state into the union. Waves of rain blew sideways across the road like Aragorn's ghost army or the animated broomsticks in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, while Yale white-knuckled us down the highway in a heroic effort to keep us on the road and upright. Meanwhile, i checked Severe Thunderstorm Watch. Uh, yeah, we're watching it right now, assholes.

Eventually we made it to Gay Dudes Annex, aka Rob Waxeater's house, where we were playing along with the band he just joined, Bad Creeps. The show was a blast; just enough people showed up to cram into the front of the "stage area" while Zebras blasted through a quick 25-minute set to an appreciative, mind-blown pack of kids. This was the first night where Zebras and HiFi played back-to-back sets, and thus, the first night that i essentially played nonstop for an hour, minus a set changeover. So far, no worries. No feelings of fatigue as we charged through a six-song set that expanded to eight when we opened with "We Got the Beat" to just play something in order to get the kids back downstairs for the start of our set.

We Got the Beat/We Fiddle/Arson/Imp. Walker/Paulding/Chance-Medley (Rob request)/Telescope/No MM

It being a basement show, naturally, the kids at the show, despite being totally into both bands and rocking the HELL out during both sets, managed to donate $13 and buy 0 pieces of merchandise from both bands. Yes, kids, we drove six hours just to donate our time for your entertainment. You're welcome!

Whatever--we drank whiskey, we watched Bad Creeps kill it, and Lacey and i stayed up until 5 AM watching Rob's Bad Creeps bandmates try to hump each other with little success. I'm not sure if they were trying to weird each other out, or if one of them was genuinely trying to get on the other. Either way, it was adorable. I guess it's not just a clever name--they really are bad at being creeps. At least they lived up to the venue's name!

I slept in the van last night. It was awesome in that it felt like camping and i got to do a crack-and-whiz (i.e. cracking the van door and peeing out of it onto Rob's lawn) twice. THE FREEDOM OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tour 2011 Eve

Tomorrow, IfIHadAHiFi and Zebras depart for a 16-day trek through the Southeast and Eastern United States. It's the eighth tour of at least a week that the HiFi have gone on in our 11-year history and the first tour that i'm doing with Zebras. We're not exactly road warriors (although we've gone out enough times to convince people that we are), but it's the best we can do as a bunch of folks with day jobs (ostensibly).

Preparations of the most unglamorous sort are underway: acquiring fresh-from-the-plant Nada Surf +3 CDs, stocking up on toiletries, packing, buying Triple-A coverage online. It's the van stuff that, of course, is the biggest pain in the ass and the most stressful. Dealing with my own car's issues is my least favorite stressor as it is; being the guy in the band that has his name on the title (which is the way it's been since we bought our first van in 2002, ugh) is a whole extra level of bullshit. Insurance, oil change, cleaning the sucker out before we leave...all of the fun gruntwork that people who have never been on a tour tend to not think about. Oh, how romantic! Piling into a van with your bandmates and hitting the road, bringing the message of your rock and rolls musics to the awaiting throng! Uh, yeah. If only you could see with my eyes when we're loading out after a show at a Brooklyn bar while the booker explains "well, sorry, you can see here on the tally sheet that no one came to see you, so you don't get any of the door money," spurring Yale to beg $20 off the owner because thank god that he at least liked us and feels bad. (Since we're playing with friends in Brooklyn this time, that shouldn't happen. But it has.)

This time out we'll be relying more on the kindness of strange bar patrons than ever, as our band fund was exhausted on Monday by an adventure involving unpaid parking tickets and the City of Milwaukee tow lot. Our registration sticker was stolen from the van back in June; two months, four tickets, and plenty of scatterbrainedness later, Yale was driving me to the tow lot on Monday to get our precious tour van out of hock. $105 tow plus $20/day storage just because we spaced on paying parking tickets. If this were a political post, i could say plenty about how many of our governmental institutions exist to keep poor people down by piling bullshit fee on top of bullshit fee, but let's not get into that right now. What's pertinent is that our little van adventure on Monday drained the rest of the band fund that we had, along with $50 of my own money in a tow out of the lot (the passenger side front tire was gashed, which the city tow truck guy swears happened before he got there, and his report says the same...whatever) and a friendly mounting (heh) of the spare tire by a helpful mechanic. IfIHadAHiFi would like to extend their sincere thanks to the Bottom Lounge in Chicago for financing our vehicular incompetence.

Amusingly, a friend on Facebook joked that it was time for us to try a Kickstarter campaign to offset this minor disaster, but i think he knew that my response would be "i was just joking to myself that we should do a 'pay for our tour!' Kickstarter campaign, except that we find the idea of 'pay for our tour!' Kickstarter campaigns totally fucking gross." It'd be especially gross in this situation--"hey, we fucked up and had to blow our whole band fund on City of Milwaukee BS; give us money to go on tour!" It may sound like dick-wagging braggadocio, but i really feel that adversity like this is what makes my band strong. It has always bonded us on the road in an us-vs-the-world way. Our shows on tour are blistering and urgent because, well, there's a real urgency to our being on stage. I feel that would be lost if we used something like Kickstarter to give ourselves a cushion. Fuck that. We're flying without a net big time on this tour, and really, i wouldn't have it any other way. The tour stories are better that way.

So, hey! East coast! Please come see us sometime in the next 16 days. We promise that we will play violently loud, abrasive and thrilling music in an oft-times dangerous manner, and i personally promise that you will bear witness to a mind-fucking drumming endurance contest for the ages. For the next two weeks, Martian Dance Invasion! and IfIHadAHiFi's website will be cross-posting tour reports whenever we can. Also, be sure to follow the Twitter accounts of IfIHadAHiFi and me, as they'll have plenty to offer as well. See you out there!

FRI 8/12: Chicago, IL @ Quenchers with The Cell Phones
SAT 8/13: Bloomington, IN @ Gay Dudes Annex (Rob's House) w/Bad Creeps
SUN 8/14: Nashville, TN @ Springwater Supper Club w/Gnarwhal and maybe Deluxin
MON 8/15: Knoxville, TN @ The Longbranch Saloon w/TBA
TUE 8/16: Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge w/Easter Island, NEVER
WED 8/17: Wilmington, NC @ Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern. W/ BLACKS
THUR 8/18: Durham, NC @ The Pinhook w/Maple Stave
FRI 8/19: Washington, DC @ Everlasting Life w/Cephalopods, Night & the City
SAT 8/20: Philadelphia, PA @ Danger Danger Gallery w/a bunch of bands
SUN 8/21: Brooklyn, NY @ Don Pedros w/We Ride, Bombshell
MON 8/22: New Brunswick, NJ @ house show w/The Silent Way - message us for details
TUE 8/23: Pittsburgh, PA @ Gooski’s Bar w/Dwarf Fortress, Lightweight
WED 8/24: Cincinnati, OH @ Southgate House w/Swear Jar
THUR 8/25: Detroit, MI @ Small’s, in Hamtramck w/Telecollision & Damn Near Killed ‘Em
FRI 8/26: Lansing, MI @ Mac’s w/Fun Ender & Dr. Device
SAT 8/27: Ft. Wayne, IN @ the Brass Rail w/TBD

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Biology of Bon Temps

Let's diverge a bit from all the music talk and spend a few moments thinking about television, particularly, that trashy vampire fuckathon soap opera called True Blood. (WARNING: don't read this if you haven't seen any episodes of the show but plan on starting it sometime, ok? Spoilery goodness herein.)

While True Blood started as a fun, trashy, but well-executed supernatural sex romp, it's spent the past three seasons slowly snowballing into a morass of let's-see-what-we-can-get-away-with-next nonsense, from Maryann the maenad feeding Tara and Eggs a human heart in Season 2 (which really was the only point of the entire episode, which led me to yell at the TV, "oh, come on! You're only doing that because it's HBO and you can") to Sookie and Eric hooking up this season for reasons completely unexplained, nonsensical, and contrary to everything we've learned about Sookie for the past three years. (I feel that i should mention that lots of Season 3 represented a delay in this decline into senseless poorly-written absurdity [as opposed to the well-written absurdity of Season 1] thanks to the awesome Russell Edgington and his dearly departed husband Talbot [one of my favorites in the entire series' run; his execution was almost enough to throw me off the bandwagon]). This season in particular has been full of stupid bullshit that no one cares about--does anyone seriously give a wererat's ass what's wrong with Arlene and Terry's baby? Am i the only one who thought Jason's "i'm gonna force Andy to make me a cop" storyline in Season 3 made no sense (and am i the only one tired of every effort to make Jason more interesting than a perpetually humping puppy)?

However, as poorly-executed as the latest developments with the amnesiac (and emasculated) Eric and Sookie have been, they do stem from the one topic being explored in this show that keeps me from completely pulling the plug on my investment in this exasperating soap: the evolving depiction of sex and love in Bon Temps as consciously directed by, and possibly nothing more than, biochemical response.

Supernatural biology as a device for examining the conflation of romantic love with physical sex has been a theme of the show from the start, when Bill uses his blood to heal Sookie after she is attacked by vampires in the first episode of the series. The revelation that vampire blood causes humans to feel bonded to the vamp supplier is used in manipulating fashion by Eric later on when he tricks Sookie into drinking his blood in a plan to make her fall in love with him. And finally, the end of Season 3 goes all-in, establishing Sookie as part faerie and explaining that faerie blood causes all sorts of ooey-blooey sensations in vampires. (Sure, it's never really explained whether or not V users start to have sex dreams about the vamps that the blood came from, but whatever.) The discovery that her blood is vampire crack makes Sookie question whether Bill ever had any true feelings for her, or if he was merely a slave to his own primal, biochemical nature.

More and more it seems like several of the relationships in True Blood either begin or are finished by an inability to separate emotional love from physical obsession, the latest example developing between Hoyt, Jessica and Jason, thanks to Jessica's use of her blood to heal Jason's multiple werepanther-rape wounds (i'm going to confess right here that i'm glad i got the chance to write something like "werepanther rape wounds"). As Jason and Jessica try to make sense of their sudden obsession with each other, poor Hoyt can feel something's up, and the viewing public can't help but be frustrated by the three characters' lack of knowledge of vampire physiology and its affect on humans.

As a frustrated romantic at heart, a lot of this stuff is difficult for me to watch. I roll my eyes at the developing relationship between Sookie and Eric, borne out of mere biochemical impulse, but find myself rooting for Lafayette and Jesus, who, while mystic and wiccan, are both human and represent in the context of this show a relationship born and evolving from commonalities, shared experiences, and good old-fashioned, emotional love.

I'll confess: i felt stung by the show's reveal that Bill and Sookie were drawn together by blood and biology, leaving ambiguous the question as to whether they ever really developed an emotional bond separate from their physical reactions to each other. But i suppose love and sex are generally messy, aren't they?

As True Blood spins into what seems to be an unavoidable death spiral of truly atrocious writing and plot lines that no one cares about, its increasing insistence on mucking up the romance with all kinds of messy, scary bodily fluids and serotonin is the one thing it keeps getting right in a big way. While cynical on the surface, it's also uncomfortably realistic, for a show about vampires, shifters and weres.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Martian Dance Bands of the Week! - X's For I's and Pregnant

A few weeks back a dude named Ethan sent me an email with some very nice words about Martian Dance Invasion! and a download link to a rad record called Gravity Wins Again. It's a 2010 release by Ethan's band, Portland's X's For I's, who--full disclosure--share a mutual friend with me in my old buddy Conan Neutron of Victory & Associates, Mount Vicious, Replicator, etc. Being the first person nice enough to send me free music as a direct result of this blog (let the record show that it took roughly 20 days for the first fringe benefits to roll in from this blog--not too shabby), i would be remiss if i did not grant it a few in-depth listens and a review. Good thing that it's pretty damn great.

(NOTE: it may happen--nay, it will happen--that many of the bands i pimp out in Martian Dance Invasion! will be people i know, or have ties to people i know. After touring in a band and meeting/helping out scores of people in bands for 13 years straight, and playing in other bands before that, it's sort of unavoidable. That being said, if you want to send me some music to review or check out, contact me! My info is over in that thar menu to your right. I don't only cover friends' bands, i swear, because some of my friends play in crap bands. The old "they are SUCH nice guys" syndrome, or "when bad bands happen to good people." It's a thing.)

So! X's For I's. Portland. The Pacific Northwest really kills it when it comes to noise-rock, people. From Form of Rocket in Salt Lake City to the Northwest's opposite corner, Seattle's, overabundance of riches (The Bismarck, Police Teeth, Absolute Monarchs, AFrames, The Intelligence, etc. etc.), there's a real appreciation out West for dissonance and hard-driving, scrapey/shredding volume. X's For I's is a worthy member of the fraternity, having schooled themselves in the 90s Dischord Records post-hardcore that bred Fugazi, Jawbox, Q and not U (woah, another alphabet-based name), and even the more emo-tinged Hoover/Crownhate Ruin family tree that has somehow managed to inform Absolutely here in Milwaukee. Gravity Wins Again is full of chewy, rhythm-heavy morsels that stop, start and jigsaw (honestly, there are more starts and stops on this record than a game of Freeze Tag) their way from the Ex-Models to Unwound with a clarity of purpose as direct as their thwomping drums. "4-Eyed Square" in particular owes a lot to the Jawbox catalog, from the J.Robbins-style vocals all the way down to the J.Robbins-style riffage.

This has become an overly name-droppy review. I apologize.

From the handclaps and segmented riffs of "Components" to the harmonized leads and the "you do the math, baby" singalong of "Wolf Tickets," to the head-spinning rhythms of the excellently titled "Alligator Fuckhouse" (which, at the risk of invoking the mighty 'Gazi once again, closes its final 30 seconds with an inspired drop from full-on rock to a gorgeously subdued Lally-style bass-flavored meditation), Gravity Wins Again is a fully engaging thirty-five minutes of driving, impassioned badassery that makes me really mad that we haven't played with them on any of our West Coast tours yet. The album can be streamed in its entirety on X's For I's Bandcamp site, so give it a click.

Meanwhile, in Berkeley,

...i did a bit of shopping at the legendary Amoeba Records and was lucky to stumble onto a copy of another killer late discovery from 2010, the self-titled 12-inch LP from Brooklyn's Pregnant. I first became aware of these guys when my pal Alli from Brooklyn's Nick Cave-worshiping Bootblacks hipped me to them as a possible band to play with on tour. A month or so later, Latest Flame Dan is showing me their LP in his bedroom with the sort of "dude, look what i discovered" exuberance that we over-35 types haven't forgotten but run into way less often than we did in our early 20s.

Pregnant is a bare-bones bargain-basement affair; the album sleeve is black and white and quite possibly was printed at a Kinko's, while the inside contains nothing even resembling anything so modern as a "download code." The music is equally stripped down and basic: songs of a ninety-second average length blur past the ears fueled by Mission of Burma-style post-punk riffs re-imagined by a garage-punk Descendents. The wrist workouts "Do You Feel It?" and "Help" kick things off with double-stroked sixteenth-note guitar chords with only the slightest hint of fuzz, the edge coming more from the downhill rhythm section and Kevin Manion's raspy, Greg Sage vocals.

For a collection of blink-and-you-miss-em supernova bursts of garagey proto-punk, these songs have some serious groove. The frenetic pace is broken only slightly by the waltzing "Skin Display," which spends a whopping 1:37 hammering through a couple verses and a chorus before moving on with a cough to the similarly-abbreviated "Toothache." Both songs swing and sway with some Enchantment Under the Sea slow-dance magic, but don't waste any time and rock no less harder than the barnburning "My Generation" two-note shamble of "Wormie" and "You Think."

It's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to make straight-ahead punk rock sound fresh and exciting in 2011, but Pregnant pull it off with a combination of attitude, musicianship, and above all, vibe. From the economical packaging to the appropriately lo-fi (read: raw as hell), minimally-overdubbed (if at all) recording, there is a welcome lack of bullshit in this record that is as much a statement of purpose as an accident of economics. If you luck out and find this in the vinyl bin, grab grab grab and spin spin spin. Sure, the band posted a link on their blog to download a vinyl rip of the album (and frankly, i'm shocked they even bothered with such nonsense like a blog, although it hasn't been updated since last September), but this was meant to be listened to with needle on wax, and none of those bullshit ones or zeros.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tears dry on their own or: Amy, Amy, Amy

Since i was on my way to the Bay Area when the Amy Winehouse news hit, i didn't have a chance to write anything about it until now. Sorry it's not more timely.

I don't pretend to have the same embedded, in-the-shit experience with addiction that Amy Winehouse did, but i have some. While thankfully not an addict myself, i've spent the bulk of my life around addicts in various stages of use and recovery, from family members to former girlfriends. It was with the empathy gained from a lifetime of relationships that i mourned Winehouse's passing when the news hit on July 23. Was it a surprising death? No, but that doesn't make it any less sad.

Of course, the running joke with Winehouse's death was "she should have gone to rehab," which, ha ha, douchebags--she did, several times. While most of that sentiment probably shouldn't be read into as any more than cynical celebrity snark, i can't help but observe it as evidence of how little people really know about addiction. While treatable, it's naive to think of it as curable. Even those who are able to get past their substance abuse know--the addiction stays, and they're changed forever as a result.

A common mistake happens when the drug gets blamed for the addiction, when in fact, something in the addict's life generally is what pushed them toward a need for some sort of chemical release. That misdirection is the fate of so many recovering addicts, who often transfer their addiction to something else (food, other drugs, caffeine & cigarette...even recovery programs like AA can be addictive) instead of combating the reasons they became addicted in the first place. After all, it's easier to blame a faceless substance than it is yourself.

I've spent most of my life learning another important lesson about addiction--it affects and changes those closest to the addict as well. In fact, a large percentage of addicts come from families with an addictive history. So far, i've avoided giving over control of my life to a chemical, but i've only recently begun to recover from my addiction to, well, addicts. As a codependent, my relationships for a long time were dominated by girls who i arrogantly assumed needed my "help" as much as my family needed the oldest kids to compensate for the parent hanging out at the bar from quitting time to closing time. From letting one move in with me to "save" her from her parents, to constantly trying to convince another that her selfish, dramatic behavior was the thing keeping us from a successful relationship, it was a trap i continually, eagerly fell into--finding personal value through subjugating my emotional needs to the far needier requirements of others.

Eventually, the patterns of behavior became so apparent that i finally was able to break the cycle, biding my time and finding a relationship that doesn't come with the emotional imbalance of power that accompanies addict/codependent relationships. But i would never pretend that i'm "cured" of my behaviors; on the contrary, i find myself occasionally putting myself on guard, bracing myself during situations that would have escalated into emotional rollercoasters with former girlfriends, only to be reminded when the ride doesn't leave the station that--oh yeah--my lady doesn't make mountains out of molehills. It's pretty awesome, but i fully recognize that it was my past struggles with codependency that led me to this point, where i can appreciate and enjoy a stable, awesome relationship. I wouldn't change anything i went through; it's gifted me with unique experiences and loads of fuel for my art.

I don't pretend that my experiences with substance addiction (and just as often, the addictive personality type, regardless of the presence of actual drugs) is anything like that of, say, Amy Winehouse or another member of the 27 club. Of course not. But as i think about my own history, and how in its own, strange way, it was a gift, i'm offered some cold comfort as i reflect upon the death of a magnificently talented siren cursed with unconquerable demons. It is the same tortured, addictive soul that crafted the classic Back to Black that also indirectly killed herself, just like how the man who wrote "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" eventually managed to fulfill his wish.

It's a question i often ask myself, knowing that there is a certain breed of artist that, for better or worse, is transcendent not only despite their imbalances, but also because of them. If Amy's demons were the tameable kind, would we have borne witness to such a fascinating single as the nakedly autobiographic, infectious "Rehab?" Had Kurt Cobain been a more well-balanced individual with less of a need to self-medicate with heroin, would we have the unrelenting, largely uncompromising In Utero?

These are hypotheticals, of course, because we know how these stories ended--the same demons that inspired these brilliant works also, in the end, claimed their artists' lives.

If i knew any of these people personally, i obviously know what my response would be to a jerk pointing all of this out: if i had to choose between "Rehab" existing and my friend being alive, well, it wouldn't be much of a choice. But as a fan, saddened by the twists taken in the tales of these people's lives, bummed because Back to Black will now live on in the context of a harbinger, not as a prelude to redemption? The knowledge that there was nothing that could be done, that this is how the story had to end...there's an acceptance in there somewhere.

Amy, Amy, Amy...i'm sorry you could never tame your dragon, and i'm sorry that you could never find peace in living. I'm sorry that your recorded output will be remembered as the genius of a life that was destined to burn out instead of burn long. But i thank you for it just the same. And while you're no longer with us, know that through your music, you live forever, while many less tortured souls will fade into history. There's something to be said for that, i suppose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

If you like it then you gotta Kickstarter it, or: Griftamoose

Sometimes i worry that my friends don't entirely get me. See, i'm known for being a bit of a snarky crankypants, so much so that friends of mine occasionally feel the need to suggest that i focus on talking about things that i like (which i apparently don't do often enough, i guess) or to maybe remember that ultimately, many of the things i get pissed off and yell about ultimately do not affect my daily life. While this is all perhaps true, what these people tend to forget is that A) I'm not really losing that much sleep over a lot of this stuff, and B) ranting can be really goddamn entertaining.

Look, at the end of the day i'm an idealist. I passionately support things that i think are amazing (did i illegally download the new Helms Alee record? Yes. Did i then buy the vinyl directly from the band for $20? Yes i did, via The Fucking Wizard, who was at the show when i couldn't be. Props, Wizard!) and often find myself in a teeth-gnashing state when the number of people who agree with me on Any Given Artist is minimal compared to those who disagree with me on flaccid nonsense like, say, Mumford & Sons. Basically, i am able to sleep at night in a world where most people like stuff that sucks, but that doesn't mean i have to go quietly into that same night.

That brings us to Pomplamoose. You know them, whether you realize you do or not (and if you honestly don't, i'm really sorry for what i'm about to do to your brain). You probably saw them in their aggressively cute Christmas commercials for Hyundai last year (if you're a football fan, the only possible way you avoided these ads last Holiday Season was via alcoholic blackout, which, if you were attending Packer parties at Cactus Club, became more and more likely as the season wore on).

The band is a perfect storm of Everything DJ Hates About Life: they are cloyingly, saccharinely cutesy, from the hipster dude mincing around like a glittery asshole to the "look at us repurposing popular songs" shtick that was old somewhere around Me First and the Gimme Gimmes' Are a Drag record (if we're being charitable). The singer, Nataly Dawn, stares at the camera with the dead-eyed zombie gaze of a Christian fundamentalist and yarbles in that Feist/Regina Spektor iFectation that all female singers trying to land an Apple commercial use these days*. Also, their name is a spoof on pamplemousse, the French world for grapefruit, literally translated as "pompous lemon." While this is totally adorbs, i find it appropriately ironic that "pompous lemon" is now synonymous with "ironic hipsters shilling cars."

I also want to institute a rule that if your band name sounds like a character from the Hundred-Acre Wood, you don't get to play music unless it's targeted at children. Then again, maybe it is. OH HOLY FUCK THEY COVERED ONE OF MY FAVORITE SONGS EVER LET'S SET THEM ON FIRE:

Oh, hey, wait, that wasn't technically Spamlamoof, that was Nataly solo. Here's a video of Pamplesmurfalump covering Aerosmith (pray for Ben Affleck to fail in his mission, so that the asteroid destroys us all):

This "quirky" "musical" duo is being credited with "modifying the music industry," as their twee renditions of songs they did not write have earned them millions of YouTube hits and apparently enough mp3 download revenue that they don't work day jobs and even bought a house, all without the help of physical media or a record label, indie or major. Good for them, i suppose--although i hesitate to agree that any story that basically boils down to "band makes money off other people's music" constitutes a musical revolution (if that's the case, then Cherry Pie are the most revolutionary act in Southeast Wisconsin).

But hey! They have managed to make a living playing music. Good on them, i guess.

So why in the defaulted debt-ceiling hell does Nataly Dawn need to run a Kickstarter campaign to fund her solo debut album?

Pictured: the last goddamn straw

I know that I risk jinxing myself in saying that I have very high hopes for this album, but it's the truth! Over the last year, I have written songs that I'm proud of and that I believe represent a cohesive body of work. They've taken a lot out of me (in a good way), and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you.

It helps that I have so much faith in the musicians I'll be working with. Between the drummer, the bassist, the guitarist and the engineer, I couldn't tell you who was the most talented. They are the ones who will turn my bare bone songs into full-fledged works. They are the magic makers. I would tell you who they are, but you would probably get too excited and forget to give me money.

Everything is ready to go: the songs, the musicians, the studio. All I need is a little help from you! Every dollar will go towards the album: paying the musicians and the people who will be filming the recording process, reserving the studio and hotel rooms, renting gear etc. And if by some miracle there's anything left over, I will buy myself a brand new Jaguar...or the money will go towards promoting the album. I haven't decided yet.

(ED. NOTE: I'm assuming the Jaguar crack was a joke, unless they like to drive ironic cars while ironically slagging the bridge of a song that made them stupid popular.)

We had a spirited discussion on this very blog about the pros and cons of Kickstarter. I came out of that conversation with the conclusion that like most things, Kickstarter is merely a tool that can be used in a proper way or a douchey way. Album pre-sales for struggling artists? Totally cool. A way for a successful musician swimming in Hyundai money to justify a $20,000 album budget? What. The. Fuck.

Let's break this down: Nataly Dawn apparently does not have a day job, as Pooplemousse have raked in bank. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that Pompahufflepuff made a killing on those Hyundai ads. So completely ignoring the budget on this project (my band recorded, mixed and mastered our new record for $1300 total and it sounds, if i may be so bold, fucking awesome; add in Latest Flame's manufacturing and promotional costs and we're still not getting within whiffing distance of ten grand), why does she not have the money to throw down an initial investment of her own? Fuck it, let's get into the budget--hotel rooms? renting gear? Reserving a studio? Wait, what's wrong with the one in her fucking house?

As of my writing this, 972 people in this economy have donated $43,393 (including patrons who have donated up to $750 apiece to own an item of clothing that Nataly wore in a previous Pumpadump video. This begs the question "how much would she have earned if she said they were unwashed?")--$23,393 over the stated goal and $13,393 more than i earned in calendar year 2010. Fuck me running.

Look, i get that none of this directly affects me. If i don't like the project (you may have gathered by now that i don't), i don't have to donate. But am i alone in feeling like this is a huge goddamn grift? Where'd the Hyundai money go, if not to finance future projects? (I don't buy any "Pumplesnuff and Nataly solo are different projects, so maybe it's an accounting thing" theories, since the two of them are apparently profiting personally from their cover band--even if that's the case, save your damn money and finance your vanity project yourself, ffs.) And where did the $20,000 figure come from? I'd love to see an itemized breakdown of her project's budget, especially now that she's made over 200% of her goal. Her patrons should be asking for this too.

Maybe i'm just bitter that my abrasive, non-commercial noise-rock will never spur 900 people to send us $40K in exchange for the unwashed boxer shorts Yale Delay wore while driving the tour van through Georgia in mid-August. And maybe i should be old enough to have completely come to terms with the fact that the general population will always flock to non-threatening, easily accessible brain-shut-off pop music rather than seek out original, compelling artists. And while i mostly have come to terms with that, it doesn't make this scenario any less fucked up.

But even more than this just being an extended "other people don't like what i like, i guess i'll go eat worms" snit-fit, it begs to be asked: is this not a complete abuse of Kickstarter's mission? Am i wrong in thinking that a project like this undermines the projects of real struggling artists who legitimately need Kickstarter in order to fund their films, albums, and other projects? I can't be the only one who thinks that this campaign is a classic lesson in Doing It Wrong.

*True story: I'm in Los Angeles last year visiting my friend Ben and his lovely singer-songwriter wife (name redacted because i don't want our cattiness to harm her budding music career), and i watch the two of them perform at a tiny LA bar before some anonymous blonde thang on a piano. I make some sort of snarky tweet/FB post about Anonymous Blonde's use of the Feist iYarble(TM) during her cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and they both giggle. "Dude, every girl in Los Angeles is singing like that these days. It's so shameless. Everyone wants to be in a commercial."