DETROIT: Gary Numan is playing Detroit tonight. Did I mention we love Gary Numan? Did I mention that the booker tried to put us on this bill? Do I sound like a broken record? Well forgive me, but WE COULD HAVE PLAYED WITH GARY FUCKING NUMAN? Ah well, lets go with Plan B and just book us at the only dump in town that will take us. The good news is we are the gnarliest pack of ROAD RATS anyone's ever seen and we are here to ROCK THIS DUMP! I mean ROCK THIS TOWN. The night ends up great, Proto Martyr is a new band and the best band I've seen since the German Measles last year. The singer looks like an extra from River's Edge and gets cut off from the bar before they even play. They have a great song in which the lyrics consist of "I will not touch that screen. I will not have a drink! Jumbo-wo-wo-wos." A friend leans over and says "This song is about the dive bar Jumbo's he goes to every night and gets wasted and gambles all his money away on the touchscreen poker machine." Finally some real-deal shit. We love them. The Johnny Ill band are killer as well. The crowd is great, and just as it's time for us to start, Susanna's bass amp craps out and won't make a sound, EVEN though it was fine a second ago. (Tomorrow, when checking the amp, I will find that the sound guy accidentally turned off a switch we didn't know existed when he was plugging in the D.I. box we begged him not to use.) The sound guy decides it's too much of a hassle to borrow an amp and makes her go direct (this means her bass keyboard is just playing out of a tiny monitor and the house speakers in front of us), and with her bass in the monitor there are no vocals. But like I said earlier, this pack of ROAD RATS squeak the lid off this garbage can. After the show our guitarist, Eric, also unleashes some insane dance moves, one that skittles across the dance floor like upside down crab, and another I like to call 'Party-bot Meltdown," where he puts his legs inside his shirt and spins like a top. I Shoo Goo our air mattress and we go to sleep with our bed barely deflating to a soothing tiny "ssssssssssss" sound.
CLEVELAND: We start out the day Slo's BBQ (our favorite dinner spot) for breakfast. When you want something that sticks to your ribs and makes you want to climb back into your jammies and a nice satin-lined coffin, this is the place. We are nice and glazed for a long drive to Cleveland. We play at a nice club called Now That's Class, and are always treated well, the owner/booker was a touring musician who wanted to open a spot that "didn't treat bands like dirt." Well sir, you have succeeded. Another highlight is the food here, they buy a local guy's tamales and other various homemade Mexican treasures and serve them, as well as an incredible faux Philly cheese steak. While strolling the streets, we hear an angry street person shouting "Hey!" at us a few times in a scary tone. This begins a discussion about that when trying to get the attention of a stranger on a dark night on a creepy street, tone is everything. I suggest a more friendly and "fabulous" voice almost in the "heeyyy-girrrrll" kind of tone. We agree that instead of putting our heads down and quickening our pace, we'd actually stop. That tone alone is so inviting you'd be driven TOWARDS it. It sounds like you're going to talk about cool shoes and belts or something.
The show is okay, and we stay with a nice kid from one of the bands. He has to go to school early, and leaves me a key and gives me a tutorial on the alarm code and says to make ourselves at home and sleep as late as we want and is a gem. Before bed I notice curious notes around the house, and each one contains the same salutation: "Hey Pussies:..." e.g: "Hey Pussies: You can't leave the dirty knives in the sink. You have to RINSE them and put them in the dishwasher. If you can't handle this, maybe you should get your own and STICK THEM UP YOUR ASS!" Another one in the bathroom says "Hey Pussies: it's weird to shut the bathroom door when no one is in here, LEAVE IT OPEN!" Now I have to imagine this aggressive roomie frustratingly soiling pair after pair of pants before mustering the courage to knock on the door only to find it empty and being driven to leave this note.
Around 8 am (about four hours into slumber for a touring band, if you're lucky) some guy (the note author I'd imagine) hostilely tells us to get out because an inspector is coming to the apartment in a few hours. Our bullshit detectors are beeping so loud I can't concentrate, so we pack up and I turn on the shower and lock the bathroom door from the inside and we split. We go to the West Side Market and get the legendary Falafel and Egg Sandwich. Then we go lay in a beautiful waterfront park and try to play whiffle ball in the wind. Eric becomes aggressive and gives birth to the term "Whiffle Creep."
COLUMBUS: If you are looking for skuzzy rock and roll underbellies, this is your spot, folks. But I like Columbus. I think. Cafe Bourbon St. always treats us well, and we get to have dinner with Eric's parents at a brewery downtown called Pardon My Reach, or maybe that's all I can remember after the waiter said it to the point of Chinese water torture. His parents are cool and fun, and in an effort to relive their fears after seeing the club we were playing tonight, I tell them we're playing a festival with Weird Al Yankovic in a couple weeks (TRUE), and it seems to help. The Soft Pack and Kurt Vile are playing tonight too, and we run over and catch three great Soft Pack songs. Wish we could stay, but you can't beat the Free Hot Dogs Clause at Bourbon St. I dig the first band and tell them so, and they respond with "Even though our drummer has a beard?!" I can only think to tell them "It's better than dreadlocks?" A nice friend of ours offers to put us up. We stayed there last year, and it was pretty raunchy (a deep green, spore-covered coffee pot immediately comes to mind), but we don't have any other offers. He has to "run an errand," and asks to meet at a party down the street.
The party is a pretty sad sight—a deep, dark, cocaine den of inequity, and the jaw-grinding and chattering and eyeballs poppin' out is pretty grim. But it's also pretty impressive for a Tuesday. Errand Boy wants to stay, and graciously gives us his keys and we split. Unfortunately, the squalor of his place has evolved into true hoarder-style horror. The guest room door is hard to push open, and is filled with old rotten half-full beer cans, dirty take-out containers and mold-filled margarita glasses. We flip a coin to either kill ourselves or get a hotel and the hotel wins out. When we leave, I look back to see a cat in the window, and the moonlight reflects off its single tear.
Pittsburgh alarm clock.
PITTSBURGH: I've been booked in the Pits three times, and all three it's been decided to not even unload the van. Usually due to a Steelers game. So I don't think we've ever actually played here. The booker's a legendary nut, but I like him. Inside the Thunderbird Bar and Grill, when Beren asks if we get any food or drinks, he just says "NO" and stares straight back into her eyes until she moonwalks to the van to weep.
Posters in Pittsburgh
The opening band is a Primus/Creed/Rush/Block Party-hybrid, and they're so out-of-tune and young that it's adorable. The booker pops up and says we can have the leftovers from the private Real Estate Halloween party upstairs. Wing bones for everyone! They look at us with genuine disgust as we eat the stale pita and encrusted hummus. Pointing at two girlfriends of the first band (the only people in the room) we get offered pay to NOT play. Just as I am saying "yes please," I am interrupted with "TOO LATE," as two more guys come inside and pay. Rats. But as anyone who's read Get in the Van knows, Dukouski's law says you gotta give it your all even if it's to one person. Now I don't follow that rule to its entirety, but the least I can do is stand there, strum, and curse Pisttsburgh. Later we get dragged to "Goth Night" at some other club, and the first sight is a nine-months-pregnant goth girl chainsmoking with her belly popping out of her sweat pants. Some local goth band plays and is so animated that it's downright mesmerizing. I'd describe it as Anthony Kiedis fronting the surviving members of Sublime covering Marilyn Manson, but with pink mowhawks and bat earrings. We stay with the booker in a giant space that has booked our previous two cancellations. The room is probably 2000 square feet, but he has all of our beds inches apart and in a row like the Seven Dwarfs and seems baffled when we each scoot to the furthermost corners of the room for personal space. In the morning, we awake to what sounds like a garbage truck being run over by a steamroller, and we find our host crushing garbage can after garbage can of beer cans in the gigantic echoic space. A good wake-up system for him I'm sure, but at this point beer can-crushing sounds like the ocean to us, so we are slow to rise. When I extend my hand and say thanks for having us, our host lays his hand completely limp and still in my hand and says "okay," and just stares with dead eyes until I drop it.
Under the cutest Baseball fan in Philly.
PHILADELPHIA: Nice club and nice folks and nice bands. Nice Nice Nice. While hastily shaving in the teeny bathroom, I shave off a small mole and have to sport a ’70s street cop toilet paper blood blotter all night since it won't stop bleeding. The show is fine (sadly neither ?uestlove nor the Walkmen come), and they let us sleep in the empty rooms above the club, but the catch is a guy has to let us out in the morning "at 11 sharp!" So we wake up and are all set when the guy calls and says he's running late' and "would you mind waiting until 1:45?" Uh, sit in a dank dark nightclub for three hours? Not really. "Oh okay, I guess you can just open the back door then and it'll lock behind you," he says. Not sure why this wasn't an option earlier. So we stock the van with the ATM machine, cash registers, and a couple kegs of beer and lock the door behind us. For breakfast, Eric gets a giant cheese steak that is one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life.
NYC (Manhattan): After a traffic nightmare getting into the city, we are blessed with a miracle parking spot that gives me more relief than a negative teenage pregnancy test. We get to putter around the Lower East Side, and everyone but me has a frantic Halloween costume-finding challenge. The Cake Shop is a cool little basement, and they always treat us well. The German Measles—one of our favorite bands—are playing, and they are a joy. McDonalds open the show, and they are awesome. The singer has an orange T-shirt that he's cut a jack-o-lantern into and his nipples pop out of the eye holes. I really like the beats and am excited to see them, but they're so awful I get the feeling they are stinking on purpose. Apparently someone's sister is now playing drums. (A relief, as last I heard this junkie girl who begged us to play a rooftop show last year and then ran off without paying us and wouldn't ever answer her phone again was their drummer). The sister had a funny look of mild disappointment and bewilderment the whole time. Our set is fun, though we change the set list, and I keep getting mixed up. After the hundredth eyeroll from the band, I say "for Halloween I'm a blind guy." Later, an incredulous Susanna asks why in the hell I said "BLACK GUY" and I realize why a couple of African American ladies had cringed at my stage banter.
NYC (Brooklyn): We meet up with some friends and have a late brunch at Enid's and shop a little bit and continue on the last-minute costume stuff. That night we play at the Ridgeway Masonic temple, and it's an amazing old building with secret rooms and ledgers from the ’40s reporting checks cashed for $3.92. The bill features a ton of bands including one of the Vivian Girls doing a White Stripes cover band, the Beets, and Das Racist. Our set is good, complete with a girl leaning over the stage text messaging. Also, the most bummer Deejays of all time. I like Witch House and Salem, but they cast an overall fog on the party, and it's less scary than a 4 am Robitussin Comedown Cutters Party. I find myself longing to see the kid from last night who was in full Teen Wolf costume playing "The Monster Mash," and "Purple People Eater." After we play, I notice a guy creeping around the merch table with a sinister vibe. He rips one of our t-shirts off the wall and I grab him, yank it back and throw him out the door. He comes back with security and says "This guy just punched me," and swings the worlds slowest hay-maker at me. I duck and pop him a few times, and some guys grab my arms and drag me to the floor. He comes at me, trying to punch me while I'm pinned. I kick him, and the guys let me go as they realize that he's the problem. A few more pops, and security drags him out the door. All this happens while I am in a giant fuzzy swamp monster costume complete with feet and a puppet-ted hands.