RICHMOND, VA: Richmond has some of the most hospitable (and drunkin'-est and smokin'-est) people around. The cigarettes here are made locally and so fresh you can eat them! Pretty decent show for the night after Halloween and a Monday. When our host and his girlfriend take us home and offer us their spare bedroom, they unfortunately refer to it as their "weird sex room," because "it has a mattress and internet porn." And it is indeed an empty room with a mattress and computer on a desk that is otherwise completely bare, save for a Costco-size bottle of coco butter lotion and a roll of paper towels. After tucking us in, the couple retreat to their room to have a loud whiskey-fueled argument.
CHARLOTTE, NC While we're looking for dinner, a rough-looking old drunk guy (with a some kind of forehead tattoo—I hope it's not a BRUISE) slumped on a bench demands our ladies "c'mere and sit on my lap while I ask you a question." Strangely, they don't want to, and we shuffle into the closest restaurant. He follows us in, and the employees greet him with worn-down "Hey Chilly Willy." They are kind and fix Chilly Willy a plate even though he is so tough on them. ("Bag this up right for once, bitch!") Then they have to give him the boot and lock the front door after he comes back in to curse and complain three more times. The show is cool. We play with some nice kids' band whose female singer looks all of 17 and is chugging beers so furiously that she lets loose a 15-second burp into the microphone, then follows it up with a gay/Indian joke. Tonight is Megan and Eric's 2-year Anniversary, so we spring for hotel rooms and though we expect them to want a romantic evening in, they send a text 10 minutes after check-in saying to come over for pizza and Jameson's and next thing you know we are tromping through some brier patches under a freeway to have a nightcap at a gentleman's club in the distance. The joint alarmingly features two gigantic plasma TVs on either side of the stage (one playing NASCAR and one playing a Flowbie infomercial). Settling on the aggressively oversold drink special "Wet Panty Shots," I'm a bit horrified to see they are $12 apiece for what I imagine is rubbing alcohol and pineapple juice.
Kitty party, Atlanta, Georgia
ATLANTA On the drive today Eric and I encounter a gas station restroom stench so foul that it can only described as "the defecation of stubbed-out cheap cigars." We love Atlanta, and the Earl is a great venue and was rated one of the 10 Best Burgers in America by the New York Times, so I have a guacamole burger that is fantastic but also requires about 15 laps around the block to get my left arm to stop tingling. The opening band Barracudas are killer, (kind of like how I WANT the Feelies to sound) and we have a real nice crowd. It's also always great to see Henry from Chunklet. We stay with our good friend Dave, who makes us "Taco Soup," and tells me he's been on a big almond kick but doesn't think he chews them enough because "It feels like a cat trying to claw its way out of my insides sometimes." When he impersonates the clawing cat, it creates an image so revolting I miss the cigars.
INSIGHT TO AN INSIDE JOKE: Once in New Orleans for Megan's birthday, a party bus was rented to take a large gang of her closest friends to an mysterious club on the outskirts of town know only as SKUTTLEBUTTS. Upon entering the bus and knowing we were probably in store for a wacky night, I surveyed the scene and jokingly asked Susanna if there were any rules. She looked at the emergency exit on the ceiling and said, "Just don't open that door." Three hours later, Susanna boards the bus and I am on my back curled up like a potato bug and being hoisted up and down by about five people as my feet kick the door and we all chant "POP THAT TOP! POP THAT TOP!" It's become and inside joke for years, in fact I receive a text from Eric after we're home saying "I'm back at work opening wine for customers and all I can think is 'POP THAT TOP.'" And to illustrate what a good friend Eric is, upon seeing the lazer-beam look of scorn on Susanna's face, he tells her "You shouldn't be mad at him, 'cause I'm about to act WAY WORSE," and promptly does the centipede in the overhead luggage rack.
Somewhere in Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS This is probably the best city in the United States, and it's where Megan, Eric and Susanna are from, so we are thrilled. We have decent Pho for dinner, which, being from Seattle, is like eating at McDonalds in Paris, but it's cheap and easy so I'll quit whining. The bill is great tonight: Local guitar legend Lightning Guitar Lee is cool as hell, and at one point an awesome creepy swampy song starts and I say to myself "NOW THIS IS THE KIND OF BLUES I CAN GET BEHIND," and realize it's a cover of the Cramps "Human Fly." Big Freedia is supposed to headline but plays second. We're told, "When she's on the bill, she does what she wants." They absolutely tear the roof off the place with people dancing upside down and going crazy. It's tough act to follow and we play well and the show's good but Big Freedia is impossible to top but who cares we are in one of the best cities in the world and have a blast.
BATON ROUGE We hang in New Orleans until the last possible second and get into town with enough time to eat at Schlitz and Giggles ("Silly Name - Serious Pizza"). It makes all of us so sick that it's definitely not funny. Tonight we are playing with Polvo, which I am kind of excited about until they rework the few songs I know and the drummer looks like the owner of ShaboomShaboom's from East Bound and Down. This 90s math rock has not aged well, and between last night and tonight I feel like we've played with the blackest and the whitest bands we've ever played with. Plus the audience is a total fucking dud. After the first song not even one hand claps, and it's so awkward that we collectively crack up onstage. We get a hotel and watch a creepy 80s documentary on the circus and I take a fistful sleeping pills and pray for sweet relief.
AUSTIN We are playing the after-party for the FUN FUN FUN FEST (which I mentioned Weird Al Yankovic also played). We're happy to be a part of it, but when I see the poster it seems our name is printed in a font named "microscopic afterthought." We go get Torchy's Tacos and get back just in time to play at 9:30 pm. Early after-party, I guess. The show is great and the crowd is great and lots of friends come to see us and it's probably the best show of the tour. An added treat is that a good friend, our buddy Chris Koltay (soundguy for Liars, Deerhunter, etc.) does sound for us and for once we don't sound like a thundering bass drum shit-sandwich.
Name-Dropping Section: Deerhunter is really cool and super complimentary and Wavves buy us shots. We stay at Megan and Susanna's dad's house. He's an amazing musician and totally cool dude who gives us his new CD (featuring Willie Nelson and Kreutzman from the Grateful Dead), gets us burritos from the gas station, and cranks Link Wray records while making us mix CDs. We head off into the warm and dusty afternoon listening to Marty Robbins feeling dusty and warm.
PHYSICS BONUS SECTION: There is something strange going on with how the van is grounded or something, and it creates a huge build up of static electricity every time we drive, and so that EVERY single time you get out of the van the first metal thing you touch gives you a large shock. It's funny how weeks of this begin to wear on you and you become ultra-pensive about touching the fuel pump or the gas station front door. If our band is late for the gig we're usually stalling outside the Shell station doors saying "No really, AFTER YOU," to each other.
LUBBOCK Get a text message this morning saying "Lubbock wants to cancel the show since they can't cover the guarantee OR you can play and they'll give you 100 percent of the door." WELCOME TO THE BIG LEAGUES! It's smack-dab in the middle of a 14-hour drive, so why not? The venue is a house, and the kids are so nice I don't feel embarrassed when they take the $$$ away. They say we can sleep there. ("We have a space heater you can use too 'cause it gets SUPER FREEZING down here.") They also buy us a 12-pack of beer and recommend eating at Alfredo's Mexican Restaurant down the street, which gives all of us a united stomach ache, and we "crop dust" seven blocks of Lubbock on the walk back. About 20 people show up and the opening act is a guy rapping over a laptop and actually not bad. Next is the house band, who are kinda like Flipper played at the wrong speed. We play and it's actually kinda fun and the cops come and pull the plug. We quickly Priceline a hotel while the sweet kids are buying stuff and cursing the pigs. We get paid maybe 30 bucks, six dollars of which is in change.
Stanks vs. Bear
ALBUQUERQUE It's funny what an oasis Starbucks become on tour: clean restrooms, drinkable coffee, expensive fruit, and decent soft-jazz compilations. While shoveling in our "healthy choice" oatmeal, Susanna finds her bank account has been hacked, (third time this year) and gets to begin the process of faxing and canceling from out of state. Tonight we play in Albuquerque with our friends Shannon and the Clams and I'm so excited I am leaning forward in my seat while we drive. We were going to skip Albuquerque this time since last year was so rough, but a nice guy emailed and begged us to come, so we are playing at Voodoo Scooters tonight. We get in town with enough time to eat at the college staple, The Frontier Room, and to experience the meth/college damage-mood of the strip. When Megan goes in a gas station to use the bathroom, this rail-thin, scabby-looking dude pops up and blurts "SHE'S NOT GOING IN THERE TO SMOKE METH IS SHE!?" Us: "Uh, no." Him: "OH! UH GOOD, CAUSE UH, THAT STUFF'S BAD FOR YOU!" and he quickly skittles off down the alleyway. The crowd is actually pretty great and Shannon and the Clams are fantastic as usual. Earlier while reading a preview of our show over each others' shoulders we read a comparison of the Clams' singer Shannon to Beth Ditto. Shannon (who sounds NOTHING like Beth Ditto) replies "They always say that just 'cause we're both chunkers," and I fall even more in love with her. All these street nutsos come in while we play and dance like it's been illegal since the 80s (at one point we notice a crazy dude up front whose earbuds are blasting his own jams louder than our amplifiers). Later at a stoplight, idling next to the Clams' van, they signal to roll down the window and yell "GOT ANY WEIRD MUSTARD?" You can't get much better than a modern group of hot weirdos that sounds like Del Shannon and makes Grey Poupon jokes in 2010.