SCOTTSDALE Get a message a few days ago saying "the venue is being moved from Tempe to Scottsdale because the owner of the venue won't answer his phone - and the only problem is there is a sold out Best Coast show across the street." Eh, PAR FOR THE COURSE.
Anyway, get to the club and the promoter is twitchin' and wigglin' and snifflin' like a good nightclub promoter should. He excitedly says "You can put your gear over there—or over there—or right here—or back there—or here—or there—or under here—or up there...." Our friends Digital Leather are playing tonight and are sitting in a booth over in the corner. My Spidey Sense starts tingling, and we notice there is some tension over there. We see the promoter looking anguished and overhear him say "Oh yeah? WELL GOOD LUCK GETTING PAID TONIGHT THEN ASSHOLE," and the calm D.L. singer just shrugs and says "Eh, that'd be typical of you." Then the promoter throws his drink all over him and D.L. just shrugs and the promoter gets dragged outside by the bouncer and the singer and entire bar follow them outside for what I assume is a fight but am to lazy/bored to look. They both come back in arm in arm and line up at the bar. Who says booze can't solve your problems? The first band starts and they are so awful it's almost entertaining. An all-girl punk band (makes me long for the days of ALL-BOY PUNK BANDS) starts a strummin' and a screachin'. They introduce the first number, "This songs about food," and they belt out the lyrics "TATER TOTS!/TOSTATAS!/VEGGIE-BURGERS!"
If someone ever pressed me for the worst phrase ever sung into a microphone, it would definitely be veggie burgers by a fucking landslide. But somehow, I am inexplicably turned on by all this. I can't figure it out; I'm drawn in. I'M AROUSED. Oh, a video of the movie Valley Girl featuring the first breasts I ever saw (popping out of a JUMPSUIT) is playing over the top of them. No wonder. I can't turn away. Satan laughing spreads his wings. They finish the set with a sloppy song that just chants "I WANNA FUCK" over and over and my penis is so inverted it hurts. We play and I'd give us a smooth rating of JUST FINE. After getting offered $80 of our $100 guarantee, we get a very appreciated intervention warning against staying at the "drug house" that's been lined up for us and instead stay with the coolest guy from Earthmen and Strangers, and it turns out to be the cleanest and coolest place we've stayed complete with spare rooms, BBQ sandwiches and our buddy Ben Shepard hot rockin' on the Conan O'Brien Show.
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LOS ANGELES Some people hate L.A. Well I hate THEM, 'cause I love it. I don't know why. I love the overgrown ivy freeways and the buildings and the lights and I just wanna move here sometimes. I love the vibe and the feeling in the air and the sun and the palms so much that I could see getting a little Hollywood bungalow down here I love the the—wait, brake lights... ugh, traffic, fuck, oh no. We're stopping. WE'RE CRAWLING. I'M TRAPPED. GET ME OUT OF HERE. That's how I feel EVERY time I drive into L.A. I still really like it, though. We are really excited for tonight, lots of friends are coming tonight, our label is here and the show is with NOBUNNY and sponsored by Buddyhead. Seems like a good night to try smack. Just kidding, all we want is Mexican food, but Megan and Eric say they are "Mexican'd out," and we are so vitamin-B depleted that Susanna and I take it very personally. So we dine alone and it's fun, but we have to stuff and rush back to club and I feel like a Santa suit full of bricks when we play. The show is still great though. The crowd is big and cool and my man crush Brad from Wounded Lion sings a song with us. I'm overwhelmed with all the buddies that have turned out tonight, and it's a magical. We stay with Jed, who takes us to his killer house and makes me the best flank steak taco I've ever had and we sit in the natural hot tub and then move into the eucalyptus steam room. After 20 minutes of sweating out your toxins, you are so purified that your first 15 cigs are AMAZING! I am so elated and lazy I leave the air mattress in the van and lay my sleeping bag on the cement floor and wake with 11 cracked vertebrae. Over coffee, Jed's lady Jessica shows us the amazing photography book she worked on with Dennis Hopper just before he died, and she tells us a great story of one of their last meetings: He had to approve the bio she wrote for the book, so she shows up and he hasn't read it yet and says "oh just wait I'll read it now," while she waits. He tells her it's fine. She's surprised and asks "There's NOTHING at all you want to change?" He stares at her for a minute and says "Wanna fuck?"
SAN FRANCISCO The Eagle is the coolest place to play in SF these days. It's a bear/leather daddy bar that has underpants stapled to the ceiling. Legend has it that you can drink for free all night if you are naked (and male). Tonight's show was supposed to be with Ty Segal but he had to extend his European tour, so our brother/sister band Thee Oh Sees are filling in and we're thrilled. Another notable feature of The Eagle is that the mens' restrooms offer the already uncomfortable "piss trough" with an added bonus: a 6-inch tilted mirror running across the entire trough that allows a perfect view of any and all accompanying genitals. On top of that, the bathroom is off to the side of the stage, so when you look into the mirror you can see the entire front row of people staring back. FUN STUFF. It Definitely brings new meaning to the words "pee shy," and I get dirty looks when I take my coat off and drape it wide across the mirror every time I urinate. Thee Oh Sees are so reliably great that it's inspiring (and frustrating). I'm nervous 'cause they make us play last, as I've heard their crowd splits after they play, but no one does and it's packed and we play our best show of the tour with people dancing and smashing each other and photographers getting knocked out. It's so satisfying (that sounds disgusting) and so much fun that whatever brain cells were holding on to the memory of Pittsburgh fizzle into the ether.
OAKLAND We're basically playing Oakland for two reasons: 1. to spend more time in the bay area, and 2. Sic Alps are playing. It's great to have a day off in S.F., and we sleep in and have breakfast at St. Francis' Soda Fountain (wisely no one goes for the Guinness Float this time) and we walk and shop (with only three days left, Susanna impressively adds two nice additions to "Coat Mountain," the three-foot-tall pile of unworn coats in our back seat) around the Mission District, and it is almost a religious experience to be out of the van all day. Tonight we are playing an old building in Oakland converted into a dingy speakeasy type bar with a dank room in the back to play in. There are five bands on the bill, and nothing happening even though it's 10:30 PM. This is going to be a long night. Eventually Scott Colburn—notable for recording Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam—plays first and is pretty great. Dressed like Dr. Doom meets Eyes Wide Shut, he dances and sways to some catchy bloops and bleeps from a pile of samplers. At one point I butt into a chat with our host Summer about the merits of Four Loco, and she offers to buy me one. I explain that I don't roll with the energy drinks, but she insists I try it. I resist, and we argue for a while until I finally cave just to end it. As I take a tiny sip, the tangy grape gumball flavor hits my epiglottis and I immediately spray the whole purple mouthful all over her face in a effort that would make Carol Burnett proud.
Our friends Angora Debs (formed from the ashes of the fantastic FM Knives) play next and they are great and sound like Nick Lowe on an amphetamine bender with the Buzzcocks. Masaki Batoh (from Ghost) is next and makes some pleasant noise that I completely ignore, and finally the mighty Sic Alps play and are killer as usual. We play last at about 3 in the morning, and half the crowd leaves but we are so relieved to be released from the cigarette dungeon (they won't let you stand outside) that we happily drive our cholera wagon (everyone is wheezing and coughing the whole way home) straight to our beds, shower and crash.
EUREKA I wake with a deep and depressing second-hand nicotine hangover, and after a pizza breakfast I feel like a real crumb bum. On our long drive up the beautiful (zzzzzzzzzzzzz) 101 we stop for gas, and out of boredom I'm pulled toward one of those weird machines full of quarters with a moving shelf where the goal is to drop new quarters in to push the old ones off the ledge and into the "winnings bin." I drop one in. It creates it's typical chain reaction moving the wall of quarters a millimeter, which pushes a huge pile one millimeter closer to the edge. I drop a couple more in and a few fall into the winnings bucket and the "clunk" sound is strangely satisfying. I start dumping quarters in and am running out to the van for more and am transported to a place where all my worries and cares are distilled down to putting one more quarter in this machine. Twelve dollars (or 48 quarters) later I have won about $4 (though I've immediately dumped that right back in) and I have a strange sensation of what a gambling addiction is all about. It's fantastic. I beg the band to let me take our entire tour earnings and let it ride, but they resist. FUCKERS. We continue down the 101 with the '"clunk" sound on a loop in my brain.
They may say Eureka is a town full of THC-damaged burnouts, and that may explain why they like us so much here, but all I can say is IT'S NICE TO BE APPRECIATED! Though we have learned not to ask any strangers any questions here: Example: Is there anywhere good to eat around here? "Oh there was a really awesome restaurant to eat at but it closed." Blink, blink.
We are playing at a cool art space called the Accident Gallery and they treat us great. We play and it's a blast with people singing along grabbing our legs. Tonight we stay with a girl we stayed with last year who had a solo dance party at her place unveiling a great move "The Creepy Swimmer," where you lay on shag carpeting on your belly with a lit cigarette and "breast stroke" to the slowest Fleetwood Mac song ("Storms") while a band of four are in their sleeping bags peeking one eye at you.
In the morning Megan wakes us up with a soft shoe dance and song about a "burger bonanza," because we have plans for our buddy Jesse to take us to his hamburger stand where Eric and I have guacamole bacon burgers for breakfast 'cause—well, FUCK IT, that's why.
PORTLAND The 101 may be a beautiful drive but I wouldn't know, Susanna and I have developed a serious addiction to the show In Treatment, so we watch that on our computer the entire way. When we reach I-5 and the middle of Oregon, it's about 5 pm and already so dark and the pines are so ominous and misty it feels like we're headed towards the hills of Mordor. Tonight we play at a nice little place, and I had the pleasure of seeing the booker's response at the bottom of our booking agent's forwarded email questioning why the our guarantee was so low: "The Intelligence has NEVER had a good show here and as it's a Sunday I don't expect this to be one." Cool, SEE YOU SOON! But I like this joint. Our set is good and the crowd is cool. One interesting guy standing almost on the little stage with us is so drunk that he's slowly swaying like a sapling in the breeze for the entire set (with one eye shut for balance). He yells the same song ("The World Is a Drag") after every number, and after about 10 I sadly explain that the band doesn't know it and I'm sorry but we can't play that one. Both eyes open. "OH YOU DON'T PLAY THAT ONE ANYMORE, WE'LL EXCUUUUUUSEEEE ME!" he says and storms off. We stay at our friend Leif from the wonderful band Orca Team's house where he has set up a cool guest room in the attic with the heat so cranked it resembles a bikram studio.
We are more the fresh-air window/freeze types, so as usual we stick Megan and Eric in there and me and Susanna sleep in the basement (an ultra-clean and cool practice space he graciously lets us use), though we can't figure out how to shut off the light, so waking up six hours later it resembles—as Susanna puts it—"waking up in a crackhouse." The only way we can top our unhealthy breakfast streak (Burritos, Pizza, Burgers) is with extreme doughnuts, so we head to Voodoo Doughnuts to start another day with regret.
SEATTLE Standing in our living room it already feels like the whole tour was a dream. The good news is only the heat, water and lights have been shut off, and we consider this a win compared to previous tours, from which we've returned to both cars having been towed from the driveway and put or for public auction, or a family of possums moving in and the house reeking like a neglected hamster cage. We are jazzed tonight to be playing with our S.F. buddies The Fresh and Onlys, and we love Clinic. Also a nice bookend to this tour is celebrate our "homecoming show" by playing 1st at 9:30 (Sharp!) for $150 (after $80 in gas from Portland—that's 14 bucks A PIECE!). But Neumos treats us great and we get lucky and (perhaps in response to all of our last-minute internet begging) the place is pretty full and we have a very pleasant last show. For our last song I ask for the 2000-watt strobe light and afterward receive the compliment "That almost gave me a seizure and I never want to hear that song again." The Fresh and Onlys are great, and like a true dickhead I am downstairs talking to Clinic when they dedicate a song to me. It's great to finally see Clinic and see our friends. Typically, Beren and I will have one tear-streaked blowout fight per tour, and this one fortunately lands on our last night where she quits, (for the fourth time) and then as usual we slow dance and whisper insults to each other to the tunes of Rufus Wainwright. A friend of mine once said "The thing about playing your last show in your hometown is; you GET to sleep in your own bed, but you HAVE to wake up in to too." And it rings very true. Usually by this point I am dying to get home, but this time I'm sad the tour is over and having the "family" lineup made it the funnest tour we've done. Now if you'll excuse me, after my old job text messages me that I'm fired, I'm off to dry a load of laundry with an entire pack of gum in one of the pockets.
EPILOGUE: I got an email today from the same booking agency that represents Gary Numan AND the Gories (as well as Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers and Pink Floyd). So maybe this is proof that some nightmares can turn into a regular dream. Or at least if you pay your dues long enough you just might earn THREE drink tickets.