Monday, July 19, 2010
SUMMER SOUTHERN BURN TOUR DIARY: Part I
Also, I just got back from a month-long tour with Zoroaster, Black Tusk, and Dark Castle, the latter of whom I was slingin' merch and haulin' gear for. I documented our travels and travails in a tour diary for Brooklyn Vegan. Here's part one.
June 15th - Birmingham, AL @ the Nick
The first day of tour is always madness, especially when you wake up late and still have a thousand things to get ready. After merch, equipment, loading, and the procurement of the other roadie, Ben, Team Dark Castle ended up leaving two hours later than anticipated, and still got to Birmingham before the Black Tusk or Zoroaster bros. After eight hours of Panhandle scenery punctuated by gas station stops and Rob's freestyling up front (3 6 Mafia never fails!), we were pretty stoked to get to the Nick and slam down a couple drinks at the rickety old bar. With a ceiling plastered in old flyers and promo photos and a bar staff that was just oozing with Southern hospitality, the Nick seemed primed to deliver a good time. The crowd wasn't huge but were crazy enthusiastic; Dark Castle had the biggest audience of the night, but Zoroaster had the most energetic. I never thought I'd see the day that dudes in Blacklisted shirts would be picking up change to "Spirit Molecule," but there's a first time for everything. Dark Castle hauled out two new songs, opening with an untitled number then dropping "Seeing Through Time" like an atom bomb halfway through their set. Cheap drinks, killer sets from Black Tusk and Zoroaster, and a reunion with our good friend Jamie rounded out one hell of a first night of tour. The 3:30am Waffle House run and Black Tusk/Dark Castle slumber party afterwards was just icing on the cake.
June 16th - Memphis, TN @ Hi Tone
Thanks to Black Tusk bassist/throat Athon's good ol' boy charm, we checked out of the hotel late enough to keep our collective hangovers at bay, stopping at Waffle House again on our way out (expect to hear plenty more about this particular establishment from here on out). We had a short drive to Memphis, and took advantage of the extra time to stop at one of the sketchiest grocery stores I've ever seen (and I live in West Philly!) and load up on van food. As soon as we and Zoroaster met up at the Hi Tone, a dilapidated-looking building hunkered down next to a couple check casing joints and a gas station, it started pouring rain. It rained, and rained, and rained; load-in was treacherous to say the least. Inside, though, it was rock'n'roll paradise, with good food at the bar, ample space to set up our merch fortress, and plenty of room for gear and hanging. The show started late, with local boys Galaxicon throwing down some cool spacey doom (think Minsk, YOB, Atlas Moth) held down by a killer drummer/vocalist. The rest of the show went smoothly, and we sold a ton of merch. This time we cuddled up with Zoroaster and headed out early the next morning on Dan's goading.
June 17th - Breakdown in Van Buren, Arkansas
After bidding farewell to the Georgians, we hit the road and were making great time when all of a sudden, the van started acting weird. We had no idea what a nightmare this would turn into, but quickly realized - shit's not right. Ben took a look and offered up suggestions, so we'd try one thing, go for a bit, break down, repeat, repeat. Eventually the van died completely by the side of the road somewhere in Arkansas. We managed to flag down a nice lady who gave us a jump then took us over to the closest autobody shop to try and resolve the issue. They towed the van back to Larry's Wrecker in Van Buren, AK and fiddled around under the hood while we sweated and worried outside the shop. It became apparent that there was no way we were making the Oklahoma City show that night, so Dark Castle called the promoter and other bands and let them know what was up. Fast-forward a few hours, and the four of us had finally given up for the evening, retiring to a nearby Motel 6 to do laundry and try to get some sleep. Before we crashed, we decided that a beer or three was necessary, and headed off down the road on foot to find a watering hole. To our absolute horror, we discovered that, of all the places in the world to break down, we'd done it in a dry country! Thankfully we ended up at a Chili's that was inexplicably allowed to serve us (overpriced) booze, and Rob had his first Long Island Iced tea, so the night wasn't a total bust.
June 18th - Day 2 in Van Buren
We woke up early and, with fingers crossed, went down to check on the van. Good ol' Larry had determined that the problem lay with the van's computer, so after graciously refusing to charge us for the hours he'd put in under the hood, he took the van (with Stevie) over to a Dodge dealership to get it looked at. In the meantime, Rob, Ben and I settled in at, yep, Waffle House for a long wait. Our kindly waitress Diana took a shine to us and helped speed the time along by regaling us with stories of her moonshine makin' days and slipping us virgin tequila sunrises. As she was leaving after her shift, she offered to take us out for a beer in the next county over, and we figured - why the hell not? We ended up at The Branding Iron, which was everything you'd expect from a bar in Fort Smith Arkansas - Confederate flags everywhere, methed-out locals laughing at my accent and playing AC/DC on the jukebox, antlers and light-up Miller signs on the wall, pool tables, grizzled old bikers, makeup-caked old hags, and our dear sweet Diana, who slipped us a joint before she went home. Another local gave us a ride to the Continental Motel down the street, where 45 bucks got us two beds (with moth-eaten sheets), some 70's era décor, and access to a teeny-tiny pool ringed by leering residents. It was shadier than anyplace any of us had ever stayed at before; we were too skeeved out to leave the premises after dark, so we ordered Domino's and crashed early, hoping against hope that we'd finally make it out of that godforsaken speck the next morning.
June 19th - Austin, TX @ Emo's
We got out of there as fast as we could the next morning after we picked up the van, and somehow managed to escape. We passed through Oklahoma (through Cherokee and Choctaw territory, and, to my immense delight, Muskogee) and headed into Texas,, bound for Austin. We got there on time, loaded out, and were reunited with all of our long-lost tourmates and a few old friends as well. Austin is a fucking awesome town for live music, and we had a blast being there. That was a messy night; we all started out with six drink tickets apiece and went from there. Dark Castle got a crazy response, Black Tusk are endlessly entertaining, and I couldn't be more excited about seeing Zoroaster bring the hammer down every night for the next month. We made out like bandits on merch that night, and stayed up way too late partying after hours, before all twelve of us squeezed into a room and crashed out at stupid o'clock.
June 20th - Day off - Lubbock, TX
Breakfast at Denny's, then more van trouble. This time it was the water pump - when it rains, it pours! After spending a frantic hour searching for an open auto repair joint in Texas on a Sunday morning, in Texas (mission: nearly impossible), we struck gold, and spent the next four hours waiting, hoping, and scumming up the Firestone lobby. Repairs finished, we got back on the road and headed west to Lubbock, TX where our friend Paul from Absu had offered to put up all three bands. We rolled in around eleven and immediately commenced barbequing, drinking, and heavy metal singalongs until the wee hours.
June 21st - Albuquerque, NM @ Burt's Tiki Hut
"Being in a band is like having four girlfriends. Except you can't fuck 'em, so it's no fun!" - Andrew, Black Tusk guitarist/vocalist.
Burt's Tiki Hut was uber-kitschy and plastered with tropical doodads, the bartenders mixed their drinks strong, and the bar itself packed full of crust punks in cowboy boots (seriously). Definitely a weird spot, but Dark Castle's set went down a storm, Zoroaster had every head nodding in stoner bliss, and Black Tusk - well, Black Tusk put on even more of a show than usual, without even trying. A very drunk, very friendly girl in a very short skirt clambered onto the stage during their set and started dancing around, shaking her ass and whooping into Andrew's microphone through at least two songs. The crowd (and the band!) ate it up, though she was smart to hop down before Andrew could kick her off for stomping all over his pedals.
June 22nd - Scottsdale, AZ @ Rogue
Arizona is absolutely gorgeous, at least if you're driving through the forests and mountains around Phoenix. Scottsdale is considerably less exciting. The first band slipped by without us really noticing, but the second, Via Vengeance, was absolutely mind-blowing! A one-man doom project that absolutely filled the room with pummeling, engaging doom, tinged with death and filthered through a thick layer of sludge, and made simultaneously playing guitar, drums, and vocals look effortless. Truly impressive. Dark Castle ran into major technical difficulties during their set when they discovered that there was only one power outlet available for the entire stage, but persevered. Zoroaster and Black Tusk brought it as always, though the crowd was less than impressive. These middle of nowhere shows are starting to wear down our morale.
June 23rd - Ramona, CA @ Mainstage
What a DEBACLE, in every sense of the word. Things started off fine, with a legit venue and hospitable staff, but by the time the first local band went on, it became apparent that something was wrong. The crowd war barely there, and made up entirely of the two beyond goofy locals' high school-aged friends, who promptly cleared out as soon as the second one got offstage. There were about seven people left during Dark Castle's set, and once they finished (after dealing with a dickhead sound guy) it came out that the owner of the club was canceling the rest of the show - before Zoroaster or Black Tusk could play. The handful of fans who'd come out for the touring package were bummed, but not as bummed as we were; seriously, who does that? The show was clearly not promoted at all, and the money situation was a mess. Note to booking agents and bands: do NOT every play this venue, unless you're in the mood to get royally screwed.
June 24th - West Hollywood, CA @ Viper Room
LA is a weird town. We got in early and spent some time wandering around the Sunset Strip and drinking a whiskey or two at the Rainbow (sadly, no sign of Lemmy or any glam-rock casualties at the bar) before dealing with the absolute clusterfuck that was load-in. The Viper Room is a cool joint, but very small and with very strict rules; we had barely any room at all (like, two feet or so of the bar) for merch and had to share a bunch of equipment and leave our gear outside until fifteen minutes before each band played. Annoying, but it was still a good show and a few rad friends from Metal Blade and Decibel came out to hang. We only got a couple drink tickets apiece, but since it was LA, where everyone is almost someone and likes to prove it by buying you drinks, we managed to party pretty damn hard. Zoroaster rolled off to stay in their friend's porn mansion (hello, LA), Black Tusk spent the night at a rest stop, and we ended up crashing in Ben's friend's living room
June 25th - Oakland, CA @ Metro
Six or so hours in California traffic later (I'm surprised Rob didn't lose his mind), we got into Oakland way earlier than expected, and killed time wandering around the neighborhood and waiting for the promoter to get in touch and let us know what the hell was going on, 'cause no one else had any clue. The venue, the Oakland Metro Operahouse, looked like a total DIY spot, but once the staff showed up and opened the doors, we discovered that it was quite the opposite - a full-on theatre, with a bar, backstage, tons of room for merch, and a really cool atmosphere. The promoter and staff were awesome and incredibly hospitable (the way to a band/road crew's heart is paved with free beer and hot meals) which made up for the attendance. There was definitely a crowd, and plenty of people bought merch and got excited about the bands, but the high door price and nature of the venue (according to a friend of mine who lives there and runs shows out of his basement, Oakland's more of a DIY house show kind of town) dragged the turnout down. Zoroaster and Stevie from Dark Castle have been plotting to do a song together for days, and finally made it happen tonight when she hopped up onstage during "Spirit Molecule" to do guest vocals. It was an absolutely hypnotic performance, and one that I believe they're planning to repeat. During Black Tusk's set, the crowd showed more energy than they had all night, including this crazy tweaker dude that was going nuts and even attempted an ill-fated stagedive. Luckily for him, the stage was only a few feet high...