thursday, 11/13, First Day

Today is the official beginning of the tour and since it’s starting close enough to home (Cincinnati), my day began like any other. I woke up late, got to work late, and tried my hardest to be nice to the people I don’t like in the office. On a normal day I’d get through four or five albums at work easily, but today I was preoccupied with last minute arrangements, so I could only listen to three: the Soundbombing II comp., Her Majesty, The Decemberists, and Pedro The Lion’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend. A good mix; the comp being just hard enough to keep me up in the morning and the other albums mild enough to keep me sane. Fortunately, the day went by quick and, in no time, I was kissing my girlfriend goodbye and heading to Cincinnati. Since Spencer is driving (or at least we’re taking his car - I’m sure I’ll end up behind the wheel once or twice), my friend Dave gave me a ride down to the show. On the way we listened to some of Dave’s new noise tapes, Wolf Eyes’ Recycled Cassette and an ambient project whose name I can’t recall by one of Dave’s friends.

The show itself was pretty good. When we started booking the tour, Spencer found out that there was already an experimental show going on tonight, so rather than have competing shows and splitting crowds, we were added to the bill. Only a handful of people were there to see us, so Spencer played a duo with our pal Jason Zeh first and I immediately followed. Both of us played good, but not great, sets but didn’t seem to mind. The bar was really cool and we now had the first show behind us. My friends Sixteen Bitch Pile-Up were on the bill and it was nice to see them before taking off. Of the several Cincinnati bands on the bill, the only one that really stood out was Asheep, an IDM/hip-hop duo fronted by a bearded guy in nothing but his skivvies. Post-show music was provided by Guns and Roses in the car, the lite-rock Muzak channel at the twenty-four hour superstore, and Nautical Kites - an excellent electronic collaboration by Baltimore’s Nautical Almanac and recent Load Records signing Kites - back at Spencer’s place. Funny how in my everyday life, 3 AM seems really late, but tonight I have to force myself to go to bed. I’d like to think it’s the tour, but it’s probably just the Slurpee I had after the show.

Friday, 11/14, Chicago

Woke up to the Growing album, which is a fine thing to do. After an oil-change and some Thai food we hit the road. Axl and Co continued where they left off, but we soon moved onto the Blood Brothers, a hip-hop/RandB mix, and finally some Cannibal Ox just as we entered Chicago. We found it the ideal soundtrack for constant lane-switching and dealing with the bumper-to-bumper SUVs.

The show went very well. Last night was the warm-up, but tonight was the real deal. TV Pow opened with an electronic drone and live band mix. Not at all that unlike the Growing record, but even more mellow. Each time a late-comer arrived, you could hear the door downstairs and the person’s every step as they walked up to the performance space. Vertonen followed with a bubbling synth set and BXC (Burning Star Core - that abbreviation will probably pop up again) added to his violin-slaying with an excellent vocal piece I’d never heard before. I finished out the night with a set full of ridiculously high tones - described as unpleasant and annoying (by friends, no less) - and was even given a cartoon of myself with a thought bubble proclaiming, “Sorry for destroying your eardrums Chicago. (No I’m Not.)” Post-show music was mostly obscure (or maybe not?) 80’s punk/no-wave from our host Blake (Vertonen)’s collection. Pretty decent stuff. Just right for pre-slumber winding down.

Saturday, 11/15, Ann Arbor

Woke up to Japan’s finest theatrical death metal band Sigh this morning. After that, we went to brunch with a bunch of Chicago’s finest noise and laptop artists and then had to hit the road. Our show was originally scheduled for a club in Detroit, but the owner double-booked and we got the boot. Luckily, Aaron from Wolf Eyes came through for us and let us play at the Wolf house. Even though the drive to Ann Arbor isn’t that long, we lose an hour because of the time zone change. In the Subaru today we rocked a compilation of down tempo IDM, the new Andrew WK, the newest CD by Spencer’s labelmates (on LA’s Thin Wrist) Open City and the first Party of Helicopters album.

The show was really more of a party, and we certainly didn’t mind. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on the road. The performances took place down in the basement and were all excellent. Aaron Dilloway did a solo set with his trademark style of tape loops that work their way all the way through the nervous system and start gnawing on bone. Black Sand Desert followed with a more traditional noise set using a lot of pedals and the always-useful sheet metal. Spencer and I both did solos sets and we even did a minor collaboration as well, but all musical activities were upstaged by The Sweepers. Midway through the show, John Olson of Wolf Eyes and American Tapes - obviously more than a little tipsy - picked up a broom, started spinning it around and worked a weird mix of New Kids dance moves and Matrix-style kung-fu, all the while spitting out one-liners like “Don’t keep it. Sweep it.” and “Don’t Bust it. Dust it.” Luckily, Spencer had his video camera on hand and saved a good portion of the impromptu routine for posterity. My favorite parts occur when one audience member refers to Olson’s moves as “The best shit I’ve seen since Stomp” and when people start calling for his fiancee to come stop him. Hilarious. Nights like this make it easy to get used to 4 AM bedtime. Luckily or unluckily (I’m undecided), I can’t see anything comparing to this in the next couple days.

Sunday, 11/16, Rochester

Today felt a little like an episode of Sesame Street, with our car stereo sponsored by the letter M. Manowar, Maggie May, Mindflayer, and Mos Def all graced the sound system at one point or another during our seven(!) hour drive from Michigan to upstate New York. As we drove past Buffalo, Neil Hamburger finally made his way into the CD player. I can’t believe we managed to hold off so long. “Don’t those guys scribble on their dicks with crayons?” Priceless. After Neil finished complaining about the ex-wife, we finally rolled into Rochester and made it to the All-Purpose Room just as the show was about to begin.

Pengo, just back in their hometown after their own tour, opened up with a set of guitar feedback and synths. They were a member short as Jason Finkbeiner had a work meeting - on a Sunday! - he couldn’t get out of. The boys had a stand-in though (Nuuj, also heard with Arthur Doyle fairly regularly) who did an excellent Finkbeiner impression and held up his end of things. I followed, first warning the crowd that I would be doing two pieces and if they got bored with the first one, I’d let them know (via hand signal) when the second began. I did just as I said, and when things started going haywire in the middle of the second piece, I turned the whole thing into a (Hamburger-inspired?) comedy act, crooning a la Hank Williams along to lofty sine waves and making some of the most ridiculous “emotional” faces I could. Afterwards I was told by one fan that he’d never gone “from being so bored to so excited so quick.” He assured me this was a compliment. Spencer closed out the night with his best violin set so far. Unfortunately, his attempts at the new vocal piece were thwarted by continuous feedback.

Though he couldn’t make the show, it was Mr. Finkbeiner who ended up setting us up for the night. We busted out some of his new records from tour and were thoroughly entertained by the Sun City Girls and Nicaragua!, an album that’s more than a little hard to figure out, a strange mix of field recordings and propaganda as far as we could tell. After one side of Nicaragua! we decided to hit up a bar. I hadn’t realized the anti-smoking laws were for all of New York state (thought it was an NYC ordinance or something) and found my first smoke-less bar experience to be quite pleasant. I hear they’re thinking about this for Columbus bars and venues. Though I’m usually not one for regulations, I have to say I approve.

Monday, 11/17, Easthampton

Everything else musical today immediately became irrelevant once the Dream/Action Unit took the stage. The Unit is the trio of Paul Flaherty, Thurston Moore and Chris Corsano - occasionally a quartet with Jim O’Rourke - who go about mixing the old and new schools of free jazz into an amazing swirl of feedback and horn squawk. Having enjoyed Paul and Chris’s CD The Hated Music, I was a little nervous that throwing extras into the mix would ruin the tight bond they’ve developed playing together. Luckily, that wasn’t at all the case. The superstar guitarist and legendary sax man were both in fine form this evening, but it was the intensity of the (relatively) young Corsano that stole the show. His drumming was nothing short of amazing. His arms don’t seem much bigger than mine, but once he’s behind the kit, he looks like he could punch a hole through a brick wall - in the most creative way possible, of course. Moore and Flaherty kept pace with Corsano, but it was pretty clear who was leading the way. They asked Spencer to join in on violin and with 33% more noise, blew the roof even higher off the tiny Flywheel.

After they destroyed, we hung out with the trio for a while and then were led from East- to Northampton where we’re spending the night in a house from the era that drives David Berman to write songs and weep. The house is a little overwhelming even for someone who cares very little about architecture, so in lieu of sleep, I type.

NOTE: Portions of today’s entry have been drastically played down to hide my very apparent fan-dorkness.

Tuesday, 11/18, Boston

With the morning successfully spent looking around the house in daylight and browsing Us Weekly and The Star, we finally headed out around noon, eating with our host at a fine sandwich place and then heading out to the Ecstatic Yod store. The Yod guys were in full-swing, giving us easily seven or eight times as many records as we bought. It was surreal. “Do you have this? No? Here you go.” “Got this one? Take it.” We had to be given boxes to hold everything and we left in awe. By the time we rolled out of town, I had paid less than a dollar per record.

We got on the Mass. Turnpike in silence, trying to wrap our heads around what had just happened and drove in silence for literally over an hour. No radio, no conversation, no nothing. The occasional “I can’t believe this.” or “That was ridiculous.” were the only things uttered the whole time.

How easily the Boston rush-hour will sober one up. Transformed back to lowly commuters, we decided to pretend we actually hadn’t just been given a ridiculous amount of records and headed over to legendary - in my mind, maybe not so much to the general public - Twisted Village run by Kate Village and Drag City rocker Wayne Rogers (also known collectively as Major Stars), to look through the shelves once more. The store has an unbelievable amount of psych and avant garde albums, and I had to force myself to stick only to used albums. I was lucky that the pickings were good and I scored an Nmperign disc, old Oval, and the long out-of-print Attention: Cats album by Hrvatski.

After a really crap dinner, we made our way over to the Zeitgeist Gallery - with the help of wonderful directions from Wayne and T.V. clerk Angela - only to find a venue overflowing with hippies with a drum circle in full swing. My immediate fears were laid to rest when Spencer told me the gallery pretty much always has something happening and it was pretty regular for one thing to end just as the next was about to begin. Whether he knew what he was talking about or not is another matter all together. All I cared about was that these people were leaving and we were in fact playing. Actually all of them staying and paying to see us and then us playing would have worked better, but I’ll live. Tonight the audience and show were both amazing, so the hippies are off the hook. Jason Talbot and Brendan Murray opened with amazing sets, and Spencer and I both played pretty fine ourselves. The crowd was full of Boston musicians who I have the utmost respect for, so I played pretty well. Went to a bar afterwards and found out about the Michael Jackson scandal. What a day.

Wednesday, 11/19, New York

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was that while driving around after the show and the bar, Spencer gave me a debriefing on some of the indie bands I’ve let pass me by in the past year or so, mainly the Walkmen and Xiu Xiu. While I found the Walkmen to be just slightly above average, I was pretty into Xiu Xiu, so today’s drive commenced with the iPod rocking through the entirety of Knife Play and then moving into a mix of classic and soft rock. Though I’m a little foggy on all of it, I remember Rick Springfield, Nelly Furtado, and Santana all peeking in at one point or another. I’ve had Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird” in my head ever since. (NOTE: One week later, still there.)

The drive from Boston to Brooklyn is shorter than most we’ve had to make, so luckily the mix tape madness came to an end pretty quick. Unfortunately, we’d factored in more traffic problems and were now hanging outside the Free 103.9 Station/Gallery with nothing to do. We didn’t want to just leave the car and go wandering because we’re riding with about $5000 worth of gear and a bunch of records to boot. Calls to my friends in the area came up empty, but we were happy to find Carlos Giffoni, who’d set the show up for us, home and doing nothing, but hanging out. A couple hours and a few Mego discs later, we headed back to Free 103 and started getting ready for the show.

Sadly, the weather had gone way downhill since our arrival and we (I, at least) were a little nervous about people showing up. Luckily they did (including Christina Carter from Charalambides and one of my old Columbus friends Erin Greene) and it turned into one of the finer shows so far. Workbench (Mike from Double Leopards solo project) opened with a really fine laptop performance and I followed. Since Free 103 broadcasts everything from the show live over the air, I was able to pick it up with my radio and add another layer of thick feedback to the drones I was already laying down. It was easily my favorite set of the tour. The “Spring Break Forever” duo of Carlos and Chris Corsano (quickly becoming official tour buddy, as this was the third day in a row seeing him) played after me, and I consider myself very lucky to not have to follow them up. Carlos on Kaos Pad and laptop and Corsano going off on his drums as well as occasionally sticking sticks and other objects into the gallery’s industrial fan that was blowing right next to him. If this tour has taught me nothing else, I’ve at least learned Chris Corsano is hands-down the best drummer in America. I knew he was good before, but the man is unbelievable live. Unbelievable.

Spencer wasn’t as lucky as me and did have to follow them. He brought his best though, and managed to close out the night on a really high note. Halfway through his set the members of the Shinth Tour (a bunch of circuit benders - including Twig from Nautical Almanac - who are also on tour and keep missing us by a day or so in every city) showed up and seemed to enjoy it. We were pleased to tell them that tomorrow night we’d finally share a bill as Spencer, Corsano, and myself would be doing a vocal/vocal/drums trio opening up for them. We left pretty excited about the whole thin and topped the night off with some Brooklyn pizza.

One week down, four more days to go...

By: Mike Shiflet
Published on: 2003-12-01
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