Monday, September 29, 2008

You Can Go Home Again (& Again...& Again...&)

We played in Brooklyn Saturday night. Playing in NY is and always will be the big homecoming gig for me, even though I grew up in Pittsburgh. Because New York City is where I first started seriously going to shows, and playing music and writing songs and making a fool of myself in public, I want any show there to be one of the best nights of my life, ever.

Which Saturday was. It was scary foregoing a Manhattan show and just playing a Brooklyn club but Southpaw seemed like it could be the right place for me and Eric and in terms of stage, sound and audience it really was.

My brother Michael's band Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. opened the show and they set such a scene with their slick outfits, vintage microphones, witty banter and utterly unique take on honky tonk music.

And then we played, and nothing went wrong. I saw this on our myspace this morning and it made me cry, it felt so right - so I hope Mitch Friedman won't mind if I quote him: "It was polished, shambolic, loud, soft, funny, moving, long, short tempered, nostalgic, modern, impressive and energetic -- sometimes all within the same song."

After, we retired to this brand-new hotel in the far reaches of Bushwick. In the past it would have depressed me to think I couldn't afford to treat myself to somewhere in Manhattan, but it just shows how things (and possibly how I) have changed. Not long ago, I could find a midtown hotel like Radisson or Hilton or Marriott on Hotwire for under $100. Now even the dowdiest place charges upwards of $300 a night - it's nothing but greed and I can't enjoy myself when I feel like I'm being ripped off. The sweet people at our Quality Inn let us park the van right by the front door, and even though the elevated train rattled by a few times in the night, I felt completely happy.

Had the traditional Sunday brunch in hipster Williamsburg with other NY brother Riley and friends Angela and Alan. We enjoyed skewing the demographic of the restaurant - until we entered the place there was not a single person over the age of, say, thirty two. Made the scene at the Warsaw record fair, where Miriam Linna and Eric thrilled me by sharing stories of seeing Slade in 1973 and I found the Mimi & Richard Farina LP's we've been craving.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, we'd played there on Tuesday night and a highlight was getting to do Astrovan, as there just happened to be a Hammond organ on stage for Eric to play! We were a little rusty on that one but it was a good-natured show and I saw my brother Patrick, my old friend Lonesome Bob and got to meet Gregg & Barbara of The Cynics. Every time I visit, I look around and marvel at how great the place is doing - growing up it was all dirty air, sports and small-mindedness. Who knew it would end up one of the coolest cities in America?

Yet another homecoming was Nashville, where we did an instore at Grimey's record shop. It was the best possible way to do a gig in this town, because the time I lived there it was always fairly difficult to get more than a handful of people out to a show(nothing to take personal, of course. The famous quote, attributed to David Olney, goes something like "When I want some time to myself, I just book a show in Nashville.")

We got a fine turnout, everyone crowded in around the racks of vinyl, and Grimey said we were their loudest instore performance ever. We only learned yesterday that Metallica had played there the week before we did.

Got to see Bill Lloyd and Bill DeMain and Richard Ferreira and Steve Allen and Amelia White and some other dear and delightful friends, for a few minutes anyway. Then Eric and I were cast out by the Grimey's staff, who wanted to go to the various Americana music conference shows that were happening that night. A pretty lady in an adult car pulled into the parking lot as we were packing up - Laura Cantrell, there in town to play a show and visit family. It was so nice to see her this way, if only for a minute, without the hum of networking chatter (that was thankfully absent when we'd played, or maybe I just couldn't hear it). That is an unfortunate part of shows in Music City - it is almost impossible to stop gladhanding and sharing details of your professional life long enough to actually listen to something. (the Basement & Bluebird clubs are exceptions). When we watched Rosie Flores play later that night it was no different, though it thrilled me to hear her. And Joe Ely - how could you even open your mouth to do anything but gape in awe as this guy is up there playing, by himself. He stopped my heart, he made us cry, he reminded me why I write songs. Which is why I went to Nashville in the first place.

There's lots more to write about, like Texas, and the South, and the midwest, DC & Philadelphia, and meeting Chrissie Hynde, but it has to wait because it's time to get back in the car. One more homecoming of sorts tomorrow - Cleveland!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On A Steel Horse I Ride

I keep thinking there'll be time to update this diary, or stop at a pharmacy, or buy a pair of shoes, or read a newspaper.

But everyday for the last few weeks has been too busy, mostly with driving, setting up the stage, playing the gigs, trying to sell stuff, and on and on. I won't bore you with the details, mostly because once again I don't have time to even think of a clever way to put any of it.

One thing I will say is we are having a great time! Thanks for checking in on the blog and I will maybe be able to get back on here and write something and post a few pictures in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Band On The Run

My identity was stolen out west, we spent more than we made there, and now the IRS wants to see me (see Eric says, "Bad enough to be a loser without having to prove it"). We flew from L.A. to Cleveland and then rented a vehicle, picked up some equipment from my storage space, and drove halfway back across the country to Kansas City. Which is where we are now, about to drive to St. Louis.

But it's all in a day's work for a band on the run. Here are a few photos from the Seattle. Somewhere along the way I'll write again...

The city welcomes us

Wait, here's the right photo.

Does it get any better than this?

Some freeloaders arrive to take advantage of our rider.

Wagons ho! How many miles does this thing get to the gallon?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Even The Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes)

No, I swear I'm not returning to my negative, self-deprecating ways. Not at this moment at least. It's just that Eric and I were listening to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Damn The Torpedoes" on our drive from Portland to Seattle. We had a roundtable in the front seat of the rental car and came to the conclusion that the album just doesn't hold up as well as, say, the first one which we have played on many a late night drive. Part of it's the production, part of it's that weird accent he sings in sometimes. I think his songwriting was at its blandest at this point, and got much better around the time of Freefallin. But it could be I've just heard most of these songs way too many times. I still love how he gets out of the verse and into the chorus of this song.

The stars really were shining on us this past weekend, starting with the beautiful deco hotel that helped make up for the stingy "sparse" decor of the last one. The other guests were sporting yarmulkes instead of trendy shag haircuts as the hotel was hosting an event called Israel Here and Now. And just across the street, there was a vintage movie theatre, the Neptune, where "Hamlet 2" was playing at just the right time. I managed to stay awake for most of it.

We'd had Friday off, which was good, because by then we were both dragging. Saturday we were still on overachiever time, waking by 6:30 AM, but that just made it possible to be tourists and walk around Seattle's downtown a little, visit Pike Place Market, stop in at a guitar shop, buy false eyelashes and get back to the hotel in time to get ready for our Bumbershoot set.

Bumbershoot is a sprawling city festival, with various stages spread out over the part of town that hosted the Seattle World's Fair in the 60's. This being Seattle, there's always the threat of rain spoiling things, but our luck held and the weather was perfect.

Even with the borrowed amps, a weird piano stool that was a cross between a sex-throne and a tractor seat, and the keyboard still sounding fresh out of the box, we had a great time. The crowd was a mix of older folk in that stylish outdoor clothing they've perfected in the Northwest and younger types curious to see what the future holds in store should they find themselves still playing music in thirty years. And some of Seattle's finest, funniest musicians - Jim & Johnny Sangster, John Ramberg and my old pal Lily Dennison. Eric got the people going during "Men In Sandals", to the point where one guy pulled off his shoes and started slapping them together over his head.

Here's a nice review of the show.

We got to eat an amazing meal afterwards which is downright rare, almost impossible after a nighttime gig when the only food available is something you wouldn't normally want to eat (ie donuts, McDonalds, Bounty bars, caramel logs).

Then back to our deco hotel where I should have been able to sleep. But I found myself worrying about New Orleans. And hoping they would be lucky down there too.