Monthly Archives: July 2012

Density, Disappearing, Smokes

11 shows in 11 days in 11 states in 2 countries.

Doesn’t necessarily read like much, but it was a motherfucker.

In those 11 days were various amounts of 9-hour drives, 2-4 hours of sleep, heat exhaustion, screwjob set times, weak merch sales (directly related to the set times), wireless interference, cramped split stages, the works.

Then came the downpour.

Density

Toronto’s forecast yesterday featured a 30% chance of thunderstorms. That 30% hit. Hard. Right at the beginning of our set.

The clouds weren’t black and ominous, but deep blue and dense. It started as hail, lightened up a bit, then came down in sheets.

The forces of nature work wonders to support the forces of rock and roll. There was a density to the energy out there, a fight response that really brought us all together that much more. There were some out there that looked like they were engaging in an honest-to-god rain dance. So much joy in battling adversity. Like you have to enjoy yourself even more just to prove that you can. What I’m saying is, it rocked.

Kinda reminds me of the time on MC Chris tour that the staff at Subterranean was constantly dicking with everybody and it just ended up fueling more solidarity and teamwork vibes among us on the receiving end of it. But that’s a different story.

Throughout the set, stage guys were tarping up the speakers, monitors, even Bill’s control center. He had to spend most of the set with his head under the tarp and one hand holding it up just to watch the screen. Our pedal boards and ego risers got all wet, and when the winds would shift we’d get rain and stage roof runoff right in our faces. It was rad as hell.

The bummer was, due to lightning in the distance and reports of oncoming 60 MPH winds, our set got cut off – right as we were entering the bridge of Geeks and the energy was really about to explode. We sloppily cut off the ending and had to tell kids to evacuate to their cars or to the pavilion. By this point the rainfall was INSANE. Flash flood style.

That flood was rushing straight down into the area behind our stage – where every band’s gear and cases are stowed and set up. There was a good 6-inch river of muddy, filthy water covering the ground backstage. In a way we were lucky that the rain hit when we were onstage, as the stage roof generally kept our gear relatively dry, but the problem was our cases were for the most part strewn about on the ground. Presumably getting hit with a rush of rainwater (which, as stage manager Johnny had pointed out, was surely rich with washed up cigarette butts, half-eaten pizza slices, and the loogies of 10,000 teenagers).

Disappearing

As we shuffled off stage (or rather, ran offstage, realized there was nowhere to go, and then hid behind the scrim banners while kids were evacuated), Hari did his typical disappearing act. You see, Hari just kinda disappears sometimes (all the time). We don’t really ask “Where’s Hari?” anymore. There’s no point in trying to figure it out. He’s just gone. That’s why he has the daily task of taping up the posters with our show time all around the grounds. It’s now his job to disappear.

But I digress. As we were all trying to figure out what the hell to do (and not asking where Hari was), he apparently ditched off backstage and got back to our gear tent, setting loose cases up on our hand truck and therefore saving them from guaranteed destruction.

I ran over to stage right so I could peer back at the gear tent, fearing the worst, and there was Hari, shoes off and cuffs rolled up, arranging our cases on the cart.

“YOU’RE A FUCKIN’ HERO!” I shouted from above. The disappearing act pulled through huge.

Smokes

My favorite moment of the tour, so far:

During the evacuation I grabbed my guitar and ran down the ramp, thinking I could get it in the case before it got too wet. But our pop-up was on the opposite end of a whole line of gear tents, all of which were packed with scattered cases and techs scrambling to get their stuff covered or packed up. There was really no way I could get there efficiently, and I was better off just staying dry on stage than standing out there, so I headed back up.

I couldn’t have been off stage for more than 20 seconds, but by the time I came back on the other 4 guys were standing around the back of the drum riser, each of them puffing on a cigarette.

Nobody in this band but Hari smokes. And nobody even questioned why we were all doing it.

Bill handed me his, which was already half-done, and I took a mouthy puff. There we stood facing the Toronto skyline, watching the heavens pour down on merch people scrambling to lower their tents, stage techs panicking to turn off generators, and 100 or so soggy girls who refused to give up their spot close to the T. Mills show that wasn’t happening. There we stood, pretending to smoke Parliaments in numbly hilarious awe of the fact that this show, the eleventh in a row of the toughest run of the tour, should end this way.

It was a perfect moment.

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Energy, Carnies, Faces

It’s been too long since I’ve posted. My brain’s more or less been scrambled for the past week. Apparently I’m still working through the tour phase where my body fully accepts and even embraces sleep deprivation and constant motion, not to mention noise.

Energy

Every tour has this shape in energy, where the first 10 or so days are super excited and jacked up, then there’s a crash where you hit a wall, can’t function, and hate everyone, and then you break through that and suddenly your reality adjusts to tour life and it all makes sense again. From there on out, it’s smooth sailing…generally.

This shape seems to be taking a little longer to play out than it has in previous tours, which may be due to our daily schedule being so different than your average club tour.

Carnies

Last week or so, Brian said “We’re basically carnies.”

The noise, the dust, the lifting, the smell of funnel cakes and lemonade, kicking through piles of garbage rolling through the wind in the afternoon – we’re basically living on carnival grounds all day, every day. Makes me want to find a creek to bathe in and a girl’s mountain bike to steal. I’m speaking from my own eye-witness account, of course.

Faces

Something great happened today in Minneapolis.

The crowd there wasn’t giant (though it was definitely nicely filled – we’re seriously spoiled), but there was an especially high percentage of devoted, excited kids in there.

I focused a lot on these kids during the set. Really watched their faces. So many of them were singing along with every word, jumping, just kicking ass. I would make eye contact with them occasionally and we would sing at each other.

There’s almost always a handful of people singing along at our shows, but for whatever reason seeing it today really felt overwhelming. It really kicked my ass on stage. Another intense rush of cosmic energy.

Too often I go on stage and see a crowd and I see them as a number, a challenge, an objective accomplishment. But these are people! Humans and characters who have entire lives and problems and joys and things to do outside of the half hour I spend trying to impress them and convince them to buy shit!

Who the hell are these strangers? How have these songs brought us all together, in a field in Minneapolis, to share in this weird, public yet extremely intimate interaction? Brian’s words are being recited back to him every day, by people who really believe in them, and are seriously energized by them. Wow. How?

I guess we’re well enough into the tour that the logistics and kinks are no longer pressing concerns and I can finally focus on what’s happening on a deeper level, let it really sink in.

This is heavy, heavy stuff, man.

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Welcome To The (Almost) Breakdown

We had an oil change/service stop scheduled in Niagara, but Brian pushed it ahead to today because we were clearly putting the Sprinter through more than your average driving conditions.

Good thinking.

The check engine light had been going on and off over the past couple of weeks, causing vague concern.

Turns out the swirl valve* is on the fritz big time, and it was due to fully die at any minute, rendering the van completely immobile.

Jeepers creepers.

To fix it requires about 8.5 hours of labor, meaning it’ll be in the shop until tomorrow night.

Brian, having dealt with epic breakdowns in tight situations (Dragon Wagon 1.0 just about exploding outside of Nashville on our way to DragonCon 2009 comes to mind), pulled some serious magic securing a rental van so we can get ourselves and some of our merch/gear to the show tomorrow.

I won’t get into all the details, but it was only by bypassing the normal outlets and skirting the hemming and hawwing that was about to go into the rental process that Brian made it all happen.

We didn’t find out about this problem until 5:40. There was a 20-minute window in which the rental could have been secured, and now we can play the show tomorrow.

No one else I know would’ve pulled it off. Dude’s a leader.

Anyway, please keep the Sprinter in your prayers, and hope for a speedy recovery. For if it doesn’t get fixed by tomorrow night, things get a whole lot more complicated. (Bear in mind Wednesday being the 4th, having a 12-hour drive to St. Louis for Thursday’s show, and so on, and so on…)

We haven’t found a suitable name for the van yet, but I think Dallas just might be it.

*By the way, yes a “swirl valve” is a real thing, a diesel engine thing. For a second there I thought it was like the Johnson rod in Seinfeld, some made up shit.

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Vagaries and Variations

The success of a given show depends heavily on several factors, most of which are out of our control:

-Set Time
Every day we play at a different time, which we only know about an hour before the gates open. There seems to be a sweet spot early in the afternoon where kids are warmed up, into it, and still full of energy. Weather/temperature also come into play significantly here. Early set times are great for us, but generally* we don’t want to play the very first slot, as often the place hasn’t even filled up yet. On the other hand, you don’t want to play too late in the day, due to:

-Bigger Bands We May Be Competing With On Other Stages
For example, today we’re playing at 6:50, the same time as Streetlight Manifesto and New Found Glory, so we may have a pretty thin crowd tonight.

-Lineup On Our Own Stage
There are a few bands on our stage whose styles don’t *exaaaaactly* match ours, so if we end up playing immediately before or after them we can end up with a pretty significant crowd loss. From a crowd-maintenance billing standpoint we’re much better off playing before Bayside or We Are The In Crowd than Vanna or Senses Fail.

-Stage location
Sometimes our stage is tucked away from much of the action, and you almost have to know where it is to get to it. Other days we’re playing out to a bunch of foot traffic between the main stages and other activity, so we get seen and heard by a lot more people.

*In New Mexico our first-slot show was actually a great set – our stage happened to be right by the entrance so we got to pull in just about everyone who was entering the grounds. It seems like we converted a lot of new fans that day. If only they were all like that!

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