Tour Diary Part 1
PacNW to MT and back
I’m going to start off by saying that I haven’t kept a tour diary since — since I don’t even know when. There might’ve been an attempt made during the early tours of the Decemberists, something suggested to us by Kill Rock Stars, our label at the time, but it is lost in the haze of memory. Querig has cast her mist over any such thing. As a consequence I’m not very practiced at keeping a journal or a diary. I kept up about a year and a half of a Five Year Diary during 2020-2021 before I abruptly stopped.
But here I am, with a new portal to the outside world, and only lacking things with which to squeeze through it. So I’ll be keeping a tour diary of this tour, the Arise From The Bunkers! Tour 2022.
Monday, August 1
Milo is with me on these first few shows. We got to the airport in due time, but I took us through the wrong gate, thinking that the corridor that connects the two ends of the airport was still there. It’s not. PDX is under a ton of construction, and that corridor, with my favorite chairs in the whole airport, has vanished. We had to go back through security, much to Milo’s chagrin. Jenny, John, Funk, and Lizzy were at the gate when we got there. Lizzy Ellison, of Cardioid fame, is joining us on this run as a backing vocalist/instrumentalist/tambourine player.
Arrived in Missoula ten minutes early — a blessing from the deities — and saw that the Missoula airport is brand-spanking new. We met our new keyboard/drum tech, Kenny. Turns out, most of our crew are new to us on this tour. The only familiar face on stage these days is trusty Justin Tamplin on the monitor rig. And, I’m pleased to report, I think we are close to a 1:1 ratio of dudes to ladies on this run. Certainly the most women on the road as I’ve ever seen. It may come as no surprise to you that the touring world — particularly the touring crew world — is predominantly a sausage fest, so it’s really refreshing to see some diversity there. All the more reason to be unsheepish about walking around with my copy of The Mists of Avalon. Even if the author is, uh, problematic.
To the hotel! We are staying, as we have always stayed, at the Double Tree Hotel in Missoula. The Edgewater, as it is colloquially known. The “best” hotel is Missoula. It has some competition now, I’m given to understand. But it’s a fine place, and they’ve redone the rooms, and Milo and I’s room overlooks the Clark Fork. We ordered room service; we watched the people float by on their rafts and innertubes. After dinner, we walked over the bridge, taking in the new, modern library that’s been built where one of my college houses used to be. It’s gone now; there’s a super modern library there instead. On to the Higgins bridge and over to the “hip strip,” as it’s now called, I guess, to get ice cream and tangerine sorbet at The Big Dipper with a couple old friends. We then wended back to the hotel and bid goodnight to Mt. Sentinal and Jacob’s Island.
The Machine Shop is fueled by paid subscribers. But, y’know, you do you.
Tuesday, August 2
Breakfast on the hotel patio. We are all being very assiduous about masking and doing as much as we can out-of-doors, especially on this first leg of tour. Covid, as you may know, continues to be a scourge of rock tours everywhere and we are keen to not have this one taken down by it. It’s weird; it feels like a throwback to the bad-old days of 2020, with all the maskne and perpetual anxiety. Good times! I take a zoom conference in the room while Milo Robloxes to his heart’s content (being on tour without a nanny, apparently, means a super screen binge but whatevs, right?) and then we’re off to the venue, which is a short drive from the hotel to Bonner, Montana.
Today is being called a “tech day,” which means it’s a day where we can get our stage rigs all sorted and dust off the layers of grime that have accumulated on amps and pedals and things and make sure everything works. Miracle of miracles, everything *kinda* works. We have not played with this full setup on the road since we took the stage in an abandoned amusement park in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. We run through some songs, treating the afternoon as a quasi-rehearsal. We are playing a couple new songs on this run, “Black Maria” and “William Fitzwilliam,” and they need some finessing. The Blackfoot river runs behind the stage and Milo and I play in the water for a bit. We’re back in time to have dinner with my dad and my little sister.
Wednesday, August 3
First show day of the tour. The bus picks us up at the hotel at 11 am and Milo gleefully boards, grabbing the top back bunk as his own. I take the bunk opposite him. Tour buses are the stuff of kids’ wildest imaginations: moving houses with little beds and a bathroom and a kitchen and every wall festooned with televisions. We make it to the venue, the Kettlehouse Amphitheater. It’s in Bonner, MT, an old mill town. I used to drive through this town going back and forth between Helena and Missoula. It’s wild to me that this venue exists. Missoula had always been the place where most touring bands played — when they played in Montana — but the shows were always at the University or in small clubs around town. It’s a gorgeous spot with a cozy backstage zone and it backs up against the Blackfoot. The local crew are super sweet; they arranged a couple inner tubes and a PFD for Milo and I. We float a little stretch of the river back down to the backstage. I got sunburned, because that is how we do it in Montana, we pale, anglo types just get sunburned.
The show was really lovely. Montana audiences are always so kind and appreciative, each of them in their uniform: baseball cap, shorts, sunglasses, Tevas, and a shirt with some version of the silhouette of the state of Montana on it. I generalize, of course, but I dig the vibe. Montana Exceptionalism, I call it.
Setlist felt good and flowy, though there might’ve been a lull in the top half. The sound on stage was really weird at first — all boomy low end — but it got sorted about halfway through the show. We’re playing “Severed” as a kind of Can-jam, somewhat de-synthed, and it’s really fun. I’m wondering why we didn’t record it that way in the first place. Ah, well. First thought, best thought and all that.
No guests backstage on this run, except for close family. Covid protocols. My dad was the only VIP wandering the hallways. We said our goodbyes and boarded the bus, Milo and I, and got tucked in while the rest of the band proceeded to drink whiskey and listen to Rush, as they are sometimes wont to do. Onward, then, to Seattle!
Thursday, August 4
First night on the bus is always a rough one. No one sleeps well. It takes some practice. Milo is up most of the night, telling me that he can’t sleep from across the corridor. He knocks out eventually and we arrive in Seattle to a light, maritime mist. Nice to be back in the Pacific Northwest. The vocal folds welcome the air with loving…folds. We’re playing the Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA, outside of Seattle. We played here last in [Googles furiously] 2015. We’ve played this venue three times — four including tonight. They all have amassed in my mind into a grass-colored, lawn chair-strewn mist. Nice spot, though. The backstage is in an old manor-type house. The shower is incredible. It’s a 9; it’d be a 10 if I was like six inches shorter.
It’s raining and cool most of the day, a wild shift from yesterday’s Montana heat. Milo and I play some cornhole on the lawn of the house; he retreats for more Roblox with his friends. Tour is dreamy for kids, as I’ve said, but there’s a real lack of other kids kicking around. Screen-friends will have to suffice.
At soundcheck, we fall back into that mode that is familiarly called the “Steve Miller Soundcheck,” which has been a staple of tour doldrum soundchecks since time immemorial. Thing is, we’re so rusty from being off the road, I can barely summon the lyrics for “Jet Airliner,” which I was never very good at to the begin with. “Steve Miller Soundcheck,” a subset of the broader “Classic Rock Soundcheck,” does not require lyric memorization but you have to at least, y’know, get a line or two in there. I have a feeling by the time we hit the east coast, these soundchecks, the bane of sound engineers everywhere, will be honed to a fine edge. There is some discussion internally whether or not to play that Albatross-around-our-necks, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” We try a few different versions, to try a new take on it — but everything slides, like a kind of bad-taste entropy, towards ersatz reggae and we abandon all hope. It will remain off the set list until morale improves.
The rain clears up; the sun comes out. We walk onstage at 8 pm, rock o’clock, to add more grass and lawn chair miasma to our memories. The crowd, as always, is fantastic (would I lie to you?). It’s Lizzy’s first shot at “Wanting Comes In Ways / Repaid,” and she miffs a verse. She’s mortified — but we assure her: if forgetting words was cause for firing in this band, I would be long gone. I think she’ll nail it in time. “Sons & Daughters” comes off well, too, as a closer. I don’t miss the Mariner and his, uh, long-winded diatribe. Milo separates himself from his bunk and his screen to watch some of the show side-stage, over by guitar tech Maureen. I don’t catch a glimpse, but Lizzy reports after the show that she saw him over there, swinging from some kind of dangling rope. Ah, an unsupervised kid on the road. Living the dream.
Then it’s back on the bus for the three hour ride to Portland for a day off. This is Milo’s last night on the bus, and he is intent on being awake when the bus starts moving. I get it; so far on this tour, we’ve only ever been asleep while the bus is moving. There’s something sweet about watching a nighttime landscape speed by from the windows of a tour bus. But the bus doesn’t leave Redmond till 1 am and when I wake him the next morning, he’s shocked to find that we’re back in Portland. There are some tears, reader.
We pack up and head home. Carson and Hank are there to welcome us. A little respite. And some laundry.