Tour Diary Part 4
Highlands to the lowlands
Friday, August 12
I wake early; the bus is still moving. I read my book, which is currently Ottessa Moshfegh’s Lapvona1, until I fall back asleep. The dreams I have are vivid. Lots of misplacing things and trying to find them in elaborate, alien surroundings. My dad is everywhere, pacing around these strange backstages, requiring my attention. Several college girlfriends make brief appearances. I awake to an unmoving bus; we are in Denver, Colorado.
The venue is newish, built in 2019. It’s a big new rock club — the interior has a kind of mini-arena vibe. The backstage, as is typical in these big new rock clubs, is tidy, spacious, and well-kept. The shower is an 8. My voice is feeling better today — fears for my folds have somewhat subsided. I finish up part three of my tour diary and publish it; I do some laundry.
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Jason and Megan from our management company are here. Jason has brought me replacement headphones. They’re his; he hasn’t used them forever. A commission well earned.
Chris Funk plays Primus pinball until “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” is embedded in his skull. Jenny and Lizzy work out the synth part to “Landlord’s Daughter.” Nate goes on a bike ride. At this point, two weeks into the tour, everything feels like it’s arrived in its groove.
We soundcheck and entertain VIP guests. We play “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground,” and “Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned).” Lots of good questions; the people who come to these things are really sweet. I mean, I suppose that’s to be expected. I like to think we have the kindest, smartest, generous and most attractive fans in the business, but I may be biased. And also perhaps pandering a little.
Dinner is typical catering — salmon or beef, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, roasted veg. A note on road-dining: we have, for maybe the last fifteen years, relied on catering for our meals in the venue. While there are often sexier options to have out in the greater metropolis of whatever city we might be in, having a simple protein-carb-and-veg meal waiting for you backstage eliminates a lot of the uncertainty of touring. For me, it’s an adequate compromise. I like to eat 3-4 hours before showtime, so as not to incur any digestive unpleasantries whilst on stage, and it’s hard to hew to that when you’re dashing off to some Mediterranean place that opens at 6 and takes an hour to serve you. Etc. So we have catering and it’s usually just fine. The fact that the two proteins on offer are typically either salmon or chicken has the band musing on the existence of an animal called a “chalmon,” a creature that has the head of a chicken and the tail of a fish. It is hunted throughout the world and, when caught, is quickly dispatched with a butcher knife to the midsection, cleaving it cleanly in two: one part chicken, one part salmon. And into the chafing dish it goes.
We replay the January session of Pandemic Legacy; we succeed!2 A round of high fives is exchanged, though the board state carrying over to the next game is a little dismal. Lots of incidences.
The show tonight is being livestreamed on Mandolin. While livestreaming is not perhaps the booming business it was during the depths of the pandemic, it’s something, I think, we’ll continue doing, if only for the accessibility aspect. Lots of folks can’t go to shows for one reason or another; this gives us an opportunity to beam a show or two into their homes. Win/win! We walk onstage at showtime to a full house. A great, lively crowd. We open with “Crane Wife 3” into “The Island,” which was always a great starter to a show. Switching out the new “Burial Ground” for “12/17/12” at Funk’s request (does he not like the new song?) makes the setlist weigh heavily toward tunes from “WATWWABW” but whatevs. I miff my fair share of lyrics; maybe it’s because of the cameras? Voice feels a little crackly — clear and bright, but a bit crispy. Probably due to the altitude. It does take a little more breath to get those notes out.
I’m not drinking very much on this tour, but I allow myself a glass of red wine after the show; I Facetime with Milo and Carson, who watched the show on the livestream. Then I head out to the bus and catch up on The Rehearsal and nod off. The bus carries on, ever eastward.
Saturday, August 13
Kansas City, MO
I walk into the front lounge of the bus and it’s hot. I can feel the sun baking through the windows. The driver is trying to fix the door to the bus and it’s open, letting in the heat. Today is another outdoor venue and it doesn’t look like it’ll be cooling down much by showtime. I head into the venue for my morning ablutions; the hot water is not working in the shower. Apparently, the band last night had “taken a lot of showers” and the hot water heater is down. Apologies to Grinders, KC, but a shower without working hot water is a 2 at best. Since it’s so hot out, and there’s barely any AC backstage, I take a cold shower and it’s pleasant enough. Extra point based on conditions; I’ll give it a 3.
What more is there to tell? Now that we’ve entered central time zone, our days are getting shorter. It’s 1 pm by the time I’m showered and ready for the day; soundcheck is in a mere two hours. I wile away time doing this and that, shuttling back and forth between the bus and the venue, a pilgrim without a purpose.
We walk onstage for soundcheck/VIP show in blazing heat. We rush through a couple quick rehearsal songs (we’re playing “We All Die Young” and “I Was Meant For The Stage” tonight, both for the first time this tour) and have the Shebangers mercifully ushered in to the shade of the stage. We play “Carolina Low” with the full band (and me omitting a verse — whoops) and “Apology Song.”
After dinner we play the February session of Pandemic Legacy; we win handily. I think we’ve got this down. It’s a round of high-fives and then a few hours wait till showtime. Lots of thumb-twiddling today; alas, seventy-five percent of all tours is one form of thumb-twiddling or another. Showtime is 9 pm; there’s some hope there will be a reprieve in the heat — but it is not to be. Our phones tell us it’s 89 degrees with 30% humidity and it’s hot onstage. Moments like this that I feel for the audience; how do they endure? The crowd is great (quick aside here: you’ll notice that I’m always saying the crowd is great. The crowd is not always great, but we’ve got a good streak going on this run) and the place is full. Management had warned me prior to the show that this one was going to feel light and I had prepped myself for such an occasion. Pleasantly surprised to see the opposite: the crowd reaches back to the far buildings and everyone is all sweaty and rapturous and ready for a show. We do our best to oblige.
“I Was Meant For The Stage” is a highlight, even though I drop a verse. It’s been so long since we played it, I had forgotten what a long lead-in it had. You’re like three verses in before the chorus shows up — scandalous! But it works, more or less, and it’s fun. I have a funny relationship with that song; when I wrote it, we were a brand new band, playing in teeny-tiny dumpy clubs and that friction between the grandeur of the song and the modesty of the environs and our stature was funny and interesting to me. Once we started playing big places — lavish theaters, sprawling amphitheaters and the like — it lost that charm. It started to feel a little one-dimensional. So it got put away for a while. Now, as I approach fifty and am an old hand at this life, with all its ups and downs, I find there’s a new kind of dimensionality coming in: I am that narrator, that old, cynical thespian or whoever they are, rather than relating the narrator’s story.
Barbecue has been brought backstage for an after-show meal; we tuck in. Conversation inevitably turns to favorite barbecue spots and differences in regional barbecues. I have a glass of wine and head to the bus. Day off tomorrow; I’m looking forward to — if nothing else — not having to sing for a day. Bliss.
Sunday, August 14
Minneapolis, MN (day off)
We wake to the buses parked on a sidestreet next to our hotel, The Graduate. It’s in the University District. I’m underslept and a little melancholy. The thing about days off: the rest is lovely. Giving my voice a day off is lovely. Not having and requirements or commitments for 24 hours is lovely. But there’s a kind of disruption that occurs on a day off — it’s that momentum of tour that keeps you going. The excitement of moving from one city to another, one venue to the next, becomes a kind of forward motion, a slipstream that one falls into. A day off can feel like a sudden halt to the momentum. Stasis.
I move into my room, which is just fine and I shower. I get some lunch from the place across the street, a place that looks like a Mediterranean spot but turns out to be a kind of pita sandwich place going for the Chipotle vibe of food construction. Roti — it must be a chain; I remember going to one in Columbus, OH so many moons ago. In any case, the food suffices, and I suddenly long to be away from this hotel room and its winky college-themed wall decorations. I put on my headphones and go for a walk down by the river; I listen to Red House Painters self-titled record. The first self-titled record — I think it’s called Rollercoaster, informally. I really lean into that melancholy.
Some of the band and crew are having dinner together, but I opt to eat solo so as to give my voice the extra rest. We play a session of Pandemic in the “Focus Room” in the hotel before everyone heads off; we are successful again! Things are really starting to heat up, though. After dinner I return to my hotel, feeling woeful and decide: fuck this. I go sleep in my bunk on the bus and it’s fantastic.
Monday, August 16
The band must either hustle on to the bus at 11 am or wait for a runner to the venue at 2; I need do neither things, for I am already on the bus, having slept there the night before. This is a first for me, opting for the bunk instead of a hotel room, but there’s something to it, I think. I will continue to experiment.
The venue does not exactly inspire; it’s a big, muddy field outside of a brewery. There’s an abandoned granary in the distance; the neighboring plot is stacked with shipping containers. Catering is top grade though — a kind of mezza platter — and the weather is kind. The afternoon slips away, beyond memory. There’s a lot of busy work to be done — we’re announcing these pre-order exclusives for my book — and we all have to sign a stack of posters for upcoming Shebangers. We run “The Infanta” at soundcheck, as it’s on the setlist tonight, and it comes together surprisingly easily. That’s always been one of those tough ones — lots of weird chord changes and a couple modulations. The Shebangers are ushered into the muddy field; we play “On The Bus Mall” and… and something else.
Another round of Pandemic is played after dinner; we do not succeed. We are overrun. We’ll have to replay that month now.
We walk onstage at showtime to a setting sun over the abandoned granary and a crowd that covers the muddy field completely — how the scene has transformed! The air is balmy and warm and my vocal folds are bathed in the midwestern humidity; we open with “The Infanta,” even though John needs a few run-ins with the drum opening. After that, it’s smooth sailing. “I Was Meant For The Stage” ends the main set and I get all the verses right. Encore opens with a spontaneous (if somewhat low-for-my-range) solo take on The Mats’ “Skyway,” (some grade-A regional pandering there) and we finish with the crowd, now illuminated only by the blue and purple and red of the stage lighting, singing us off the stage: “Hear all the bombs, they fade away…”
John is reading this too. This is the second time we’ve shown up on tour carting the same book. Last time it was Patrick deWitt’s brill Undermajordomo Minor.
We didn’t really cheat, but we did slightly roll back on decision that Funk made so as to carry on. Don’t look at me like that.