Tour Diary Part 7
Tuesday, August 23
New York City, NY
I wake up in the darkness of my room. I look at my phone; it’s 10 a.m. I pull myself from bed and triumphantly throw open the blinds, looking out over this city that never sleeps, this New York City, its every avenue teeming with magic and broken dreams:
I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whether to expend the energy needed to get dressed and hoof it to a deli for a bagel, or to have one delivered. In the end, I opt for the former and I’m off to to the nearest bagelry, which happens to be on the concourse level of Rockefeller Center. I have an everything bagel, toasted, with scallion cream cheese and lox. It’s my go-to whilst in the city.
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Back at the hotel, the gang has gathered in the lobby, awaiting the runner. A white sprinter van pulls up and we toss our bags into the back and take our seats. We’re taken to the venue, which is a spot in the middle of the Central Park wilds, this place called Summerstage. We’ve played here twice before, I think. Once, our first time, with Death Cab For Cutie and Stars. Back in the naughty oughties. I remember being so excited for that show, to play outdoors in Central Park, to share the stage with these bands I admired so much, our peers, our fellows, at the outset of our career. That spirit has been tempered somewhat these days, some fifteen years on, but I’m still glad to be beginning a show day. My voice is feeling pretty good; the steroids continue their enchanted work.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is here; he’s going to be our secret guest that night, singing on “Ben Franklin’s Song” with us. We’ve got a little room set aside for him and I go to say hi. He’s got a cold, a non-covid cold, and I instinctively reel back from him. Colds are anathema. Colds cannot happen. But he’s so kind and so approachable, I soon forget he carries the kryptonite of all rock tours. If I get a cold and I lose my voice because of that cold, I will blame it on Lin-Manuel Miranda.
We run Ben Franklin’s Song at soundcheck with Lin. It’s easy; he’s a pro. We bid him adieu till later and then usher in the Shebangers. We play “My Mother Was A Trapeze Artist” and “As I Rise.” Used to be that we’d take requests at these things, but that tended to become such a shouting match, we’ve decided to just decide on the songs ourselves. We answer folks’ questions; we retreat to the backstage.
We’ve had a photographer shadowing us on these last shows, Rene Huemer, and this is his last night with us. After dinner, he gathers everyone for a band and crew shot and a few various iterations of all of us. This has been a really good team, I have to say.
I’ve finished Lapvona and I’m on to The Mists of Avalon. I read quietly in the couch backstage; it’s a pleasant evening — not too hot. I’ve just realized that my copy of Lapvona, which I checked out from the West Linn Public Library, has the sticker “14 DAY CHECKOUT” on the spine. Reader, I’ve had it for longer than fourteen days. I try to renew it, but there are holds, so I cannot. I give it to tour manager Katie to express ship back to West Linn. Apologies to whoever is waiting for a copy of Otessa Moshfegh’s new novel Lapvona from one of the Portland Metro library branches, you’ll have to wait a little longer. I have paid the late fees and, yes, my debts to society.
Show gets off to a weird start when, as our entrance music plays, a security guard won’t let us onstage. We are in our show clothes, we have our in-ear monitors in, we are accompanied by our tour manager, we are clearly a band ready to play a show and not some gang of wily stage invaders, but no: we cannot mount the stage until we have wristbands on. We overcome the barrier just before the last blats of “Mountain King” and are at our stations, basking in the welcoming applause of the crowd.
I feel nervous, for some reason, as we launch into “Leslie Anne Levine.” Something about playing New York City has always brought out the stage jitters, so between songs I call for a glass of wine to calm the nerves. It seems to take its effect — the show goes smoothly forward. We manage “Rusalka, Rusalka/The Wild Rushes” without so much as a full rehearsal and it goes…pretty well, all things considered.
We return for the encore; we play “June Hymn” — the perfect song for a summertime outdoor show — and then launch into “Ben Franklin’s Song.” Lin-Manuel glides onstage for his verse and the crowd becomes an ocean of cell phones. Lin does a high harmony over the 2nd half of my verse and properly nails it. We would make a good harmony team together, he and I, kinda like a CSNY, but, y’know, without the N or the Y, or the C or the Y or — whatever, you get the point.
After the show, I'm under strict orders to not talk, but that is impossible in New York where our guest list tends to balloon and you have to chat up everyone backstage. I do the best I can, apologies all around, and then escape to the cubby of my warmup room. The bus is late coming in; it’s stuck on a bridge somewhere. We have to wait in the garbage-stink of the alley behind the stage while the bus driver gives Katie updates on their whereabouts. Finally, the buses are close and we pile into Sprinter vans to go meet them. As soon as we make contact, I dive bunk-ward to decompress. Quiet. I need quiet.
Wednesday, August 24
I walk into the front lounge of the bus in the morning and there is Nate. Nate is often there, in the front lounge, first thing in the morning. This is where our paths regularly cross. He’s already had his coffee and been in the venue. “It’s very deluxe,” he says. He is not kidding.
Today, we are playing at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia. It’s just west of Washington D.C. This venue, in the jargon of the business, would be called “a shed.” It’s a reductive name for some of the nicer places to play in the country. By shed, they mean it’s a partially indoor, partially outdoor amphitheater. They’re typically very, very big. Like, 15,000 capacity kinda places. The stage and main seating are covered, but the back and sides of the venue are open to the air. There’s often a lawn at the back of the house that sprawls farther up the hill — for general, al fresco seating. The Merriweather Post Pavilion is a shed; the The Shoreline in SF is a shed. You get the idea.
This particular shed, Wolf Trap, has a backstage that beggars belief. I feel like I’ve walked into a retreat center or some such place. The first door I walk by, just beyond the rec room with the pool table and the ping pong table, is labeled “Wellness Room.” Inside, there are yoga mats, pre-laid out, on a tasteful bamboo floor. A sidetable carries an array of little essential oil bottles and a diffuser. I wind my way to the band’s dressing room and make myself at home. It’s very comfortable. The shower is a 7. You’d think in an immaculate, overly-generous backstage area like this you’d have a higher-ranking shower, but there you have it. I’m not sugar coating it. Though, tbh, I’m beginning to realize that my shower grading has more to do with water pressure than anything else.
We all hang about, doing next to nothing. We kick out on the sofas, we play LPs, we eat lunch in the suspiciously Severance-feeling catering zone. It’s awfully muggy by the time we take the stage for soundcheck, and I can tell the strings on my guitars are taking a hit. My voice is feeling better (I’m on my second-to-last course of the steroids) and I manage to bust out a mumbled verse and chorus of Little Feat’s “Willin’” for Classic Rock Soundcheck. “Up On The Sun” by the Meat Puppets is also attempted but, man, that guitar part is elusive.
Shebangers are ushered in; we play a few songs which I don’t now remember, and field questions. I sip tea and answer them the best I can. And then it’s back to our corporate cafeteria for dinner, which is blessedly absent of both ends of the chalmon. We set up Pandemic Legacy for the September session. Sadly, we fail the session — and fail it badly — and must replay the month. The board is now littered with surveillance craft and disease. The outlook is dismal indeed.
At showtime, I’m leery to walk onstage. This venue is so huge, I’m afraid our audience will be dwarfed by it — but I’m pleasantly surprised to see the whole place feeling pretty packed out, if not exactly “to the rafters.” The vibe remains positively seated — and who can blame them, really? I mean, they have seats. It’s certainly more comfortable to sit for two hours than it is to remain standing. A short word on that: I honestly don’t care if people sit or stand. I know that show-goers often have strong opinions about sitting or standing. The Standers want the Sitters to stand (“Come on! Get into it, you soulless boors!” they seem to shout); the Sitters are either made uncomfortable by the insinuations of the Standers — that they are soulless boors — or are resentful of the Standers because they are standing in their way. I prefer not to get involved. I love seeing people up on and on their feet jumping around, enjoying themselves — of course, who wouldn’t? — but some of my very favorite experiences as a concert-goer have been shows where I’ve remained in my seat the whole time, taking in the show without a thought to my aching feet or the rocking-out of the people around me. So there.
The audience is brought to their feet, however, to give Lizzy a standing ovation after her turn as the Forest Queen on “Repaid.” It’s well deserved; she reports later that it made her burst into tears. We finish the set with “I Was Meant For The Stage,” which feels really good on this stage, with this crowd, and come back for “June Hymn” and “Sons & Daughters” at the encore. I feel pretty blissed-out, to be honest, walking off the stage. It was a good crowd; they just took a moment to get to know.
My very old friend Mark and his wife and step-daughter are at the show and I break my after-show vow of silence to catch up with them. Then I wind my way to the bus and plug into Brideshead till I’m fast asleep. I dream of Jeremy Irons’ fake beard.
Thursday, August 25
The bus has parked next to a construction site and we are all awakened in our bunks to the sound of concrete saws and hammer falls. We are in a lot next to the venue, which is another Stately Old Theater (S.O.T.) called The Met. We’ve never played here before, which is surprising, since it seems like we’ve trod the boards of just about every S.O.T. on the eastern seaboard. I walk off the bus with my things and cannot for the life of me figure out how to get into the building. Tour Manager Katie has to come and guide me.
Even though this venue has an elevator, I am once more thankful for my European Gap-Year style packing, with my one backpack, as I climb the stairs to the dressing rooms. I get settled; I take a 7.5 shower. Lunch happens very quickly and I have a sandwich and a bulgur wheat salad in the catering zone, which is up in the flies. Then it’s back to the dressing rooms for more time-biding. I answer some emails.
The cast list for the Wildwood movie has been announced and it’s fun to finally let that secret out of the bag; I’d been holding it in for weeks now. I’m genuinely blown away by the amount of talent they’ve put together for this thing. It bodes well for the final product. Every single actor cast feels worthy of note, but I have to underline the fact that Tom Waits will be in this thing. And to think that this story had its beginning with Carson and I, broke and living in a warehouse in SE Portland, making up a story behind a mural Carson was painting on the wall of my grotty little bedroom. Life is strange.
I’ve huffed my last course of steroids, a single pill swallowed at 8 a.m., and my voice is feeling strong enough to sing during soundcheck. We go over a few sections in “The Island” and “Burial Ground” that needed attention; we make another feint at The Meat Puppets’ “Up On The Sun.” Then the Shebangers are here and we play our two songs (“Grace Cathedral Hill” and “O New England"); we answer questions. Then away we go to the 3rd floor and the catering zone for dinner.
Jenny sets up Pandemic Legacy in the band room. We have to replay the month of September. With only four days left in the tour, there is some urgency to finish out the game before we’re home. The game seems to become progressively harder; with every mistake we make, with every misstep we take, the board becomes less and less friendly as it carries over to the next session. We’re barely keeping afloat now. We manage two objectives and fail the third — which is pretty good by our standards — and are given the go to progress to October.
Showtime arrives; we open with “Crane Wife 3” into “The Island.” This being an S.O.T., the default mode for show-goers is staying seated and there are the usual tussles about sitting and standing. I try to keep out of it. The crowd seems reserved at first — very polite — but as we begin prodding them, they come out of their shells. By the end of the set, the audience is a little prickly, which is the best. Always nice to have a prickly audience. Makes thing more interesting.
We open the encore with “Rusalka,” which is now feeling pretty reliable, and end with “Sons & Daughters,” as we have been this whole tour. The crowd is on its feet — the Standers have won the day — as we retreat from the stage. Funk, Jenny, and Nate are staying on in Philadelphia and opting to fly to Nashville the next day rather than busing. John, Lizzy, and I will be on the bus. I call home and check in from the back lounge. Things seem harried at home, but mostly keeping together. I’m anxious to get back. Only two more shows!