Thursday, November 11, 2010

Road trip

So, off we were going to go....four dudes in a van. The Mondo Topless "Midwest tour."
The original plan was to leave on Wednesday, drive to Ypsilanti, Michigan, just outside Ann Arbor, hope to pick up some long-ago Stooges vibe and rock like hell with local band Mazinga, who came highly recommended. Then there would be a succession of shows in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, Columbus, OH -- Thursday through Sunday, then home Monday to Philly. The best-laid plans....

First we got bumped out of the Columbus gig only a day or two before we were about to leave. Something about a "house-band rehearsal" secretly scheduled at the same time as our (early) gig. That's a new one. The hell with 'em, we figured. Columbus on a Sunday night never really screamed out, "Rock 'n' roll," with or without the hootchie-coo, so we chalked it up to good luck. This way we could stay up late with our friends in St. Louis at the Beat 'n' Soul festival the night before the canceled Columbus gig, and just use Columbus as a way-station on the way home. No biggie. We still had four shows booked.

So Wednesday morning it was up at 4 a.m. to go get bass player Scott and head to Vox-guy Sam's house where we would all pile into the van, pick up guitarist Kris, and roll. It was a pretty uneventful 600 miles to Ypsi, other than the glorious stop at Beef Jerky Unlimited in Dundee, Michigan where Scott, Kris and I loaded up on various cured and salted four-legged beasts while vegetarian Sam looked on in horror. Elk, bison, alligator, venison and good old beef were all purchased and then, over the next few days, gleefully devoured. We joked that the Ypsi gig was off thanks to a jerky overdose. Turned out we were half right....

We met up with our pal Mark for one hell of a delicious meal at a Vietnamese place in Ypsi called Dalat. Awesome food (squid!) and uber-cheap. And then....the power went out at the club. Well, OK I think it'd been out already for a while that day. Instead of too much jerky, it was insufficient electricity that derailed the Ypsi gig. The club and about three or four other businesses on the block were pitch black with no hope of recovery. Promoter dude threw a few bucks at us for gas (thank you, sir; really!). We said goodbye to a sad Mark (he loves us and we love him too for his commitment to all that rocks) but we rebounded quickly, however, thanks to Meijer. How great is a store that sells everything, including alcohol? My Michigan-bred wife had long ago clued me in to the wonder of Meijer, and it saved our moods that night with a bottle of Evan Williams, some Leinenkugels (can't get that beer around here) and a pile of snacks. Band hangout night! Lampshade on Sam's head!

Only three gigs to go, and we hadn't played a gig yet.

And so, Thursday morning, Milwaukee beckoned. I hadn't been there since the early '80s, but it struck me as the same shot 'n' a beer town that I remembered. Everything was different there from Philly: the food (Scotch eggs!), the beer (Old Style!, Blatz! (has anyone ever put an exclamation point after Blatz before?)), the people (absurdly nice with no edgy East Coast vibe at all!). The venue: Frank's Power Plant.

Frank's is the epitome of a no-frills down-to-earth bar. And we love 'em for that. Starting the four-band bill at 10:45 pm on a Thursday? Not so in love with that, but we soldiered on, including an emergency "Oh shit, my pants just busted wide open and so did my belt and I don't know how to get back to the hotel so you have to help me" plea from Sam to me. It's hell being the navigator sometimes. Somehow he and I drove fast through detours, road closures and general madness back to the hotel, got him new pants and a belt and arrived back in time to wrangle our way into the third slot on the bill at the last minute (we were originally last of four) -- and when I say "the last minute," I mean DJ/promoter Wendy turned to us after band #2 and said, "Oh why not? Go on now. That'd be cool." We rocked. The setlist will never quite be known because it was thrown-together, handwritten-only amalgam of the best of what we were going to do in Ypsi and what we had planned for Milwaukee, but it went something like this:

Get Me to the World on Time
Ain't Dead Yet
Just One Thrill
Don't Want You
Magic Potion
Can't Dig It
I'm Crying
Pay to Cum
No More
Unsafe at Any Speed

And it was a blast. People seemed to dig it all. That set was the debut of our new Bad Brains cover, "Pay to Cum," and, despite a rocky start for the first five seconds or so of the new one, it kicked into gear in fine fashion and the punks up front started fist-pumping and yelling along to the "Hey!"s. Just the reaction I was hoping for. Thanks, guys. If you wanna watch a couple of videos that someone in the crowd took of us that night, go here for "Get Me To the World On Time" and here for "Can't Dig It."

The night ended with a local band who played through a best-forgotten cake/pie throwing incident engaged in by most of the remaining crowd (not me...I was packing up my gear), and all I could think at the time was: (1) "Glad my gear is in the back room away from the food-throwing," and (2) "This really isn't cool unless you are promising to clean it up." Unsurprisingly, none of the cake/pie throwers seemed to be involved in the cleanup. Hmmm....

We slept late, for us old guys anyway, hit the Denny's down the road for breakfast and drove the easy hour-plus to Chicago for a gig at Reggie's Music Joint. There was a wee bit of confusion at first about our placement on the six(!)-band bill (including one Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers). But our third slot ended up working out great. I'm pretty certain there were more people in the room raising a ruckus during our set than during any other. And, before I forget, let me send a special "hell yeah" out to 13 Tikis, who are not only a killer surf/instrumental band from the Windy City, but a band that knows the travails of the road, and, as a result, gave us their share of the door. Good on ya, boys (and girl). We truly appreciate it and hope you'll come to Philly one day. Salud!

And our set went something like this:

I Want To
Mystery Girl
Ain't Gettin' Any
Break the Ice
Left in the Dark
Nothing Can Bring Me Down
Panty Sniffer
Pay To Cum

Short, sweet, and fun despite being punctuated by ridiculous house-drum-kit nonsense where the rack tom went airborne off its stand more than once and the whole kit kept moving outward like an amoeba each song, whereupon I would take a few seconds to re-collect the pieces and we'd play the next one. We learned right after the set that Mystery Girl is the favorite song of the 13 Tikis guitar player and we learned during the set that: Pay to Cum only gets better, Panty Sniffer is a stupid song that is too too fun to play and Loose is a seething rock and roll monster that I never get tired of playing. We had a great time. Thanks, Chicago.

So Saturday morning we were St. Louis-bound, specifically off to the inaugural Beat 'n' Soul fest. A quick word about Beat 'n' Soul, actually.... it was put together by friends of mine. Marie Arsenault, John Wendland, Jason Baldwin and Mark Wyatt are all veterans of the grassroots Twangfest festival, and they are hardcore music fans who wanted to start a garage/soul fest. So they did, at considerable financial risk/expenditure. They brought together a bunch of garage and soul bands that they love, and we were honored to be on that list. Thanks, guys. You rock. I hope B'n'S has many successful years to come.

Back to the trip....
It's an easy five-hour shot down I-55 from Chicago to St Louis through farmland so flat that we were playing "count the wind farms" and quickly gave up thanks to wind-farm overload. A rest stop in Godknowswhere, Illinois produced two amusing incidents. First, we ran into the Sights, the band playing after us on the bill that night. We didn't know at first that they were the Sights, mind you. But two of our guys saw them and said, "Hey, you guys must be in a band, right?" The shit was briefly shot, and we both rolled onwards toward the big arch....but not before Kris and Scott both bought 24-oz alcoholic energy drinks that produced two wildly different reactions. Kris: "Oh my god...what chicken just shit on my tongue? Can I sue myself for damages?" Scott: "I think I might have another." He didn't. There's something like four Red Bulls and five beers worth of caffeine and alcohol in each can, and good sense won out eventually.

We showed up at our friend Rick's house (dude, really, your house was amazing, and thanks), dropped off our bags and headed to the club. Five bands were playing that night and we were second on the bill, with an hour set aside for us to play. Nice. Instead of the 12 and 13-song sets we'd done so far this tour, we got to play 17 plus a one-song encore. It was awesome. I had designed the set for maximum festival appeal -- lots of covers (13 of 'em!), and lots of energy:

Ain't Dead Yet
Take It Slow
Magic Potion
In the End
Gonna Find a Cave
Bottomless Pit
Pay to Cum
Left in the Dark
We're a Bad Trip
Freaking Out
Asteroid B-612
Panty Sniffer (encore)

I am such a music dork that, knowing I would know a bunch of people there, I had specifically included songs in the set for specific people, and, apparently in a sign that I know my friends well, nearly every one thanked me for playing the precise song that I had dropped in there for that person. I had even more fun playing than usual. Everyone in our band was jacked up and animated as hell onstage, while people were whooping it up, and, well, I'd do it again in a heartbeat, so, yeah, count us in for next time, whenever that is. Best night of the tour, and that's not even including the amazing gourmet food truck that was parked outside all night or the fact that my wife Jamie met up with me there. The Stooges cover was, as always, for you, darlin'. What a great night.

Afterparty back at Marie's was much appreciated and, thankfully, subdued enough that no one paid for it then next day.

(Photo by Jason Baldwin)

And that's pretty much it. Yeah, we drove home for two days thereafter. But there's not much to tell about seven hours to Columbus and then eight to Philly. Best night's sleep all tour was in Columbus, but the absence of a gig that night pretty much predetermined that. We arrived home, still-exhausted, a little grumpy, but glowing with the knowledge that we tore it up for three gigs. And that's why we do it, 'cause that'll keep you going when nothing else will.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Steve. Thanks to Mondo Topless for coming out and to you for all your support all these years. We sure do appreciate it.