Skirting Death with IfIHadAHiFi (Pt.6)
9:32 PM, 9/15 – Milwaukee, WI
Band fund, start of tour: $140
Band fund, end of tour: $164.11 (plus, $350 tires and $10 Canadian that’s been in there since 2005)
Difference: +$24.11 (plus, $350 tires — dammit, that counts as invested profit)
Van mileage, start of tour: 201,014
Van mileage, end of tour: 207,252
Total miles: 6,238
With two shows left, my general feeling of malaise in Oakland after the Mount Vicious show had long faded, but I was still more than ready for touring to be over with. We had decided a few days before our arrival in St. Louis that we were going to drive all night, straight home after our last show, and that wasn’t far away. Still, we had unfinished business in the home of your *sob* soon-to-be 2009 NL Central Division Champion Cardinals of Professional Base Balls. That business was with a band containing at least two confirmed Cardinal fans, the ever-confounding Conformists, with whom we have talked for years about playing together, but only now have finally made it happen. The whole Cardinal fandom thing is unfortunate, but hell, we’ve played with Cubs fans before (and hell, the owner of the all-ages club where we got our start in Green Bay was a Bears fan, for frak’s sake), so we could easily suck it up.
After a mid-afternoon mission which included 1) getting Yale some cash from his bank, since he lost his ATM card in the Bay Area; 2) getting some absolutely ridicul-awesome St. Louis BBQ at a local eatery; and 3) stopping at a hardware store to get me some replacement screws for my Iron Cobra kick pedal, we made our way to the Lemp Arts Center, cleverly positioned on Lemp Avenue. The Lemp Arts Center is essentially the Borg Ward of St. Louis (or more accurately, the Borg Ward is the Lemp Arts of Milwaukee) — an all-ages art space being run in an old storefront. We wandered in and found a few of the kids who were running the show, including a kid who I believe was named Mark? He asked us, “Are you hungry?” We said, “We just ate, actually.” “[Conformists singer] Mike forgot to tell you, didn’t he?” “What, do you feed us?” “Yep.” “Darn.” Eh, whaddya gonna do? The meat and cheese plate we had at the brew pub down the block was plenty tasty and enough to get us through the night after the BBQ stop earlier, so no worries.
Besides, Mike had some planning to do — he didn’t have time to tell us about free food. Not only was he playing in the night’s headlining band, but he was also opening with his solo performance art act, 100% Cotton. He opened with a “conceptual piece” (we’ll call it that, sure) where he announced that he would perform the most “brutal” noise set in the history of brutal-noise acts, then proceeded to mime a stereotypical noise set, tweaking effects pedals and holding an unplugged mic in front of the PA speakers, all the while screaming his silent ass off, entranced by his own brutality. The rest of us laughed our asses off. Brilliant!
I forget if it was at the beginning of our set or after the show, but I think it was before our set: Mike from the Conformists was talking to the guy who runs Lemp Arts and was overheard telling him “these guys have been wanting to play here for a long time. They’re really excited.” I then said, “Yeah, man, we’ve emailed this place like three times and have never heard word from anyone,” to which the dude incredulously responded, “We don’t check our email! Pfffff!” I had to tip my hat; any dude that comfortable with his own disorganization is all right by me.
Our set was pretty solid and full of stupid banter inspired by the knowledge that the Conformists are all silver-tongued smart asses, and we needed to raise the bar. (Before we even started, the Conformists’ bassist asked us, “So, what the hell happened to the Brewers?” Sigh). Kids laughed and danced while Yale and the Wizard slammed into the crowd, which looked pretty solid when I had my glasses off. (Good for them for crowding around the band and not hanging back by the walls!). Seriously, how did it take this long to play Lemp Arts? These kids are great! And based on the stickers on the walls around the venue, enough of our friends had played here already that it should have been a no-brainer for us to play here years ago. Ah well.
The Conformists then proceeded to do what they always do — namely, make my brain crack in two as I try to figure out how the hell they manage to compose the outright, baffling and amazing music they create. One of their songs has a part that is played in 13/8. Not 7/4. 13/8. The resulting riff sounds not unlike a CD or LP skipping. Meanwhile, Mike prowls around the stage moaning in his deep, ominous croon. This band is insanely good.
After the show we went to Mike’s place to drink for the night. On the way there we stopped at a gas station and found individual tallboys of Miller High Life for 69 cents. Seriously, Miller? Your beer is cheaper in the competition’s hometown than it is here? Why you gotta play it like that? Anyway, I knew that Mike was a huge wrestling fan, so eventually the conversation turned toward the squared circle. Before I knew it, we were in Mike’s bedroom watching the WWE’s Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD, which was FANTASTIC. All these WWE insiders just shitting on the Warrior. SO GOOD. Between this and hearing all the Conformists’ van horror stories (“We were heading onto the freeway, and I laid down in the back of the van to take a nap. I lay there thinking, ‘Something sounds weird,’ and lift up my head to see that the van’s back doors are wide open not a foot from my head! I yell, ‘Stop-st-st-stop the van! Stop the van!’”), it was a pretty solid end to our second-last night.
We were expecting far less out of Des Moines, since the last time we visited was in 2005 for a crummy show at Vaudeville Mews, where apparently tons of kids show up … to loiter on the street outside the venue and listen to the bands from outside. Awesome. When we arrived at The Haunted Basement, a living space built into an old, bombed-out warehouse, we had less than optimistic hopes for the night; no microphones were visible in the performance space (which looked a little gross, frankly). No one appeared to be running things, and a dog constantly ran out of the house and barked at passers-by, especially if another dog was in tow. (More than once we, as in the band, were yelled at by passers-by for not coming to get “our dog.” “We don’t live here!” we’d respond. They rarely believed us.) Ever so often someone would mosey outside, slow as can be, to calmly pull the dog back into the house, but not shut the door. Wow.
Eventually, the guys from Beati Paoli, the fuzz-pop band that set up the show for us, arrived and gave us the skinny — shows usually start whenever. Yes, they have three mics, don’t sweat it, shows are always like this. Is it obvious we’re too removed from the basement scene these days? We need to play more basement shows.
By the time our set rolled around, a healthy crew of kids had arrived to take in the Saturday night warehouse rock, and since the first two bands consisted of a Lightning Bolt-esque duo and a ska-punk band (that’s TWO on this tour, and three this summer! How do we keep running into ska bands? Seriously! Are we in the middle of the fourth wave and no one told us?), many of the kids were taken by our synth and Rev.Ever’s insane pedal board and gathered around curiously.
Halfway through our set (which we decided to make a slam-bang party set with no instrument switching, which pretty much meant a lot of No More Music-era songs, “Tunguska-Electro” off the first record, and our cover of “We Got the Beat”), the curious kids were moshing and slam-dancing in this tiny little dilapidated back room, with the kids from the first two bands running interference to make sure the kids didn’t run into our effects pedals. (Thanks guys!) What we feared would be a bust ended up being one of the most fun shows of the entire tour. Kids! Dancing! No crowd danced this much all tour! This was awesome!
The end of the night, after a fun set by the aforementioned Beati Paoli, involved a lot of fielding of questions from the kids — “How long have you been together? What’s touring like? Where do you find all those pedals? Why don’t they ever make your drummer’s vocals louder?” Etc. I think we only sold one thing, though — the last of our Hot Nuggets picture disc LPs. C’mon kids, spend some coins.
Still, as we made our way out of town and realized that we needed to stop for food, or else there was no way we were going to make the all-night drive back to Milwaukee, we counted the cash in the band fund and realized that we had enough to buy ourselves one last celebratory tour-ending meal. Our final stop at Perkins was on the band.
We pulled into Milwaukee at 7 AM Sunday morning, bleary-eyed and a whopping $20 richer in the band fund, with three new tires on the van (which now already had at least, what, 2,,000 or 3000 miles on them?). I made a point of bringing up the band fund during all these tour stories because people unfamiliar with punk rock would probably look at that profit margin of $5 per band member (not counting meals on the road, of course — with the exception of a diner stop or two, the band fund is for gas and hotel rooms and other collective band expenditures only) and ask, “What’s the point?” After all, aren’t we trying to eventually do this for a living? Pssssh. Here are the facts: We play a defiantly unmarketable style of music that, as catchy as the vocals can be sometimes, operates well outside the mainstream. Pitchfork’s not writing about us, nor will they anytime soon. And if they’re not writing about us, I can guarantee that no other large publications will be touching us in the foreseeable future. And that’s a freeing, awesome thing, once you learn to embrace it. Tim Yohannan, the now-deceased founder of influential Bay Area ‘zine Maximumrocknroll (another publication unlikely to pay us any attention — we’re likely not “punk” enough), used to regularly insist that musicians should always have day jobs and never attempt to make a living from their art because the music would ultimately be diluted by the desire to please the audience. There’s some truth to that. Ever notice how any local band that describes itself as “commercial alternative” inevitably sucks? Water yourself down with the intention of attracting an audience, and you’re doomed. Which is not to say that there aren’t quality bands with large audiences — on the contrary, sometimes some people happen to purely express themselves in a manner that connects with the zeitgeist of the time. But that’s a matter of luck, not talent, and that’s out of our control. And if there’s one thing my personal life has taught me in the last three years, it’s that you can’t stress yourself out over that which you can’t control.
Once you realize that, your expectations and reasons for going on a cross-country tour to play shows become much more realistic. Treat it like an unorthodox vacation where you get to see the country, visit your friends, have some adventures, and hopefully play your music in front of people who will appreciate it — no matter the size of the crowd — and it’s hard to be disappointed. Maybe that sounds like the lowered expectations of an aging, beaten musician who’s never going anywhere. I don’t think that, though — I see it as the philosophy of an artist who’s doing this crap for the right reasons. In other words, we do it because it’s fun. What’s a more interesting vacation story — your trip to Greece or our near-death experience coming back from tour last year and nearly getting into a head-on collision with an SUV? Eh, maybe that’s a push. But while you come home with photos and souvenirs, I come home with photos and then get sent emails like this one from Conan from Mount Vicious:
from Conan Neutron
date Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 1:20 PM
subject [Fwd: [sf_indie] Oh stewardess, I speak five.]
hide details Sep 11 (6 days ago)
Check out #3.
—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: [sf_indie] Oh stewardess, I speak five.
Date: Fri, September 11, 2009 11:10 am
1) Settling into the new Polvo album. It’s an older, more mature
Polvo using “better sounding” equipment. Still getting used to the
more polished sound, but at second listen it’s already growing on me.
If the rest of the album is failing you, at least give the last tune a
listen. Available as a ‘stream the whole thing before you buy’ at
Merge – http://www.mergerecords.com/store/store_detail.php?catalog_id=626
2) Not that I’d like to see California taxpayer money spent on another
proposition on the ballot, but this one is kinda doing it for me –
3) Had a chance to listen to the IFIHADAHIFI cd I picked up at the
last Mount Vicious show – “Fame By Proxy”. Holy fuck they’re good
live, their latest cd is a good document of what I liked most about
them, and it feels great to support some kids from Wisconsin doing it
right with my hard earned scrilla. Smiles all around. Winner of this
year’s Best Song Name Ever award goes to “Black Holes Resonate (in
Fucking awesome, and totally worth the road trip.
Can’t wait to do it again next year.