Sat. Nite Duets Tour Diary, Part I
TCD editorial intern and guitarist Ben Gucciardi offers a glimpse into the touring life of a Milwaukee indie rock band, including the good, the bad, and the best dog ever. Part 1 finds the band in Ohio, Vermont and Massachusetts.
My name is Ben Gucciardi. I’m an editorial intern here at Third Coast Daily, and like all interns, I lead somewhat of a double life. It’s more like a triple life, because in addition to my budding career in journalism and my day-job slinging coffee, I also have another job, a night job, playing guitar in a rock band called Sat. Nite Duets.
This November, Sat. Nite Duets embarked on a two-week tour of the east coast and Third Coast offered to publish my tour diary. What follows are excerpts from that diary, snapshots that I think will provide an idea of what it’s like to play music to strangers across the country with less than $200 in your bank account.
Before I begin, let me take a moment to introduce the rest of the band. Something perhaps unique to our group is the absence of a front man. Everyone sings and writes songs, which is why I’ve omitted vocals from the job descriptions listed below:
Joe Guszkowski: Drums
Andrè Jambura: Keys/Drums
Steve Strupp: Lead Axe
John Anderson: Bass
Historically, Toledo, Spain is one of the few places in the world where Muslims, Christians and Jews have co-existed peacefully. In my recent experience, Toledo, Ohio is a similarly peaceful place, a town where beatmakers and rock bands can share the same bill and be met individually with the same unpredictable level of bar crowd enthusiasm.
Last tour we liked Toledo so much we played there twice. The venue is called Ottawa Tavern, a little club near what I presume to be downtown. Amenities include urinals shaped in the likeness of The Rolling Stones tongue, free WI-FI and a very generous drink policy allowing each band member his of her own pitcher of beer.
We decided to cover “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer after which the crowd response noticeably dwindled. After we were done, a boy who looked no older than 14 asked that we also play “Undone (The Sweater Song),” a request to which we complied, unfortunately.
We stayed with a guy named Adam, who put us up last time we were in Toledo. Adam has a black lab named Blue. Blue is the most zen dog in the world; he’s so calm it’s almost condescending. You’ll be feverishly unpacking your bag looking for a Q-tip or something and Blue will just be sitting on your bag, yawning, completely indifferent to you and your worldly concerns. A very transcendent dog, that Blue.
Day 2: Pat’s in the Flats, Cleveland, Ohio
If a band plays in the industrial flats of Cleveland, and no one is there to hear them, do they make a sound?
Things looked bad from the get-go. When we pulled up to the venue, it looked abandoned. There was no light coming from inside the building and the windows were boarded up. I went inside to make sure this was the place, thinking that maybe this dilapidated building was just the original location of the club, maybe it had burned down in the late 90’s and Google had yet to update the address, but I was wrong. The door was open and Pat herself was sitting at the bar watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
When we met the promoter, the first thing he said to us was “Yeah, if we get done early enough here, we can go to this other show across town.”
To call that night’s performance a “show” would be a bit of a stretch. We set up our instruments. We played our songs, even played them well, but there was almost no one at the club. Two of the bands we were supposed to play with dropped, so we played to the club owner, the promoter, and two members of the band that was supposed to play, who came only to inform us in person that they couldn’t. A fifth guy walked in during our set, and the promoter made him pay, but the guy was only there to see if the club owner’s daughter was around and left when he learned she was not.
If there is redemption in Cleveland, it came in the form of an opening act, the futurist and technological innovator Humachine. Humachine staked his set on the bold claim that he was partially responsible for inventing the genre of hip-hop and was presently at least 15 years ahead of anyone musically. Judge for yourself by listening at his Soundcloud. I highly recommend the track “Will I Be Received.”
Tour is stupid. Driving across the country to play to audiences that are unfamiliar and thereby largely indifferent to your material is not a rational or empowering thing to do. Long drives and pre-show downtime provide ample time for soul-searching and introspection, both of which should be eschewed at all costs. If you think too much about what you’re doing at why it’s absurd, it’s easy to become disheartened. Remaining sane is a matter of embracing the irrational and occasionally flirting with the idiotic, which I suppose is why we spent two hours in the morning at Target trying to buy orange La Croix.
The air quality in Vermont is noticeably better than in Ohio and Wisconsin. When I took my first breath out of the van, I felt an almost chemical sense of euphoria and self-confidence. Very much needed after our time in Cleveland.
Vermont is famous for its jam scene, the culture that spawned the jam rock behemoths Phish. Everyone at my high school loved jam rock, and I couldn’t really relate, so I never had a Phish phase, but in truth I actually like the song “Farmhouse” and respect Trey Anastasio as a guitarist/philanthropist.
We watched the Packers lose to the Bears at a dive bar called The Other Place. After the game was over I got kind of buzzed and started praising Jay Cutler for his “courage on and off the field.”
Since we had no place to stay, I called a Motel 6 to book a room for the night. When asked how many would be staying, I said five. Motel 6 policy stipulates that only four adults may occupy a single room at a given time. “Luckily one of us is a baby,” I said, which somehow seemed to be enough for the manager. We snuck in through a side door.
The place we played was called The Monkey House, a small bar that seems to be the only place in Burlington where indie rock bands can play. Apparently a lot of bands just skip over Vermont because it’s so far north, which is a shame. It’s a place I could see myself living as an old man. I know that sounds like a knock, but I don’t mean it to be.
A local guy/girl two piece by the name of Super Bonheur opened. The guy played a miniature drum kit. The girl played a ukulele that she ran through a fuzz pedal into a tape recorder that was modified to function as an amplifier. Besides Humachine, they are by far the most technologically innovative band that we’ve played with yet.
The show ruled. The crowd was small but enthusiastic. Everyone there seemed into it. After Cleveland, it was exactly what we needed to get our confidence back. After the show we stayed at a girl named Cayla’a house. Cayla’s a part of Friends and Family, the art collective that set up the show. I’d tell you about how awesome and hospitable Cayla was, but instead I’ll just include a picture of her fridge, which really sums it all up I think.
Day 5: The Elevens, Northampton, Massachusetts
Northampton is located in Hampshire County, MA, which is pretty much the Fertile Crescent of ’90s guitar rock. Past and present residents include members of Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, and Sonic Youth. Our show was opening up for Eric Gaffney, a founding member of indie rock legends Sebadoh.
Gaffney left Sebadoh in 1993 but rejoined them when they reunited in 2007. While he no longer plays with them, he does seem to keep close tabs on their whereabouts, informing us that tonight they were “in Canada” and that it was “their night off.”
Gaffney played last and for a long time, so long that he had to be unplugged by a member of the other opening band from whom he had borrowed an amp.
The University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, Amherst College, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College are all within a short driving distance from Northampton, and it is widely accepted that the differences between these schools can easily discerned by anyone who understands the differences between the characters of Scooby Doo.
UMass: Scooby, Lovable/Goofy
Hampshire: Shaggy, Stoned/Weird
Amherst: Fred, Clean-cut/Fashionable
Smith: Velma, Brainy/Homely
Mt. Holyoke: Daphne, Conventionally Hot
We played okay, but we didn’t freak anyone out or anything. By contrast, the band that played after us was this loud rock band called Grammarhorn Wren. They were heavy. Apparently two of the guys had recently switched to indie rock after playing metal for their entire lives. It ruled. It made me want to get a big amp and start lifting weights. We crashed at their house, which had a fire place and a hookah lounge. Very chill.
In the AM we visited Flying Object, a literary-based arts center just outside of Amherst. Friend and Milwaukee transplant Karl Saffran is their managing director. Karl showed us around and hooked us up with some poetry books. I’m currently making my way through one of those books, Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me by Mark Leidner.
Day 6: Roggie’s, Brighton, Massachusetts
Nothing but good things to say about Boston these days. Home to a slew of my favorite bands (Kal Marks, Grass Is Green, Ovlov, Speedy Ortiz) and one of my favorite labels (Exploding in Sound), I was looking forward to this show perhaps more than any other.
Roggie’s is a sports bar that only recently started hosting shows in their basement and already some bozo is trying to mess everything up. Apparently at the show last night some wisenheimer lit off a bunch of fireworks and as a result we had to get all of our bags checked by the bouncer.
Attendance at our show suffered because we had to compete with both My Bloody Valentine and 90.7 WZBC’s annual showcase, but those who were there seemed into it. MVB is some pretty stiff competition.
This show came highly endorsed by internet celebrity/social media wunderkind Hayden Karnutz. Aside from the fact that our music is guitar-based, Hayden is the main thing we have in common with these Boston bands. Follow him on Twitter @hkarnutz. He is a force of nature.
Dunk N’ Donuts was founded in Boston. It is referred to affectionately as “Dunkies” by Boston locals.