Playing in a band, one that travels anyways, ends up putting one in all kinds of bizzarro situations. Planned or unplanned. I'm not particularly motivated to open this particular vellum of the Akimbo encyclopedia series, but let me just conclude my preface by saying that having the flexibility to travel and experience music on the road allows one to indulge in all kinds of adventures.
Enter Jello Biafra's 50th birthday party, loftily dubbed the "Biafra 5-0". Being a band on Alternative Tentacles, I wasn't overly surprised or shocked that we were asked to open one of the two shows in San Francisco this June. We were at our last show of the west coast tour in August 2007 to support Navigating the Bronze, in Oakland with our buddies Walken and Triclops!, trying to make the best out of a dismal turn out and possibly the most belligerent, asshole, straight up naive d-bag club owners we have ever come across. My anger that night for this awful show that would actually leave us with an all night hell drive back to seattle churned like a tsunami of magma, but our political angst spitting benefactor, Mr. Biafra himself, ended up coming to the show to watch us wiggle around to the loud noises and offer his to expected criticisms. It was during this time that he mentioned his 50th birthday and extended the invite, a meager nugget of treasure amongst a night plagued with rancor and bullshit.
The nature of the event itself is what makes it an adventure to me. Sure, we've toured about as hard as a band can with whatever assets and resources we can possibly assume are out there in the void and then grasp with desperate, spiny tendrils. Going out on the road doesn't quite hold the excitement and potency it once provided in years past. Eight years of playing the same fucking shit show in every town across the nation will do that to you, me, and anyone else that qualifies as sentient. The gems are out there though, waiting to be sifted from rubble. However, the Biafra 5-0 was a no brainer. Of course we'll play that show. We're honored to have even been asked and wouldn't dream of not being there, just to effing be there. I grew up on a healthy diet of Dead Kennedys, Nomeansno, and the rest of the Alternative Tentacles salad. This is the modern incarnation of one of the most important periods in my own personal musical journey, and I get to share the stage with it, be a part of it, help it evolve. We marked the date, cleared the calendars, and had Michelle graciously book a few buffer shows to get us there and back. It's a reincarnation of our weekend warrior tours of yore, when we'd take a 3 or 4 day weekend and drive down to San Francisco to play a show, with no other reason than just to play in San Francsico. Because it is awesome.
Day one has us rolling out in the all too familiar Akimbo fashion: unprepared and awash with procrastination. I leave the air conditioned luxury of my video game job and meet the guys in our stuffy, ungodly hot, filth pit of a practice space for a last minute refresher on some old tunes we're revitalizing for the three shows. On the walk there I'm wrapping up some loose ends with work on the cell phone and almost get ran the fuck over by a meaty douche bag who didn't see me crossing the street as he took an aggressive left onto Pike. I look at him with the stoicism of a Vulcan as he slams his brakes and reflexively throws his hands off of his steering wheel in sheer surprise. "Nice sunglasses, asshole" I think to myself as I continue my phone call without missing a beat. As I continue walking, once again amidst the safe bosom of the sidewalk, the guy yells at me to "Watch where the fuck you're going!" I see red. It was clear that he assumed that because I was on the phone I had no idea what was going on around me and was just haphazardly walking through intersections hoping for an accident settlement. Little does this man realize that I always check the street before I cross. I have to. It's a behavior that is so deeply ingrained into my psyche that not checking left, then right, would be like leaving the house with a bra tied to my head. When I looked the street was clear, and that guy was waiting to turn left towards the crosswalk that I was about to walk through before he gunned it right towards my knees which would have smeared me like mustard. He seemed to gloss over that part. I politely ended my call, close my phone, and hollered "FUCK YOU!" which prompted a slow-drive yelling fight for half a block as we accosted each other about our displayed merits of civilian traffic laws. I haven't even smelled the musty guts of the van yet, and already it is apparent that I'm 'on tour'.
The practice is short and sweaty. We load the van and unanimously agree that we are not to drive a foot without first partaking of a frosty beer in the inviting cool of the Cha Cha basement bar. We do so. Relish. I have a Mannny's, which I love ordering because 4 out of 10 times the bar tender thinks you're asking for a "mayonnaise" and you get that telling glimpse of "Oh shit, this guy is crazy" as they ask you to repeat your order. The next hurdle to clear is picking up our merch from El Corazon where Nat works. Aaron drives home to drop off his car, Nat and I go to El Corazon, get the merch, print the driving directions, choke down another High Life, and then head north to Ballard in 5 o'clock rush hour traffic. For those reading who don't know, driving from downtown to Ballard in Seattle traffic is probably the closest mortals will ever get to experiencing limbo. During the drive, as my delicious double beer buzz is setting in, Nat asks me to drive. I say no. He asks again. I cave. Garbage. After an hour and fifteen minutes of mental pain, we have Aaron and can finally be on our way. As I take the wheel I jokingly ask "Would you guys be pissed if all I listen to on this trip is obnoxious metal?" They chortle, but I think "what if I did!?!?" Three hours of Rhapsody, Cradle of Filth, Children of Bodom, Amon Amarth, Blind Guardian, and Lucca Turrilli later, we were in Portland.
The show is at East End, and we're playing in a basement bar underneath the somewhat fancy bar. Tiny stage, cramped quarters, low ceiling, should be fun. The turnout is surprising for a Monday, and we're playing with the ever savage Black Elk. Their set is unrelenting and inspiring, their new drummer is a human metronome and hits like a cannon, the guitar is earthy and shrill, and I have a new favorite band from Portland. We go on after them and do our best. The new/old songs come out well, and the crowd is whipped and barking for more when we're done. We throw them a bone and play our Nirvana cover of "Breed" which we save exclusively for just the right crowds that are rowdy enough to rally behind that gem.
Post show is lazy and drunk, we feed on surprisingly decent bar food and load out. When we're waiting to leave we are stopped by Aaron's friend Nicole who had procured various slices of fancy cakes for us from her work and dropped them off in our van. One thing that seems to happen on tour is you end up collecting a weird variety of foods as the trip progresses. People offer you things you may or may not want, but considering your situation you end up taking the offerings, because you know, just in case. A few weeks later your van looks and smells like a QFC dumpster and you can't find your fucking ipod because the crushed loaves of bread, cans of soup, empty coffee cups, and jar of peanut butter with a single defiant finger swipe through the top layer are all encroaching on every available inch of space. These cakes, however, were no such burden. They were nice. The good shit. Quality, individually packaged pieces of richness. Thanks Nicole.
My sister Ailsa who has recently relocated to Portland is at the show and we go back to her place for the night. It's the first time we've hung out in her new city together and it's great to see her again. As well pull into the driveway of her house I start rummaging for my nightly things and to my surprise find that my sleeping bag is not in the van. I remember it being in the van. I retrace my steps: I checked my closet where it lives at my house, I checked the practice space (where I found my pillow), I asked Nat if it was in the van and he said "Should be..." It wasn't. I'm not one to rage, not without a little bit of humor at least, but the frustration at losing my sleeping bag manifested in a minor hissy fit tearing through the van, hastily throwing things around in search of my little buddy. I hate being unprepared, and I hate having to ask people for something as brainless as a blanket or sleeping bag when they're putting you up. Luckily we were staying with my sister so it was no problem asking for a blanket, and luckily we had a spare sleep sack in the van, and luckily I was marginally drunk which curbed the man rage before it got absurd. Ten minutes later I was passed out in a bed dreaming of CoD4 and coffee with french vanilla creamer. Nom nom nom...
Our dance with Lady Sleep was merely a flirt. That bitch. The alarm went off at 6 and I managed to wrangle an extra 20 minutes before giving up and rising from my slumber, my exhaustion justified at the knowledge that assholes in the world were also waking up now to work in customer service centers and soulless legal departments. Some young republican shitbag nick-named "Bozz" or some garbage was on his way to a lifeless office rat race while we get to drive to the Bay Area and play loud rock and roll. Fuck yeah. Get up. Van. 10 hours to a 5:00 load in. Go.
Aaron takes his first ever driving shift on tour after wrestling his license from the Washington state courts and gets 'er done into south Oregon. I try to sleep in the shotgun seat which always a losing battle while Nat slumbers on the bench seat like a wee lass. Moldy beer farts happen. It can't be helped. Gas is almost $5 a gallon in California and we blow through our money from last night in two stops. I eat a piece of van-hot, white chocolate strawberry cheesecake and find that when coupled with a hangover it could be considered unwise.An endearing quality about touring with Aaron is that he never gets sick of funny freeway signs. We've been down I-5 together possibly 20 times now and he still laughs every time we're in Northern California and pass "Balls Ferry Road". Cute.
The drive is long and draining. I conquer a few armies in Advance Wars before my DS charge dies, and then finish book one of Dune. We arrive in San Francisco to a flurry of text messages informing our local friends that we're here and have a healthy guest list. The Great American Music Hall is a beautiful venue, I've always wanted to play there and this show will be our first opportunity. The staff was remarkably friendly and helpful, and they had a great meal of turkey with gravy and potatoes ready for the bands. Jon gets Thanksgiving in June, bitches. We eat and relax in the band room saying hi to our good friends Maiko, George, and Jesse from Alternative Tentacles and the dudes in Triclops! as the doors open. Our friends start showing up as well and shortly the downstairs is a triumphant reunion.
First up was the Melvins performing their demo stuff from 1983, with Dale Crover playing bass and their original drummer on drums. It was a great set and totally awesome to see those old punk songs played live. We played next and I felt really good about the set. No heavy screw ups and good energy from the crowd. I couldn't really tell how it sounded in the room as I was stuck right in front of my bass rig but I could hear the drums and the monitor mix was surprisingly clear. I guess thats how the pros do it. We played a quick six songs and got the gear off the crowded stage. People were not shy with their compliments which is always nice, and also answered my questions about how the room sounded. Victory!
Up next was Triclops! (pic below) and I still have to say they are one of my favorite "new" bands around. They play a perfect swirl of progressive rock and classic punk. They're one of those bands where every member is disgustingly talented and plays their instrument with a unique sense of individualism that is entirely its own feel, but as they play the music together as a band that individualism blends into a cohesive sonic experience where each part compliments the other. That and they're all great performers as well. They're a band that inspires me, renews my excitement in music, and I'm happy to know them.
So now that the openers were officially out of the way it was time for Jello to hit the stage and justify his 50th birthday party. I can't think of many 50 year olds who would choose to celebrate their birthday by running up and down a stage, hollering, sweating and shirtless. Come to think of it I can't think of many people who'd want to watch the average 50 year old sweat all over a stage and be hollered at. An odd night indeed. Fortunately for us, Biafra overcame any disadvantage his age might cause and delivered. His show was excellent. His new band with guitarist Ralph from Victim's Family and bass player of Faith No More was surprisingly awesome, a great batch of songs that maintain the drive and sheer impact of simple power punk without sounding overplayed or rehashed. One of those groups that somehow pulls off an original sound while playing a very classic style. I'm really excited for them to record and start touring. Jello with the Melvins was the ruthless locomotive I remember it being, only this time their bass player was Andy from Monorchid and Wrangler Brutes, who sadly did not escape a fan boy freak out from me later that evening despite our knowing each other through mutual friends for a few years now. It's such a rush to see all those Dead Kennedys classics performed with such a phenomenal group. You can't help but fist pump and yell along.Towards the end of the set I was informed that Nat and I were to deliver Jello his Alternative Tentacles birthday cake during the encore. As they finished up "Holiday in Cambodia" we lit the candles and hand delivered the bat logo in cake form to one of punk's most prolific and outspoken founding members. I grabbed the mic out of his hand and led the crowd in a sloppy round of Happy Birthday, and returned back stage in marginal shock. It's been years now that we've been lucky enough to know, play with, and be around artists like Jello, the Melvins, Neurosis, Tad and other such musicians that have helped inspire us as kids learning to play our instruments, but there's a part of me that will always be the giddy excitable teenager when shit like that happens, and I hope that never changes.
Post show we finished the beers, packed up, and headed out to Johnny's (singer of Triclops!) place in Berkeley where we continued the liquid festivities and, as most great parties inevitably conclude, ended the night in tears laughing at each other's various youtube gems.
Next day was a lazy morning, breakfast on Telegraph, a stop by Amoeba to pick up that live Kraftwerk album I've been meaning to purchase for years, short relaxation in the shade, and then back in the van on our way to Eureka. Traffic on the way out of town was maddening, but once we cleared it I stopped and got a milkshake and drove into the evening, the sunset's orange roast coloring the beautiful hills of Northern California a robust shade of awesome.
We pulled up to the venue in Eureka which was a small bar called The Little Red Lion. After some delicious and free pizza, I plopped down and watched cage fighting until it was time to play. I've always found an inherent humor in the sheer homoeroticism readily available in UFC fighting matches. It's like the dudes shadow box each other for a few seconds but immediately give in to their deep desires and before you know it they're on the floor dry humping like curious drama students, half making out and half performing for the invisible cameras. Occasionally they remember they're supposed to be killing each other so one will toss a few lame punches, feigning exhaustion, and then they're back to mashing their groins together spread eagle, whispering "Ahh Fuh Fooh" through split lips and teeth guards.
The show was okay, not our best in Humboldt County but far from our worst. During our last few songs the circuit breaker kept crapping out and after the 4th try we took a hint and ended the set. We went to the promoter's house after the show and after flirting over a few PBRs and a pipe of Eureka's finest, they busted out the Wii and we played Wii Sports into the wee hours of the morning. If I had my way, this would be protocol for every post show party. Very awesome.
I cashed all my driving credit the next day and let Nat and Aaron take care of the return trip, opting to delve further into the wastes of Arrakis and bring numerical destruction to slews of cute little soldiers on my DS. It was a relaxing drive until the last few hours of the home stretch. After a gas stop in Northern Oregon our van's engine started running extremely weird. It was shaking and putting and we were losing power. We pulled over, let it sit, started it up and drove off for another 70 miles before it started acting up again. This time we had no such luck and after long breaks off an exit in Olympia and brainstorming people we could hit up for a ride home, we only just got the thing started again, leaving us jerking along the shoulder at 20 mph with our hazards flashing. We limped to another gas station, poured a few gas additives into the tank, splurged on some supreme and crossed our fingers. It seemed to work, and after a few miles the van was running excellent as usual. We thought we were going to be stranded 60 miles from home after a brutal 1800 miles in three days, but it turns out it was just bad gas. Heh.