Saturday, June 27, 2009

Last Tango in West-Central Florida: Tampa

With our "You'll never make it to Orlando" van still inexplicably running smoothly, we headed to Tampa's historic Ybor City neighborhood to play our last non-Miami show, at the New World Brewery. Our first stop, on a tip from friend and Tampa native Trent Watkins, was Mema's Alaskan Tacos (not a misnomer - their menu is based on the owner's Alaskan grandmother's recipes), where we gobbled down beef, turkey, and gator tacos that fully lived up to Trent's ardent recommendations. Next we dispersed and ambled past Ybor City's many bars, cafes, and cigar shops (from 1900 until the Great Depression Ybor City was known as the "Cigar Capital of the World"), and while Luke enjoyed coffee and air conditioning at Starbucks and Nick, Paul, and Andrew tackled Tekken 5, Police Trainer, and House of the Dead 4 at Gameworks I sauntered into an awesome vintage store called Jezabelle & Her Wandering Gypsies ("Where Trash Becomes Treasures and Treasures Become Keepsakes!") where a small child was constructing a bug mansion and where I bought a copy of Thomas Pynchon's postmodernist epic Mason & Dixon for six dollars. 

New World Brewery fed us well with their 14-inch pizzas and Johnny cakes; Pabst Blue Ribbon, our show's sponsor, supplied us with endless 16-oz. beverages; and the bar jukebox offered an eclectic array of albums by the likes of Tom Waits, Grizzly Bear, Mr. Bungle, and Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, as well as random mix CDs assembled by persons unknown. Despite the intermittent rain a small crowd wandered in and out throughout our two sets, occasionally dancing, and then at 12:30 we handed the musical reins over to DJ Brian Oblivion and headed back to Orlando, to rest up for our triumphant/hopefully-transmission-failure-free return to Miami. Fingers crossed . . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

You'll never make it to Orlando, errr...oh wait, you're calling from Orlando? okay...

Just having defied the Gods of Athens is enough to keep anyone's excitement level maxed out. For us it was certainly no different. We spent the day cooking and eating home-cooked meals, going to the dog park with Zaxby, and taking back the length of Paul's hair with scissors. It was wonderful.

The gig was also a great time. The venue, Central Station Rock Bar, was clearly no stranger to hosting live bands. They had a good system set up to quickly work in and out 3-4 bands almost every night of the week, and they've been doing it for years. It was a good set and great to see some familiar faces.

The next stop of the night was Bar-B-Q Bar, a cleverly titled indie club in Orlando with a big outdoor dance floor. We rocked the night away to an almost all Michael Jackson DJ set, commemorating the life of one of our favorite artists. Afterwards, we had an encounter with a rickshaw biker that we couldn't refuse, so the five of us piled in her cart and headed back to my apartment in style--a wonderful way to end an exciting day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tragedy? Comedy?

Where were the Gods of Transmission today? Olympus? Nashville (the Athens of the South)? Athens (the unofficial other Athens of the South)? They certainly weren't in rush hour traffic 20 miles outside of Atlanta where we sat, sweaty without AC, feeling our van slip gears. Mere mortals, we had no choice but to exit the highway and seek the advice of a vehicular oracle. As a side note, Matt had just created a Facebook event for our Miami show with the tagline "most likely our conversion van will make it back to Miami without suffering irreparable mechanical failure." It seemed our recently "topped-off" transmission fluid was actually too full, or volatile enough to trick the dipstick. The oracle told us to stay, that certain failure would befall us before we even reached Athens. He had a vision of a Code 1870, a vision of a torque converter slipping. We had visions of Florida. We discussed a handful of options: paying thousands of dollars to Mr. Transmission, scrapping the van in that parking lot and renting another for the last few days, and attempting to drive DeathVan while also driving a back-up rental van alongside it in case of a breakdown. At this point Athens was out of the question (sorry, Laminated Cat, maybe we can share a bill in the future...) but how were we getting home? All of the rental car offices were closed and we had decided against spending thousands of dollars for the repair, which left us with one choice: we had to go for it. The oracle said we'd have no chance of making it an hour to Athens, so we said "Ha! Let's make a run for Orlando! It's only 8 hours away and the worst that can happen is breaking down in the middle of nowhere at 2:00 AM, having to get towed, finding a cheap motel, and waking up without transportation! Yeow! Wagons-ho!" So we did it. No one said a word for the first 5 hours. Nick entered a meditative state with the excitement of (possibly) heading home, I drifted in and out of sleep, enjoying the cool breeze and setting sun, Matt did much of the same and listened to the Arcade Fire's Funeral and Neon Bible, Luke read The Watchmen by flashlight, and Paul finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude by the light of his cell phone, having to press a key every ten minutes in order to refresh the light. We "toot toot too-too toot too-toooooooooooot"-ed into Florida without a single transmission slip and reached Nick's apartment in Orlando by 2:00 AM. Oracle-schmoracle. We stayed up for another couple hours and giddily enjoyed our triumph. We just might make it home!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Decatur? I hardly know her!

Java Monkey in Decatur, GA turned out to be nestled in a beautiful suburb of Atlanta, home to Emory University and a vibrant downtown scene. We were very pleased to see friendly Miami faces in the crowd such as Brandon Kunka, Michael Feinberg, and Parker Smith. The venue was a small local coffee shop with great food and friendly service. We played in a small and very hot outdoor courtyard for a few patrons and passers-by. Particularly, one family with maybe 3 or 4 kids around 12 and under really loved us and bought a CD.

After the gig we all headed to local brewpub Twain's to catch up on old times, check out the Tuesday night jazz jam session, and taste a few of the microbrews (we really loved the double IPA and the cocoa stout.) The night continued with shuffleboard and pool until we closed out the bar and headed over to Brandon's house for some much needed sleep. Onward to Athens!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music City, What Do You Mean? - Nashville

In the Robert Altman film Nashville the central characters' arrival to the city is heralded by a massive slapstick-rich traffic jam near the international airport. On the Remember to Save All Gas and Vehicular Repair Receipts for Tax Purposes Tour 2k9, our arrival was heralded by a delicious, relaxing barbecue at the home of fellow Frost School of Music graduate Johnny Shortridge. We ate hamburgers and brats, played Head Honcho (the game taught to us by strangers in Madison, WI which involves the Head Honcho trying to make everyone else in a circle laugh, often resulting in long, awkward, uncomfortable silences) and met a girl who had finished second in the reality TV showIn Search of the Partridge Family (which involved acting and singing performances, not a race-against-time mission to find missing members of the Partridge Family before they succumbed to hypothermia and exposure in the arctic wilds of Alaska). Orange creme cake was also served.

The next morning we attempted to eat lunch at the venerable Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (legend has it that their spicy fried chicken is the result of a girlfriend's personal vendetta against womanizing founder Thornton Prince: she sprinkled copious amounts of hot pepper onto his chicken in an act of revenge but he ended up loving it and told all his friends about the recipe), but it was closed on Mondays so we instead met up with old UM friend and Nashville native Laura Miller and headed to Mitchell's Delicatessen, where we enjoyed a decidedly less greasy and palette-burning meal than Prince's would have offered us. Luke and Paul then spent the afternoon music-making with Johnny while Nick, Andrew, and I visited Laura's house, where we admired her impressive fruit, vegetable, spice, and 14-karat gold wedding band (really!) yielding garden and watched the embarrassingly engrossing reality TV programTrading Spouses, in which a white and black family switch wives (sample dialogue of square, Bostonian, fabulously wealthy white husband: "So, um, do you like the hip hop and the rap music?"). Laura then dropped us off at the Green Hills Mall so Nick could visit the Apple store, and Andrew and I entertained ourselves by playing the game Bags, in which we tried to acquire one empty shopping bag from each store in the mall, adding one new bag each time we giddily traipsed past Nick in his Apple store line. Only United Colors of Benetton didn't give us a bag, thus becoming the game of Bag's sole loser. Bags concluded with Andrew and I returning all the bags to their appropriate stores - but not before an obligatory photo op.

Fellow UM music school graduates Mick Utley and Jon Draper picked us up from the mall and drove us to downtown Nashville, where we stepped into Robert's Western World to watch the fantastic John England and the Western Swingers who charmed us with their impeccable musicianship and folksy aw-shucks stage banter ("Now you'll notice Pappy is more lively today than usual - that's because we gave him his muscle relaxants six hours before the gig instead of two! Hey! . . . Remember, we're playing for tips"). Then we loped next door to Jack's Bar-B-Que for some delicious brisket, bbq pork, etc. before taking a gander at Fort Nashborough, on the Cumberland River, which Laura Miller said would help us truly understand the frontier (and which, after once protecting the nascent settlement of Nashville from enemy forces, now proudly stands several hundred feet away from a drinking establishment where women dance on the bar). The night closed out with a trip to the Bluebird Cafe, a famous acoustic and country music venue, where we caught both the tail end of an open mic set and a jaw-dropping performance by the Mike Henderson Band. Mike Henderson, the overalls-clad singer and guitarist, dazzled us all with his pyrotechnic playing, and Grammy award-winning singer Delbert McClinton provided some guest vocals, but not before jokingly heckling the piano player: "Yeah, slap it around . . . now go tell your mama about it!"

The following morning we made a quick tour of the must-eat restaurants in town, dining at the aforementioned Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (open this time), Pancake Pantry, and Las Paletas. Prince's delivered on its promise of extra-hot, extra-good fried chicken, Pancake Pantry did indeed make some delicious pancakes (Andrew and I got the lemon apricot pancakes - highly recommended), and Las Paletas offered us gourmet popsicles in flavors ranging from pistachio to rose petal to hibiscus to hot chocolate. Gastronomic success! Big thanks to Johnny for putting us up (and to his housemates for not stepping on us as we lay scattered across the floor) and to Mick, Jon, and Laura for ferrying us around their fair city, the self-proclaimed Athens of the South. Goodbye Music City! Promise you'll write?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oh Carbondale!

We left Saint Louis at night for the two hour trip down to Carbondale. Upon arrival, it was straight to Tres Hombres (where we were to play two nights later) to see my friend Jon's band. They were great and we had a lot of fun hanging out and seeing the stage we were to play at, however, exhausted from the City Museum and the hot weather, we soon retired to the Sitarz Residence, where we were staying with my high school friend Justin and his parents Dan and Jan.

The next day was certainly no cooler, 95-100 degrees all day long. We ate at my favorite lunch spot, New Kahala, and I gave the boys a driving tour full of highlights of the first 18 years of my life. Later on we realized the true purpose of owning a pool as we beat the heat in my high school friends Keith and Katie's Dad's pool. We had a very relaxing midwestern day just floating in the pool and occasionally playing frisbee before going downtown to see some Carbondale bars and a bit more live music.

Saturday was the day of the big gig. In the morning, Justin and I whipped up a massive frittata/tortilla for everyone and again we basically just took it easy all day. In the 97 degree weather we braved our way out to Giant City State Park for a quick hike through the main nature trail. Immediately following, we went to nearby Makanda for some very necessary ice cream and some not-as-necessary XXX-hot "Hell's Rain" kettle-cooked habanero potato chips. Then, yet again, it was off to a pool, this time at long time family friend Melanie's house. She made us delicious fresh peach margaritas and truly enjoyed Andrew's unique bathing suit. Also, she happened to have a tanning bed in her house (long story) and it resulted in some very burnt friends.

The gig itself was great as well. We were treated very nicely, with free dinner and drinks all night as well as a our biggest paycheck yet. Everyone in the audience had a crazy dance party, with my high school friends shouting for more and more encores at the end of the night. Aside from several technical problems, the gig was great (and a lot of it was thanks to all the dancing!)

The next day we took it easy again, with a great meal provided by Justin in the morning and a quick stop at Quattro's Deep Pan Pizza on the way out to Nashville. Carbondale was such a great time, in part due to the charming little midwestern vibe, but mainly due to our great friends and hosts, who really showed us a great time. Thanks guys! 

(Sorry we don't have any pics from carbondale for some reason, however if you have any let me know.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hey Kids! Welcome to a Magical World of Steel Bars and Dark Tunnels!

We arrived in St. Louis with plenty of time to hang out, and although we already had our sights set on visiting the famous, mega-futuristic arch, we had never heard about the very strange and wondrous City Museum (check out their photo gallery).

On a tip-off from Nick's friends Dan and Cody, we headed to downtown St. Louis and into a very bizarre building, less of a typical museum and more like some sort of amusement park spawned from the mind of Tim Burton. The City Museum was in fact the work of artist
Bob Cassilly, a "classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur."

The Museum is housed in a large multi-storied warehouse, and contains many different sections and oddities: Gutted airplanes, a labyrinth of dark caves, a 10 story spiral slide, a schoolbus hanging over the edge of the building, tubes for crawling made from metal bars suspended high above the ground, aquariums, skate ramps, a fire truck, surrealist art, an old bank vault, a hall of kaleidoscopic mirrors, a self-playing Wurlitzer theater organ, a lot of stuff made from scrap metal, a ferris wheel, a giant praying mantis sculpture, and most importantly, endless secret pitch-black claustrophobia-inducing tunnels to lose your kids in and never see them again.

In fact, City Museum might be the most dangerous place to take your kids I've ever seen. There seems to be so many ways to get injured, stuck, lost or dead that it blows my mind. This is definitely the place where the kids with the "cool" parents hang out, where skinned knees are a given and the possibility of something much, much worse is easily imagined and probably within reach. However, City Museum isn't just for kids, and all five of us had a van*glorious time crawling into places we probably shouldn't and marveling at the incredible junkyard aesthetic that runs throughout the entire complex.

(ed. - as part of our Guest Writers in the Round literary series, the final paragraph of this post will be penned by noted postmodern theorist and potato chip packaging copywriting historian Matt Gajewski.)

After surviving the City Museum with all appendages, phalanges, and major organs intact, we ascended the St. Louis Arch in a space capsule-like elevator and took a quick five-minute aerial gander of the Gateway to the West before descending and hurrying to our gig, at Off Broadway. Off Broadway was a beautiful venue and the opening band, Gentleman Auction House, sounded intriguing during their soundcheck, but alas we could not stay for long after our set, as we had to ramble on to Carbondale, Illinois that very evening. Thanks to Nick K's friend Dan for coming to the show with his St. Louis pals and for tipping us off to the grandiloquence of the City Museum (and for also warning us to be extra careful not to seriously injure ourselves). As a final note, it is highly recommended that you put on the Steely Dan version of Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" if you ever find yourself arriving in this fair city. We did, and it proved to be a suitable talisman ensuring playground-scampering fun rather than major physical debilitation and harm!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Goodbye My Sweet Air Conditioning: Columbia, Missouri

After enjoying fine, temperate weather for the majority of the tour, we began to suffer the perspiration-drenched consequences of our van's broken-down air conditioning system en route to Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri. Massive dark cumulonimbus greeted us on our arrival to the Blue Fugue, a downtown "live music /mini dance club" where we waited for several hours for the other four bands to play before we finished off the night, playing to only a handful of late-night stragglers after we nearly emptied the bar with the first few measures of our opening song. Luckily, the Blue Fugue was a charming venue, with a wide array of microbrews and myriad overflowing bookshelves, and I whiled away the idle hours before our set by reading the bizarre expressionist Eugene O'Neill play The Emperor Jones. Quasi-bizarre-expressionist escapades occurred in real life when we followed some strangers to their apartment complex ten miles outside of Columbia after the show, but that is a story for another time. Nick's mom generously provided us with a nice hotel a few blocks from the Blue Fugue, and there we rested our weary bones in the sweet chill of central air conditioning before tackling St. Louis the following morning. Air conditioning. Sweet, sweet air conditioning.  

Springfield for a Second

A very warm thanks to my mom for giving us a delicious lunch this afternoon on the long journey between Madison and Columbia, MO. We were welcomed with a huge plate of pot stickers on the back porch and lucky red chinese envelopes. That was followed with prime rib, sauteed spinach, and rice. Unfortunately, we could not stay for much longer, so we were loaded to the gills with leftovers, fruit, and drinks and took off for the last 3.5 hours to Columbia. The final great surprise was the hotel room my mom got us in the middle of Columbia since we weren't able to stay with her in Springfield. Thanks Mom!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

If You Want To Be a Badger, Adopt a Pleasant, Folksy Disposition and Cultivate an Affinity for Dairy Products: Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin: City of Lovers. Lovers of bratwurst. Lovers of fine cheeses. Lovers of "Cowboy, Ninja, Robot," (see Long Island blog post for explanation) which we played with some strangers in an under-construction zone of University Avenue in front of Vintage Spirits & Grill.

van*gloria reconvened in Madison after I spent a few days in Appleton for my sister's graduation from Lawrence University (congratulations Jamie!) and the rest of the band explored Chicago and Milwaukee. Our time in Madison proved to be very educational. For instance: We learned about the denizens of Forest Hill Cemetery from my dad, who provided historical commentary as we took a graveyard shortcut to Pasqual's for a southwestern-style lunch. We learned (again from my dad) that margarine was once outlawed in Wisconsin, until a senator known as "Tiny" agreed to a butter v. margarine blindfolded taste test and chose margarine as the superior dairy product (although it came out after Tiny's death that for most of his married life his wife had secretly switched all the butter in their home with margarine due to concern over Tiny's health). We learned that tetherball is not meant to be played by 6-foot-tall 25-year-olds, for reasons involving incredible velocity and force.

Madison is additionally a City of Hospitality. My parents fed us a steady supply of homemade burgers and barbecued chicken and premium Babcock Hall ice cream, and my old friend Nick Hudson and his girlfriend Olwen generously put up Nick and Andrew due to their being allergic to my parents' two gigantic cats, Athens and Apollo. Olwen recommended that we visit Olbrich Gardens, a botanical garden on Madison's East Side, and there we enjoyed both lush and diverse foliage and a great country-western band called The Dang-Its who definitely outdrew our band in the over-65 demographic (and were also without question the most punctual and polite band we have encountered all tour).

Our gig in Madison was at the Frequency, a newish venue right off the state capitol building, with two punk trios: the Rogue Dolls (actually dolls, in the Roaring '20s "Hey doll-face" sense of the word) and Vampire Lezbos [sic] (not actually vampires or lezbos). Vampire Lezbos, the headliners, who were embarking on a three-month tour in a large bus with two wives (one pregnant) and two small children, featured two friendly New Zealanders and one incredibly paranoid American who liked to rant about government conspiracies between each song. A healthy crowd of my friends and family turned out to see us, including "Uncles" Tim and Dave and "Aunts" Janet and Sue, who graciously stayed up way past their bedtimes, and the band, Nick Hudson, and Olwen danced in slow-motion, in conga lines, and in the style of dinosaurs as the Vampire Lezbos finished out the night. The next morning we headed out early for the long trek to Columbia, Missouri, leaving the fine people and weather and cheeses of Wisconsin regretfully behind us. Goodbye Madison! We hardly knew ye!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Milwaukee's Best

It was a nice short trip from Chicago to Milwaukee and we were greeted by Luke's friends Matt and Bill, who were both awesome and accommodating. The venue, Point's East Pub, has a nice stage with great sound and a very friendly and knowledgeable sound guy. After some lineup mish mashing, we were able to play first in order to let Matt get back to Appleton for his sister's graduation (which was to happen the following morning) before 3am. 

The audience was mainly older, due to the fact that the headlining act was a reunion tour of a band from the 80's, Animal Magnets. They seemed to appreciate our sound and had a lot of nice things to say after the show. Also, we sold our 80th CD, meaning that we have now made our money back from the printing costs. Yay!

The night continued after the gig in crowded and exciting Milwaukee bars, featuring future high-fives and goofy outfits. Also, Andrew and I were at one point confused for members of The Jonas Brothers thanks to our jackets(?) There was also a point where we all jumped on the roof of a bus and danced, but that's a story for another post.

The following day, Matt (not Gajewski) took us to see Milwaukee's beautiful and very unexpected beaches. We played frisbee in the sun and sand and wore ourselves out entirely. Luckily, the trip to Madison was just 1.5 hours, where we were greeted with delicious hamburgers and Babcock Hall Ice Cream...but again, that is a story for another post. We could really get used to this "driving less than two hours a day" thing. Unfortunately our next drive is 9 hours...

Chicago Revisited

After all the fun we had playing at Reggie's Music Joint, we knew we would have to return to Chicago as soon as we could. Luckily, long-time Carbondale friend and debonair drummer Mike Bruno, along with killer keyboardist Kevin Kozol offered generous hospitality in their Lincoln Park apartment for a beautiful Chicago weekend. We had to say goodbye to Matt in Madison for a few days as we headed back into the big city. The crazy times are almost too much to tell. 
The weather was beautiful, the food was delicious, and there were amazing and free events around every corner. We first went to see Mike and Kevin (who, along with bassist Colin Scott, form Spare Parts) as they took to a lovely intimate stage in the back of a venue called AliveOne, replete with $12,000 in very controllable stage lights. We were all blown away by their tight, funky, and crazily metered jazz fusion all set to timed, multi-colored lights streaming through machine-generated fog--a great way to start our visit! The night continued with an unforgettable trip to the historic hot dog stand "Wiener's Circle" which was certainly too racy to post on this blog. For a small idea of what we unknowingly got ourselves into, I recommend this short documentary from This American Life. Please note that it may contain language and other material too graphic for children under the age of 18.

The next day, we had our first chance in a while to sit back and relax. Mike prepared us a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, hash, bacon, etc and we graciously licked our plates clean. A trip to the Chicago Music Exchange with Carbondale native Jon Merz caused roughly the same amount of salivation, as we drooled over walls and walls of guitars we could never afford but had no problem playing. See pic below for a two string bass which is entirely clear and also happens to light up neon green.

With the sun shining full force and the temperature resting in the lower 70's on our last full day in Chicago, we had a full afternoon of frisbee, baseball, and free blues at the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. The night held more fun surprises when Paul, Andrew, and I decided to sport our tour clothes (mostly brightly colored thrift store finds from the women's section) in some of the more fraternity-centered bars in Lincoln Park. Results were a mixed bag to say the least.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast at Nookie's with the boys of Spare Parts we took the short drive up to Milwaukee, with the windy city at our backs, off to more adventures. Thanks again for showing us a great time, Mike and Kevin.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Return of van*gloria: Minneapolis v. 2.0

After reaching a consensus decision that we had left the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area insufficiently rocked, we returned to the Uptown Bar in uptown Minneapolis (which is actually southwest of downtown Minneapolis??) to rectify the situation. Aiding and abetting us were the opening band, Self-Sufficient Flying Machine, a bluegrass quartet whose guitarist mightily soldiered on despite breaking three (!) guitar strings during their set, and Liarbirds, a fantastic punk band originally from Milwaukee who have shared the stage with our Miami compatriots Airship Rocketship (Airship's guitarist Prof. Rainer Davies can often be seen wearing his Liarbirds t-shirt). Bearing witness to the aforementioned rocking were several familiar faces from our past: UM-ers Dave Birrow (who told us about the Minneapolis Pirate Pub Crawl, which sounds like a timber-shivering good time if you ever find yourself in the Twin Cities during Pirate Season) and Jon Estes (also on tour, with the Rosewood Thieves), and my Madison friends Matt Krieger, Annie Sanders, Eric Mullis, and Kelly Cox.

Big thanks to Liarbirds, who, "knowing what it's like to be on tour," graciously gave us their share of the evening's money (which many bands have done for us, actually, and for which we are extremely grateful: gas costs, tolls, and vehicular failures sure do quickly eat up the indie rock financial reserves). Liarbirds have several tours coming up, so keep checking their MySpace page this summer to see if they're visiting a town nearest you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

These Men Are Called Musicians (or, In the Steps of Slipknot): Des Moines, Iowa

Following Saturday's entertaining albeit exhausting matrimonial festivities, van*gloria headed due south to windblown, corn-intensive Urbandale, Iowa, where a tornado siren went off immediately as we arrived at my aunt's and uncle's house (who wants to take bets on whether or not a hurricane hits when we play our last show in Miami?). After a brief subterranean stay in the basement with my parents, grandparents, Aunt Jane, Uncle Paul, and cousins Amy, Jeff, and Dan, we got the "all clear" and spent the rest of the evening enjoying above-ground comforts: hamburgers, fresh fruit, Frito Lays, Coca-Cola Vanilla, sparkling conversation, and heated games of volleyball and badminton.

The next day we made a short journey to nearby Des Moines, Iowa's legislative center, where we enjoyed some delicious Thai soup, iced coffee, and curry at Ban Thai, in Des Moines' East Village, and then played an all-ages show at the House of Bricks. The all-ages aspect of the show proved to be significant because almost half of our audience consisted of my middle and high-school age cousins and their friends, who, after crowding in front of the stage and issuing frequent enthusiastic hoops and hollers during our entire set, were promptly kicked out by the bouncer at 9:10 pm sharp, right before our last song, presumably due to some municipal liquor ordinance. Of course, at the time we were unaware of said liquor ordinance - we just saw half our audience filing out as we announced our last song, "Slowly It Hits You." Initially I thought that maybe it was past everyone's bedtime, and Nick postulated that someone had glanced outside and spotted an ice cream truck.

After the show, Eli and Zach from Viva Montesa, the super-swell Des Moines band who set the show up for us, invited us to GoodSons, the martini and panini bar (really!) where they worked in nearby Beaverdale. We hung out, visited their friend's tattoo and piercing parlor next door, and watched Andrew pretend to be chased by a treadmill-running exercizer in the 24-hour fitness center across the street (video footage coming soon). Eli and Zach were amazingly nice guys and great performers ("That singer is loose as a goose!" said my grandpa, referring to Eli's Iggy Pop-esque stage antics), so we're thrilled to be playing with them again at the Frequency in Madison, WI on June 16th. 

Thanks again to my family in Des Moines (and my parents from Madison) for coming out and supporting us, and for keeping us well supplied with hamburgers, ice cream, and air mattresses. In closing, I'll wrap up this post with an old axiom that was displayed on a rather bizarre and eclectic slideshow that ran continuously on one of the House of Bricks' television screens:

Of course, one school of thought would say: "These men are called attorneys or doctors or investment bankers or insurance claims adjusters or data entry specialists or pretty much any employees who earn an actual salary with health and dental benefits, and can afford a car without massive structural and transmission problems, and can rattle off at least six ways, off the top of their heads, to maximize the value of a 401(k) plan." 

What do you think, girls?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Raucous Gaiety in a Climate-Controlled Indoor Setting: Minneapolis/St. Paul

As the rest of van*gloria enjoyed fine Nepalese delicacies at Himal Chuli in Madison, WI, I arrived in Minneapolis for my good friend Sean's wedding rehearsal. Said rehearsal went off without a hitch, except for when I terrified the high-strung wedding planner with my (true) story of once being made to ride into a packed hotel ballroom on the shoulders of a bridesmaid who was twice my size. I reunited with van*gloria at the rehearsal dinner at Burrito Loco, on the U of Minnesota campus, and then headed for my friends Andrew's and Margaret's hotel room, where we all helped the best man Charley write his speech for the wedding reception (sample lines: "[Love] was first discovered in 1897 by Slovenian scientist Dr. Miroslav Yanachek" and "It is scientifically proven that acute exposure to this love radiation will produce prolonged bouts of raucous gaiety in a climate-controlled indoor setting").

The following day, after I ably performed my groomsman duties of walking into and out of the church without falling down or knocking over any ceremonial candles, van*gloria headed to the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul for the wedding reception. We made striking wedding guests - I in my tux, Nick in a smart blazer, Andrew in polka dots and bright green polyester, Paul looking like Batman's the Joker. 

Following the dinner, speeches, and Sean and his new bride Alissa's inaugural dance, we played a short set to the most well-dressed crowd we have yet encountered on tour, and to the catering staff, who we continually told to watch the new Starz television series Party Down, a van*gloria 2k9 Tour favorite. Then the DJ took over, and we cut loose to "Footloose," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Roll Out the Barrel," the Jonas Brothers, numerous country songs, and "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof (during which we mightily lifted Sean and Alissa into the air on two chairs, Hora-style), all night long.

Congrats to Sean and Alissa for sealing the 'ol sacred bonds of holy matrimony, and big thanks to my old grade-school pals Andrew, Margaret, Charley, and Matt for letting us crash in style on their hotel room floors. We'll actually return to Minneapolis on Tuesday, to play with the punk band Liarbirds at the Uptown Bar, but until then we'll be rocking the House of Bricks and enjoying my aunt's, uncle's, and grandparents' hospitality in our next stop, the Cornfield of the Stars, Des Moines, Iowa!

As a side note, when Matt was at the wedding ceremony the other 4 members of van*gloria had a great time at a bowling alley/sustainable organic restaurant/theatre called Bryant Lake Bowl which is highly recommended to anyone passing through the twin cities, eating delicious entrees such as Bison Hash and Smoked Trout and Beet Salad. Luke got a turkey (in bowling).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Goodbye windy roads, hello windy city

A couple things we've found out about being a touring indie rock band:

1.) You can always tell if a show went well when multiple members of the band are constantly and excitedly exclaiming "I f-in' love (enter city name)" all night long. Chicago was definitely one of those cities. 

2.) You can always tell you're playing a good venue when your set is sandwiched in between two rounds of crazy all-girl arm wrestling. Reggie's Music Joint was definitely one of those venues. 

Chicago was just one of those perfect gigs. The sound on stage was great, we got to see some good friends and my big sister Lydia, and we met an awesome Roller Derby Superwoman named Pam-demic who bought us a big round of Templeton Rye Whiskey (an Iowa brand with a delicious recipe unchanged since the prohibition era) and suggested we talk derby to her. Also, the all-girl arm wrestling bouts really riled up the crowd and energized the room for our set.

We loved Chicago so much that we plan on going back this Wednesday after Minneapolis just to take in the city and check out my former Carbondale friends Mike, Kevin, and Colin of Spare Parts as they take on their weekly gig at AliveOne in Lincoln Park. But for now, it is onward to Madison for a quick layover before we hit the Twin Cities. Goodbye for now, Chi-town, we will see you soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cleveland: Home of Nonflammable Rivers for Forty Years and Counting!

When we first arrived in Cleveland, late at night, after leaving behind the sports enthusiasts and sandwich purists of Pittsburgh, all I knew about Ohio's second largest city was what I had learned from The Drew Carey Show, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, and this (highly recommended) video:

Luckily, Cleveland ended up having far more to offer than crippling depression and architectural features reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo ghost town. It had, for instance, Craig Ramsey, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire and veteran of plenty misadventurous tours of his own (including one that ended with the police being called after his punk band's singer punched Craig in the ear over a disagreement over who got to sleep on a couch). Craig generously let us stay at his lavish Lakewood pad, aka "Band Camp," replete with six bunk beds, an expansive practice space, numerous guitar amps, guitars, electric pianos, etc., and a plastic container full of delicious chocolate chip cookies. Craig plans on converting "Band Camp" into a practice/recording/resting place for local and touring bands - we definitely give it our seal of approval. If you are in an extant musical ensemble seeking such comfortable accommodations and tender love and care in the greater Cleveland area, contact Craig at his Myspace.

Besides Craig Ramsey, Cleveland also had the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which granted us free admittance since we were in a band (but, admittedly, did also kick out Nick, our singer, for taking a picture of the lobby from the second floor [see pic below], and also, thanks to the new mulch out front, smelled like a cypress tree with a bad case of diarrhea throughout [ed. - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did, not Nick]). 

But most importantly, Cleveland contained the Beachland Ballroom, home to our most enjoyable show yet. We played both as van*gloria and as the backing band for Bridget Davis, U of Miami songstress, who wowed the crowd with her sultry vocals and enchanting compositions, co-written with our drummer (and her gentleman admirer), Mr. Luke Moellman. Despite again performing in front of the stage, not actually on it (this time due to financial reasons, not arcane state safety licensing procedures), we had a wonderful time, in no small part thanks to Luke's brother Erik's caravan of friends who performed impromptu interpretative dance maneuvers to our songs, placing the proverbial cherry on the top of the delicious jazz-influenced dance/rock sundae that was our performance in Cleveland. Craig Ramsey, our munificent host, also performed, and even spurred us to form a conga line. Yes, Mr. Carey, you were right: Cleveland does indeed rock.

Next stop: Chi-town! Kielbasa and knockwurst enthusiasts lock up your daughters!


Pretty much, yeah...

We were unfortunate enough to suffer yet another tire blowout on the already long trip from Long Island to Pittsburgh. Whereas the first time there were no cars around, this time we were on the very busy Pennsylvania Turnpike. Fortunately we were able to maneuver to the shoulder safely, although there was not much room in between us and the semi trucks screaming by (especially since the blown tire was on the driver's side.) 

Yes, we are aware of the irony of being called "van*gloria" and having a far from glorious time with our van(s). 

In an all-too-routine fashion, we filed out of the van in silence and proceeded to unload the van, jack it up, and swap out the tires. We then set out in search of a tire store. We crested a hill and were very happy to find just what we were looking for...

$210 later we were on the road for another 4 hours to Pittsburgh. In total the 6.5 hour drive turned to 10. We immediately went to grab a sandwich at Primanti Bros, a place we had heard about on the TV which serves gigantic 6 dollar sandwiches jam-packed with huge amounts of meat, fries, and cole slaw. Upon attempting to add hot sauce and ketchup to our sandwiches we were chastised for "ruining the sandwich" and ended up eating them out on the street in front of the restaurant.

If there's one thing we learned about Pittsburgh it is that they take things seriously, from sandwiches to sports. The Penguins game going on the night of our gig ended up taking our 1 hour set down to 20 minutes (see first picture of this post) so 5 headaches and $0 later, we were on the road to much happier times in Cleveland. Goodbye forever, Pittsburgh.