Saturday, May 30, 2009

Keep On Rocking Until 8:10 PM Eastern Time: van*gloria in NYC

After leaving the syrup sweetness of Vermont, we headed for the bright lights and limited parking spaces of the Big Apple, New York City, much lauded by songs, prose poems, made-for-TV movies, and street-vended t-shirts. We played at 7:30 sharp at the Annex, in the Lower East Side, and despite the early start time we had a large contingent of family and friends warmly greet us, said contingent including but not limited to Lauren Byrne's Uncle Rob, who was so taken with our thrift store wardrobe that he expressed a desire to purchase his own pair of ladies' pants. Many big apples of gratitude to all who came, as there were a number of surprise attendees, plus an especially juicy and savory Red Delicious apple of gratitude to the Break Mission (featuring fellow U of M-er Ben Lindell) for helping us land the gig and for vociferously vibrating our eardrums with their epic, majestic rock.

More details of our adventures in NYC and Long Island to come (teaser: one such adventure involves Paul Bender unwittingly terrorizing the housewives of a suburban cul-de-sac [ed. - seriously]) . . .

Friday, May 29, 2009

Charlie-O's or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vermont

We left the comfortable environs of scenic Saratoga Springs, NY for the uncertainty of green, mountainous Vermont. Would anyone show up to our show? Would our van survive the hilly terrain? Would we wake up in a strange, unknown location, covered head to toe in premium Grade B Vermont maple syrup?
Luckily, Vermont proved to be a veritable, sparsely populated, heaven on earth. Gorgeous scenery. Verdant hills. Free air and vac at gas stations. No prepaying at the pump. Charlie-O's World Famous (exactly what it's world famous for is not specified), the Montpelier bar where we played, was full of kind, free-spirited, jitterbugging souls. For instance, the guy who bought a CD before we'd even played because he liked our percussionist's equipment. And the turkey hunters who told us, "You boys got it!" And my old friend Andrew J. Westley who drove down from Burlington to see us the night before he had to move back to Wisconsin. And the motelier who claimed to have online chatted with Clint Eastwood earlier that day (Andrew: "Are you sure you were actually talking to Clint Eastwood?" Motelier: "Well, he wouldn't have been able to get away with it if he wasn't actually Clint Eastwood. The companies that run those chat rooms would find out and shut him down." Andrew: "Yeah . . . but . . . how could you really know?" Motelier: "Who knows? Who knows? But it was 3:30 my time, 12:30 his time - he was probably on lunch break. He was telling me about his latest film, Gran Torino." Andrew: "Well, just be careful if Clint Eastwood tells you to meet him in a dark alley." Motelier: "Oh, believe me, I know. I know. I know.")

But the Blue Ribbon, Gold Star champions of Montpelier were Robb and Sybren (see pic below, far left), the charming, awesome couple who let us stay with them at their place a few minutes away from Charlie-O's. The following morning Sybren cooked us up delicious scrambled eggs and pancakes (topped with premium Grade B Vermont maple syrup [normally used for cooking, but Robb said his dad used to make it and swears by its darker and more delicious properties (ed. - we agree)]) and Robb made us a mix CD for the road which included such gems as "Cherish" by Madonna and "Summer Nights" from Grease, as well as tracks by his band Entendre.
We love you, Vermont! Next stop: NYC!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the Steps of Champions: van*gloria at Caffe Lena

After bringing our sound and fury and tasteful amounts of distortion to bars, basements, billiards halls, and bowling alleys, we delivered our finest guitar arpeggios and sus chords to Caffe Lena, the oldest continuously running coffeehouse in the US and the "Best Small Venue in North America" (according to the International Folk Alliance [which I had hoped was a loose confederacy of costumed, cape-wearing, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin-playing crime fighters, but is actually just a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization]). Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, and Don McLean (Mr. "American Pie") all played here early in their careers, and in the men's bathroom someone wrote that before the walls were repainted in the '70s there was the pronouncement "Don McLean is a twerp" right above the sink.

As Caffe Lena is in Saratoga Springs, the old stomping grounds of our drummer, Mr. Luke Moellman, we had our best crowd yet: Luke's family, friends, ex-classmates, teachers, et al. all enjoying our tunes as well as delicious homemade brownies (courtesy of Luke's mom and Luke's mom's friend.) We played two sets, capped with a Mrs. Moellman-requested rendition of "History," and afterward signed CDs for various Saratoga Springs High jazz band members, a few of whom dubbed our percussionist Andrew Maguire "Rugged Babyface." Big thanks to Mrs. Moellman for setting up the show, and to Luke's old band director for buying almost as many CDs as we had sold all tour! Next stop: Charlie-O's World Famous in Montpelier, Vermont, on Friday . . . 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hitting the old dusty trail

We got an early start today, on our very deserved first day off of the tour, leaving at 9am for a hike up Noonmark Mountain, located 90 miles north of Luke's house in the Adirondack Mountains. Both Luke's Father and his youngest brother Matt led the way 3.2 miles out into the beautiful upstate NY wilderness and up to the tip top of the 3,556 ft summit, where we ate sausage and cheese bagel sandwiches. The wind cut right through us, but luckily Luke's dad was able to make the most of it with the kite he surprised us with after lunch.

On the drive home, we stopped at a Stewart's and ordered a number of sweet treats from a friendly girl named "Danish," including carrot cake ice cream in a very, very well advertised waffle cone.

We returned to chez Moellman, trail-worn and hungry, to a DELICIOUS spinach and sausage lasagna dinner prepared by Luke's Mom, who had also been busy preparing a flurry of sweet treats for our big show at Caffe Lena tomorrow (Tuesday) night, all of which is very appreciated. The show should be a great chance for family and friends to see Luke in action, so we look forward to a great turnout and will be sure to post tomorrow about how the show goes.

This evening was very relaxing--for the first time in five days we didn't have to drive to a new city or move any equipment down flights of stairs. We could finally just hang out and recharge for the weeks to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A quick slice of New Jersey and a few sips of Saratoga

A special thanks to my dad for taking us all out to a much needed lunch in a classic New Jersey Diner on our trek between Philly and Saratoga Springs, NY. After a very long night it was great to check out Holsten's Diner, known for being the location of the very last shot of the Soprano's series. Aside from the almost hilariously lackluster waiting service, the food was delicious. We got to sit down and review our travels and trials before giving the van a thorough once over and hitting the road again. We made it to Saratoga and didn't even break down! Not even once!

Our first stop (after a failed attempt at buying Luke some new pants in Albany) was Congress Park, designed by the same designer as New York's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Dispersed around the park are a number of natural spring fountains, each unique and constantly flowing with water straight from the very springs that Saratoga Springs is named for. As interesting of a concept as this is, the water is far from refreshing to the casual drinker, being a little reminiscent of "rotten eggs" (Andrew) and "water that's been used to soak rusty nails" (Matt)

We rolled up to Luke's house and were greeted by smiling family, cold beer, and delicious pizza. Another very special thanks to the Moellman's for allowing us to stay here, wash our disgusting clothes, and get some much needed relaxing. It is a great feeling to know we will be in one place for almost a week, after playing 5 shows in five cities all the way up the east coast. Tomorrow at 7:30am we head to Noon Mark Mountain for a Memorial Day hike. More updates are sure to come tomorrow.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

West Philly: The Iwaa-genous Zone

We made it to Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, without any major vehicular difficulties - joy of joys! - and drove past the endless West Philly row houses (and two little girls riding ponies on the sidewalk for some reason) to the Iwaa-Bina house, home of fellow U of Miami graduate Bonnie Lander and seven other kind souls. Iwaa apparently originally stood for It's Worth Arguing About (there was apparently a heated debate over what the house should be called), but now stands for Iwaa Was an Acronym (and Bina stands for But It's Not Anymore) [ed. - Luke points out that this is actually a recursive acronym]. We played in the basement, at one point dubbed the Iwaa-genous Zone by the organizer, Emili, and performed predominantly slow jams, extra-quiet, since sometimes you have to rock and roll all night until the audience's ears bleed and their craniums throb and their senses are overtaken by gut-busting metal, and sometimes you have to play at a tastefully reduced volume in a residential basement, and last night was a tastefully reduced volume in a residential basement kind of night. It was refreshing to play to an attentive audience in such an intimate setting - everyone in the band had a lot of fun slow-jamming in the subterranean confines of the Iwaa-genous Zone. Special thanks to Emili for organizing the show and to Bonnie for allowing us to play, and also muchos kudos to Jonathan and Paleo ( for performing great, idiosyncratic solo sets. Next stop: the rejuvenating natural springs / welcoming Moellmans of Saratoga Springs, New York!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Richmond, we hardly knew thee

Thanks to the Xperts at Xpertech Auto Repair, we were on the road from Asheville to Richmond with a new fuel pump by about 4:00 pm. Andrew and I waited in the shop for over 5 hours and, honestly, it wasn't too bad. There were loads of friendly people to talk to, great employees, and there was even a big fluffy dog named Bo. It was very nice to see an auto shop that seemed as though it was there as a service to the community and not as a rip-you-off, soulless moneymaker like you almost exclusively find in Miami. While sitting on the waiting room couch, we witnessed the owner do at least 4 or 5 jobs for people for free. Also, he put us first in line ahead of maybe 15-20 other cars and made sure we were done in time to make it to Richmond, even with replacing our failed tire, and made sure to top off all of our fluids before we left.

The trail to Richmond was a long one, especially since our Service Engine Soon light came on immediately once we loaded all of our gear back up in the van. We arrived at the Plaza Bowl 6.5 hours later, about 3 hours late, to a woman at the door saying, "I guess you don't have to pay the cover since there's no other band playing." To which we, of course, replied, "We are the band," and within 20 minutes we were rocking the neon lanes for 25-30 people. Although there was a big, beautiful stage, the permits were unfortunately not yet acquired so we had to set up directly in front of it. The sound was weird and we were tired as all hell, so it wasn't our best performance, but still we made the most of it. It was genuinely amazing of Gills and Wings guitarist Alex to walk up to me after the show and give us the entire $100 from the gig for our auto troubles. We are so sorry that we had to miss the Gills and Wings set. They are a truly amazing band with lots of great stuff to check out (

We just made the kitchen at an Irish pub and most ordered O-burgers, which would come back to haunt us, but it wasn't important at the time. We shared a few pitchers with Alex, his wife Dawn, and their friend and former neighbor Asli before heading back to Asli's beautiful ski-cabin-esque home for some much needed relaxation. We hung out for a while and chatted it up with our new friends before all passing out stone-cold and lifeless.

Unfortunately, back in O-town, Gloria got a sticker posted on her that suggested she was an abandoned vehicle and would be removed at our cost in 72 hours. My guess is this had something to do with the leaking gas tank. The cost of leaving her in the impound lot for the next week was looking to be about $1500 so after much hassle and finagling we had a wrecking company give us $160 in the morning to take her out of my street and our lives for good. So much for possibly making our money back on the tour.... We hate you Shawn Frisbie you miserable man (G-rated version.) You should be ashamed of yourself.

Oh well, on to Philly!!

VAN FAIL: The Saga Continues (Vehicular Manslaughter Part V)

Ok, so the new van, Estefan, will NOT START!!! &#*$@&$!!!! NNAAAAAARRRRGGG!!!!!

After getting back to Silas' place (another awesome musician who we are staying with in Asheville), Matt tried to pull the van a bit further up the hill and closer to the curb, where the thing stalled, and would not start again (ed. - also, our right rear tire blew out en route to Asheville and had to be swapped out for a spare).  So we got up bright and chirpy and full of overwhelming dread this morning to find that, yes, it still won't go. A few minutes ago Nick and Andrew left with the tow-truck guy to some mechanic who can check it out today. Looks like our show in Richmond ain't gonna happen...and since today is Friday and peeps won't work on the weekend, the Philly house party is also looking highly unlikely. (UPDATE: The van is now fixed [new fuel pump], and we will likely make both the Richmond and Philly shows! Thank you Xpertech Car Care!) So, looking on the bright side, it looks like we are gonna be spending some quality time in Asheville.

So it's not all bad. Asheville seems like a really cool, really chilled city. Last night certainly proved interesting. We had a gig at this place called The Boiler Room with The Summertime Whiskey Band, who play mostly a fusion of Chili Peppers style funk and metal. It was hilariously under attended, the audience consisting of the other band, the sound guy Matt, and our lovely bartender called Sarah. We definitely made our own party out of it though and were moshing violently; later Nick and Andrew had a charming slow dance, but the peak was definitely when the band played their track "Lethal Funk" and we enacted the scenario of becoming zombies and eating Luke's brain on the dance floor.

After packing up the then-functional van, we headed down Broadway down to a hoppin' little joint called the Emerald Lounge. The place was full of dread-headed folks and hip-hoppers and cute hippie waifs who were checking out an ridiculously dope three piece from Nashville called Two Fresh.

Two dudes on laptops plus a mad-tight drummer who was just killing it. Kind of a hip-hop/dubstep vibe. We had a boogie and some guy kept trying to throw down and dance fight people, I don't know....

We had a chat to the guys after their set, which I wish we could have some lots more of! They are also touring, have a really similar van to us, and have also had totally BS issues with it. Anyway, check 'em out!

Fingers crossed on the van...will keep you posted. It certainly makes the fact that we are called van*gloria seem really hilarious.... : |

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gamecocks, Goulash, and Gajewskis

We were welcomed to Columbia, SC by Matt's awesome Uncle Pat, Aunt Stacy, their daughters, and a giant pot of goulash (which, as a side note, is great topped with BBQ Fritos). Finally out of the miserable downpour-plagued Florida, we sat outside on the patio soaking in the beautiful afternoon. Just 5 guys enjoying goulash and Fresca and the wonderful company of Matt's family. After dinner, we played on giant rope swings, rope horses, balance beams, and best of all, the Gajewskis' tennis court. Van*gloria vs. Samantha and Kelly, ages 11 and 14. They schooled us bigtime. We yelped and dodged their dangerous, precise serves while bounding around the court like a bunch of goofs. The gig in downtown Columbia was our longest yet, a great opportunity to rehearse more songs, and was cheered on by a handful of locals and the friendly lead singer of Modern Disruption, Junior. Lots of whooping. When we returned from our gig we found a note from the girls to enjoy some ice cream, cookies, and milk before bed, despite our poor display on the court! Top that! Well, they did...we came downstairs this morning to full-page color photos of the band with another note asking for autographs and ended up signing the photos, a couple albums, and 5 tennis balls for our biggest teenage fans to date. We'll see where we stack up for wall space with Taylor Swift, teeny-bopper hunks, and NCIS.

van*gloria Tour Van Playlist Volume 1

A selection of tracks and artists that we listened to on the way from Jacksonville, Florida to Columbia, South Carolina.

Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Spice Girls - When 2 Become 1
Mr Bungle - Chemical Marriage, Carry Stress In The Jaw
Jamey Abersold versions of All The Things You Are and All Blues (for scat singing, grunting and eventual screaming)
Nick Bärtsch - Modul 46
Bjork - Unison
D'angelo - Playa Playa
Jamie Lidell - When I Come Back Around
Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
Clitorati - Special Touch (a smooth jazz track created by Luke, Nick and myself, with sax by Jesse McGinty)
Seal - Kiss From A Rose
Transformers Soundtrack (the animated 80's one) - Autobots vs. Decepticons
Beatles - I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields, Hello Goodbye, Penny Lane

Also, there was no moment more glorious than pulling up to the Steak 'n Shake in Jacksonville to the soundtrack of Ravel's "Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarme."

BTW, the new van has a tv with VCR! We picked up a bunch of VHS tapes from Goodwill for 99 cents each, including Being John Malcovich, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the live action film), The Indiana Jones trilogy, and the original Star Wars Trilogy (Hi Mariana! Yes we are geeks).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mercury Is Back in Prograde

With "Infinite Dampness Tour 2k9" looking grim in the City Beautiful, things took a turn for the better as Mercury went back into prograde and we played a successful show at Jackrabbit's in Jacksonville. Well, successful if you count playing to the other bands, the sound girl, a fellow U of Miami student, and our drummer's dad's old frat brother as successful. But considering that earlier this morning we owned a tour van whose only means of locomotion required the neutral gear and four band members outside the van, pushing, we were willing to take any form of success we could get.

After the show we walked into old reliable Steak n Shake, drawn by the siren song of the $3.99 menu, and our indie rock (i.e. women's blazers and/or faux fur vests) attire precipitated the following exchange:

Friendly Steak n Shake Employee: Looks like you guys just walked out of a movie!
Andrew: What would have just happened in the movie before we came in?
FSnSE: Well, our restaurant would have just been robbed, and you guys would have just shown up . . . and that guy [ed. - Luke] is definitely the killer.

Then of course there was the required group photo:

Goodbye Gloria :( --- Hello Estefan :)

Well, Gloria...she had a good run. No she didn't. She never really ran that well. She was just a white whale. Weeks and weeks of trying to find a decent fan for less than $2000 ended in us getting completely screwed by a complete asshole Jacksonville native named Shawn Frisbie who claimed Gloria was solid. She was not. She has required thousands more dollars in repairs, countless hours of my labor in painting and recarpeting...and yesterday morning she wouldn't we decided that she can't possibly make the tour. 

Today was quite a whirlwind. We made it to a car dealer in the next town over by the time they opened at 9am, and after many disappointing vans our sights were set on Estefan, a beautiful 98 Chevy Conversion Van with all the fixin's. After a few hours of waiting while the seats were all switched around (and picking up some sweet thrift store items--see above post) she was ours. Most importantly she starts and does not leak any fuel. Also, she has an alarm, tinted windows, super AC, 8 CD changer, and a TV. I guess we all wish we'd got this from the get-go, but how could we have known we have to spend more to save more. A fine lesson learned. In the pouring rain (2nd day in a row of straight rain) we transfered the contents from one van to the next and by 4:30 we were on the road. We made our way up to Jacksonville and pulled up to Jackrabbits just as the clock struck 7pm--right on time! As I sit here now, only 15 minutes away from Shawn Frisbie's trailer, the address of which I still remember, I dream of all the things I could do to seek revenge--Molotov cocktails, massive gas fires, or even something as simple as taking a dump on his lawn...but I'm tired and it's late...and raining, oh the raining.

Mercury Is in Retrograde

"Mercury is in Retrograde Tour 2k9" hit a vehicular snag on Monday when our 15 passenger van, The White Whale, failed to start in the City Beautiful: scenic, cobblestoned downtown Orlando. Thus, Plan B has been enacted: the purchase of a 1999 conversion van, which comes with exciting features such as a television and working windshield wipers and a functioning ignition system. Tonight: Jacksonville! Wish us well!

Monday, May 18, 2009

And So It Begins

Good People:

After officially kicking off our 2009 tour (aka "Rock and Roll or Die or Gain Meaningful Employment and Raise a Family of Four Tour 2k9") on the 15th in Miami at the Vagabond, we now find ourselves in Orlando, "The City Beautiful." Thus far in "The City Beautiful" we have seen beautiful white swans and beautiful public signs telling us not to wear high heels on playground surfaces and twenty homeless people curled up beneath a beautiful Japanese-style pagoda. Next stop: Jacksonville. We leave you with this charming pre-tour photo taken by newly minted Geography Master Amy Cohen.