Under a Venus Shade

I chose.

And a great choice it was, despite awkward undertones. What is “great” you might ask? Certainly NOT obvious benefits…NO.

For every choice there are a hundred closed doors, a thousand shut windows, a million dreams deferred. These refusals contribute to an epic decision…

That I probably WILL NOT get a haircut…

/rant

Deep in the Heart

[9-13-11]

Following a big meal at the late night after party, we’re stressing once again about checkpoints and getting the bands on their early morning flight.  They were stopped three times and detained for search at the airport also.  Nobody’s fault in particular, but if we’d anticipated the ramped security we would’ve left an hour earlier… Eventually, six hours later, both our flights land in Austin!

I’ve been to Houston and San Antonio before, but this time in Texas was the hottest by far.  We are aided by Jim, a jovial and super-chill guy, a local drummer/coordinator of Austin shows, including the huge South by Southwest, which we will play next year hopefully!  After helping load gear, he easily switches to tour guide mode, coasting us around downtown Austin to clubs and venues like Stubb’s and Momo’s.  The city teems with nightlife, a major stop on any tour.  Almost every spot has speakers above its doors aimed into the street, inviting any interested walker-by’s and cruisers.

After landing and freshening up at our hotel, we meet Delicious at Threadgill’s for dinner, the heat lingering at 8pm.  While strolling from the parking lot, past an outdoor wooded stage, and through the door, a wave of comfort (and aircon!) doused me.  The walls are coated with history; mostly live photos, painted & drawn portraits, vintage album sleeves, autographed musical instrument paraphernalia!!??  I’m already lost; in a back room a fiddler bows melodies over a company of double-bass, guitar, and banjo for a handful of lovers and blues travelers.  I’m smiling as I find my seat and down a couple Lone-Stars, and we all feel at home.  And I didn’t even order my chicken-fried steak yet!

Somehow we make it to the afternoon load-in at the last venue of the tour, the Speakeasy; say hi to the Pillows drummer Shin in front of that truck above!  The venue has hardwood floors, stools and tables, and loungey sofa chairs, with a stage left balcony with a pool table, and an awesome upstairs terrace with plenty of couches, industrial fans, a wide bar, and a panoramic Austin sky-view.  Perspiration flows easily as we lug gear through the front of the club, the eyes of early-bird fans following us.  I catch a glimpse of Ikuno…

Soundcheck Austin is the rental company our gear came from.  I’d describe it as a couple of airplane hangars with nothing but musical instruments and equipment, a testament to the colossal music scene here.  Everything is packed in rolling rectangular cases with insulated interiors.  This time we have a nice Pearl Export with Zildjian med-thin crashes, K-crash/ride, and a bright A hh.  I had to ask Ayumi to borrow her brass snare since Derrik didn’t rent one this time.  Her and Shin are both very calm and focused drummers who don’t bullshit whenever they’re on stage, soundcheck or not.  Yet, their smiles are even better to watch!  After assembling and helping Yosu set up the smaller, triangular stage we are working with, the Pillows start settling in…

…and you know what time it is!

I sketched a small map of downtown with No-Comply as the destination.  Austin streets are wide, mostly flat, and hot and dry of course.  I spot a nice downhill 3-step slider and a few small platforms, but it was mostly a 7-block sidewalk cruise to the shop from the Speakeasy.  The shop is at the bottom of a hill and I almost miss it…

Again, another homegrown shop run by skaters for skaters.  I pick up a shop shirt and stickers, while some of the local guys check in before a sesh.  In another dimension I’d tag along or even ask where they’re going or where some ledge spots are, but I couldn’t tease myself when I’ve already a job to save my energy for.  So I duck off outta there back into downtown.

Once again, the line is long upon my return.  This CAN’T be the end already, right?  I notice at the corner of my eye that Yoshiaki and Sawao are squatting and observing our rugged soundcheck…maybe they felt the same way.  It’s all gone by too fast, and now this is the last.  I’m running the merch table alone after doors open, exchanging shirts/cds and words with die-hard fans from Georgia and first-time concert goers.  I’m giggling internally at the fact that no one knows I’m the new drummer; very shortly they will.  We enter through this neat little trap door behind the stage.  During our set I feel the most intimately connected with the crowd, like the Hotel Utah in SF, only bigger.  We hugged as many kids as possible before Tom’s ballad “Words of Love.”

My 111% effort sprouted from thoughts of “this is your last show, give it all!”  More cymbals, harder hits, louder singing, I gave it without compromising groove I hope!  I kept this up throughout the night as I stood and bounced with the sweat-soaked kids during noodles and the Pillows, with an occasional solitary moment on the terrace to digest it all.  We ended up giving away 300 cds after the show!

Here, in the heart of a state that was its very own country long ago, our tour ended.  All anxiety of sporadic sleep, playing tetris with gear, claustrophobic flying and driving, security searches, awkward language barriers, and clothes that probably should’ve been trashed instead of washed; we already started to miss it all.  The warmth of Austin permeated at 1am as we dismantled and packed gear back in vans and simmered down at an after-hours spot across the back alley of the club.  A tall brunette was taking pictures.  A friendly woman, Buddy Miles’ wife, paid us all compliments before leaving.  We drummers shared a few silences, drinks, and curiosities about each of our plans upon the return to our homes.

It went unspoken, in that Haven Lounge back room, on a sofa sitting with Shin, Ayumi, Yoko, and Ikuno, that I would be revisiting and interpreting these moments throughout my earth-stay.  The concept of time is elusive, more abstract as every effort to understand it pushes you farther away.  Someone snaps me out of another thoughtful funk with a classic call:  “The stars at night are big and bright!”  I will return…

How about them Apples?

[9-11-11]

After five days of decompression and debriefing after our voyage, my mental/physical bearings are running optimal once again.  Time travel is inexplicably wonderful and mysterious; one moment a second stretches for all eternity, while others drag for eons.

Our plane dragged on.  The cramped American Airlines flight didn’t help calm our stormy minds.  We barraged the West Coast on three fronts, with Seattle’s sweaty rampage ensuring the victory.  Nevertheless, the challenges ahead contributed to the air sickness.  Hyperraje Chris would no longer be with us, neither would the old and lovely Gretsch Catalina Club drumkit I started infatuating with.  Our Shameless Self Production staff changing-of-the-guard was in order: Mark and Matt, Derrik’s brothers in Boston, assigned the objectives of transporting the bands and equipment in the big city.  The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 constituted an array of police-run checkpoints throughout, costing us plenty of time and stress.

Above all, it was the excitement of seeing New York for the first time that deprived me of sleep and sanity.

Upon arrival, a high layer of constant cloud cover and muggy climate lingered the entire duration of our stay.  In every direction, trenches of man-altered earth and lights, herds of jay-walkers and cyclists, communicating/cursing each other in amplified tones.  After cruising through to the days inn we catch a couple hours of zZzZz before heading to the Gramercy Theatre.

A beautiful space, the largest of the tour.

While dodging pedestrians and early-bird Pillows fans during load-in, my baggy eyes widen at the rentals we have: twin-combo and Orange amps/cabs, but whoa, a DW Collector’s series 4-pc with a waterfall bubinga finish on it!!??  “Are u fuggin kiddin me?”  This thing had shined and greased hardware on it, and imho NEVER EVEN NEEDED TO BE TUNED.  Of course Yosu, the diligent Delicious engineer, did so out of principle, BUT I never saw him touch the kick drum.  The Zildjian cymbals were bright K’s with a new beat HH and nameless ride, gleaming.

As I assembled this wonderful kit, all of us, including the seasoned Gramercy staff (an assortment of pro musicians/engineers) speedily arranged the stage.  “This is our time!” I thought…and before I could overthink it and get all emo:

Setup done!  Time to skate!

Prior recon revealed a nearby shop, Reciprocal, on E 11th st. near 1st Ave.  I zig-zagged through the Flatiron district on my board, south through sidestreets of mixed residences, random parks and odd shops.  Twelve sweaty blocks later, at the base of a brick 5-story, there’s a huge fenced-in court, with mannies, ramps, and ledges, a total street-dedicated park.  With all the “street” amenities of course!

Reciprocal was right across the street, a small homegrown shop with pinball and a gripful of gear, around since ’99.  I chat with John at the counter, then throw my new Jack Jerz shirt over my shoulder and stomp on out, with less than an hour to see as much of the Apple I can before soundcheck at the Gramercy.  I get back to see a line around the corner and the Pillows testing their equipment.

While the lighting tech configures settings, I zone out on each spot, each wash he experiments with…SO AWESOME!!!  At the same time Shio is always at-the-ready and plucking his bass strings, while Sawao, in all his enigmatic genius, stares at the set list for awhile.  What a universe this is!

As doors open and we cozily sip drinks, warm-up, and socialize around our green rooms, I realize our ownage of time once again.  Tom is his usual highly energetic and video-taking machine, and we have a dry rehearsal.  Blissful anticipation, by far, is the best moment to experience EVER.  The feeling can stretch into the actual event anticipated, when something unexpectedly awesome happens, or a wonderful mistake occurs.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, our set is stuffed down the ears of East Coasters, on-stage antics done and already forgotten.  “I didn’t do that, did I?” says Derrik after we pointed out his leap into the crowd at the end.  I’m sweat-drenched while Sawao photobombs a band pic backstage right after we’re done, and I can’t stop smiling with my friend Yalun and Mark and Matt.  These seconds and minutes we will relive and rediscover the rest of our lives!

I bounce around during noodles’ performance, keeping the afterglow going!  It lasted well beyond the Pillows’ blistering set; the encore I enjoyed with Yalun in the seats!  At night the city still bustles with people, still humid, still loud, even with my ears ringing.  Kids swarm the front of the theatre, talking, glimpsing band members, or figuring out how to get back to New Hampshire, or Maine, or Jersey, or some other club.  Yalun and I catch up at the afterparty where we all eat before getting back to the airport.  Being my only old school friend out here, it’s pleasant to see her and learn how she’s making it happen out here.  NY Life seems fast and bitter, though often sleepless and overflowing.

Happiness and Sorrow the same, I hope to return to New York someday, with more time hopefully.  I hardly slept, big ups to Dunkin Donuts coffee!

Northbound

[9-9-11]

Seattle, finally!  Rollin through seas of pine and Douglas Fir, through modest villages named “Weed” and “Riddle,” meeting full-service gas station attendants with the scoops on road conditions and local dives.  Relieved of 13 van hours, some of our bagged-eyes iron out smoothly from beautiful forested views.  Stay on frequency, I’ve planned a recon mission around 12:00 to local uncharted skate traders in our area around the historic Moore Hotel colony.  Will report back before load-out.[SUPPLEMENTAL:  mmmm coffee!]

(((much much MUCH later)))

It’s hotter than SF out here, blue skies and a unique air.

“Yeah, I dunno, some kind of a heatwave…”  “Better than rain for sure!” …

“Hotter than usual” …  “Need Sounders tickets?” …

We check into the downtown Moore hotel two blocks from the water.  The whole place has an eerily vintage feel, with boldly dark hues and leopard carpet.  FRESH!

We catch some of the noodles/Pillows as they return from the Mariners vs Royals  game, which Ichiro homered and they won!  After a long stroll, we refuel at Ivar’s Acres of Clams for fish n chips.

The next afternoon, I am glazed by sweat after just 3 blocks, constantly shaking off guilt that I should be practicing and not risking injury skateboarding.  But as in life’s endeavors, all thought vanishes for those few moments of flow that joyously lock into your being.  Whatever that means, let’s go skate!  I waited at this intersection (Pine and 5th maybe?) where all traffic lights, for some weird curse/blessing of the universe, froze red.  With a running start, I hoped I wouldn’t fall too hard, or that I might’ve fixed the light, or that I may have distracted some of the drivers from texting behind the wheel.  Reality?  Just another poser bombing a shallow hill-to-flat only to pick up and walk up the other side.

Picked up a skate key though!  The boutiquish Goods and the up the street 35th North are sick shops!  There’s also a badass music store right next to 35th, Zion’s Gate Records! 

Cruising Seattle!

Later on, Derrik, Tom, and I grab food from Dog Japon, an Andrew Zimmerman stop.  To your left is the Matsuri: chicken apple sausage with scallion, wasabe mayo, carrots, nori, and grilled onions.  Totally hit the spot, as we walk all over downtown counting Starbucks cafes and strolling through a Saturday flea market.

El Corazon is part of a building that’s seen almost too many years.  At all ends of a maze of stairs and corridors are rooms big and small, creaky steps and boards, and a stage and floor that have endured many metal shows.  I felt at home instantly, with the latest Blind video blasting on one of the staff’s laptops during load-in.  Other than the heat and some mistakes on my part, everything was awesome: the very energetic Seattle kids poured into the place after everyone’s smooth soundcheck finished.  I guess we’re doing something right when kids are shouting “HEY!” on every snare hit without being prompted.

In being the smallest venue on the tour, it is also the most intimate and personal, having a close view of the band playing from anywhere on the floor.  After a sidestage view of Noodles, I hit the merch table to hang out and talk with some of the kids, before watching and flip-filming the Pillows, who actually awarded fans’ patience outside the venue later with some autographs!  I had a rare opportunity of being backstage to observe them right before they entered the stage.  At the point the crowd was chanting “PILLOWS! PILLOWS!” Sawao stood with eyes closed, head down, and one hand on the wall, the rest of them at the ready.  In one fluid motion he opens his eyes and leads the band onto the stage.  Shin pumped up the crowd midset by jumping up stage and slapping on his Mariners hat, swinging his sticks like Ichiro!  The most fiery crowd on the whole tour they were, jumping and crowd-surfing about the steaming venue!  Felt good to finally get outside…

At the awesome 24-hr restaurant 13 Coins, we drink and snack after the show, as some of the Delicious crew will return to Japan.  I meet and chat with a new Seattle resident, tech guru/gamer Gene Pencil, as Ayumi offers an extra Manny’s lager to me!  I am absorbed in Gene’s story of his move to this city; I very much consider doing the same!

We had the entire next day to explore Seattle once again, chilling at the bottom of the space needle and getting lost in the EMP rock museum, zoning out on Nirvana videos and watching the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the theatre.  We stroll about and my awesome cousin Joevana joins us for pizza at Serious Pie, before she lifts us to the airport for our 10pm flight to New York.

As much as my excitement for the next city beckons, I’ve definitely enjoyed Seattle the most, and will make it back here on the way to Canada next road trip!

Giants

The cool Bay chills us out upon our return from LA; we all enjoy a full night’s rest.  The bus and BART ride to Slim’s is unique.  If asked, I would say I’m going to work, but I feel more like a tourist in my own backyard as I’m filming the trip with a Flip, and experiencing the Bay in a new light.  I hop off at Powell to skate by the new Bindlestiff theatre, a mother of my gifts and opportunities here in San Francisco.  Before feelings of gratitude turn too emo, I’m already posted in front waiting for the van to arrive.  The Slim’s sound makes it easy for all bands to soundcheck; the crew is awesome, and their kitchen provides catering for all.


A few tech difficulties and dropped sticks during our set challenged us; I found myself rocking out even harder as Tom’s bass went out during “Let’s Stay United.”  The show goes on!  It just happened to turn back on for the chorus, to everyone’s excitement.  Even though we considered this set our poorest, the crowd connection was the strongest!

Pops and all my sisters even came together to watch!  In the presence of so much family I shouldn’t’ve been so nervous…but any performer knows that is an impossibility.  Still, it’s great to be home!

Big ups to skater homies Tony and Miguel, t’was their very first concert!

 

The crowd loved noodles tonight!  They have played here often on smaller west coast tours, and always enjoy the city.  With composure and seamless transitions, they thrash through their set, pausing occasionally for introductions and flowery one-liners to embrace the crowd with.

The Pillows KILLED IT!!! (pics soon!)  Their fans rush the front of the stage, hands and arms go up, a vibrating mass of pogo.  I join in during one of my favs “Funny Bunny”  Love that bassline!

At the 509 Sushi where we ate after an explosive Slim’s show, I had a great conversation with Shio (Jun), the Pillows support bass player, who proclaimed his dream to perform with them.  He smiles easily, is the youngest in the group, loves hiking, snowboarding, and soccer!  I smiled at our similarities while drinking our beer, especially at the immense gratitude we feel for the opportunity to travel and play music!  Noodles and the Pillows have been around since ’91 and ’89; fans still show up early just to catch them enter and to hear the soundcheck (and even record it with their phones from OUTSIDE the venue)!!!  As the show’s afterglow dissolves with the beer and sushi in our stomachs, some of us prepare for a night of almost no sleep and gear inventory before the long road to Seattle…

For the moment, goodbye San Francisco!  ;)

Hotel California

After Chris and I spot a double rainbow, the LA rendezvous is successful!  I spot the Pillows singer/guitarist Sawao and Noodles singer/guitarist Yoko while helping with gear.  Then we gather at Honda-Ya to eat and drink.  The Pillows drummer Shin happily finds the Shochu, and plenty Sapporo goes around!  Lots of electricity and excitement for the tour!  I struggle to communicate with the bands and crew as my Japanese is poor, yet thanks to the translation of volunteer Yoshio, the Pillows guitarist Yoshiaki and I write some English for him to say to the crowd on stage about his gratitude for American support for Japan during their recovery from the earthquake.  We talk about our mutual love for Reggae, and Yoshiaki’s roots in Hokkaido, and of the Ainu!  It’s fun to observe everyone unwind; it was a long flight.  We didn’t leave until way past midnight!!!

During 3pm load-in at the El Rey (so much history, such a beautiful theatre!!!) a handful of kids are waiting.  While wheeling gear inside, I wonder, “is this happening?”  Jamming my thumb on a cymbal stand didn’t wake me up, so i guess i wasn’t dreaming?

It blew by so fast.

From soundcheck, setting up merch, gluing Tom’s mohawk, the blur of playing a 45-minute opener, in the green room during Noodles’ set as Sawao strolls in just to hang out with a beer, the random stroll outside after the show, bits of conversation between friends and couples sitting cross-legged on the curb with new t-shirts and cds.  My English is good but I still am unable to describe this feeling.  Whatever, it overflows.

We are back in the Bay after an easy drive, time to rock Slim’s!!!