Deep in the Heart


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…