Monday, April 25, 2011

FINAL Tour Report, Day 7: Tritone, Philly

We found parking right in front of the bar. Our poster was displayed in the front window right under another poster for a band called Bitchslicer. Philly was hot and muggy on Easter Sunday; we sat in our T-shirts and ate falafel platters on the sidewalk outside a hookah restaurant as the sun went down.

The opening act was a weird guitar guy playing with his eyes closed in what can only be described as a masturbatory way for what seemed like forever. The other opening act decided not to play at all, just sat in the back of the nearly empty room and didn’t so much as say hello. Weird Philly drunks on the street outside the bar mingled with hipsters decked out as zombies in honor of Easter.

All of three people came out to see us, but one, a dear friend of mine from grad school, had a baby at home and an early morning at work Monday morning and could only stop by to say hello. The other two, a couple I know from the NYC uke scene, waltzed to “A Lot Like Being Alone” as if it weren’t a song about being desperately lonely, which was sweet.

I was feeling a little ragged, and in a rare relaxation of my death grip on our stage image, I told Heather she could keep on the colorful sundress she was wearing that I’d gotten her in Italy last spring. I put on my blue sequin dress (bought for me by my mother at TJ Maxx and recently complimented by a drag queen at the Stonewall Inn) but no eyelashes or makeup – like Clark Kent having to lift up a car, said Dobson after the show.

At one point I asked the audience if they’d been to church that morning and told them we would be conducting services during our set, which earned a laugh. Masturbatory guitar guy suddenly came up up to the stage and hissed at us, “Why are you mocking religion?” I wasn’t sure if he was serious; my comments were pretty innocuous, and here he was himself, playing out in a bar on Easter Sunday. He added, “What are you, Jewish?” “We must be,” I said.

In the end we seemed to win over the bar audience, since they asked for an encore. The bartender blew us a kiss at the end of our set. People signed up for the mailing list, including one guy who had just moved to Philly from Albany and knew Stephen and company from our first tour stop, which seemed strangely appropriate. We packed up and went to the single hotel room I had booked at the last minute for our last night, which was unexpectedly fancy (thanks,!) but had no minibar. There was nowhere else to buy booze at midnight on Easter Sunday, so Dobson bought a ton of snacks from the vending machine and we ended the tour slumber-party style, eating popcorn and M&Ms and watching Glee and Arrested Development on his computer. In the morning we had pancakes and eggs from a local diner delivered to our room before hitting the road back to NYC to a soundtrack of Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

It took the rest of the day to drop off Dobson’s gear at his studio, Dobson at his house, and then Heather at her house before loading out the remaining gear at my place and returning the rental van. I walked back to my house in the late afternoon light feeling strangely light.

In summary:

  • 4 musicians in the van
  • 4 radio show appearances
  • 11 musicians onstage
  • 7 different bands sharing the stage
  • 7 shows in 7 cities in 7 days
  • 1,165 miles on the van
  • and miles to go before I sleep

Huge thanks to Peter Bufano, Davina Yannetty, Cecil Scheib, John Waters, Erin Rogers, Patrick Cronin, and Stacy Rock for playing with us; to Rob Caldwell, Stephanie Bindlestiff, Bob and Diana, Peter and Camilla, and Chris and Linda for your hospitality; to Cat at WCHC, Cyrus and Kelley at Live Yurt Radio, Ann, Richard and Tom at WGXC, and Jess and Connor at WWPI; to Bury Me Standing, the Salvation Alley String Band, and Jimmy and the Wolfpack for inviting us to share the stage/accepting our invitation to play; to our awesome street team members for putting out flyers and telling your friends to see us; and to everyone who came out to the shows, bought a CD or a T-shirt, shared your photos and video, or told us how much you liked the music. Huge thanks also to our RocketHub tour support campaign contributors, who made this all possible. You all rock big time.

Tour Report, Day 6: Parkside Lounge, NYC

Dobson and I went out to breakfast at the Miss Florence Diner with Chris and Linda before heading back into town to meet Heather and Bob. We piled back into the car for our last full-band car ride to the last full-band gig of the tour. Massachusetts and then Connecticut and then Westchester flew by. We crossed into the city like salmon returning to their native spawning grounds. When we finally found parking on the LES and got out of the car, we found that warm, muggy spring had arrived in New York.

Parkside Lounge is kind of a DIY venue. Heather and my brother ran the door, and my friends from Jimmy and the Wolfpack set themselves up to play. Their set was raucous and hilarious and loud, featuring songs like their popular number “Put my Cannoli in Your Mouth.” The crowd loved them.

We played as a band of nine people: the core four plus Stacy Rock on backup vocals, Erin Rogers, John Waters and Cecil Sheib on horns, and Patrick Cronin on keys. We made a beautiful noise. The show wasn’t quite as tight as our Cambridge show, but it was a close second, and it was glorious playing with so many of us onstage. We had a nice house – the room was full with 35 paying audience members plus the other band plus various entourage members, and everyone was listening. It was a good show, and so great to hear those horns and keyboard parts coming through. Mental note: more horns.

After our set we took a photobooth picture for posterity with all four of the touring band crammed into the booth, which can be viewed here, and then we sat in the car and played DJ Chris’s “Fett’s Vette for my brother (as big a Star Wars nerd as Dobson) before driving Heather to the subway, Dobson home to the Bronx (for the night) and Bob home to Queens (for the duration).

In the wee hours of Easter Sunday, I was blessed with ample parking near my house, for which I was truly thankful.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tour Report, Day 5: The Rendezvous, Turners Falls

We left Boston and drove to Hampshire College in bucolic Western Mass for a live performance on Hampshire's radio station. When we arrived there was an alternative medicine festival going on near where we were parked on campus. Heather immediately ran over to it, and by the time I got out of the car she could be seen hula-hooping on the lawn. I called Kelley, our contact at the radio station, who said she was on her way over to help us bring our gear to the yurt where the campus radio station was housed. (Apparently the yurt was someone’s final project a couple of decades ago, and then putting a radio station in it was someone else’s final project a few years later. This is what happens at a hippie school.) I got a text from Heather asking if she had time for a Reiki treatment, and I loved the idea, so we all went for some medicinal…Heather, give me back the laptop. Obviously uptight bandleader said no, Heather should get her ass back to the car to help unload.

Once in the yurt, a long setup process unfolded; headphones and then jack adapters had to be located, and then mics were set up, and then we tried to get it so that we could hear ourselves through them. Testing my mic over and over, I got bored and started reciting Robert Frost’s “Walking Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which I suppose was appropriate enough considering our location. The headphones started working and then stopped working and we decided to jettison all but one pair for me. We played in a circle, facing each other, for a five-song set.

As it turns out (we discovered via Bob’s dad, who was tuned in the whole time), this entire sound check preceding our radio performance was broadcast, including my Robert Frost recital. I’m hoping it makes it onto the podcast version also.

The Rendezvous in Turners Falls (about half an hour north of Northampton) was a restaurant where they clear away some tables when it's time for the band to play. The Salvation Alley String Band, for whom we would be opening, was 5 guys playing country music in matching plaid shirts (stagecraft, or just the Northampton uniform?) with a lap steel and a young woman singer with great pipes. So not a perfect fit, but we did okay, and won over a handful of new fans (including the sound guy, who bought 2 CDs).

After the show Heather went to stay the night with a friend of hers from college and Bob went to stay with the relatives whose enthusiastic cheering and dancing in the back of the room during our set (they especially liked “All That Glitters” and “Tenderness”) has endeared them to me deeply. Dobson and I went home with my friend Chris to the large house in the mountains where he lives with his wife, Linda. When we woke up in the morning, everything outside was covered in snow.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tour Report, Day 4: Lizard Lounge, Cambridge

No one was eager to leave the lake house in the morning. Bob’s cousin came over with her three little boys, and Dobson was immediately adopted as their new favorite babysitter. Bob’s aunt and uncle fed us breakfast and then lunch. Heather went for a walk around the lake. We watched Dobson and the boys running past the dining room windows on the deck outside, running and sliding in their socks. (He definitely has a backup gig if this touring musician thing doesn’t work out.)

Then it was past time to hit the road so we could get to Boston in time for a rehearsal with Peter Bufano from Cirkestra, who would be playing accordion and keys with us, and a local singer/uke player who would be singing backup. We drove about 15 minutes in the wrong direction and had to backtrack. Rehearsal started half an hour late, and the backup singer was underprepared; apparently she thought she could wing her only rehearsal with us, but our backing vocal parts aren’t that fakable. Then we spent half an hour driving in circles trying to park the van near the venue.

The show was the best of the tour so far. We were so tight that it felt like I was playing the whole band like an instrument every time my hand came down on the strings. Our backup singer rose to the occasion and nailed her parts. Hearing the accordion and keyboard parts coming through was a treat. The low-ceilinged red-lit room that is the Lizard Lounge was filled with an appreciative audience on all sides of the stage, and our set flew by. When I realized we had only two songs left I felt a little shock of sadness.

This show was part of a residency by Bury Me Standing, a local Balkan rock band. They opened with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” and segued into original and traditional numbers with close eerie harmonies and a huge number of people onstage. A couple of Bulgarian girls in the audience started folk dancing, hand in hand, and Heather ran over to join them, grabbing a free hand and dipping and stepping in time.

There are some great photos from the show posted here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tour Report, Day 3: Nick's, Worcester

Stephanie Bindlestiff made us an amazing breakfast, veggie frittata and oatmeal with pink lentils, and then we hit the road, Worcester-bound. Bob Dylan, Santigold, Cat Power and Judy Collins played on the car stereo as Heather and Dobson and I told each other unflattering personal stories of romantic failure. These will not be repeated here.

Our first stop was the College of the Holy Cross, where I was scheduled for an interview at WCHC. Nostalgia: the radio station looked a lot like the one at Vassar, where as a student I didn’t have a show of my own but loved sitting in on friends’ shows when they’d let me. Cat, my student DJ interviewer, invited me to wait in the lounge while we waited for the radio station’s faculty advisor to show up with a working microphone. I tuned my uke and looked at the posters for bands I listen to covering the walls and felt a little thrill. The interview went smoothly. I told Cat the story of my last extended radio appearance, when I impersonated Juliana Hatfield on a friend’s college show when Juliana was going to be playing a concert at Vassar. I said it was nice to finally redeem myself with an interview where I wasn’t pretending to be someone else. I left with an armful of WCHC T-shirts for the band. Heather and Dobson hand been hanging out in the campus coffee shop listening to the show, and they said I didn’t sound stupid. Success!

Next it was on to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for an interview at WWPI, the school’s internet-only station. WPI seemed like an interesting place, an engineering school with a liberal arts bent, and my new DJ friends, Jess and Connor, seemed like great examples of that combination of right-brain and left-brain talent, bright and friendly and engaged. We talked about Days and Nights, they played some tracks from the CD, and I played a couple of tunes live. That show was recorded and will be a podcast, so I’ll post a link to that once it’s up. Connor hooked up a printer so I could print out the chart to the new song we would be playing at Nick’s (which I had printed at my parents’ en route to Albany but left on the kitchen counter) and Jess made copies for the whole band, god bless them both. We all got WWPI bottle opener keychains with the station logo, a goat wearing headphones.

When Heather and Dobson and I got to Nick’s, Bob was there waiting for us: full band reunion! We got to order delicious German food off the menu and I ate a giant platter of sausage and potatoes and cabbage before we started loading in. Nick’s is a charming bar with a pressed-tin ceiling and a tiny cabaret stage with red curtains and shell-shaped footlights. People started arriving when we were still sound checking and slowly filled the tables by the stage in the back room. The Worcester Magazine reporter who wrote the article on Sweet Soubrette gracing the cover of the nightlife section came over to say hello. I changed into my sparkly dress in the basement, where there was a mirror propped next to shelves filled with pickled beets and condiments and spices: a step up from the dim bar bathroom at Valentine’s, though not as homey as Chloe’s bedroom in the Musica loft.

We played two sets to a largely appreciative crowd that filled the back room. In close quarters on the tiny stage, Bob knocked over Dobson’s glockenspiel early into the first set, but Dobson got it put back together quickly and disaster was averted. By the end of the second set, the remaining tables of people were getting talkative, but people bought CDs and T-shirts and signed the mailing list, and Nicole, the owner of the bar, was gracious and complimentary. After the show we drank at the bar, even Sweet Soubrette’s uptight bandleader (that’s me) was talked into doing a couple of shots, Dobson taught Heather and me some swing dancing moves, and we danced to the jukebox until it was last call and we had to load out our gear. Then Heather drove us through the wee hours to Bob’s aunt and uncle’s house, where I woke up to the sight of blue sky through the bedroom skylight and a red-painted dock jutting out into a lake.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tour Report, Day 2: Musica, Hudson

On our way down to Hudson from the Albany Ramada on Tuesday morning, one of the hosts from a show on WGXC, Hudson’s local radio station, called to confirm an interview. We got into town with hours to spare. Rob, the owner of Musica, the music shop above which we’d be performing that night, gave us a little local history as he drew us a map of the places in town we might want to check out. “Until 1950, Hudson was whore town,” he said. “Every one of those buildings on the main drag was originally a whorehouse – there were a hundred years of whores here.” In 1950 the feds came in with 20 panel trucks and there was a big raid, and since then the town has not been quite so colorful. Nevertheless, we managed to amuse ourselves in town. Most excitingly, Heather scored a pair of black and white polka-dot shoes at a thrift store that are a perfect match for one of her show dresses.

Rob’s daughter Chloe ferried me over to the radio station, which is so new the doors inside still have stickers on them instructing the contractor how to hang them properly. In the studio there was a blackboard over the window with phonetic spellings of all the nearby towns so that the DJs would pronounce them properly: Delhi = dell-high, Milan = my-lon, and so forth. We did a quick interview and I played “Stick Around” into the microphone on a uke that had already gone out of tune since I had tuned it a few minutes ago.

The Musica loft is also where Rob lives, and it was clean and light and homey. We ate dinner with him and Chloe and a friend, and then moved tables to make way for more seating. Our preparations made it feel like we were getting ready for a wedding at someone’s home, the funny combination of formal and informal, women in fancy dresses and stocking feet arranging chairs, putting on our makeup in Chloe’s bedroom. Liv Carrow, a songwriter from Brooklyn who recently moved upstate, opened with a set of beautiful, witty songs. The chairs in the room filled with people as the windows got dark. After she finished, we followed with the same marimba set we had played at Valentine’s the night before but to a very different crowd, quietly sitting and listening.

Afterwards almost everyone went across the street to get drinks at Helsinki, where Sweet Soubrette played in February and where their weekly open mic was going on. The Helsinki folks gave us a warm welcome back, and the emcee of the open mic asked if I would play a song in the show. When I told him I’d packed up my ukulele, the sound guy went and got his ukulele for me to borrow, a 1920s Martin that sounded beautiful. I played a new song called “Catch and Toss” that no one has heard yet other than there. All I could see from the Helsinki stage were the twinkling lights of the table votives.

Stephanie of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus put us up for the night. Before we went to bed she fed us snacks and gave us a tour of the hot sauce museum that lives in her fridge. I got to sleep in the juggling room.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tour Report, Day 1: Valentine's, Albany

I got up in the morning and picked up the Dodge Caravan rental, loaded it up with merch and gear, said goodbye to my cat, and picked up Dobson and Heather before heading to my parents' house for a box of LPs and some sleeping bags. My mom fed us and made us coffee and sent us back out into the world with a chocolate bar and fruit and bottles of water. So far so good.

We arrived in Albany with time to spare and checked into our rooms at the Ramada, our only hotel night on this tour since friends or family will be hosting us every other night; air mattresses and couches await. We got to Valentine’s, Dobson set up the marimba, we did a sound check, and it was getting close to the posted showtime of 8:00 with no appearance by our local contact and opening act, Stephen, who had booked this show. I tried calling him, but his phone kept going to voicemail.

A quarter to nine: still no word from Stephen. The bartender and the sound guy were getting antsy, and so were we. It seemed like it might be time to switch to plan B: start the show without the opening band. So we took the stage. Then, two songs into our set, Stephen walked in with band members and gear in tow.

I was in the middle of singing “A Lot Like Being Alone,” and as I tried to give the words of the chorus a special significance in light of our situation (it was a lot like being the only band on the bill to show up) I could see there was some drama happening between Stephen and the sound guy, and then the mutual friend who had put me in touch with Stephen approached the stage with an expression of deep pain on his face. As soon as our second song was finished, he implored me to stop our set. “It's not supposed to be like this,” he said, meaning the still practically empty room, the other band standing ready to set up their gear, our having started a show only an hour after its advertised time when the followers of the opening act didn’t expect them to start until then; apparently starting the show anything like on time is not how things roll upstate.

Most of what I know about performing I learned from the circus: be versatile and quick on your feet, be prepared for unexpected changes, respect your colleagues, and the show must go on. So it was very surprising to be asked by another performer to stop in the middle of our act so that the night could proceed as originally planned, and it was extremely awkward being forced to have this conversation onstage in front of an audience. I was furious, but gracious; after a brief band tete-a-tete we ceded the stage to the other band and regrouped by the bar to console ourselves with drink ticket Budweiser.

In spite of ourselves, Dobson and I actually really liked their set. Punk rock is alive and well in upstate NY. And the room filled with people as they played. When they finished we returned to the stage, this time with a decent number of people listening. Torch songs with a marimba/violin/ukulele arrangement was definitely not what this audience was expecting, but I like a challenging room, and I’m starting to suspect I perform better when I’m a little pissed off, and we won those bastards over pretty fast. We killed them in the end.

So Albany was an interesting start to our week of shows. We’ll see what’s next...