Day 9 – Part 1 – Dead or alive

As I write this now, I have been back home for quite a while and I’m starting to forget details. So please forgive me, as I start to backtrack or correct myself. In this case, I forgot to mention interesting facts: Dave is anti-bed bug and knows how to inspect mattresses. This will come in handy. Also, in Pittsburgh, we did have a mishap with our dearest chime-a-tron. One of the chimes sounded like a blacksmith hard at work, and other just didn’t work at all. So, that also led to cutting a few songs, including Only Medicine.

So, I awake the next day to the usual scene: Jake and Stuart have been up for hours, despite it being 7am in the freaking morning.  If memory serves me correctly, Jake lets us know that we have a new tour mascot that Stuart found. Stuart busts in, all out of sorts. Earlier that morning, he had found an adorable little baby mouse in the parking lot. It had been abandoned by its mom, perhaps who had gotten run over. The poor little thing soon died. Stuart named it Golieth, such a fighter but so fragile.

We zombie into the van, and head back the way we came to Philly. The whole ride, we’re either talking about sweet Golieth or we’re decompressing from last night’s disaster. Clearly the turnout for the fundraiser was off the hook, but we had not yet seen a room clear when we started playing. Stuart comes to the conclusion that it means we’re doing something right!

And he is likely right. We’re doing our daily check of The Mighty Oracle: The Great Internet, and we’re seeing some amazing reviews from Pitchfork, AV Club, and even a positive review from the local Pittsburgh thing where we bombed. Twitter is showing plays on radio stations across the US, and people are tweeting Dama/Libra in their playlists or their top lists of bands. It’s very surreal. If you’ve been reading this blog, you start to see a theme: we are either on the road, loading equipment, playing a show, or sleeping. For Stuart and Joel, there may be more interaction with folks–they’re recognizable and are often by the merch booth. I however, am not recognized. I’m “some drummer in the back”.

So it’s surreal in that I feel more isolated than at home. I don’t recognize anyone, and no one speaks to me unless I start up a conversation. You can’t see your listeners in the radio station. You barely get any flavor of the town, because there’s no time to just chill.  And then I go online and read reviews from major websites that I’ve respected for a long time. Almost contradictory… except for the merch. I hear about the take from the night, and it’s usually enough to cover gas. That seems good, and in line with the reviews. Stuart and Joel have die hard fans that are willing to check out their new thing. It’s really gratifying to be a part of watching this whole story unfold from the beginning. It usually takes me years to cultivate a new project. Stuart and Joel have hit the ground running.

At the end of the day, I may not be able to reconcile the online buzz with the solitude of touring but one thing is consistent: every single night, I feel the electricity on stage, the passion, the call of Joel’s voice, the vibrations of Stuart’s bass inside my bones, and the lush waves of sound from David and Jake washing over me. Sometimes the rooms are full, sometimes they are empty, but the music is a spiritual awakening for me every single night. It’s a metaphysical ritual, where I am somehow fortunate enough to be in the same room and even participate. I feel like an acolyte. To put this in perspective, I have been a fan of Stuart’s for quite a while. In the days of Sun0))) and Burning Witch, I will admit that I didn’t know his name. I suck at names. But I was a fan. And then there was a short moment where his world overlapped with Trey Spruance, who I am also a fan of, and I became aware of Asva–a super group in my eyes. I was there when they played Seattle. Stuart had a whole freaking organ set up on the floor of the venue. The drummer was made out of trees, sea monsters, and freight trains. I bought the t-shirt and CD. I think this was pre-facebook. Maybe the Friendster or Orkut days? Later, I find them on facebook, like their page, and am disappointed about lack of tour dates.

Fast forward to this day. Somehow, and it’s all fuzzy to me now, I am sitting in a van, worrying about the battery life of my phone, eating a coffee/banana breakfast, looking out across the empty parking lot at 9am in the morning at Stuart, who is talking to his dad on the phone as he does almost every day, on our way to play Philadelphia, and then a couple radio stations, and it’s my first tour across the entire US. In this brief moment of silence away from traffic, van engine, conversation, blaring stereo, and wind in my face, it strikes me that this moment feels like I had flipped a coin 5 times and it came up heads every single time. Let’s see… David started dating a friend of a friend, and one night he was hanging out at my band’s studio. That’s where we met. Fast forward, I was doing a CD release with a different band, and I asked Dave if his band wanted to join the bill. Indeed they did, and Jake was in that band, too, and they killed it. Manos de Plata. Fast forward… David was forming a new band with Jake, Holy Cities, and needed a drummer. I started rehearsing with them at a random one of those huge warehouses filled with spilled beer and practice spaces. And it turns out, so was Stuart. Fast forward, and he and Joel need a band to play their music in a live environment. Well, Jake had started playing trumpet on Asva albums by then, and so I think it just made sense for the rest of us to join up as a swat team to quickly make the live version of Dama/Libra a reality? I’m guessing. So, we play one defining show in Seattle, and that was excellent and I wished them all well. And then next thing I know, they have a tour planned and want to go on the road. And here I am in this parking lot, cracking up at Joel’s weird high pitched voice imitating a little kid, “well… I don’t know…” as he wonders out loud if he’ll drive or sleep in the back.

Well, all I know is, playing this kind of music that is so open and so slow and so dynamic is the best feeling in the world, and I feel a tinge of sadness that it’s half over and there are fewer shows than days left on the tour.

We all poop in the public restroom, climb back in the van, and pull back onto the road, and discuss as many songs we can think of about touring. Joel drives like a bat out of hell, yelling in his weird kid voice as he changes lanes, “I do what I want!” Jake and I start singing Bon Jovi.

It’s all the same, only the names will change
Every day, it seems we’re wasting away
Another place, where the faces are so cold
I drive all night, just to get back home

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted, dead or alive
Wanted, dead or alive

Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it’s not for days
The people I meet, always go their separate ways
Sometimes you tell the day
By the bottle that you drink
Sometimes you’re all alone and all you do is think

I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted — WANTED! — dead or alive
Wanted — WANTED! — dead or alive

I walk these streets,  A loaded six string on my back
I play for keeps, cuz I might not make it back
I’ve been everywhere, still, I’m standing tall

I’ve seen a million faces,  AND I ROCKED THEM ALL

Jake and I crack up about the whole thing about knowing the day by the bottle you drink. “Guys, here’s your bottle of fruit loops vodka. OH IT MUST BE TUESDAY.”

I sing, “I’ve seen a hundred faces, AND I ROCKED THEM ALL.”

The smell of gas has continues as we cross the pass again back to Philly. We don’t seem to be leaking significantly, but it’s troubling. Will it get worse?

And there are other troubles. I completely trashed my brushes last night, and the other guys need music supplies. We can’t play without them. So we make the rare decision to visit a Guitar Center because we know it will be open. Plus, we want to give the van a rest after the pass. It’s raining and we run inside. I figure it’s all about being in and out, so we can make it for a sound check. I rush into the percussion department, and look around. The salesman asks me what I’m looking for, and I explain I want to buy some metal brushes. He starts talking to me about some new brand of multirods he has just got in stock, and how great they are. It takes me a moment to realize that he’s trying to sell me something unrelated. What? No. Metal brushes. He hands me a pair and says, “You’re in luck. These are so popular, we’re usually sold out.”


I run out to the van, and Jake’s having a smoke in the rain.  “Where is everyone?” He laughs, and gives me a knowing smile. “Dave’s inside, making a major purchase.”


“Just wait. You’ll see.”

In about a minute, Dave walks back to the van with something a little bulky. I laugh. I get it. It’s a keyboard. Dave is ecstatic. Of course he is. Of course he bought a keyboard.

You see, it’s a thing he does. And Guitar Center is often his prey. Dave knows his keyboards. And sometimes, Guitar Center does not. Maybe the name of the store tells it all. But at any rate, this isn’t Dave’s first rodeo. He tells the story of laying eyes on that keyboard and knowing exactly what it’s worth, having monitored craigslist and ebay as he does, and the pricetag is $100 lower than anything he’s seen. Meanwhile, the salesman is talking about how he plays with Blues Traveler and he would buy this keyboard if he wasn’t an employee. Yes, Blues Traveler Salesman, Dave will indeed buy this keyboard.

Dave is so pumped up, he’s exploding with excitement. He’s simultaneously shoving in batteries in the back, and navigating with his phone. We drive down this very long side street of Philly, past strip club after strip club, as Dave is putting his newfound prize champion through an obstacle course. He cackles every few minutes. We all can’t help but share in his excitement. Picture him with headphones, a keyboard perched on his lap, cell phone in one hand, other hand pressing buttons on the keyboard like a Star Trek redshirt. This is the most alive I’ve seen him the whole tour, other than after being discharged from the emergency room. Better not send him down to the planet on an away team…

We want to know, will he play on it tonight? Alas, no. He would need more time, and it’s not quite the right kind of keyboard anyway.

The strip clubs dwindle, and it’s mostly apartment buildings, with people hanging out on their porches and steps. It’s such a glorious thing to see, for this Seattleite. And then we reach the elevated train, and we know we’ve made it to Kung Fu Necktie in Philly.


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