Monday, 27 March 2006 14:27
With sleepy eyes and a slow stroll, I headed to the trailer to grab my bag, only to discover the trailer door open. A quick inventory showed that we had surprisingly (and thankfully) not lost any gear, but had, however, lost my suitcase.
Champaign, Ill., four-piece Lorenzo Goetz—Larry Gates (vocals, guitar), Josh Miethe (guitar), Eric Fisher (bass), and Jesse Greenlee (drums)—crafts intelligent indie-pop-funk, with an accompanying live show that’s energetic, engaging, and unforgettable. Here, in the first installment of our “Band on the Run” series, Gates takes us along for the group’s week-long tour into the southern middle United States, misadventures and all...
FRIDAY, MARCH 3
“Excuse me, have you seen anyone dressed like me?”
I wanted to ask the staff at the Crestwood Gordman’s, hoping to reunite with my bandmates after what resulted in a fruitless search for pants. Lorenzo Goetz (www.lorenzogoetz.com) has just embarked on an eight-day outing through the southern region of our beloved United States. We begin at a club called Three-1-Three in Belleville, Ill. (just outside of St. Louis), a cool little spot where we have filled a variety of dates over the past three years while either leaving or returning to the Midwest. The staff has always been incredible and it’s fun to see those faces, the ones I only see in Belleville. The crowd was good—one of the most attentive and response bunch we’ve had there. Our friend Paul Zipfel and his brother Scott made the trip from Champaign and Chicago, respectively (along with cousin Katie Jean and friend Matt). Also, Jesse’s family made the trek down from Centralia. Always great to see El Guapo and Co.! The thing about Belleville is not only are we welcomed with open arms, but chances are always high that you’ll see some interesting shit later in the evening—for instance, witnessing the owner lunge off of the bar, landing in a flock of snot-nosed 20somethings, or watching a local drunk decide to wear, rather than drink, his flaming shot. We’ve always been treated to a bizarre evening.
Tonight, however, is a different story. I couldn’t believe it. The show went off without a hitch, other than me experiencing a bit of a nagging vocal issue due to the cocktail of antibiotics and decongestants that I have been regularly administering to my still ailing body (on day 11 of a nasty and persistent cold). After the show, we settled up and said our goodbyes. A quick jaunt over to the city and we’d have a safe warm place to rest our heads. Our friend Dr. Susan Bartolini has been kind enough to offer up her place to stay since moving to St. Louis last year. It’s fun to see her coming and going, putting in long hours and passing out into the deepest, well-earned sleep after contributing to people’s lives in ways that I can’t imagine.
Eric and Josh slept in the back of the van as Jesse helped me navigate the night highways into town. Our good friends at Mapquest, however, routed us through some of the more “scenic” parts of East St. Louis. Potholes and boarded-up stores, and two boys looking hard for the Arch like some dome-shaped symbol of Calvary. We managed the trail without incident. A few quick turns and we found ourselves putting the van to rest for the night, tucking it neatly in front of the Hot Beans coffee shop (our regular post-show morning breakfast spot). With sleepy eyes and a slow stroll, I headed to the trailer to grab my bag, only to discover the trailer door open. A miscommunication at the club lead to the trailer door being locked, but not actually latched. Horror stuck my heart as I came to the realization that we had possibly driven for miles, our gear and belongings swaying behind, with the goddamn door open. A quick inventory showed that we had surprisingly (and thankfully) not lost any gear, but had, however, lost my suitcase. Lost. My. Fucking. Suitcase. On the first day of a week-long outing. A suitcase that held within it three of my favorite pairs of pants, six of my favorite shirts, several beloved t-shirts, a hat that I had purchased in New Orleans last year, my lyric book with scrawlings from the past three years, my tour diary, and my toiletry bag (with my prescription antibiotics).
Deep breaths. I strolled down the block in disbelief. “I have to try and find it,” I said to Eric, who volunteered to assist me in the impossible task. We backtracked to the river and called in a valiant effort, but alas, found not my bag. I made reports with the St. Louis and Belleville police departments in hopes that a patrolling officer or good Samaritan would make the discovery. I had been so excited to start the tour. Not only had the illness made for a rough few weeks, I had four days of no heat in my house due to a bad furnace, my Internet service took a dive for a day, and I put to rest my grandfather, who until Sunday morning, had been my last living grandparent. I laid my head down, exhausted and disappointed at the results of the night’s unraveling. As I drifted off, I couldn’t help but be grateful that the situation wasn’t any worse. We were all safe, gear intact and still set for a week of shows. But I had some light shopping to do.
Sat., March 4
Cape Girardeau, Mo.
I woke up well rested and crossed the street to Hot Beans, saying my usual energetic hellos to the staff. Accepting that I could not change the situation, only make the best of it, I plotted what would be an emergency wardrobe replacement mission. You see, we not only write sensual, catchy songs and put on high-octane, entertaining shows, we also maintain a very specific look. Presentation should never be under-thought. The key to this operation is going to start with a good pair of pants. Honestly, I can wear the pants I have on for travel and sport the new ones for performances. A few days from now we’ll, hit a Laundromat and freshen everything up. I’m an avid thrift store shopper and have made it part of my agenda, but second-hand veterans know that with the purchase of a pair of thrift store pants also comes the risk of undesirable odors (commonly referred to as “Old Man Crotch”). Quite a gamble if you plan on spending your evening sweating away under stage lights and the influence of vodka-soaked antihistamines. So, to avoid such unpleasantness, I made my first priority a very versatile (and obviously earth-toned) pair of comfortable pants—which came in the form of golden corduroy for $15. A quick stop at Target for socks, boxers, and travel-sized hygiene products coupled with a few good finds at the Salvation Army and we were headed down the river toward Cape Girardeau.
“I’d have to say it’s been about six or seven years since I did a beer bong.”
Sometimes the most satisfying experiences come in the most unlikely places. Our initial show plans had fallen through, but our pal Bob Camp made some last-minute arrangements for us to hop on a lineup in town. These situations are not always ideal, but sometimes necessary. Playing early (9 p.m.) to a handful of strangers on a poorly matched bill is a bit of a disadvantage, to say the least, but we tend to always come out on top. Tonight proved no different. Sharp as a tack, we dazzled them with the movements, rhythms, and antics consistently present in Lorenzo Goetz shows. The response was overwhelming and the tiny gathering showed an abundance of love and appreciation. We sold some merch and drank for free all night. We saw Joe Pence (from Champaign) who was visiting his friend Randall, along with Stephanie (who made the drive from Carbondale). With limited funds for lodging, we decided to wait in hopes of a kind-hearted invitation to someone’s floor or guest room. Matt Callow from the headlining band, Dissonance (www.myspace.com/4dissonance), offered his place for post-show socializing with a promise of the necessary real estate to lay our sleeping bags for the night. Matt is a super kid (and a great drummer). He single-handedly ran the show, played sound man, and gave 110 percent on stage, then handled the night’s earnings from the bar (giving us an unexpected equal cut) and played host to a few dozen people not yet ready to put their Miller-drenched minds to bed. The low-key event was full of laughs and good stories.
Around 4 a.m., Josh and I managed to coax Jesse out of the van (where he had been sleeping off the effects of tonight’s free and limitless offerings), not wanting him to run the risk of catching a cold in the night air. We woke the next morning in a comfortable living room, feeling that familiar hospitality, all the while soaking in the details of someone’s unfamiliar home.
Sun., March 5
The 5 Spot
While Jesse spends his morning nursing an award-winning hangover, Eric, Josh, and I split the drive to Nashville. We’re on our way to my cousin’s house for a little relaxation and some hygiene rituals before tonight’s show. Tim Chrysler is undoubtedly my favorite extended family relative. We are the two youngest on my mother’s side, which resulted in many summers of palling around in our youth. He and his wife have just moved to Tennessee from the east coast and purchased their first beautiful home in Murfreesboro, just down the road from Music City. At our grandfather’s funeral a few days earlier, he had offered us his home for the night.
Mid-drive, we stopped in Metropolis, Ill.—home of the annual Superman festival (the only town of that name in the U.S.), which boasts a giant statue of the Man of Steel. We paused for obligatory photos and a bad burrito before moving on. Upon arrival in Tennessee, we were greeted with a shower and feasted on grinders provided by my Aunt Linda and Uncle Mike. Feeling refreshed and well fed, we went to the club for load-in. The bar was hosting a benefit show for local musician Molly Conley (of the band Porter Hall, TN (www.myspace.com/porterhalltn) who just had surgery for cancer. Eleven bands ripped through short, energetic sets using house amps and drums provided by generous artists. We got to witness what was apparently a rare appearance by D. Striker (who typically only plays on Friday the 13th but wanted to contribute to the cause). It was odd to infiltrate a very tight pack of musicians in a community such as Nashville. I started the set by stating, “Musicians are family no matter where we’re from.” I think that’s true. I don’t know Molly Conley, but I can imagine the hardships of experiencing such an illness while pursuing such a career. We met some cool folks and received an invitation from another bar owner for a show this summer (Steve, we’ll talk soon, but I’m thinking late May) who was responsible for our only CD sale of the evening. True to our word, we donated a buck from our six-dollar transaction to the benefit. After tucking the bill into the jar marked “MOLLY TIPS,” we folded our t-shirts, stuffed them into our merchandise tote, and left. We went back to Cousin Tim’s for beer, brownies, leftover grinders, laundry, house records, and The Big Lebowski. I’m grateful to have family like the Chryslers. What a delightful stop. Hospitality Royale.
Mon., March 6
We woke at 10 a.m., rejuvenated rockers rising from our sleep stations, ready to face the day’s travels. Southbound through the hills of Tennessee listening to the Old 97’s and stand-up comedy bits by Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and Chris Rock. Laughing. Smiling. My sinus troubles were all but gone and the weather was a welcome change. The comedy eventually gave way to Paul Simon, then to Gangstarr, Typical Cats, and, finally, Spoon.
Not knowing a soul in Columbus, we agreed that a hotel room would be a worthy investment for the night. Jesse and I headed to the pool to swim laps while Eric rested and Josh spent some time on the phone with Patrick Grueber, our new manager. Patrick is a very honest, straight-shooting cat from Chicago who has worked with Barenaked Ladies, Wilco, Green Day, Nada Surf, and Chris Isaak. He’ll be handling Internet and radio campaigns for us and has already opened several doors in a very short amount of time. So grateful for such relationships.
The club tonight, Soho, usually hosts an open mic on Mondays, but agreed to put us on as a “featured band” to close the evening. To my surprise, I was greeted there by my friend Derek Bodart, who made the seven-hour drive from Tampa to see the show. Bo and I were in a reggae-laced band called Satiiva for a few years. (Our only claim to fame was playing with Jared Leto’s Band (30 Seconds to Mars) when they rolled through Urbana one night.) We caught up over cocktails as the open mic participants howled and fumbled their way through poorly chosen covers. To our delight, the room was absolutely packed. Soho does a fair amount of business on Mondays as a rule. Surprising, since Sundays and Mondays are typically rough nights on the road, but Dave and Vicki at Soho have the fun on lock. Outstanding people. They also publish a music magazine called Playgrounds (http://playgroundsmag.com/). Once on stage, we pounced and mugged our way through 45 minutes of sultry Midwestern grooves, and even treated the enthusiastic bunch to an encore of Kayne West’s “Gold Digger.” The club was so impressed that they picked up our food and bar tabs, threw in an extra $50 on our guarantee, and handed us a case of beer for the road. Wow. We humbly offered our gratitude and headed back to the hotel with plans to eliminate the 24 bottles of Budweiser we now so proudly owned.
Tues., March 7
Meridian Underground Music Exchange
“It’s all about the hangovers and late checkouts/maid banging on the door like, “wake up! get out!”/come on mommy/ya’ll probably don’t want me coming out like a zombie/brushing teeth in the lobby” —Atmosphere
After checkout this morning, we headed to a barbeque joint we had spotted the night before for delicious sandwiches, potato salad, and iced tea. A picture-perfect barbeque shack planted next to a rim shop. So genuinely Dirty South. We’re off to Mississippi. We met the promoters for tonight’s show when we played Gulfport last year. Katrina has left the area devastated still, but Ronnie and Lynn (Rotten Golden Apples Promotions) (www.myspace.com/rottengoldenapples) have continued to work hard putting on regular shows once again.
Events just have a funny way of unfolding sometimes.
An hour into the drive, I received a voice mail from Ronnie telling me that the venue had been shut down by a city inspector due to bad electrical wiring. The show was canceled. Having one night off already (Wednesday was a scheduled day of R& R in New Orleans), we found ourselves in an unfavorable position. Immediately I placed a number of calls to friends in the industry, grasping for ideas and contacts. “Putting out the feelers,” as it’s called. We ducked off the road and set up a temporary office on the patio of a Montgomery, Ala., Starbucks. Twenty minutes into the stop, I had found a record store in Meridian, Miss. (Meridian Underground Music Exchange) (http://www.meridianunderground.com) that regularly featured shows (much like Periscope’s “Club Twang” back in the day). An odd offer, but you have to measure a lot of factors in a situation like this. Is it better to play in such an unorthodox setting or spend a second night off? In my experience, it is undeniably better to play. You sometimes find these nights to be incredibly rewarding and fruitful. At the very least, it will be an adventure. The greatest hits of James Brown and Johnny Cash and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds carried us across the Alabama border and into Mississippi.
In Meridian, we found the venue without incident and were greeted by Adam, the manager who, over the phone, had agreed to let us play. He explained that he couldn’t promise much due to the last-minute nature, but he had made several phone calls and sent out e-mails to those who might be interested. We, in turn, knowingly understood and remained grateful to be able to play to someone, somewhere. The store itself was unique. New and used music, games, and DVDs. Incense, beads, and black light posters. Paraphernalia and sex toys. But also a tanning bed and what appeared to be a small playland-style day care corner. We walked through the store, taking it all in. Adam led us to the performance room located in the rear. A quick load in, then we ducked out to the van to shotgun beers on our now-empty stomachs. Over the next hour and a half, we played to a small collection of locals—all of whom stayed to the last note and many of whom were kind enough to purchase our wares.
The value menu at Wendy’s provided enough sustenance to get us on road again. Southbound. Three and a half hours to New Orleans. Our friend Drew Allen owns a bar (www.flannigans-pub.com) and a condo in the Big Easy and has invited us to use both at our leisure.
Wed., March 8
“Welcome to New Orleans. This is a stick up!”
After a night of drinks, slot machines, and Muppet Show episodes, we crawled out into the French Quarter to find food. Our favorite coffee shop (along with many other businesses) was not keeping very regular hours, so we had to put a few miles on our sneakers before finding suitable dining. I wanted to stop by the van to pick up some CDs. After yesterday’s cancelation and last-minute replacement gig, I thought it wise to make an effort to find yet another fill-in show for tonight and had put in several calls to area clubs.
A number of streets in the French Quarter had been blocked of for the filming of Deja Vu (directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer), so our parking options the night before had been minimal. No lots would take our van due to the trailer and most streets immediately outside of the Quarter were permit only. We found a spot big enough to fit the van and trailer both, checking on it after leaving the casino (where I somehow managed to spend more money on hot dogs than gambling).
After lunch, we arrived at the spot, but our van (along with all the other vehicles on an unmarked block of Decatur) was not there. We spoke with some shop owners who said that they had seen cars being towed all morning and pointed us in the direction of the assumed culprits. Three and a half hours later, I stood in front of a sassy, overweight city employee who read the violations aloud with abundant animation for the benefit of her equally giddy coworkers. “That’s $20 for the parking violation, $100 for the tow, $80 for outstanding tickets (we had accumulated a few during our stay last year)... Oh! And you have a trailer, so that’s actually another $20. $220!” She beamed as she read the total. I didn’t give her the satisfaction of getting the slightest reaction out of me. Any show of disappointment would automatically be an advantage for her in what was now apparently a “tug-of-pride.” I coolly counted out 11 $20 bills and left. What a fucking scam. Towing cars from an unmarked street. I guess that’s one way to try and rebuild your economy. Still, it was a real letdown. We weren’t even playing in New Orleans, but had decided to spend some of our time and our hard-earned money there. Never again. At least not for a long time. Our day of hoofing around the city had shown us firsthand the devastation that still marks the entire region. A city that appears to be slowing trying to move its bruised and scabbed knees, wincing with every step. But suddenly, I was running short on compassion.
Little did we know, our luck was about to change. Once I was able to charge my phone (my wall charger being lost in what we’ll call “The Suitcase Incident” and my car charger having been impounded along with the van), I made a few quick follow-up calls, which led me to a series of conversations with John at Nick’s Icehouse in Hattiesburg, Miss. “I really don’t know if it’s going to be worth it for y’all,” he said in regard to the almost two-hour drive. I assured him that anything was better than nothing and we really needed a chance to make up our lost funds for the day.
John was incredible. He had copied my number down incorrectly the night before but tracked me down by calling the Canopy Club in Urbana. Christ! Who does that sort of thing? He also coordinated a sound setup provided by a local musician (thanks, Jay!) who arrived just ahead of us with an adequate system. Bartender Ralph made phone calls to fellow music lovers, encouraging them to come down and give us a listen. Before leaving New Orleans, we searched the online profiles of Hattiesburg MySpacers, sending them personal invitations to the show. Serious guerilla marketing.
I smoked myself shirtless and barefoot while Eric occupied the driver’s seat. I volunteered for the journey back to New Orleans, having convinced my weary bandmates that this was a worthy opportunity. One hundred and eleven miles later, we arrived at Nick’s, a true Mississippi juke joint. I’ve seen some dives, but I’ve never seen such character before. I immediately put to bed any worries or apprehensions for the night; this was going to be incredible.
At Nick’s, the bar stools are toilets and the urinals are beer kegs. Graffiti and the most random artifacts dress the bar from top to bottom. Most surprisingly were the patrons, who greeted us with friendly smiles and gentle handshakes, expressing their condolences after hearing about our week’s obstacles. From the very first note, we had the place smiling, nodding, and shimmying to our bratty blend of Midwest groove-pop. Sweating through two hours of music and several brown bottles of domestic standards, we gave 100%, and let me tell you—Hattiesburg gave 110% back. Through tips, merchandise, and a percentage of beer sales, we were able to recoup ALL of the money lost earlier in the day, and even covered the gas to and from. Outstanding. I’m so thankful for such a discovery and will most definitely be back as soon as we can. An unforgettable authentic juke joint experience. An impromptu party on a steamy Wednesday night. Dancing and singing away the worries of the day.
Thurs., March 9
Red Star Bar
Baton Rouge, La.
Tornado warnings were highly in effect as we left New Orleans. The choppy waters nipped at the 20-mile bridge as we looked back at the countless blocks of condemned homes, abandoned cars, and debris-filled streets. We were en route to Baton Rouge—our much-anticipated return to the Red Star Bar, an ultra-hip spot downtown owned by our friend Frank McMains (who also owns C Student Records and manages the Eames Era (www.theeamesera.com), our touring buddies from last summer). The threatening skies remained mostly dormant as we pulled into the city in search of lodging for the night.
At the club, we ran into Grant Widmer, Ted Joyner, and Ashland Phillips of the Eames Era and discovered that, in addition to my pal Frances Martinez and her husband Bradley, Lindsey Markel had made the train ride from Champaign (beating out Derek Bodart for most miles traveled to catch this tour). What a treat! This entire outing has been filled with quality visits with quality friends new and old. We played a near-flawless set to a modest crowd. Afterwards, we swapped tour stories with the Eames Era and packed our belongings for the last time this week.
Fri., March 10
Quick to rise and eager to put the miles behind us, we chipped away at the road with two-hour shifts behind the wheel, stopping eventually in Centralia, Ill., at Jesse’s parents’ for burgers, potato salad, and chocolate cake. Such great folks! I handled the final two hours while my new traveling partner Lindsey shared stories about her bookstore co-workers. She’s one of my favorite people and her company easily slays the boredom of the drive.
This tour has been about obstacles, teamwork, friendship, family, love, and faith. I feel like I’ve grown a bit. I feel like this band has, too. We leave for the east coast in a month. And I still have some shopping to do.
Monday, 13 May 2013 10:16
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