Street to Nowhere Shacks Up with the Junior Varsity
About halfway through Thunderbirds are Now!’s set last night (June 18) in Kansas City, I skipped out of the bar and to make a phone call and wander around the empty streets. Stores were all closed except for a gas station a few blocks away where a conglomeration of cops stood between their cars, looking concerned. I stayed away and lamented the unlit “open” sign in the window of a used book and record store, having forgot earlier to buy a copy of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers to replace a copy I lost. After a few minutes, I returned to the bar.
Walking up, I could make out a rough sketch of the music being played inside and it had nothing in common with that of Thunderbirds’, instead it was a strange cacophony of wailing guitar, riffing bass and deliberate drums. On stage I found our guitarist Will Hauser playing Ryan Allen’s guitar while Ryan was behind the kit, a guy from the crowd was jamming on Julian Wettlin’s bass and Asa Dawson from the Junior Varsity was shaking a frantic tambourine. Everyone in the club was pressed against the stage, beer glasses raised in the air as more audience members climbed up to jam. I laughed and sighed, and started loading out our gear to the sidewalk, joined eventually by the rest of the guys, leaving those random kids from the crowd jamming alone on stage as everyone walked out.
I’m writing this now on a couch in the house where the Junior Varsity guys live in Springfield, Ill. We just played St. Louis (June 19) and caravanned all three bands up here to crash for the night. Around me people are shooting the shit, breaking open cases of beers, pulling acoustics out from their rooms. The house is big enough for a large family under a dark canopy of trees in what we are told is the ghetto. It’s too dark to tell and I’m too exhausted to care.
It’s an interesting slice of the country that you see touring in a van and trailer. For the most part its truck stops and rest stops and chain diners as we nonchalantly breeze across state line after state line, taking for granted the enormity of the distance that we cover, the amount of landscape that we get to stare out at. Hell, we crossed the Mississippi tonight and I didn’t even squirm. A year ago, that was such a rush.
Venues, though, are often in a seedy part of town that you wouldn’t ever think of visiting without a purpose. I’ve found myself walking aimlessly amongst so many warehouses and abandoned buildings, empty and crumbling elements of what was once a happening downtown. It becomes most interesting in old industrial cities, places where the population has been diminishing and nature encroaches once more on the factories, where the marquees and neon signs of the old theaters and dancehalls are left to ruin.
In Albuquerque, we had beggars stopping us as we loaded our gear. In Dallas, it was freight trains clamoring by. Of course it’s not all despondency and dilapidation. The Orange County show was in a strip mall and Phoenix was in an art gallery. In Austin, we played Emo’s on the main artery of the city, Sixth Street. They close down the streets on weekend evenings there so the flow of wasted frat guys, cowboys, scenesters and scantily clad women of all shapes and origins can intermingle and move from bar to bar. When the South by Southwest hits the city, this spectacle is reserved for an orgy of the music industry and the artists they pimp out.
All and all, it’s a lot of images to process that have little or no connection to one another. I notice that when I sit down to write a journal entry for SPIN or my own, my mind immediately goes not to playing a show or anything to do with music really, but to the series of random places and moments that I have experienced in between. I think about billboard after billboard for “Handmade Indian Jewelry” along the highway in eastern Arizona, or looking out across Portland’s bridges as the city sleeps at 4 A.M. I think of the Scientology Center I stumbled into in desperate search of a bathroom in Buffalo, the small town bars where the record skips when we walk in and every eye scrutinizes us, of all the variety of stranger’s showers I have used, of carpets and couches I have spent the night on, of motel room layouts. The show is the one thing that we can count on to be consistent, with the same routine of loading in and loading out, the same songs. It’s a good anchor.
Now, I am about to pass out on this couch in a practice space in my new friends’ basement in that part of the country where I can never figure out which state borders with which. As my eyelids descend, I try to think of some place that I would prefer to be right now, but somehow I don’t think I could choose one over another.