Street to Nowhere Take Nothing for Granted
I left off last time with us arriving in Lawrence, Kansas. We managed to get a hotel room that afternoon and stretched our legs and minds out from the three-day van ride before heading to the club. As we were loading our gear through the back door, we caught our first glimpses of the guys we’ll be spending the next few weeks with. Despite the musical differences between each band, we were all dressed like members of the same team, everyone sporting jeans and thrift store t-shirts, everyone diligently counting merch, tuning drums, or changing guitar strings.
Usually it takes a couple days before bands branch out to one another and start to make anything but superficial conversation, but this time I was surprised to find pretty much the entirety of the tour intermingling. If it wasn’t for the friendliness of Thunderbirds Are Now! and the Junior Varsity, that first show could have been a complete bust. Lawrence is a college town and school had just let out for summer, draining the area of concertgoers.
We each took the stage at Jackpot Saloon playing in front of a barroom mostly filled with scattered members of the other bands. We had a few excited fans and friends come from Missouri to see us, one of whom had never been to a show before. He bought a CD and asked for our autographs while I explained that most concerts I’ve been to tend to be a little different. That sort of interaction really keeps up sinking spirits, even when the promoter is handing us the thirteen dollars that we earned that night, while a raging downpour breaks out of the Midwestern heat.
By the time we were ready to load out our gear, most everyone in the room was shit-faced on the free pitchers of PBR and $1.25 well drinks that the bar provided to the bands. We were already getting personal, talking shit, complimenting each other’s sets. After we parted ways, my band and a few of our friends went across the street to the Replay Lounge for a few drinks, then found our way back to the hotel.
Denver was a similar experience, though we had a nice crowd of people there to see us, as well as a few really good friends bearing gifts. After the show, we crashed at my aunt and uncle’s place and the next morning and I managed to empty four cups of coffee, while getting ready and chatting with my cousin and aunt. Realizing I wasn’t about to get any more sleep, I sat shotgun while Bryce took the wheel, chattering at him about the production on Abbey Road.
When we reached Kilby Court, the club we played in Salt Lake City, around 6:30, the caffeine had left me weary. The wind was thrashing the trees in a nice heat around the series of little shacks that make up the venue and we sat on our amps and guitar cases beside the van enjoying the weather, making the sort of jokes that are only funny when you’re coming down from a day of cabin fever. We were greeted by the guy working the sound who we recognized from anther show a few months back, then by wonderful fans trickling by from the street, and finally by our tourmates.
The stage at Kilby Court is in a little building not much larger than a living room. The floor is cement and the walls are thin plywood with a few windows, the sound crashes and shatters around in the little room, and the audience is packed in close against the band.
For us, this is the best environment to play a show. There is no mystique, no backstage, no fancy lights. The crowd sees you for what you’re really worth. So many friends of mine have passed through there and praised how genuine the shows are, and it lived up to the expectations. Despite being tired, despite feeling like I played sloppy guitar, despite my vocal chords feeling like sandpaper after the set (as they tend to for the first stretch of any tour), I felt such a relief.
Paying dues can be emotionally and physically exhausting. You always have to remember how lucky you are to be playing music for a living, but when things get rough, it’s easy forget. A year ago we had a nice hype in the industry as an unsigned band, yet now we find ourselves living out a familiar story after the record label we signed to merged with another, laid off hundreds of people and seemingly forgot about us in the shuffle, dissolving a lot of high expectations we’d developed. Humbled and moving on, we’re working to win over one fan at a time.
A show like ours at Kilby Court (June 5) brings me back to those first few times I played live in warehouses in Oakland and Berkeley, in friends houses, on street corners, before I knew how to get a decent guitar tone or mix in my monitor, before ever opening for an established band on an established stage. Being in a hot room booming with sound, packed with the sort of people who seek out music in the cracks and chasms of the mainstream, it brings me back to the reason why I decided to devote my life to this when I was 16, to the rush of singing before a crowd, to the determined bliss of creative energy. Writing this as we rumble along towards Las Vegas to meet Thunderbirds and the JV on our day off, I’m reminding myself to take nothing for granted.