On Saturday (June 9) we played Live 105’s BFD festival in San Francisco. It was an incredible break from the reality of this current tour, playing in front a few thousand people in our hometown with some amazing bands. I’ll talk more about that in my next post, but for now I’ll fill you in on what’s happened since Las Vegas, where I last left off…
I’m walking as fast as I can down the furthest reaches of the Vegas strip. Hands from homeless men and dealers reach out at me, sand sprays in my eyes from a passing double-decker bus. The people I am walking amongst are neither glamorous or nicely dressed nor rich or beautiful. My phone is buzzing in my pocket, Will is calling to ask how far I am.
Out of breath, I walk into the ground floor of the parking garage at the Wynn to find the Junior Varsity’s van overflowing with the five of them and their crew as well as Joey and Will. I get in as the van starts to move and lay across the floor between the seats, feeling drunk in my sober state from merely being in the midst of these guys, taking in the pleasantly raucous atmosphere of mischief. They’ve been out for hours already.
In a little while, we pile out of the van and into some overly hipster bars near the old Vegas strip, far away from our $40 room at Circus Circus. Thunderbirds Are Now! are already there, each of them quite deep into the night, so much so that a couple of them hand me their untouched drinks — they’ve been drinking for free, and need to take it easy for a while.
Before long, I’ve caught up. I find myself uncharacteristically on the dance floor, in strange and soft and drunken arms, saying and hearing those ridiculous things that people say to one another before they make out. All around me in the bar are wasted members of the tour, adding a bit of life to this little barroom full of insecurity, taking themselves far from seriously amongst the fashionably serious and the seriously fashionable. Outside the bar, it seems a little questionable. We shoo away a beaten looking passerby as he stops and unfolds a napkin containing a crack rock. The bouncers laugh at me when I ask how long it would take to walk back to our hotel.
I wake up feeling like I should hate myself after a night like that, but it’s not so bad. I drive the five hours to Bakersfield for our next show while the rest of the guys nap. I know from having played all around California for years that we shouldn’t be playing there, it’s going to be a bust. Later that night (June 10), driving away once we’d fled the scene, we decided it was quite possibly the worst show we’d ever been a part of.
We arrive in a feverish heat, the sun may be closer to Bakersfield than other parts, the ozone may be a little thinner. The venue is a strange compound beside a prison, in a city full of prisons and convicts and ex-convicts, at the dead end of a dead street. A few hundred feet from the stage, locked up felons are hearing our concert through barred windows. We set up for the show as usual. A local band opens and by the time we’re ready to go on, only one person has paid to get in. We play for him and a few of the other guys on the tour. Between sets, the sighs are long and heads are low, but we try to make each other feel like this is somehow worthwhile. The JV lays down some cardboard and attempts some ridiculous maneuvering that resembles break-dancing while Thunderbirds tear it up.
After the show, we all put our heads together in hopes that we can come up with an idea to save some money on a hotel room. The JV send out a MySpace bulletin and find a house to stay at, while Thunderbirds join us in taking up an offer from the people running the venue to crash there, in a dirt lot beneath the prison wall, to party with them and some other locals. The night has been odd enough so far that this seems like a reasonable solution to the issue of shelter.
A few of our folks get in the car and drive off on a liquor run as we park the vans neatly in the lot, beside a rabid or otherwise infected dog and a trashy trailer boasting an American flag. I nestle myself on a staircase under a dirty light and softly begin playing my guitar, working on songs.
A few minutes pass by and I look out towards the concrete and barbed wire prison wall to see Bryce’s silhouette moving towards me. He informs me that everyone has just been completely sketched out by the locals, one of which is bragging about incarceration and robberies, showing off scars from places he’d been shot. Another is gone, we’re told, off at a hotel a few blocks away with a hooker. I put my guitar gently back in its case and follow my band’s silhouettes out to the vans where our boys are just getting back with beer and snacks. We quietly start our engines and drive out the gate of the lot as I slide the chain link fence shut.
We regroup at a gas station a few blocks away and discuss where we’ll spend the night as flashing cop cars roll by and despondent and dirty junkies wander past. One woman fiercely scolds us “queers” for coming through her town. The decision to hit the road and split a cheap hotel a few miles north of the city really isn’t hard to come by.
Once checked in, moral came up a couple notches around some 12 packs and a poker game. I went to bed early, and despite finding a dead cockroach in my bed as I turned the sheet, I slept better than I had all tour.