By the time I went to sleep on Thursday night I had been awake for over 24-hours, found a fellow academically-minded songwriter slash comic nerd, invited a rock band from Tennessee back to our place to sleep with us, and nearly fell off a stage due to momentary blindness.
My life, it’s strange.
I. Wide Awake
Thursday night brought E and I to Northstar Bar to play a Filmstar a show, coincidentally two years less a day after our big Blame-a-Thon bash that I helped to organize and Filmstar rocked.
In a similar state of affairs to Blame-a-Thon, I was on my way towards 24 hours of wakefulness and running nearly empty. The freak storm on Thursday early morning woke me up at 2am, and I could go back to sleep (partially because I was freaked out about my friend Kris being trapped on I-76 overnight for four hours).
Our load-in was posted for 6pm. You never really know what load-in means. It could mean, “that’s when we’ll unlock the door,” or it could mean, “be on stage and ready to soundcheck 15 minutes later.” E and I being E and I, we were freaking out that we wouldn’t arrive until 6:20pm. Filmstar being Filmstar, the other half of the band managed to beat us there.
We were, of course, the first band to load-in. Everything was pre-set and organized by 6:30, and then it was the great waiting game until our set around 10:30p.
I have nothing but ultra-positive vibes from Northstar, and they’re only strengthened by how awesomely friendly owner Sloan is. He walked up to the stage to greet us after seeing our tweets to the bar, which he has done multiple times before. I’ve seriously never encountered anything like it at any other venue, or even a restaurant or store! I wish all venues could be as organized and friendly as Northstar, Sloan, and sound-guy Darren. It’s no fun to get to a venue and be treated like an annoyance, or not have your questions answered.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in bars being fed tiny cans of pineapple juice, but I find them to be great places to get work done without being distracted. I know, it makes no sense. I hunkered down to copy-edit my @MikeyIl post and generally catch up on digital life. Eventually, all of Filmstar wound up at my table, various occupying ourselves. Guitarist/songwriter Glenn brought his friend John, who wore a Superman t-shirt and was furiously scribbling in a marble composition book. We exchanged a cursory hello.
The first band was Taxicab Racers. They call themselves “Dream Pop.” I call them “good.” Really good. Like, “why are we playing after them?” good.
On stage they have a standard pop/dance-rock backline, but the high elastic voice and synths of singer Michael Roddy wraps them up into something transfixing and immediately body-moving. That he added high peals of saxophone to their breakdowns as pure tonal noise made me love them all the more.
We were up and idly dancing by the end of the set. E commented, “This is the kind of band that you could book for party, and they would never need to play a cover.”
Back at our table, I re-buried myself into my laptop to keep writing. Glenn’s friend John glanced up from his composition book and noticed me with my bevy of comic book websites open in the background of my screen.
“Oh, so you’re the comic fan Glenn keeps telling me about?”
I suppose it’s to his credit that he had both the ladies in the band in the running for the title.
Turns out, he is also a comic fan and a songwriter. He is also slaving away at a comics-inspired novel he’s been working on for over a decade, only he’s actually making it into a graphic novel! He is also reading all 52 new DC books. He also runs hot and cold on Grant Morrison but loves Warren Ellis. Et cetera.
We chatted straight through the second band and to the start of the third. They were deafeningly loud. Not that they were hard rock or anything – in fact, I think Filmstar is probably a little harder. They were just so loud.
Why, oh why, do bands insist on playing so loud? You couldn’t even make out anything in the mix. It was like being bludgeoned with mid-range.
John tried to keep talking, but I already had my earplugs in. Plus, I did have to sing in thirty minutes. I excused myself to slip downstairs to warmed up my in the green room (famously depicted in the first chapter of Juliana Hatfield’s autobio). Headliner Kyle Andrews stood stoically across the room idly surfing through his iPod. When I was satisfied my fingers were awake (more than I was, anyway), I put away my bass ran back upstairs to catch the end of the third act’s set and find E.
IV. Take Me Home Tonight
The impossibly loud band announced they had two songs, and Darren the sound guy informed them they actually had one. This is why I am so obsessive about timing out sets – I never want to have to choose between my penultimate tune and my closer.
As the band debated which song to play, I found E at the merch table talking with Mike from Taxicab Racers and his girlfriend, also named Elise, also a photographer.
I don’t know why I am usually so weird about schmoozing with other bands. I was great at it when Gina and I hosted an open mic. There we had a defined position. At a show there is only the hierarchy of the bill to guide you, and there’s this constant fear of “what if they hate us,” or, worse “what if I talk to them before their set and then I hate them“.
I mentioned how much I enjoyed the set and then awkwardly bought a CD (another thing that’s weird to do with another band. Like, do massage therapists pay each other for massages? It seems creepy).
E caught my glance sidelong and sent me a psychic communique. I shrugged my shoulders. Sure, if you want to.
“Hey, do you guys have a place to stay?”
The band didn’t have a plan, or know Philly that well, and they wouldn’t be loaded out until past midnight. And, just like that, we had roommates for the night – and no time to discuss it further, as the final song wrapped up and it was our turn to set up.
One hallmark of both of my bands is that we’re quick to set up and strike. I largely pin that on Zina being in both bands (and a third that I’m not in), meaning that she’s setting up and breaking down her drums at least three times every week. I’ve seen her do it in under ten minutes, and it’s embarrassing to still be struggling with your one amp after the drummer has a seven piece drum-set assembled. Thus, we’re all very brisk.
We had an ever-so-brief line check with mixer Darren. Line checks are basically making sure every source of sound can be heard, as opposed to a sound-check where you might actually play together as a band.
Usually I am very pushy about sound-checking, because nothing sucks as bad as confidently starting your first song and realizing you can’t hear a thing except for the kick drum. However, sound-guy Darren had done a good job for the other three bands with much less complex set-ups, so I put my faith in him as I stared down my battered SM 57 microphone.
Note to self: if you don’t bring your own mic, at least bring some Lysol wipes.
IV. Blind Luck
Without much ado, we launched into “Fall From the Sky,” which has graduated from obvious closer to preferred opener. I like what that says about our progress as a band.
The first third of the set was super fast, which caused us all to make a few errors. You’d think that could be pinned on the drummer, but in a rock band everyone contributes to speed. Many times I am the accelerant. I do a lot of little hammer-ons on the bass, and there is only so slow you can hammer on to a fret and produce a sound.
We got the speed entirely under control by midway through our set, which is when E counted me in to the bass intro of “Weight of the World.” The song is intense. It’s by far my hardest and most complex bass arrangement, it has several distinct feel changes, and I have to sing backup relatively high in my chest voice.
I was really feeling the song for about two lines. I did my epic set of hammer-ons in perfect time with Zina. Things were great.
Then, the sweat took over.
Remember my recent post about the hazards of rock sweat? Well, this was worst-case scenario. I had improbably stood my hair straight up in the front with two fistfuls of product, plus I applied some toner to my forehead to even out a blotch.
The effort of the first half of the set topped by my energetic intro to “Weight” had turned all of those chemicals into a single grease-slick advancing down my brow, and as we hit the third line of “Weight” it all hit my eyeballs.
Suddenly, I was utterly blinded. If I tried to open my eyes and focus on anything I was stung by blinding pain. Of course, “Weight” jumps positions a few times, so I do need to peek at my fingers. That was going to be impossible.
In most songs I could sneak a few beat to wipe my eyes. As I drilled the rhythm of the pre-chorus along with the band with my eyes pressed shut, I thought ahead through the song. Was there any measure where I could get away with playing a half note and wiping my eyes?
Yes – the end of the second chorus. Something like 90 seconds away.
Some of the longer 90 seconds of my life.
Of course, I was still striking (blind) rock poses all the while which – unbeknownst to me, were carrying me closer and closer to the front lip of the stage. Luckily, though there was no guard rail, I did have my microphone between me and a blind tumble. I bonked myself square in the temple with it while leaning forward from one rock pose.
My eyes snapped open in response, only to immediately be singed by the sweaty advance of beauty products from my forehead. A shot E what I hoped came across as a look of panic. Because, you know, maybe she could come over and wipe my eyes for me while she sang? I guess that was the working theory.
With no aid forthcoming from E, I took a step back from the mic and kept playing. Finally, we arrived at the end of the second chorus – a whole note! I dragged my cuff across my brow, mopping up as much sweat as possible during my two-second break.
And on we went.
V. All’s Well, Et Al
Despite our few acceleration problems and my being stricken by blindness, I felt really good about our set.
We debuted the brand new “Silence Kills,” which I had more than my typical influence on. Not only did I get to pen a truly killer, Black Sabbath inspired bass riff, but I convinced E to sing the bridge in head voice a la Tori Amos on “Sugar.” It was satisfying to unleash it on a room of listeners instead of letting our empty living room soak it up again and again.
Drenched through with sweat, I went back to writing through headliner Kyle Andrew‘s set. He fronted an impossibly-tight three piece with sampled sounds and two glorious LED lights that I covet. Afterwards, we rounded up Taxicab Racers and headed home.
I have to believe that Taxicab Racers were a little nervous following our winding path from the Northstar to our house. I can’t imagine being on tour and going home with a random local band. What if being a band was just a front for them being serial killers? I suppose you would get found out after the fourth or fifth touring rock acts disappeared after sharing a bill with you. I suppose you would need a really good front – like, you hooked them all up with one of those Asian cruise ship tours and they shipped out the next morning.
These are the thoughts in my head.
Where was my reciprocal worry that the band was actually a Manson-esque traveling band of looters, preying upon the kindness of concert-goers in every city to fill their van with stolen booty? Apparently if people play awesome music I immediately find them trustworthy.
We eventually arrived at our house, and got the band tucked away in the attic to sleep. Mike and I sat across from each other in the living room, talking about Philly and genetically modified food until we were both dozing off, and sent to bed by our pair of Irish Lit loving photographer Elises.