It’s always strange being in someone else’s house alone – but in this case… Deanne’s been sick, heading towards surgery this whole week, so she’s been home from work. It’s alien for her house not to have her manically gleeful presence flitting through it. I think I heard her leave this morning (we’re on our usual 3am-11am sleep schedule) – but by the time I got up, the dogs were just staring at the front door.
A tiny bit of me would like her to get caught up there in Durham until Sunday, so that we can go see her and pet her and be a comfort in a strange place… but the rest of me just hopes she’ll be home as quickly as possible, even if that means missing her in transit.
After exploring the horrid world of hospitals with my Father, I only hope that this one’s nicer, and that her stay is as brief as possible.
It just goes to show, you never DO know what you’re getting into. We’re about to hit the stage at Port City Java, here in Wilmington. And I’ve got this fear that we’re going to play to a disinterested room with a front row of six-year-olds. God, we need to learn to play some kid’s songs. I’m worried about blenders, about food, about the fact that I’d really like to see a familiar face or three – but I know it’s all too easy to just say you’ll try and come, and much easier to just not bother. We’ll see… I don’t usually have pre-show jitters any more, but every once in a while, they catch up with me.
Tonight, I’m jittering.
And let’s not even discuss my testicles… I don’t think I CAN, after all – another stroller just came through the door. Blenders, cell phones, babies – my favourite combination, but not at all combined in my favourite way.
Well, at the end of all things, the gigs went off okay. My amp sounded pretty pristine (though Heather chose to hit it anyways – but just like anything, they don’t learn if you beat them while they’re being good) – and we gathered “pretty good numbers for a coffeehouse” apparently. I miss home though.
I’m somewhat frightened by the Wilmington night-Life. My impression of this city WAS that everyone in the city was gay. I know that that’s just the crowd we’re hanging around with, but much of the rest of the town seems suspiciously swishy… But Friday night, the nature of downtown shifts – everyone is suddenly straight, trashy, and drunk. Watching serority-esque blondes weaving down Front Street, I’m driving half the speed limit to avoid people who might stagger in front of the car… cruising cars with whooping teenagers… sullen police officers and sullen guys bitching about how a club wouldn’t let them in because they were “too drunk”.
I’ve never seen anything like it – but that probably says more about how sheltered I am than anything else. I’ve never seen a street so crawling with guys that look identical to one another, all goggling at thin women with tan lines exposed by dresses slipping off their shoulders. How very GGW.
“And here are the MOUNTAIN GOATS!!”
“Looks like only one goat though…”
That was my introduction to the music of John Darnielle almost ten years ago – on a mix cassette made for me by Will Schaff the first sentance being the MC’s announcement, and the second the offhand comment by Will into the tape recorder he was using to bootleg the concert.
And then follows “Black mollies in the aquarium, swimming back and forth like an earthquake was certain, and I turned up the heater, and I ripped off my shirt”… John Darnielle is one of the most amazing lyricists I’ve ever encountered, drawing from experiences far too wide to ever come from just one Life, or so I’d like to think.
At one point, in college, Will mentioned that the Mountain Goats were playing at the Ottobar, and we all went down to see John in person. At the time, the Ottobar was miniscule, and was focused on indie rock and other eclectic music – a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar with an artsy aura. The Mountain Goats once again consisted of a single performer, and my memory of John Darnielle was of a shaven headed man, a little older than me, screaming his heart out into the microphone, almost silent between songs, and completely unrivalled in his intensity – pulsing skull veins and pumping muscles – a vague memory of volume and emotion.
So the beginning of last night’s Wilmington Mountain Goats show was spent trying to figure out which person was The Mountain Goat(s). We got there early enough to sit through complex and casual sound checks – the opening act, John Vanderslice, was a four-piece band with singer/songwriter, drummer/xylophonist, electric guitar/keyboardist, and a bass player.
We eventually identified the Mountain Goats as a tall scrawny bass player and the periwinkle shirted narrow-eyed guy playing that dumb bar video game in the corner. Yep, John Darnielle was relaxing, hanging out and apparently flirting with the merch girl. This was an entirely new side to a guy who writes such lines as “And you smile as you ease the gun from my hand” and “the daisies bloom like cancer” and lyrics about subjects as varied as human sacrifice, murder, Love, passion, and estranged children.
I really WANTED to warm to the opening act. John Vanderslice used a lot of reverb and a lot of tremolo effects. He had an insane keyboardist and a vibrophone and a REALLY good drummer full of dangerous tom noises and fierce thunder. He had a good song. Maybe. A good lyric, maybe. But a couple more lyrics that sounded as if they were really TRYING to be deep, but… failing. (“Sometimes a cowboy is just a man in a cowboy hat”). But mostly, he left me kind of cold. Most of his music continued in a solid unbroken not-quite-slow rhythm as if everything had been written to match the same trem effect setting. Really, really good musicians though – they somehow put me in mind of a lounge-ier alternative to Rush. Yeah – TRY imagining that.
And then come the Mountain Goats. Up to this point, John Darnielle’s contribution to the show had been to shake his fist from behind the stacks on the side of the stage in time to some of the more emotive beats in Vanderslice’s music. He takes the stage with a dozen songs I’d never heard before, all of which proved to me that this guy is one of the best writers that’s ever Lived. And one of the best performers, too.
After the opening tune, he stops to explain that once upon a time he was VERY uptight about setlists – that setlists were laid out weeks ahead of time, and the musician that deviated from the setlist earned his wrath. Tonight was the first time he was operating ENTIRELY sans setlist – and pretty much the whole night was made up of audience requested tunes.
Heather even requested one, but she didn’t know the title, so she wrote a bunch of lyrics down and made John a lengthy note – with a smiley face on it – “Oh, she wants ‘Poltergeist’. Do we do ‘Poltergeist’? I think we tried it once in San Francisco. It’s got like, this C# in it.” At this point the keyboardist from Vanderslice had snuck up on stage, and though the bass player caught on quick, he spent a lot of time angling his bass over so the other guy could see the notes he was playing.
A good night. Very freeform. John moved from guitar to drums and back again, insisted that the bass player play a song of his OWN devising (he barely remembered it, but it was awesome nonetheless) and by the end of the night, invited the whole of the Vanderslicers up on stage for a very scary song about a man stabbing his wife who’s using a saw to saw off her jaw while they’re planning to give us cancer in our hands. Creepy song – the Vanderslicers, when finally freed from the musical vision that was John Vanderslice, went crazy in a ferocious, almost punk recreation of Mountain Goat insanity.
Incredible night. Too much to recount. We just got back from playing Port City Java – another great day. Maybe I’ll put Heather in charge of telling you about that.
Ok, wait. What is this? It’s like… rush hour… but… in the morning…?
Oh yeah, I remember this shit.
We’re leaving Wilmington at the ungodly hour of 9am. I can hear you, dear reader, I can hear you sniggering. Please, keep in mind that for YOUR entertainment we play till 1am, and then stick around places cleaning up and wrapping cables and haggling with bar owners till 2am, and then wind down with reruns of Friends and Aqua Teen Hunger Force until 3. And we do it all for you. All for you. Man, I’d so be in bed at 9 ever night if it wasn’t for you guys.
Ok, so that’s a lie. My point is that we haven’t seen a 9 in the MORNING in weeks or months or longer, except for once when I stayed UP till then. This morning, when Deanne put her hand on my shoulder at 8am, I reacted in a panic and put nails down claw-style. I don’t think I actually did anything too forceful, but I reacted with defense reflexes and almost snarled.
I couldn’t fall asleep last night. My brain was too full of whirling images and fragments of songs and ideas and the panic tizzy of creativity. I haven’t gone back to my Little Black Book to see if anything that I went into the bathroom to record was worthwhile, and I haven’t looked to see if anything that I didn’t bother getting into the light to write is legible. I don’t think I want to know what my 5am brain was spitting out.
“Love Her Madly” by the Doors.
Thursday morning, 12.01am, Heather and I were sitting in our seats taking a Star Wars quiz stolen from a remarkably cute fellow fan who probably wasn’t old enough to have seen the originals. She made up for her age in rabidity and knew her shit pretty good. I think she might’ve given me a run for my money in a Star Wars Trivial Pursuit challenge, and might’ve even bested me in a more worthwhile challenge like some of the quiz-books that ask about about how blaster rifles work and what planet “Hammerhead” came from. Ah, if we hadn’t both been there with evident significant others, it could’ve been Love.
With all the newer theatres around, the older cinema we ended up at wasn’t even sold-out and we got decent seats. We only stood in line for an hour, and only sat in our seats playing dirty hangman for an hour and a half, and the movie only started 20 minutes late (to the almost riotous dismay of our fellow Star Wars fans). We’d already played an open mic and sold CDs to cover our tickets. We’d eaten an incredible dinner. We were ready for the wait.
The detritus of those who’d gone before us: plush divan chairs, discarded Mountain Dews, McDonalds wrappers and pizza boxes.
When all was said in done, we got back to Deanne’s house at 3 in the morning, extremely pleased with that galaxy far, far away. I could be nitpicky. I could pick it apart. Empire it wasn’t. But what could be? Somewhere in his old age, George Lucus discarded any semblance of subtlety and replaced it with a child’s glee of “isn’t this cool?!?”-ness. There’s something to be said for someone’s who’s so fascinated and in Love with their medium that they really do push it to extremes. George Lucus created the eyecandy genre to a certain extent, and I don’t begrudge him the opportunity to cavort in the playground he’s created.
He’s earned the right to do so. I do wish that his attention to detail was a LITTLE more even-handed, and I certainly wish he hadn’t discarded that beautiful subtle humour that made the original trilogy so personable.
But it was passionate, it was playful, there wasn’t anything too excrebly cuddly, and it deserved it’s PG-13 with a whole lot of child-killing and burning flesh. The flick delivered, and I had a good time with it.
Thursday afternoon (after getting up at a perfectly reasonable 11am), Heather and I got out and about and wandered Front Street down in Wilmington. We bought strings and settled down in the front window of a Port City Java, plugged ourselves in and answered emails till the sun went down.
Deanne has come a long way since we first met her last August. She hadn’t touched a guitar in 20 years before she brought us home. Heather transcribed a couple of songs for her and we didn’t think too much of it. We left her playing a G-chord here and there, and singing along with CDs.
Thursday night, Deanne hosted her first singer/songwriter showcase at Costello’s. She played a mix of originals and covers for the first hour, and then turned things over to her first guests, the fabulous and eclectic ilyAIMY.
We’re always cautious with Costello’s. Though the owner, George, Loves us and keeps inviting us back – we’re always wary of the clientele, who always seem kind of plus or minus about us. The clientele is also always different. For an elegant male gay bar, there are nights when it’s mostly women, or nights where there are mostly families, or nights where the clientele is entirely made up of well-manicured older men with neatly trimmed and greying hair, other nights when it’s young and hip and flaming and requesting for us to leave so that they can listen to thumping dance music. Oh, and our first experience with it was that the clientele simply wasn’t there.
A couple of much-needed and well-met newly-made and often-hyphenated new friends at our gig at the Soapbox Laundrolounge. I don’t wear my glasses on stage, so I was guessing when I thought to myself “hey, our audience looks like it might be a bunch of hot chicks!” But I was RIGHT! I screwed up a lot of lyrics that night. Heather says that apparently they found it endearing. Hrm.
Last night we had a mix of just about all of the above (including starting out empty). We had aimed for a mellow set, relieved to only play for an hour (since we knew we were waking up this morning at heinous hateful huit), and the audience was in it’s take us or leave us mindframe, indifferent to our existance, and semi-determined to trample our heart-felt performance with their conversation.
And then Liz walked in. We’d met her a couple of months ago at the Reel Cafe and she’d apparently been lamenting our departure ever since. She walked into Costello’s on a whim and looked up, recognized us… “Oh my GOD it’s ilyAIMY!!!!” was a heart-felt yell invigourating enough to push us through a driving extra half-hour. She’d brought a table-full of friends and called for more on her phone, and we had the place howling for more by the time we were done. A good night.
You should’ve heard the bar singing along to Heather’s version of “Sorry I Am”. A good night indeed.
So, back to 10.15am and morning rush hour, which has petered out and left us with a thinner but steady stream of rusting South Carolina plates as we head towards Myrtle Beach. The bikers are getting thicker on the ground, and the signs erected in their honour (“Loud Pipes Illegal”, “Speed Limits Strictly Enforced”, and “All Weapons Prohibited”) are getting almost as frequent as the omnipresent (and increasingly exotic) mini-golf fields. We’re playing our second of two Kickstand’s shows, worried about the weather. A hurricane of the coast is throwing a more-than-hint of thunderstorms in our direction and the skies are indecisive. Sunny enough to abuse our tired eyes, and grey enough to make the frequent red-lights stand out in stark contrast.
Seven miles from Murrell’s Inlet. I’m wondering how the threat of rain will effect the show. My brain is slowly approaching something like normal rob-speed, though it’s being dulled back down by the steady drizzel of drivel from the radio. There are a couple of gems mixed in. Some old Garbage on the radio. We saw an interview with her last night and I was shocked to hear her speaking voice and her thick, thick, thick Irish accent.
I should really stop typing at this point as I’ve run out of things to say, though I could bitch about how the Velvet Revolver singles all have a spectacular intro, and then devolve swiftly into inane, simplistic riffs. The mindless power chords of Nirvana without the creativity, passion, or teen spirit. I wonder how much of that is the fault of the band though, as it seems that modern production values really are focused on the mechanical precision of click tracks, the cold grind of digital distortion, and the dynamic-less, unchanging levels of for-the-radio compression.