This is a minitour. Nothing fancy. No airports or train-cars or helicopters (have I ever been in a helicopter?). this is the weekend converted from time and light into music and distance. We woke up Thursday and began all the various and sundry tasks of an indie band hitting the road – there were clothes to be collected, cats to be situated, road snacks to be fetched, sandwiches for the trip, gear from disparate places, a careful count of the band fund, some weeping, a recount, stifled tears. then a rental car had to be procured, packed, the keyboardist (and writer hereof) to be picked up, then then more gear, then the drummer. And then googling the directions and fighting through three separate rush hours (NYC, Newark/Jersey City, & Philadelphia) to make it just 90 minutes before our set was to start (and a good two hours after were supposed to show up, load-in, and soundcheck). But c’est la road, non?
First, though: I met Ari [bassplayer] at the local coffee watering hole to get positively loaded up on coffee. Thank you, Parco – without you, this minitour does not even get off the ground.
As foreshadowed above, getting out of the city was yesterday’s greatest challenge. It only been since about March of this year that we’ve been going out of town, playing shows, and staying out for a couple of days. Seeing America, if you will. So we’ve really yet to get the whole tour thing down to a perfect science. Its always some mixture of knowledge, guessing, hope, faith, and terror. Sometimes we get off without a hitch. Most of the time there are mad hitches. But we usually get to the gig in time to play it. And usually, once we’re playing, we’re playing well.
At any rate, this time we at least got the rental car in less than 4 hours – which is start contrast from the first time we did a gig with Attis (back in June, I believe) where it took four hours for us to procure a car, then like 5+ hours to get TO the gig, then play for an hour, and then 4 hours to get home. That was his inauguration to the band. And yet, somehow, he has agreed to play a string of dates with at years’ end right now. And, to be fair to us – despite the unfavorable description I give above – we are getting better at getting out of our own way.
Well, we made it to Harrisburg, PA around 8pm (we were supposed get there around six… but, you know, who’s counting?!). and were mystified by the venue. Stage on Herr, where we were supposed to be playing, was listed as being on 1110 N 3rd street. But that is not actually the main entrance to the bar. There’s a cool looking building on the corner, nice porch, has a sort of Workman’s Victorian look about the architecture. But the windows are covered up, the doors were locked, it was cold, and it was dark (did I mention we were kind of late?).
We took some initiative and knocked and a couple of guys, smoking cigarettes opened the door and looked at us testily (we would later discover that they were the band we’d be opening for). I spoke in my finest light-Brooklyn, “hey, is this Stage on Herr? We’re one of the bands on the bill tonight.”*
We stare at them. We stare at each other. They stare at each other. They stare at us.
“Yup. Come in.”
What we walk into is a large hallway – that is about as cold as the Outside is – that leads into a large and cavernous room. I’d say we’re talking about 1500 square feet. In that room is nothing that could be construed as normal furnishing. There is a folding table by the nearest wall and, next to it, a garbage can. Our hosts (as far as we knew thus far) we smoking and ashing on the floor next to the garbage can. The walls are white-painted plaster material – freckled with intermittent, violently scribbled all-black graffiti happenings. They are the kind off industrial walls that always seems like it was recently painted over. The whole space is dusty and dirty and immense and all-white.
Except for the archipelago of trash mountains that runs through the center of the room.
Actually, its not fair to call it trash. We would later learn that that space (and, indeed, MOST of the building ) is still under construction and apparently being used as some sort of art studio. I might have guessed that because I’ve been in a few art studios in my day (Bard College, ’05) and they tend to resemble this. Freshly painted walls that have then been covered in charcoal scrawls. The detritus (and, evidently: not trash) is a mix of the usual things you’d find in an artist’s workspace and some very strange things that are probably particular to whatever artists are inhabiting the space at present. There were some couches and chairs and easy chairs and, well, furniture of many kinds, all tattered and torn and on its sides and covered in plaster-dust. There not a few toilets… and a sink. There was a very, very dusty drumset (which Attis wound up using like a BAUWS). And then somethings which, in the fervor of loading in and setting up and all that followed, I did not make clear note of. There might have been a variety of slinkies, some accordions or accordion parts, wood slats, a smattering of hats, some paint-spotted clothes, fancy serving trays, wheels for carts and dollies and bikes, and maybe some bikes…
So there was a lot of stuff. But, of course, I digress. Do forgive a prematurely old man his doddering, dear reader.
Where was I?
We come to this room. Despite all the afromentioned… stuff, there is a large open space by aforementioned table and garbage can. It is there that our two seemingly preoccupied hosts stop. So we too (Ari and Attis are with me, Brian was back with the car) stop. Again there is a brief counter-point of staring and silence.
I say, “is this the spot? Do we load in here?”
They looked bemused. “No.”
And I considered that spot of pretty good luck.**
Here things get a bit confused. Ari basically re-asks the question with a little more depth – trying to get them to explain where, then, we WOULD be setting up. But the result is more confusing repartee.
Finally, the finish their smokes and indicate a small, non-descript door on the far side of the… stuff. A wooden-ish particle-board door that you might find in the attic of an old house or on someone’s upstairs linen-closet door (where they keep the extra fitted sheets, and old band-aids, and boxes of photos, and bucket full of pennies and such. On the door, in black marker block letters, is a message kindly asking that we close the door behind us.
Our “hosts” walk over to said door. Open it. And beyond the threshold, is a pretty sexy-look bar/restaurant. It nice and a warm. There are tables set up. Art – some of it a bit creepy, but nice nonetheless – on the walls. There is good sized stage and a bunch of micstands ad microphones. There are lighting fixtures affixed to the ceiling with special stage lights for the performers. And there is a nice long bar off to the right. Fully stocked. With friendly-face bartender behind it.
It is, in short, a radical shift from our first impression of the place. Let’s call that good-sign, number two.
and so, finally, we load-in. set up. And do a line check. And we’re ready to play. And, as is often the case when you’re “ready to play”: there is no one there yet.
The organizer smoothes the way. Tells us there is a late crowd that comes out on Thursdays. So… we drink a bit.
In the mingling time, we learn why the cats we met upon first entering the building – the totality of which is known as the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center – were so preoccupied. The band that we’d come to open for was a local act known as the Funkbots.
One more time: the Funkbots.
But I say “was” not simply because it was lastnight but also in the moment that was lastnight they were a “was” because: they’d JUST broken up. The band had JUST broken up. And the drummer – who was supposed to supply the kit – had no intention of coming And had no intention of giving us his kit. And the former manager had a bunch of the other gear that the Funkbots needed. So they were basically in a low-level crisis mode. And then we come a’knocking all freshfaced and, like, two hours late.
At any rate, there was the beaten up drumset I mentioned earlier and Attis was able to use that with all the hardware he brought along to create a perfectly funky kit. And so: all was well. For us, at least.
It was during this break, also, that I went to the bathroom and discovered it to be one of the coolest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a club. Barring, perhaps, some of incredibly ostentatious things that I saw in Moscow – where that kind of impressiveness is just par for the course.
So cool was the bathroom that I immediately decided I wanted to take an experimental panorama in it where I was using all the various facilities at the same time. I have an app for that!
So I drafted Ari to help me. And, awkward as it seemed, we locked ourselves in the bathroom and tried to get this shot. Unfortunately, this was also about the time that folks started trickling into the club. After about ten minutes of trying to make this picture work – and it failing miserably – we had to leave the bathroom and play a show.
I will spare you, dear reader, any extensive description of the show. For what is worse than a person trying to write about music?
The question seems rhetorical, but it is not. There is one thing I, in my travels, have discovered that is worse than a person trying to write about music. And that is when a musician tries to write about his or her own music. And most especially some hazy remembrances of a show recently played.
So I will sum up. We took the stage. We began. and suddenly as that, the dance floor a few dozen bodies in it. Two-stepping, gyrating, contact improv-ing, slinky-sexy-twisty-bending. The whole gamut.
We played a mixed set. The Aabaraki flagship numbers: Karate, Happy Endings, Terrified, Save Me – the primer for all things Aabaraki. And then a smattering of whatever came to me when it came to me. We did a couple of new songs that we’re planning to record in the near future. And we played a couple of barn-burners.
Mostly, what I remember is the audience was receptive, enthusiastic, and boisterous. An excellent combination for what ails a soul on-the-road. The enthusiasm infected us and was conveyed to the music. And out came a fiery noise. And it was good.
To write anymore is to subject you to the dark, messy innerworkings of my artistMind. It is not pleasant therein. It is wack. Recriminating. Foul and critical. Sad, ecstatic, irrational. At once, woefully self-effacing (even unto itself, and how is that possible?!) and yet vainglorious to a fault (am I… the BADDEST?!?!!).
So , I’ve said too much. The show – it went well.
then, it was over. The response was cool. People were happy. We were happy. All was well. It was then I began to drink beers. Ah, beers. So all was well – did I say that already? I’d been drinking. (did I say that already?)
I think I can sum the rest up rather quickly:
After a couple of beers and the making of new friends, Ari and I stole away, once again, to the bathroom. There, with a process formulated during our time on stage, we managed to get a passable version of my photo in under fifteen minutes.***
We rapped with the local organizer about coming back. And spent the better part of an hour checking out the headliners (the Funkbots, you’ll recall). Who made a valiant effort despite their VERY recent break-up. There was a producer (working a battery of electronics), a singer (with a midi keyboard being used primarily as a trigger for certain loops), and a drummer (who was subbing for the drummer who’d recently left). The sound of the Funkbots is heard to describe, the vocals were very Tears For Fear in their delivery and melodic contour. The beats were more like down-tempo electronica. The combination was actually quite entrancing, Their set was necessarily truncated – the new drummer had never heard the songs before and was only able to learn three in rush up to the actually show.
After their three songs, the producer/electronicist took over as pure DJ and just started playing some dance numbers. Attis – who’d loaned them his hardware and cymbals – broke his gear down. We took that moment to make our various goodbyes. Brought the minivan around, loaded it, and took off for to check in to the luxurious Harrisburg Red Roof Inn.
Though it was about 1am, dinner was definite concern as we had not eaten since the sandwiches several hours earlier. During our frantic escape from New York City.
By happy accident, we discovered a diner almost right next to the hotel. A little slice of heaven called the Capitol Diner. It was there that we went to eat. All sorts of food. Among the number: French toast, onion rings, chicken noodle soup, and potato chips. I probably drank three cups of coffee. And we discussed subject of various seriousness and classiness. As boys will do.
When we left the joint – we let it hopping. (and by hopping I mean we left it basically empty but for a few hearty, hungry souls in it.
Then it was somehow 4am. And we were back at the Red Roof Inn. And though I wanted to write, my body rebelled. And I slipped away. Into the reverie, the sweet darkness, the swallowing (but hopefully temporary) oblivion of sleep.
And that marked the beginning and the end of the first day.
*** el fin ***
*I might have chosen that time to go a little more mid or heavy-Brooklyn. A “Yo” to opening things up might not have gone amiss. And maybe we would not have suffered so many minutes of confusion before everything was elucidated had we shaken those fellows out of their worried, smoking stupor and impressed them with the edginess of our readiness, so to speak.
**when you go out on the road and you’re nobodies – such as we are – you never really know what you’re stepping into. For us, every venue is an adventure. Every town is something new. New faces, new opportunities, new challenges. So it would not be TOTALLY out of the ordinary for us to discover the Stage On Herr was a off-kilter, crazy industrial loft party or something. And even that could not be necessarily written off as good or bad. We’ve played some janky shows in janky places that were off the hook. And some shows in fine, fine venues with excellent sound and beautiful décor that sucked beyond all reckoning of Suck. Still, one can be relieved that they are not meant to play a Thursday night show in a room full of discarded furniture and dusty bathroom bits.
***props to Ari for committing so ardently to a bizarre and strange request of mine. One that meant being locked in a bathroom twice in one night and encountering the co-owners of the club upon exiting triumphantly with our shot. By now we were accustomed to silence and stares. And one of the owners simply said, “well, you’re all zipped up, so you’re fine.”