Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Summer Tour with Martin Bisi - West Coast 2009

Over the past year, I have been performing a lot and recording with Martin Bisi, who produced and recorded my band Black Fortress of Opium. You might remember my blog/journal from the last tour we did, in the Midwest this past winter. I just returned from a summer tour with him, and here is a recounting of how our recent tour went promoting his new digital EP ‘Son of a Gun’.

Pix here!

Sunday June 14th – NYC:
A warm-up gig before we depart. It’s the last night of the Northside Festival, which is sponsored by the neat L Magazine. The venue is Spike Hill in Billyburg. Prior to the set, I sneak out for Mexican food with Bliss at Veracruz, and we are seated next to a lovely fountain in their courtyard. We split shrimp fajitas. Back at the club, Alina Slimone does her Russian thing (with our bassist Shawn Setaro playing lovely electric geetar for her), King's Crescent (including members of Fiery Furnaces) funk and groove on Meters’ covers. Susu is a cool mixed boy/girl noise trio, ala SY. At one point during their set, I swear I hear them sing “I sold my Megawatt”, but when questioned, they deny that’s the lyric. Our set rocks hard. Martin always has different peeps sitting in, which keeps things exciting and fresh, and tonight is no exception – the guest being a guitarist named Howard, who does some awesome things with a slide, amongst other textures. Alan from Lucid Culture NYC blog is in the house, and introduces himself. A nice, friendly fellow who loved the BFoO record. He later reviews Martin's show favorably online.

Early the next morning I head back to Boston on the Chinatown bus, a 4-hour trip, because my flight (which will include 9 hours of travel time because of connections etc.) to Portland leaves in the afternoon. So I have to haul ass on not much sleep. After many frustrating hours of delay departing the stormy East, I arrive in Portland, OR shortly after midnight on June 16th. Baz (a.k.a. DJ Butterface, Martin’s keyboard player & noisemaker) and I are staying with my old KTRU Houston buddy Erik. Last time I was in Portland, I played a solo show at Dante's, and that was the space in which I first performed Ari, so Portland has meaning and weight to me in a strange way. We stay up late talking about music and Steve Albini/fake Italian. In the morning, we eat brunch at Zell's café (mmm) and grab coffee at Floyd's, a local legend.

Day 1 – June 16th, Portland, OR:
The venue is the Someday Lounge, and it is very nice, and respectable. Huge stage, great lighting, red curtains, a shower with towels for performers, sizeable lounge/green room. The club streams each show online (and archives them), which is awesome. The set goes fairly well. Cum usual, this whole tour there are different people sitting in on our sets, as the main skeleton crew is Martin, Baz, and me. Tonight, we have 2 guests sitting in - Joe Trump (of King Black Acid, Elliott Sharp, amongst others), and a multi-instrumentalist named Soraya (Projekt Records). One of the bands we play with is The Prids, who are fairly popular locally. We are shocked when they donate their portion of the take from the night to us to help defray travel costs. Bands everywhere take note – that is some etiquette!

Day 2 – June 17th, Portland, OR:
We have today off, so we head out intent on sightseeing. We take a Historic Highway out of the city that leads to several dramatic waterfalls, some of which we had to hike a steep ways to reach, including Multnomah Falls. We take in the view at Vista House at Crown Point, originally built as a comfort station for upper class ladies. After a few hours of cruising around, we drive to Mt. Hood. Gorgeous scenery, lovely mountain air. At the base of the mountain, we grab some chow at the Timberline Lodge. The exterior shots from The Shining were filmed here, and there is lots of snow. Martin wanted to jump in it, but didn't. Baz and I had shorts on, and were chilly. A lovely relaxing yet re-energizing day off. In the car we talk about Courtney Love, and scenes of NYC stabbings.

Day 3 – June 18th, Seattle, WA:
We grab breakfast at Zell's for the third straight day before departing for Seattle. I have the avocado/tomato omelet with cilantro-lime sour cream. Zell’s has the most excellent, daintiest little scones, with which they are very generous. Excellent scrambles. Brunch even on each weekday was packed, and we had to wait on a list once. Our host Erik said unemployment is currently at 13% in Portland, so more people are bumming around in general, at bars/coffee shops/brunch spots.

I'm looking forward to seeing and catching up a bit with people I know throughout the tour, such as Scott's friend Matt at our show tonight in Seattle, where I haven’t been since September 10th, 2001.

En route to Seattle, we pass through the city of Chehalis, where Scott passed away last summer. I wanted to find the very spot, but now isn't the time. We're barreling down the highway to the next show. It's eerie I’m all the way out here almost a year later. I have a feeling of not wanting to leave the town behind, to stay, to linger, and wander the trail. It's an instinctual pull reminding me of when my mom passed, also so recently.

Back to tour business. On the road to Seattle, in our borrowed gold mini-van, Martin tells the story of how Laswell introduced Ryuichi Sakamoto to Bootsy Collins. Bootsy misheard the name, and shakes Sakamoto's hand, saying, "Reuniti, like the wine?" The windows are rolled down and the air and sky are perfect. We spot Mt. Rainier here and there.

We pull into Seattle early and grab some delicious Thai food near the venue. Then we head over towards the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project, which we decide to check out. We don't have a lot of time to scope it out, unfortunately, but we take in enough. I really enjoyed the Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, the Nudie suits and the Hatch Show prints. The boys all ended up jamming and having an impromptu rehearsal in one of the demo practice rooms, which I discovered only after wandering around the Sci-Fi museum horrified and freaked out by all the space stuff.

The Funhouse is pretty cool venue, kind of like Charlie's Kitchen meets the Linwood Grille, plus something spooky. Tweaked funhouse clowns painted everywhere, a fairly tough crowd. Patio with hoops, plus a sideshow that started later. The bill is beyond eclectic. Bill Horist is a very talented lad who uses prepared guitar to create instrumental soundscapes that sound like the best, warmest, most analog Sonic Youth-y thing you ever heard. (He also gave us his take at the end of the night.) Next is The Purrs, whose set I miss while socializing with some friends, but sounds grunge-y from a distance. The last act is a trio called The Family Curse. They feature 2 guitar players, hardcore drum loops ala KMFDM, and a chick singer who basically moans, screams, and rolls around on her hands and knees revealing her stockings and underwear. I’d put it somewhere between horrible and riot-grrrl. The crowd gets pretty rowdy and randy. As Baz puts it, people really seem to like to get fucked up in Seattle. Wild!

Day 4 – June 19th, San Francisco, CA:
We fly from Seattle to San Francisco. Once we get to 16th & Mission, we re-convene with Martin, who arrived earlier. We stop at Muddy Waters, a coffee place. I really wasn't going to have one today, but oh well. At least I had a healthy breakfast with green tea, etc. I tweet and post on FB about the show and capsule updates on what I’m up to. We leave with Baz's friend Chip, and hit Pancho Villa's for some Mexican food. I'll be damned, even this kind of average-looking place is AMAZING. I even had a churro! Then we walk over to Dolores Park, sampling some gourmet ice cream along the way. A pretty good view of the expanse of the city. It's sunny, but very windy, and kind of chilly. While Baz and his bud catch up, I catch up on this journal, while listening to Syd Barrett. Outside in a park in SF, it just seems appropriate. I snare some wi-fi sitting outside.

Hemlock Tavern is a very cool venue. My buddy Kevin Corzett (Ketman) told me it was cool, and he was right on. The club really treats us right, paying well, and giving us a strip of so many drink tickets, I’m able to make a mock belt out of them. Kind of a small room, but it’s packed this night with an awesome crowd. Baz and I have many peeps we know show up to support, including about 8 of my friends from Houston and Boston. I get them all in a photo. Our set rocks and we are jazzed. I wear a new dress from some Spanish label out of Barcelona. Sheila from (Girls with Guns/Flaming Fire) sits in on drums. The improv portion (the first 20 min) of our set reaches new incredible heights. Possibly the best yet...the show just kills. The opening act is a trio called The Great Dictator, who features member of Thinkin' Fellers Union Local 282. They’re a good example of West Coast grind indie. Very fun show. Being on the road is feeling great right now. Addictive. Our original plans for crashing completely fall through, so luckily my friend Conor comes to the rescue. He takes care of us, giving us a crash pad with a shower, breakfast, and a ride to the airport for the rental vehicle that we drove to LA.

Our humble trio gets along extremely well while touring, but there was some tension backstage before this show. It got a little weird when we realized we had no definite place to stay at the end of the night, and it felt to me like we were talking, arguing (calmly mind you), and trying to convince each other in circles. Stress (like not knowing where you're going to sleep that night and there is no van involved) and a touch of exhaustion will push you to the brink. But we got through it and the night stood out as such a success.

Day 5 – June 20th, Los Angeles, CA:
On the way driving from SF to LA, we take the 5/Grapevine most of the way. A long drive through mostly flat highway surrounded by mountains/ridges/foothills. We drive past countless green vineyards and almond and fruit trees, all very lush, contrasted by the brown of the arid chaparral. Memorable topics of conversation include bondage parties in NYC, dreaming about food, the next tour, Baz’s eight-track alarm clock with a Foghat tape, and Martin's first car, a 1969 yellow Country Squire station wagon with eight-track deck, favorite tape being "Low" by Bowie. Anton Pukshansky will sit in on bass tonight. He is a Grammy award winning engineer/producer who's worked with Audioslave/Ozomatli/Santana/Helmet/Mick Jagger/Bunny Wailer/Korn, etc. I'm even hoping some relatives will make it out in LA.

LA Weekly has a great big blurb on Martin & the show, including a rather large photo, so he's psyched. The venue is a dive sans monitors, but there are longhorn skulls on the walls. A Thai family runs the place, so there's a little bit of a language barrier. The other bands are mixed. The first 2 bands are kind of noisy, a little punk-y. Some of the musicians look like they’re 15 years old. 3 of my friends come out - JJ, Marisol, and Peter Choyce my old WMBR/WZBC DJ buddy. Martin's pal Roger Trilling, who formerly managed Bill Laswell and some others show, came out, too. A friend of Tod A. from Firewater, Eddie, plays later but I miss it, sadly; Martin tells me it rocked. After our set, which also featured Waleed Rashidi on drums, a bunch of us head over to the White Horse, an amazing bar that has free snacks including popcorn, pretzels, hot dogs, chocolate, cubed cheese replete with toothpicks, and watermelon. J2 & M2 show me the coolest places in LA, time and time again. It was very pleasant socializing after the set, instead of sitting around a dirty club listening to LOUD band after band.

We crash at my friend's pad in mid-city. They have a kitten named Sleater-Kitty. Funnily enough, we passed an exit for Sleater-Kinney Rd driving through Washington State earlier in the week.

Day 6 – June 21st, Los Angeles, CA:
Baz and I hit Canter's for breakfast while Martin returns the rental. I have a few certain places in LA I simply must hit each time I pass through, and Canter's is on the list. I figure Baz would especially dig it being from NYC and all. We wander about Fairfax and Melrose with our heavy luggage (and me with awful cramps) then meet up with Peter Choyce again, who takes us on a lovely drive through the Hollywood Hills and up to Runyan Park, where we hike up to the peak, and snap some shots while enjoying the view. Later we do the Vacation Vinyl in-store. Very cool store with so many discs I'd like to get that I don't even look through the bins. Old friends show up, including people I used to work with, parents of a childhood friend who drove 2 hours from Bakersfield, CA, etc. The set is a little rough getting going (unfamiliar borrowed equipment learning curve), but then we get into it. No drums today, but Anton Pukshansky is on bass again. He helps with gear too, providing us mic stands, an amp for Martin etc. Good taste in gear, too. Ya know, it takes some adjustment to be able to do the show with different instrumentalists, or with out any each time. One must be very flexible. People who want a totally stable, predictable show would be frustrated doing it this way. I can cope and adapt pretty well with the flux. Martin pointed out that sometimes it's better to just do it, instead of waiting around for it to be perfect. Besides friends who show up, random strangers & music shoppers peek in on the set, too. It was a cool crowd of mixed ethnicities and ages. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to Home for a merry dinner where we ate outside - a lovely end to the string of shows. I head back to Santa Monica with a friend to crash. It's quiet there, which is what I'm needing after all the hustle, bustle, and excitement of the past few days. The place is right near the ocean, and the fresh air flows in through the patio door near where I sleep. I'm always very wound up after a show, and even if I feel calm, cannot usually fall easily asleep. This is no exception, yet I do feel refreshed upon waking.

Day 7 – June 22nnd, Los Angeles, CA:
I get up and my hosts show me the way to the ocean, which I was intent on seeing on this trip. But first, I get a delicious fruit croissant and cappuccino from my favorite LA cafe - Urth. Except this is the Santa Monica location, of which I was previously unaware. Tony had piqued my interest in Santa Monica and Venice, since he lived there years ago. He is right, it's very cool. Uniquely shaped buildings and lots of little shops, all near the beach. Some spots trendy, some funky. After a nice walk, I head back to the complex where my friends live to take advantage of the jacuzzi and pool. I came prepared with hat, flip-flops, bathing suit, towel, hat, 3 bottles of sun block for various body parts, a wrap, etc. All got used on my last day out here, and I was so pleased. My hosts prepare a lovely brunch of eggs, spinach, tomato, ham, olives, sautéed onions, with carrot juice on the side, which I enjoy thoroughly before taking off with Baz and Martin. They stayed last night in Pasadena without me - the first time we've been separated the whole tour. We head off to Venice Beach, where we poke around for a few hours, eating empanadas, looking at trinkets, sitting by the beach, talking about life. I joke that when people see pictures form our tour, they might think it was a vacation, or TOURCATION. I'm seeing the difference between winter and summer touring. I'm just happy I survived both! We head over to El Coyote for dinner, where the waitresses wear lovely Mexican folk dresses. This restaurant was the last place Sharon Tate was seen alive. Spooky!

My phone has been acting up recently and today was the last straw. I have been intermittently unable to makes phone calls all day, depending on where I am and what network my T-Mobile Crackberry® selects. Argh!!! You may recall, I had to get a new phone after the last tour, and that was only 3 months ago. Is it the tour phone curse on Ajda?!

Baz drops Martin and me off at LAX, my flight leaving hours later. As soon as I check in, I'm informed it's delayed, which means I'll now be taking the nonstop redeye at 1:35AM, due to rain in Boston. Friends warned me it's been raining there every single day. Not looking forward to that after beach and crystal blue sky, but it is home after all. I'm so tired - from the trip, touring, singing, lugging, schlepping, entertaining, and today in particular, from the sun and ocean air. I'm pretty relaxed. It is a great feeling. We accomplished much, and it looks like we'll be doing this again in one month in the mid-Atlantic. It is addictive. Life on the road is pretty simple in many ways, if you can get used to the discomfort level. The other problems we have in life seem to be on pause while away, and it's a nice respite. I chill out waiting for my flight, drinking some tea and snacking on almonds. My voice has definitely taken a beating from singing in loud clubs so many nights in a row, and this was just backups. It has me wondering how I'd do that with Black Fortress of Opium night after night, which is totally vocally demanding. I'm glad to spend some quiet time alone, and not be performing tonight. My ears are ringing pretty badly, too. Even though I wear earplugs during all other sets, I opt out for ours. Night after night, it takes a perceptible toll.

At least 2 venues this week, we hear AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top if Ya Wanna Rock and Roll", so I am happy paying some more dues and garnering experience, for which there is NO substitute.

This tour has been one of many different keys passing through my hands. Friends volunteered their homes to share with us. I've felt much love. I am thankful for all the kindness and helping hands. Thanks also to Martin and Baz. We make a great team, and help each other. The level of respect we maintain keeps me in awe. Thanks again to all the other musicians who sat in. And to the friends who came through and showed up - you rock. See you soon with Black Fortress of Opium.


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