Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Load Out

Photo by Bernie DeChant.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Thanks so much to The Lawrence's for putting up the entire town for seven days and six nights. We'll remember their kindnesses forever and they'll remember us every time they look at the divot Kyle put in the side of their garage in an attempt to add "character" to the van. Pascal wasn't amused but I think it will add re-sale value when we sell the first tour-van on E-Bay.

Speaking of the van, I think the image of this tour that will stick with me the longest is the back of the van out there on the road in front of me. I'm in the car riding behind with whoever happens to jump in--Kyle has been a frequent passenger and so has Bernie. I mostly follow and trust that Pascal and the I-phone directions he's looking at will get us where we're going.

In theory this works, but in practice most every journey we take starts out with us hitting the highway or byway, turning around in a parking lot or alley, heading another way for a couple of blocks and then repeating the process until a direction is chosen and we get where we're going. It's like we're introducing the concept of "warming up" to every journey.

Still, we get where we're going and leave an impression behind--Heck, sometimes we leave an impression before we even get there.

Right now we're at the Bottle Tree in Birmingham, Alabama having a little snack before our load in. We sent a press packet ahead to their weekly free paper, The Black and White and, thankfully, they got it in time to give us the following advance write up:

" . . . [H]igh concept opening act, Balthrop, Alabama is a cutesy New York City rock band that's like a touring version of Greater Tuna, except with plenty of disdain for the Southern experience. Actually, they're more like the touring company of "Barack Obama's Rent" and the sprawling ensemble will try to entertain you with tales of how you're a stupid Southerner relying on guns and religion. They're so insightful that they don't even have to write entertaining melodies--but you won't appreciate that, because you're a stupid Southerner."

That's how they say "Welcome to Alabama" in Black and White. I sure am glad we speak nuance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy Together

Tour photo by Bernie DeChant.

Yesterday we were in Cincinnati and we were there for a while.

We went early, because Chris took the bus from New York to join us for this last leg of the tour--eighteen hours from there to here, including time devoted to dealing with the breakdown, trying to meet up with a different connection in Columbus because the mishap caused him to miss the one he was supposed to take and waiting for us to find the bus depot downtown.

"Does it seem like the neighborhood has gotten noticeably worse than it was?" Bernie asked from the back seat.

"Yah," Pascal replied.

"We're probably close."

The other night in Lexington we got downright crazy at Al's. We played our set, Dawn played hers and then we got back up on the stage and had ourselves a hootenany. Everyone in the band did a number, including yours truly (with Pascal drawing). The crowd didn't want to let us go and by the end of the night we had performed 42 songs total including some we never rehearsed and some that may not have been written yet. Kyle even did a couple of numbers, busting out his Rock God moves and launching himself into space. 'Teach me how to do that," Dawn begged and Kyle started spilling the secrets like a guru with a chant.

"You've gotta isolate the strum-hand so it keeps the guitar in place, then you can go anywhere," he said, dropping to his knees and bending backwards like he did at Altamont.

Last night after the Cincinnati show, we gathered to say goodbye to Dawn; she's going her way and we're going ours. It's been a great time, but Andrew Vladeck gets here in a couple of hours for our last show in Kentucky and the first of the Next round. You can read all about it here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Southern Rockin'

So, we're sitting downstairs on these disgusting couches at The Dame in Lexington and Dawn and the gang are drinking a beer after their opening set and Jason Isbell is pacing, getting ready to go on. The couches are disgusting because the venue is condemned, ready to be torn down at the end of the week and tonight is the second to last night of The Dame's existence. The back room in the basement reeks of urine because the pipes from the men's bathroom upstairs are broken and raw sewage pools in the far corner.

Upstairs, the room looks pretty stripped, as if it knows it's near the end, but there's confetti and glitter in every nook and cranny and the joint's hopping with that special magic, despite the impending doom.

The crowd roared through Dawn's set, cheering Josh on like the Rock God he is becoming with every new blistering solo. At one point the bartender turned to me and said, "man, I've never heard of these guys, but I'm gonna learn about them!"


So, we're downstairs and Jason and his band are about to head upstairs and Dawn says, "Jason, I like your crowd out there."

Jason stops at the door and says, "Oh, I've got good fans." Dawn and Lauren and Josh agree and Jason asks, "did you get a good look at their faces?"

Dawn says, "well, yeah."

Jason turns to take the stage and says, "good, because I'm about to go melt them faces off."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rest Stop

Tour photos by Bernie DeChant.

Right now I'm sitting at the bar of The Dame in Lexington Kentucky. Jason Isbell is soundchecking and Balthrop has a sort of night off. It's "Sort-of" because, although we aren't playing, Dawn is, which means that Josh, Annie, Jason, Lauren, Pascal and Therese are playing as her band and Kyle and I just get to watch.

We're pretty much based in Louisville for the next five nights, guests of Jason's generous parents and it's nice to have a place to return to every night after the show. From Louisville we're doing two shows in Lexington, one in Cincinnati and another in Louisville before we head further South and West.

Louisville is home to both Dawn and Jason and it's nice to coast on their familiarity with the town. This morning we had breakfast at this amazing restaurant--Lynn's Paradise Cafe--where Dawn worked for two years and the food was so good we've decided to go back every day, if they'll have us after our impromptu art-attempts using the leftovers on our plates.

The show last night was great--the band has been playing songs I've never drawn and it's a lot of fun to make something up on the fly and just sort of roll with it.

Sometimes it seems like touring is all about Drive Somewhere, Eat Something, Unload, Play, Load and Repeat. But the "Play" part makes the other things pretty much worth anything. And, to be honest, the "Eat Something" and "Drive Somewhere" has been pretty great too. There are so many of us on this tour and we get along so well that it's pretty much like being home with different scenery.

The other day in Columbus, we went out to eat at this vegetarian restaurant and, after our meal, we were deciding on which of their amazing cookies to take along with us, laughing, pointing, riffing and pretty much just being us. There was this couple in line behind us and, as they exited the place, they encountered us outside in our "You've Gotta Try This" frenzy. "You were great in there," they said with satisfied appreciation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Passing Through

Look at that guy!

Bernie and Therese joined us at last night's show and Chris will be here soon.

Last night we went out for a late night hot dog at this place on Clark street where drunken college students go to be yelled at. Dawn had read about it somewhere and had heard that sometimes the large women who work the counter show their breasts, so she approached with camera ready. Sure enough, as we came through the door, music was playing and breasts were swinging, but when the woman saw Dawn's camera she covered up and screamed, "you ain't seeing nothing 'cause of that bitch!!!"

"It was just like you said, Dawn! Everything was just like you said!" said Lauren as we ate our fries and sausages and tried to see if any of it had shown up on film.

My cousins, aunt and sister were at the show and it was one of the best ones so far; Bernie says the band has never sounded so tight, but he's still jet-lagged from Japan so he may not be the best barometer. Cousin Tommy got my autograph for Aunt Pat, but I signed it kind of sloppy; I hope she knows it was me. Liz was there too and we danced during the final song of Dawn's set like it was prom or something. I bet if she knew we were gonna come to her, she wouldn't have flown all the way to Chicago for the last Joe's show.

We're off to Kentucky now to start the Southern swing, with our little town and our big plans and I have to say, I think I really love this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Philadelphia Story

Sure, all roads lead to the Fall Cafe, but apparently most journeys depart from there as well.

We gathered in the early afternoon, most of us and were sent off with paparazzi snapping pictures (well, Bernie and Henry) and adoring fans cheering us on (well, Scott, Mo, Mike O and Edwina) and we even picked up our first groupie for the road (well, cousin Joey). Two hours later the caravan pulled up to a depressed neighborhood in Philly, unloaded, soundchecked and gathered in the kitchen room upstairs for our first take-out food of the tour and a wait for the crowds to gather.

It was one of those shows where there might have been more of us than them, but the set was strong and we were buoyed by the arrival of Chris, Matt and Vesna. Therese is missing these first few shows, Chris will rejoin us in a week ('cause he's got a Ne'ers show this weekend on Governor's Island) and Matt has to miss the whole thing because of something he calls "work."

But Dawn Landes and Balthrop, Alabama have started their summer tour.

Last night we slept in Reading after passing through a tremendous rain storm. It was one of those storms that you could see for thirty miles as you approached it, glowing skies filled with rippling lightning bolts. When we pulled up to the Reading Wyndham Hotel this morning around 1:30, Kyle awoke and started playing the piano in the lobby as the night-clerk watched us all in curious amusement.

Earlier, at the show, one of the guys from the opening act came up to Pascal and I as Dawn played her set in the dim lighting she requested, and told us it was farther to Pittsburgh than we thought. I just smiled because everything is always farther than you think, except the things that aren't.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hitting The Road

The tour started last night, right here in New York City. Seems you don't have to go very far nowadays to call it a trip, but we're gonna stretch that theory to its limits. The next three weeks will find us rolling through the Midwest and then swinging South. I'll try to write from the road, but we'll see how it goes . . . In the meantime, here's some pics from last night's opener at the Mercury Lounge by Bernie DeChant who flew back from Japan just in time to say goodbye, take a nap and join us on the road some time later this week . . .

Hope I see some of the rest of you out there somewhere . . . Dawn Landes and Balthrop, Alabama--coming soon to a town near you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I've Got Feelings Too

Martha Wainwright playing songs from her new album, I Know You're Married, But I've Got Feelings Too, at Joe's Pub Thursday night.

You know you're gonna see something special when David Byrne holds the door open for you on the way in . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hour of Charm

Sxip rolled in to Joe's last night at just about the point our little heat-wave was subsiding not with a whimper but with a bang and he brought along a roster of talent that was its own little storm. I came running over from the Balthrop practice where the band was working on the new songs for their concert debuts this week and managed to get there just as the rains started.

But inside, all was well . . .

Amy Gordon's set was her comedy and music on skates which has to be seen to be believed. Video doesn't really do it justice, but it'll do in a pinch.

Rachelle Garniez was also there. Apparently she and Sxip have something planned for MOMA later this summer, keep your eyes peeled for it. Her songs and performance brought the crowd to its feet.

Greg Walloch presented a new piece he's been developing, although what I'm calling "presentation" in his hands is more like a conversation with a friend you didn't know you had. He has this charm, earthy presence and sweetness-with-a-razor-sharp-edge which sort of confounds the distinction between stand-up comedy and story-telling. He's also one of the nicest guys you're ever gonna come across.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

True West

Sam Shepard was at Joe's Pub last night as part of the "Writers at Work" interview series presented by the Paris Review. Shepard's been in the building lately getting his newest play, Kicking a Dead Horse, ready for its opening.

Monday, June 09, 2008


So, there I was sitting in, listening to a panel about children's books last week and I had that sinking feeling I always have when something so whimsical starts sounding so serious . . .

I had gone because I've been working on this book-length thing that's been occupying a lot of my time as of late and I was looking for some pointers so I'd be all on my game when I presented the stuff to my agent and I just got all annoyed and started doodling.

Oh, yeah. I have an agent now. I'm very professional.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Take Your Time

Jamie Leonhart at Joe's Pub, Saturday night.

Monday, June 02, 2008

We Are Walking Temples of Noise

The Spring Performance of the Middle Church Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir over there on 2nd at 7th.

Everyone sings.