March 11: Starry Plough, Berkeley, Calif.
Hometown kickoff! I spend most of the pre-show set wondering what the turnout is going to be, but my worries are quickly assuaged when folks start coming in. I fret, I fume, and I am constantly concerned, but you rarely let me down, Bay Area.
Then we're up. The first two songs go swimmingly, with decent sound and good performances. We play a pretty new song, and lo! The power on all the amps shuts off. Weird. It comes back on, I make a joke about PG&E not caring for our new material, and we try once more. Again, it goes off. The house engineer does everything in his power to find out what is going on, but these intermittent power outages happen throughout the set and we have to cover for this abrupt change in dynamic range. We cut "Friend Rock City" two lines early; "Wildly Plausible" and "Plausibly Wild" both get lines in the choruses that are a cappella by necessity, and we cut "You Can't Stop the Signal" out completely and call the set a touch early.
It's frustrating; I won't lie. But we tried to keep it light and I will say this: If we're going to have a show where there are these kinds of issues, it might as well be a block from where you live on the first day of the tour.
March 13: Pappy and Harriet's, Pioneertown, Calif.
Pappy and Harriet's is your ultimate remote roadhouse: the only place in many, many miles, a secret location that you always kind of hope exists, and maybe even does exist in your mind, before the crushing banality of actual reality quashes the dream. The bartenders will brook no tomfoolery, the doorman most definitely can kick your ass (between bowls), and the people are so disarmingly friendly you think you are in a David Lynch movie. To be clear, I mean that as a compliment. Everybody is quietly humble about all of the badass stuff that they are doing: that dude builds his own guitars, this one used to race motorcycles in the Forties, this guy is building a rocket. Their stories will unfurl like beautiful tapestries if you ask, but only if you ask. It's totally surreal.
Many huge bands play Pappy and Harriet's as a warm-up for the nearby Coachella festival: Robert Plant, PJ Harvey — and tonight, it's us. On open mic night. Yes, you read that right. Awesome. We get up and do our thing, and suddenly the acoustic Johnny Cash covers and conversation-volume guitar compositions give way completely. This, folks, is unapologetic rock and roll, brought to you by Victory and Associates. But instead of fleeing the area, people watch and are into it. We uncoil and spring like a desert predator, throwing it all out there. Some folks even start dancing. Later, a fellow buys us some beers, the first of many. It turns out his band played a couple of the Minutemen's last shows before that final tour with R.E.M. We swapped punk-rock war stories and bonded over the insane calling that is playing music.
March 14: Rogue Bar, Scottsdale, Ariz.
This van does not run on hugs or high fives. I write this in the hopes that we will make some damned money tonight. Look: It's a sad fact of nature that bands do not make money anymore, at least little bands. It's not, like, "oh, it's not a lot of money." It's laughable. The petroleum companies get paid for the gas, the fast food places get paid for their failure food, the bar staff gets paid, the sound people, the door guys, but the bands getting paid? Nah, man. Rock and roll is a pyramid scheme. And if you talk about money as a band, you're suddenly mercenary or careerist, instead of just trying to be able to keep doing what you want, or even arrive at your destination safely. How bougie of you, dude!
Anyway: Rogue Bar is a punk-rock watering hole that sits next to a liquor store, the customers of which appear to be largely shirtless young gentlemen with a Breaking Bad sort of look to them, acquiring sugary snacks with both aplomb and purpose. (You get that Blueberry muffin loaf, Skinny Pete, and you enjoy it.) The bar itself is cool though — central casting for "punk rock bar," to be sure. The walls are covered in old fliers and photos of semi-tastefully exposed breasts. You can smell the leather from the studded belts before you enter and the door to the toilet in the men's room is comically loose on its hinges. We call this character.
There are some shows that are like religious experiences, some that you etch in your mind as war atrocities, and then there are the ones in the middle. That's what this one is for us. I break a string on my primary guitar at a key part and something about the stage sound isn't quite right. We connect a few times with folks, and it's decent-plus. But during the most rousing parts of "Plausibly Wild," I don't see even the remotest inclination of anything other than noble indifference from the folks at the bar. I cut the last song, and we wrap it up. For fuck's sake, it's a Tuesday you know? Thanks, Arizona.