michael's communiqué #9

tour diary cleveland 02/11/2004

And so the good times rolled to a stop. Cleveland, Ohio.

My father made this joke "I spent a month one night in Cleveland". Indeed...

It was cold and snow dusted the streets around The Beachland Ballroom. We were not playing the ballroom, but in the tavern where a smarmy soundman with asymmetrical bed-head greeted us with enthusiastic indifference. The lighting and mood of the club reminded me of Van Gogh's famous painting of the red cafe.

One of the problems with living in New York is that you get used to the backdrop of your every motion being alive with people and problems. Even a mundane walk to the cornershop COULD be an outake from a Woody Allen film. This syndrome makes being in the midwest feel one of two ways. Either...atmospherically anachronistic, grainy, charming...ala Milwaukee or "Stranger Than Paradise"...OR....as in Cleveland...same-ish, sprawling, and strangely oppressive...ala "The Movie No One Bothers To Make"...as if what was happening didn't fully materialize...as if each gesture came across like a television with a badly bent antenna. I have always railed against this elitist metropolitan attitude that things which transpire outside of hipster hubs are somehow unimportant. I, in my heart of hearts, believe something closer to the opposite. But when it's a cold Tuesday night and your audience is made up of four people, and the drama of your music is being undercut by glowing beer advertisements...one starts to long for NYC.


The four people included one fan with whom we stayed with for two days, a boy and girl with really cute outfits, and the editor of Alternative Press magazine. Oh and the two local bands...whose audience consisted of our 4 fans plus us.

The club was nice though and fed us and gave us beer...even though they probably lost money paying the bartender and soundman. The fan we were staying with asked "why did you come to Cleveland? There's not much of a scene.." A question better asked of our booking agent...

The next day we had off and bowled with our hosts. They were very sweet and hospitable. They made the two days quite comfortable and pleasant...as we chatted about films and the like. I can't remember anything worth retelling from the two days though. I watched their copy of the new Belle & Sebastian DVD. They revealed though they were big fans, they actually didn't own any of our music. We went to a bar, and I checked my e-mail. There was a decent crowd of what passes for hipsters in Ohio, whom I wondered whether or not they even knew (or cared) that we played the night before...frustrating...but obviously not their fault. I'm being a bitch.

Burrittos the next morning and Tod finally finds a copy of "Soap Opera Digest" to catch up on "One Life To Live". There is a baseball expression which states "momentum is the next day's pitcher." Which means you only stay hot until the next experience unfolds. And so morale was low...we were broke...cold...sleeping on floors (I slept in the one bed in an unfortunate relapse of leadsinger-ism mixed with a slight nervous disorder which requires me to have at least a couple hours of silent meditation a day without people around) and experiencing the ups and downs of touring as an unsupported indie band...which frankly we had only done in places where we knew some people cared...Its a mind fuck to be told, and frankly believe, that you are one of the handful of bands that matter...and then play for four people. It's easier when your 22. I should stop whining now.




tour diary chicago 02/09/2004

I was really excited about going to Chicago. Embarrassingly, I have never been...with or without The Faves. We have always had requests to come, and I have already walked the streets in my John Hughes Duckie dreams...so despite some single digit temperatures...my anticipation kept me warm.

I was told that Chicago had the largest Latino population of any American city, which surprised me since I suppose I would have guessed Los Angeles or New York or New Mexico. But driving past block after block of taco joints with colorful old tin facades from decades past...I believed. We stopped in a particularly homey one with striped curtains and ate before sound check. Enchiladas verde and fruit flavored sodas. Everything sprinkled with Chihuahua cheese. It became the running joke of the tour. "Just how do they milk those Chihuahuas?" and "If you are unfortunate enough to be born with really small hands, have you no choice but a career in dog milking?" I suppose it is a problem to be this immature. Kurt punched up some tunes from the spanish only jukebox...a faraway futbol match played on a television above the bar. The skies outside the window were grey...and I felt, for the first time in a long time... just how faraway from Long Island I was...both literally and spiritually. As a child at the on ramp of adolescence my world was so small. My mother put her fears in me, and the dingy highway at the end of our street felt like the edge of the world. I would get excited by a misplaced cobblestone. I kept a composition notebook full of my wiffleball stats. Everything scared me. But a half-life later I have sung songs like a gypsy in quite a few towns... amongst the rich and poor, the young and the not so young, the believers and the never wills. I've seen a lot and stared a lot down. And the only thing that scares me now is someday having to stop.

We play at The Empty Bottle, which people tell me is the best medium sized club in Chicago. Just like at TTs in Boston, there is a Franz Ferdinand poster in the club. They are a week behind us...but in terms of hype...we will trail them for the foreseeable future...and perhaps for all time. But then again...the foreseeable future for hype isn't that long. I prefer people to whisper about us anyway...

It is a bone chillingly cold Sunday night. The soundman is young and muscular and has a cute bowl haircut...and he genuinely seems to care...how very UN-New York. I see a few friends...Alona...whom I hung around with during a New York summer in a previous life...I meet Billy a friend of my once again GF. The clubs not packed but there is a healthy and lively crowd of people smiling at us. The kind of crowd I love...a mix of three person gangs and assorted loners in strange and amusing attire. One boy requests two songs we forgot how to play...sorry...lad...

We play much better than Milwaukee...someone actually squeals when I strip down to my Vivienne Westwood Golden Teddy Bear t-shirt ...I think I actually blush. Blushing is the opposite of fearing...blushing is KNOWING...

Gilbert accidentally clocks me in the head with a pint glass full of Newcastle and most of it end up down his amp. I start staggering about the stage like an electro-shock patient...but no one can see any difference in my dancing from before...every old song feels new...and every new song feels old...it's why I like performing...even though...by all writes...I have no business with a microphone. But when this gang is together...we are something else.

After the show I get pulled into the photobooth by a few cute kids who promise to e-mail me the pictures. I don't trust em' so I take my own...they each had the cleverest smiles.

We drink and play pool long into the night. Sesku Roba perform last and feature the most sublime playing of a theremin I am certain I will ever see...by a man in a space-suit none the less. A woman dances with an orb...a drum machine pulses. They are from Los Angeles...they are from Mars...we luv em'

We have the next day off and walk around Wicker Park in the choking cold...looking at old toys and magazines in a nostalgia shop. I read an interview with a 20 year old Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera in an old "Musician" magazine. We eat delicious japanese food and linger over it for a couple hours. I love teriyaki and tempura and sushi and seaweed. I like that scene in "Lost In Translation" where Bill Murray tells his wife in America that he "wants to start eating healthier, more japanese food, not all that pasta"...some times I just want to be Japanese and wear horn-rimmed glasses and work at an architecture firm and be able to afford an elegant minimalist version of everything. Instead of shopping for french junk in thrift shops...but then again...I kind of like the sound of that. Maybe that will be our new band motto... "Shopping for french junk in thrift shops"...writing it down...and singing it out... like a fearless gypsy palm reader waiting for your hand.

-Michael




tour diary milwaukee 02/08/2004

My trip to Milwaukee was a little different than my band-mates. They left a day before me, driving a two car caravan from New York. My mum's blue hatchback and a white rental van. A slushy snow fell for the whole 17 hours, and the rumble of the cargo van was compared to being in the bathroom during a Motorhead concert for nearly a day. I lucked out in that I was flying to meet them. I taught a class late Friday night...spent a little time with a certain someone...and then rose at 4am to catch my flight. The flight to Cincinnati was not that bad. I read "The Big Takeover", and hummed the theme to the early 80s sitcom "WKRP" much to the chagrin of the other passengers. I had a 2 hour layover in Cincinnati, and since I had been up since 4am, I found my self eating a teriyaki chicken bowl at 9am. I mean...hey...they were open. I read Baseball Weekly until my shuttle to Milwaukee boarded. It was snowing ever so gently. The plane was about the size of our cargo van. One row of seats on the left, two on the right. One stewardess sitting on a little bench. I caught myself humming "American Pie"...that's not good. If today was going to be the day the music died, would anyone notice? What would my legacy be? Would 100 Swedish kids sing "Burning Hearts" at my funeral. When I was cremated during the second verse, would anyone find it ironic? It was really a small plane, and the runway had a pleasant dusting of snow... I was slightly terrified. I sung a Bob Dylan song to myself like a lullaby "With your saint-like face, and your ghost-like soul...who would ever think they could destroy you?" A "Hail Mary" or two couldn't hurt...

We landed in one piece, and I walked down the narrow stairs onto the cement with a grin on my face. The air was cold and dry despite random flakes of snow still scrambling about. I took a shuttle bus to a Motel 6 and awaited my gang. I watched a marathon of "The Osbournes" plopped down on a double bed in only my black boxer briefs...

The Faves arrived in one piece also. They hungrily jumped into the shower one after another and then changed into the assortment of jeans, blazer, oxford shirts, pinestriped skirts, brightly colored t-shirts and badges which are our current standard issue...

We got to the club which was called, I think, the Onopa Brewing Company. It was large, and dim...sort of a cross between an old wood walled pub and an anarchist coffee house. There was a decent sized triangular stage and a good sound system. Some good bands had been here before, and some were on there way...we felt reassured. Milwaukee itself had a nice energy...sort of like a perputual 1970s America with old neon signs, and scruffy kids in corduroy. I walked across the street to a bustling punk-ish cafe and got a bowl of vegetarian chili. One of the other bands playing, Bobby Conn and The Glass Gypsies, came in behind me and proceeded to cut in front of me on line. Only their bassist noticed, and went behind me. I didn't really mind. I was soaking up the faces of the kids inside, laughing and declaring their worlds in accents I only half recognized. I decided everybody is sexy when decked out in horn rimmed glasses and tight thrift-store shirts. I was wearing a tweed blazer.

The crowd was decently big and certainly lively. In between (and before) each band a canadian comedy/performance duo known as "Canned Ham" did a Karaoke routine in tight teal t-shirts and pink ascots. They were not that sexy. But they were funny...in a sort of..."you are not comfortable with two homely gay men singing children's songs" kind of way. They really grew on me. I've been singing their song "Line Up For Hugs" ever since...

We played sloppy as hell. We were tired and it showed. But we were also kind of loose and reckless, and people seemed to respond. A few fans came by and told us how happy they were that we ventured to Milwaukee...

I realized half-way through "God Save The Runaways" that I was in Wisconsin, slow dancing with a blood splattered teddy bear in front of a healthy crowd of drunks. They seemed to like it...

Bobby Conn was really good. They all wore coordinated ugly 80s christmas sweaters. They were a fourth of the way to drag.

We had to leave before Head of Femur because we hadn't slept in like 2 days. They sounded really good in sound-check and I hope to see them in NYC later this month...next stop chicago...

-Michael



tour diary boston 02/05/2004

Here is the first of an account of the 6 shows we are playing on this leg of our stammered tour across the earth...

So I am insanely trying to teach classes around this Boston show before I fly to meet the van driving gang Saturday in Milwaukee. This is the reality of a working person's art rock experience. No one is paying our way across this nation...or putting me up in a loft so I can write the next record and my young-adult mystery novel. Our's is desperate soul music...because it's a desperate proposition to get it to you...despite a nation of millions trying to hold us back and throw us in a debtor's prison (as sometimes the critics are too I suppose). No meeting at a Swiss boarding school ala The Strokes for us. I sniffed glue with Darren behind Sagamore Junior highschool when we invented this band, and if we were lucky our mums may have made us some Swiss Miss with little marshmallows while we watched The Faces of Death on VHS....

I taught my 8 a.m. Two-Dimensional Design class...and hauled ass for Brooklyn. I don't know why I thought me, Tod, our newest Auxiliary member Kurt, 2 synths, an accordion, a drumkit and a teddy-bear could fit into a borrowed hatchback car... BUT WE DID! AND WE DID! SORT OF....

Four hours of pain followed. All three of us were lacerated by some instrument or keyboard stand the entire trip. I made Tod listen to early Dionne Warwick...and then we both enjoyed some very dubious Blue Oyster Cult. We stopped in Connecticut and got pickle flavored potato chips. They do not have these in New York. For all New York has to offer...a diversity of white trash snack foods is sometimes lacking...I can't even get Mr. Pibb...

We get into Boston around 7pm. The club is freezing but pretty spacious...it's strangely called "TT The Bear's Place". The Stills played last night, and Franz Ferdinand next week...so hipster cred has been established...I wonder if they will cancel the show if they catch me reading "The Three Penny Opera" in a tweed blazer...

They don't cancel the show. And although we are short one band (The excellent Dears from Canada had visa problems) the place is really pretty packed and the crowd is quite charming and responsive. Someone in the front row is taking notes. Which is one more person taking notes than there was in my class this morning. We really have a bit of fun... and play "Badge" for the first time in a while along with "17 Berlin".

I drink a Rolling Rock and a half. I'm taking it easy because we are driving straight home after the gig and then it's back to the college Thursday and Friday and then off...The kids at the show were really cool...I chat with a librarian who suggest a YA novel for me...I see Michael who started our on-line discussion group and a few new Favoristas I have never met. In the first act of our two act career...we loved coming to Boston and playing at The Middle East with Harriet Records bands, or The Push Kings and Papas Fritas and the like. That is where we met Peter Green. But aside from a fun, but brief show at Gibby's START! Boston night a couple years ago...we really hadn't been back. And Boston is a city where your fans leave after college, and then you meet them in New York or Philadelphia a year later. So it was time to re-establish ourselves here amongst the ivy. Last night was a surprisingly good start. We've got a rag-tag army...now it's time to storm Harvard and claim it for community college drop-outs and recluses. Are you with me?!?!?!

I think the healthy turnout was helped by what the three Boston papers wrote about us and a big picture of Andrea. Read the previews here.

I will follow up from the road, or when I return. In the meantime check out this short-story slash review of the record done by the brilliant man behind www.thewaragainstsilence.com read it here.

I think this is the first review to make me a little misty-eyed. Since I lost my health insurance...I've had to substitute random moments of love and insight for a proper analyst. This helped...

And although I have decided to try to keep my love life out of these communiques...I will say that I leave for tour with a lot of optimism and love in my heart and the knowledge that when I return I'll get the chance to spend a bit of time with the person whom I want to spend it with the most...so I'm thanking my creator for a well timed break in the clouds...

Until Milwaukee...
Michael Grace Jr.