Sean's Tour Diary - Part 3 of 6

The Long Winters official website
Sean Nelson
Publication date: 
June 30, 2003

Sean's Tour Diary
Part 3 June 2-June 7

Days Ten & Eleven / Monday-Tuesday, June 2-3

Booth Bay, ME. Anderson home. Two days off.
“We are the victims of the pleasures of the sense of hearing.”

After 10 days of touring, there’s nothing better than a big empty house
with plenty of beds, a gracious host, a full refrigerator, and a DVD player
to call your own. Court’s parents’ manse stands at the very edge
of the country; its backyard is the Atlantic Ocean. The view it commands is
almost oppressively majestic. The house is brand new, and Court has been staying
there or the last few months, acting as ad hoc groundskeeper since quitting
his job a few months back. We are the first visitors he’s had, and our
presence provides him a welcome break from his isolation drills. It also gives
me time to get truly anxious about my impending 30th birthday. Ten days and
counting. Jesus.

Unfortunately for Court, who is champing at the bit to entertain, all we want
to do is vegetate until the last possible second before we have to leave for
New York. The vegetables win out. The most strenuous activity during our two
day sojourn involves being driven into town for homemade ice cream and fresh
lobster. We sleep in. We watch The Last Waltz and play pool. It’s nice
work if you can get it. And you can get it if you try.

Day Twelve / Wednesday, June 4

Hoboken, NJ. Maxwell’s.
W/ Nada Surf, 34 Satellite

“And he sang so unself-consciously, like it never would’ve
occurred to me. Where he revealed himself, I’d offer a clue.”

The drive down was long and tense, because we didn’t give ourselves much
breathing room. If we hurried, we could just make it in time for soundcheck.
And so it was that the Long Winters were forced to drive through New England
without the chance to indulge our favorite tour pastime: visiting old graveyards—Civil
War-vintage is preferable, but Revolutionary War will do. After navigating the
toll-strewn, potholed hell of the East Coast infrastructure, we gained New Jersey
in just under six hours. It hurts to get so close to New York and only wind
up in Hoboken. All I can think of in New Jersey, my mother’s birthplace,
is some big, fat, hairy (imaginary) bar keep bragging about how Francis Albert
Sinatra once took a dump in this very joint. Side, we were playing at Maxwell’s,
which is basically like playing in New York, except you can smoke.

The club was insanely hot, and super crowded. Though they’d be playing
in Brooklyn the very next night (without us, alas), this was a homecoming show
for Nada Surf, and the fans turned out in force. To our delight, however, there
appeared to be a lot of people there to see The Long Winters, as well. We all
felt in some way like the tour, and in some ways all our touring, had been leading
up to the next two weeks, during which we’d be playing in and around the
city four times, with side trips to DC, Boston, and Philly. The trip, which
was the brainchild of our much-heralded new booking agent, amounted to a kind
of residency in the best and only city in America. There’s nothing quite
like coming to New York to perform, especially if you’ve ever lived there,
or nursed secret dreams of riding down Broadway on a white stallion through
a blizzard of ticker tape. Even though there are probably more people performing
on a given night in Manhattan than there are people in a normal city, a show
in NYC lends a performer the convenient illusion that he is getting somewhere,
that in fact, he has arrived.

Of course, as anyone who has ever played such a show can tell you, that illusion
generally lasts right up until load in. And anyway, this was Hoboken, not New
York, and in the pouring rain, no less. But Hoboken, I’m pleased to report
rocks. At least inside Maxwell’s it does. Our show is slamming. After
two days’ rest, we are salty to play and we bring it. We are on top of
our game, having reached the tipping point of road confidence. Michael and Eric
are a brilliant rhythm section, locked up like a bank vault. John is letting
himself loose as a guitar player and front man, with powerful results. And I
have finally gotten on top of the Nord. So, yeah. Hoboken. Serve it up!

After the show, we schlep to Brooklyn, where we eat salads at 4AM and crash
at Matthew’s place in Williamsburg. I settle in to sleep in the van just
as the sun is coming up.

Day Thirteen / Thursday, June 5

Cambridge, MA. Middle East (Downstairs).
W/ Brendan Benson, Jesse Malin.

“Just makes me wanna cry…”

Williamsburg is a strange place to wake up in a van. You stumble out into the
hot morning only find yourself surrounded by a community of 25-year-old hipsters
and 80-year-old Polish women. But at least it smells like urine!

After a dodgy omelette at a Polish diner (John scored big with the goulash),
we said goodbye to Matthew and shuffled off towards Boston, and a reunion with
Brendan Benson and the Wellfed Boys, for a three-show mini-tour. The Long Winters
played a few shows with Brendan and company on the Ken Stringfellow tour, which
I missed. I’d met them randomly the year before and gotten along famously,
drinking $10 pina coladas at a poolside bar at an L.A. hotel. Missing those
shows were a hugely galvanizing factor in the decision to quit my job and join
the band full-time, so I’m extra-excited for these next three shows. Brendan’s
record, Lapalco, is a gem, and the band is killer. I can’t wait.

When we arrive at the club, after enduring truly horrendous traffic (I blame
organized crime, reflexively, like I know what the fuck I’m talking about
at all; do you ever hear yourself saying things that you would never say? All
the time?), the Wellfed Boys are just finishing their soundcheck. They backline
their amps and repair to the dressing room and we all say hello. None of us
can help noticing that the second band has loaded about $25,000 worth of gear
onto the stage. I’m no gearhead, but I can tell that their Nord Electro
2 is about the cheapest item they carry. I see names like Matchless, Fender,
and Mesa Boogie, and John informs me that there isn’t a single guitar
(of the 10 or so in the off-stage rack) that was made after 1980. Even their
haircuts are expensive. One wonders who Jesse Malin is, and where he’s
getting his money from, since he’s not on a major label, although I guess
Artemis is pretty close. The posters advertising his album (PRODUCED BY RYAN
ADAMS) pretty much tell me all I need to know.

Though the room is basically empty ten minutes before we’re scheduled
to start, it fills up quickly, and we play to a big, receptive Boston audience,
which is always a pleasure. The stage sound is especially good tonight, and
we are in peak form. Brendan has requested “Unsalted Butter,” one
of the songs we’ve been giving a rest lately, at least partially because
John and Michael haven’t played a show without it in like five years,
if you count the Western State Hurricanes days. But it feels great to dust it
off. I mean, if we can’t play “Unsalted Butter”… Another
highlight comes when John asks an audience member, “What’s your
name?” and then, not missing a beat, sings “Who’s your daddy.”
He looks over at me and I add “he rich,” setting up John’s
“is he rich like me.” Suddenly, Eric and Michael are carrying the
beat and we do an impromptu verse and chorus of “Time of the Season,”
complete with spot-on harmonies. It feels great that we did it, and it feels
great that we stopped it cleanly. We’re locked in.

We are hosted by one of the most gracious rock’n’roll b&b proprietors
ever, himself a working musician who understands the allure of a free bed in
a comfortable home. He has big scary dogs but they’re safely squirreled
away. Three minutes after I hit the couch, I fall asleep. Tomorrow, finally,
is New York.

Day Fourteen / Friday, June 6

New York, NY. Bowery Ballroom.
W/ Brendan Benson, The Realistics

“You have two coffees. One of them is one coffee too many for you
(on a health kick).”

The Bowery Ballroom is one of those rare clubs that looks way smaller empty
than it does full. In my memory (from playing there three times and seeing at
least five shows there through the years), it was a palace, with three or four
balconies towering high above the vast stage. In fact, it’s no bigger
than most rooms we play, though it is taller, and way more business-like. Miraculously,
we find a great parking space, right in front of the club. Unfortunately, it’s
right in the middle of a gigantic puddle of filthy brown milk that smells curiously
of human waste. Que pasa, New York! Today is the day we play in the city. It’s
also the day that my sweetheart arrives for a week-long visit. It’s also
the day we are reunited with all our New York friends, notably Robin “Goldie”
Goldwasser and the members of the Barsuk mafia, NYC chapter. All that good news
more than compensates for the fact that the door guy is a king-size shitheel,
and there’s a big SNAFU regarding the guest list. No matter. It all works
out in the end, and we play pretty well to a half-full room, before decamping
to Katz’s.

Upstairs in the dressing room, there is low-level debauchery happening among
the Realistics and their friends. The Realistics are a very good band that’s
been playing around New York for close to five years. I must admit that when
they loaded in, I took them for one of the city’s post-Strokes fashion
bands. But their music, which is jagged new wave, more reminiscent of XTC than
the VU, made their look-ness feel justified. It can’t be easy for a band
to get noticed in New York City. Brendan’s set, for which the room was
completely packed, was outrageously good. Shaking off the bummer of last night
completely, he played with supreme confidence, and the crowd ate it up.

Since the Bowery Ballroom is where I have seen the most celebrities at rock
shows (did I once meet Juliana Hatfield there? Reader, I did), the evening wouldn’t
have been complete without a gratuitous name-drop: David Cross was at the show,
but he didn’t see us play.

There’s an after-party at a bar in Alphabet City, where the music is so
loud that you literally can’t even hear your own eardrums bursting. We
linger on the corner outside the party, talking to our friends and reeling in
the residual buzz of the night.

Day Fifteen / Saturday, June 7

Washington, DC. Black Cat (upstairs).
W/ Brendan Benson, Jesse Malin.

“Aw, fine ma, how’s WASHINGTON?”

D.C. is a tricky place to play for me. Because I went to high school about 10
minutes away from here, I always have some kind of strange reaction to returning.
I moved here, alone, when I was 14, and didn’t really start to become
the person I am until I left. My high school days, like everyone’s, were
a typhoon of failure and defeat, and D.C. was the background for most of it.
There’s a part of me that wants to reclaim this city as a grown-up, and
bend it to my will. I love traveling and I love cities. More specifically, I
love the feeling (and it can come from something as simple as catching a bus)
that a new city is yours for the asking. I get that almost everywhere in America,
except for a small handful of places where I have never felt fully welcome.
San Francisco was one, until we met Merlin Mann. Chicago is another. But for
me, the District of Columbia is ground zero among cities whose arms have never
embraced me.

Tonight will be no exception, even though the show is top-notch. Brendan joins
us to sing on “Unsalted Butter,” and I once again sit in on “Let
Me Roll It.” Afterwards, we say a long goodbye to the Wellfeds, who are
on their way home before setting out once again for Europe, where Brendan’s
star is on the rise. Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. After that, it’s
time to make another record. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Despite a perfectly respectable show, and a perfectly good time hanging out,
DC has once again failed to provide me with a perfect moment. There have been
plenty of good times, lord knows, but never a sense of integration with this
town. I’m not looking for anything concrete, just a sign. The only sign
I get comes a day or two later, when I realize that I left one of my favorite
shirts behind at the Super-8. Sigh.