Sean's Tour Diary - Part 5 of 6

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

Sean's Tour Diary
Part 5 June 13-16

Day Twenty

Friday, June 13
Philadelphia, PA. The Khyber.
W/ 3 other bands.
"Jacob Javits, I'd like to thank you for everything (primarily, your glass house)."
It's almost not worth writing about this show, because it was almost not worth playing this show, because it was almost not worth travelling through three hours of nightmarish traffic and pissing rain to arrive at a bar with a lousy PA and an aggro jukebox, where we would be first on a bill of five bands, playing from 8-9, before any reasonable person would be at a rock show in the first place, especially since it's not all-ages.
We could be hanging out in New York City, but instead we're in Motown Philly, a city where I have passed many wonderful hours with some very important people. Philadelphia was also the host to one of my top 5 rock'n'roll moments--an all night drunken hootenanny with two of my favorite songwriters in an empty dressing room, to be precise. But that's not the Philly we're in. We're in the other Philly, the one where it's raining and no one cares about your band and you have to play to five people through shitty speakers with not so much as a coke and a hoagie to show for your troubles.
I'm not one to gripe about crowd size--the handful of attendees had come, some from great distances, to see us, and that's always worth something. There is a lie in rock that says the bigger a band gets, the better they must be at playing live. In real life, the shows you play to almost no one make you aware that the crux of the entire act of playing music for people is communication. Not expression, but interaction between player and listener. Playing to big crowds teaches you how to play to big crowds. Playing to small ones teaches you how to play for people. Some of the greatest shows I've seen and many of the best I've played were in front of minuscule audiences. Tonight, alas, would not be like that. The smallness of the crowd wasn't the issue--we've all played to fewer--the earliness of the show was just an example of the half-assedness of the whole half-assed scenario.
We played as well as we could under the circumstances ("Stupid" was a crowd pleaser), and as soon as we were done, we loaded off the stage, onto the streets, and into the van as fast as humanly possible. Eager to return to New York, the band performed like a crack tactical unit of the SWAT team. Eric has emerged as this tour's packmaster, growing into the mantle following the departure of Chris. (And by the way, I should mention here that a good chunk of every day in the van consists of us wondering where Chris is at any given moment as he prepares for his cross-country bike ride; we extol his name and good works as though we were summoning the dark one.) The job suits Eric; he does a great job after every show and has become a very necessary element of stealth in what can often be a hellish ordeal--the load out. But there are load-outs and there are load-outs. Tonight would be a baptism for the packmaster. (If anyone's still reading, that sounds like a good prog metal lyric, doesn't it?) A very busy, very narrow street with tons of foot traffic, a stage configuration that requires us to be all-the-way off before the next band can even think about setting up, and oh yeah, did I mention the torrential downpour? I drew the easy lot and took care of the merchandise (I've always hated the word "merch," because it sounds crass, but it really is a useful abbreviation, and I'm just declaring my surrender to it hereinafter) until it was time to jump in the van, and listen to the record store owner who had jumped in to get some CDs signed denounce the evils of "goddamn downloading," file sharing, and home CD burning. And then, we're off. Done playing, locked and loaded before 10pm, record time. Let's go get some salads at a weird pikeside Greek diner staffed exclusively by Turks.

Day Twenty-One

Saturday, June 14
New York, NY. Fez.
Loser's Lounge.
"Just because we're on the bottom of the ladder we shouldn't be sadder than others like us who have goals for the betterment of life. I'll get another job at night"
I don't remember when I first heard about the Losers' Lounge, but I do remember my reaction: a burning desire to attend and perform. The Lounge is a loose collective of New York musicians, artists, and actors who get together once a month and pay tribute to a great songwriter who somehow fits the banner of loser. The show consists of a two-hour set played by a slamming house band and a rotating cast of singers. Past tributees include Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, and David Bowie among others. Tonight's show will honor XTC, and thanks to the good graces of lead Loser Joe McGinty, and the trusty stewardship of Robin "Goldie" Goldwasser and Matthew Caws, I will be part of the singer perp walk, trying my hand at the old Skylarking chestnut, "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul." I've been studying the lyric sheet for days, trying to wrap my brain around the impressionistic faux-jazz, world travel as metaphor for profound introspection vibe, with some success, but I'm still nervous. I get to the soundcheck exactly on time (I would've been early, but I had a tricky time remembering that Fez is the place that's downstairs in the other place and blah blah blah) and walk straight from the sunlight onto the stage (via three bars and a couple flights of stairs) and run through the song three or four times with the band. The band, which, by the way, is comprised of the kind of musicians who look totally casual and nonplussed while playing incredibly hard parts perfectly, with no preparation. My favorite.
With a couple of hours to kill before the first show (8 and 11), I browse the little independent record store in Cooper Square that's right across the street from the big ass Tower Records. Browse browse browse. There was a time when I would go into record stores on tour just to have an interaction with the clerk, to prove that life was actually happening. And then, the process became so refined that I would go just to have an interaction with the records. It was like visiting friends; bands I knew, bands I liked, bands I didn't. The records I bought were like souvenirs of my visit. Now, the refinement is complete. I just go into these stores and look. A wise man I know makes a physiological distinction between shame--a tingling, burning sensation around the scalp precipitated by something that has already happened--and dread--a bilious lump sinking into the chest as a harbinger of things to come. Either way you slice it, record stores are problematic for me.
Fortunately, Goldie has emerged from Fez, and we go to a deli for pre-show coffee and snacks. (Once when I was a fecund wannabe New Yorker, I went to a coffee shop late at night specifically to order "coffeeand." The waiter's response was "coffee and what?" which was exactly what I wanted to know when I read Last Exit to Brooklyn.) I had some kind of thing with peppers and corn and black beans and it was so delicious I almost had time to forget how nervous I was about performing.
The thing about the Loser's Lounge, as I would come to understand as the night progressed, is that the audience isn't the main audience--it's an evening of performers performing for other performers and, crucially, cheering one another on. Everyone crowds the wings to watch everyone else, which makes each singer rise to the challenge of stopping a show full of showstoppers. No one makes much money (except the club, of course), but it's the most fun you've ever had. And it's all in the name of toasting a great band. Some people play it straight, while others deconstruct. The band, meanwhile, provides a versatile and unfailing foundation for whatever you're into trying. Seattle has tried to pull off similar multi-artist showcases with varying degrees of success; the ones that work are the ones where individuals can subsume themselves in a larger community. The big surprise is that it can work so beautifully in the fabled cutthroat environment of New York City. By the end of the night (the second set stretches past three hours) I'm ready to follow these people anywhere.
(My only regret is that the show falls on the night of our friend Kristen Kosmas's wedding. John has gone upstate to celebrate the event with several of my favorite people in the world.)

Days Twenty-Two & Twenty-Three

Sunday-Monday, June 15-16
New York, NY.
Two days off.
"Lo and behold, lo and behold, looking for my lo and behold. Get me out of here, my dear man."
There's nothing like two days off to make you feel like you haven't played a rock show in a while. Rusty and spent, I while my waning hours in the city searching for a perfect New York moment, which comes courtesy of Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, playing at the Film Forum, which is directly across the street from the subway stop when I disembark. Perfect! I'd never seen the film all the way through before, and it's a marvel--funny, smart, and wickedly sly. The Lubitsch Touch is in full effect. I make a note to rewatch as much Lubistch as possible when I get home. I make another note to remember, when people are falling all over themselves praising Billy Wilder (this again, is a whole other discussion), to speak up for old Ernst, who invented every beat that Wilder ever copped, and did it better. Coming out of the theater, I feel like a plant that's been freshly watered. I proceed to amble (not very plantlike, but why marry your metaphors?) around the West, then East Village, lingering at the vendor stalls and remembering the good parts of going to college here. As the sun sets, I head back uptown for one last night in my bed before Monday's rendezvous with the boys, whom I'm beginning to miss, I'm happy to report. New York has been exactly what it was supposed to be, but as any New Yorker will tell you, the real secret to mastering this town is knowing when to get out. Look oot, Toronto.