STNNNG 2011 Spring Tour Diary: Days 9 – 12

Day 9: Wichita…The vortex on the edge of the west.

Our first real drive in a few days, we pass right by Kaufman Stadium on the interstate and see people filling it up for opening day.  St Louis is the gateway city but Wichita is really the first city of West and our home away from home, I always love coming to this town.   I’ve been especially excited to return since I read Charles Plymell’s great beat novel Last of the Moccasins which in part takes place in Wichita.  Lots of our longtime friends have moved away, but there are still plenty of friends and familiar faces tonight.  There are people who have seen every show we have ever played here.

Venue is called Naked City Gallery and it’s exactly that a big, open, concrete room with high ceilings, nothing to absorb the sound.  It is loud as fuck.  I’m talking with Sean Bergmann from Muscle Worship, who we are playing with tonight and tomorrow, and when the first band drummer starts to warm up I can no longer hear the words Sean is saying.  I can’t even hear the words I’m saying.  And we are a good 75 feet away from the stage, so you know its going to be one of those nights tonight but you do what you can. 

Dan Davis is also playing with Muscle Worship these days and it’s great to see him. Ben has taken to writing set-lists or “proposals” as he calls them, which is more then fine with me, but sometimes he throws in some real curveballs, like tonight, opening with “Grand Island”? 

Adam busts a string a couple songs in but we cover nicely with a little improv jam, one of those things that becomes so easy to do once you’ve played a bunch of shows in a row.  People are way into it, dancing, singing along, they really seem to dig the new tunes as well which makes me feel good.  If Wichita is feeling them then I know they are good songs.  I’m sweaty and barefoot when it’s done and felling great, even though I spaced on doing the Plymell rap I had planned. Post show we head down the street to a bar for a drink and the big set of keys makes the ride on the roof of the van.  Not sure how that happened.

Day 10: Wichita/Lawerence

The Starbucks in Kansas suck.  Seriously, an air pot?  I’m paying more then two dollars for a cup of coffee from a goddamn air pot? Today is laundry day!  It feels amazing to have clean clothes on, even if I didn’t get a chance to shower.  Also finish reading Remainder while waiting for clothes to dry.  The book is excellent, nearly perfect.

The drive today takes us through burning fields.  Signs on the side of the road warn to pull over if the smoke becomes too thick.  The landscape is already harsh and lunar in this part of the country, add huge fires that burn right next to the road with billowing clouds of smoke only amplifies the sense you are somewhere alien.  And of course, I can’t help but reflect on the title of the new album. Ben simply says “scorched earth” as we drive past another land fire belching smoke, flames licking the very edge of the freeway turning the soil to a rich charred black. In Lawrence we hang out with Dan Davis and watch “The Simpsons” with him as is the tradition. 

Today’s party liquor is a return to tequila, so you know spirits are feeling revived.  We grill out with Sam and Will Gunnerson of Jabberjosh and a bunch of folks.  The weather for the first time is pretty decent.  Sam blows our collective minds by playing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” at 33 instead of 45 and pretty soon the tequila is flowing easy and we are listening to every 45 we can find at the wrong speed.

We’ve never had a really good show at the Replay but, tonight being Friday and with Muscle Worship coming home after two weeks on the road the turnout is strong.  The great thing about this place is the huge outdoor patio that draws a solid crowd, now basically none of those people come to watch you play, but they all have to pay the cover just the same. Jabberjosh plays a song from Billy Madison that for more then a second I thought was a Killdozer cover.  Its good to actual kind of hear Muscle Worship tonight, as opposed to the cave-noise of last night. 

We play well, despite having sound problems as well, the vacuum thing is happening again. There is a point during the set when I think I’m going to have to deal with some drunken assholes that’ve drifted over from the patio side to use the toilet.  The way the place is set up you have to come inside to use the bathroom which forces people to practically walk on the stage.  Lawrence is of course, a huge college town and all that entails, so when a dipshit starts flopping around in front and trying to goad me into doing something I’m not surprised.  I can tell he is mocking me and he’s knocking into people in front, so I throw him a shoulder check mid-tune and wait for him to come flying back at me, but no such luck.  He disappears somewhere and we get through the rest of the set without incident.  We end with “Sultans”, which has become great and weird on the road, dedicating it to the Gunnersons and the joy of slowed down songs.  All in all it’s a good night.

Speaking of college dudes after the show on the street there is of course a fight, dudes spitting at each other and calling each other “faggot” while a guy on the street corner with a guitar and amplifier plays Nirvana songs over and over and Ben yells at the guys, egging them on, it’s a perfectly normal tour scene. The next day is legitimately nice, warm, and in fact almost hot if you can believe it with the sun shining.  Manage to pop into Love Garden, an excellent record store for a few minutes before we head off to Lincoln for the last two shows.

Day 11 and 12-Lincoln…the big finish.

One more day, one more town, two more shows.  Zoo Bar is a hardcore blues dive, narrow like a shoe box but tall, with fading posters from over the years of all the blues dudes who’ve played there and also Kronos Quartet?  Stage is tiny.  Across the street is a cigar and scotch bar, so basically heaven on earth and I spend all my time before the show stars over there with Justin and Kyle who are down from Omaha dissecting the important topics which are weighing on my mind this evening, namely Danzig and Marc Maron.

Nate’s folks are here tonight and some other folks from Omaha, there is some big show going on around the corner.  Right before the Zoo Bar gig starts we find out that the after party we are playing later tonight is actually a four band bill, including another touring band, so yeah…great.

Mother Pile from Omaha plays before us and are loud, loud, loud, just punishing stoner rock and I can tell the sound guy is going to be one of those guys tonight when, as we are setting up he derisively asks me if we “are like that?” “You mean loud?  Yeah, we are loud.” “Ugh.”  He then admonishes me for eating popcorn near the microphone.  Awesome. 

So we open with “Sultans” tonight before bringing the proverbial hammer down.  I hate to admit that the sound guy’s rap got to me, but it kind of did.  Plus, the stage has such a tight foot print its impossible to stretch out so I end up down on the floor for the most part crawling around people’s legs.    New songs feel great tonight; we keep the set pretty short since we are playing again in just a couple of hours.

The house party is a complete cluster fuck.  First we go to the wrong house, then we find the right place and it is two doors down from the firehouse, so sirens go off every few minutes.  Because is another crazy Saturday night in downtown Lincoln, And just like the first night in Iowa City there are straight up children at this party, but this is what the gig is so we make it happen. 

None of us really want to lug all of our gear down into the basement but our requests to borrow gear from the other bands are all denied.  Thanks dudes.  So we schlep everything past drunken, jabbering party goers, down a steep flight of stairs into a tiny basement.  Set-up just on the other side of the water heater.  No PA to speak of so this set will essentially be sans vocals, a fact I feel should bother me more then it does.  That we are even doing this feels absurd, so why should the fact I’m going to end up pantomiming the whole set faze me?  Playing this party I feel really cements our location in the universe, blasting away to thirty people who are packed like sardines in a little basement located underneath a party house in a deeply B-list Midwestern city in the middle of the night.  Ladies and gentlemen we have achieved pure obscurity! I can’t really hear anything while we are playing and the crowd is right in our faces, I’m literally nose to nose with folks, everyone is drunk and hollering, some girl is standing over the drum kit getting groped by her boyfriend.  Since the PA isn’t helping me at all I push out under the staircase where is there’s a little more breathing room and try to bring the show to the people, singing as loud as I can.  During “Id is a Dude” some kid keeps coming right up to me and screaming into my right nostril, which is not a microphone of any sort at all.  He keeps doing it and doing it and I’m exhausted and crazed, having sweated out all my bodily fluids twice over and I tackle him, grab his shirt by the collar and scream right in his face.  I kind of doubt that’s what he expected to happen. The room is hot, it’s hard to breathe, but the energy level is insane, people really seem to be going off, including us.  Ben takes his normal drum solo in the middle of “Some Raw Girls”, except its anything but normal, it is wild and unhinged and it keeps going.  Jesse and I exchange a bemused look and my crazed stupor is replaced by a sort of awe struck reverie, watching Ben put the pedal down, speeding up his crossovers, arms flailing and just playing as if there were no tomorrow.  It is easily the highlight of the tour. We close with “Grand Island” because we are gluttons for punishment. 

The second we finish I race upstairs and out the door into the cold night air.  Steam comes pouring off my body and someone offers me a sip of water from a plastic cup. It’s nearly 2:30 AM when we load the gear out of the basement and drive to Justin’s place in Omaha.  There is a temptation to just power on through the night to get home early in the morning, but it is seven hours and we all need some sleep.

Next morning at 10 AM, barely five hours after arriving at Justin’s we are heading home.  Tired but happy the tour went well.  Monday night we have a session to record with Neil Weir. The drive home is quiet and uneventful.  The air temperature is a full 25 degrees less in Minneapolis then Omaha; I guess it still might be winter in Minnesota after all. It feels good to sleep in my own bed. — Chris Besinger

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