I've never been able to say no to people when it comes to work. Who could when such great bands keep calling? I've been working for Sonic Youth for seven years and Iron & Wine for three, and miraculously there have been barely any conflicts. This year I'm doing Pavement too, but it's working out, more or less, because Mark Ibold is pulling double duty on bass in SY and Dan Mapp is tour managing both bands. Dan will have the hardest job in show business when he submits the guest list for the Pavement/Sonic Youth show at the Hollywood Bowl this September!
LA guest lists are legendary and everyone needs VIP treatment whether they're "very" important or not. Aren't free tickets and the obligatory free beer backstage enough? Don't even get me started on all the rider raiders* eating and drinking everything backstage like a swarm of locusts. After working all day and then packing a semi-truck full of PA and backline, all you want is one cold beer. If you're in LA or New York, everything will be long gone** by the time you get done working, and to top it off some hipster from the guest list will give you a dirty look when you walk in the door wondering where the rest of the free beer is. At the last show Sonic Youth played in LA, someone took so many things from the dressing room that his two grocery bags ripped open and spilled produce and drinks all over the stairs.
* or "liggers" if you're from the UK. Hope that isn't offensive slang; it's one of my favorite words for this.
** Dan usually hides some beer and a pizza from the raiders under a desk for the crew, which is one of the many reasons I love that man.
Anyway, let's get back on the topic. I work for three amazing bands this year. And one weekend I get to work for all of them. Four days, three bands, and two countries. Can I pull it off?
Band 1: Iron & Wine and the Midwives Alliance of North America benefit in Austin, Texas
John, the tour manager from the Iron & Wine camp, contacted me months ago about me coming down to Austin to do sound for Sam's now annual midwives benefit, and I'm a sucker for breakfast tacos and dry heat so I really wanted to do it. They told me that there was no money in the budget for any production staff (it's a benefit after all), and I let them know I was willing to sleep on floors or do whatever was needed for an excuse to fly down there to help. I'd also heard that Calexico was going to be the backing band, and I wasn't going to miss those wonderful gents for anything. Ahem, and there were three new coffee joints I was told to check too . . .
The day before the show I landed in Austin with John and we got in our rental car and headed downtown. John usually humors me with all my destination coffee places, so he let me pick a couple right off the bat. A friend told me that there was a coffee cart on 2nd and Congress; it wasn't far from our hotel, so we walked over there. Patika Coffee
was really fun, but they "only had ceramic for tasting" (even though I saw at least two). Don't I want to taste it too? Guess they don't think people are going to hang out there? It was still quite good, and it won't be the last time I hit that place. They had this really interesting tarp over the cart that let rainwater into all the plants, and it was pouring so we got to see it in full effect.
We hung out at Patika until the rain subsided a little, then walked a couple of blocks over to Frank to check out the only place in town that carries Intelligentsia beans. It's a very friendly place that serves up over-the-top hot dogs, coffee, and beer. We were too wired up from Patika to have any more coffee, but we both felt we could really use a beer and a dog. It was no Hot Doug's, but it was all right. I was really excited about the bowl of corn after eating the same at Publican the week before, but the midwest version came out on top again. Resolved to come back the next morning and give the coffee a shot. John had a recording studio he wanted to check out before we met up with Sam, so we finished our beer and split.
- Frank. Hot Dogs, Cold Beer indeed.
We left Austin and entered the middle of NOWHERE, GPS, where Google Maps has never been. After calling the studio a few times, we finally got in touch with them and they stayed on the line with me while they navigated over the phone. At last we pulled up to Blue Rock
studios. Boy, was it worth it. This couple built an amazing recording studio enveloping a Texas ranger fort complete with watchtower. It felt like being in someone's mansion that happened to have mike panels hidden in the walls so you could be hanging out by the fireplace with your buddies and then just drop in your Neumann U47 to capture it. It had four guest houses, a pool, Rupert Neve
for a neighbor, and a back-porch view that you had to sit down for. If any of you happen across some bread (it was actually pretty cheap) and need a getaway-style studio, this place is for you.
- The back porch of Blue Rock was insane.
Drove out to see Sam's new house and the newest member of the family (that man has an even more impressive back porch on his new place than his old one—is this a Texas thing?) before heading back to Austin for the screening of Badlands
at the Paramount Theater that Sam curated. It's one of his favorite movies, and they got an original print for the screening; he was going to MC the show. Grabbed some popcorn, a can of Tecate (with a lime), found my seat, and I was all set. If you haven't seen this movie in awhile, please do yourself a favor and see it again. It's a story that will be told again and again (Natural Born Killers
and True Romance
are poor renditions) but never again as well as this. Terrence Malick's
wife was in the audience as well as Explosions in the Sky
and we even got a tour of the projection booth.
Afterward some folks from the theater led us through the pulsing, miniskirt-wearing, $2-shot-fueled mess that is 6th Street at midnight. It was what I remembered of the low points of Mardi Gras, and it was only a Wednesday night! Remind me never to come to this part of town on a Friday! Where in the world are they taking us? The Parkside
, actually. As soon as the door shut behind us there was the instant relief of quiet, candles, and the smell of meat from the kitchen. (I haven't eaten the stuff in 15 years, but it still smells good.) You say tonight is half price oysters and champagne? It appears we're in the right place. Garlic fries and bubbly go together better than you might think.
- The ending of the evening started like this . . .
We were staying in The Driskill
and I had a better night's sleep than I've had in a long time. (Was it the mattress or that second bottle of prosecco?) Woke up and walked back over to Frank, and to my taste their coffee far outdid their hot dogs. I really liked it in there in the morning (hey, I'm used to hanging out in bars) and with only a handful of patrons and the sun coming in I would've hung out there all day. But alas, I had a show to put on. Should be an easy and fun day today, only 22 inputs and six people onstage. Everyone in Calexico is an amazing musician and knows when to lean in and step out musically, so mixing them would be a breeze in that theater. What could possibly go wrong?
- Breakfast tacos from Royal Blue Grocery
- Coffee at Frank. A wonderful morning.
Well, let me tell you. If I never
see the Paramount Theater again it will be too soon. One of the most frustrating days I've ever had doing any* show. I just wrote two pages about why I had such a horrible work day, and I had to go back and erase it because it was really dragging me down. No one wants to read me complaining about house sound systems that no local knows how to run. Or digital mixing desks that no local knows how to operate. Or the stagehand who didn't want me to touch anything cause that was his
job and when I finally asked him to move something one time
he said, "Well, that's the last time we are moving that."
See, there I go complaining again! OK, one last thing. If your local stagehand ever says the phrase "This isn't my first rodeo" without any sense of humor or irony, you are in for a long day.**
There are reasons cliches exist, and the show did indeed go on. Four hours of scheduled rehearsal turned into 30 minutes because I was so behind trying to get the show going. Never got the subs to work and couldn't get any effects or reverbs in the digital console running, but dare I say it sounded pretty good in there. They played almost everything from In the Reins
and it was all worth it.
After the show, we headed back to the Parkside. We snuck in before they closed and ate and drank for an hour after they locked the doors. Safe again.
* Anyone who's put on a show in Italy or Spain can tell horror stories of local hands trying to reinvent the way shows are run. Shows there can make you think you've lost your marbles. More than one show in these "laid-back" and "passionate" places has barely happened because no one had their act together. Russia is an entirely different story. I'm pretty sure the tour manager had to pay people off to have our gear show up at all.
** This is the nice version! You should've read the original post I wrote on the plane ride to Montreal when I was still steaming from this dude.
One band down and headed to Montreal tomorrow. Two bands to go! See you then?
Jeremy also posts on Twitter and is probably on the road right now. . . .