Jan 2, 2013

Embedded Reporting: Arriving in Portland for the Sunn shows...

Showing up to your airport terminal before the first shift airline employees report to work was new to me.  I can tell you that there are other things in life that are far more awesome, but we checked our baggage pretty quickly once people showed up to man the ticket counters.  I always choose window seats.  I can halfway escape my surroundings by soaking in what there is to see from six miles up, and I always wanted to be able to fly when I was a kid.  I was pretty jealous of birds and wondered if they took their superhuman powers for granted.  Birds get to see things like this shot of us landing at Chicago's O'Hare Airport for our connecting flight all the time, and you don't have to work if you can simply fly to wherever food is.  Like being able to fly wouldn't be cool enough on its own!  And unlike us people, birds don't have to pay for tiny bags of peanuts or worry about plummeting to their grisly demise.  Nor do they have to save for months to fly, which is good since they don't need to keep jobs.  Yep, I enjoy getting to fly every now and then.

We had to take a shuttle to a different hotel en route to our own to pick up one of the two cars Scion was loaning to Southern Lord for this trip.  Dead in the Dirt got the other car, and for both of us to have our own transportation was indeed a nice perk.  Miraculously, all of our bags and guitars fit into the tiny box on wheels thanks to the luggage case attached to the top of the car.  We found our hotel, which Tannon's mother booked for us for two nights with points she had earned. That made things a lot more relaxing after our flight, and was a huge help.  Thanks, Mrs. Penland!  We found a great Lebanese place close to the hotel and I chowed down on some tzatziki salad and grape leaves stuffed with chick peas, lemon basmati rice, garlic, parsley and olive oil.  It was right on time, too!  

Once we got back to the hotel after spending an hour or so in a really cool record store, we decided to open the box Craig's amp had been shipped in to see what kind of damage there might be.  We were not disappointed!  Sure enough the box had been dropped on one of its corners hard enough to break the the clip that held the jack flush with the body.  Sweet!  Our first issue and we hadn't even seen anyone else from the tour yet!  There were a couple of music stores close by that we walked to but they would have had to order the part for us. We walked back to the hotel, opened up the amp and determined that it might not be so bad after all.  Craig and I had a friend who lived in Portland we were planning to catch up with later who could help.

Matt Brown moved from Raleigh about ten years ago and has spent most of that time in Portland.  He went above and beyond to make sure Craig and I were entertained.  He just opened up a Tex-Mex place called "Trigger" where he comped our dinner.  I had a relleno filled with "spoon bread" or loose cornbread.  It was great, but the sopapilla that came later was the star of the dinner.  If you had told me when I was a kid that you could have something like thin slices of flash fried french toast on a bowl full of ice cream, you may have changed the course of my life forever.  It's probably a good thing I had never tried Matt's sopapilla until I was much older.  I would have insisted we have it every night as a kid, so if my parents didn't kill me the dessert may have.  Now Monica has to figure out how to make it for me...

Matt gave us the number of the guy who works on his amps before dropping us off at Dante's, where our Raleigh brethren, Corrosion of Conformity happened to be playing. Ironically, the only other time I was on the West Coast was when I was traveling with C.O.C. when they were a three piece.  A quarter of a century later I found myself seeing them once again in Portland, and  with the exact same line up.  It was strange to see people who would have been slam dancing twenty plus years ago who were now dancing in that nostalgic way the silver ponytails dance at Neil Young shows now.  Punk has definitely become an accepted part of pop culture, even if that acceptance has taken the edge from its grit. Dante's was also where everyone in Sunn was officially kicking off the tour, so we got to say "hey" before meeting the next day at the club. We also met Matt, who is one of the owners of Relapse Records and professed to having been a Confessor fan for years.  He seemed to be really nice, even if his taste in music needs some help.  Confessor?!?!  I hear their drummer is a complete ass.

We got some well needed sleep, and the next morning I went out for coffee and something to pass for breakfast.  I had barely turned down the sidewalk in front of the hotel when I could have sworn I heard someone call my name.  I looked around and saw a guy looking at me but he said nothing, so I kept walking.  No one other than Matt knew me there... I must have imagined it.  A few more steps and sure enough, I heard my name again.  The same guy was looking at me and after a second he said "Loincloth", and it hit me that he and his friends must be Dead in the Dirt.  They were tracking down the exact same thing, so I joined their ranks and talked shop with them for a bit.  Hank and I made sure we were on the same page with the rented kit and after about thirty minutes they went about their day and I continued onto the river to see what there might be to photograph.  My photographic excursions in Raleigh have all but come to an end.  It's very rare that I have any luck in town anymore, so I was excited about new places to check out.

Most of what I photograph is pretty abstract.  Abstract in that I get close enough to things that you can't tell what they are anymore. The cover of the Loincloth album is a good example.  It's very different from tourist photos, but I can nerd out in that way, too.  I have no shame.  It's always worth it to have the pictures later, and that's my justification for standing out as the yokel with a camera wherever I go. There are lots of bridges over the river and I was just playing around with exaggerated vantage points and an industrial "feel" with this shot. Actually, the cover for 'Iron Balls of Steel' would not have come to be were it not for taking a camera with me every time I went to Richmond for practices.  I got an hour or so down by the Willamette River before I came back to the hotel to get Craig and his amp.  Thomas came with us and after we dropped Craig's amp off we met Matt at another place of his, "Bunk Bar" which was also a sandwich shop.  He wouldn't let us pay this time either, and the star at lunch was the best tomato soup I think I've ever had!  Matt can buy my meal anytime!  I met another drummer for an instrumental metal band while talking to Matt at the bar.  I didn't catch his band's name but his was Ansel, and he was disappointed he had to work and couldn't see us.  Maybe next time.

Craig's amp was ready before we finished lunch, so we picked it up and went back to the hotel to get everything before heading to The Roseland Theater for the show.  Even though we could see the club from the hotel it took us awhile to make it there.  Unlike Raleigh, two of the three lanes on wide streets in downtown Portland are reserved for bicycles and trollies. No traditional back and forth one way streets like most cities.  In Portland there are blocks where you can't turn across the trolly lane, which means that out of towners like myself get really confused trying to make it to a place that is just a few feet away.  I'm pretty sure the six different people I ran over were confused, too.  We got there though, and the body parts came out of the grill easily enough.

After we disposed of the last of the twitching appendages stuck to the bumper of our car, I found myself confronted with another dilemma; that of figuring out all of the unexpected surprises the rented drum kit had to offer.  I was relieved to have brought everything I could think of from my own drum set because we needed nearly everything I had.  I got to set the drums up in a relaxed way at the rest of the shows since we were first every night, but there was a lot of head scratching going on at this first show before I figured out all of the little wrinkles involved in setting the kit up for the first time.  I got it all under control eventually, and had no real problems with the kit.  Well, almost no problems.

I drop sticks from time to time.  There are plenty of shows where I manage to hang onto them the whole time, but I'd say I drop one every two or three shows.  No biggie, because I always have sticks stashed around me to grab regardless of which hand loses one. Unfortunately, none of my stashed sticks were where I left them on this particular night when I heard one stick faintly yell "Free at last!" as it rocketed out of my hand and landed close to the front of the stage.  Once I saw that my primary and secondary emergency stick-stashing spots had been sabotaged, I knew I was on my own.  We had about ten seconds left by then, but I was stuck thinking there had to be a stick within reach. There I was, leaned back as far as I could without falling off of my throne, patting the ground behind me while trying to keep playing.  It's tough to hit a snare you can't see anymore when you're basically laying horizontally and are desperately looking for something that isn't there.  I have never been so thrown off by losing a stick before!  What made this even cooler was the fact that the guy who signed us and got us onto this bill ( Greg, of Southern Lord/Sunn fame ) was right at the front of the crowd, checking us out for the first time.  Could I pass this trainwreck off as "artistic license"?  It was worth a shot.  If I had been able to think clearly I would have switched my stick to the right hand and continued playing the fade out and no one would have ever known how close I was to disaster.  Instead, disaster spilled out from behind the drums and gave anyone who was listening something to laugh at for a long, long time.  At least it was funny, and since I did it to myself I had to laugh too.  Sometimes that's all you can do... laugh at yourself.

Somehow, Greg Anderson was impressed with our set which is saying a lot when you consider that not only was it our first show using other people's equipment with, we had no sound check, and it was only our third time playing out as a band.  The audience was great to us as well.  I spent a good bit of the time after our set talking to John Sherman from the band, Red Fang.  He was a Raleigh person at one point, and also admitted being a fan of Confessor. He couldn't believe that we were playing, and I think he said it was his birthday. Thanks for coming out, John!  And thanks to Portland, and Matt Brown in particular for helping kick things off in such a positive way!  Oh yeah, I was greatly impressed by how nice and courteous virtually everyone in Portland was!  As someone born and raised in the Southeast, I enjoy hearing that same observation whenever someone visits Raleigh from another, er... less hospitable part of the country.  I have to tip my hat to the residents of Portland for having manners and being genuinely friendly.  It made me feel extra terrible for mowing all those people down in the car-sized bicycle lane!  Oops, my bad!

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