Next Stop: Bellingham
I was out of the hotel before anyone else every morning. I have to be at work at 7:00 during the week, and I was always the one walking around town whenever Confessor traveled, so it was no surprise to find myself alone in the mornings. Also, two of the guys often end up awake until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, but I can manage on less sleep than most people. I knew I wouldn't have time later in the day to scope out our surroundings, so if I wanted to find things to photograph I had to do it before load in or whenever we left for the next town. It's camera brain. I had already checked out things around the hotel in Portland, but coffee and a surprisingly good cheese danish seemed a nice way to start the morning. I used to drink coffee only when I would visit family. It seemed kind of special, and I associated it with people I cared about. A few years ago I had coffee two mornings in a row at work and I've had a cup every workday since. Twice is all it takes sometimes to start a lifelong habit. Ask any substance abuser! My cup isn't always great, in fact some mornings it's downright disappointing, but every morning I have high hopes. Wow! I guess the "Brown Lady" really does have her hooks in me!
The ride up to Bellingham, Washington was uneventful and the lanes there made sense to me, so no pedestrians had heart attacks because of my driving. That was a nice change. As we were leaving Portland we had to make several turns in a row that our GPS couldn't keep up with. I kept envisioning the damned thing sinking to the bottom of the Willamette River and complaining, in the unbelievably irritating faux-British accent Craig selected, all the way to the muddy bottom... "Recalculating... Recalculating... glug, glug". I wonder if bottom feeding fish and other forms of aquatic life have to deal with the constant hum of GPS units that have been angrily tossed from their cars. I'll bet there are a lot of cell phones and BFF necklaces down there, too.
Once we got to the club and had some time to kill we hunted down some lunch. Four people don't always want the same thing, and Craig and I found ourselves drawn to a Mexican place. I blew it off at first, thinking that a Mexican joint twenty minutes from Canada was not the place to get decent food, but there really weren't many options around us and I was getting hungry. Boy, am I glad we decided to eat there! I think this may have been the best meal of the trip! I have worked almost exclusively with Hispanics for over ten years. I liked Mexican food before, but I love it now! Once you have been introduced to home cooked Mexican food there is no turning back. Monica and I will occasionally wind up with a heavy bag of twenty or more veggie tamales ( we are both vegetarian ) and I am helpless in their presence. Tadeo's Mexican Restaurant had the most authentic Mexican food I have ever paid for. The red sauce was fantastic and different from the thick stuff you usually get, even if you ask for the upgrade to a place's hot sauce. Handmade tortillas are delicious on their own, but getting to shove a real relleno and good rice into one made this lunch a treat! Our waitress, Silvia from Michoacan, and the other lady who did all of the cooking were great. They weren't put off by me asking what had broth or lard ( "caldo" or "manteca" ) and both of them were friendly in that softly smiling way only Mexicans seem to possess. I felt like someone I knew was taking care of us. Check it out if you ever find yourself there.There were a couple of near disasters before the show. The lesser of the two involved the snare I was using. The chord that held the snares to the bottom of the head had broken and everything in Bellingham had shut down by the time I discovered the problem. It took a little while, but I was able to redo the knots with enough tension to get me through the rest of the shows. We had two snares, but sure enough the head would have broken on the good one had I not fixed the other snare. That's just the way things go. The more desperate problem was that I couldn't find the money bag from the night before. I had assumed it would show up with the shirts once Sunn showed up with all of the gear. Things got pretty hectic towards the end of the night in Portland and I couldn't visualize what I had done with the bag when I left the table to make sure all of the drum hardware I brought made it into the trailer. I forget where I leave things pretty frequently but they always reappear, so I wasn't too concerned about the bag. It had to be in with the shirts... but it wasn't.
Do you ever have those days in which so many things happen that seem connected that you feel as though one of life's many lessons is about to unveil itself as long as you are ready to receive it? Deflated from the thought that I may have lost our cash, I was trying to work through the embarrassment of having to tell Monica what happened. At that point I realized I didn't have my phone anymore. Another expensive blunder! I was positive I had left it at the Mexican place, so I slipped out of the building and walked the five or six blocks to ask Silvia if she had spotted it. Man! What a series of screw ups! My luck began to turn though as she smiled at me as if to say, "Sweet fool, you're lucky you tip well!" I knew she had my phone as soon as we made eye contact. A little Spanish goes a long way sometimes, and we both laughed about my oversight. Word to the wise, if you take a picture of your lunch because it's so damned good you want to remember it, make sure you put your camera ( or phone ) back in your pocket... and always tip well if the service is good.
Okay, at least that day wasn't going into four digits' worth of stupid mistakes. Walking back with my phone in hand made the idea of having to repay the band seem less painful all of a sudden. But my day was about to get even better. I had a hunch, so I went straight to the small case that had all of the hardware I brought for the kit. I looked through it quickly when it first arrived with Sunn's equipment before deciding the bag was gone. But something made me think to check it again. I thought, "Where would Steve Shelton, master of hiding and subsequently losing things, put the bag?" Just then I saw the corner of it poking out of a shadow, and remembered with perfect clarity shoving it between one of my pedals and the side of the case. I slipped it in there knowing someone would have to actually rummage through my things to see the bag, and I had to leave it alone for a few minutes in the hectic load out the night before. I had averted two expensive disasters in a span of ten minutes! I will gladly suffer some justified embarrassment if the alternative is actually having screwed things up. The bigger lesson I walked away with: If you just pay a little more attention life becomes a lot easier and less stressful. The smaller lessons; I may be an airhead but I'm not an idiot, and keeping a cool head is a real asset. I've had so many close calls that I know it's wasted energy to panic, plus out and out temper tantrums or freak outs don't usually endear you to anyone.
So we took the stage and proceeded to rip through our short set of micro arrangements and heavy, tourret's syndrome riffs. I had to set up in the epicenter of Sunn's ring of cabinets for all of these shows and I can tell you the volume was almost jarring on stage. It was actually disorienting at times. I've never had that experience before, where I couldn't even think because the stage was so loud. I seemed to get used to it as the shows went on, but it was rough at times. I am usually behind the line of cabinets, not just in front of them. I couldn't make anything out when we were playing that night, but that is pretty common. We played pretty well all things considered, and there were some reactions from the crowd that made me think we blew a few people away. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the solitary "Faaahhhk!", or the "Godddaaammnnnn!" that cuts through between songs whenever I play in front of a crowd that isn't really familiar with our material. Confessor got those everywhere we played too, and I've spoken to enough of those people after show to know the sentiment behind blurting that kind of praise out loud. I'm the guy at horror movies who laughs when the organs fly out of an exploding torso, or who actually claps in more traditional movies on the rare occasion that some poignant, uber-violence makes its way into a scene. I understand the heartfelt, involuntary bursts of celebration between songs and I love knowing that we just touched someone "down there".
Several people approached me after our set and said we kicked their asses. It was particularly nice to hear, precisely because hardly anyone knew who we were. Also, it was nice to feel like I had a fresh start after an afternoon filled with so much consternation over not being able to find our loot earlier. I needed to find some food after I finished packing my things away. As I searched the backstage area downstairs for scraps I did get to hear what Sunn were like in the basement of a building. Attila makes them creepy no matter where you are in the building. All of the exposed pipes, the cramped, nearly claustrophobic feel of the basement and the omnipresence of his vocals really made it feel like a horror movie scene. If I had been in the basement unawares late at night, I don't know if I would have come up to see what horrific thing might be going on or if I would have made peace with my maker and curled up, awaiting the inevitable end. Having the entire building vibrate throughout their set was magnified down in its belly, and quite effective.
We left Bellingham for Seattle, and our next adventure once we had the trailer loaded up. After dinner I'll begin to write about that show, and our white-knuckled drive down to California.