Jan 6, 2013

Seattle, WA and Haunting Thoughts of The Donner Party

We made it to Seattle and checked into our hotel by about six o'clock Monday morning.  I got up around eleven and had just enough time to get some coffee and something to eat before we had to meet the other bands for load in.  Thomas met me while I was finishing up my breakfast on the fly and we talked about how the trip was going.  I've known Thomas since I was sixteen and it was great to be able to travel with him again.  He and I were in a band called Bloodbath back in high school.  We were kind of like a crossover band before the term existed.  Punk roots tempered with a touch of Celtic Frost and Iron Maiden. Regardless, my first band experiences were with him and it has been wonderful to have them again almost... gulp... thirty years later.

I had been looking forward to the show in Seattle.  It seemed like it would be a good one and I spent a long weekend there some years ago and had a really good time.  Unfortunately we didn't have much extra time because our drive after the show was about fifteen hours down to San Francisco, and believe it or not, it rained a lot while we were there.  Our hotel was not far from the University, but not close enough to take advantage of the kinds of stores one finds around campuses.  We did need some things from the Radio Shack and UPS stores that were right down the street when we left the next morning but other than that, coffee was the only thing nearby that I benefited from personally.  Rain and coffee... welcome to Seattle!

The show was at The Neptune Theater.  I love playing theaters! It usually sounds really good in them and the stage is high enough that everyone can see. Since the floors slope upward people in the audience can avoid the tallest among us who seem to stay in hiding until a band you have wanted to see comes through.  I'm not particularly tall, but I never feel like a dwarf until I try to see a show.  Who keeps all of the 6' 4" and taller metal heads corralled until it's time for a decent show?  How much grain do they go through in a month?  I have endless questions...  

By this show we had all settled into a routine.  We knew where to look for things when we were setting up, and roles began to emerge that took some of the guessing out of load in and set up.  We got a pretty decent soundcheck at this show, which helped us feel more comfortable than at the first two shows.  The guy running monitors ( Nelson ) and the stage manager ( Bruce ) we both really nice and easy to work with.  After our soundcheck Thomas, Craig and I went out to look for food.  Tannon is almost never hungry when everyone else is, so he stayed at the club.  Also, he didn't want to soak his Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers in the rain.  Those shoes are notorious for reeking to high heaven when they are dry.  Anyone who has ever had a pair understands the dangers of getting them wet.  I can't for the life of me figure out why they have such staying power with adults, unless it's a way to hang onto youth.  A youth that knows nothing of lower back pain from shoes that offer less support than being barefoot on concrete, or of feet that smell like old clam shells and thick, stagnant water.  To me they let everyone know that the person wearing them would rather be twelve years old.  They are ubiquitous in the aging punk scene and hipster circles.  I wonder if they all carry "Slam Books" still.  What's your favorite color?  Have you ever gotten past first base?

Falafel Corner found three happy North Carolinians at one of its tables on that cold, dreary night.  I haven't warmed completely to Mediterranean food.  There is often too much olive oil and not enough flavor for me but I do like falafel, and their rice with cucumber sauce was pretty damned good.  I had been truly impressed by the food on the trip, and Falafel Corner kept our good fortune on track in Seattle.  On the way back Thomas and I stopped at the record store that was under the club and I was able to pick up a couple of things for people for Christmas.  I have turned a few of the guys at work on to American horror movies.  I grabbed "Touristas" for Antonio, one of my favorite horror films of the last few years, and "Insidious" for Monica.  That movie has some pretty great moments and the only thing that feels PG-13 about it is that there really isn't any gore or nudity.  Just steady, nervous tension with some good suspense scares.  No exploding torsos to elicit inappropriate applause from this aging metal head, but a good movie nonetheless.  Monica and I agree about horror basics: Blood and tits are almost an automatic 3 out of 5 stars.  The rest is up to the director.

Our set started off like a comedy routine.  Tannon stepped up to the microphone and announced us, but none of Thomas' gear was cooperating. His chord looked like a pile of pretzels, his tuner wasn't plugged in though it took him a minute to see what the problem was, and to say that the silence was pregnant doesn't really begin to explain how completely awkward and unprofessional it was.  That silence was broken eventually, by me beginning to laugh pretty hysterically.  Tannon had just interjected that we should not not make any guitar noise before starting our first song as we were positioning ourselves onstage...  You know, "Act like we've been here before" and whatnot.  Sure!  Sounds great.  We're adults after all, despite what our shoes and t-shirts say.  After it became apparent that Thomas was far from mastering his domain and the silence had become unsettling, Tannon let out an accidental chunk that was so fiercely loud, with an echo so booming I thought I'd hear bottles breaking at the bar!  It almost scared me so much that I fell off of my seat!  It was all I could do to keep from collapsing into a ball of heaving laughter.  It was such a Saturday Night Live skit, made all the funnier by the fatherly request for us to act like pros mere seconds before.  After that it seemed like every minute movement on Thomas' part belched forth some electronic squeek or low hum.  Even the monitor guy came from around the cabinets to see what in the world we may have done to his system, but we eventually got it together and began to rock the place.  Hopefully people saw how hard we were laughing and at least found our own interaction amusing even if they had no idea what we were doing.  With all of the laughing before we started I completely forgot to put in my ear plugs.  Ouch!  Cymbals are grueling to the naked ear once you start using ear plugs.  I can't play them for more than about five seconds without my ears beginning to scream.  I'm not kidding... it sucks!  I threw them in the first chance I got, but it took a few minutes.  What we put ourselves through for art, right?!?!

I was able to get some pictures of Dead in the Dirt's set before I took over at the merchandise table.  They were really nice guys and heavy in the grungy way that Southern Lord seems to cultivate in its roster.  They're playing here in Raleigh just a couple of days before our show at King's.  It'll be nice to see them again, and Ben.  Earth also played the show in Seattle, though I didn't get a chance to see them.  Tannon and I spoke to their drummer, Adrienne after the show.  She seemed pretty nice and down to earth.  No pun intended...  Actually, most of the people we ran into at shows or out on the street were really nice.  You don't run into that everywhere, but it sure is refreshing when you do find people who are considerate and gregarious. Tannon and Thomas said that Sunn were particularly ominous that night.  I never had a chance to leave the merchandise table to see them, but I can imagine in that theater they would have had quite an impact.  I stepped out to try and find some dinner around 11:30 but everything was closing.  I ended up back at the Falafel Corner for round two after I got this kind of dreamy picture of a creative Christmas window display based on Tim Burton's "A Nightmare Before Christmas".  Somebody gets a gold star for creativity!

We left around noon the next day, knowing that we faced a pretty substantial drive.  More dreary rain fell as we allowed the GPS to lead us astray again.  I'm not so impressed with technology.  It works great until it doesn't, if you know what I mean.  Fortunately we had all day and night to get as far down into California as we felt we needed, so a little setback was no big deal.  We decided to make a pit stop in Portland.  We needed a break by then and Tannon had left his waterproof shoes at the hotel when we left a few days earlier.  I was just glad to see that I wasn't the only one with "locating issues"!  We were going to stop at Matt's place and eat whether he was there or not.  He was so good to us, and the food was good too so I was more than happy to bring him some business.  He met us there after we picked up Tannon's shoes and insisted that he pay.  Tannon flipped out over Matt's tomato soup just as I had.  I made sure to get it again, and it was just as fantastic as I remembered. Check out Bunk Bar on Water Ave. if you are ever in the area.

We grabbed a coffee next door to gas ourselves up before the rest of our journey.  As nice as the girl was who took our order, I have to say it was without a doubt the worst coffee I have ever paid for!  It tasted like raisins and figs and had a sludgy powder at the bottom of the cup. Tannon's was the same way and we both threw ours out without realizing the other had done the same.  God, it was awful!  I'm making yuck faces right now just thinking about it. Yeesh...  We had one more stop to make at a music store to find a suitable box for Craig's amp.  We would have to ship it back home, but since Federal Express did all they could to destroy it the first time we felt like we should find better packing for it, and what better place to look for such things than a store that gets new amps shipped to it all the time?  Our stop in Portland took about two hours but it was precisely the kind of break and refueling we needed.  Except for the coffee, of course.  We left for somewhere in California with no idea that we were mere hours from having a group anxiety attack in the mountains of Oregon.

Matt had warned us of how bad "The Pass" could be, and that many bands had missed shows because of dangerous road conditions in the mountains.  He also alluded to people getting killed on this treacherous stretch of highway, so we were all a little nervous about the reports of a blistering snow storm that was coming in at some point during the night.  All was well and good until we started to climb Grant's Pass, which is the last mountain on I-5 South before you enter California.  It had been raining intermittently for awhile, but as we climbed the temperatures began to plummet and rain turned to snow.  It got progressively worse as we continued up the mountain.  Inevitably, traffic began to slow and cars started taking exits that appeared to go absolutely nowhere.  Our little pack of unconnected travelers were blazing a trail through the snow.  Our knuckles were almost as white as the snow itself, but we forged ahead.

The snow got heavier, and weaker willed travelers began to peel off one by one until there was nothing but an eighteen wheeler, an SUV and us.  One car just gave up and threw on its flashers, pulling over onto the shoulder.  That thought terrified me!  As difficult as it was to see with two vehicles' lights ahead of us I was not about to stop on the side of the road for who knows how long, and with whatever weather yet to come.  He stopped in the middle of a curve in the road!  That seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.  The faint echo of Matt's dire warning didn't do much to comfort us either, especially whenever we had no choice but to pass people who were going so slow that they were a hazard.  We couldn't see a damned thing as we passed a couple of larger vehicles.  I did what any experienced driver would have done... I took my hands from the steering wheel, threw them up into the air like we were on a roller coaster, closed my eyes as hard as I could and shrieked like an eleven year old at a Justin Beiber concert while I buried the gas pedal into the floor board.  I don't think the guys were particularly emboldened by my approach, but we made it past that hurdle a couple of times using my technique. When the second to last big truck pulled off at an exit that truly looked like the last exit on earth we suddenly felt isolated.  Things seemed more serious. What did that driver know that we didn't?  Were there already reports of stranded groups of people eating each other to survive?  Crap!  I have more meat on me than anyone else in the band...  Why were they looking at me that way, and why were they nodding to each other in silent agreement?  Hell, maybe there were zombies involved on top of everything else?  I just kept climbing and climbing, even as they tucked napkins into the tops of their shirts and clanged knives and forks together.  We lost our connections to the internet early on so we couldn't see where the worst of things was or what might lay ahead. Our cluster of vehicles, unified in the fear of sliding off the mountain and of loved ones turning into blood thirsty cannibals, were the first ones to make tracks in the snow.  It would have been a little reassuring to see any older tracks, but there were none.  We were truly pioneers.  Okay, so we had phones and a roof with heat, but you get my meaning.

We drove for an hour with a death grip on the steering wheel.  Twenty five miles an hour the whole time.  If I had been by myself I don't know that I would have driven through it, but I also had no idea how long we might be stuck there had I stopped.  King Diamond and Van Halen gave us the stones to plow ahead, and once we got to the top of the mountain and began our decent on the other side the snow all but stopped. It was smooth sailing after that.  The very next night along that stretch of I-5 South there was a sixty plus car pile up.  I think it was a fog from the melting snow.  I would rather not have to do that again, if I can avoid it.  Here's hoping no one reading this ever has to drive in something like that either.  We had California to rock though, and converts to make before the End of Days.  Ours was a selfless mission.

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