Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Again and Again

Meet me beneath the moon We'll hang our worries On the powerlines And forget about the days When we lost our way And start over again And again And again And again Meet me beside the lake We'll wash our faces In the waters And dry our swollen eyes In the golden sun And start over again And again And again And again Meet me in the bed We'll burn our fears With a midnight flame And scatter the remains With trembling lips And start over again And again And again And again And again And again And again


Monday, October 30, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #6

Date: Wednesday, October 18

Place: 5th Street Billiards, Royal Oak, Michigan

The luxury of sleeping in one's own bed after 4 nights in strange surroundings... We planned to leave Chicago at about noon to head east to the final gig of the tour in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit. I got my ass out of bed and proceeded to take a five mile jog, my third such jog in four days. In actuality, we didn't leave until close to 1:00, but still made good time and rolled up to the venue about 6:00.

The load-in was a little tricky, as we pulled our gear through the kitchen into a freight elevator. 5th Street Billiards is a pool hall (duh) with a nice-sized music room on the second floor. We were to open for Greenstreet, a Detroit-area band with whom we'd played before in Chicago. After the load-in, we killed time by eating pizza and drinking beer.

My cousin John, who lives in the area, was there, and it was nice to see a friendly face. Soundcheck went smoothly and the room sounded great. We started playing about 10:00 to an ample crowd. Immediately, things went a little off course... I broke a string on my primary guitar on the first song and had to switch to my back up.

My back up guitar is a 1999 Fender Strat (gear talk alert!), which is nice enough, but is nowhere near the workhorse my 1993 Gibson Studio is... so I felt a little exposed and a little off. Also, I think we were just plain beat, playing our sixth show in six nights. But we soldiered through the set and held the crowd's attention pretty well. Afterwards, we hung around, sold a couple of CDs, and loaded up the van.

We had decided to drive back that night, which was a bold plan given the length of the drive. I climbed into my familiar perch in the passenger seat, and for the first time during the tour, felt completely drained, unable to keep my eyes open. The drive started out easily, but about two hours in I awoke suddenly from a shallow sleep to heavy rain, and white-colored leaves littering the highway as we blasted along in the dark at 70 miles per hour.

Jeff, our driving champion, was holding steady and piloting us safely home. We pulled into Chicago at about 4:00 am, unloaded the gear at Barret and Aoife's, and Jeff dropped me off at home at about 4:30 am. I sat there on the couch, between my animals, watching poker on TV, and trying to get my head around the preceding week.

The travels, the shows, the fun... the feeling of doing something you love every night of the week, in front of strangers... the feeling of proving that you can do exactly what you've dreamed of. The feeling of hoping that the future can be exactly what you make of it and that determination and hard work pays off in time.

It's only time, after all.

Love, jbg

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #5

Date: Tuesday, October 17

Place: The Chicago St. Pub, Joliet, Illinois

This date was an unknown going into the tour. We were holding out hope that a show in Champaign would come through last minute... but none did. So we called up our good friend and fellow musician John Condron who owns a nice little bar in Joliet called The Chicago Street Pub.

We figured since we were out on the road, had all our gear, and had to be in Detroit the following day, we might as well stop in Joliet and play and impromptu show for the Tuesday night regulars at Chicago Street.

Morning in our southern Illinois hotel room was slow in gaining traction... and we finally got on the road towards Chicago a little after noon. The drive was without incident and we made a quick stop at the Guitar Center in Joliet (so I could buy a new case for my guitar) before heading over to Chicago St.

After unloading our gear, I wandered off to kill some time at the Harrah's Casino in scenic downtown Joliet. Amazingly enough, I walked out an hour and a half later having won $150 playing video poker.

Burn Rome Burn Fall Tour '06: We Gamble, We Win.

Good times.

After some dinner, we set up and started playing on the early side to a suprisingly big and responsive crowd. Again, rather than feeling rundown from playing our 5th show in 5 nights, my voice felt strong and got stronger throughout the set.

As a band, this show was probably the best of the tour in a lot of ways, and the crowd seemed to respond to what I thought was a kind of precision and ease that comes with being on the road. We all felt it, we all heard it. We all loved it. After the show, we hung around for a couple of beers and to talk to the crowd, and then loaded up the gear and hit the road.

We rolled into Chicago at about 3:00 am, and I walked in the door at home to a frantic, funny puppy who seemed to have missed me desperately. As I did him. Sleep came quickly and soundly. And was accompanied by a cat parking herself on my chest for a good part of the night, a welcome stop home with one show left to go on the We Gamble, We Win Tour.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #4

Date: Monday, October 16

Place: Off Broadway, St. Louis, Missouri

It occurs to me that I haven't spent a lot of time writing about the actual shows we played on the tour... The truth about being a band on the road, which I've read over and over from touring bands but only now experienced for myself, is that most of your time and energy are not spent playing the shows. They're spent driving, unloading, setting up, waiting, breaking down, loading, and driving. And sleeping in hotel rooms and eating in chain restaurants. The playing part of the tour happens for about 45 minutes a night.

And the challenge is to make sure that all the getting around, getting set up, etc., doesn't detract from the reason you're on the road: to play as good as show as you can, every night, regardless of the day, venue, or crowd. So part of the reason I haven't been writing much about the content of the shows, is that I think we did a great job of getting up there every night and playing as passionately as we could. It was a given pretty much every night.

Were some of the shows better than others? More well attended? In nicer venues with better sound? Sure. But I think that we, as a band, came out every night and played like it was a Friday night at House of Blues in front of 1000 people. And that felt great.

The other thing I've read from touring bands, is that once you're on the road, you tend to lose track of 1) what day it is, and 2) where you are. And on Monday morning, as I stirred in some shithole of a hotel room in some shithole of a town... I had no idea where I was or when it was.

Slowly, I became aware of Jeff noisily snoring in the other bed. Slowly, I realized I was in a shithole of a hotel room in a shithole of a town in Indiana. Slowly, I realized it was Monday. Seeing that we had about 2 hours until checkout, I decided to go for a little 5 mile jog. I headed out to the road and began exploring Shithole Town, Indiana. There wasn't much exploring to do. I was through the town and onto some country roads before I turned around and headed back to the Shithole Motel.

After cleaning up, we hit the road towards St. Louis. For the first time, we hit some inclement weather, but Jeff handled the Dodge Grand Caravan with aplomb. We stopped in Shithole Town, Illinois, and ate at Shithole Chain Restaurant (actually, a TGIF... same difference). We hit St. Louis relatively early and headed to the venue. As we walked into Off Broadway, we were immediately struck by the fact that it was the nicest venue we'd played yet.

In great shape, with a great sound system... just fantastic. After chatting with the owner (great guy named Steve), we unloaded and headed down to the riverboat casinos to do a little gambling. Taking the gambling torch from Barret, I won $40 playing video poker... and promptly spent it on beer and food. Natch.

We got back to the venue around 7:00, and immediately went across the street to a sports' bar to watch the much awaited Monday Night Football game between the Bears and the Cardinals. We left the bar at halftime, demoralized by a 20-0 Bears' deficit, and returned to Off Broadway to show our support for the other bands on the bill. Both were quite good (especially the ska-punk opener from Baltimore), and we were further buoyed by a rash of text messages and phone calls indicating that the Bears had miraculously rallied and won the game 24-23 without scoring an offensive touchdown.

Although it was after 11:00 when we took the stage, we played well and the sound was great. And most of the people from the other bands stuck around for our whole set, which was a nice boost. Additionally, local St. Louis legend Beatle Bob was at the show and danced to our whole set. Not kidding. Couldn't make it up.

As we packed up, Steve mentioned that we had a home at Off Broadway any time we were out touring, which warmed our hearts. Our hearts were further warmed as we loaded into our hotel rooms just across the border in Illinois, and watched the highlights from the Bears' game on Sportscenter.

The last thing I remember seeing as I drifted off to sleep was the ump-teenth replay of Devin Hester breaking what would become the game-winning touchdown on a punt return... a great end to a successful fourth day on tour.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #3

Date: Sunday, October 15

Place: The Melody Inn, Indianapolis, Indiana

Can I overstate the joy of waking up on the road in a quiet, sunlit bedroom, by yourself, and walking downstairs only to be greeted by a table full of cereal, fruit and coffee?

No, I can't.

The Lyons' house was empty on Sunday morning, as I perused the paper and had some breakfast, reveling in the glow of a good night's sleep. Soon after, I set off on a five mile jog through the Lyons' neighborhood and out onto the country highway. The weather was crisp and perfect for jogging. And since I ran the thirteen mile half-marathon at the beginning of October, five mile jogs have seemed easy and pleasant.

When I got back, I was greeted by Aoife, Aoife's mom, and Barret, who had all been at church(!). I was told we'd be having lunch at about noon, so I cleaned up and took on Jeff in a game of pool in the basement.

Actual exchange: (Joe hits a tight shot) Jeff: You must have been good at geometry... (Joe hits a perfect safety, screening Jeff from any sort of shot) Jeff: And an asshole.

After lunch, we got all of our things in order (so we had them) and, with sad goodbyes to our gracious hosts and beautiful accommodations, headed out to Indianapolis. We had one stop to make before hitting the road. As it turned out, Barret's $15 wager on the ninth horse in the ninth race the previous day had won! So, we were obliged to hit the drive-thru wagering booth (natch) at Keeneland to pick up his winnings, which totaled somewhere near $100. How about that... the power of nine strikes again. 

The drive to Indianapolis was about 3 hours and to kill time before our load in, we headed downtown and had some food while watching football. We arrived at the venue at about 7:00 and loaded in and right onto the stage. The Melody Inn is a small but very cool little rock club on the north side of the city. The owner, Dave, is an incredibly nice guy who also serves at the lone bartender and the soundman.

He bought the club with the idea of turning it into a place that small touring bands could stop and play, and the vibe speaks to care, sincere investment, and a love of all things independent music. Also, there's a PBR Lounge in the back with all sorts of PBR memorabilia.

We had a brief soundcheck and I wandered off to find some tea for my aching throat. At about 9:00, we took the stage. There were some people there to see us, and we started with a slow building rendition of Bottle Boy. In general, we started most of our sets on the tour off with quieter tunes, in an attempt to pace ourselves and to get an idea of the sound before we started into our louder more frantic material. Bottle Boy was strong, and again, I was able to clear the cobwebs from my voice almost immediately.

We continued on through what I thought was our strongest, most varied set of the tour. After the set, we loaded up the van and returned to the venue to catch the two bands after us. They were both quite good, and we finished the night hanging out with our new friends in the PBR lounge.

On our way out, Dave took us aside and said that we always had a place to play at The Melody Inn, and all we needed to do was let him know when we were coming through again. We drove for about half an hour, and found a cheap hotel. Barret had decided his winnings would be spent on getting a second hotel room, and he negotiated a pretty good rate for two rooms with a late checkout so we could sleep in.

Exhausted, I closed my eyes and was almost immediately asleep as we reached the halfway point of a successful tour.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #2

Date: Saturday, October 14

Place: The Dame, Lexington, Kentucky

When we last saw our heroes, they were sleeping in a cheap hotel room in Ohio. Our alarms started going off around 10:00 am, way too soon after our 4:30 am bedtimes. I had slept well, albeit for not long enough. I did vaguely remember waking up at one point because I thought Barret was clapping and yelling in his sleep.

As it turned out, that was not a dream. Barret's clapping and yelling were an attempt to get Jeff to stop snoring, which apparently Jeff did for the entire night less than 5 feet away from me. Although I had slept right through it. I decided my ability to sleep through such an immediate cacophony was akin to being in the eye of the hurricane.

We somewhat haltingly got our things together and trudged to the van. I went across the road to get coffee at a BP... and had this exchange with the attendant: Attendant: That'll be $1.56. Joe: ... (staring into space) Attendant: ... (waiting patiently) Joe: Uh... where are we?

We got on the road and began the trip to Lexington, where we were to stay at Aoife's parents' house. The drive was going well, until we decided to take a bypass highway through Cincinnati (275), and ran into construction, which added nearly an hour to what should have been a brief trip. Undaunted, we pushed on and got to Lexington just in time to have a nice lunch with Aoife's parents.

The contrast between our cramped Budget Motel room of the previous night, and our separate bedrooms and sushi lunch provided by the gracious Lyons' family... was striking. And wonderful. After lunch, we headed over to the Keeneland racetrack to catch a couple races. We met up with my friend Gretchen and had a good time hanging out making small unwise wagers. Barret won about $15 on one of his bets, and immediately put his winnings on the ninth horse in the ninth race. We headed out and got to The Dame around 6 o'clock to set up for our early show.

The Dame is a beautiful club with great sound right in downtown Lexington. Our show was sponsored by the local Kentucky Ale brewery, and after the cracked-themed graffiti and incomplete PA of the previous night, we seemed primed for a great show. After soundcheck, I wandered off to try to find some tea for my throat and, sure enough, there was a Starbucks just down the block.

I was a little worried about my voice... I had a busy two weeks with six performances of the Odyssey, a couple of gigs and a couple of rehearsals, and doing six shows in six nights would give me no chance for recovery. I knew on tour I would learn a lot about the stresses of being on the road and how I needed to prepare for so much singing. The fact that it was only the second show and my voice felt a little ragged... did not bode well. 

When I got back to The Dame, there were already people in the club. We started playing around 8:00, and played a strong set. The most striking thing to me was that, for all my worries about my voice, once I began singing, all the soreness and concern melted away and I felt great about my performance. I felt like I had found a slightly different way to sing, from a slightly different place in my throat and face. A good omen.

The crowd was very receptive and there was a lot of talk of bringing us back for another show in the spring. Gretchen and her boyfriend Jude came out and it was great to hang out with them and talk. After the show, we went out for some pizza and beer, and then back to the Lyons' house. Exhausted, I crawled into my comfortable bed in my quiet room, and was asleep immediately after an eventful day and a successful second show.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Burn Rome Burn Tour, Day #1

Date: Friday, October 13
Place: Oldfield's on Fourth, Columbus, Ohio

Jeff picked me up at around nine o'clock Friday morning. Columbus is a good 5 hours from Chicago plus you lose an hour to the time change, so we proceeded to Barret and Aoife's to get them and get on the road.

Two things: 1) Our touring vehicle was a Dodge Grand Caravan, and 2) Jeff and Barret have a history of... "disagreeing" over the best way to pack equipment. So I decided to just stand back and let them wrestle with how to get all our instruments, amps, and suitcases into the van. Within 30 minutes, we were ready to roll with little controversy. After a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and breakfast, we were off and... sitting in mid-morning traffic on the Dan Ryan. Oh joy.

This turned out to be an omen for the tour. But once we got out of the city, we started making good time through Indiana, Most of riding in a van packed with a lot of gear and four people involves keeping yourself amused. I did this by 1) reading, and 2) snacking. I read The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. I snacked on granola bars. 

We decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel in middle-Indiana for lunch. Actual exchange at lunch: Waiter: Can I get you something to drink? Jeff (looking over menu, then looking at Joe): They don't have beer here? Joe: Doesn't look like it. Jeff: Then why did we come here? Waiter (under breath): That's a good question.

After lunch, the final two hours or so flew by and we were rolling into Columbus. We weren't sure what to expect at the venue, but things seemed a bit grim as we pulled up in front of what appeared to be a complete dive in a more than seedy neighborhood. We did a drive by and circled around back and saw... graffiti that read "I 'heart' crack." And next to it, some sort of swastika. Not kidding.

An inauspicious start. The inside of the bar wasn't much more promising. The bartender was nice, but he revealed that the venue had a PA system, but no microphone or stand. That's right. We managed to contact the owner of the bar who directed us to another bar where we made contact with a sound guy who promised to meet us a little later with a microphone and stand. Crisis averted.

Now, there was the question of whether or not there would be anyone at the bar to listen to us. The bartender said that the crowd was usually college kids and was late arriving so we set up our gear and got some food and beverages. Jeff and I ran out and met the sound guy and the PA was complete, although a little lean.

Around 10 or so, the bar started to get busier and the atmosphere improved by leaps and bounds. 

Actual exchange: Jeff: I saw Rod Stewart on Leno the other night, and he was lurching around the stage like he had lost a hip. Barret: Didn't you hear? He gave his hip to Barry Manilow.

Around 11:00, we got up and started playing and the crowd was positive and attentive. We played for about an hour and half, hitting almost every song we knew. After a half an hour break, we got back up (at this point, the bar was pretty full) and rocked through a few more tunes including impromptu versions of a couple of covers.

I thought we sounded really good and really showed that we can play well in less-than-ideal circumstances (the PA had no monitor, so I couldn't hear my vocals very well). All in all a good show and a good recovery from what seemed like it could be a disaster. Additionally, we made contacts with other venues that might suit us a little bit better when we return to Columbus.

After selling a couple of CDs, we had the van all loaded up and were ready to get on the road by a little after two o'clock. We kicked around driving the three hours to Lexington, but settled on driving an hour and trying to find a cheap motel. This proved harder than one would think. It seemed like every hotel between Columbus and Cincinnati was booked.

When we did find a vacancy, it was at a "Budget Motel" (no shit) that had (I kid you not) what appeared to be gallows out front. We continued on. At this point it was nearly four o'clock in the morning and we were beat. We finally found a suitable and inexpensive room about 20 minutes north of Cincinnati. My head hit the pillow and I was asleep instantaneously after a long, somewhat harried, but ultimately successful first day on the road.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Whispers in the Dark

So the road beckons.

Starting Friday, Oct 13 (!), Burn Rome Burn is heading out for a week of shows in the Midwest. Check Burn Rome Burn for details. I'm excited. I need the road and we need to do these 5 shows (at least) in 6 nights.

Once we're back, things will get a little clearer. Plans will be firmed up. Futures will crystallize. And I will resume blogging with a vengeance. I've got plenty to write about.



Friday, October 06, 2006

Moon watching

If you're hyperventilating, it means you're still breathing.