We drive into Boston with the Pixies belting out Bone Machine, as a part of our “Geographically Relevant American Playlist Challenge”. The six in the back (myself included) are firmly lodged into our seats by a combination of EasyJet-esque legroom, four damp (and by this point fairly foul) snuggies, a pile of “small” (20oz) gas station coffee cups, and the Chinese-puzzle-box elbow situation going on. We are more than happy to get out of our stygian surrounds and replace them with an icy sidewalk outside the excellent Brighton Music Hall venue.
My mood is following small but regular orbits around the Venn intersection of the “manic”, “depressed” and “completely bananas” spheres, which I presume is some sort of hitherto undocumented post-New York effect coupled with a generous slab of hunger. I try listening to Graceland, Tom Petty, more Pixies. They just seem to exacerbate the situation. Eating a pizza helps, but only slightly. Ironing my shirt seems productive, so I do it. By the time US Royalty arrive in the dressing room, I am passed out on the couch with a jacket over my head and a half can of warm beer in my hand. We have so little time here, and as we are a little out of the city centre to the west, it seems ultimately pointless trying to do anything else.
The dressing room is directly behind and above the stage, with a little window to look out so we can watch US Royalty as we are getting changed (having a conversation is out of the question due to the volume of sound coming off the stage). US Royalty are sounding grand tonight, and their tunes are starting to become familiar now, this being the fifth night of hearing them live. They are pulling a crazy schedule tonight, driving through the night to play a gig in Indiana the following evening. We are taking the more relaxed option of having a day off tomorrow, so after playing a fun, solid set (which seems to eradicate my temporary mentalness), we head to a bar round the corner with some friends to grab a few beers from an extensive list of European specialities (including McEwans…). Doug sensibly calls a halt to proceedings around one, (“I’m quite happy to be that guy, guys…some of us have to drive in the morning…”), to a chorus of “Awwww boooo just five minutes man”, etc. And they say that being in a band is equivalent to not growing up…
We were staying about 40 or 50 miles west of Boston, just to get a wee bit of a jump start in the morning and avoid city traffic. Although I just described it as a day off, it was still a day in which we had to get as close to Chicago as we could. The morning was overcast, with threatening clouds. This felt a lot like the start of an adventure, as we were heading straight west, with a couple of gigs in the middle of the country, then straight on to Seattle. Driving clean across a continent, finishing up at the Pacific coast. It would involve resetting our watches three more times en route, and make the drive to Birmingham on the M6 seem like just a quick trip down to the shops. Within about half an hour of setting off, the snow had started to fall. About twenty minutes after that we started to drive past cars and trucks that had careered off the road and were stricken in the central reservation. I thought they were used to snow round these parts? The Bananamobile had no such issues with traction or driver skill and sailed on through upstate New York, with some short stops for coffee and bagels, until we reached Erie, Pennsylvania, a journey of maybe nine or ten hours given the conditions. By this time it was already dark, and once again extremely cold, and we stopped at another nondescript gas station for some food, and a couple of packs of cheap smokes (apparently they get cheaper towards the middle of the country). In order to wake everyone up a bit, as this was by no means the end of the days’ driving, Doug pulled out his trusty Grateful Dead Frisbee, and we had a game in the forecourt, under fluorescent strip lights, in the snow.
Fully laden with massive coffees, frostbitten fingers, and the biggest chocolate bars Hershey had to offer, we saddled up and made for Cleveland, Ohio, which was a mere couple of hours away. We made good time to Cleveland, and carried on through to the west for another forty minutes or so, finally calling it a day somewhere near Lorain (I think). We stopped at a Red Roof Inn, some sort of chain-motel, with a highly recommended free breakfast available in the garage across the street (motel manager: “I wouldn’t recommend the free breakfast at all, but there’s a Crackerbarrel up the road…”). I found myself again sharing with T and Kas, and again on the floor, as we were booking slightly fewer beds than were actually required in order to save a few dollars. The snow was piled up outside but the rooms were warm and by this stage of the day sleeping was my main priority.
The next morning we acted on the manager’s advice and headed along to the Crackerbarrel for the biggest breakfast they had on the menu, then made for Chicago. The trip was largely uneventful, the weather held and we covered the six hour drive in, well, about six hours. At one point we were 106 miles from Chicago, with a full tank of gas and half a pack of cigarettes, it was light and Kas was wearing sunglasses with both the lenses fallen out, which I think counts as our Blues Brothers moment. Close enough for jazz, anyway.
We arrived in Chicago in crawling traffic and thick fog, with the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower or whatever it’s called now) vanishing up into the clouds along with most of the buildings downtown. Tonight was Schubas, in Lakeview. We got loaded in and settled down for a beer before heading for an in-store session at Reckless Records, which was a stripped down semi-acoustic affair, then back for tea, and a sold-out gig. Good times all round!
The next day (Sunday) saw us head on to Minneapolis. This was essentially the midway point of the tour, both in terms of days on the road and geographically. Indeed, Minneapolis sits pretty much bang in the middle of the entire continent of North America, around fifteen hundred miles from the sea in any direction. We arrived at the venue to find it obscured by snowdrifts, and with a sign on the door which read “NO FIREARMS ALLOWED ANYWHERE ON THE PREMISES!”. Well, that was one thing less to worry about. We ventured into the interior, which was populated by men in checked shirts and caps sitting at the bar, being served by a woman with an almost completely tattooed face, with some generic metal music playing at high volume through the corner speakers. We asked Doug to double check the day sheets, and yes, this was the right place.
So, feeling a bit like that scene in the Blues Brothers where they have to play behind the chicken wire (“Chicken wire?!”), we proclaimed ourselves to be the band for the night, and were led through the back to an unexpectedly large and awesome venue. Books should not be judged by their covers, as they say. Loading in was a doddle with a ramp from the rear parking lot directly onto the stage, and very helpful and friendly crew on hand. After soundcheck we popped out the back door for a smoke and a chat with the venue manager, who was in a good mood as it was, seemingly, springtime. “You shoulda been here a fortnight ago, it was minus 26! I’ll be getting the shorts out if it stays like this for another week.” Looking at the surrounds, with snow piled five or six feet deep at the back of the venue, and the temperature rapidly plummeting towards the night’s expected 18 below, I feared for the man’s sanity. But I guess everything is relative.
The gig was sparsely populated, but to be expected on a Sunday night, with the snow starting again. Those that were there had a good time, as did both ourselves and US Royalty. The local support played some crazy psychedelic type tunes, and asked us what the ocean was like, having never been to the coast. We all had a few beers and a laugh then made our way outside to load the van, which we ended up doing in shifts as it was much too cold to hang about out there for very long, inappropriately dressed as we were. Then it was back to the hotel to sleep and consider “part two” of the tour, making the long journey for the west coast and the Pacific…