Well, as predicted, nothing has changed. We flew down to SXSW in four separate planes (that’s just how it worked out, it ain’t no thing), stayed in one room together, got amazingly, tragically wrecked (at least I did), played one of the best sets we’ve ever unleashed on an audience, hit the town in full light-up Luchador regalia, reconnected with some old friends and made a few new ones, and came back in four separate planes, and life is the same as it was a week ago.
Except…except…something is a little different in me. It took a lot of money out of our pockets, and now we can say we did it. The experience, though…that is something that can’t be translated, except in language. So I’ll give it a shot.
I always knew that the shows themselves weren’t going to be an issue. We have worked very hard over the course of years to build ourselves into what we consider a legitimate contender. Not that we’ll ever get our shot, but that doesn’t matter much. The odds are astronomically long for all of us, you included. The main thing is to literally get out of hell through the act of creation, to paraphrase Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud. So that’s what we do: chase peak experiences when we play live, attempt to create timeless artifacts when we record and have more fun than the average bear. It is extremely satisfying to say we achieved our peak experience onstage. Berklee College of Music was so kind to have us down to showcase our talents in Brush Park, and I daresay we validated their faith in us and then some. I’ve said it many times now; if you can hook the bartender, bouncer, soundguy/woman, or server, you’ve done it right. They’ve seen everything, and only that which truly stands up to the rigors of realtime live testing will cut through the clutter to such a person. Believe me; I’ve bounced before, and almost everything that came through that club wasn’t even particularly bad. It was just nondescript. So that is why it made us all so happy to hear yet again that the bartenders (who couldn’t see us from where they were kicking ass pouring drinks), mentioned, “those guys were great.” They’re like canaries in a coalmine, only in reverse, because they’re alerting us all to what actually works. Everyone else who doesn’t see 20 bands a week can get caught up in their own tastes if they want, but when it’s immersion time, certain truths become apparent. Namely: try to look like you’re enjoying it up there! Learn your instruments well. If you’re Adam, run offstage to the (free!) oyster bar, get an oyster (Pre-shucked. This is show business, man; we actually think about details like this.), run back to the stage, shoot it down, toss the shell and without missing a beat, rip into a beast of a guitar solo. Rock and roll! And most importantly for anyone writing songs: REALLY write songs. That is the great separator. You can get a sound and fool people for awhile, but if you don’t have good songs, it won’t last. Conversely, if you have good songs, that is enough, even if they never wind up paying for a jet ski.
It’s hard to judge Austin by SXSW. It was just mayhem up and down, like being in our rehearsal building, except outdoors, with glorious cacophony spilling into the street from every door and all the hipsters emptied out from every city with a music scene to congregate on 6th Street. As for the locals, my first impression was a really warm one, and it didn’t change as the week drew on. For one thing, Southern manners are better than they are in New England, as are the bloody marys. We ate brunch at Zax, which was amazing. The waiter looked at Heather, who was down for a couple days to catch the show, and said, “I’ll start with you ma’am.” It’s a simple thing, really, but I’ve never seen that happen before in these parts in all my years. And the bloody mary was bloody good indeed, all celery and pickled okra and garlic and pepper and olives. It was a salad in a cup dressed in a nice vodka vinaigrette. Then a whole lot of walking back over the bridge to hit the shows. And that’s the other thing; most of what I saw was pretty freaking good! Some high points: the dirty, dirty psychedelic soul of Monophonics, immediately followed by the melancholic and sublime Dawes in a record store parking lot. When they got to “A Little Bit of Everything,” I actually started tearing up. And when I said so to Adam, he was all, “I’m really glad I’m wearing these sunglasses right now, duke!” Heh heh. We all call each other duke. A story from another post. Just to be there in the presence of that kind of power, and to be moved that deeply, was a gift. The phenomenal acoustic afterparty at The Chicago House that Richard Bouchard and Dan Nicklin put together for the Boston contingency was one of the high points, not just of the trip, but of my musical life. And I do mean acoustic; no mics, no amps, no drums, nowhere to plug anything in at all. Didn’t matter. We all showed each other that if the apocalypse comes, we will still be able to make music! Boston really does have a lot of fine talent kicking around, and not all of it was even in Austin by a long stretch.
Luchadores! We put a little of Jesse’s mad scientist ingenuity out on display just to see what would happen. Well, let me tell you, that sh#t works everywhere, not just at Burning Man. We estimate getting our pictures taken at least 500 times that we knew of, and maybe 2,000 more or so that didn’t come and pose with us. I’m just sorry nobody got a pic of me busker bombing a street percussion ensemble in my light up thunderchicken luchador outfit. I snuck in behind them and just jumped on the empty drum and started going for it. It was all over in 20 seconds, but aside from the bombing part, I did not douche up their jam. I was on it! Then four quick eighth note triplet flams (Berklee!) and boom! Out of there before they even figured out how to react. Aaahahahahaa!
Matty’s cousin in Philadelphia’s The Cold Fronts is a great kid, and I gotta have love for anyone pulling out Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From.” All of a sudden, I’m back seeing the Hanson Brothers wrap foil around their knuckles and asking player coach Reggie Dunlop if he wants any. Adam’s buddy, Perry, from The Sharp Things and Good Cop, treated us to the gut-punch soul of The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker. And it was equally great to hang with his (and now our) friends Travis and Natasha, who couldn’t have been sweeter and better as they got us out to Frank for hot dogs, poutine, and yes indeed, more beers.
Somewhere in all that, I took too much. Too much heat, too much beer, too much food, too little sleep equals too many trips to the porcelain god that last night. No sleep before getting up at 3:30 a.m. to make our way to the airport. I include this as a high point. At the time, not so much, but it’s a lot funnier now that the stomach bug (Not a hangover; this was only a three-beer-day for me. Well within my factory specs.) has gone. The gospel band at Stubb’s while I was waiting to pick up BBQ for us all was just the right thing for a sore head and a happy heart.
So how did it change me? Well, in the way that Burning Man showed me how much further out the visual edge is, South By softened me back up to the beauty of good music through shear volume of it. For that, we all want to thank Berklee once again. Me, especially. For the first rate musical education, for the opportunity to show it off and for the ridiculous tomfoolery it afforded us. We all gotta get older (eventually), but we can party like rock stars until the very day we die. At least, WE can. How about you?