Downtime is good. Downtime is bad.

There’s nothing like downtime on a bus tour. The band is at a hotel in upstate New York near where several of the guys in the Furs live. We’ve got the rest of today and tomorrow before we have to be in Buffalo for our next gig.

We have done laundry. We have had lunch. We have had mid-afternoon snacks. I have washed in the sink the gig shirt I forgot to wash at the laundromat. (It was pretty funky.) I have called my lovely wife. I have called my best friend. I have stared out the window (there’s a really big rabbit out there under a spruce tree and he’s been there eating clover for an hour or so). It is now 7:30. Nap? Supper? Movie?

Days off on bus tours mean a lot of hanging out in one’s hotel room. It’s not terribly interesting, especially if you’re like me and you find tv to be way too manipulative and exploitative. (Manipulative: commercials- “you’re too fat, you’re too short, your armpits stink, your breath stinks, your feet stink, your hair shouldn’t be gray or people will think you’re old…” or you get the same message in a thousand more subtle ways from the shows. Exploitative: reality tv- “look at how FUCKED UP these people are! Aren’t you glad you’re not them?? By the way, YOU’RE TOO FAT! and your life is BORING!”)

This has given me some opportunity to sort of meditate on what boredom IS.  My father always used to tell me that only boring people get bored. An old friend of mine from the rooms used to tell me that boredom was a form of anger. (I am *still* puzzling over that one… Maybe he meant when people announce that they’re bored in relationships? i dunno…) Either way, I am now regretting that I wasn’t more aggressive about buying books yesterday at the Baltimore Harbor Barnes & Noble.

I see now how rock and roll musicians get into trouble. The 19-year-old me would have found a way to do something profoundly stupid with this down time. A day off in a hotel room in a hotel with a pool? No adult supervision? Add drugs and/or alcohol into that mix and shake…. Oh, the horror.

Mostly I have been reading the news and other commentary on the internet and doing some work by checking in at my day job and making sure that nothing’s on fire there. I probably should have slept more, since there are people in the band who are fighting off colds. Your two best antibiotics are sleep and water. I should have been pounding both.

Something quick before i go onstage in Baltimore

#1: Many of the dates on this tour are with the Welsh band The Alarm, who I just loved back in the day, especially the tracks “68 Guns” and “The Stand.” They’ve been BRINGING IT on this tour. These guys are definitely rocking like they mean it. I am particularly gratified to know that Mike Peters, the singer, has pulled off one of the best rock and roll pranks in history. Check this out.

Twenty years after the Alarm fired off “68 Guns,” the group is back on the charts . . . but nobody knew it. Disguised as a younger outfit called the Poppyfields, the band — best known in the U.S. for Eighties anthems like “The Stand,” “Strength,” and “Rain in the Summertime” — landed a Top Thirty single in the U.K. this week with “45 RPM,” thanks to a video featuring the Welsh band the Wayriders lip-synching the tune.

#2 Also, we on the bus have been delighted with this video by Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip.

Richard’s been walking around the bus saying “Led Zeppelin? JUST A BAND… The Pixies? JUST A BAND!” for two days now.

#3 ALSO…. one more thing:

We’re playing Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion tonight, which, like nearly every other stop on this tour, has massive dressing rooms. HOWEVER, the main dressing room has a bathroom with a big steel door, which I noticed immediately upon walking in, had been forcibly opened at some point. My initial supposition was that it had been pried open because someone was locked inside, but when I asked one of the guys from Baltimore Sound and Light what had happened, he told me a different story. See, the first concert of the season this year was a fairly big band, and they had a great show. After the set, they adjourned to the dressing room, had a second to catch their breath, then went out to do their encore. HOWEVER, they took their places and turned around and… ? NO DRUMMER! They waited for a minute or so, then the singer called for him from the microphone. Still no drummer. He got the crowd chanting his name. Several minutes passed and STILL no drummer.

Finally, the guy who I spoke to from BSL went back towards the dressing room, and there was this TERRIBLE CRASHING SOUND just as he entered the room, and the door of the bathroom EXPLODED open, and out popped the wild eyed drummer. See, right after the show, he’d ducked in for a quick leak and locked the door behind him. As the rest of the band was heading back out to the stage, he turned around, grabbed the door handle and it came off in his hand. He tried to unlock the door and it wouldn’t work without the door handle… and he could HEAR the rest of the band calling him, but they couldn’t hear him shouting to be let out. So he started kicking and kicking and KICKING the door until it finally bent just far enough out to pop open. That’s when our witness with BSL turned the corner, and out popped this angry MADMAN…

I am sure that at the time he was a furious wreck…. but I hope that the guy thinks it’s funny by now, because it kinda is, y’know….

Now THAT’S more like it

Tonight was far and away the best night of the tour so far. I finally felt really comfortable playing the songs, the tempos flowed really naturally, the songs soared and roared. Richard sang beautifully and was clearly having fun, as were Tim and John. Tonight was good, good, good. I am finally relaxing and playing like the drummer I know I am capable of being.

The crowd may have been the largest I have ever played for in my career, and they were having a fine time, as well. When we finished the song “Heaven” there was this huge sound as they went nuts. I shouted to Richard over the cheering “THEY LIKED THAT ONE!”

This was a magic night, one of the sorts of nights that make playing music for a living worthwhile. There are so many sacrifices every musician makes in order to play- long times away from home, uncertain or negligible income, no health insurance, etc, but transcendent nights like tonight are the reason we do it.

I met a woman at the Chicago gig who asked if I could get her Furs t-shirt signed by the rest of the band, but Tim and Richard had scattered to the winds, since they had rides and other plans that night after the show. I suggested that she turn up in Naperville, because we were there all day today hanging out at Ribfest and just people watching. She found me after the show and I was able to round everyone up and find a Sharpie and get it done. She seemed pretty happy about it. I am glad she caught me.

Also, I met a contributer to the Furs’ fan site who was awfully kind to me and was overflowing with praise for the gig. It *was* a good gig, and I am thrilled she was at this one.

All in all, I am starting to feel like I am living up to my own standards. One or two more shows and we’ll be a well-oiled machine.

Tonight wasn’t much fun.

Man, tonight was so hard. I really hope the fans didn’t feel it like I did tonight, because it was TOUGH. I was really struggling tonight.

Because of my background in Music Hates You and all of the other punk and hard bands I have played in, when I get a really exciting song in front of me, there’s a temptation to play it way too fast.  I have been fighting my instincts to play a couple of songs at punk rock tempos this tour….  In an attempt to stop “Into You Like A Train” from running away like… well… a runaway train, I made some changes. Tonight I had a click track running in one ear so that I could keep the songs within an acceptable tempo.

BUT… apparently a couple of the click tempos felt too slow for Richard tonight, so he gave me the “pick it up” high sign, so I had to play the song AGAINST the click track in my ear, which was really weird. Imagine that if you can, playing a song while this metronome clicks away in one ear at a completely irrelevant tempo. It’s downright disorienting.
It was impossible to know after that how the song felt to the rest of the band because it feels to ME like I am rushing terribly. Additionally, one of the great things about Richard as a singer (and one of the things that makes him so distinctive) is that his phrasing is very languid and loose. He sings behind the beat. Sometimes he’s actually singing *way* behind the beat, so there’s a temptation to slow down, because it sounds like he’s saying “You’re playing too fast so I am going to sing more slowly to let you know.”
so…
I have the rest of the band in one ear at one tempo, with Richard singing another tempo, and the click track banging out a third tempo in the other ear. I was so disoriented that I anticipated  the breakdown coming back from the guitar solo in “President Gas” and played it too early. This frustrated everyone. After that, I was just struggling to hang on. There were some parts of the gig that went well, but I was mostly just losing my mind. I am probably overthinking this and making it harder for myself, but there was one point tonight where I felt like jumping off of the drum riser and running away.

I haven’t been that uncomfortable onstage since I was a kid playing my first gigs. I felt lost at sea. The rest of the band said that despite the fuckup in President Gas and a little bit of rushing on a couple of songs, it was all-in-all not so bad a gig. The fans seemed to be having a wonderful time, and I guess that’s what matters at the end of the day. Tomorrow is another show in another town and another opportunity to get it right. I really like this band. I hate to disappoint them.

We shall see.

Last night was Chicago

And it was better than Indy as far as playing with confidence and accuracy, but there were still some minor issues with ending at the right time and reading signals from Tim Butler.

All in all, it feels like it’s moving forward. We played at the House of Blues in Chicago, which is a really interesting venue. The sound system is top flight, and my monitors were clear as a bell. I think we played the best version of “Love My Way” we’ve played yet. Mars (saxophone) is from Chicago and the hometown crowd was pretty clearly delighted he was there. It was interesting, also, that the crowd was so large that I think that they were unable to really jump around and get into the show as much as they would have liked if it hadn’t been so packed.

House of Blues is an entertainment complex- it’s massive and there are a lot of people working there full time. The dressing rooms are palatial and larger than many of the clubs that Music Hates You plays. I am finding that the large crowds aren’t freaking me out at all, it’s more apprehension that I am not going to play well that is making me a bundle of nerves around show time. I have to keep telling myself that it’s only the first or second show and that it’s not going to be a perfect show, and be ok with that. The Butlers and I share a commitment to playing the absolute top notch show, though, and it’s frustrating to all of us, I think, that I am being a bit on the slow side getting all of this pulled together.

John Ashton, on the other hand, is about as laid back as I could have possibly expected anyone to be. He’s been all smiles and cracking small visual jokes or making faces during the shows. I find this immensely comforting, actually. I think he finds my anxiety and stress a bit unnecessary, and he wants me to remember that it’s only rock and roll. He’s a real gent and I only found out yesterday that he produced “Alice,” my favorite Sisters of Mercy song. It occurred to me last night to ask Richard if there was actually a girl named Alice that both he and Andrew Eldritch had known, as a woman by that name turns up both in “Alice’s House” and the SoM song “Alice.” Answer: Nope.

Another myth destroyed.

I did get to run around some in Chicago with John- we rode the El up to Belmont and got some Thai food and I hit my favorite thrift store looking for an extra pair of black jeans for this tour. No dice, but John suggested hitting a Banana Republic back near the club, so we rode back downtown and wandered Michigan Avenue a bit. I stumbled across the Levis store, which is what I would have bought if there’d been anything at the thrift, so I wandered in and LO! it was a half price sale. I am ridiculously loyal to the Levis 505 jeans, and getting a new pair for $20 was NICE.

After soundcheck, I ducked out to meet my friend Vicky from London who was in Chicago on business. She had some friends from work in tow and we went to get a bite to eat. I was, as has become my custom before the show, completely uninterested in food. Too anxious. I finally regretfully excused myself and went back to the bus to study the songs some more.

Then, the show went ok, as I mentioned earlier.

After the show, we convened briefly upstairs at the HoB to meet and greet, though it was mostly the Mars show up there, since a ton of his friends turned up. I met Mars’ wife, who is a really lovely person and sharp as a razor. I also happened to meet Phil Ranstrom, the creator of a film called “Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street,” a documentary about the open air market in Chicago which was the birthplace of electric blues. You can see the trailer here. It looks like an amazing film. It doesn’t have a distribution deal, yet, but you can maybe catch it on the festival circuit.

We finally climbed aboard the bus and headed for Detroit. I had hoped to sit up late for a while and hang out with Za (our backline tech) and Trish (our front of house engineer) because I think they’re doing such a fabulous job, but once I got a little food in my stomach and the road started to roar under the tires of the bus, I went limp and couldn’t hold myself up any more. I am putting so much pressure on myself to do well…. once the show’s over, it’s all I can do to not just fall asleep where I stand.

I climbed up into my bunk and slept all the way to Detroit.

We have a day off here today, and I spent most of it sleeping, too. I have my own hotel room here and I have been mostly just hanging out and doing nothing. Sometime later today, I plan on doing some laundry. Ah, the glamorous life of a rock star!

First Show- Successful.

Well, after a long soundcheck where we played most of the set, I felt like I was NEARLY ready to play the first show. It was not the best soundcheck- been struggling with some parts. The Furs seemed a bit trepidatious about their new drummer. This was perfectly understandable, as we had yet to get through the set without any issues.

I met my brother-in-law Kevin for supper and kind of pecked at it since my nerves weren’t really leaving me much appetite. We were playing at the Vogue Theater in Indianapolis, which is in the sort of hip end of town called Broadripple. I found a cigar shop and got a Romeo y Julieta Vintage Maduro, stood outside the bus and smoked it while hanging with Kevin. That helped with the nerves a lot. That’s the great thing about quitting smoking- nicotine regains its potency when one loses one’s tolerance for it. A good cigar is like a mild sedative.

I retreated to the bus, did some more studying of the set and before I knew it, we were headed onstage.

The show itself was a huge success, I think. It’s funny- I have been really nerved out playing for the Furs. They’re a band that I have loved for most of my life, and they have very high standards for performance. However, once we were in front of the crowd, well, CROWDS I know. I have been performing most of my life. I have been onstage more times than I have been to get a haircut. Once I was out there, i felt MUCH more comfortable. With the exception of my monitor dropping out during “Love My Way” and me losing the marimba part (which is sequenced, and therefore must be played along to), the set was really, really good. It wasn’t perfect- there are a couple of parts that I need to get a bit more comfortable with, but it was rock and roll, and it was good. During the show, John Ashton was mouthing something to me in the way that musicians do to communicate when they’re playing and it’s loud. I had to really concentrate to make it out…

He was saying… “Don’t…”

ok.

“Fuck…”

Um, got it.

“Up!”

Right. So, I didn’t during the show.

The encore… well… didn’t go as well, but the crowd hardly noticed. Simplest fucking beat in the world, “Sister Europe.” I don’t know how I got it in my head that it was something else. Stupid nervous error. Ah, well. Best forgotten and moved on from.

After the show, we went to the bus. We were all dripping sweat. The Butler brothers gave me a bit of a ribbing about fucking up the encore, but I think all in all, everyone is somewhat pleased that it’s coming together. And it is, despite our short rehearsal schedule and my case of nerves.

We pulled out of Indy and I thought I would try to stay awake and watch that bit of highway go away, since I used to make that drive all the time when I was living in Chicago and my wife’s parents were living outside Bloomington, IN. I don’t even think I made it outside of the city limits before I’d fallen asleep. I woke up in a complete daze in the rear lounge of the bus, laptop open on my lap and no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there.

I stowed my gear and climbed up into my bunk.

Tonight is Chicago, and the House of Blues. I woke up in the bus in the parking garage at the House of Blues, and I am about to jump on the El and do some exploring. I think I might need to buy another pair of jeans since I only brought two pairs and the ones I wore last night got soaked in sweat.

The band has a room at the Sax hotel across from the HOB and I think it’s the nicest room I have ever seen. It’s certainly the nicest one I have ever been in. But now I must abandon it and go exploring. I haven’t been to Chicago since I lived here.

First night sleeping on a tour bus

I am just waking up in the greenish pre-dawn light of rural Indiana before sunrise.  We aren’t very far outside of Indianapolis.

The tour bus is a nice one according to all of the touring veterans on the bus.  I wouldn’t know, it all seems nice to me, compared to the many vans of my touring history.  Last night I fell asleep watching Lewis Black on the small flat-screen TV that folds down over my bunk.

Sleeping is done troop-ship style, with 12 bunks, six to a side in the middle of the bus.  When sleeping on a tour bus, I learned last night, one sleeps with one’s feet towards the direction of travel.  This is in case there’s an accident, you get broken ankles instead of a broken neck.   There is a lounge in the rear of the bus and one ahead of the sleeping compartment.  Both have televisions and DVD players.  The bus has wi-fi that goes out on a cellphone network, which means limited bandwidth, but thank god there’s connectivity.

Everyone on the bus has a laptop.  Mars and I are both traveling with ProTools MBoxes.  We spread out in the rear lounge last night to make click tracks for me to use at the first couple of shows, until I settle into some working tempos.  Mars has the patience of a saint when it comes to doing stuff on the computer.  We struggled mightily to get click tracks that were only going to one side of a stereo signal.  For some reason, when we were bouncing the tracks, we had a little tiny bit of click on the other channel as well.  This won’t do for a live show.

Here’s a bit of Bus Touring 101:  When touring on a bus, the band drives overnight and gets two rooms in the morning.   One room is so that the bus driver can get some sleep, since he’s the Most Important Man after the gig.  The other room is so that the band can troop through and shower and have a place to sit down for a moment, but it’s sort of assumed that the band will spend most of its time on or around the bus, or wandering town.  With wi-fi and a coffeepot on the bus, there’s not much reason for me to leave except to play the drums.

Still a bit apprehensive about the gig tonight.  I have some reviewing to do so that I really know my parts and also to make sure that I have a nice, solid click to play along with.  I can’t wait until I have settled into my comfort zone with this gig.

I have to admit, it’s getting better… It’s getting better all the time

Second day of rehearsals went better than the first. Still having some minor issues with nerves causing me to speed my tempos up a bit. I think I might do the first couple of shows with a click either in my monitors in some headphones. (for those of you who are not aware, a click track is an electronic metronome to help keep the drummer from speeding up or dragging tempos. Makes a nice difference when nerves or whatever make it hard to NOT speed up.)

Mars, the sax player, and I have been hanging out. It’s good.

We check out of the hotel here in 45 minutes or so and climb aboard our chariot to go to Indy. I just shot this photo out of the window of my hotel room:

That’s home for the next few weeks. I have been inside already and it’s quite well appointed. More photos will follow as bandwidth allows.

This is the rental kit they got me:

Black diamond pearl happens to by my favorite drum finish ever. Additionally, these are huge drums with a huge sound…. I couldn’t me more pleased.

I have to figure out how to own a set of these one day. Drum Workshops drums aren’t cheap though. They’re the tool of professional drummers, and it’s not like I can peel of three large to get a set of these, although I am willing to bet no one would love them and play them more than I would…

well, I gotta pack up here. Bus call in thirty minutes. Need to be there and not keep anyone waiting.

I am in Connecticut

Landed safe and sound in Newburgh, NY last night and was met at baggage claim by the Furs’ tour manager, Bob, who is a fantastic guy. He spotted me amongst all the other travelers without too much trouble. Bob has been managing tours for 30 years and is full of interesting stories and observations.

The last few days have been a whirlwind. I had two shows with Music Hates You for AthFest- one at Nuçi Space and one at the Caledonia. My hands still haven’t completely recovered from my ill-advised decision to use a different brand of sticks when we were in Memphis two weeks ago. I got massive blisters from the new sticks because the finish was a little stickier, so those broke, then bled, then the pad of my thumb cracked because the new skin underneath wasn’t flexible enough for me to keep playing. That stings a little.

In the meantime, they’ve rented a nice DW kit for me. It arrives this morning I didn’t specify a finish, but I am secretly hoping it will be silver or gold sparkle. I love that retro stuff.

I brought my Ludwig snare, which isn’t at all pretty- it’s a bare wood, unfinished ’70s drum, but it sounds amazing. I should get it recovered.

I spent nearly every free minute of the last few days holed up at Pigpen studios, where I work and where MHY practices, back in the drum storage room playing this kit to learn the Psychedelic Furs songs:

Note the laptop and headphones back in the corner. I have notes for each of the songs and I have been playing along with them as the go by in itunes.

This morning I am waking up in the Holiday Inn, a little groggy. I have not yet flipped over to Rock and Roll time, since I have been working at my job for a couple of years now. I called the front desk and asked for an 11am wakeup call, just to be sure I didn’t sleep through my 12:15 call. I am laughing about that now, since I woke up at 8:30.

I am a little apprehensive about today’s rehearsals, mostly because it’s a big deal that I know these songs well and that I don’t hold this whole process up. The Furs had another drummer picked out, as I mentioned before, and they have taken a big chance on me in order to keep this tour on the road. I really don’t want to disappoint anyone.