The previous shows that Camper Van Beethoven played were in January (2014), and now it’s nearly June and we have a whole 5 shows to play on the west coast, because we have a new album coming out on June 3rd (“El Camino Real“) Added to this slight difficulty of not having played for a few months is the fact that our drummer of the past decade, Frank Funaro, had a tendon rip on his snare arm and was scheduled for surgery on May 20th. Plus, Victor was going to be gone the last week of May. We managed to secure the drumming of our original drummer, Chris Pedersen, who lives in Sydney, Australia and hence doesn’t drum with us very often. (As David Lowery said, we didn’t know much about Australia beyond the Mad Max movies, so we figured he was fighting for his life [and petrol] and probably didn’t have a phone anyway, so we hadn’t called till now.)
I actually haven’t played much in the interim, I sat in with the Plastic Pals here in Stockholm a few times, playing with US bands that were people I knew way back when: we opened for the Dream Syndicate at Nalen and Dan Stuart of Green on Red at the Southside Tavern, for example, just in the past month. I played one show of my own, sort of, back in February with the Muffin Ensemble as my band for my set (Matthias Danielsson on pedal steel and Örjan Byström on fretless bass) and then improvised with them for their set, but hadn’t played any other shows where I sang any songs. Later, I played a couple of shows with Einar Baldursson (from Gösta Berlings Saga) in a semi-improvised group that consisted of guitar, violin, clarinet and bass. But my fingers weren’t tour hardened, as it were.
I flew into LAX this time from Stockholm, after a connection in Amsterdam. LAX was pretty nice to arrive in, actually, the Global Entry line to scan passports is short, with tons of kiosks, and even the customs has a Global Entry lane. I arrived at around noon, in preparation for rehearsal starting at 3pm the next day, and I had managed to get some rest on the flight, so my intention was to stay up until 9pm. That’s the goal, in either direction, if you can stay awake until 9pm, you are allowed to go to sleep and then start in the new time zone when you wake up.
Of course it took a while to get to the hotel (the Hacienda, or as we refer to it, the Assy-Enda.) It’s near LAX on Sepulveda, pretty big, maybe a step up from a Motel 6, but also strangely low-class. Despite or because of many flight crew people staying there, it takes a long time to check in at any time of day or night. You could wait 45 minutes at midnight. I checked in and went across the street to Starbucks for some caffeine mainlining and then to Ralph’s supermarket for some food, which was cool because they have a person making sushi there, and as I was looking it over, she asked what I wanted and I answered “salmon and avocado” and she made it right then. Nice lunch. Or breakfast or whatever. For other things you’d have to walk. Which I did later, walked all the way into El Segundo proper to have a pizza and drink some Scuttlebutt IPA at Rock n Brews, a chain of rock-and-sports themed places owed by Gene Simmons. They show sports on most screens, then have a big screen showing (mostly 80s) rock videos with the rock music as the sound. I saw such things as Led Zeppelin and Flock of Seagulls (who were terrible! I thought for sure they might have some redeeming qualities in hindsight, but no, they were bad players even. And they dressed really badly, even for the early 1980s.) There were several families there having a birthday party for children, which made me miss my little one.
It was actually a long walk, 45 minutes or so each way, so by the time I got back I was even more tired and barely made it to my 9pm goal. The next day, Chris Pedersen came to pick me up, and we drove down the road to a Mexican food place before heading into Hollywood. It was great to see him, hadn’t hung out with him for a decade or so, the last time we played was at the first Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Camp-Out in 2005. I love Chris, not just because he’s an amazing drummer, he’s a great person also. We talked and drove over to Hollywood, where I checked in at the Dixie, where we would be staying for rehearsals. Again, across the street from a Starbucks and a Ralph’s.
First day of rehearsal, 3-9pm, Immergluck on bass since Victor was in Hawaii on vacation (planned for months, before the first couple shows were tagged onto this festival-based tour.) And Chris on drums, essentially a whole new rhythm section, although Immy had played bass for us several times last year. After this first stretch Chris and I went to go see Marc Ribot and Ceramic Dog at the new Largo space at the Coronet Theatre. This was really cool, two people I knew from Oakland were his band: Ches Smith on drums and Shazad Ismaily on bass and things. Ches actually plays on a Camper Van Beethoven song too, you know, he played on my 2003 album, “Edgy Not Antsy” and then we reused the basics for Civil Disobedience for CVB’s 2004 “New Roman Times”. They played very cool, outside, rocky-sounding songs, I wanted to say hi afterwards, but we were starving so we had to leave. Went to Canter’s Deli, still there on Fairfax, still the great late night diner. And I had the Avocado Melt, something I’ve eaten there for since the first time I went there maybe 30 years ago.
Chris and I went out to breakfast the next day on Sunset, down by Silverlake, and had coffee at Intelligentsia, which required a bit of explaining to Chris: You see, there’s this trend in hipsterdom to have single-origin coffee and roast it light or medium to “retain its true flavor and caffeine level”, which can of course be far too acidic and sour for the stomachs of men over 40. It’s big in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Stockholm, and now taking over the rest of the world. Regardless, the expensive macchiato or lattes were extremely well made, and we got fully jacked up and headed off involved in a full in-depth discussion of modern physics, segueing into styles of child-rearing.
This day’s rehearsal sounded more like a band, even though we only managed a handful of the tracks off the record that would be coming out the following tuesday. Still, we were melding into a semblance of the band we could be. Jet lag caught up with me in the late afternoons and I felt pretty spaced during the middle of the rehearsals, but muddled through. The next day we had to fly to Seattle.
Our flights actually stopped and changed planes in San Francisco, which was sort of a drag due to Air Force 2 being at both LAX and SFO, and shutting down all airport traffic for an hour. So we got to Seattle a bit later than expected, needed to rent cars and head into West Seattle to play an in-store at Easy Street Records. David Lowery and I went to get the cars, and ended up being upgraded to matching 2015 Subaru Foresters. I always like Subarus. The lady at the counter said they weren’t that popular with California drivers, I asked why, she blushed and turned her head and said, “I don’t know.” I asked if it were the association with lesbians, she quietly said, “yeah.” Hmm, you’d think they’d go for that. Anyway, matching silver Subarus, that’s how we roll.
We tried to find the hotel and went to the wrong nearby Doubletree (who have changed their logo, so it no longer looks like two intertwining female symbols, ♀♀, which would have made parking twin Subarus even better), eventually found the right one and dropped off bags, though then we had to drive into Seattle at rush hour, and while I was driving, Chris and Greg were attempting to navigate. When we got off the I-5, I thought, this is not the right way. Sure enough we went to the old, permanently closed Easy Street Records, and had to then find our way to West Seattle. We made it in the nick of time, set up and played our first set of the tour. Five songs, I think? It came off pretty well, and several of my friends with kids were there, the kids seeing us play for the first time. I missed being able to go out to dinner with them, though. We eventually packed up and made our way across the street for some food at a very slow restaurant, then back to the airport area and off to sleep. We didn’t need to get going until midday the next day.
We got into Capitol Hill early to get more coffee at Vivace, after a stop at Emerald City Guitars for David Immergluck to check out a Gibson Firebird (he didn’t buy it). I test drove the old Stratocasters, as usual. But you know, even a refinished early 60s one is around $10k, so that’s another person’s life that would be able to buy one. At Vivace, I had hemp milk for the first time in my life (pretty good, sort of sweet.)
And then went to the club, Chop Suey and waited for the other bands who actually had the backline we would be using. The opening bands were Miller and Sasser and Massey Ferguson. A country night!
Chris Miller had played with Victor at the last Camp-Out, and he was actually on tour with Dave Alvin at the moment, but had a night off so came to play with his band here, a country band that Victor had played bass in when they played in the Bay Area. For these shows, they had Hillary Hanes playing bass, who is John Hanes’ brother. All in the family. (John plays with Victor often, and played with me occasionally when I lived in California. He’s on most of my latter albums.) Despite the Victor connection, Victor was not at these two shows that they were playing with us in Seattle and Portland!
My friend Annick, who is a chef, was with her son at the nearby Skillet restaurant, so we all made it over there after sound check. She runs Runaway Kitchen ( http://www.runawaykitchen.com and http://runawaykitchen.blogspot.com ) and has been a personal chef to many famous people all up and down the west coast. So I knew wherever she was eating was going to be good, and indeed it was. Not really the sort of food you could eat every day—very rich and tasty, but you’d probably die shortly. I actually hadn’t seen Annick for a couple years, their family visited Sanna and I in Sweden one year when they were living in London (her husband Sean does device coding, so he’s bounced around Microsoft, Nokia, Amazon, etc.)
We got back to the Chop Suey too late to see the opening band, unfortunately, but did get to see Miller and Sasser, who were playing some country songs I hadn’t heard for years (like Johnny Paycheck’s “Please Don’t Play A-11”, last I’d heard done by Mental Revenge in SF in the mid 1990s, Jim Campilongo and Joe Goldmark, etc…) Plus they played tunes by Chris Miller and James Sasser, including “I Know That One By Heart”, which is still in my head. Chris and his brother both played Telecasters, harmonizing the country lines, and Chris even used an old 70s phase shifter, one of my favorite weird country guitar sounds. It sounds like somebody is chewing on the melody lines as they are plucked out by the Tele.
All band shared the same “dressing room”, this place was pretty grimy. That said, the sound was good, and the soundman was really good. But most of the places that we end up playing in Seattle are pretty grimy, which I always find odd as the median quality of life there is pretty high, so I don’t quite understand the griminess of the nightclubs. We have recently played Neumo’s and the Tractor Tavern, both of which seem pretty lowlife even when the surrounding restaurants aren’t, for example. Conversely, I guess, we played with Built to Spill at the Showbox Theatre downtown, which was pretty good, and surrounded by normal scummy downtown urban life. I guess I just don’t quite understand Seattle’s disparity of income quite, or the way it’s represented in the entertainment sphere.
We played our set to an enthusiastic 100 or so people, no major mistakes on the part of the newcomers, we managed to play four tracks from the new album even. I was playing on a borrowed Telecaster Custom, which was pretty cool (for when I played guitar in the set.) We bought an emergency crappy mandolin from Guitar Center, which we intended to return after the shows. It was truly crappy. James Sasser mentioned (enthusiastically) after the show that it sounded like a player piano.
After the show we went to the merch area to sign what CDs people bought, we actually had some of the new CD that was coming out the following week, so we sold some and signed them, and talked a bit with fans until the remaining fans were only the insane people who would have stayed telling us stories all night long, at which point we fled.
Back to the Sea-Tac Doubletree, a very confusingly laid-out hotel with angled hallways connecting wings at the second floor. We always have to stay at the cheapest places we can get, usually by the airport, and I guess we were lucky to get this place for some super cheap rate. It was actually one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in on tour! Unfortunately the breakfast choices were there or Denny’s across the street, so we all left and vowed to stop along the way, in our Subaru convoy. I drove one, Bobby the other. Apparently David discovered some weird place on Yelp, so we ended up in South Tacoma at a sandwich place called Little Jerry’s (which was indeed as good as the Yelp reviews) which was dedicated to Seinfeld and had not only Seinfeld-based decorations all over, but had a television that showed some sort of annotated set of out-of-sequence Seinfeld scenes from various episodes. Must have been a weird place to work. (I’m not a Seinfeld fan at all, by the way. I’ve tried to watch it but it just comes off as uncomfortable and idiotic to me, I don’t like any of the characters and the situations just make me feel bad. I don’t like that kind of comedy, I guess; I’d rather laugh with someone than at them.)
Onward to Portland, a nice drive on a beautiful day in our rental car. Chris and I talked while Greg dozed in the back seat. We went around the city to the east, stopped by the hotel near the airport (of course) and dropped our bags, then drove into town to the Hawthorne Theatre, on Hawthorne Avenue. We loaded our instruments in, but again we were using the opener’s backline so could’t really set up much until they got there. This evening it was Miller and Sasser minus Miller. He had to go back to the tour with Dave Alvin. It took them a long time to get there, and the “backstage” was a tiny little room up some stairs directly to the side of the stage, so that wasn’t great for hanging out. I went across the street to a Fred Meyer for some batteries and things, wandered around a bit, eventually came back and just stared at the internet for a while until the rest of the gear got there.
Everybody split up for dinner, I ended up walking down to the street to look at a Vietnamese place, but it looked too much like a Chinese restaurant so I opted for a sushi place, which turned out to be Korean. Not bad, not good.
I had had a couple of sound problems with my gear at the Seattle show, so I tried to figure out what was wrong, but nothing went awry during sound check, so I left it. Unfortunately I continued to have problems when the show was happening, and had some guitar and violin dropouts, which freaks me out when I’m playing and can’t immediately fix it. Since I switch back and forth all the time between violin, guitar and mandolin, the whole show is a little hectic, I rarely have time to even take a drink of water (which is tough anyway when you’re holding a violin in one hand and the bow in the other.) I spend a lot of time while playing checking out my tuner (aways on, unlike the guitarists who can mute to tune then turn it off) to see if I’m actually playing in tune, as the stage volume is loud and I’m hearing the violin as much through my jaw bone as anywhere else. If something if fucking up with my pedals, I hardly have enough cognitive ability to analyze the issue while playing. So the show felt a little out of control for me. I spasmodically bit my cheek during the show and sucked blood for a while.
Despite that, we had a full house at this theatre, proving that Portland still loves us, and after the show I talked with Larry Crane (of Tape Op, and of Vomit Launch, a Chico band we had played with back int he 1980s) and Lindsay Thrasher (also of Vomit Launch) who said the show was the best we’ve sounded. David Lowery had been telling the audience to shame Victor by Facebooking or tweeting that the bass was the best we’ve ever had, etc. Funny, but not really. I think Victor actually felt bad, even though he had known about the festival in Napa, he had planned his vacation for months in advance. And it is really fun to play with David Immergluck, on bass he actually has room to move, unlike when he plays pedal steel.
After a short amount of time at the merch booth, we gathered our stuff and split. I had a couple of my CDs (All Attractions and Shine Out) for sale also, so I had to elucidate to fans what they were or how they fit in to the merch area. Bobby asked me to describe them to a person looking at them and I said, “They’re amazing!” at which Bobby scoffed. (They are.)
Greg stayed, I guess to hang with friends. We went back to the hotel, slept, got up, Chris and I drove the Subaru to the airport and dropped it off. It seemed a bit more expensive than they had told us (which is of course typical rental car behavior) and as it turned out they had added little extra charges to each car, but different ones one each car, which, because they were rented together, made it pretty obvious that they weren’t asked for by us.
PDX, the Portland airport, is one of the best. Besides the easy access by public transportation, train or rental car dropoff, relatively short lines and relatively nice employees, there is the free wifi, and even better: good shops and food with a no-gouging policy! That means that food or beer is reasonably priced, which is indeed rare for airports. Plus there is a Powell’s Books in the airport, so I bought some books for myself and my daughter (some used, even.)
A relatively short flight to Sacramento, another small airport, and then to another rental car. This time we got a Kia Optima or some such full size car. We left and drove on I-5 to Woodland and then down Highway 113 (where I regaled Chris with stories of driving all of the roads in between at 100mph, and how you had to go over 100 before you could do a bong hit while sitting in the bed in the back of the GMC Sprint,) and dropped by my brother’s house in Davis, and he and his wife went with us downtown for a burrito for lunch—this was a day off so we had tons of time. The Bottlerock Festival in Napa was going on, and Cracker played this day (Saturday) at 1pm, so we had already missed them, and Camper Van Beethoven wasn’t playing until the next day, Sunday, at 5pm. I stopped by Watermelon Music, a small town music store that I like because, being the only store in town, they have everything. I can get violin strings and rosin as well as guitar strings or cables, or whatever. I bought new electrical pigtails and a couple small patch cables to try to fix whatever was happening with my pedals, thinking that what was going on was that the pigtail that distributed electricity to the pedals was shorting out.
I was using my little pedalboard which usually lives on the East Coast, which is just a small aluminum board with velcro on it. I have to use it for all instruments, so it has to have an A/B box to switch between guitar and violin, and then the EQ for violin before the tuner, so there’s not much room for that many effects. I had four at this point, overdrive, distortion, boost, and echo. They have switched around a lot over the years, what occupies which category, this configuration had a Boiling Point RockBox for the overdrive, which was not working well as it added too much volume even at its lowest volume, then a Fulltone Distortion Pro (too many little dials!) then the beautiful Xotic EP-Boost, which is so great. I use that for the violin solos, and some guitar parts. When I play guitar only, like in sets at Camp-Out or similar, I leave that thing on all the time, it just sounds great. I’ve struggled with echo pedals forever. I used to use the old Boss DM-2. Now I use the Line 6 Echo Park, which is sort of big and heavy, but has the tap tempo and a few different settings that I like, like the fact that it mimics tape echo and has a flutter knob. It’s not as big as better delays like the Strymon, the tap function is silent and while it does add a little noise, it’s the best of all worlds for playing live. I tried a TC Electronics Flashback, but its tap function is done by hitting the strings in tempo while holding a button down, which a) mutes your signal while you do that, and b) doesn’t work with violin very well at all. Sold it. I have a little Red Witch Violet analog delay, which is ok, but has that weird internal rechargeable battery thing so that it has two lights on it (charge and on), the charge light is red when hooked up and green when charged, the on light is red when on. It’s a bit confusing to see the charging light on only, as you think the effect is on when its not. Plus, I’ve noticed that if it isn’t actually charged, it distorts the signal.
Anyway…Chris and I left Davis and drove to Vallejo where our next hotel was. Exciting Vallejo! The town went bankrupt, cut down its police and fire departments, was basically the wild west at this point. Luckily for us, our hotel was near the Highway 80 and 37 interchange and on the other side of 80 from Sea World. That didn’t make it nice, though.
We impressed the Moldavian girl who was working at the counter by being musicians playing at the nearby rock festival. Apparently, she had been oppositely impressed by Bobby and David when they checked in as Bobby countered her “I’m from Moldavia” with “I’ve been to Moscow!”, at which David chided him about Russia versus all of its former Soviet bloc countries in the present era. Anyway, the rooms were pretty low-grade, as expected.
After checking in and dropping off our things, Chris and I went over to Napa, we thought about how and where to park to go to the festival, and eventually decided on an area north of the festival on surface streets. The Napa Bottlerock Festival was at the Napa Fairgrounds, on the east side of town up against the hills. It took us about 15 minutes to walk over to the will call/artist check in, where they had never heard of us but were nice about it. They said they would call… I called Bobby, who was backstage, he called… they called, people called. Eventually they had artist wristbands for us and we went in. It was a hot afternoon, we missed most of the stuff and Weezer were already playing on the big stage. They actually sounded pretty weird, like a big rock band. We made our way to the central area with food, where I found the Lagunitas booth and very happily sat on their green-screened couch for this little gem:
We finally figured out where Cracker’s dressing room tent was and found our way over backstage to it, but everybody was gone except David who was falling asleep on the couch. He had had to get up at 6am to get here on time to play at 1! We were there getting the scoop on the festival from Bobby when John Doe and his girlfriend came by to chat, they were wearing Heart passes (Heart were playing later that evening on the second stage, where CVB would play the next day.) John lives up in Marin County now, I hadn’t seen him since I had moved to Sweden so I had to explain to him a quick sequence of events that led up to me being an ex-pat. (See earlier posts)
We ate some of the catering food but didn’t have our meal passes for this day so we went out to the yard again to try to find a short food line (difficult) and then over to the stage field where Heart was going to play. This field was surrounded by winery booths (it was Napa, after all) and I took a quick sweep but there was no tasting, only $10 glasses, so I gave up on that idea and got a beer. We waited around till 8 when Heart were going to start, musing on when in the set they would play Barracuda or Magic Man, I figured Barracuda would be in the first 3 songs and Magic Man last. To my right, in fact was the magic man: this guy had his weird vest suit and hat with LED lights around the vest, ready to deal acid just like that same dude back at any festival in the late 70s. Maybe it was indeed the same guy!
Heart started the set with Barracuda, which was way too obvious, and by the third song the midrange frequency notch of Festival Marshall Stacks® was annoying, so we left. We could hear Outkast from the main stage as we walked to the car. We missed Magic Man altogether. Wish they’d played that one first!
Part 2 coming up.