From Dec 27, 2016 to Jan 21, 2017, I was on tour with Camper Van Beethoven (playing with Cracker, as per usual) in the United States. Overall, this was an amazing tour, not just from the point of view of being successful (in that we filled every venue) but we played really well. Better and better over the course of the tour, in fact. And there was not one bad show. That’s gotta be a record of some sort.
One reason this tour diary is so brief is that very little happened apart from driving, flying, or playing, or trying to sleep. It was pretty packed in.
While I flew in from Stockholm—a direct flight to Oakland—to our first show in San Francisco, Chris Pedersen (Camper drummer) flew from Sydney, Australia with his family to Southern California a couple days prior, so our jet lags met in the middle. After a Thai Noodle dinner and a decent night’s sleep, got up the next day to meet some people (it’s sort of difficult being in the Bay Area for 24 hours when most of the people I know live there) so I had coffee with Rebecca Seeman who is actually occasionally in Stockholm because she’s working on a film about Izzy Young and the Folk Music Center, which he moved from New York to Stockholm in the late 70s.
Then I met Kelly Atkins for lunch, which was sort of incredible because it was the first time we actually got to hang out and talk after we had been working together for a year on my “Superfluity” album (which is out this month) remotely, all by internet. She sings with 20 Minute Loop and also Kitka, she sang a great deal on my upcoming album. Then off to San Francisco and the show.
I felt fine, jet-lag-wise, for that first show at the Independent, but the next day, as David Immergluck joined us in Santa Barbara for the SoCal shows I had some serious jet-laggy time-and-place confusion as I stood on stage watching Immy play the mandolin. 9pm West Coast time is 6am Sweden time. Then a daytime drive in sunny SoCal from SB to SD, which took at least six hours.
Our usual San Diego club is the Belly Up, but other bands had caught on to this between-Xmas-and-NYE thing and had already booked it so we played a giant box downtown. Heavy bass sound system, as you might imagine. Next day up to LA to play on the Sunset Strip (Whisky-a-Go-Go! I don’t even remember the last time I was there, it must have been when I was living in LA in the late 90s).
After San Diego and Los Angeles we flew up to Portland for New Year’s Eve, then drove to Seattle, after which we had a short break. I stayed in Seattle, visited friends and went ogling guitars at Emerald City and Trading Musician, also bought a down jacket at Mountain Hardware (something I had been needing in Sweden, but also for the upcoming leg in the upper midwest where it was super cold.) The Portland show was spectacular as always, at the Aladdin Theatre, as was the Seattle show at the Crocodile, where Camper’s set ended abruptly less than a minute from the end of our last song (a medley of our old instrumental SP37957, several Led Zeppelin riffs and Hava Nagila) when somebody dancing hit a glass fire alarm and set it off. It was sorted out by the time Cracker played.
Minneapolis at the Fine Line was also a strong show, in spite of extreme cold weather. Then we drove to Chicago and of course stopped at Chicago Music Exchange (I bought a Zvex Box of Rock pedal, something I’d been looking for in Seattle) before heading to the Lincoln Theatre down the street. This was a good show with a strange audience: several drunk people trying to talk to the band members between songs (“what kind of mandolin are you using?” really, dude..?) and otherwise all staring at the lead singer even during guitar solos. I’ve seen that sort of thing before, it usually means that they don’t know the band very well. Especially odd behavior given how intense Victor and Chris, (bass and drums,) were by this point in the tour—they were crushing it.
Next show was Cleveland (“Hello Cleveland” or actually, given the recent jokes about how their sports fans couldn’t even spell the name of the city, “Hello Cleveveland!”) where we played a sort of dinner theatre club next to the ice filled river. A good show where several long-time fans told us they had been waiting ages to see us play. That’s always a kick, people who have 25 or 30 year old albums to sign.
We flew down to Georgia the next day, and then drove to Athens, where we got to actually have a busman’s holiday on our night off: we went to the 40 Watt to see The Minus Five and Alejandro Escovedo. Stunning show, complete with some severe time-displacement feelings when three members of REM were onstage singing “Don’t Go Back to Rockville.”
We got on a tour bus the next day and headed up to North Carolina. On the previous leg of the tour, we stayed in hotels after each show, but on a tour bus, you have a bunk and attempt to sleep while the bus drives late at night and then you wake up in the next town, grungy and smelly. Many decent sized clubs have showers backstage, but not all of them. The theatre in Charlotte was a new place, just setting up for shows, but ready for action though they had yet to fly the speaker stacks above the stage (they were testing them on the ground on the sides first.) It looked like it may have been a seated theatre a long time ago, now internally stripped to the concrete with a sloping floor. It sounded pretty good, regardless, and filled up with an enthusiastic audience.
From here, up to the famous 9:30 Club in Washington DC, a place with a large backstage with shower and even places to lie down. The club has some of the best crew of any place in the states, always professional, and it always sounds great. The only rival it has for great crew is the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, where we played the next night!
From Philly, we bussed to Boston, playing the Middle East in Cambridge, a place we’ve played a thousand times since the 1980s, it always rocks like an old punk rock show. Victor and I left with our friend Richard Gann, an artist we’ve known since we were at UCSC in the early 1980s (his paintings are on my Sista Maj album covers, and on the upcoming Superfluity cover, as well as the old Hieronymus Firebrain albums!) Richard lives in Brooklyn but teaches at RISD, so he and his brother were setting up a house in Providence, where we ended up that evening. The next day we drove to New York for the last show of this leg of the tour, at BB King’s on Times Square. I have to say this isn’t my favorite place to play in NY, but it’s ok, despite having to be there for a 12 noon load-in and then not sound check until after the Harlem Gospel Choir was out off the stage and it was cleared, like 5pm. Victor was flying out the next morning (back to work in SF for a few days) so he had a hotel room, I tagged along for a shower, then tried to walk over to the public library on 5th Ave and 42nd St (as I sung in “I Know You Know Me”) but the front steps were filled by a writers resistance protest against the incoming fascist regime.
The show went smoothly, we hastily loaded out on the sidewalk when the bus came around, and drove all night again, to wake up in Richmond, VA. David still lives there part-time, so he went home to take care of things, we all hung out in a day hotel room, or the bus, waiting to eat at Mamma Zu’s, the best Italian restaurant ever. And It was a sensational meal, fitting end to the moving part of this tour. The next shows were all in Athens, GA, part of our Camp-In Festival (to match the late summer Camp-Out festival in Pioneertown, CA.)
Unfortunately for me, I woke up in Athens the next day to load our gear into the 40 Watt Club feeling pretty shitty, and went immediately back to bed once we got into our hotel. I missed out entirely on a couple free days we had before the music all started up again, curled up in bed freezing and sweating and sleeping. I tried to wake up a few times to eat and managed a pack of ramen and some triscuits, and tried to do a podcast interview with Mark Linsenmeyer for his Nakedly Examined Music podcast, interviews with songwriters about the songs. This was specifically about a few songs on Superfluity, which is supposed to be out Feb 24th.
I was a mess, and I don’t think I could speak coherently, although when I suggested later that we just re-do the podcast, he said, no, it was fine. I doubt it, but we’ll see.
I missed the first day of music at our festival, the acoustic night where the Cracker duo played, Peter Case and Ike Reilly, but I managed to get up the next day and get to the Camper Van Beethoven show at 11pm. I was still pretty wacked out by the cold or flu or whatever, but after a rhythmically rocky start (for me, not anybody else) I think I managed to play the whole set pretty well. It was the only super long set of the tour, a two-page setlist.
The next day was Saturday, Cracker was headlining, but several other shows took place at other venues during the day, including sets by Johnny Hickman and Victor Krummenacher at Hendershots, and I did an improv set at the Flicker Bar with Victor on bass and Ian Werden from The Heap (also playing that evening at the 40 Watt after Cracker) on drums—Chris Pedersen had already left that morning on the long journey back to Australia. I was generally awake and alive by this point, so it went off well. I went to eat with Victor and then over to the Cracker show, stuck around for the Heap (Bryan Howard, bassist in Cracker, fronting this band) and then finally left, stopping in briefly to the Caledonia to see a bit of what turned out to be a local Christian metal band, who sounded like over-the-top 80s hair metal.
Woke up too early the next day to travel home, a van ride to Atlanta, a Delta flight to Miami (where they charged me for my bag being 8 pounds overweight) then I tried to get the local train to Fort Lauderdale airport to catch the Norwegian Air flight home, but it was Sunday and my flight had been late and I missed the last train by 10 minutes, so I just took a cab. Norwegian also charged me for the 3 kilos over, despite the fact that from Europe the limit is 23kg, but from the States apparently only 20kg. Whatever. This flight was delayed by two hours at the gate, then another on the ground, but eventually we left and I got home in time to drop my bags and go pick up my daughter from pre-school.
In all, this was an incredible experience. I’ve toured, of course, a million times in the past 35 years, but these guys in Camper Van Beethoven, David Lowery, Greg Lisher, Victor Krummenacher, Chris Pedersen, and I, are really “the band”. It’s the band I really learned to play in a band in. It’s the band that just keeps getting better. Each of these musicians is amazing, and by the end of this run, we were tight and strong, it felt incredible. It’s an honor and a privilege to play with these same people that we have played with for 30 years or so. And: not one bad show. The entire tour, not one bad show. I’m still stunned by that.