words by George Chen
photos by Vice Cooler
There are people who are "cup half empty" people. And there are "cup half full" people. I always seem to have the cup that's leaking. This is at least what I tell myself as I drag my 3 ish hours of sleep head out of bed, snapped to attention by the alarm I optimistically set for myself at 3:45 am. I think Conan was on before I hit the pillow, so it's less than 3 hours in total. I am getting a friend to take me to SFO from Oakland to begin a week of shows with my band KIT opening in the Southwest U.S. for Deerhoof.
This occurs sometime while my optimist/pessimist cup is being drained of its contents somewhere in the netherworld of the Denver airport. Somehow my bandmates (one departing from SFO, another from LAX) managed to find cheaper direct flights than I did even ordering them 4 months in advance. Luckily, I tuck my white knuckles into my pockets and bury thoughts into Michael Chabon's "Yiddish Policeman's Union". I arrive in Austin for the third time this year, the second by plane. We meet up at the luggage carousel, the fourth member in transit from Dallas with our other tourmates (and former housemates) Experimental Dental School.
We pick up our rental car and head into Austin's downtown area for the Fun Fun Fun Fest. We did not spend the extra $15 a day for GPS (foreshadowing). It's in Waterloo Park, an outdoor public space gated off with chain link and four stages. Run into our buddies Weird Weeds at the entrance gate and then upon entering see both Parts and Labor and YACHT. Search for food sends us into the regular zones of festival land - slightly overpriced and disappointing, but there is the ubiquitous ice cream man handing out goodies at all vaguely underground ish festivals in the US. I get a rock hard ice cream sandwich and watch YACHT perform. We have a while till our set, which is actually at the afterparty at Mohawk, not the actual Fun Fun Fun. Get in a partial ADD viewing of Swingin Utters, Dan Deacon, and the Coldtowne Comedy hour.
I eventually take a nap in the media tent and decide to move the car around, where I can sort of see Neil Hamburger's set from outside while a pop punk band is blasting away across the creek. These festivals tend to bring out some agoraphobic overdose of humanity in me, even though at first it's nice. Food and loading in starts to take over priority wise and i spend about half an hour if not more circling the blocks trying to find parking. Out front, there is a promotional Guitar Hero/Rock Band game going in the back of a car. Me and Sandy from Weird Weeds get on it, her on drums and me on guitar, and I think we were in the opening bars of Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" when the whole game poops out. The first band, Restaurant, never shows up. So next is Fertile Crescent, who were doing the Deerhoof tour up to Dallas. Nice kids, Eban and Sara, doing very pop stuff, sort of refined but with a quirky, wide-eyed vibe. The last song cuts loose with some noisy guitar freak out. Dan Deacon, Erik Carter, and our friends in Parts and Labor are all in attendance. We are on right after Fertile Crescent, and borrow their gear. Satomi says she wants Deerhoof to come up and wrestle our instruments out of our hands and close the set. then about a minute later she says that she thinks they should start it and then we come up and wrestle the instruments away from them. So this is what we do, although the effect is perhaps the opposite effect of what we would desire, setting up audience expectations merely to have them confounded with our wet blanket of noise. Still, we manage to pull it together, it's our first show since August when Steve moved to Southern California to go to school, so we need to shake out the cobwebs. Right beforehand, I go to Aaron Russell's house to pick up the "Dreams Are Burned" 7"s, so we have those on hand to sell. The artwork looks great and the vinyl is heavy!
We drive to Tim Kerr's and conk out right away. Tim and Beth love collecting figurines and toys, it's all grouped roughly by theme, and we are there not long after Halloween, so their Hallowen chotchke display is out in full force. I am always the first to get up, so I run into Beth in the kitchen. I didn't even think about it, but "Fun Fun Fun" must be named after the Big Boys song. Funny enough , Bad Brains are playing that night, so I ask Tim for that whole story, which I'd heard in bits and pieces, but figure this is getting it from the horse's mouth. It's nearly noon and we want to see Tim play traditional irish tunes at the festival with Spot. Then we are all super hungry and Beth tells us there is a vegetarian chili cook off across town. I for one am excited about this prospect, but we arrive and find out the entry fee is $8. It's probably best for our wallets, and our olfactory functions in the confined airspace of the car, if we abstain, so we go elsewhere for veg grub.
We are undecided about the next course of action for our day off, so we just go back to the Festival until we are hungry again. It's a brief visit. Kool Keith is on when we arrive, and I can't really see much of what he's doing. We meet one of the Dead Milkmen with Dan, VC's friend. We wander over to the St Vincent show, which I can only really see form behind. Supposedly she and her band were at our Mohawk gig. I only catch two songs and they're surprisingly good. I'd only ever seen some acoustic thing she'd done on Youtube, but was into the noisy guitar freakout she had at the end. Steve and Kristy see the end of the Cro Mags and comment on the singer saying "God Bless" in closing. We are Fested out, so I call my buddy Russell and we meet up for dinner at a cafe over in his neighborhood. We had gone to his store, DOMY, earlier and I scored a few zines and nearly dropped some $ on a Brinkman print, but couldn't really justify the expenditure on a tour.
We go back to Tim's and even though he's gotta get up for work early he regales us with tales of ghosts, ufos, and other punk legacy things - like the Dan Higgs poem written on the wall in that room, the house that he's lived in since 1983. It's also interesting to me that even though he can talk to us about being friends with Danzig back in the day that he keeps bringing it back to not wanting to be stuck in the past, about focusing on the next thing coming around the bend. I notice with older punks there is a tendency to dwell onthe past, or maybe it's just that everyone wants to get those stories out of them, to live vicariously in that age. I like the notion that as important as that stuff may seem, equally important things are happening for music right now. It's hard to keep that in mind when you think back to the initial uprising of punk and how few recognizable names sifted through that mess, and it's hard to think of what will bear out in the long run in this age, its ephemerality seemingly genetically encoded like an obsolescence of Logan's Run-styled restrictions. Then there's these dudes that just do their art and music and don't give a fuck about anything else.
Notions like this earnest obstinance are valuable attributes when one is driving eight hours through Western Texas. Fortitude and "road doggin'" are necessary totems from our spiritual forefathers. I think of reading "Our Band Could Be Your Life" and the Butthole Surfers chapter where they have to drive IN sleeping bags cause there's no heat. We have a relatively cush (well, it's cozy if you're in the back seat piled with merch and drum gear) rental car with AC. The venue in El Paso is in a mini mall. There are platforms with cages and a stripper pole. It's a monday night and technically our first full night of being on this tour, with both EDS and Deerhoof. Greg's parents are there. I semi-vowed to stop drinking soda a few days prior, and the food options look paltry nearby, so i end up getting a mini bag of carrots. sort of healthy, but then kristy has an addictive can of pringles and my mouth is filled with the alternating freshness and sickly saltiness of both carrots and pringles. We play okay that night, didn't really get to mess with guitar tone and the monitor mix was pretty weird, i think we sell like two things. Starting to regret how many tshirts we made. Some kids from the show let us crash at their house, and they actually bring over extra sleeping bags and air mattresses. i neglected to bring my sleeping bag to accomodate al the tshirts we aren't selling, but my new jacket is basically half a sleeping bag so it does the trick in a pinch.
We awake to the culinary wasteland of El Paso. The only thing that looks promising is a Middle Eastern/Greek spot. We are mostly underwhelmed and need to head off for the greener lands of Tempe. I drive a big chunk of this while others doze, and get caught up in one of Vice's mix CDRs. The drive between El Paso and Tempe has little to offer in way of variety. There are long stretches without gas stations, and it is in one of these stretches, caught up in some Lily Allen track that I had not ever experienced in such a distraction-less space, that the "E" light starts blinking on our gas gauge. This is enough to wake everyone up, the ominous beep, and while cursing the seeming inevitability of doom, I find myself oddly calm. We shut off the air conditioning and the stereo and woops, we are going up a hill, try to keep the miles per hour at a steady stream, crossing fingers and legs till the next stop. After about half an hour of this, a station finally appears over the horizon, and disaster is averted. This is the KIT way - floating towards crises and emerging out the other end, limbs intact, ego bruised, but somehow no wiser.
We finally get to Tempe and play a show at the lovely Boo Berry Fort by the train tracks near the University. Our host John Ryan takes us to the vegan pizza place nearby and we play with his band Soft Shoulder.
There is a dog named Calvin Johnson, a crazy neighbor across the street who has a military obsession and built a crazy aluminum fort, and a sweaty living room filled with moshing punks of all stripes. Soft Shoulder's guitar mangler James Fella lets us crash at his pad even though he gets up at ungodly hours for work.
This house loves the game Connect 4. There is much schooling in the art of making California look stupid at connecting four checker pieces, and all the while there is a tape deck on permanent loop of the New Bloods cassette. We actually fall asleep with this tape on loop, I think I just let it run and turn the volume down so every 15 minutes you would just hear the tape deck go "click".
We spend the next day lazily starting up with the help of our guide Ann Marie of Hell Kite. It's her birthday. At the risk of this turning into "Happy Birthday from a bunch of strangers", she is a great host. The food and thrifting options are a relief. Green has some good vegan junk food - i have some chili fries that take the wind out of me. The Goodwill provides some finds, but we must hit the road for Tucson.
The Tucson show is in the Hotel Congress, they feed us and let us stay in a room, so that's a nice change of pace. Scarfing down a pork chop right before playing is generally not recommended though. Everyone sounds pretty good on that stage, and this crowd does not have a lot of civic pride - Kristy says "we've never been to Tucson before" and someone in the crowd yells "cause it sucks here!" or something to that effect. My kind of town, a low self-esteem town. After the show Satomi dances. She likes to dance a lot. They don't have TVs in the rooms so I watch some of "Top Chef" in the hallway for a while. Everyone else is congregating in the lobby and none of us are really party-ers, particularly, but Jesse seems like he wants to keep the party rolling. Sadly there is nowhere for it to roll. We go to bed but there is insane construction going on starting at like 5 am, not to mention several trains going by in the night, so it's a fitful sleep. I take my first shower of the trip.
We walk a few blocks away to the health food store with Ed. We note how weird it is that our friends Seth and Coomers are from this town.
We have listened to all the CDs that Vice brought at this point. I think we listened to a few of them twice already, including Nouns and the High Places record. We are relieved to have the new Deerhoof and EDS CDs to break things up. "Offend Maggie" is a definite grower. It bears consecutive listening, and I conclude that it's my favorite record of theirs in a while. We get in early enough to go back to Green and spot what is obviously a punk band eating there. We scan the papers and assume it is H2O or a band that is opening for H2O. There is no glimpse of recognition between our tribes. We drive around trying to find the venue, and it is in a strip mall next to a sports bar that has a betting window. Luckily, we made some friends a few days prior, so some familiar faces trickle through the crowd. We play on the floor. It feels like the KIT of old in terms of "antics". I recall the entire event as being somewhat ridiculous, but it needed to happen, we are tired of stages and barriers and all that jazz. After we play, some kids from Boo Berry Fort show up with a weed pie. I think it was an apple pie. It is very cute and has a "KIT" and a heart on it, and they missed our set while baking it. Very little of it is actually consumed.
Satomi is enamored of this device called "the wave" which is a skateboard that twists on an axis. It's kind of like a snowboard motion that I cannot master. She can zoom around on that thing and moves merch boxes on it.
We retire to the Gilgongo fortress and I feel like out-of-body tired, but Ann Marie busts out the Apples to Apples cards, so we break the ice with some more Tempe-ans and I play in a drooling stupor. These kids are competitive. For some reason we throw on Lois "Strumpet" after the Young Marble Giants. The kids are alright.
LA is next. It's a long drive, broken up only by these giant dinosaurs we think were used in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
We usually have several food agendas in LA, but miss out on most of them. Pull in first to Denver Dome and make a few phone calls, hang out with TransformerMan (Josh Taylor and Amy Fantastic's dog), and I think napping is in order. Then load in at the Echoplex. We had hoped Mike Watt could come play with us this night, but it is not in the cards. The stage feels huge and there is a barrier separating us from the audience. Our friend Shannon comes to hang out and helps with merch. I sometimes do merch for Deerhoof if John has to run off and they are chomping at the bit, that LA crowd. They have money burning holes in their pockets.
Deerhoof and EDS decide to drive back to the Bay after the show to avoid the fires. "What fires?" we say? We have fully turned into California valley girl airheads. There's a huge fire going on that is blocking a lot of the 5. "Whatever". We just go to sleep and plan to vacate in the morning after breakfast. Sharon Cheslow meets up with us and takes pictures. We head out towards the five and get quickly knocked off. It's already after noon at this point. We can't figure out the best way to get back up, so we just wing it and swing down towards the 101, banking on a break for home. We can smell some smoke by Santa Barbara and even see firetrucks heading the other way.
"Are we home yet?" There is still one more show to play. The added hours of driving 101 means we gotta go straight to the club and soundcheck. It is surreal to be playing this club. We were having some angst about it because this is the first 21 and over show we've played in the Bay in about five years. We try to always do all ages shows, it's not always explicit but we generally stick to that rule and it's worked out fine for us. A lot of the time I think we would just tank at a bar show anyhow, so it's allowed us some freedom from that, and it means when we do play it's usually somewhere cool and specifically about DIY music or art rather than just a bar. We were in a tough position here where we were obligated to play, and were sort of feeling daunted about playing a club that does more dance music, but the sound worked out fine and the staff was nice. It just brought home the reminder that even in San Francisco, it's hard to do an all ages show at a big venue. But it's also a home town crowd for all three bands, so we have that in our favor.
Some of us go back to our beds. I think back to the Muppets, as that was where I learned all there is to learn about show business. Kermit would say this was a half-full cup. Then he would dunk his felted-head/hand in it and suck all that liquid up, plastic eyeballs clanking on the rim, arms waving on sticks, and go home sopping to his porcine bride.