Tuesday, November 27, 2007

24,480-Minute Song: Arks Fall Tour, Days 1 to 3

Day 1 (Nov. 2)

We don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, but we’re doing it again. We’re spreading ourselves as evenly as possible over a seventeen day sketch of America. We’ll emerge stuck with little experiential barbs, the conglomerated topography of which will form whatever this is, whatever it will be that we believe we did.

We are on tour.

How were we digested? The city serving as the mouth was Milwaukee, which popped us in casually enough, and had us playing backroom soundtrack to an overtly H.R.Giger-inspired group gallery show. The venue was the Borg Ward. Our fellow foodstuffs were, among others, the voracious and palindromic IFIHADAHIFI, who would also provide the lodging for the evening. These guys are sweatbands and vibration, every jerking bassline has an eye pop and accusatory gesture to back it up. Shoes were (quite literally) lost in the process and served back to the owner on the tuners of the capably manned guitar. Everything you could hope for. My camera came close to capturing some of the bedlam in this (completely undoctored, slightly disturbing) picture:

During the show, when not drawn into the cacophony, I let my eyes lock on the ceiling fan, each blade adorned with a tissue paper ghost. Unspecific, hand crafted. The ghosts seemed to keep aloft a now deflating Mylar balloon, beginning to collapse around its yellow lettered message. Happy Birthday.

The history of the room seemed to descend in layers, from the specifics of a birth celebration, to the universalized Halloween to the non-time specific events of the evening. We seemed to be anytime, if not anywhere. I looked at the ceiling and felt like some part of a cross section. History’s sediments.


After the show and obligatory small talk wind down, I walked around the outside of the Borg Ward and found myself in a disturbing but obsessing scene. On a plot – where a house had obviously once stood, but was now overgrown with grass and single central, diminutive pine tree – a tiny stone bench sat before a wooden cross made of two thin, stripped trees lashed together crudely. To the right of the stone seat there was a mailbox, in decent repair. To the left of the seat was a tree. The tree’s limbs cradled an announcement. Evolution revolution.

A rejection of science? A declaration of life’s interminable metamorphosis? The sign, the cross, and the mailbox seemed to be having a conversation to which I wasn’t privy, but I had fun listening to it all the same. This scene, like most, probably has some explanation. But like most of the unexplained, it’s far better left to mystery. So I left the three characters to their plot and central tree and crossed the street, where Glenn sat warming up the van.

We made our way over to Josh of IFIHADAHIFI’s place and after a late snack of music and pop culture trivia banter, we made our respective beds (sleeping bags on floors and couches), and collapsed. I fell asleep watching a black cat bathing itself on top of a bass speaker cabinet, which seemed, somehow, an appropriate end to our inaugural day on the road.

Day 2 (Nov. 3)

In the morning we secreted ourselves from our sleeping bags, and slowly began our morning. I worked on coloring “Omega the Unknown” while Glenn went out for his morning run and Mat and Lanny yawned into cognizance. Then it was off to brunch with the guys from IFIHADAHIFI and the Glennome.

The Glennome debuted at the party thrown the previous weekend by my friends James and Heather (which doubled as my birthday party, and saw me dressed as a gorilla dressed as the easter bunny, an outfit that both confused and caused discomfort in party goers). And at that party Glenn informed me that while on tour the plan he had devised to take pictures of his gnome-ness at landmarks along our tour. The ridiculousness of this insured its acceptance with the whole band, and we weren’t about to leave town without setting Glenn’s plan into action. So here was the Glennome, again, outside the historic Oriental Theatre.

We headed up to St. Paul where we would play our second show with IFIHADAHIFI. They beat us there and were already setting up for their sound check at Station 4 when we arrived. The place was, as is typical during soundcheck, empty, save the bands that were playing that night and a few stragglers at the bar. Unfortunately, that’s all the people we’d see that night. But it provided for ample space to spread out, and even after only two days on the road, that’s something to b savored.

Station 4 is potentially an excellent place to play (decent sound system, ample space, cordial staff), but the audience was almost solely comprised of the other bands. Not that we’re complaining. There’s something interesting about a third of the audience suddenly walking up and taking the stage. If only we could see that at larger shows.

IFIHADAHIFI, no longer our hosts – and finished with their opening (and impossibly energetic) set – slid into their new roles as hecklers. The shouted permutations of our band name over our forty five minute stay on the stage included (but certainly was not limited to) Sharks, Narks, Larks, Aardvarks, Barks, and Quarks (surprisingly enough to me: no Ozarks); the heckle always following the format “If you were___, you’d be ____” (i.e. “If you were a subatomic particle, you’d be Quarks”). We fully appreciate and support audiences providing as much if not more entertainment than the band. We are, if nothing else, egalitarians.

We were hosted that evening by Michael, from the headlining band that evening, Mise en Place (who are truly deserving of greater recognition for their music, in addition to being a pack of colossally nice guys). Though Mise en Place’s van apparently imploded on the way from the venue to Michael’s house, so a couple from our party left to retrieve those stranded on the road. While those that staid behind smoked and froze.

Michael, whose day job is real estate, has an enviable house and two retardation-inducing dogs. Juno, a smiling puff of canine white, reminded me of my cat, Margo, so we became fast friends (though Juno, like Margo, is quite the attention whore, so I can’t count myself as specifically beloved).

The aftermath of the St. Paul show was the better side of testosterone. Michael ordered and paid for pizzas for all three bands (again, colossally nice), and we all stuffed ourselves and made snarky comments about a boxing match. I don’t recall the names, but my theory was that the crazy tattooed guy would win. I figured crazy akways triumphs, right? The old pro won. So much for crazy.

If being on the road is taxing, you’d never know it in these moments. We had our fill of pizza and tivoed brutality, and so we all retired for the evening, the IFIHADIHIFI fellows parting ways with us to camp out at another member of Mise en Place’s place (en mise?).

Day 3 (daytime, Nov. 4)

In the morning, Glenn went for a run, while I set up my makeshift office in Michael’s kitchen and worked as Lanny enlightened Michael and Drew to the phenomenon (idiocy? genius?) that is (and don't click on this unless you want your mind infected for several days) Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” (which Lanny had implanted in my brain the day previous, the devilish bastard).

Everyone’s mind sufficiently punted by Tay’s monotone masterworks, we ate lunch. Glenn paid for the meal (thans again, Glenn!), then went outside with Mat to take the second of the Glennome series.

We said farewell to the two bands, with whom, in the words of Chris from IFIHADAHIFI, we’d had a real “brodeo.” We couldn’t have agreed more. None of us could have imagined a better start to the tour. Before climbing into the van all bands departed with a hands-in-the-middle-count-to-three-shout. Brodeo indeed. I challenge anyone to not smile at that pack. We’re honored to have shared the stage with them.

Then it was on the road to Omaha, which I only know from the “Mutual of” fame, as they were (if I recall correctly) a sponsor of several programs on PBS during my childhood. Regardless, I always liked their logo. So Omaha’s got that going for it at least.

(A final note: just as I was about to finish typing the bulk of this post, one hundred twenty miles from Des Moines, a pheasant taking off from the side of the road flew directly into our passenger side window with a sickening thwack. That pheasant is dead. Deceased. No more.)

(Welcome to Iowa?)

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