During 1993-1995, we played five concerts in Atlanta, and four of them were at The Masquerade, one of which was 21 years ago today. And yet this is the first time I’ve written about the place–that is not an accident. We never had a particularly good time there, due primarily to it being three venues in one multilevel building: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. Naturally, you could always find us in Heaven, but in case you were curious what was going on elsewhere, you needn’t go to another floor to find out, because the thumping disco from below was pretty much omnipresent. (Didn’t this bother everyone going to The Masquerade is the question I’ve always had, but having consulted the F.A.Q.’s on their web site, I’m forced to conclude maybe not.) What to do? We didn’t want to have to drop the quiet songs from the set, but they sounded ridiculous–we compromised by playing the impromptu club remix of, say, “Nowhere Near” and grumbling about it, letting a frown be our umbrella, as it were. When our first Atlanta date of 1996 took place at The Point during an ice storm, there was still no mistaking it for anything but a step in the right direction.
Twenty-seven years ago today, we make our European debut, in Dordrecht, Holland. That tour, which was both rigorous and exhilarating in the extreme, was an early pivotal moment for the band. Without it, who knows if we would have found ourselves in Arhus, Denmark 10 years later. I’m sure the show was fun, but what I recall best is what came afterwards. Our promoter worked at a cinema, and when I jokingly asked if we could go there post-show, he not jokingly said yes. Having just finished our eighth concert in nine nights, with long Scandinavian drives between many of them, everyone but me passed on the offer. So me, the promoter and one of his pals went to the theater, grabbed a beer and had a private screening of Microcosmos. Sure, I fought to stay awake, but there wasn’t much of a plot, and when my eyes were open I felt like Elvis. Got back to the hotel and found Georgia watching Yentl on tv with Danish subtitles. Luckily, I had already seen it in the theater.
It must be our love of afternoon darkness and autumn snowfall that has led to multiple trips to Scandinavia on this date. We made our Oslo debut 17 years ago today at the now-defunct So What–had such a good time that we returned for one-offs in both 1998 and 1999–and played at the less-fancy-than-it-sounds Rockefeller last year. Not as easy to judge the book by its cover in 2009 in Lund, Sweden, as my computer can’t translate the venue name Mejeriet (I’ll assume it’s a type of herring). Maybe we don’t love the dark as much as I thought, because I must admit that none of the aforementioned is as memorable as our 2006 visit to Brussels. Among multiple shows happening inside the AB that feature Espers, Edith Frost and many others, we play a long set, second encoring with two Velvet Underground songs and third encoring with “What Can I Say.”
(Happy Thanksgiving in Norwegian)
During the 2007 Writers Guild strike, both 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live performed live shows at the UCB Theater to support and raise money for the strikers. Michael Cera hosted the Saturday Night Live episode, which featured the entire cast save for Maya Rudolph, not to mention alumni Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz, and Norah Jones. We were the musical guest, playing acoustic versions of “Little Honda” and “Mr. Tough.”
Three New York shows on this date over the years, the initial one in 1996 at Tramps, the second of two nights opening for the reunited Big Star, and our first since returning from Nashville to record I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. We premiere five of those unreleased songs, including “Pencil Test,” which will ultimately be shelved until 2003’s Prisoners of Love and has yet to be performed live since. In 2007, we Freewheel at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and share the bill with Metal Mountains, a band that it’s barely an exaggeration to say formed at our request. Usually hard to remember any of the chitchat from these shows, but not this night–asked why all the songs on our then-current I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass record fade out, we’re momentarily confused, till we figure out the questioner must have illegally downloaded the pre-release version sent to press with most every track faded out well before its conclusion. (We helpfully noted that copies of the full record were for sale in the lobby.) PG Six, Samara and Helen sit in on the encore of Fairport Convention’s “Flowers of the Forest,” an old swing state tour favorite. And just last year, we helped The Scene Is Now celebrate 30 years as a band, even though we were in Helsinki at the time. The staff at Vaunusali generously let us hang around until 3 a.m. Finland Standard Time so that we could open the show at Bowery Electric via Skype at 8 p.m. eastern with “Yellow Sarong.”
November 14, 1995: We pulled into Ottawa, was feelin’ ’bout half past dead . . . oops, sorry, been spending a lot of time with the Basement Tapes this week. Anyway, I don’t recall being especially tired, but our van was definitely sluggish; the electric windows were not going up and down with their usual sprightliness. I didn’t give it that much thought–we had a show to do with the Pastels and Phono-Comb, after which we were going to drive back into the U.S. to put ourselves in striking distance of the next day’s date in western Massachusetts. Ottawa was impatient for winter to begin, and a heavy snowfall made sure that the venue was sparsely attended. When we went on, the audience was scattered throughout the place, which definitely made the atmosphere less than electric. After our third song, we had the idea to pull out an acoustic guitar, sit on the lip of the stage and sing two songs unmiked. It could have gone either way, but it had the desired effect: everyone moved up front from wherever they were and stayed there. Ended up being an especially fun night–Dallas Good joined us for a couple of songs during the encore–until we got back to the van and discovered that the electrical system had taken a few more steps toward kaput. We were able to get the driver’s side window to open, which was lucky because the windshield wipers were down for the count and snow was continuing to fall. We went to Plan B: I would drive the van to a nearby hotel with my head out the window, the only way I could see and the next morning Joe would wake up at dawn and try to get it fixed. At 9 a.m. 19 years ago today, Joe knocked on Georgia and my hotel room and gave us the tragic news that the governor was shot and there would be no way to get the replacement part until the next day. Horrified as we were about the assassination attempt, we were unclear how that impacted our van until Joe clarified that the governor was in fact an auto part. We were stranded in Ottawa, forced to cancel the night’s show, the first time we could remember having to do so. As long as the Pastels were passing through town en route to the following date in Boston, we asked them to pick up some t-shirts we were having delivered to us in Northampton; meanwhile I tromped through the snow in my sneakers, bought a pair of boots, and the band spent the evening seeing Powder.