Dumber than the average bear

On tour in the U.S. with David Kilgour in 1997, our crew was traveling by van with the equipment, and Georgia, James and I were following at a safe distance in a car.  It gave us the freedom to take scenic and culinary detours, and on our trip from Athens to Knoxville 17 years ago today we did both.  We lunched at the Dillard House, in Dillard, GA–where if I’m not mistaken, on a previous visit Joe was confused for Kurt Cobain–after which we headed deeper into the Nantahala National Forest, with plenty of time before we were due at Moose’s Music Hall.  Without warning, traffic on the two-lane road slowed to a crawl, and continued crawling–when it was moving at all, that is–for miles.  There were no cars in the oncoming lane, but it seemed a rash combination of dangerous and dickish to pull into it, so we waited.  And waited.  Somehow word reached us that a bear had been spotted near the road.  As interesting a detail as that was, it didn’t entirely explain the tie-up, not until we finally arrived in the greater bear vicinity and saw cars not merely pulled off the road for a sighting, but stopped in the road itself so people could get out to investigate.  We, on the other hand, wouldn’t give the damned bear the satisfaction of actually looking at it, and sped off as fast as we could.  (Had this happened today, when every single person has a camera and an insatiable appetite to share, I think we might have missed the show entirely.)  We finally emerged from the mountains, only to find ourselves once more bumper-to-bumper, this time due to Dollywood and its neighbors.

Adding to the excitement was that this was the only day we were available to play in Knoxville, so the promoter did something he ordinarily avoided, which was book a show on the same day that the University of Tennessee football team had a home game.  Delayed as we were, we arrived in Knoxville just as 106,656 UT fans were hitting downtown to celebrate their victory over Georgia.  It was bedlam.  But a short walk from the club, our car couldn’t have been more stuck if there had been a bear on the streets of Knoxville.  I let Georgia and James out of the car, instructing them to tell Joe I love him, as I couldn’t be sure I’d ever see any of them again.  Of course, none of us thought to warn the David Kilgour group (who loved scenery as much as the next band) about the bear, and they almost did miss their show.

Weddings can be stressful too, I’ve heard, though if there was any on Michelle’s wedding day, she does not mention it in her email:  My husband and I used your song “Our Way to Fall” for our first dance at our wedding.  We got married on October 11, 2003 in Massachusetts.



Learn how

Our U.S. tour with Run On is a little slow out of the gate, 19 years ago today.  New soundman Mick Learn has come highly recommend, though if we’ve ever met, it was only in passing while we were playing his home town of Portland, Oregon.  When he’s late for soundcheck at the Grog Shop in Cleveland,  we call him for his ETA and find out he thinks the tour begins tomorrow.  Fortunately for all concerned, he’s visiting relatives nearby.  We welcome Rick Brown by encoring with “Let’s Compromise,” by one of his old bands, Information.


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For the last three days of our 2003 tour with the Aislers Set, the Sun Ra Arkestra are added to the lineup, starting on this day in D.C. at the 9:30 Club, and we mark the occasion by adding another Sun Ra song to our repertoire: “Somebody’s in Love.”  The next year, the latest installment of our swing state tour features another world premiere.  Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser arrive at Asheville’s Orange Peel and teach us the song they wrote en route.  Sung to the tune of “I’m Your Puppet” (which we’d played the night before in Charlotte, Jon and Jon’s opening night), “PT Cruiser” is a touching tribute to their beloved rental car, and maybe I’m biased, but I’d say it’s way stronger than this one or this one.


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Big deal on Houston Street

On this date in 1993, Half Japanese headlined the original Knitting Factory on Houston Street, but the big news was that David Fair would be joining Jad, for the first time in years.  When we were invited to be on the bill, we couldn’t say yes fast enough.  We opted to perform in our Sleeping Pill guise–James and Georgia on drums, some live loops and a tape collage.  I was all set to play maracas, but then I remembered there was a perfect percussion instrument sitting in the trunk of our station wagon: Our muffler had recently fallen off and for some reason I hadn’t just thrown it away.  Now I knew why.  Do you see where this is going?  As I beat my hands to a pulp pounding as hard as I could on that big metal contraption, trying in vain to get any sound out of it, it slowly dawned on me why it was called a muffler.  Oh well, at least it weighed a ton.  Working out much better was our horn section.  We lined up Chris Nelson on trombone, Phast Phreddie Patterson on the C melody saxophone, and Lars Espensen on tenor sax to parade around the audience, taking the music to the people, as it were.  (Lars would subsequently report that he’d played the theme to Car 54 Where Are You nonstop.)



Neil Innes

One of our best experiences of 2000 was getting to know and work with Neil Innes, some 25 years after becoming a fairly rabid fan.  It remains a vivid memory of high school hearing “The Intro and the Outro” for the first time, so vivid in fact that I mistakenly assumed mine to be a universal rite of passage.  We had the idea to invite Neil to the U.S. to play a few shows, backed by us, and on this date in 2001 we performed the second (and penultimate) one, in Cambridge at the House of Blues (a location considerably less, shall we say, House of Blues-y than your average establishment bearing that name, and one that unsurprisingly has closed).  Our repertoire comprised a wide range of Bonzo Dog Band, Rutles, and more recent material–Neil even agreed to “Piggy Bank Love” despite it turning out that he’s not the singer on Gorilla (James and I sang it instead).  And now for something completely different, in both 2006 and 2009, we found ourselves on the First Avenue stage in Minneapolis, providing a little local color with Bob Dylan’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (aided by Why?) at the former show, and the Gestures’ “Run Run Run” (all by ourselves) at the latter.



Throw that thing somewhere else

Another memorable swing state show on this date in 2004, in Knoxville, maybe too memorable.  David Kilgour and Lambchop’s Paul Niehaus, William Tyler and Deanna Varagona are holdovers from the previous night, and we welcome back Sue Garner, in addition to Rick Brown’s lone appearance of the tour.  Nevertheless, we have a rough time making a connection with the audience, and then it gets worse when someone throws a drink at Todd Barry during his first set.  The mood onstage is dark and I stop “Behind That Locked Door” to propose that the audience either shut up or leave, adding that I don’t care which one they choose.  A couple of songs later, we perform a particularly ferocious “From a Motel 6” which morphs into “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” after which Todd returns, though it never exactly gets back to normal, even for a tour that is almost never “normal.”  Things also not going according to plan in 1990.  Wilbo Wright gets creamed by turnpike traffic and is so late to our in-store at Pier Platters that Georgia and I end up doing it as a duo.  We stick to the script in 2005 at Emo’s in Austin.  Jad Fair opens the show, and joins us for six songs, including local favorite “Fire Engine.”