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.
Completing our birthday trilogy, we wish Terry Pearson many happy returns today. In 1993, the celebration takes the form of his doing sound for us, but we do our best to make it special, inviting him onto the Lounge Ax stage to sing “Luxury Liner” and “Hickory Wind.” Also today, we remember our old pal, the late, much-missed Aldo Jones of the Ben Vaughn Combo. When both of our bands opened for Timbuk 3 at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City in 1988, he played upright bass on two songs during Georgia and my set. Then we snuck out during the headliners for a late dinner. Finally, we return to our Strange But True tour with Jad Fair, for the third time in four shows–it was that kind of trip. Sixteen years ago today, we’re in D.C. at the Black Cat, and David Fair and Mark Jickling come by before we play to say hi. We ask David if he’d consider singing a song, and though there’s some hemming and hawing, the answer is pretty much no. Somehow by the time we get to the end of the set, he’s changed his mind, so for the encore we do a version of “Walk Through Walls” that if I had my way would still be going on: Mark on bass, David singing and playing guitar, Jad, James, Georgia and me. And then my mind split open, to coin a phrase.
One day after wishing Neil Young a happy birthday, we are doing the same for The Sea and Cake, who I believe are 21 today– if I am correct, our 11/12/93 show together at Lounge Ax was their first. Ten years ago, we participated in the New Yorker Festival in Austin. No doubt we enjoyed the evening, but what I really recall is the night before. Already in Austin, we take in the Gary Panter, Seth, Adrian Tomine roundtable at the New Yorker Festival, and then scoot over to Antone’s where Neil Innes is performing. Afterwards, we all gather for drinks, where we have the privilege of speaking the immortal sentence: “Mr. Innes, meet Mr. Panter; Mr. Panter, meet Mr. Innes.” (Yes, when the three of speak as one, we frequently utilize the semicolon.)
Dave writes from Auckland, and I’m going to quote him verbatim, as it’s more P.G. Wodehouse that way: My wife and I used ‘Centre of Gravity’ as our wedding song 13th November 1999. People followed us onto the dance floor and moved pretty cool – well as cool as white people can dance. . . . Please also play Auckland as well when you come down to Wellington, New Zealand. Well, Dave, by now we all know that Auckland was not part of our 2014 itinerary. Our apologies, but here’s hoping you got to see Dump, Animal Hospital, and Tall Dwarfs!!!
Happy Neil Young’s birthday, everybody. In 1993, under circumstances now murky, our show in Madison is cancelled and we end up shoehorned onto a bill at a club called Brett’s in Milwaukee, a place never heard of before or since (and in fact one I can find no sign of through popular search engines). We opened with three Neil Young songs and closed with one more. But my primary topic of the day is the forever young Jad Fair. Our 1998 tour in support of Strange But True continued at the Middle East in Boston 16 years ago today. We not only convinced Jad to perform “Calling All Girls,” but four years before the Mission of Burma reunion we also get Roger Miller–whose Binary System opened–to pick up a guitar and blast out “I Walk Through Walls” and “Rebel Rebel” with us. Things are a lot quieter on stage when Georgia and I opened for Half Japanese at Chicago’s Cubby Bear in 1988, in fact, it’s the proverbial too quiet. Faced with a coin-op basketball game that’s competing with Georgia and my acoustical sweet nothings, I earn soundman extraordinaire Gary “Elvis” Schepers lasting respect by sacrastically asking him to increase its volume in the monitors. In subsequent years he’ll appreciatively recount the incident pretty much whenever we cross paths, far from the usual house engineer reaction to my uh dry wit. For me the most memorable patter of the evening came at our pre-show Thai dinner when one member of Half Japanese (I want to say John Sluggett) requested of his server a dish “as hot as you can make it” and lived to tell the tale.
We did a few dates in support of Strange But True, our 1998 collaboration with Jad Fair, the first of which came on this date in Providence. I loved those shows. There were two drum kits on stage–when we did Half Japanese songs, James and Jad played guitars and Georgia and I played drums. Between those and the new record, we still found time for Jad to sing “Big Day Coming” and, on this night, Ian Whitcomb’s “You Turn Me On.” (Somewhere is an unfinished recording we made of that.) Three years ago we took part in Norton Records’ gala 25th anniversary. In our Condo Fucks guise, we backed up the Great Gaylord for 20 raucous minutes, the highlight of which might have been our interaction with MC Kim Fowley. When he couldn’t be located, it was suggested that we go on anyway to keep the long night as close to on-time as possible, which was fine with us. Not so fine was when Fowley belatedly took the stage as we were concluding our warmup number–we wanted to be the ones to bring the Great Gaylord on. So I just let my guitar feed back and James and Georgia maintained a suitable racket, and when Kim Fowley realized we weren’t going to give him space for his spiel, he left. And Gaylord killed. More 11/11 backing band action: Ann Arbor, 1995, Stephen Pastel sings “Speeding Motorcycle,” the overlap in the Venn diagram of the Yo La Tengo and Pastels repertoires; and Leuven, Belgium, 2009, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby sing Eric’s (by way of Tommy Roe) “Dizzy.”
Our one and as yet only shows in Moorhead, Minnesota and Istanbul occur on this date. The former, in 1993, features an impromptu four-song acoustic set when our rock proves too powerful for the electrical system. Preceding the latter, in 2012, our touring party is strolling the city streets when Joe Puleo spots a battery-operated doll that bears an uncanny resemblance to guitar tech Gil Divine (who coincidentally will be ending his nine-year tenure with the organization after the concert in Istanbul). Joe makes a purchase without so much as a haggle, scandalizing our guides, and the next night Gils lil’ and big join us on “Nuclear War,” with James throwing Georgia’s “tell ’em about it” line Gil’s way instead. Also on November 10 is a 1995 appearance at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, for the first time since the previous summer’s Lollapalooza. We invite our side stage-mates the Coctails–traveling sans their doppelgangers–to help us out, and the four of them shuffle on and off the stage throughout the night, as owners of the “Sugarcube ” cd and The Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation Compact Disc will need no reminding.