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Diary entries are posted in reverse chronological order.

PART ONE (July 20-August 13th)

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August 13, 2008 - The Waiting Room, Omaha, NE

This morning I just did not feel like getting out of bed, and happily, I did not have to, so I just kind of laid there 'til about noon. It was one of my last slow days where I could get stufff done, but I just wasn't feeling it. I did eventually get up, do some yoga, say goodbye to my hosts Jeanne and Mark, who as usual were off to a trade show, then headed to Benson to a coffee shop to do some promotion work. I didn't wind up doing much more than sending out a slightly pithy e-mail to my mailing list. It's funny because one could easily get the impression that I was mad when I warned the folks on the mailing list that they couldn't count on me coming back next year, so they needed to make time to come to the shows this trip. But in examining my own motivations I realized it was more in the way of fair warning. What was interesting was how many people at tonight's show specifically asked me not to give up on Omaha. I don't know if they read the e-mail or not, but it doesn't actually take much of a crowd to make me happy. It's more about how many people are into what you're doing.

I managed to drift into a political conversation with the barrista at the coffee shop, who had announced to one of the patrons that he was moving to Washington to be an environmental lobbyist. I haven't engaged in as many political conversations as on past tours, mostly because I felt in those days that I had information most people lacked (because it wasn't being reported) and needed to hear, and I wasn't shy about getting it out there. Now, though, I figure everyone should understand what's going on by now and if they don't, they're just being willfully obtuse about it and I don't need to be out there bursting their bubble; it'll just annoy them. But people do seem to want to talk about what's going on in the country, anyway, and it's a different world than it was four years ago. My sense is that it's not that everyone's in love with Barack Obama, but I think a lot of people, left and right alike, feel like they've been conned and manipulated by a group of people that are running things from behind the scenes. I think this is correct, and you don't need to be a liberal or conservative to feel this way. In fact, those are labels designed to keep us from getting together and figuring out our own solutions. People are catching on to this. Whether we'll be allowed to map our own destinies, though, is another matter. And to the extent there is an idealogical divide in the country now, it's less about liberal or conservative. It's more between the people that think we can do something about it, and the people that just think we're fucked so why bother. Whatever the merits of this, I think it's a much more rational place to be than this kind of rah-rah politics a lot of the country has been engaged in. It freaks me out less.

Early in the evening I dropped in at the home of World of Wayne, a podcast that has played "My Kickass Life" in recent weeks and did an interview and a couple of songs, including my first performance this tour of "My Kickass Life," dropped from the set mostly because I could not find my capo in the confusion around the remodeling. It went OK though my voice was a little throaty.

Before long it was time to report for duty at the Waiting Room, a venue about which I have heard many good things. I was immediately impressed by the soundman, Jeremy, a real pro who also happened to be a super nice guy. I was also impressed by the closing band, Thousand Houses, who were soundchecking soon after I arrived. Not quite sure how to describe them, since they had a lot of disparate elements working in their sound, but they did a complex, organic pop thing and had outstanding musicianship. I immediately got excited about the prospect of using their Wurlitzer electric piano and, if the band was into it, the musicians themselves. As soon as they were done I approached them about it and their drummer, guitarist and keyboardist all agreed to help out. I showed them "The Foghorn" then and there, covering the bass parts on a second keyboard, and it really sounded quite good. I had also planned to work on "The Big Bear" with the opening band, Damon Bosby and Disappearing Inc., who I know from previous excursions to Omaha. I went over the song with Damon and his guitar player and once again, it sounded really good. I was happy about the prospects for the gig...except that once again, turnout looked to be poor.

Coincidentally, a last-minute opener had been added to the show: Southerly, who is also on the bill at tomorrow's Kansas City show. A two-piece band from Portland, singer Krist Kreuger was interesting partly because he's a booker in the northwest, and thus a good guy to know, and partly because he was such a talented guy. It's very easy to separate the good rootsy songwriters from the tiresome ones, and Krist definitely belonged in the former category. I enjoyed his show a lot. By the time Damon had gotten through his set, the room had filled out a bit. It wasn't a big crowd by any means -- as I'd alluded before, several people apologized for the turnout -- but it wasn't bad for a Wednesday night and more importantly, it was a crowd prepared to listen.

I embarked on the by-now standard solo set, and when I left the stage to do the third verse of "Ludlow 6:18", you could have heard a pin drop. A young lady with excellent rhythm (Lauren was her name) helped me out on "Cut and Run," "Karma Frog" rocked out, and then one of the most intense versions yet of "Ginna Ling" followed. You know, before a lot of the times I would sing my songs and it would just be a series of notes I had to get through, like an obstacle course. At long last this tour I've connected with the songs, feeling what it was like when I wrote them, and it's gotten to the point that when I get to the midsection of "Ginna Ling" I see the car, I see the smoke fill the garage and my God, it's all I can do not to start crying. I never felt the songs like this before, not once I'd written and recorded them. And of course, it makes the song that much more powerful. Then I moved over to "Portland" and again, with the long Springsteen-like preamble telling the story behind the song, made it that much more moving. Knowing there were Beach Boys fans in the audience, I then did easily the best version of "Moonshine" of the tour, then moved over to the Wurli to do "Long Promised Road."

Then I called up the other musicians for a strong, strong version of "The Foghorn." I did wind up oversinging it a bit from having to manage the bass and piano parts at the same time, but the excellent musicians fleshed out the song admirably. Then came a delicate version of "The Big Bear" with interlocking guitars and gorgeous background vocals from Damon, the bridge section sounding particularly marvelous. I finished with "Big Big Yeah" and it was done.

In yesterday's tour diary I wondered aloud how my CD sales would be if I could just get in front of people. I got my answer tonight; I sold a shit load of CDs, especially considering the modest crowd. Back when I used to tour with the Negro Problem I was always staggered and of course, a little envious by how many CDs Stew could sell at a show. This tour is the first time I ever have gotten anywhere near that phenomenon myself. Even with all the crap gigs, I am selling roughly twice the CDs I used to back in the old days. I know that it's a result of believing in the more difficult material, performing it and connecting it to the audience. Whatever else happens on this tour, I am thrilled -- ecstatic -- about this development. This was my biggest goal for this tour, and the one I was least confident about, but so far, it's worked.

I want to say how awesome Thousand Houses were. I enjoyed their set immensely; great musicians with a cool sound. Good guys too. It was a good time all around. Afterwards I went back to Marq's place for awhile and hung out with the Southerly guys, then on my way to the car I ran into some other musicians that I knew from previous trips to Omaha. We had a good time reconnecting and then it was back to the crash pad. Teresa had texted me at the club that she had landed safely in Kansas City. Having hit my stride as a solo act, tomorrow begins a new phase of the tour, with Teresa and other musicians joining me, and we'll see how that all shakes out.

August 12, 2008 - Barley Street Tavern, Omaha, NE

The 10 a.m. checkout at least allowed me (after some groggy yoga) to take my time making the long drive to Omaha. Touring musicians (and others) like to bitch about the long boring drive across the plains but if you get off the freeway and take the two lane highways, the scenery is much nicer and you get to check out the farm towns along the way. I've come to enjoy the drive across the plains for this reason.

I had an excellent breakfast in the small town of Holyoke, which had some intriguing buildings and businesses, and then two laned my way across half of Nebraska. I had noticed my gas mileage skyrocketed one time a few days ago when I'd filled up on half a tank and after having Teresa google whether this phenomenon was real (the results were inconclusive), tried filling up the tank after driving 55-60 mph for about 200 miles. The result was a whopping 42 mpg on that (half) tank. I don't know if this is the actual mileage or if this is some deal where the tank isn't filling all the way and throwing off the numbers, but if it is true, that's hybrid territory and worth keeping in mind for future long drives. It's been interesting experimenting with the Tercel's mileage. That car may not be the comfiest ride in the world but it's been one of the real saving graces of this tour so far. Actually, without it I'd be totally fucked. That cramped little gas-sipping car is the hero keeping the whole enterprise afloat.

I'm starting to feel the (good) effects of getting back on my exercise regimen, and I was able to do maybe 40 minutes of walking around in an open space near Lincoln, before pressing on to hook up with old friend and promoter Marq Manner for tonight's show, which really was just a promotional warm up for the main event tomorrow at the Waiting Room, about which venue I have heard many good things. Unfortunately, except for meeting a few people (including the gentleman that runs the local Homer's retail chain) tonight's show was pretty much a bust, made doubly difficult from a financial standpoint because last night's take mostly went to the hotel that I took partly to make sure I made it to tonight's gig. The bar was nice enough, and the sound was surprisingly good, but the normally busy "jam night" with local guitarist Andrew Bailie (of an excellent Omaha band called The Wholes) was almost deserted. I did a 5 song set to a mostly empty room and the fact that it was some of my best guitar playing yet so far this tour just made it more painful somehow. I did enjoy Andrew's set, joined midway through by a local cellist. They are among the better musicians I've seen so far this tour. I'm blanking on the cellist's name.

As for my part of it, that's the way it goes, and once again partly a product of having to deal with the house remodeling and throwing the tour together under extreme stress. Compared to when I used to do this, there have been a higher percentage of unproductive gigs even as the quality of the shows has been far better, and even though I know that the tour will wind up being successful from a purely promotional standpoint, the fact that I am doing some of my best-ever live work, for the first time really fully connecting myself and the audience to the songs, and no one's hearing it really is a difficult pill to swallow. There were just too many loose ends and things that we didn't have time to follow up on, dates we couldn't fill, and I'm concerned that it's going to be a problem with the remaining shows, too, as the time to promote the remaining shows is extremely scarce in the scramble to keep up with the calendar. I don't know how much difference it made in some of the cities where turnout hasn't been good -- after all, in the places where I was able to send reminders out it didn't have any appreciable effect -- but I am worried about not publicizing some of the upcoming shows as much as we could have if we'd had more time. Even with all that, I'm selling more CDs than I ever did in the old days. Imagine what it would be like if I could just get in front of some people.

I was pretty philosophical until I got Teresa on the phone, who's bringing some of my mail with her on the plane. It then transpired that not only was my credit card bill much higher than anticipated, but that a good chunk of my mail was missing, including the replacement for my lost ATM card. This is a minor disaster because the temporary card I have with me will expire in a week, and the tour is barely breaking even, with the added expense of a band for the next three weeks (somebody ask me again why the Chaos band isn't on the tour). Once Teresa flies out there will be no way for me to get a replacement card until I get back to L.A. If there are any emergencies, I may not have access to cash out here. After repeated calls back to my roommate to try and figure out what had happened (and of course, nobody knew anything, but it's easy to assume it just got lost in the crush of the remodeling), I was one cranky asshole in a piss poor mood and poor Teresa got the brunt of it, as did my roommate (more deservedly). At least a check with B of A revealed nobody had used the card. Thank heavens for small mercies.

I give myself credit for knowing when I'm in a bad frame of mind. I needed to get some sleep, and so I did.

August 11, 2008 - 3 Kings Tavern, Denver, CO

After yoga and catching up (finally) on most of my e-mail, it was back to Boulder for a little more hiking before tonight's show. I was determined to get at least one Rocky Mountain hiking experience before I left, and I managed to essay a high and beautiful hill in Lefthand Canyon just outside of town. I later learned this was Big Momma Hill, and on my return trip I discovered to descend a half-mile long stretch of straight up and down that I was incredulous discover jeeps actually traverse. I don't see how you get up that hill in a motor vehicle without falling on your head. I won't be going up that road any time soon, nor down, either.

On the way back to Denver I was distracted by multiple phone calls and I actually contrived to run out of gas on I-25, which is almost impossible to do with that car. I managed to coax the buckling car a full two miles to the nearest gas station, but unfortunately for me had to coast through a red light to get there (the alternative was being disabled at the bottom of a blind offramp, and I was able to signal all the drivers waiting at the light that I was going through the intersection, so this was a defensible driving decision from a safety standpoint), and given there's a camera at that intersection it means an almost certain ticket waiting for me in L.A., though the locals reassured me that such a ticket isn't nearly as expensive as it is in L.A., which I was happy to hear. As it was I barely made it to the gas station.

The 3 Kings Tavern was easily my favorite of three Denver venues...a would-be punk dive that actually catered to a diverse and interesting crowd. Tonight was a burlesque night, and the decent-sized crowd was, if not friendly, then at least neutral. I at first overmodulated my set a little but then found my groove and in terms of getting my own material across, it was one of the best shows yet, particularly "Ginna Ling," and I'm getting better and better at delivering little preambles to the songs that set them up. I was actually a little surprised I didn't sell any CDs at this show.

I left immediately after the show to hit the road...I was due to play in Omaha, 560 miles away, the next night, and I didn't want to deal with that long of a drive and then play a show. I made quick time to Sterling, 120 miles out of Denver. I had a little trouble securing the room because all the hotel lobbies were closed and it took a little while to rouse one of them to let me get a room. Even at that, it was a 10 a.m. check out and the hotel was right next to the train track, so it wasn't a super restful night. But it sure beat a 10 hour drive and/or sleeping in the car, even though it ate up all my profit for the day.

August 10, 2008 - Nallen's, Denver, CO

After the show me, Rolf, his wife LeaAnn and friend Adriana stayed up real late drinking wine and shooting the shit, result being I didn't wake up the next day 'til nearly noon. Finally today I got back into some kind of a routine; I did yoga, went through my e-mail, and then went off to Boulder to do some hiking. Once again I scaled back my ambitions...even the moderate uphill hiking kicked my ass...but I did manage to do about an hour of something more strenuous than just walking around, and the scenery was, of course, beautiful. After that I spent more time in a coffee house continuing to try to whittle things down on the laptop, and then back to Denver for tonight's show.

Nallen's is an irish pub in the downtown area and when I got there everyone was really friendly...a couple guys actually unloaded my car for me. I soon tumbled to the fact, though, that they were expecting more of a crowd-pleasing set than I have been doing on this tour. It also didn't help that my Denver peeps did not show (though some of Rolf's did) so I was basically dealing with the bar crowd. I was kind of a prat for this gig; I took requests for covers but I didn't pretend to be happy about it; I just dug in and did them without much comment. Nothing was called out that I hadn't done many times before so it was fairly easy. The one thing I did enjoy was at a certain point in the set this old Mexican dude was watching one of my (original) songs and cheering. Afterwards I rewarded him with "Que Paso" and "El Paso," and he was delighted.

At any rate, I did mostly stick to originals at this gig, at least for the first set, and to the extent folks weren't paying attention I just ignored the crowd and focused on playing the songs and digging into the interpretation. I also (unusually for me) was swigging from a glass of Newcastle throughout the set and between that loosening me up, my focus inward and last night's jam session with Judge Roughneck I was playing really well, the first time this tour I've been really satisfied with my own playing. A couple of times I really started jamming on the 12-string...I have to say that you can really bash on that thing, in fact it sounds better when you do. I also oversang shamelessly, but again, I was enjoying myself and stretching out some of the interpretations of the songs, so sue me. From a purely technical standpoint it was probably one of the best shows on the tour thus far, even though I didn't have much hope of interesting that set of people in my music (though a few of Rolf's gang bought CDs for which I was grateful).

After hanging out a bit with Rolf's friends, I did essay a second set. This time I didn't want to bother with originals too much, though I did do a few, because my voice was sketchier and I was drunker and hey, my stuff is hard to play and sing. I started out with Elton John's "Take Me To The Pilot" and I just wailed on that thing, I don't know what got into me. It was a much looser, irreverent set, to the point that my version of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" devolved into a five minute dissertation on how property taxes are levied. LeaAnn took it upon herself to take the tip jar around and it was a financially rewarding evening at least, and at the end I had more or less made my peace with the bar. There's nothing wrong with this kind of gig per se, and in the right frame of mind I enjoy it, but it just felt like a step backward given I haven't had to do this kind of thing this tour. Still, the gig didn't go too late and I was grateful for a payday on a Sunday night. The folks there were really nice and I hope they were cool with everything.

On the way back I called Teresa, who joins the tour this week, and went over some of the logistics for the next few weeks. There is a frightening amount of stuff still hanging fire...crash pads unsecured, open tour dates, people that haven't gotten back to us. We were really screwed in tour preparations by the house remodeling before the tour and even with all the internet time the last few days I'm still a long way from even being caught up with what's in my inbox. I'll be happy to see Teresa, but I wish we had more and better shows for her to play while she's on the tour, and that we had a better sense of how it's all going to go down. I know that for all the difficulties the tour will have been well worth doing at the end of it -- I can already see it in some of the reviews of the album and the way things are being perceived -- but I'm unhappy about the holes in the routing and the general disorganization compared to how things used to be, and it's been disheartening in a few cities when people haven't shown up even though I haven't been there in five years. Still, it gives a good blueprint for the future...on the one hand, I've decided I am definitely going to move forward with future tours, but this will be the last tour I do like this one. This model was fine 5 or 6 years ago, but now I need to put my time into fewer and more productive shows, and focusing on places, venues and situations where people are really enthusiastic and supportive. The best part of the tour is that I've been able, for the first time, to really represent my own songs first and foremost and gain respect for them...and I want to continue down that path.

August 9, 2008 - Herb's Hideaway, Denver, CO

I hung around Grand Junction (back at Coffee Muggers) trying to catch up on my blogging and e-mail for an hour or so...e-mail has piled up rapidly and I owe many, many people responses but there just hasn't been enough time. Then it was over the Rockies to Denver. I was happy to be back in Colorado and hoping to do some hiking on the way, but just as I was about to get out of the car it started raining. It did let up around Edwards, so I walked around the river there for maybe 45 minutes. It wasn't Colorado hiking at its finest, but it was something.

I blew into Denver at around 6 p.m. and met up with Rolf Reitzig from Judge Roughneck, a long-running Colorado ska band that I had first met on the road in 1997 and who I've stayed in touch with over the years. Rolf had set up the three shows on consecutive nights that comprised the Denver leg of the tour. The first was to be playing in between sets at Roughneck's show at Herb's Hideaway. I was nervous about this because I had opened for them years ago at a show in Colorado Springs and got slaughtered; they're a party dance band and so it's hard to go up and do your thing in that situation. People just don't want to hear it.

To my surprise, the show went pretty well, at least the first set. I really put as much rock fervor as I could into the presentation and even though I was competing with a noisy, amped club, quite a few people paid attention and I got decent props for my show. I really pushed it out there, though; it was hot on stage and I definitely emphasized the punkier aspects of my set. The only concession I made was to cover Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." The second set was shorter but "Ginna Ling" was a highlight...of course, nobody was paying attention to the words but the Pete Townsend-like ending got peoples' attention.

I was pleased I survived the set, but the real pleasure of my night was jamming with Judge Roughneck. It was a real pleasure to see such a tight band, particularly the rhythm section, and when I was invited up to do a solo in the second set (which was very well received), I stayed up for an extra song to just play rhythm. I had a delay setting for the 12-string that made it sound authentically two tone, and in the last set I got to play the whole time, sitting in back, copping what the bass player was playing and occasionally adding extra lines. Some extra horn players had turned up so it was kind of a glorious cluster fuck, but given how much session and sideman work I've been doing it was a real pleasure to sit in with them and I enjoyed myself immensely. It was also good experience playing that kind of music.

The Roughneck guys were so nice to me, too...they remembered me after 5 years, and were constantly pushing my CD onto the packed crowd. I would like to thank Rolf and the whole band for showing me such a good time and letting me sit in.

August 8, 2008 - Coffee Muggers, Grand Junction, CO

Once again I was up and about without too much decompression time. I was determined to finally get some exercise today, and along the abandoned stretches of U.S. 6 between Green River and Grand Junction I found lots of places to get out and explore. I only walked around for about 15 minutes at a time, still feeling somewhat weak, but it did add up to probably an hour total, so that was something.

Given my experiences of the last few days I was pretty happy to cross into Colorado, although when I first got to Coffee Muggers, the site of tonight's gig, it did not look too promising. Nobody was there but a taciturn barrista who gradually revealed herself to be the possessor of quite a lot of character and intelligence, and she suggested that things might work out better if I did the show outside. I was dubious about this as that was rather close to busking and also the sky looked threatening to my eye. I pulled in the gear and hedged by bets by setting a speaker up outside and setting up near the door. The sky looked threatening and I wondered if the gig was going to be a complete bust.

Instead, the Grand Junction gig proved a testimony to what I've often said: a gig can be turned around by just one determined person, and that person in this case was Arn McConnell, a local music writer and community radio personality who I had never met but who was a Cockeyed Ghost fan from way back. He had determined to get a crowd down to the show, and he succeeded. Out of nowhere, a crowd of 25 -- enough to fill most of the room -- appeared, more than half comprised of enthusiastic college students in the local theater program. Arn had spread the word and had somehow managed to fill the room almost single-handedly.

Brightening considerably, I went off to the john to change into some stage clothes. When I got back, the skies had opened and there was a fierce torrential downpour underway, with giant umbrellas being blown off their stems and down the street. With a chuckle I said "since you guys can't go anywhere, I'd better start the show."

Being that Grand Junction was on the border with Utah, I asked the assorted group about their feelings for their neighbors. I won't reveal the conclusions reached but it was decidedly un-P.C. and I launched into a 10 minute musical prelude/tirade about my two days in Utah, which I then used to make a point about the similarly disappointing Ludlow, finally launching into "Ludlow 6:18." When I finished the song, with its spoken third verse, I got a thunderous response.

There's nothing like a receptive crowd to spur a great performance, and I was on fire for this show. As with most of the shows this tour, I focused on the more difficult original material for the first 3/4 of the show, with "Ginna Ling," often the toughest sell and the hardest song to program, hitting the crowd the hardest. The intriguing barrista, Vanessa, turned out to shake a mean tambourine which talent she put to good use on "Cut And Run." Towards the end I lightened up, taking a couple of requests (and dealing with a hapless young man's "Free Bird" suggestion in my usual way), and running through a couple of the punkier tunes. Then when the set broke up, there was a rush to the merch table. I did very well in both CD sales and tips, and the people in the audience couldn't have been nicer or more complimentary. Arn looked very pleased with how it worked out, and well he should be.

I had a pleasant after-show experience, too; I was in a partying mood, and wound up hanging out with Arn and his young musician friend Emily for awhile and then joined Vanessa the barrista at a local bar, where the contrast in vibe between Utah and Colorado could not have been more apparent...what had been slightly disturbing was now just colorful. During the course of our conversation it was revealed that Vanessa belonged to a certain subculture that I hang out with a lot in Southern California, and I wound up crashing in the living room at her place, a pad full of intelligent, somewhat sexually ambiguous early twentysomethings. We all had a fun night listening to vinyl (these kids with their new technologies...), drinking scotch and checking out odd websites. It was a thoroughly delightful evening and I had a blast. I had been a little worried about getting a good night's sleep in this kind of environment but everyone left me alone and I slept long and deep.

August 7, 2008 - Park City TV, Park City, UT

August 7, 2008 - Mo's, Salt Lake City, UT

Woke up today feeling about the same as yesterday -- not sick, but wishing I could stay in bed longer, a lot longer. No such luck as I was due at the Park City TV studios at 1 p.m. to film a performance and an interview for their evening TV show. I did stop off at a coffee shop on the way and had a kickass mocha and lox bagel, and the proprietor took enough of an interest in me to play the album over the store's PA, so that was nice.

I'd never been to Park City before, but I'd heard about it from Stew and Heidi, as they spent a lot of time there working up "Passing Strange" from what I recall. A really beautiful place and a quite different vibe from Salt Lake. Park City TV was described as a televised version of an alternative paper, and they treated me great there. I had put a little effort into finding a shirt that wasn't wrinkled to death and I was fairly happy with how I looked on camera (which isn't always a given). The performances went well, particularly "Ginna Ling" which got some reaction from the camera crew. Then I shot a short interview with the host, Ori, and was given a DVD of the show, which I'll get up on youtube as soon as I can find someone to convert the files for me.

I headed back down to SLC to get my old change and accidentally drove to the south part of town and wasted about 45 minutes driving around in traffic, but I did finally find an oil place right next to an internet coffee house, and just down the street from Mo's, the restaurant I was playing at tonight. So that worked out.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the Mo's gig; it went pretty much as I expected; a long (three hour) gig playing in a restaurant to not much of a crowd or a reaction. The vibe was definitely better than Burt's and Thom (what a cool guy!) showed up from last night and stuck it out for the whole gig. I opened the show by singing the Beach Boys' "Salt Lake City" which got zero response, but at least there were a few nice people early on who were politely receptive to the show. It wasn't any big deal; I had basically taken the gig to get some extra money and food out of it, which I did.

The old timers say you learn something new at every gig, and the one thing I learned at this one had to do with the PA. Theirs was blown and I finally had to go dig mine out of the car between the first and second sets because it was making all these farting noises. I'd been having trouble with my singing today and the previous night and had been thinking things were finally catching up with my voice, but the minute the new PA went up, and the sound stopped being all muddy and midrangey, suddenly my voice was back. I knew that crisp PAs are always better than midrangey or bassy ones, and that I tended to oversing when I couldn't get the treble back from the PA, but I hadn't realized that my perception of my own singing also changed according to how bright the PA was. I resolved to be fussier about my monitors from now on.

Mo's had been a dinner show, so I was done and packed up by 9:30. I had a couple of options for places to stay in Salt Lake but I really felt the need to decompress and sleep in a decent bed so I decided to splurge on a hotel room tonight. I started driving out of town and asked Teresa to find me a cheap place off the main drag. It took a while for her to get home to the computer and in the meantime I was driving down U.S. 89 looking for older hotels but it was all built up. Finally after an unproductive hour she found something in Provo. It was a in a semi-seedy area, but it didn't look too bad and there were a lot of people staying there. My hackles went up slightly when the lady behind the counter, a sullen Indian woman, quoted a $10 higher price than she had to Teresa over the phone. But eventually I talked her down and then hit the room.

I've stayed in plenty of crummy hotels but the minute I entered the room something was dreadfully wrong and my instincts screamed out at me to run. It wasn't the sum of the parts...the hole punched in the mirror, the sagging curtains...it was that it just felt dead, neglected. And I reflected what was with how many younger people were staying here and the two girls hanging out in front of the rooms? This wasn't the kind of cheap hotel I was used to. This felt dangerous. And here I was with a car full of gear and no real way to protect it. I don't get scared much on the road, but I tasted fear in the back of my throat. I was alone at what was very likely a crack hotel bursting with activity and me with a lot of very stealable items. I had to get out, now.

I tried to get the internet connection to work and I couldn't...that gave me the opening I needed. I figured the lady wouldn't give me my money back -- though of course she didn't say so until she took my key back -- and things devolved into a shouting match fairly quickly. She finally got her husband out of the back to try to fix the internet connection, but as soon as i made him aware that the signal didn't reach into that room he told her just to give me back the money, which she did with extreme reluctance. I got the hell out of there; it was one of the most unpleasant things that's ever happened to me on the road. While I was haggling with the lady a young, desperate woman had locked herself out of her room and was pleading to be let back in. I could see the track marks on her arms. I felt like I needed a shower.

Back on I-15, I was ready to spend whatever was required to secure a hotel, but Teresa back in L.A. was coming up blanks every place she tried. I got to the last outpost of civilization before the drive through the mountains, and surveyed my options, which were bad. It wasn't really practical to sleep in the car because there was no place to stretch out far enough. I had a sleeping bag, but no tent and I'd left my pillow back in San Francisco. There was construction on U.S. 6, the highway that cuts through the mountaints towards Grand Junction, and no guarantee of any services along the way. I decided the prudent thing was to go back to Provo, but when I did and talked to a friendly hotel owner (also Indian, I might add, and a very helpful and well-spoken fellow), who explained there was a film festival in Provo and there wasn't a non-crack hotel room to be found for 50 miles. He told me my best shot was to go over the mountains on U.S. 6 to Price, 70 miles away. I headed back down to U.S. 6 while Teresa got on the phone to try to find me a room in Price. She got me a reservation at a business hotel there; according to the lady, it was the last room they had. She emphasized to them that I was some time away and I got started on the nighttime drive.

There was, indeed, extensive construction on U.S. 6 and there were quite a few delays along the way. The upside was there probably would have been much longer delays during the day; the downside was I had been looking forward to this drive as I hadn't been through this part of the state before. At one point I came over a pass and there were huge granite cliffs looming in the dark over some hydroelectric buildings. It was quite striking, and I wondered what it looked like during the day. Finally, I arrived at Price and discovered Teresa had booked me in exactly the hotel I had hoped to find; clean, spacious, with wi-fi and an inexpensive price tag. Unfortunately, by this time it was 2:30 a.m. and I would just have enough time to grab 8 hours of sleep before having to check out the next day. While I was checking in, two more desperate-looking travelers appeared looking for rooms. I thanked my lucky stars that I had found a safe harbor tonight, and shuffled off to bed.

August 6, 2008 - Burt's Tiki Lounge, Salt Lake City, UT

I'd been concerned about the second half of the drive, and following it with a show, considering how rough the first day had been, but I got up the next day feeling pretty righteous. I covered the 350 miles to Salt Lake without much problem, getting off the road for a short while to two lane and walk around a bit, but I was still too weak to really do anything too strenuous, but I upped my walk time to 20 minutes. I figured another day I'd be back to normal, thank God.

It's Fran!

When I got to the venue in Salt Lake, I was in for a surprise! Catherine "Fran" Francis, a Cockeyed Ghost fan from way back, opened the door to the venue and greeted me. She had come out from L.A. to see I and Sons of Nothing perform tonight. It probably didn't hurt that she's dating bass player Thom, who played a crucial role in setting up tonight's show.

Unfortunately, and I don't think I'm hurting anybody's feelings by saying this, if you look up "bad road gig" in wikipedia you'd get a description of something like the show at Burt's Tiki Lounge. The crowd was negligible, mostly other bands, employees and people that were there way too early, and the vibe in the room was really bad. I had the distinct impression that everyone was just waiting for me to finish playing, and indeed my already short set was cut by an extra song...not that I cared, it was just annoying. The sound onstage was just dreadful, too...all midrange, making it difficult to project anything. I did do a pretty good version of "Lied," and the Sons of Nothing came up to back me on "Then I'll Be Happy," doing a pretty decent job I must say. It was kind of amusing to see the shock that went through the room as I suddenly went electric. But it was all pretty pointless, and I knew it. Fran enjoyed it though...and that was enough.

After I played, the Sons of Nothing came up...they do kind of a proggy thing built around instrumental viruousity and were debuting some new songs tonight. I stuck around for one song by Pokey Lafarge, a bluegrass/roots kind of fellow from Louisville, and then I took off, telling the bartender to give any door money I had to Pokey. I had only drawn half of a person, and I didn't feel right hanging around for three hours hoping to take money out of another touring band's pocket. So I shined the gig, unpaid, hoping I could at least get to bed early. The irony of it all was I had just found out the day before that I had a paying gig elsewhere in town booked for months...I just had never received the confirmation e-mail from the booker, but I'd been on the schedule all along. By that time, of course, Thom and I had gone to a good deal of trouble to make the Burt's thing happen, so I had to cancel it. That said, Burt's wasn't a bad room on the face of it, and the booker had given me fair warn the night could go either way. It's just one of those things where everybody makes the best decisions they can and it doesn't work out.

Unfortunately my misadventures weren't over...a friend of Fran's had offered to put me up but she lived way out in the boonies and unfortunately, the directions I had were based on landmarks, not street names or highway numbers, and in the pitch black I missed them and found myself driving 20 miles into the desert of central Utah. It took me 'til late at night to find my way to the poor girl's house (she had to drag herself out of bed a few times to direct me), and her having just moved in and it being a guest room, there wasn't much in the way of bedding, towels, or other amenities. I made do; it had been a long and unrewarding day, but the fact was, I wasn't sick anymore, and because of that it was hard to be in a bad mood about any of it. It just all seemed funny. And I had met some cool people at the club, including Thom and his bandmates, so it wasn't a total wash.

Moreover, going over the gigs thus far, I was starting to get a glimmer of light about how to move forward with the touring thing in the future. There were definitely things I didn't need to waste my time on anymore and openings that hadn't existed five years ago. With a little more lead time and focus on the more rewarding type of gigs, I was beginning to see see how this could work down the road. On that thought for the future, I dozed off.

August 5, 2008 - Drive Day, Eugene, OR to Boise, ID

I woke up the following day and the good news was I wasn't really sick anymore, but I'd had trouble sleeping and I really just wanted to stay in bed for several more hours. I'd had some Melatonin to knock myself out and I was feeling pretty groggy, but I still hung around and unwound with Craig for about a half hour before I set out on today's drive, one of the longest on the tour; and also one of the prettiest.

Basically I had two days to make the 800 mile drive to Salt Lake City. Through the wonders of Craig's List I'd secured lodgings in Boise with a local musician, assuming I could make it. It was 450 miles, all but the last 50 on two-lane highways through remote areas. It's actually my favorite kind of drive, but I could tell from the way I felt that I'd be hurting by the end of the day.

SantiamsView from the front of the car east of Eugene

I was really feeling the lack of exercise and although I was still weak I did manage to get out of the car a couple of times while I was driving through the mountainous region east of Eugene. I'm an old road buff and on one of them I stumbled across an old wagon road winding its way through the forest. Even for August, it was very hot outside and I could only manage about 15 minutes at one go. I stopped in Sisters for a light meal at an Asian restaurant, and then got hung up in Bend for 20 minutes because of some very questionable signage and traffic patterns, much to my frustration. I gassed up there and headed into the desolate southeastern portion of the state.

wagon roadSantiam Wagon Road hiking trail near Sisters, OR

It was at this point, by now mid-afternoon, that the drive really started to hurt. I do not believe I have ever been on a stretch of major highway that has fewer services than U.S. 20 between Bend and the Idaho border, and keep in mind I spend a lot of leisure time in remote parts of the desert. There was only one cluster of businesses in the whole 200+ mile stretch, and even there I had trouble finding a cup of coffee. By this time I was really starting to feel ugly and Boise was beginning to feel like the Yellow Brick Road. Then, as the sun was starting to edge down behind the mountains, I hit a flagman just after the pilot car had left. The lady informed me it was going to be a 15 minute wait. Philosophically, I pulled out my guitar and just started walking around stretching my legs. A car full of kids from a teenaged rock band in the back followed suit, people rolled down their windows, and pretty soon we had an impromptu concert going in the road:

one kind of jam another kind of jam

At long last, we were allowed to proceed. After this point, night began to fall and at the same time, the scenery got prettier and prettier and I tried to soak as much of the winding river valley in before night completely cloaked it in obscurity. At long last, I got to the Idaho state line, feeling pretty rubbery and yucky. I wasn't sure I was going to make it to Boise, but I finally rolled in to the crash pad at the home of Lonnie Caldwell, a very fine gentleman indeed. We stayed up a bit discussing philosophy and also giving him some tips on booking a tour, and then I gratefully hit the sack.

August 4, 2008 - House Party, Eugene, OR

When I got home after the Portland gig, I thought I was going to bust something running to to the bathroom; I really felt lousy. I was worried that I was getting sick all over again, but when I woke up the next day it was the first day that life didn't seem like it would suck forever and I knew I had to be on the down side of this thing. I was really relieved, too, because the next day was the start of an arduous two day trek to Salt Lake City and I really, really didn't want to still be sick for that. It didn't stop me from waking up at 10, answering some e-mails, and then going right back to sleep. I didn't get up 'til 2 p.m. I stopped off on the way out of town at a health food place to get a few things to much on...my stomach was still unsettled but I needed to eat something so I got some yogurt and breakfast bars and stuff like that.

The 100-mile drive down to Eugene still kicked my ass a little, which didn't bode well for the next day. I got to the home of Craig Leve, the host of the house party, at around 6 p.m. Craig is the host of a power pop show on the local college radio station and something of a fixture both in the power pop community and the Eugene music scene and it had been his idea to throw a house party on one of my days off. He was somewhat stressed over issues with his father's impending releasing the next day from a hospital in San Diego (which, it soon transpired, the doctors put the kibosh on at the last minute, forcing them to cancel their plans on a few hours' notice, your health care system at work), but it was good to see him after 5 years.

yoAdam and the Leve Family Band in Eugene

The party was really very nice...rather like the Kona Kai gig, it was a small group of attentive listeners, a few of whom I'd played for before, who were very generous both with tips and at the merch table (very fortunate given the long drive to follow). I was having a few gastric issues during the show, particularly at the end, but otherwise I felt pretty decent and sang really well...whatever had hindered my functioning in Portland wasn't a problem tonight and I was hitting on all cylinders again. My favorite tune tonight was "The Foghorn." One of the highlights was forcing Craig and his son Isaac to back me on "The Big Bear," to the delight of the remainder of their family. I once again did (by request) the punk trilogy of "Big Big Yeah" "Burning Me Out" and "Married Yet," and another request was the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice," which I basically nailed having just done it with the Tripsitter guys. I did a couple of songs from LONG PROMISED ROAD at this show and sold a number of these CDs tonight.

I've been having trouble eating, obviously, but they had green salsa at this party and for some reason my stomach really wanted green salsa. I kept noshing chips with it and I don't know what secret ingredient is in green salsa, but it made my tummy happy and I kept munching on the chips and green salsa all night with no ill effects that I could see. It was weird, but at the end of the show I finally felt righteous enough to hang out and shoot the shit with some of the guests, including Rocco, a guy I'd met on an earlier tour who's now living in China, who had some fascinating insights about the state of the world.

By the time I went to bed I was pretty tired, and my head was starting to pound again...but it was pretty clear I was on the backside of this horrible bug, thank God...in 23 tours I have never gotten this sick. It didn't mean I was ready for an 800 mile drive, but there was nothing I could do about that, because it was going to come tomorrow regardless.

August 3, 2008 - East End, Portland, OR

The one thing I should have learned after years of doing this, and indeed have learned, is that you can never predict with any great certainty how a show is going to go. It's a little easier when you're doing a home gig and can sense the way the prevailing winds are blowing, but on the road, all bets are off. It tends to break down in thirds: about 1/3 of the time the gig goes about as well as you expect, about 1/3 of the time you think it's going be totally lame and something random happens and it turns out great, and about 1/3 of the time you think it's gonna be great and it winds up being dead. Which means most of the time, the gig is not going to turn out the way you expect, and so you should just go into every show ready to appreciate it for whatever it is.

And yet, being back in Portland after five years and having so many great memories of this town and some of the people in it, as well as some of the great shows I'd had here, I confess I allowed myself to let this gig loom large in my mind. Part of it had to be with the general vibe that there were, I was told, a lot of people looking forward to it and that there were several angles by which people might turn up. But it's like I said...you never can tell how it's going to turn out. Sometimes what you expect just isn't going to happen, and you have to appreciate what does for what it is. And in this case, what it was wasn't bad. It just wasn't what I had expected or hoped for, and that was my fault.

I passed a decent night at Steve's. I woke up every hour to go to the bathroom but at least every time I woke up I felt slightly better. I still felt pretty hellish in the morning but it wasn't like yesterday. The drive down to Portland kicked my ass, though, and I was glad to get back to Scot's and nap for an hour or two.

At 5 I got up and met with Scot and his guitarist Zack, who had volunteered to sit in with me tonight. We went down to the music room and picked out "The Big Bear" and "The Foghorn" to work on. Zack was a quick study, whereas Scot was tenacious and game, even when I asked him to play the keyboards on "Bear." His girlfriend Staci came in and saw him at the piano and chuckled a bit, but I thought it rocked that Scot was willing to give it a go. I could only manage about an hour of rehearsal before I started to feel funky but I liked the way it all came together. Scot had added an interesting rhythm to "Foghorn" that made it a little more campfire, and it wasn't a bad thing. Zack took me to Fred Meyer where I bought some leek soup, which I ate hungrily. I haven't eaten much in the last few days.

I got down to East End and sussed out the situation. I have to say that compared with past tours, the hospitality I've received at some of these venues has been wonderful and Gabe, the guy that runs this place, treated me extremely well, even checking on me periodically to see if I was doing OK and making me a special drink to help ease my stomach. The club had more of a divey atmosphere than I had thought but for an acoustic show, that wasn't a bad thing at all...nice and intimate. Brady Beard started up and he played some songs I hadn't heard at his previous show...I was surprised that his highly rhythmic guitar playing was off compared to the prior gig I saw until I got onstage and realized the lighting made it hard to see the frets, one of those little things you don't think about unless you're actually dealing with it. Brady played for perhaps 50 minutes and then it was my turn. (Sam Densmore, from local Portland pop band Silverhawk, closed the show...super nice guy).

You may have gathered from the way I started this entry that nobody came to the show. That isn't entirely true, and actually at one point in the middle of my set there was what I'd call a healthy crowd. What made me feel kind of sad, and a little foolish, was that with one exception (I love you Shellene!) nobody from the old Portland crew managed to make it. I got quite a few apologies in the e-mail that afternoon, and that's just one of those things, life just gets in the way sometimes. But I'd allowed myself to think of the gig as a kind of a homecoming, and that was stupid. Yeah, it had been five years, but that was just the point. That was the way things were five years ago, and this is now. (And obviously the answer to did the girl from "Portland" show up out of the blue is no, she didn't)

And on the upside, there were a number of new "now" people to play for, including a decent cadre that Gabe had drummed up for the gig, friends of Brady's, friends of Alex Steiniger's, my Portland-based publicist. I was also pleased to see Frank Brandon from Burnside Distribution for the audience. And that's what I mean about appreciating what a gig is, instead of what you hoped it would be. And so I launched into the show with as much vigor as I could muster.

I have to say that, even though I didn't feel as bad as I had the day before, being sick affected my performance to a much greater degree this time. My stage patter was unfocused and rambling where the day before it had been deadpan and sharp, and I blanked on a number of the chords in "Long Promised Road." The cathartic performance of "Portland," despite some emotional moments, was undermined by sound leaking in from upstairs. And through much of the show I was having severe cramps, probably due to having attempted to eat a hamburger during Brady's set. A couple of times I went for a high note and I thought something down there was going to bust open.

That said, I could tell from the reaction that the show went over well, anyway, and I did my job. "Ludlow 6:18" was a high point; "Cut and Run" featured a young and enthusiastic woman who dressed like Kim Shattuck from the Muffs bouncing around banging on the tambourine, which lent the lyrics an additional weight (I guess), and the jam session with the Scotland Barr gang, with Brady on percussion, was the most successful integration with local players yet. "The Foghorn" had real moments, and "The Big Bear" was great, start to finish, managing to capture the vibe of the record surprisingly well.

It wasn't the big homecoming triumph I had hoped for, because there was no home to come back to...and I wasn't physically up to it, anyway. Nor did it cover my gas for that matter, though Gabe did what he could...but you couldn't call the gig a failure. It just was what it was, and by the standards of what was possible, it went very well, and I have to once again give Gabe serious props for being such a cool guy. He was already talking about what to do the next time up. I know what I'll do; remember that Portland is a place that has a lot of great memories for me...but this is now. The past is a place to remember, and the present is a place to live in.

August 2, 2008 - Kona Kai Coffee, Kent, WA

It didn't take more than an hour of sleep before I was up again, throwing up and also having violent diarrhea. The puking went on for maybe an hour...the diarrhea just kept right on coming. I stayed in bed for nearly 13 hours, finally getting up at a little after 3, pretty much as late as I dared and still hope to get to the gig. I felt less unsettled, but not exactly better. Shaving felt like a major effort. Hell, so did standing up.

Tom was awesome...he'd already been out, had duplicate keys made for my car, and brought back a bunch of meds and PowerAde to try to hydrate me. It was really difficult to even drink water, and the best I was able to manage to eat was just part of a slice of toast.

I was determined to make today's show, though...the folks at the Kona Kai place had seemed really excited about me coming and they were only 30 miles down the road. I wasn't clear whether I actually physically could do it, but I figured up to the point I collapsed onstage, all you can do is try. It was an early show, which was both good and bad -- I would have loved to have stayed in bed a few more hours, but at least I wouldn't be up late. It also wasn't clear whether I'd be able to drive back to Portland that night as originally planned, to be able to rehearse with Scot and his band the next day, but driving back to Tom's meant a 30 mile backtrack. I figured I'd focus on just getting through the next five minutes and worry about it later.

I managed the drive down to Kent, a suburb of Seattle/Tacoma, without too much trouble, though making sure I was on the phone the whole time to keep me from dozing off or anything like that. I arrived at the club and discovered, as I'd expected, there was no PA, which meant that I would have to bring in everything out of the car, not just the instruments. Pulling out the speakers, mic cables, etc., from the various recesses of my little vehicle was, to say the least, uncomfortable in my condition and the whole load in must have taken about 35 minutes, with me shuffling around like a Thorazine patient. The staff at Kona Kai were super nice and immediately plied me with green tea and water, which I sipped gratefully but sparingly.

After about an hour I did manage to get everything set up -- not bad all things considered -- and after that I curled up on the couch in back, nibbling on the ham sandwich they gave me with determination but not much enthusiasm. There weren't that many people in the room, but those that were there seemed genuinely interested and there for the show, so I mustered up my will and hunched down on the piano bench and gave it my best shot.

And you know what? It really was a pretty good show, even though in all my hundreds of road shows I can't recall many that were more difficult to play. My fingers got clammy, I had cramps in my gut, and my energy was zero, but I somehow got more mileage out of my own lyrics than usual, probably because I didn't have the energy to project them so I just said them. Also I had this thing happen that sometimes does where I get depressed or really tired on the road and just say irreverent stuff onstage that's really funny because I'm just beyond caring, and before long I had a really good rapport with the crowd. I managed a 90 minute set -- less than scheduled but still a good amount -- even coming alive a little at the end to do a trifecta of punk: "Big Big Yeah," "Burning Me Out" and "Married Yet." The folks there were very generous with tip money and I sold several CDs, and they'd been an excellent audience all around. It had really been worth dragging myself out of bed to do it.

In the audience unbeknownst to me was a fellow named Steve Dorst, who'd been a friend back in my very early L.A. days when I used to go see his band, New Tribe, play on the Strip. We'd fallen out of touch in the last 15 years or so though periodically he or I would run into someone that had also met the other, and so we each had a peripheral idea of where the other one was without ever managing to get back in touch. It was great to see him and it transpired that he lived not far away and more importantly, on the way back to Portland. Now that the show was over, I debated whether I should try to make the drive and realized it was just too risky, so I gratefully accepted his offer to crash at his house. We spent a little time catching up, and then I staggered off to bed, hoping the next day would see some improvement, or else this was going to be a very long tour.

August 1, 2008 - Skylark Cafe, Seattle, WA

I woke up this morning feeling pretty funky. Blaming it on the lemon juice elixir I use to keep my head clear (and which I'd foolishly drunk right before bed), I got out at about 11 a.m. to have lunch with Music Millennium owner Terry Currier and Burnside Distribution northwest sales rep George Romansic. We had some really lively discussions about the state of the music business and how it is for music retailers (difficult) and also strategized a little for the next album. Then I was on my way up to Seattle.

I felt a little woozy so I got off the freeway for a break in the small town of Castle Rock. Parking the car in the sleepy downtown area, I saw a large building with a giant sign painted on front that said 'ROXY RECORDS'. Having just had lunch with the owner of one of the largest indie music stores in the northwest, telling me how tough the marketplace was, I was baffled as to how such a place could exist in a town that, from the looks of it, had little in the way of population or active business. I popped in and discovered a large collection of bric a brac in a dusty store, including racks and racks of vinyl in the back, miniature guitars, odds and ends and one wall of cut-out CDs going for 75 cents each. I bought a Silos album from the somnolent proprietor of the shop, a middle-aged manchild who seemed to greet the world without much hope nor resentment. It's just one of those odd things that you run into sometimes on the byways when you get off the interstate. I wondered if mine was the only sale he made that day.

I also stopped off at a state park on the way up and walked around and played the guitar for awhile. These daily practice sessions have done me a world of good.

By the time I got to the show in Seattle I had to admit that I was sick, and getting sicker. I wasn't sure if it was some of the stuff in my head that had shaken loose, or just a bug, or what, but this was not good news at all. I tried to put the increasingly pounding headache and queasy stomach out of my mind as I got set up for the gig. Happily, this time I was the opening act so I was going to be able to get everything onstage set up to my liking without being rushed.

onstage in SeattleOnstage at the Skylark Cafe in Seattle (Photo by Laurie Biagini)

The club was already about half full when I took the stage. As soon as I launched into "Ludlow 6:18," adding a new intro to the song to set the scene, and stepping off the stage to do the third verse, I felt totally on my game. Launching into "Cut and Run," enunciating every word for maximum effect, I saw a couple of dudes at the bar listening and nodding at the lyrics. Then came one of the best versions of "Karma Frog" I'd ever done, a happy accident at hitting the "wrong" pedal helping send the solo part over the top. The place was filling up as I switched to keyboards and did two Carl and Dennis songs in honor of Laurie Biagini, a Beach Boys fan who had made the trip down from Vancouver with her husband and a friend to see the show...and then I called Laurie up to sing and play on "Big Bear." With no rehearsal, she nailed percussion, keyboards and even a little harmony part in the bridge. I closed with "Big Big Yeah," with the audience singing along on the choruses and a big rock 'n' roll finish. I finally felt I was on top of my game, and the audience had responded as well as you could ever hope for. It was easily the best show of the tour so far.

The bill was probably the best, too. The band after me, Lund Brothers, were the band every retro group that plays International Pop Overthrow (which, ironically, was an early name for the band) should be, a group that took its cues from power pop bands of the late '70s without forgetting that back in those days, chops mattered. These guys sang flawless three part harmonies and played the shit out of their instruments...their guitarist particularly shredded. The band clearly could have been a prog band had they wanted to be (and they even managed to put in a heavy metal song without it sounding like a non sequitir) but thought the playing was sometimes busy (or at least flashy) it was always in service of the song. I'd heard a lot about the headliner, Doll Test, in Portland. Everyone was talking about how great this band was and they were, indeed, really good. They made a humorous comment about having the "obvious" Rickenbacker 12-string in their arsenal but these guys did the low-midrange jangle thing about as good as anybody, and then as the set wore on, rather than wear you down with one midtempo tune after another, gradually picked up the pace until they were in something akin to Stooges territory by the end.

It would have been the perfect night of rock except as soon as I got offstage it became obvious it was going to be a long night. I loaded my gear out during the Lund Bros.' set to get it done, and I puked three times in the parking lot (how punk rock is that?). Later on I nearly crapped my pants in the middle of the club. I loved the bands and the people there, including a few familiar faces, were very friendly but as hard as I tried to be social (and I think I did an OK job all things considered) I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep and of course, I had to stay 'til the end to get paid (although I would have stayed anyway, given how good the bands were). Fortunately, it was a relatively early night with the music wrapping around 12:45 a.m., and then it was a bleary, white-faced half-hour drive to my crash pad, at the home of Tom Skelley in suburban Bothell. It was only when I got there that I discovered I had left my bag with all my toiletries, glasses, etc., back at the club. Fortunately, I managed to call the club and ascertain that I could come back and get it if I got there by 2. Then followed another hour on the road, feeling worse by the second. I called home to Teresa to talk to me and keep me awake the whole time. I finally made it back at 2:30 a.m., and passed out almost as soon as I got into bed, feeling very, very bad.

July 31, 2008 - Salvador Molly's, Portland, OR

I slept like a rock and when I got up I finally got to hang out a bit with Scotland Barr, a veteran Portland musician I'd run across in L.A. and who is a true road dog...he and his band regularly tour for months at a time, playing nearly every night. We hadn't met until last night, but we've been helping each other out with show leads via e-mail for the past couple months. We had a good conversation about the tribulations of touring and the experience of living hte music life. Scot's other gig is as a chef, and he whipped up about the best pancake I have ever tasted.

After spending some time online getting somewhat caught up with things, I headed to a nearby state park and spent about an hour walking around in the woods and practicing the guitar. I probably disturbed all the wildlife (although one hiker told me that a squirrel just out of my sight line had been listening intently), but I was happy to be able to play and get some exercise and I felt the edge finally start to come off.

The Salvador Molly's gig was another fairly low key show at a place that's primarily a restaurant and indeed I got a very good meal with an old Portland friend and music fan, Joanne Hodges, before getting underway. It was a small crowd but it was nice to see some other Portland friends from the old days in the audience. My set was kind of an uneasy mix between the old school party set, which seemed to be more appropriate for the situation, and the set list I've been working for this tour. I opened with "Ginna Ling" this time to get it out of the way, experimenting with a foot pedal to stop and start the sequencer that made things run a lot smoother. It didn't really work in this context, but I was glad to try it out, anyway. "Cut and Run" and "Karma Frog" went really well...I almost nailed the solo on the latter, and in general the performance was pretty good. Towards the end, I took a request, and of course, somebody called out "Free Bird," which I cheerfully obliged, seguewaying into "Pretty Vacant" by the Sex Pistols. Then I closed up with "Big Big Yeah." It was the first time I did it this tour and it went over pretty rocking. All in all, a pretty mellow time, a good show to work out the kinks, and nice to see some old friends. There's a lot of talk about the East End show on Sunday...I'm really looking forward to it and it sounds like there'll be a decent crowd there.

I was followed by a cheerful, nattily dressed local musician named Barry Todd, who revealed this was his first-ever acoustic show, being basically a band frontman. He played a guitar he just bought two days ago, and other than some tentative endings he seemed pretty in control of his game. Kasey Anderson was supposed to close, but didn't for some reason.

July 30, 2008 - Mon Ami, Vancouver, WA

I know I have the song that goes, "when I get to Portland it'll be all right" but the first thing that happened when I woke up in Portland for the first time in 5 years was that AOL refused to work (which meant no tour diaries could be posted), and it took two hours and a frustrating phone call to AOL tech support before I figured out it was a problem with the router at the place I was staying (although, really, what ISP requires you to open up a cable modem to open up a router channel so you can get online with them? Give me a break!). This made me cranky because I have a ton of e-mail to deal with, crash pads to secure, gigs still hanging fire, and none of it got done this morning.

I had kind of a warm up gig at a coffee house just over the border in Vancouver, WA scheduled for tonight, and I headed over early both because it was an evening gig and also because I didn't want to hit traffic. I got there early and headed to the park around Vancouver Lake to get some exercise. It was such a relief to bust out my guitar, walk around, and practice. I've had so little time to actually work on what I'm playing on these shows and being able to woodshed a little really had a calming effect.

I made it back into Vancouver to Mon Ami, a coffee shop run by very friendly young people. I was made to feel very at home right away, with a number of people coming up and introducing themselves to me, not the least of them Brady Beard, who is doing the East End show (my main Portland gig) with me on Sunday and with whom I've been corresponding via myspace. A very friendly guy, he was also slated to do this informal gig, which took place in front of the coffee shop. I really liked everybody there and they stuffed me full of crepes. Given the number of memories Portland has for me, and that I was basically there on my own, it was good to feel like I was among friends my first day back.

Unfortunately, the way the gig itself played out, timewise, didn't work out so well for me. Brady -- who is an excellent rhythm guitarist and has pipes similar to the guy from the Black Crowes -- had a solid crowd, which dispersed somewhat afterwards as a good-natured jug band played an extended, off-the-cuff set. I followed them. There was supposed to be a band after me, but apparently they had canceled, so I wound up closing the gig, never a good situation for an out of town act, because you're getting in front of the minimum crowd. On the plus side, I continued to solidify the set; the first half was probably the best so far from a technical standpoint. I sang pretty well and was tightening up my guitar playing, particularly on "Karma Frog," where I finally took a stab at the solo part and almost pulled it off. I also mangled "The Foghorn" pretty good on the keyboard, but it was good vocally and it still wound up selling a CD. I unbent enough to take a request -- for "Tainted Love," which I played all the way through but even though it could have been a fun time taking more requests I wasn't feeling it. I've enjoyed taking myself more seriously on this tour and sticking to my own stuff.

There were a few people there that were into what I was doing, and that made the gig worthwhile, as did the wonderful attitude of the folks that worked at Mon Ami. Claire, Hayley, Kayleigh...I love you guys. There were people there that did appreciate what I was doing and said so. Still, as I packed up my things after a so-so closing with "Ginna Ling," and the small clutch of people that had formed my audience began to drift away to their homes and families, I started feeling a little melancholy. It was beautiful evening...just a slight chill in the air and the smell of pine. I've alluded to the fact that "Portland" is about a period of my life when I was involved with someone who lived there and who, though we were together off and on for years, and then did not see for years after that, I never really had a proper closure with. Being back for the first time since then, and being left to my solitary devices after the gig to poke around a city that I associated not just with her but with a whole other period of my life, I felt a pervasive sense of loss. I tried calling home to a few friends, but the exercise just left me annoyed.

The interesting thing about this tour so far is how un-nostalgic it vibes to me. It doesn't feel the same as it did five years ago. The actual experience hasn't changed much. I do feel I get a little more respect than I did back in the day, but other than that, it's pretty much as it was. Which means that I've changed. This isn't a bad thing. So far, up until tonight, I've had a very good time, and tonight is a special set of circumstances. But it's interesting to come back to this and not feel like you're going back. You're going forward, which is good...but at the same time, coming back to these same places, you get a sense of what you've left behind. People you really cared about, and parts of your life that you really remember fondly and that you'll never get back and that, I was dismayed to note, I didn't really remember nearly as well as I would like to...so I couldn't even relive those days in memories without great effort.

I found a place to take a walk in the twilight near the Columbia River, watched the birds flying around, and appreciated the beauty of my surroundings and reflected that it's good to feel things, even if they're sad things. Then I went back to the crash pad of Scotland Barr (more on him later), where there was red wine and cheese. I ate both, and felt better.

July 29, 2008 Drive Day

I got a late start on Tuesday. I was originally scheduled to play in Medford, but that show got blown out, so I made it an experiment to see if I could meander up to Portland and get some good gas mileage. I did post 412 miles on one tank of gas which is not bad (although the drive still wound up using up all the money I'd made the previous night), and my IPod and the beautiful scenery made the drive go by. I got off the freeway and two-laned it a few times. One of these times I drove by an eagle sitting on a post right next to the road. I stopped to take a picture but he took off.

The biggest event of the day, such as it was, came during a hike on the California-Oregon border. As it happens, I had film rolling (though the sound didn't get recorded, unfortunately) when it happened:

I made it to Portland at about 2:30 a.m.

July 28, 2008 - The Elbo Room, San Francisco, CA

I did manage to get hiking in, as well as a very good vegetarian lunch (which was ridiculously expensive) with my friend Kristen during the day before making my way back across the Bay to rehearse with Paul Bertolini of Persephone's Bees, who had agreed along with pop wunderkind Adrian Bourgeois had agreed to sit in on my set at the Elbo tonight, a further experiment in jamming with local musicians on this tour. We only had about an hour and no kit so the rehearsal was pretty much limited to sketching out what we wanted to do on the songs, and then Paul crammed into my car and drove back over into the Mission, where he proved invaluable in helping load and park in the semi-sketchy part of town.

When we got there, Blammos (the San Francisco band responsible for pulling the show together) were onstage soundchecking. Soon afterwards, Kasey Anderson, the Portland songwriter/band that was playing the middle slot (and who coincidentally is on the bill with me up in Portland on Thursday) was waiting to check. By the time Adrian got there and we were able to soundcheck we were only able to run "The Big Bear" (which Adrian learned 10 seconds earlier) one time, and man, it sounded baadd. Between no one being particularly confident in the sound and the lack of a bass guitar to tie things together, it just sounded ragged, and I could feel eyebrows being raised around the room. I also found out that I had a 30 minute set again, which was a little unwelcome just because with all the extra keyboards and things I had to manage it was just that much less time to get settled in and feel comfortable. I spent a few minutes onstage reconfiguring things, finding a usable bass patch on one of the keyboards, and memorizing where it was. I also reconvened with Adrian and Paul backstage and we ran through "Long Promised Road" acoustically. It sounded pretty good, and everyone seemed to breathe easier. I had just enough time to greet a few friends and then was ushered onstage.

I opened again with "Ludlow 6:18," and again stepped off the stage as a greeting to the audience, noting as I did that the place was starting to fill up. More than that, the audience was attentive and listening carefully as I launched into "When I Lied to Everyone." I had an awkward moment when I blanked on the words of the crucial third verse, having to make something up on the fly, then called Paul up to play tambourine and bass drum on "Karma Frog."

Elbo Room show(l to r) Paul Bertolini, Adrian Bourgeois and me doing "Long Promised Road."

As I started through the song, I noticed how much this exercise was forcing me to stay in the moment and reinvent the tune as I went along. Paul had a few clams, and I chickened out on attempting the guitar solo, but there were moments when things really locked in and sparks of greatness. Then I got to sit down to the piano (the first time I've been able to do that this tour) to play "Portland," and started talking to the audience as I did. Just being able to sit down after running around so much, felt great, and by the time it got around to calling Adrian up to "Long Promised Road," I felt totally in control and was able to manipulate the bass parts and the keyboards as well, although the mix was a little bass-light. Adrian, as expected, knocked the vocal out of the park, and then "The Big Bear" (with me adding discreet keyboards along with guitar) sounded a million times better than at soundcheck. By the time I got to "Ginna Ling" I felt really connected with the audience and, staying seated, introduced the song and negotiated the twists and turns with the sequencer. For the first time I felt like I got close to nailing it. More important, I realized I had stayed connected to the material, and communicated it to the audience, for the whole set...my biggest goal for this tour. When I got out to the now-crowded room I realized how well the show had gone. Out front, it had really worked, the sound had been clear, the lyrics had come through, and I was delighted. This was my template for how I wanted the shows to be.

Kasey Anderson was on next, playing a lengthy set of alt-country music highlighted by Kasey's distinctive voice and a well-rehearsed band. Blammos were really interesting. I had them pegged as a garage-y band but they were one of those groups that's really had to pin down. There was a little bit of Madness-like two tone going on in their sound, a bit of cheesy Farfisa rock, and a bit of sinister Oingo Boingo too. It took a while to really get my bearings with them but I really enjoyed watching them.

All in all, the San Francisco show felt like the first "proper" gig of the tour so far, and I sold a ton of CDs (which, considering how far in the red I am at this point, is good news indeed). The next day came the 650 mile drive to a town I once thought of as nearly a second home...Portland...where a string of gigs was waiting in the northwest.

July 27, 2008 - Peri's, Fairfax, CA

Waking rested and refreshed, headed down (slowly, to save gas) I-80 to the next stop, a small town in Marin County. I made good time until I hit Route 37 going across the wetlands north of the Bay. In the middle, it narrows to two lanes and in the middle of that there's a stoplight at an intersection with another state highway. With one exception there is no way to turn around at any point and so there was a six mile bottleneck in either direction. I had read in my hypermiling research about holding back and letting the car in front of you get way ahead of you in a traffic jam so you can maintain a constant speed and break up the jam by reducing the flow of cars feeding into it. I had nothing better to do (and could not get out and pee, so I needed to think about something else) so I tried it. It did seem to work after awhile, though the cars behind me we were getting very impatient with me. I thought that was kind of amusing...it wasn't as if me closing the gap with the next car in front of me was going to get us anywhere faster. We'd just wind up a quarter mile ahead, stopped and burning gas. In some part of their minds the guys behind me had to know that, but they honked anyway.

Anyway, I finally got through that and after quick pee made it to the lovely small town of Fairfax, just west of San Rafael. I was bummed I hadn't gotten there earlier because it's just the kind of place I like to hang around in...lots of small shops, restaurants, and the pleasant smell of pine in the air. As it was I was able to grab dinner -- one definite improvement from five years ago is the proliferation of wi-fi outlets, so I could check my e-mail -- and then go next door to Peri's, a neighborhood bar that was hosting a singer-songwriter night where I was booked as a special guest.

I was greeted by Krickie, the host of the evening, a vivacious young woman with boundless energy and latent organizational skills, who told me I'd be going on fairly early, which was fine as I needed to get to my crash pad down in SF/Berkeley proper before it got too late. I immediately was greeted by a number of musicians who offered to back me up and, in keeping with my new inclusive policy, dragged them all out to the back porch and taught them "The Big Bear." It would be a good experiment to see if that kind of thing would work in this environment with this pool of players.

I was up soon enough, and immediately had some problems with the monitors not being loud enough, but the sound guy was off somewhere so I just dealt with it. I managed to grab the crowd's attention by leaving the stage during the opening song, "Ludlow 6:18," and singing to them directly and as I was doing it I marveled at how much better tricks I used five years ago worked now that I was a more imposing and confident performer. It was followed immediately with "Cut and Run," with a zoot suited gentleman stepping up to take a harmonica solo, and "Portland."

Then I called up "my band," a diverse group of folks to say the least, to perform "The Big Bear." It didn't quite work, but mostly because my guitar wasn't really loud enough so everything sounded a bit tentative, not because there was a problem with the local musicians. But it didn't matter; everybody was happy to see their friends up there and the song went over great. The only bomb of the evening was "Ginna Ling" and that again had a lot to do with not being able to get enough volume out of my guitar to really push the song over. It's something I'll need to be more aware of in the coming shows.

I was able to hang around a bit after the show and see some of the local acts -- and considering the composition and size of the crowd the tips collected were quite generous -- and made some new friends. I really like this town and it was fun to play this kind of a show, which I rarely do. I'd like to come back soon when I have time to hang out.

The drive back was a bit perilous -- it was foggy and rainy and the one thing I didn't prepare for, like an idiot, was rain. The windshield on the car is really smudgy and visibility was bad. I need to make some time to clean it off before I get too much further down the road.

July 26, 2008 - Luna Cafe, Sacramento, CA

In the week prior to leaving on tour, it became increasingly obvious what a diastrous distraction the ongoing remodeling at my house, which my roommate/landlord has been overseeing with a mix of bold enthusiasm, freneticism and carelessness, has been for me. Not only have I had to commute to my own house, usually arriving there late in the afternoon, but I had to box up as much of my possessions as I could prior to leaving since they're going to be working on my room while I'm gone. As if that wasn't bad enough, my roommate started giving me some grief about how much of my stuff was piled in the living room..."Where else am I going to put it?" I asked him. "I can't make it vanish." When it came to the request to put all of my clothes in bags, I balked, then fretted that they were going to be covered in dust and unwearable on my return (which have of them already are, anyway). Add that to the normal confusion of deciding what to pack for being away for two months (and where to physically put all the items while you're packing) and, well...it wasn't a good week.

With that in mind, I greeted the mid-week news that the True Love Coffeehouse show scheduled to kick off the tour on Saturday was canceled (because of problems with their remodeling. A coincidence?!?! I think NOT!) with mixed feelings. Not having that show was bad, however, if it gave me an extra day to prepare, then it might be just as well. Then I found out that the workmen were coming back 6 a.m. Saturday morning, and realized it was just plain bad. Luckily, Warren from the Onlymen, who had set up the show, was able to get me on a very cool bill at the Luna Cafe. I had played there once before, at one of the last shows before I retired from solo touring. It seemed to fit, and I gratefully accepted.

Back to the fevered rush of preparations. Because I had been told that the rehearsal garage was also undergoing remodeling, and because the one foray by the workmen into the garage had already resulted in a broken bench, we had dispersed most of our equipment to Teresa's, Kurt's and Evie's houses, with just what I needed for the tour and a few odds and ends left over. Beyond the mini-tour I had done in April, I hadn't worked out much about how I wanted to do the shows, just that I wanted it to be more focused on my original material and more inclusive...bringing up musicians to play and perhaps even people from the audience, a complete reversal from how I used to do things. I was also planning to bring a more space saving mini PA to play through instead of my trusty (but bulky) keyboard amp, which was a risk. My plan had been to set it all up in the garage and do a mock set, but the preparations were such that I did not actually accomplish this until 9 p.m. Friday night, after a very long day of hair appointments, chiro appointments, packing and buying things for the tour.

As I launched into the first song, I made a dismaying discovery -- I sucked. I had just restrung my 12-string for the first time and with the new, stiff strings it was almost unplayable, the PA did not sound nearly as nice as my keyboard amp had done, and even though my chops were solid ten days prior, I'd had so little time to practice or play since then, so I was fumbling around and making lots of misstrikes. Given I was 24 hours away from hitting the stage in a blaze of hype about how awesome I am, this was not good. The 12 string sounded beautiful, but it had much less low end through the PA than my Ibanez. I considered switching back to the 6-string and bringing one of the bigger PA speakers (as it turned out there was room in my car to do it)...unfortunately, they had already been offloaded to Evie's and Kurt's respectively and by that time neither one was reachable. I was stuck with what I had.

I started looking around the room and taking inventory of what was left. My pedal board...both keyboards...a few percussion instruments...and some odds and ends. After putting the guitar through my compressor and tweaking it a little bit, it sounded a lot better. I had been toying with the idea of bringing my second keyboard and now I pulled it out and set it up, along with some of the percussion instruments. I wasn't sure what I was going to do yet, but an idea was forming in my head. I took a break for dinner -- I'd hardly eaten all day -- and to let my head settle. It was 10:30 p.m.

When I came back I started following up on the ideas I'd had before dinner. In the old days, I basically kept things simple, but I was much better player and singer than i was five years ago and better at juggling parts. I really started wishing I had my old Taurus foot pedals because I could think of keyboard parts I wanted to underpin the janglier sound of the 12-string, and I was really wishing I had a drummer because rhythm was so much more crucial to my playing now. The breakthrough came when I tried out a sequencer patch on the keyboard. Just a bass drum and a single note, repeating. I started up "Ginna Ling," the new acoustic version that I'd debuted in April. With the intense backbeat and the single note playing, the song maintained its intensity and with its technopop sound, kept up the illusion in the first half of the song that it was a lightweight pop love song. As it built to the climax, it started to sound like the Who. In a good way. I had to keep a lot of balls rolling, but it was forcing me to focus on delivering the song and telling the story. I let some of the melody drop down, focused on the lyrics instead of the note. I stayed in the song and in the moment and when I hit the "stop" button on the sequencer, it was like a balloon popping. There had been a few mistakes but this had real potential.

I started adding things to other songs...a tapped tambourine on "Cut and Run" turned it into a Motown stomper. Some discreet drony synthesizer and added echo on "The Big Bear" emphasized its dreamy ambience. I was still thinking about how much more I could do with a MIDI foot pedal, or an audience member with good rhythm, but this was a good start. It was on the cusp of being great...and in being wholly different from what I had tried before, with many extra moving parts, great potential for falling apart onstage. And look! Now it's 1:30 a.m. I still had to pack up all my things and head down to Teresa's house (Teresa having already left on tour with Kaz Murphy earlier that day). I didn't get to bed until 4 a.m., after having frantically tossed the last remainders of my possessions onto my bed, insecure in the knowledge that I couldn't count on everything being there when I got back in two months. Not a nice a feeling.

I woke up, and it was almost noon. I was onstage at 9, with Sacramento nearly 400 miles away. I had hoped to catch Kurt at home to trade out the PA speaker, but no luck, and anyway, I didn't have time. I made one final brief stop at my house to grab extra contact lenses, and then I was on my way.

In the old days, the act of leaving town and all the worries of setting up a tour behind would wash away as soon as I hit the road...but the change was more gradual this time. Because of all the things going on and the distractions of remodeling, there were just too many things hanging fire waiting to be done for me to completely relax. But still, the drive up was really pleasant. At my first stop, a Starbucks in Grapevine, I randomly ran into a former member of Quiet Riot, which I took to be a good omen. My original idea had been to drive 55 mph up to Sacramento to see if I could get there on one tank of gas. I had to abandon that idea, but I did a steady 65 mph, finding a friendly trucker to draft behind, and I managed to get to Stockton before I had to fill up. I would have almost made it but for a wrong turn (because I was yapping on the cellphone, natch) onto the 580 that lost me 20 miles ("what was your first clue you took a wrong turn?" Warren asked me later. "The fact that there was suddenly a big hill on I-5?"). The car was fully loaded down so I was glad to see it was still getting good mileage, because I was going to need it, particularly on the first week where good paying gigs were basically non-existent.

I managed to get to Luna about an hour prior to showtime, and was informed I'd get a half hour, which under the circumstances was fine with me. The headliner of the night was local producer David Houston, and he looked a little perturbed when he saw me bringing in a pedal board, two guitars and a keyboard, but I had them all set up in under five minutes. I had originally planned to open with "Ginna Ling," but as the crowd was still drifting in, I opted to open with "Ludlow 6:18" instead. I followed that up with "Cut and Run" (with tambourine), "Karma Frog" (with an attempt at a guitar solo), and then on the little keyboard, "Portland." I'd been drinking my magic elixir of lemon juice and cayenne pepper all the way up the 5 and it worked just as it had done in April -- my head cleared and I had full use of my whole range, the first time in a few months that's been the case. Gaining confidence with each song (and getting a big round of applause by annoucing this night was my first day back to touring, a decision I had reached when I had been in Sacramento on a visit last year), Kepi from the Groovy Ghoulies (who was to play after me) came up and played shaker as I tried the new, synth-backed "Big Bear." I hadn't really prepared the audience for that so they had no context for what they were hearing, but it sounded good. Then it was time for the biggest risk of the night, the techno-acoustic version of "Ginna Ling." As the beat started up, people began to smile and even laugh a little. At first I was worried, but then i realized...no, this is just right...you want them to think this is a happy pop song. And through the next four minutes I managed to negotiate all the twists and turns of the song, the melody, the reaching over and hitting the notes on the keyboard, and came crashing to an end. Did I pull it off? Did I manage to tell the story? Or was I just singing a bunch of notes? as I had been guilty of in my old solo touring dates. As I got off stage, a guy I didn't know came up to me and said something to the effect of "That last song was really amazing, man. The song, the story you told...great work." He had no idea how relieved that made me. It had worked. I was over the hump and on my way to a new place with this solo touring thing.

Kepi was up next, with a young and slyly charming female bassist (whose name I am blanking on right now but who also sells art at their shows and was the top merchandise seller for the night) and David Houston himself on percussion. I was really impressed with Kepi's lyrical viewpoint...I'd seen the Ghoulies before but I'd never caught on to how positive and uplifting his songwriting was; each song conveyed a simplicity and a generosity of spirit and even as he was bashing Bush between songs, he did it with a disarming "I'm sorry if that's not what you want to talk about...we can talk about something else if you want." Particularly sticking in my mind were a song with the chorus "You vs. supermodel...you win...," another song about a guy whose girlfriend left him for another girl (he's happy because she figured out where she belonged and she's happy now), and another song about a guy whose girlfriend is a werewolf (but they're both fine with it, because she's cool the way she is). Great art is about finding what's unique about yourself and projecting it outward so the audience gets it. Kepi may not be writing like Mozart, but he's making art by my definition.

David Houston was equally impressive, in a different way. Playing an album in its entirety backed by three string players, his songs had just enough pop sensibility and groove to avoid devolving into a morass of navel-gazing sensitivity. A lot of that was due to his superb backing group and Houston's attention to the sound...the instruments were intonated wonderfully and mic'ed just so, and the arrangements were interesting without ever over-reaching. I've seen a lot of bands in L.A. try this kind of thing but the added care that Houston and his crew put into it was obvious.

In the end, it was a good start to the tour. Most of my own peeps had not negotiated the switch from the True Love to the new venue, so it was a financially unrewarding night for me, but artistically, it's just the kind of bill you want to be on...great musicians with their own identity that compliment each other. The venue treated me great, too, buying me dinner and giving me a nice place to set up my merch. So at the end of Day One, I'm in the red, but I'm happy, and the prospect of sleeping in a clean, empty room with plenty of yoga space (courtesy of Onlymen bassist Larry) followed by an easy drive day filled me with great joy.

July 12, 2008 - Buccaneer, Sierra Madre, CA
July 18, 2008 - Brennan's, Marina Del Rey, CA
July 20, 2008 - Sugar Mill Saloon, Tarzana, CA

adamAnd here we are, back again, like we never left. Behold my half-destroyed room in the background.

The three month lurch back to the touring/musicians lifestyle I partly abandoned five years ago has seemed surreal in many ways, but I was forced to make a lot of the adjusting early because my roommate/landlord started remodeling my house in mid June, forcing me out of my room except for brief, dusty sessions at the computer during the day, also making rehearsing difficult. Not only did I (with a lot of help from Teresa and many friends around the country) have to get the tour up and running, but I had to box up all my possessions and deal with driving from various crash pads in L.A. to my house.

And at any rate, going back on the road seemed a natural progression in the process of reclaiming my life since my illness three years ago (we still don't know exactly what happened, but it probably was an infection that got out of control and clogged up my head...the recovery process has been a bit like draining a swamp with a syringe). Even three months ago it wasn't clear if I was going to be able to do it, but the level of recovery since I quit my job has been remarkable. I'm hearing almost normally after years of putting up with distortion and ringing caused by buildup around the ear, which is the biggest blessing of all. I'll never take playing for granted again. More than that, I've lost weight and gotten much healthier (although my regimen has slipped a little in the last couple weeks). I'm feeling more energetic and positive than I have in years. I still have some issues, but I'm starting to feel like myself again. And I realize what an asshole I've been the last three years!

So with all the pressures, and the added hassles of the remodeling, getting the website (after 3 years!) up and running, and also dealing with the happy, but time consuming, duties of getting CDs out for our publicist and the radio people, I'm pleased that compared to five years ago, I'm way less stressed out than at this point in past tours.

I credit yoga...and that must have been part of the reason I didn't lose my mind at the first "going away" show when, an hour and a half before the show I realized I'd left crucial equipment 40 miles across town. Oddly, the mad rush back to get it had the effect of focusing me up for the show, the latest in our string of "50 songs in one night" gigs at our favorite L.A. haunt, The Buccaneer.

The Buccaneer show was one of the best band shows in a long time just in terms of rocking the joint. We'd had some really stellar shows recently from a technical standpoint, but this one was just a blowout to a more or less packed house. I really felt in the moment and was even able to jump in with a Tom Waits tune and the "Peanuts" theme on solo piano early in the first set when Evie was derailed with a bad cord. The first set was the best, 20 songs strong with a rocking crescendo ending on "Then I'll Be Happy." I also tried a new trick by playing two surf instrumentals in a row while drinking margaritas. Other highlights were a cover of Joan Jett's "Do You Wanna Touch Me" sung by all three of us which totally rocked the house, Evie singing "I've Got The Music In Me" and a solo piano ending of "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll" in response to a $10 tip! In fact, the Bucc crowd was incredibly kind in taking up the collection to buy gas for the road, giving us nearly $200 in tips. Oddly the song that got everybody to open their wallets was "Louie Louie." Go figure.

The following week the remodeling situation at my house (where we practice) was so bad we basically shined rehearsal and just kept the gear loaded for the Brennan's and Sugar Mill shows the following weekend. And honestly, there was so much stuff to take care of pre-tour it was just as well, although we were definitely a bit shakier at Brennan's than we were at the Bucc. The highlight of the Brennan's show for us were the other two bands, who we found on myspace and asked to play with us sight unseen: The Spanks, who played superb garage pop (including a girl guitarist with go-go boots and a coffin shaped case) and Phonocast, earnest young lads who played well-constructed piano pop a la Coldplay. It was an experiment that worked; the bands were great and staffed with good people, and even though they probably would never have played together otherwise, complimented each other well. There was a decent crowd for the first part of the night, although it tapered off a bit later. Our set ran about 12 songs and was really well received...we invited Alan Boyd up to sing "Good Vibrations" with us, and also Severo came up to do "The Fates Cry Foul."

Speaking of later, we came up again after Phonocast and played a "very special" second set. I hadn't planned on drinking for the show (I rarely drink at my own shows...my stuff is too hard to play and sing for me to be impaired, but I was inspired by the surf experiment from the Bucc), but someone bought some margaritas during Phonocast's set and...well, you know. I decided to embark on a scientific project to see how much I could drink and still play. This AMCB-as-Replacements closing set was pretty inspired (at least as far as I can recall) and a hell of a lot of fun (at least, I kept giggling all the way through it). It started with "Da Doo Run Run," which the band learned on the spot, and followed with some requests from the crowd, which included "Mandy" by Barry Manilow and "Raspberry Beret" by Prince. I'm trying to remember what we closed with, but I was pretty smashed at that point. I remember barely being able to play "El Paso" (it has four chords) or stop laughing while I was singing. I vaguely remember picking up the bass at some point and playing some Vegas-y walking bass line. The rest of the band might well have been pissed at me but they actually seemed delighted...I am told Evie had a glass of wine herself. In fact, I wouldn't mind repeating the experiment again.

The final show in the going away trilogy was last night's show at the Sugar Mill, a new place we just discovered that is just down the street from my house in the West San Fernando Valley. When we got there, the place was packed with a singles meet-and-greet, which was a bit surreal, although it provided us with an extra audience when we finally got set up and played.

Stew once criticized me for being too honest about some of my road adventures in my blog. "People don't want to hear that you're depressed or that people didn't show up...they want to hear that you're being a rock star." And that's probably one of the many reasons he has a Tony and I don't! (Note to self: better get working on that play). But fronting has never been my strong suit so I'll be honest and say I was disappointed in the turnout for this show; yeah, it was a Sunday night in the valley and yeah, we'd just done two other shows but it was the last show for two months, lots of people hadn't been to the prior two shows and we'd promoted the crap out of it. Plus, the first show at a new club, it kinda looks bad if you don't bring folks down. That said, there were a number of people who we hadn't seen in a long time that turned up, and more importantly, the people that worked at the Sugar Mill were awesome. Treated us really good.

As for the show, it started out spotty. We had some technical issues with the sound and also we didn't want to scare away the singles, so we started out a bit tentatively for the first set, doing mostly covers on the acoustic, although we opened with two Adam/Evie duets, including "Disappear" which we haven't played for awhile (I neglected to make a set list for the show so I just called 'em out, creating mass confusion for all). The singles crowd dug us but after they cleared out I switched to piano for a solo version of "Portland," which we haven't done much lately, and stuck to originals for a lot of the set. About halfway through set two we went electric and at that point, things caught fire. There wasn't a big crowd but there was a lot of good energy as we ripped through Cockeyed Ghost tunes and some select covers (KISS, Sex Pistols, Ramones). We even tried the request thing again, to good effect, teaching the band "Surfin' U.S.A." in 60 seconds and inviting our friend McCrea Adams to sing harmony and play piano. Another shocker was fielding a request for The Temptations, surprising ourselves by making a decent stab at "Pappa Was a Rolling Stone" even though we hadn't played it in four years. Once again we earned our reputation as the most schizoid band in L.A., but we did manage to surf the wave of the shifting crowd of a four hour set, although more and more I realize how much my heart and soul, at least as far as original music goes, is in the electric guitar stuff, even though the musician in me prefers doing the more arranged music on the keyboards.

Anyhow, we finished up tolerably early (midnight), and looking forward to the coming home show at the Sugar Mill in September. We all pulled our cars together in the back lot and distributed out the gear (since the garage is going to be remodeled, most of my musical equipment is being moved out), in the process gauging how much was going to fit comfortably in my little Toyota. And then the four of us shook hands and went our separate ways, to reunite in the same place in two months' time. I drove home to my dusty, semi-functional room and stayed up 'til 2 a.m. answering e-mails and doing tour prep. And laundry.

wagon road