THURSDAY: We take off and drive south. We have to wait for Jeff to hand in his term paper at PSU (1 pm) and then for Lizzy to sell back some clothes at Red Light (add a couple hours) and then we all eat some pizza at Oasis Cafe (another hour) so we end up leaving Portland at about 3:30 pm, not ideal for a 13-hour trip to Oakland, CA. We drive south, south, south. We play the tape copy of Assalam Aleikoum Africa that I made; it is relentlessly funky. We stop at "Bee Gee's" restaurant in Central Point, OR; they have stained-glass depictions of shakes, burgers, and cones, lots of wood everywhere, plaques with images of Elvis, Dale Earnhardt, John Wayne. I have a cup of coffee and my bandmates eat fried food; I had filled up on the garbanzo-spread sandwiches I'd made earlier. We drive south. An hour or so later, with Jeff behind the wheel, we hit the Siskiyous and their dense snow and fog. We can barely see through the fog and the dense snow and the condensation on the inside of the windshield; everyone is crouching down low and seeing warp-speed snowflakes flying at us through the little window of visibility provided by the defroster in Sean's pickup. We drive south, and south, and south; familiar place-names zoom past us, but we are not stopping. Eventually, we exit at I-505 and head south, south, south; eventually, it is 4:00 and Sean is driving and everything seems unreal. I'm sure we passed through Redding, Corning, Anderson, Dunnigan, but I can't recall. Amazingly, we thread our way through confusing Oakland exits to the Vulcan Studios, where we lay our sleeping bags on the floor and sleep.
FRIDAY: We wake up, some of us (Sean/Lizzy) later than others. The very kind Vulcan radio people (Chris and Kim) offer us coffee and Internet access, both of which I accept. Jeff and I read our novels, Chris tells me about his job teaching streaming video at the poorest high school in California, morning blue sky streams in through high large warehouse windows. Eventually, somewhere in the early afternoon, Sean wakes up, a bear awakened from a winter's hibernating. Where is a good place to buy drum brushes and eat food? I ask. We end up driving into Oakland. I buy some bizarre and fragile-looking used brushes from the $3 bin at "Best Music Company", an old-looking store in bizarre downtown Oakland. Oakland is such a strange town; it seems a little sketchy and unfamiliar but it's not bad at all and we don't get mugged; still, it seems so, well, ordinary compared to San Francisco. But I think I might rather live in Oakland, where things seem a little slower-paced, way less frantic. And certainly cheaper. Not that I'd leave Portland for the Bay Area!
We eat Eritrean food at Cafe Eritrea, whose sign promises "A Cozy Place To Be", and how can we not be persuaded by that slogan? We fill our bellies with huge amounts of wats and enjera and agree: it is a cozy place to be. But not as cozy as the cab of Sean's truck!
Next, we go to meet Shannon and (I forget) from Vulcan Studios at Jack London Plaza, this shopping-center on the Oakland harbor. To kill time, we linger in Barnes & Noble, and it is weird to be looking at books when I don't have any money to spare. We talk outside in the wind and cold, which is kind of nice but kind of cold and windy.
So yeah, on to the show! Mike Landucci and Brian Miller show up at exactly the right time before the show. Mike is wearing a sweatsuit--not just a sweatshirt but sweatpants as well, and is carrying a book on poker strategy. As soon as he sees that there is an Internet connection at Vulcan Studios, he makes a beeline for his poker-strategy bulletin-board website. Single-minded dedication like that is hard to find.
Lower 48 play first, and they are pretty rocking. I'm not sure that their aggro math-derived sound is something that I am thrilled about, but they play with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of skill and they're good people. I find myself getting into it toward the end of the show.
Right before we go on, Christopher and Aileen (from Gang Wizard) show up. It is always a good thing to see these two weird little angels and I play more enthusiastically as a result. Minmae plays fairly well, a few false starts but we are full of zeal. It is always weird to be playing on camera, and we are always aware of the fact that we are on camera, since there is a projection We close the show with "Bluebird", which Jeff has never played before. Sean teaches Jeff the notes very quickly and then puts the guitar down to play glamorous-frontman role. And is he glamorous! Is he ever! The stage belongs to him, and the la-la-la-la's belong to me; it is madness and it is beautiful.
Mike wants to hear a Celesteville set, and I want to play a Celesteville set, and I get ready to play a set, even going so far as to tell Christopher what time signature my songs are in, but one of the Vulcan bigwigs wants to go to sleep, and who can blame him? I guess they'd had live music in their home/space for four nights straight. Sleep: Sean and Lizzy on one mezzanine, me on another, Jeff on a couch in a sub-mezzanine.
SATURDAY: We wake up; I drink coffee and read a few pages of the fascinating Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser. Chris Vulcan apologizes profusely for the confusion over Celesteville not getting to play; I assure him that it's no problem and drink more coffee. Chris tells me about his job--teaching streaming-web-media in the poorest school in the state of California--and about his dreams. He is very open, very generous with his feelings; sometimes I wish I could be more like that. Brian and Mike and Kari pick me up in Brian's minivan and we go to eat burritos at El Farolito, home of substantial burrito size and flavor.
We are scheduled to record a Gang Wizard session in "Lennon Studios" in San Francisco. It is amazing that there is any sort of affordable practice space in the Bay Area, but this place is only $30 for 3 hours. Not great, sure, but the best we could do under the time constraints we have. The halls are abuzz with various genres of music amped up all to hell, shifting genres and sounds every few paces on the way to our practice space. We tack my PZM microphone onto the wall and set up the drum kit and it's time to wail. Christopher and I instantly lock into a groove, Mike starts screaming, Aileen ululates, Kari plays keyboards, Brian shows off his newly-acquired Ibanez hessian guitar which he breaks a couple songs into the session. I couldn't ever keep those things together or playable either... The session sounds good but someone (very likely me) put the "record" indicators on "safe" for the last 30 minutes or so... so the fantastic rock sounds are forever lost in Lennon Studios. But what we have is good.
We drive over to Berkeley for the show; we have a few minutes to spare so we decide to go to Amoeba Records. And it's kind of disappointing: a) there's nothing that I really want there, despite there being about a trillion CD's in stock; b) even if there were something there that I wanted, I wouldn't be able to buy it since I don't currently have any money to throw at things like that. Sad, sad, sad. Mike doesn't find any amazing bargains, as he used to be able to do left and right, and Brian flat-out doesn't like it. We go to the venue and unload our stuff. Then it's time for food: what will we eat? The first thought is Ethiopian food but I'd just had Eritrean food and the service was reportedly lousy and we didn't have time for that, so we drove around and eventually settled on an Indian place with a name like "Taj" or something like that. It wasn't bad--I had a super-cheap but super-substantial and surprisingly tasty "veggie wrap", which amazed me by actually being both a) a "wrap", and b) good. Wow! We were all completely bloated and ready to rock.
Back at the venue, Creepy Crawly Claw were ready to perform. I noted that they had a toy piano and of course Christopher and Aileen were thrilled by this. And they had a trombone! Well, anyway, they went on and they were mesmerizingly good, all vigor and energy and aggression, but not in a bad testosteroney way, more like a pissed-off-smart-person way, the kind of aggression that I like. They were friendly, too, definitely a band that I expect good things from in the future, which won't be long, since they'll be here in Portland in a week. Anyway: Gang Wizard sets up and takes the stage. I set myself up with a couple pedals--my beloved fuzz-wah and delay--and then within a couple seconds of starting to play, I pull them out of their sockets, rendering the whole thing useless. From the very beginning, Mike is on 100% and I am on 100% and Brian is on 100% and Aileen is on 100% and Christopher is on 100% and all I can do is plug my guitar straight into the amp and hold on for dear life. Holy moley! We jump all around, run into each other, play no-wave dance music that sounds almost composed (here my Raunchy-Young-Lepers-honed talent for coming up with "riffs" on a moment's notice comes in handy), and then things get even weirder. I jump over toward Mike and he stuffs the microphone down the back of my shirt. I lean forward and the microphone stays there on my back, so Mike decides to scream into the microphone through my t-shirt, and then he plays the trumpet into it. It is weird to have a trumpet vibrating against your spine while you are simultaneously jumping up and down and playing instant-composition no-wave dance riffs! But thrilling! It goes on, Mike falls down and I step on him, then we start wrestling, me playing guitar the whole time and Christopher never missing a beat, Brian wrapped up in a surgical tape mask spitting out shards of treble, Aileen the mighty voice Ono-style in the background. After 25 minutes or so of this, I am dog tired, more tired than I think I've ever been in my life. My brain is a dried-up raisin and my fingers are trembling, actually my whole body is trembling with power and exhaustion. Christopher seems amazed that we would want to stop already, but he hasn't been jumping up and down for 25 minutes straight, or pouring out emotional Universal Rock energy like a busted water main. Well, okay, he's been pumping out the Universal Rock, but he's like a water fountain, there is no stopping him. We stop and I go outside and tremble and talk.
Sean and Lizzy and Jeff are there, and they were impressed. I talk to them and Brian's friend Amanda and Rob from Creepy Crawly Claw, all very nice and very kind to a poor sub-verbal Jake (at this point). Sean goes off to call Karl from the Cubby Creatures and I hang out with these fine people on the corner for what seems like forever. About an hour later, Sean comes back; the room is available. But I'm dog tired and I've decided to sleep at Kari's place in Richmond. We load the stuff into Brian's minivan and head off. Crucial problem: I've forgotten my ride cymbal and microphone stand/microphone. Curses! Of course, I won't realize this for about 12 hours. We go back, talk; Kari drags out her impressive videogame collection (she works/ed at Sega) and we play this silly music game called "Frequency" before we go to sleep. Mike is ill and grouchy; it looks like the Indian food has not agreed with him. Grouchy Mike is no fun but I understand; just about the last things I'd want to combine would be food poisoning and someone stepping on my stomach, then sleeping on an unfamiliar floor. No fun at all!
SUNDAY : We wake up and Kari's roommate Jordan (not to be confused with her boyfriend Jordan or my brother/roommate Jordan--crazy!) makes us pancakes. Very gracious. Mike and Brian had been suggesting to me that I head down with them to LA for a week, to hang out and watch the Dead C and record with them. And it was tempting--but I just couldn't have done it, not in my current emotional/financial state. I needed to get stuff straight. And I find that routine helps me in this sort of situation. Plus I had a thousand things to get straightened out--stuff for school next year, taxes, job, all that. So I let them know that I won't be joining them, so they head down south. I end up spending the day with Christopher and Aileen in the Haight, which is fun--we eat Ethiopian food at Axum Cafe (I could eat Ethiopian food every day, no problem), browse at used-clothing stores, eat crepes, look through the other Amoeba (again, I buy nothing, although I was thinking hard about this Timonium CD), walk in sun, share silly jokes. A fun pair, those two. We eat at El Farolito once again and it is once again very tasty.
We head to Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Apparently a quinceanera is taking place up until 9, so Christopher and Aileen and I hang out in the posh lounge for a while. They ask us: are we Minmae? And they are brandishing IRS documents. "Oh, no, you'll want to speak to Sean, our band leader," I say; what a cop-out! The Cubby Creatures are there and you will never meet a nicer band than the Cubby Creatures. We hang out, talk; teen-pop drifts out of the quinceanera; Christopher orders a cider and Aileen a mai tai; time passes. Eventually, Sean and Lizzy shows up, Sean signs the IRS documentation, and we load in and play. Our set sounds good--we are well-miked--and the crowd seems appreciative. For our last song, "Bluebird", we want Cubby Creature Emily to play violin (which she plays on the version on My Quiet Life --but she can't remember how it goes, so I end up channeling her spirit on lead guitar, while Christopher takes over the drum kit and Sean plays glamor-lead role. Well, as glamorous as Sean gets, which is admittedly pretty glamorous. I am wanktastic; Sean is over the top; and Christopher is thunderous. No eye is averted from the stage. Wow.
The Cubby Creatures play their distinctive clarinet-and-violin-heavy version of smart-person pop and I can't get enough of it; my face is molded into a dopey grin the entire time. They have lots of friends and supporters there, and it's a delight to see a band and its audience get along as well as they do. How can one not like the Cubby Creatures? Well, when they played Portland last year, the room cleared out as soon as they started--but then the audience was there mainly for "No. 2", who are kind of unexciting and whose supporters will probably never understand the power of the Cubby, because the Cubby is love.
We say plenty of farewells, shake hands, and then we spend the night crashing at Cubby clarinetist Karl's swanky San Francisco apartment which is decorated in a fetching shade of orange (more accurately "tangerine".) We watch the video from the show at Vulcan Studios and a few things are noted: 1) Boy, there are a lot of public-access-style video effects! 2) Look at the guts on those kids! 3) I probably should not play drums in tightish corduroy pants with my legs spread--it is immodest! But it is fun. I would like to congratulate Karl on having several Ed's Redeeming Qualities CD's in his collection; I guess it's a natural thing for a clarinetist to own, but I still have a total soft spot for their song "Someone Else In The Room" and their sweet ukulele quality. Nice. We sleep.
MONDAY: We drive home. Why does it have to be such a long way from San Francisco to Portland? Or from Portland to anywhere, for that matter? I love Portland and its isolation has many positive qualities (it keeps the riff-raff out, right?), but it is a pretty sucky place for a touring band to be. In Corning, we decide to check on our tires, which seem kind of flat. It turns out that they have several treads in the grave, so to speak--there are bald patches and I'm pretty sure we would have had another blowout story to relate had we not stopped and gotten our tires repaired. Whew! Jeff and I read our novels in the waiting room with an infomercial for some skin cream blaring and a stuffed buck's head looming on the wall in front of us. Then we're back on the road, road, more road. We play Assalam Aleikoum Africa again (man is it great!) and then we play Ethiopiques Vol. 3, and then Lizzy finally makes a pronouncement: no more African stuff! It just comes naturally to me at this point to listen to Afro-funk--but I imagine it would wear on the nerves if one were not into the sultry sounds of Charles Atangana and Tlahoun Gessesse. Oh well. The drive is uneventful except for the tire thing, I don't eat a thing all day, and eventually we show up in Portland and sleep a well-deserved sleep. Finally!