Tonight we play in SPACE, which is a phrase I’ll never tire of hearing. The final frontier. The beautiful and large venue, restaurant and recording studio in Evanston IL, is just north of Chicago. The area needed a centre like this for a long time, and the locals have really taken to it. We have too. This is mine and the Grotto’s second time here. The last time we played it was with Kaiser Cartel, a pretty cool NYC outfit. We had a great night then and expect a sweet one tonight too.
Last time we were here, it was the final show in a run of 7 straight days of gigging, with 3500 miles of driving over the week. It was exhausting. We criss-crossed the North-West in some insane brutal order encompassing : Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Greensburg, Lowell, Ann Arbor, Buffalo, Evanston… If we were truckers we’d have been locked up for the hours we drove, and the lack of hours we slept, but there are no such laws governing musicians. In fact, quite the opposite. It seems to be encouraged. The record companies lick their lips at the thought of another box set release, the lost recordings, the posthumous album release. It’s an awful shame that dying can be the best career move an artist ever makes.
By the time we hit the stage we were all zombified, talking absolute nonsense, and incredibly we were in a a very funny mood. If only we were conscious enough to remember some of the stuff we said! We were the walking dead. I had also mislaid my suitcase of clothes too… so I was a little emotional, and looking forward to another week or wearing the same clothes… not fun for an Irish musician in a sweltering American summer… nor for anyone else who encounters him.
We have a good show, despite some sound-gremlins creeping in. It’s awful when it happens mid-set, after a great soundcheck, but sometimes it happens, and you just have to fight through and hope that the audience can hear. I saw the Swell Season in Saratoga Springs opening for Dylan and Levon Helm a few years ago, when they had an absolute nightmare onstage. We could all hear what was going on, but it was clear that the musicians onstage couldn’t hear anything. It’s an awful predicament. Playing without being able to hear what you’re doing is very disorientating… It’s like running blindfolded. (If you’re fans of European cinema, check out the spanish film “Intacto”, for the perfect illustration of this activity.)
Dave, one of the owners, shows us around the recording space, which we didn’t get to see last time. It’s a great space (no pun intended), with vintage guitars and amps coyly littered about the place. We all dream of having a few little rooms like this adjoined to our future houses… ‘twould be nice.
The next morning we linger, and make our way slowly to the inventor/creator/manufacturer of a Sytek pre-amp, which the Grotto are using for recording. Kev has just written a blog about the experience [I’ll add the link here when it’s published!]. On the way we pick up a new baritone ukelele. It’s a little beauty – and is just what the doctor ordered. The last uke wasn’t holding its tuning.
And so finally, we leave the Chitown area, and head across yet another time-zone, just after Gary IN (birthplace of the Jacksons, and one of the most industrialised areas in America). Gary, like so many industrialised areas, suffers the most when the economy is under strain. It’s telling that most of the roadside billboards are advertising legal advice specialising in claims relating to lung-damage, and asbestos inhalation. It’s a depressing place, and one can only hope America pulls out of the current depression soon, to provide at least some respite for the hundreds of areas like this across the country.
Through more blizzards, slush, ice and freezing rain, we make for Ann Arbor, MI.