don't you tell me how i feel.


White Birds Tour: Day 5 by don't you tell me how i feel.
September 28, 2011, 9:14 pm
Filed under: white birds tour

In which White Birds wrangle with their Ford and triumph over technical issues with an improvised acoustic set.

THE JOURNEY
Immediately upon waking, Farzad put on his loafers, went outside and began chiseling a chunk of glass out of one of the van tires. We had rolled over a shattered bottle in the Red Roof parking lot the night before, but at 2 AM, the sentiment had been, “‘We’ll find out in the morning.”

The shard had penetrated deep into the treads. “But it didn’t puncture,” said Farzad, using a pair of needle-nose pliers to hammer a screwdriver under the glass. James and I stood there, doing the “heavy looking on.” Farzad pried the piece out in a few minutes and stood up, satisfied. We took a moment to look around at morning in Grand Rapids. The sky was overcast yet again, and a cold, wet mist hung in the air. Would the sun ever become a recurring character on this jaunt? The way the weather had been so far, it seemed hard to believe.

Chris came back from the lobby with a bit of good news, however. The girl at the desk had given him coupons for a local sports bar in Grand Rapids called Brann’s, so we loaded up the van and headed over. We posted up at one of the big, family-sized booths by the bar, and happily devoured discounted sirloin steaks.

On the way out, Farzad got held up by a crane and claw machine in the Brann’s foyer. He saw a pink unicorn he liked, and tried his luck. No dice, though.

We left, and swung by a CarQuest to nab some fuses. “Bizness” by Tune-Yards was playing on the radio when we walked inside (at an auto parts store in Grand Rapids, Michigan — how about that shit?).

Chris bought the fuses, and he and Farzad got to work on plugging them in. Out of four A/C volts in the van, only one was still functioning, and in 2011, that just ain’t enough. Phones, laptops, navigation utilities — it’s ridiculous how much these things dictate our daily lives.

While Chris worked, James read us a positive post about White Birds that had just been published to The Deli Magazine website. Then he told us the White Birds Facebook page had hit 300 fans today. Things were looking good on the Internet, but not so much in the fuse panel, as it turned out. The fuses weren’t the right size, and Chris had to return them. A Ford dealership would be our only salvation.

We drove on toward The Basement in Columbus, Ohio. The Garmin said it was a 5-hour trip, and for the first hour or so, no one spoke or did anything. This has happened at least once a day since the tour began. It’s as if everybody needs their own private time to themselves, for a while, to take stock. All you hear is the road, wind and occasional shake of Mike’s tambourine whenever the van goes over a bump.

Chris was driving, and eventually he turned on the radio. Elton John’s “Daniel” came on. “I hate names in songs,” said James, while we listened. “Agreed,” said Mike, “although I do like this song.” James paused, thought for a second, and noted that he did like all of the songs with names on the first Killers album.

Around 3 in the afternoon, James got word of another piece about White Birds. This time it was Magnet magazine’s website that had kind words for the band. Their current issue has Nick Cave on the cover, and that struck everybody as a good omen. It was a happy flock of White Birds riding into Columbus that night.

THE SHOW
The Basement is part of a massive entertainment complex in the Arena District of Columbus. Musically, you got The Basement and the Lifestyles Communities Pavilion; two music venues, one minor and one major, together on one block. Sports-wise, across one street is the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) stadium, and across another street is the Columbus Clippers (minor league baseball) stadium. Throughout it all are wide, brick sidewalks, massive parking lots and a couple of shiny new sports bars. I cursed the lack of baseball or hockey that night. The Basement could have gotten some overflow traffic.

Seattle band Motopony was was doing a soundcheck when we loaded in. This was the first night of tour where there would be an opening band (in addition to White Birds) but I’ve never seen an opener at a venue this size with road cases. Road cases are those huge (and really expensive) black boxes that theater and stadium-sized bands use to shelter and transport their baller gear. Motopony had at least 20 — “One was at least 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide,” Chris said. We had to navigate around them as we loaded in.

Motopony went on at 8. White Birds were scheduled to go on at 8:45, which meant the opener needed to be offstage by 8:30, allowing White Birds 15 minutes to set up. At 8:30, the singer asked his band’s sound man, “How we doing on time?” “All the time in the world, man,” he replied, and and they played one final 11-minute song.

White Birds got robbed. They ended up with 20 minutes to play instead of 45, and as they hustled to set up, they discovered an issue with their D.I. (the direct input, which is used to interface with the house PA). If things had gone on schedule, there would have been time to fix it. But with their 20 minutes dwindling, White Birds were forced to improvise.

“I’m going to sing three or four songs acoustic, ’cause all our shit is broke,” James said. I could see he was pissed, but what else was there to do?

Mike and Chris left the stage, but Farzad stayed behind to sing with his brother. They did striking acoustic versions of “Floating Hands,” “Hondora,” “We Both Scream” and “Veins Lined With Rust.”

I had never heard any of the White Birds songs like this before. Listening to James and Farzad sing together, with only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment? It was akin to hearing the harmonizing in “The Only Living Boy In New York.” I was dumbstruck by the beauty of it.

Also, watching James sing is riveting. Dude is elsewhere: head slightly lowered, eyes staring miles, and with a concentration so fierce it’s actually a little frightening. Listening to “Veins Lined With Rust” that night was like trying to hold a door shut against hurricane-force winds. I actually flinched a few times, and James said later it was the best version he’d ever done.

I thought about all the bands that couldn’t do what James and Farzad had just did. They’d been faced with a horrible situation, but had managed to improvise a way out of it, recovering so well that the abbreviated set had felt legendary, instead of tragic.

A guy who signed the White Birds mailing list after the set summed it up pretty well. He said he knew that things had gone wrong, but he felt like he had been a part of something incredibly special, and rare. I agreed 100 percent — I just wish it hadn’t come out of strife.

THE END
Later on, as we carried the gear back to the van, the sound man played “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison over the PA. I couldn’t help but try to sing along terribly, and James joined in a bit (dude can sing anything). I saw the drummer for Asobi Seksu getting into it too.

The moment made for a nice finish to the night. We had found a really cheap hotel in town, and it was a short drive to Youngstown tomorrow.

Now all we needed were some fuses…

– Lehtola

Tomorrow: Youngstown, Ohio.

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