Monday, 30 July 2012

We've arrived at the end of the World (Day 28)

I found out where Greg got his do-it-yourself tendencies
             We spent the night in a hotel room after failing to find a campsite open at midnight. I had been trying to implement my secret scheme: get everyone drunk in the back of the van, wait for them to pass out as I kept finding excuses to keep driving, and then brave the mountain passes of the interior in the middle of the night to get us to Greg’s house in North Delta at 3am. But nobody bit and we ended our journey in Kelowna. 

Another delicious dinner of meat and beer
                We pulled into Greg’s house at three pm that day. We had made it intact, with only a minor amount of damage on the van. We were greeted by three men whose mannerisms and jaw lines bore a striking resemblance to Greg’s. They were his father and brothers. As I explored the interior of his house, I discovered an assortment of items that could only belong to the McLeod’s: chemistry books, musical instruments, and a hallowed out version of War and Peace which was hiding calculus for dummies. 

                We had a show lined up for the evening at the one 20 bar and grill, some kind of bar and grill hybrid that seemed to attract the beefy broish clientele of the Surrey/North Delta area. As I entered the venue, one barmaid scolded us: “It’s 8 o’clock. You said you would be here at 7:30,” and other trite remarks which I couldn’t be bothered to listen to. She then proceeded to storm out the door. Clearly she had never heard of musician time, which means that whatever time musician tells you, add one hour. As far as I was concerned, we were early.

Our venue on the Surrey/North Delta border
                The McLeod family and Greg’s friend provided a sizable crowd for the evening. It was a good feeling to play for them, being our last show of the tour and for the foreseeable future.  Martin and Greg kicked off the evening with some piano with Greg’s accompaniment, followed by another solid set by the Martov backups. Given as they had never practiced together before the tour, Matt and Greg did an excellent job filling in and had got their parts down by the end.

I kept getting distracted by the Olympics
                Then came the Argyle set. We pulled out all of the songs we could, new and old, that we had learned on the trip. We had really come together as a band. GD was solid on base, Matt’s drumming tight, and I had even become proficient at soloing during the instrumental sections after the chorus. I was playing so fast it felt like I was strumming the sax rather than pushing down buttons. The entire time, Greg wore a grin that could only be rivaled by his stage energy. We closed with Low Point and Lights, and it was over; Greg closed with the line, “we were the Argyles”; and then we had a hot, sweaty group man hug on stage. The tour was over; we survived.

The McLeods are like fives strings on a bass
                Rolling deep with a collection of Greg and his brother’s friends, we went back to the McLeod residence to celebrate. Having driven us to and from the venue, I had some catching up to do; GD wasted no time polishing off the van whisky; we went outside and Greg pulled a long, brown stick out of his pocket and lit it. I had never enjoyed cigars, but by the end of the night, I was sucking it back and enjoying the sweet flavours that only  carcinogens can provide.

But Greg, despite being from BC, was a natural
I learned to love the cigar
                 I found myself outside without any Argyles but Greg and a collection of his friends. As if driven by some impulse buried within their DNA, they began Toronto bashing. Fortunately, I had dealt with this situation before. Usually, after announcing that I was from Toronto and the other person failed to respond, I would follow with, “it’s unfortunate, isn’t it?” which had been good for a few laughs. Sometimes, telling jokes can be facile. But this time, I decided to own up to my former inclinations about Toronto being the centre of the universe: “Well, I wasn’t actually sure that the rest of Canada existed until this trip. I thought all the people I met from the rest of Canada were part of some nefarious, left-wing scheme to trick me into denying Toronto’s rightful status.” I think I've got an idea for a sitcom character.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Right place, Wong time (Day 25-27)

               I am sick of blogging. And you all are sick of me. They say pictures are worth a thousand words; additionally, they are much easier to post. So here is a collection of photos that will amount to 17,000 words.

Enjoying the biggest hotdog I've ever seen. I ate it with a knife and fork.
But others were bolder
He really liked the van
We took the 40s
Some bitties busting a move to Greg's rapping
Even the homies enjoyed it
We shotgunned in Stephen Haper's riding!
Chris was slower on the draw
He hadn't tramped in 10 years
The other bros couldn't resist the fun
He's a neater eater than Dowling
Carving our way through the Rockies
We couldn't resist such a touristy photo
We splurged on a motel. Morale was high.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

It Goes Like This (Day 24)

                We parked the van outside the venue, one wheel up on the curb, suspension straining. We’d need it working if we were going to cross the Rockies, but tonight we didn’t care. Tonight we were in Calgary, and we had a show to play.
Everyone is hard at work
                Actually, I had two shows to play. I’ve been doing double duty for most of the tour, filling in the rhythm section for Alexei Martov and singing for the Argyles. At least tonight I knew I would get a break, with local bands You Are OK and Reijo rounding out the bill.
Nice job, anonymous poster maker!
                The Argyles were headlining. I know because I read it on the poster outside. Rolling into a bar you’ve never been to before to play a show can be a confusing experience, and descending into Dickens, I wondered who the heck had made this poster for us. Still, buoyed by the confidence of seeing my name in ink, I strode straight up to the bar and asked the pirate-esque barmaid where we should load our equipment in.

“Just in the front,” she asserted and upon sizing me up, amended: “who are you?”

“The Argyles,” I replied, doing my telekinetic best to draw her eyes to the poster prominently displayed on the wall behind me.

“Oh,” she said. “Your shirt has Pac Men ghosts on it. That’s funny.”

Looking down, I had to admit that she had a point.

Being in a rock band without roadies is a lot like being a professional house mover, the heavy lifting only broken up by monotonous hours in the van. And like a professional mover taking a break to chat up the client’s attractive daughter, actually playing songs is just the Argyles taking time out for a little transcendence. 
I have no idea what key we are in
                But the transcendence would have to wait, because the Argyles were fourth on the bill. Alexei Martov started the night off with a bluesy kick, while Matt and my limited knowledge of how to actually play the songs lent a 'free jazz' element to the rhythmic accompaniment. You Are OK followed with three slow post-rock builders turned burners, led by R Kent’s bearded yowl. The night was off at a good clip.
R Kent, mountain man
                Then show organizers Reijo took the stage. Their name had been something of a mystery to me: was it Finnish? Spanish? It took mere seconds to quell my curiosity; whatever language it was, it meant “sounds like U2.” And from the cowboy hat to the sunglasses to the acres of rackmount gear, guitarist Storm & Co. weren’t afraid to wear their influences on their rhinestoned sleeves. After soundchecking “Vertigo,” they worked their way through nearly a dozen original songs, with pre-recorded bass parts replacing their newly-fired bassist.
Fun fact: there are no Joshua trees in Calgary
                By the time Reijo had finished playing and packed up their gear, most of You Are OK’s audience had decamped, along with a good portion of Reijo's own audience (working early, no doubt). So the Argyles had only a hard core of bartenders, barflies, and musicians (whose gear was still on stage) to watch us. The soundman apologetically told me that we only had 20 minutes.

“Play a punk version of your set,” he joked. 

I informed the remaining band members (Ryan had fled outside during Reijo’s set) that we had time for six songs. While irked, GD displayed his customary resourcefulness by quickly proposing a workable setlist. I congratulated him on his quick thinking, despite his obvious inebriation. I was designated driver for the night, but the band had powered through our complimentary beer in short order. In short, we were ready to rock.
GD pauses to think about the setlist
                But now the soundman had disappeared, and our mics were dead. I took our time constraints seriously, though, so we launched into ‘Cigarette 2 Step’ anyway. By the third verse, the soundman was back from his cigarette break and the audience could hear us. And by the third song, I could hear myself as well. Everything was going well.

                So well, in fact, that I attempted to indulge in a little stage banter. My banter is much-maligned, and not unreasonably so; I am often unable to pithily convey the meanings of my songs due to my own intoxication. But tonight I was clear headed, and before the agreed-upon last song I launched in:

“This song is about…”

“What are we playing?” GD interjected. 

“Sorry,” I apologized to the audience. “This song is called…”

“WHAT are we playing?” GD brayed.

“LIGHTS! The song is called Lights!” I shouted exasperatedly. GD had come up with the setlist, but was too soused to recall it. I gave up my feeble attempt at banter. "It goes like this!" 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

I shouldn't have cheaped out on my sax strap (Day 22/23)

Rockstars only
                First an apology: I have merged two blog entries into one, given that the 22nd was one of those rare uneventful days. Also, I am only one man, and  an increasingly cranky one. But I promise to my devoted fans to capture all of those unfortunate, internet worthy moments until I get on the plane back to Toronto, after which I will prepare, for your pleasure, a I what I have learned post; it will be insightful but very boring.  

We needed to reorganize the van
                The morning after our evening with Tomahawk was a late one. At 1 pm, we struggled out of bed and  over to Greg’s relatives for a fish fry. It may have been the most delicious meal I ate on tour, complete with fish, potatoes, and a divine taco salad. To top it off, they shoved more beers in our hands which Martin particularly enjoyed. I think he was still drunk from the previous evening. To make a long story short, we drove to Saskatoon while Martin polished off a bottle of wine in the back; him and Greg talked about music the whole way; we spent the night in the most immaculate campsite, named after Gordon Howe; we finished the night with a game of 9 to 9. 

                The next day we rolled out to Edmonton. We had a show that night at New City, a punk rock venue in the midtown. Then came better news: our western connections had landed us a floor to sleep on that evening. We were ecstatic; simple amenities like power, internet, and no bugs are heavenly after spending two weeks camping. 

Greg outside of New City
Maneuvering the van can be an ordeal
                We arrived at the venue for sound check at 6 pm. There was a narrow alley we needed to enter  to load in, which required difficult maneuvering for Matt. First, he drove backwards down a busy as we had driven past it; then he executed the turn too early and was unable to get in, requiring some difficult re-orienting on a busy street; finally, we got him to turn into this narrow driveway on the right. But we had misjudged size of the van. As he was turning right, we realized he about to graze a pole. He stopped just in time, but the side of the van was less than a cm away. After a band huddle, our course of action was still unclear. Fortunately, a seasoned passerby told us how to solve the problem. Matt cut hard right, but slowly, and we were free. Crisis averted. To celebrate, we had some band McDonalds. 

Band McDonalds: a good idea until after you eat it
Inside with our new Edmonton bros
                The venue was a dark basement below another bar. It looked punk rock, decorated with plastic skeletons, bills from previous shows, and chairs, tables, and wall paper that were all black; however, the music playing suggested it was welcoming to eclectic tastes. The crowd was made up of a similar mix of hipster and punk rockers. Like das Drink and Die haus, it was time for the Argyles to unleash their inner punk-rocker. We began the set with one down; a string on Greg's guitar went down. Next was I'll take it; string number two broke. Then we played Blackjacks, a song celebrating the spirit of rage. We played it faster than usual, but still kept it tight. Then, during one of Greg's patented stage jumps, he broke the strap on his guitar; he recovered without losing a step. We kept going strong. The song progressed and we arrived at a pause, during which I usually jump. As completed the move and landed, my sax went smashing onto the stage. Earlier that day, I had bought a new strap and decided it wasn't worth spending the extra $10 for a better one. Now I will have to spend $100 to get it fixed. Yet performing with a disregard for the longevity of our instruments seems to have won the crowd over.  And my sax still worked so long as I stuck to the lower octaves. Greg in particularly played with more than energy than usual. We finished. He was ecstatic, congratulating us all on how well we had performed. We were ready for the big show in Calgary the next day.

We opened for Pearl Jam (Day 21)

                That morning, the Argyles snuck out of the motel and made our way to the local Safeway for breakfast. There wasn’t much driving to do that day, but we wanted to get there at a decent hour. Where we were headed? The backfields of Eastern Sasktachewan to a place called Round Lake. It would be best described as cottage country. Greg had relatives living there and had lined up a cabin to stay in. He had also gotten us a gig at a bar in Crocked Lake, their rival community which was a twenty minute drive away. It was a Saturday night and the only bar in town.
Dining on cereal in the parking lot
                After ripping our way through poorly maintained country roads, we made it to yet another isolated part of the world. We met Greg’s relatives who then cooked us a lovely dinner of burgers and beer. But I was disappointed: I had perfected my “oh yeahs” only to discover that people don’t speak that way in Saskatchewan. They seemed to enjoy the company of rockstars. We told them the most uncensored tales from the tour, but they roared the hardest at GD and Martin being unable to drive.

GD financing the final leg of the tour

                Upon arriving at the bar, I was greeted by a large boisterous man in a green shirt. “So, you guys opened for Pearl Jam right?” Caught off guard, all I could do was lie. He continued to assert this fact throughout the set, mostly through yelling.  There were some people in the bar, but not as many as expected. Were there so many better things to do in this sleepy town? But we started our set anyways, performing mostly for Greg’s extended family. After an hour and a half, we took a break and decided to call it a night.

Old wounds were soon forgotten

                Half way through packing up, people started to arrive.  They were upset that we had already played our set and wanted us to play again. They even started getting belligerent, blocking our way to the door, glaring at us, and continuing to yell. I had never been subjected to such collective hostility. The cause: the man in the green shirt, whose named we would later discover to be Tomahawk, posted on facebook that we had opened for Pearl Jam, a lie which this group of local youths believed. But Greg was exhausted from his two sets and three hours of playing yesterday; it was no dice.
They like to drink alcohol
                But in a moment of good judegment, we decided to stay at the bar. After nip of van-whisky to calm our nerves, we headed into the jungle. There were open seats next to Tomahawk so we decided to take them. Although there were others seated with us, no one could match the quantity and volume of his speech. We got our first pitcher and poured ourselves glasses. “Bottoms up,” Tomahawk commanded, and we had little choice but to comply. 

                The evening progressed in a similar fashion. Tomahawk went outside and returned to show us a video of himself puking. Then one ill-tempered member of their group ordered 20 jagerbombs and handed them out to us. Once again, we complied.  Then Tomahawk decided it was time to move the party back to his house. His friend purchased 72 beers from the bar to fuel the next stage of the evening. We then piled 10 into the van and ventured out into the unknown.

Tomahawk made the van look small

Martin trying to get everyone to sing along to Robots
                2 minutes later, we arrived at Tomahawk’s pad, or rather his mothers. It was a nice house. Indeed, Tomahawk repeated that his mom was a millionaire, owing to her position as a manager of several banks at a nearby reserve. Whenever he mentioned this, he beamed with pride about her success. We sat downstairs in his basement, waiting for the rest of the party to come downstairs. Tomahawk gave beers to each of us; then, he pulled out the guitar. We were going to have to sing for our supper. But Greg was up to the task and began what would be the soundtrack to the entire evening.
As Greg serenaded the party, Tomahawk continued to shove beers into our hands. The night progressed as expected: Martin spent 5 minutes trying to get everyone to sing along to Robots; Tomahawk challenged Martin and I to go; we complied; two locals nearly threw down over a girl. Then day broke. With much of the party retired, we decided to head on our way. After some bear hugs from Tomahawk, we drove off into the distance.

We took the hockey helmet with us
Matt, stone cold sober, had to do a lot of DDing that night
               We pulled into the driveway at our cabin. We got out of the van; a look of panic came across Greg’s face: He had left the keys at Crooked Lake, at least that was his suspicion. Matt, the driver, was less than impressed. But we had little other choice. We left GD on the porch in the fetal position and loaded into the van for the twenty minute drive to Crooked Lake. Matt even drove 100 down the bumpy country roads.  Upon arriving back at the house, Greg dashed into the backyard. He returned thirty seconds later looking like he had just completed a triathlon. The keys were in his hands. Victorious, the Argyles cracked some road rockets and enjoyed a pleasant ride back as day broke.
Greg finding the keys. It was light out.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

I'd forgotten we were Rockstars (Day 20)

GD's "I'm a super cool musician" face
                Another temperate morning inside the tent. After breaking our fast on beans and eggs, we needed to get down to business. Due bad luck and our inexperience in the world of touring, we hadn't played a show in a week. I had even forgotten the reason why we were on the road: to play rock and roll. But that night we had a paying gig in Brandon, Manitoba, which the tragically hip named “the Paris of the Prairies.” I was amped. We practiced the morning away to rock tight that night. Would the heart of the wheat empire be ready for this group of rockers far from home?

It's getting flatter
                We embarked that afternoon. It was our first drive on the Prairies. The novelty lasted about five minutes. At least Northern Ontario had big jagged rocks and lake side views; the Prairies were flat as far as the eye could see. To pass the time, I contemplated forms of land usage; I was asleep ten minutes later. So was everyone else.

                I awoke to Greg swerving the van on the ribbed shoulder to wake us up wordlessly. We had arrived in Brandon. It was the weekend of Brandon folk fest and we were unable to find a campsite, so we found the cheapest motel and told management only two of us were sleeping there. We supped on tuna sandwiches and got ready. The photo Greg to sent to the venue was from a show at Trois Minots when we wore suits and put pomade in our hair. We decided  we needed to live up to this image. We put on our finest slacks, made our hair pretty, and rolled out to the bar.  
5 guys in one motel room was surprisngly comfortable

                The venue was called the Double Decker Tavern, an English pub that derives its name from having two floors. As I went back to grab stuff from the van, I discovered a large group of drunken females. They were part of a bachelorette party and were heading to the venue. They swarmed me upon discovering I was with the band. They even asked me to pose in a photo suggestively pressing one of them on the van; then, I signed her breast. It doesn’t get more rock and roll than this. Was this going to be the sex filled night that the Argyles have been dreaming of?

They had trouble making it  to the upper deck

Dowling cleans up nice
                Unfortunately, they departed just after Greg began his acoustic set. It was not to be. A skeleton crowd remained. But we went all out just the same and people were getting into it. One couple shifted to the other side of the table so they could watch us play. Most clapped at the end of every song. After our first set, the couple bought us a round of drinks and a man from Montreal bought a CD. 

                The bands pressed on from such a positive reception. Martin played his set with Greg and Matt filling in as the rhythm section. There was some turnover in the crowd and by the start of the Argyles second set, we ended playing for one man and the barmaids with a few onlookers further back. But they seemed to enjoy it anyways. At the end of our final, this man bought us another round. We talked to him and the gesture was driven by a misplaced sense of pity out of playing for an empty bar. He had been a musician once as well. But we didn’t mind: the set had gone well; we won over locals; and, if that wasn’t good enough, put $200 worth of gas in the van. A successful evening by my counts. I think we've got that Prairie sound down.