The Emeralds and, in a flash, the band recorded an EP and hit the road for a small East Coast tour with Italy's Moldig. Ric's reports on this very blog from the Bonnaroo music festival the past several years have been so entertaining, we asked him to keep notes on his summer trip. The following are journals from The Emeralds' past week of sweating and rocking to the East Coast.
The Emeralds and Moldig make their triumphant return to Greater Cincinnati tomorrow night (Saturday) at the Southgate House's parlour (find show details here).
Saturday August 16, 2008
First show of The Emeralds' East Coast Tour with Italy's Moldig was at the Blue Rock Tavern in Northside last night. Emeralds soundchecked at 9pm and started our set around 10:15. Pretty good crowd for that early in the evening. Lots of familiar faces and good friends came out to see the show.
At the merch booth where Moldig is selling their t-shirts and CDs I see an Emeralds t-shirt. First glimpse I have of my new band's t-shirts is at this gig! Awesome. I gotta remember to get one of those. I don't wanna appear over-anxious, cuz frankly I would probably wear it for the rest of the tour…
We had a great set. Played our George Harrison cover early in the show and that went over really well. Our original stuff is well-received thankfully, but of course a familiar and unexpected cover tune can grab an audience's attention in a way that our as-yet untested material cannot. We played all our tunes really well and people seem to really embrace this stuff that we are awful proud of but they are hearing for the first time. Sammy's ballad "Tell Me Why", in particular, gets a huge roar of approval at its conclusion.
I did not catch the band that played after us. But I heard that the highlight of their set was when a big dog lumbered onto the stage and had a look around in the middle of a song.
Moldig played at midnight and they sounded really good. Their guitarist Enrico has a great big, full tone, even though he appears to be playing mostly single note lines and sparse 2-note chords. There must be some open strings filling out his sound. His style kinda reminds me of Andy Summers. Giuditta's bass playing is really strong too. She's really good, aggressively strumming and pulling at the strings, at times slamming them like a hammer. (There was a 4th band as well, but I missed their set.)
After Moldig's performance I kinda disappeared for a while to go hang out with a cool chick who I just met and I really like. Just 2 doors down on Hamilton Avenue the Art Damage party is in full swing on the 2nd floor. I never even made it up the stairs as my new friend and I huddled on the stairwell for some privacy.
I got up at 8:30 this morning and drove my car over to meet the boys at a warehouse on Spring Grove Avenue. The bus was parked out front on the street and after loading our equipment into the cargo holds we all parked our cars out back behind the warehouse.
On the bus we have the 3 members of Moldig: Enrico, Giuditta, and drummer Ronnie; The Emeralds Brian, Sammy, Peter and myself; and our Tour Manager/live sound engineer/label president/bus driver/grizzled veteran Joe Petrocy.
We get the bus loaded and we're rolling out of Cincinnati by 11:30am.
We stop for gas and get on the highway and already within the first 5 minutes the boys in The Emeralds are talking the most disgusting shit you can imagine. I thought the presence of a lady in our entourage might keep the boys on their best behavior. But in spite of the Italians' decent understanding of English, there is still enough of a language barrier for the boys to feel free to curse like drunken sailors on New Years Eve shore leave. They quiet down only long enough to fondle and consult their various hand-held electronic devices: iPhones, cell phones, iPods, etc. Peter's iPod is hooked up to the RV's sound system and soon the sound of Huey Lewis & The News fills the entire vehicle. While Ronnie and Giuditta somehow remain asleep in the sleeping compartment at the back of the bus, Sammy, Peter, Brian and yes even Enrico are loudly singing along with Huey Lewis. It is only slightly less embarrassing and offensive than the potty-mouth conversation of 30 minutes earlier, but I settle for at least a brief reprieve from the shower of obscenities.
Among the topics of tour bus conversation suitable for listing here is a discussion of how bad the Blue Rock Tavern screwed us last night. The bar had a really good crowd from early 'til late, lots of drinkers. But at the end of the night they gave us considerably less than what was promised, a pittance really and that's for both bands. Bullshit, really. Throughout the evening the bar staff was actually very kind to us. But when it came time to get paid, the promoter screwed us. Friends warned me this might happen here, and now, as your friend, I'm warning you of the same possibility that could befall you and your band should you play here.
At 3:40pm we stop for gas and then cross into West Virginia. Only cutting thru a corner of WV, we soon cross into Pennsylvania. Sammy's friends here in Pittsburgh, Brooke and Greg, welcome us with a picnic feast of grilled hot dogs, burgers, salad, corn on the cob, cheese, crackers, grapes, ice cold beer and more. Even before dinner, Greg escorted our entire party into his home cinema where we were dazzled by a David Gilmour concert DVD projected on a wall-mounted screen as big as a Buick. Amazing hospitality they've shown us already and as of this writing we have only been here a couple hours. They have a beautiful home in the country and there are neighborhood children running around in the summer sun with light sabers and Darth Vader helmets on. Their neighborhood is a hilly, wide-open expanse full of trees and winding country roads. Beautiful. Several members of our party retire to the bus and various bedrooms for an after-dinner nap.
In an hour or so we will head into town to play tonight's gig at Coyote Café.
Monday August 18, 2008
Yesterday was the first really long drive day. But, needing to get from Pittsburgh to New Jersey, we probably could have made a lot better time if we had left earlier and not lingered at numerous pit stops along the way. Our new Italian friends are starting to loosen up a little bit, so the long hours spent with them on the bus are more fun with each passing day. Usually there is at least one person in the rear compartment, sleeping off the previous day’s late night/early morning craziness. And always - always - there is Surly Joe at the wheel, doggedly pushing us towards our next destination and loudly cussing out any driver who does anything stupid on the road. (Which, as we all know, is a disturbingly high percentage of people behind the wheel, so Joe is starting to get a little hoarse.) But most of us spend the day in the middle compartment, on a small sofa behind the driver’s seat, or seated at a table behind the passenger seat. Activities in this area usually involve laptop computers, iPods, iPhones, books, cameras, food and beer. Yesterday we broke out a deck of cards for a round of Poker and some dice for playing Yahtzee. Sorry to disappoint those of you who might have previously held the suspicion that tour buses are the venue for only depravity and debauchery involving drugs and strippers and hard liquor. I am absolutely not ruling those things out, as the week is young. But, so far anyway, this is a pretty wholesome crew (as opposed to a Motley one), and the mere mention of depraved activities brings a blush to certain members of our group.
Yesterday I broke out a webcam to capture some of the random craziness of touring. My webcam is a cheap little thing made of plastic and light as a feather, a recent gift from a old friend. It is actually a digital camera that doubles as a webcam when hooked up to a computer, and yesterday I put it to use.
Most of what I have shot so far is just the bunch of us clowning around on the bus, with a couple more ‘artsy’ shots of the bus going thru tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the landscape racing past our window. Speilberg won’t be stealing any of my angles any time soon, but it’s interesting to see how the romance of the road can be captured in a 20-second clip of 2 guys playing poker next to a picture window revealing the rolling hills, forests and rivers of Pennsylvania. At any rate, I will be shooting more of this silliness and posting the clips on myspace as we go along this week.
In addition to the late start and unnecessary lingering on numerous pee breaks and cigarette breaks, we also made a number of wrong turns yesterday. The re-grouping and doubling back took some time of course, but once again the miracle of iPhones equipped with Google Maps saved us from any serious headaches. In fact, everyone - including even Joe - managed to avoid getting upset about our numerous missteps. There is a sense of calm that prevails on the bus; Nothing but shrugs and smirks all around, even at one point when we realized we had missed our exit about 30 miles back…
As we inch closer to our destination, the Axis Lounge in Carstadt, NJ, the traffic thickens and before long the New York City skyline looms on the horizon off to our right. The Italians in particular are awed by the sight of it, but the rest of us gawk like the corn fed rubes that we are as if staring at The Emerald City of Oz… To be fair, some of us have been to the city before but it is still an amazing thing to behold.
We finally get our bearings and though the highways in the area are a tangled web of interchanges packed with Sunday evening traffic returning from weekend road trips, we actually manage to locate the venue with little or no problem. Of course we miss the sharp turn into the club’s tiny and obscured driveway and we spend the next few minutes trying to figure out how to double back as the venue is located on a divided highway. Finally we pull into the lot of the Axis Lounge where we see a half dozen graffiti artists providing the club with a colorful new paintjob. The building is a long rectangle like a small warehouse or large shoebox and Joe jams the tour bus ‘round back so we can unload our gear. Tonight’s first band is Jersey’s King Crow, who are without their singer for the evening but their set of Hard Rock instrumentals is actually pretty strong even without vocals. Their guitarist in particular is really good, with a big fat edgy tone reminiscent of Rick Nielsen on the real early Cheap Trick records.
After King Crow’s set we quickly set up our gear onstage. For house music, the club is blaring some godawful techno with a pounding beat that causes my effects pedals to shake and shimmy across the stage while I’m trying to set up my shit. This struck me as hilarious and I shuddered with muffled laughter as I plugged in my guitar. Remember that old electronic football game where your little plastic players moved randomly around on a metal plate ‘field’ that rattled with an electric buzz when you flipped the ‘on’ switch? It was kinda like that and like I said: it fuckin’ cracked me up. I wanted so bad to have my cruddy webcam handy for that and I am determined to recreate the event on film in the near future.
This was the 3rd night in a row when there was only like 15 or 20 people in the club when we played. But our spirits are sky high regardless - we are genuinely stoked to be playing New Jersey on a Sunday night, believe it or not - and we play our best show yet. Great sound system here; Monitors giving you everything you need to hear on stage and that helps immeasurably.
Moldig have a couple friends here in Jersey so our tiny crowd is augmented by a small number of enthusiastic supporters who scream and clap loudly. The guys from King Crow stuck around all night too and even promised to come in to the city to see us at the Parkside Lounge
on Tuesday night.
Moldig’s set had a rough start, with Giuditta’s bass cutting out and all too quiet when you could hear it at all. But they get it turned up and rise above the technical problems to deliver their best set of the tour so far. Both bands had a great night last night and we linger a bit to decompress, celebrate and smoke cigs out back behind the club. Celebratory and triumphant, in spite of the small turnout, we are all quite happy with the tour so far and excited to get into the city.
We actually parted company with Moldig last night, as they are staying with some friends in Jersey who will get them into the city for the next couple of gigs. So The Emeralds had the bus to themselves last night, creeping thru the Jersey streets in search of Liberty Harbor Marina & RV Park. After the obligatory confused meander around Jersey City we finally found it and were treated to a view of The Statue Of Liberty from the marina parking lot. Joe wedged the bus into a spot and we hooked up the water and power lines. At that point, Joe then took off with an in-law who lives here in Jersey, at whose home he hopes to get a good night’s sleep. That leaves just the boys in the band, exhausted and delirious from another weird day on the road. We fell out and drifted off to sleep around 4am.
As of this writing it is 11:26am and I am getting ready to shower and head into the city to hang out with some friends. Looks like there is a ferry to Manhattan that departs from here. It doesn’t get any more convenient than that and I have a good feeling that boat ride to the city is gonna be awesome.
To Be Continued …
— Ric Hickey
Photo: Keith Klenowski and from myspace.com/theemeraldsusa.