Live for Live Music is hitting the road with The New Mastersounds, bringing you regular updates from the road, exclusive content, video footage, behind-the-scenes access, song premieres and more throughout their fall tour. Stay tuned here for all the action from the road with NMS. (All commentary by drummer Simon Allen).
Day 38: Nashville, TN
Arriving in Nashville on Saturday afternoon we emptied the RV into the AirB&B apartment that had been rented for the weekend. We were due to play an opening set for Lettuce in a big auditorium, which was perfectly fine, we felt, as the previous night’s gig had been the real tour finale and had gone so well. So it was a very pleasant surprise to discover, when we took to the stage at 8pm, that a significant proportion of the evening’s total audience had made the effort to come out early and see us play. We delivered one of those compact festival-style 60-minute sets that hits hard and leaves people wanting more. (As opposed to our usual approach of playing for three hours until the remaining bar staff are begging us to stop.)
Finishing work at 9pm turned out to be a wonderful bonus, as we were able to watch most of the Lettuce set, chat with friends, and still have plenty of time to go out afterwards. The after-party was at an amazing club called The 5-Spot. I danced for about two hours to my favourite 70s disco tunes and then went back to the apartment and slept until Monday morning. My goodness, six weeks feels like a long time! It’s a good thing we’re now virtually guaranteed, at last, to become obscenely wealthy rock stars, or we might begin to wonder why on Earth we were still putting ourselves through all this after sixteen years and ten studio albums. 😉
Days 35, 36, 37: Charlotte, Raleigh & Asheville NC
It was all very well inviting Mike onto the RV (he was assigned Daniel Casares’s vacant bunk since we figured all sax players probably have the same smell) but I felt a bit embarrassed to be bringing Charly – a dainty girl – into our mobile man-cave. I tried my best to clean up a bit but after more than five weeks no amount of industrial-strength air freshener could shift the acrid stench of ammonia emanating from the on-board water closet. Charly did not waver and did not complain. (I suspect she grew up with brothers. Or a thousand cats.)
The shows in Charlotte and Raleigh were a great opportunity for everyone to get comfortable with the new album tracks; Charly and Mike were going from strength to strength, and their enthusiasm was exactly what the rest of us needed to inspire us as we approached the finish line after such a long and (at times) gruelling tour. We made a slight detour on the way to Asheville so that I could do a radio interview at WNCW in Spindale. Host Scotty Robertson was a kindred musical spirit and I would have loved to stay and chat with him all afternoon if we hadn’t had a show to get to. During the interview I read out a text from our manager telling listeners that there were only forty tickets left; an hour later when we got to the venue the show had totally sold out.
I don’t usually watch the opening band’s set, even when they are friends, as it always clashes with my postprandial disco nap, essential to ensure I have the required energy to play our two-hour show. But I must have felt galvanized by the excitement of the sold-out room because I went in early and was immediately captivated by the trio on stage, The Digs, whose instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” blew me away. The keyboard player, nonchalantly laying down bass-lines with his left hand that are as groovy as any bass guitarist’s, is a fellow Simon, and is only 23, the cad! The drummer, whose name is Phil, was astonishingly groovy. (I later learned he is regarded as the best drummer in Asheville, which makes total sense.) My 6-week-old silver sparkle Ludwig drum kit had never sounded so good. Keep an eye out for this band.
Sorry – I got distracted – our show was pretty amazing too. Probably my favourite of the whole tour, thanks to Mike and Charly, a perfect-sounding room and the sea of smiling dancing music-lovers. Afterwards I took a shower on the bus then cycled to a house party where I met up with the rest of the band and a load of people who had been at the show. Cycling back to the bus in the rain later on I felt elated, but I retired to my bunk feeling just a little sad because I had noticed for the first time that Charly and Mike had moved out.
Day 35: Wilmington NC
The Brooklyn Arts Center in Wilmington is a beautifully converted church, run by a dedicated team who – since the place makes good money at weekends as a wedding venue – have managed to train the locals to come out to watch bands during the week. Sure enough, when we took to the stage the ample and very lively crowd made it feel like a Friday night. Several factors helped to make the evening special: the opening band Earphunk (young friends of ours from New Orleans, on the rise); the arrival – at last! – of our new album on vinyl; and our secret weapon: singer Charly Lowry (like Mike Quinn, a resident of the Carolinas) who had met us at soundcheck and who was to be our star guest for the next few gigs. Charly sings three original songs on the new record, plus we already had a little repertoire of tasty covers from some shows we played with her in NYC earlier in the year. The audience in Wilmington loved her as much as we do, and at one point her sweet soulful delivery had me welling up like the tipsy maid-of-honour at an American wedding.
Day 34: Charleston, SC
Monday was our first day off in a maritime city since San Francisco (Day 6) so Captain Eddie rented an enormous sailing boat and took several of us out in the harbour for the afternoon. Fortunately, it had stopped raining. Not being much of a sailor myself, I volunteered to be the official ship’s photographer while Eddie put Little Greg and Mike Quinn through their paces as joint first mates. Mike must have passed with flying colours because he was later press-ganged into doing the next four shows with us in North Carolina.
Day 33: Charleston, SC
When we got to Charleston the following evening it was raining heavily (again) which dented walk-up ticket sales and injured pre-show band morale (already creaking under the strain of a Hulaween after-party hangover.) Salvation arrived, however, in the guise of local sax maestro Mike Quinn. I remembered being extremely impressed with him during a previous sit-in at the same venue. He joined us for about five tunes during which we enjoyed several precious moments of sublime musical connection – the kind of thing that really makes this job worth doing.
Hang on a second: I nearly forgot about the marriage proposal. A chap had been in touch earlier in the week via Facebook to request a special mid-show shout-out. I had politely yet firmly expressed my reservations about the risk of rejection / public humiliation / general awkwardness but had been reassured that the proposal was a mere formality, and the bride-to-be’s assent was certain. Nevertheless, there was relief all round when she said “yes” and the delighted couple came up on stage for a photo with the band. It could really have soured the gig if she had turned him down.
Day 32: Live Oak, FL
I stepped out of the RV at around noon the next day into glorious sunshine. We were parked in a field, and our only neighbours were The Heard, who had arrived a day earlier and set up camp right next door. I grabbed my shades, applied sunscreen (SPF 50, of course), donned a pair of tiny shorts and set off by bike to explore the festival grounds. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a truly beautiful place, and has been for the past eight years home to our beloved Bear Creek Music Festival. There’s a lake, a river, a tree-house, cabins in the woods, and on this particular weekend, nearly twenty thousand music-loving hippies.
I cycled around the park and took a blissful swim in the river before heading back to the RV to enjoy a gin & tonic with The Heard. We weren’t due to play until after midnight so Pete and I went down to the Amphitheatre stage to watch Slightly Stoopid, a thoroughly convincing reggae party band from San Diego who were playing to a vast crowd of hyped-up revellers.
A couple of hours later I wandered up to the main stage area where the hosts of the festival, Colorado jam-scene kings The String Cheese Incident, were playing three consecutive sets. I arrived just in time to witness “Goul Train” – their spectacular bespoke 70s disco-funk set complete with guest vocals, go-go dancers, pyrotechnics and glitter cannons.
Backstage, I was invited into the Sirius-XM Jam On tent where presenter Ari Fink was broadcasting the event live on satellite radio. He needed to fill the SCI set break with music and banter, so in exchange for a cocktail, a glow-stick, and some additional airplay for our new album Made For Pleasure, I agreed to talk nonsense with him on-air for half an hour.
After this, time seemed to pass very slowly in the run-up to our 12:30am set on the Spirit Lake stage deep in the woods. Several confused people stumbled into our soundcheck and mistook it for the gig – I thanked them and told them to come back in an hour. It was October 31st so naturally our helpful, good-natured, efficient and extremely professional stage crew were all dressed up as bees. Thank heavens for the four Loony Toons character hat-masks (see diary entry for Day 8) without which we would have had nothing by way of costumes. All Hallows’ Eve doesn’t carry great deal of significance in the UK (although, thanks to American cultural imperialism, my children and their friends now insist on tricking and/or treating) so it has taken a while for us Brits to wrap our heads around the month-long extravaganza of spooky-themed nonsense that is Halloween in the USA. Consequently, we often get caught out when it comes to co-ordinated festive attire, with the notable exception of the time we played Tipitina’s in New Orleans each dressed as a character from The “A” Team.
We hit the stage thus: Simon as Daffy Duck; Eddie as Bugs Bunny; Pete as Chicken Hawk; Joe as Tasmanian Devil.
I could only keep my headgear on for the first tune owing to a combination of overheating and audio-visual impairment. The rest of the band managed a couple more before ditching theirs. The highlight of the set, according to everyone we spoke to later, was a funky version of Ghostbusters which segued out of our mash-up of Phish’s “Cars, Trucks, Buses” and The Meters’ “Livewire”. Having rashly volunteered to sing the lead vocal, and terrified of drawing a blank on the night, I had taped the lyrics to a cymbal stand, even though I have known and loved the Ray Parker Junior song since I bought it on 12” vinyl glow-in-the-dark picture-disc in 1984.
Days 30 & 31: Mississippi
In Jackson, MS, we caught up with our friends from The Heard (last seen in their home town of Chicago nearly two weeks before) who had the unenviable task of opening for us on a weekday in another intimidatingly large space. Right before their set they were to be found, like all bands everywhere, sitting in a silent green room staring at their phones – this is the banal reality of rock and roll that no-one tells you about.
After the show, having dutifully signed CDs and posed for photos, we were taken to a curious little speakeasy accessed through an eerily unattended 1950s diner. Generous fans bought us drinks. When the place closed at 1am we were conveyed to a scary redneck karaoke bar that was open till 4am. We somehow survived the experience, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
The following evening of Friday October 30th, a couple of hours’ drive away in Hattiesburg, our genial promoter entertained us with an hilarious (you’ll have to take my word for it) anecdote involving his family’s junk-yard, some crack addicts and a predatory turtle. The Mayor had decreed that Halloween was to be celebrated one night early because of an impending storm (what is it about mayors and storms in the South?) so most of the audience was in costume and roaring drunk. During the show I knocked a beer over onto an electric fan and narrowly avoided electrocution. Little Greg had been given the night off from the merch table so he could get some sleep in preparation for his nine hour overnight drive to Northern Florida, where we were booked to play at the world’s most cumbersomely-named festival: Suwannee Hulaween.
Day 29: Baton Rouge, LA
What a spoiled brat I am: it’s not as if I actually had to do any of the driving – that was all down to our uncomplaining road crew, Tom and Greg, who drove in shifts to get us to Baton Rouge by mid-morning the next day, where I stepped off the bus into GLORIOUS SUNSHINE on my birthday proper. I put on my cycling shorts and headed out on Greg’s bike, first exploring the LSU campus (quite pretty but not as impressive as UC Davis), then riding along the levee at the side of the Mississippi river.
When I got to the hotel suite we were sharing I video-called my family back home so that they could congratulate me on getting older. A NOLA musical celebrity known as Tambourine Lady showed up at our show and played half the set with us, while Joe and Eddie endlessly quoted the “happy birthday” tune in their solos.
Day 28: Birmingham, AL
We reconvened at the RV-park on Tuesday morning to get back on the bus for the drive to Birmingham, Alabama. More rain. More grim truck-stops with gun porn at the checkouts.
More terrible road surfaces. The depressing knowledge that as soon as we finished tonight’s show we had to drive back all the way past New Orleans to Baton Rouge (our booking agent’s idea of a hilarious practical joke, presumably.) Of course, it’s never the fault of the people who actually show up – they tend to be unwaveringly enthusiastic – and did I mention the endless rain? At midnight after the show I quietly turned 43 in the stinking damp RV, which did nothing to lift my bleak mood. Week four of six – one thing is certain in my mind: we must never tour for this long again.
Days 25, 26, 27: New Orleans, LA
We arrived in New Orleans around midnight Saturday. Having ditched the stinky Bandwagon in a secure RV-park for the weekend, our trusty crew returned eagerly to their much-missed homes, wives, girlfriends and dogs. Eddie and his wife headed uptown to stay with friends while Pete, Joe and I checked into a hotel in the CBD. Having spent the entire day doing nothing but snoozing in our bunks and eating toast, the three of us felt obliged, though initially disinclined, to venture out and make merry in this legendary hub of hedonism, where we have for the past eight years been performing and making merry during the four key NOLA festive periods: Jazz Fest, Halloween, New Year’s and Mardi Gras. Since Halloween was still a full week away we were apprehensive: how well could the city live up to its good-time reputation on a standard weekend? We jumped in an Über and headed across the French Quarter to the Hi-Ho Lounge, a dive bar which every Saturday hosts celebrated local DJ Soulsister’s Hustle night.
We walked off the street and right onto a packed dance-floor. The music was great – a lovingly-curated all-vinyl blend of rare funky soul, soulful funk and disco – but as three middle-aged Brits walking into a nightclub at 1am, we suddenly felt jarringly sober and therefore wasted no time in sinking a couple of shots of whiskey. Moments later we were joined unexpectedly by our friends from Nth Power who had just played a set at Tipitina’s, and by Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville. When we merrily left the club with them a couple of hours later we barely noticed the torrential rain which had apparently caught up with us from Texas.
Spent the next day at the hotel doing vast quantities of laundry and then ironing all of it (ironing is a perverse pleasure that I only discovered after turning 40) whilst listening to BBC radio comedy on my iPhone. In the evening I braved the horizontal rain and extortionate Über surge pricing and headed uptown to see Eddie’s early show with drummer Jermal Watson and organist Chris Spies at the Maple Leaf. The set was excellent and included a jaw-droppingly good drum sit-in from Nikki Glaspie.
Afterwards Eddie and his entourage left for a wine bar while I stayed on to watch the next show: another groovy trio comprising Walter “Wolfman” Washington (guitar), Russell Batiste (drums) and Joe Crown (organ). Ended up sitting in for a tune myself (Pee Wee Ellis’s “The Chicken”) while Russell took a break. It was refreshing to interact with some musicians who weren’t Pete Shand, Eddie Roberts or Joe Tatton for a change.
Days 23 & 24: Rockdale, TX / Dallas, TX
After two perfectly reasonable midweek shows in Saint Louis and Memphis, the RV rattled and bumped its way across Arkansas and into Texas. Texas is almost exactly three times the area of the entire UK, and we still had quite a lot of it to cover before getting to our next appointment: Art Outside Festival, which takes place just outside Austin (the Lone Star State’s precious oasis of progressive reasonableness, and in fact its capital.)
When we arrived we found our hospitality tent and caught up with our friends in Nth Power who were playing on the same stage. Their ace percussionist, Weedie Braimah, sat in on congas for a couple of tunes in our closing set: two hours of funky fun for happy hippies in a warm field.
The main, and usually only, advantage of playing the first night of a festival is the relative cleanliness of the porta-loos. In the case of Art Outside, there was also the hurricane factor: almost as soon as we left for Dallas around 5am, the rain started and apparently didn’t stop until most of the festival grounds – as well as the roads in and out – were submerged. In Dallas, the RV – already beginning to smell pretty fruity after housing seven dudes for nearly a month – began to admit rainwater through the air-conditioning vents, so we now had damp carpets to contend with. At soundcheck we learned that the following night’s gig in Houston was cancelled by order of the city’s mayor, who was advising everyone to stay indoors until the storm passed. This was a shame, but on the upside, the cancellation meant we would now enjoy three consecutive nights off in New Orleans – a rare luxury.
Days 19 & 20: Chicago, IL / Bloomington, IN
We stuck around in Chicago for a day off, during which we did very little except crawl out of our Hard Rock Hotel beds to seek food before crawling right back into them again. We had to be up early on Monday morning for a live radio performance. The 7:30am lobby call went smoothly until Eddie started asking after the whereabouts of his guitar. He thought one of us had it. We did not. It turned out that the instrument (a 1965 Gibson 330, purchased for $5000 in Chicago 5 years ago) had been left behind at the after-party on Saturday night. After some considerable panic and finger-pointing, it was agreed that the band would proceed guitarlessly to the radio station while our tour manager (who was supposed to be enjoying a lie-in) performed various logistical miracles in the Chicago rush-hour (finding out the address of the party, collecting the homeowner’s keys from his place of work, battling a territorial Rottweiler) somehow managing to deliver the guitar into Eddie’s hands at the station precisely two minutes before we were due to go on air with a live rendition of Made For Pleasure.
After the radio session we were able to go back to bed for a couple of hours before checking out and then reuniting with our tour bus in a truck-stop somewhere on the southern edge of the city. Just as we were departing somebody in our party pointed out that today’s destination – Bloomington, Indiana – is in a different time zone, robbing our already-compromised schedule of a precious hour. This would not have mattered quite so much if we hadn’t arranged, weeks before, for some youngsters to attend an extended soundcheck. The high-school kids are in a band called Ask Brett, which sometimes covers NMS tunes. (Their keyboard player had contacted us via Twitter to bemoan the fact that they were too young to attend our show.) When the RV/ bus pulled up outside the venue (embarrassingly late) the four of them were lined up waiting to meet us. They had obviously instructed their parents to BACK OFF so we introduced ourselves to the grown-ups separately afterwards. Once our gear was set we each paired up with our junior instrumental counterpart and chatted respectively about drums, basses, guitars and keyboards, before having a quick inter-band jam session which had to be cut short because of Puritanical legislation pertaining to the relative proximity of alcohol and teenagers. (This is a peculiarly American phenomenon: those pesky Founding Fathers have a lot to answer for.) We sent the kids home with some signed merchandise, confident that the next generation’s live music scene is in safe hands.
Day 18: Chicago, IL
Had to fly to Chicago for the next gig, since our bus (which is actually a RV disguised as a tour bus) would have taken about 30 hours. Arrived at a very smart-looking place – the Concord Music Hall – which seemed great in every respect except for the prominent “no guns” signage. Obviously, we were all annoyed to have to hand over our weapons, but we had left the heavy stuff – machine-guns, mortars, anti-tank missiles, etc. – on the RV, so things could have been a lot worse. We figured we could deal with any potential problems (discrepancies with the hospitality rider, on-stage monitoring issues, inattentive audience members and such) using knives and samurai swords.
It was great to catch up with our friends in the opening band The Heard, with whom we toured with last year and who were also celebrating an album release. We did a pre-show meet-and-greet with fans, one of whom had brought with him a used copy of a 2005 NMS vinyl album for us to sign, for which he had paid $70. If more fans were willing to pay $70 a pop for our records we might be able to afford a real tour bus!
Despite the fact that the Cubs had just lost to the Mets (do I sound like I know what I’m talking about?) there was a jubilant atmosphere in the room, and the kind of capacity crowd that makes us feel like rock stars. Members of The Heard joined us on stage for a big horns workout at the end, and afterwards Eddie’s new in-laws, who were there seeing NMS for the first time, declared their approval, which was a huge relief.
Day 17: Albuquerque, NM
Our hero manager drove through the night through the mountains of Colorado enabling us mollycoddled musicians to wake up refreshed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were slightly disappointed when the Breaking Bad locations tour promised by a local journalist didn’t materialize, though maybe it was unnecessary, since the downtown area had its very own crystal-meth-zombie-apocalypse vibe anyway. Also, I discovered to my utter delight that the unit base in the parking lot of our venue was actually a night shoot for the new season of BB spin-off, Better Call Saul. This is one of my favourite programmes so I went over and bothered the crew like an idiot fanboy.
Despite the oversized venue – the El Rey Theater could hold 1400 and this was our first visit to ABQ – we managed to corral the modest crowd to the front of the stage before we even started playing, and then give them a show to remember. In the bar afterwards one of the fans told me he had been an extra in Walter White’s chemistry class in the first episode of Breaking Bad so I insisted we took a photo together.
Day 16: Steamboat Springs, CO
Said an emotional farewell to the horns at a grim Denver truck stop from where they took a cab to the airport to fly back to San Francisco. Eddie jumped back on the bus and we hit the bumpy but beautiful road to Steamboat Springs.
We’ve played at the Old Town Pub several times before but since it’s a ski town and it was off-season, I wasn’t expecting much by way of a crowd, so was floored to discover that the room had sold out in advance. Hurrah. We were given a big welcome by the venue staff, and it was actually fun to strip the band back to its four-piece core essence in a small sweaty room. It didn’t hurt that there was a big party of girls celebrating a 25th birthday, and they threw several items of underwear at us during the performance. True story.
Day 15: Boulder, CO
A sad day: our last gig with horns on this tour. After tonight we won’t see them again until New Year’s Eve in New Orleans. Joe and I enjoyed a gentle sunny bike ride along the Boulder River Trail, then met up with friends for dinner and margaritas. Our friends from Denver, Analog Son were the opening band (their bassist Josh recorded our last album.) An unfortunate Facebook-to-Twitter conversion bot had auto-posted the gig as “The New Mastersounds: Made for Pleasure with Anal”. Tee hee. Fun show, big party in the green room afterwards, though Eddie stayed sober so he could drive home to Denver after the gig and sleep in his own bed, a move not open to the rest of us who would have had to travel a wee bit further to enjoy the same privilege.
Day 14: Salt Lake City, UT
After a surprisingly respectable turnout on Sunday night in Missoula, MT, followed by a day off in Idaho Falls where we at last purchased a toaster and a kettle for the tour bus, we headed to The State Room in Salt Lake City, Utah, a fine venue with in-house laundry facilities. This is our penultimate gig with the horns, Mike and Daniel. We’re going to miss them on stage, but on the upside: the bus is going to feel like a five-star hotel once they leave. It was a beautiful afternoon, so as soon as my jeans were in the washing machine I grabbed my camera and borrowed Little Greg’s bike to ride up to the big Mormon Temple, around which the entire city is laid out. Once in the temple ground I was made to feel very welcome by men and women wearing name badges and badly-fitting suits and skirts. Their dress sense may be terrible, but apparently Mormons are superb architects.
Days 10 & 11: Seattle
Arrive in Seattle for a two-nighter at Nectar Lounge in Fremont. Eddie has shelled out for a posh waterfront hotel to entertain his wife, but Obama – also in town for the weekend – has had the same idea, and Eddie is stuck there for several hours on security lock-down and misses the soundcheck, which pleases him enormously. The opening band – Happy Quartet – features our good friend, diabolical sax wizard and Seattle resident, Skerik. The room is sold out shortly before our set starts, with excited folk spilling out into the courtyard. The excitement is infectious, and we play a giddy set, climaxing with a killer sit-in from Skerik, who stays up to join our horn section for our encore, Pick Up the Pieces. We party in the green room, on the bus, and back at our friends’ house until the early hours.
I resolved before this trip started that I would try to do touristy things and take more photos, so a visit to the Space Needle was a must. By the time I got to the observation platform it had just got dark and the view of Seattle all lit up was spectacular.
No soundcheck tonight since everything on stage was just as we had left it yesterday. Saturday’s opener is a New Orleans-style brass band called Tubaluba, and they have the crowd pumped and in full-on party mode before we stroll in and clean up. Another sell-out: hurrah! We knew quite a few people were coming to see us both nights, so we only repeated one tune from Friday’s set, but the gig was just as intense. There’s no after-party tonight though – we’re driving East to Montana as soon as the crew has loaded out so we transfer the contents of the green room onto the bus before snuggling into our bunks. Night night, Seattle!
[Photos by Scott Shrader – Full Gallery]
Day 9: Portland, OR
Upon arrival, Eddie and I head to a radio station for a live interview. I would love to be able to tell you which radio station, but all I can remember is that it’s four letters, starting with W, and is affiliated to NPR which is a bit like our BBC, in that it’s not commercial. The nice lady presenter is really into jazz and plays two tracks from the new album, asks lots of intelligent questions, and plugs tonight’s gig at the Wonder Ballroom.
The day room, in which we take turns to shower, is at the Quality Inn. We’ve learned in ten years of US touring that any establishment that feels the need to include the word “quality” or “comfort” in its name is unlikely to offer much of either. The two hookers heading into the burger joint opposite the hotel set the tone perfectly.
I notice while watching the support band Brownish Black that Portland, OR is one of the few places in the country where the men dress a bit like Europeans – i.e. in clothes that fit, rather than just hang loose.
This room is a real step up in size from our usual haunt of the past few years (the excellent Doug Fir Lounge) but by the time the opener is finished the crowd has swelled to a very respectable size – around 500 people. The new horn tunes are now bedded in nicely, and we all rise to the occasion, especially Eddie, who was born to be a (jazz) rock star. This feels like being in a proper successful band!
[Photos by Greg Homolka]
Day 8: Eugene, OR
This is our third visit to Eugene, Oregon and it seems we’ve been promoted to a decent venue: The Hi-Fi Music Hall. Since we arrived quite early I decided to set up my beautiful silver-sparkle drum kit before lunch try to work on my parts for some of the new tunes Eddie sprang on us in Chico last night. Went to a sports bar after soundcheck where I attempted to watch a baseball match (oops, they call them “games” over here.) The barman and two friendly locals tried their best to explain the rules to me – it’s a bit like the British children’s game, rounders – but I remain baffled by the system of “balls” and “strikes” and the confusing vocabulary: a throw is a pitch, and the pitch is the field. What?
When I get back to the bus there are – with no explanation – four giant Looney Toons masks staring down at me from the shelf: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tasmanian Devil and Chicken Hawk. (Pete tells me later that they have been made for us by a fan called Wes.) Not sure which character is intended for which band member.
Evening: lovely crowd, clearly delighted by another great show, which tonight is split into two sets. The half-time break suits me very well since my tedious middle-aged-man’s sciatica is getting worse. On the long sets I’ve taken to inserting unscheduled drum breakdowns during which I stand up and get everyone clapping along, the real purpose of which is just to stretch my leg out to relieve the shooting pain in my left buttock. Never mind: it won’t be long before our kids will be able to take over as The New New Mastersounds.
Day 7: Chico, CA
Shared a hotel room with Eddie, who showed me his “man-yoga” routine – no chanting or praying, and none of that impossible bending that women find so easy – just lots of honest masculine back stretches, coached by a handsome bearded chap on YouTube. Then went out for a bike ride and was surprised to discover that we were on the edge of the extremely beautiful UC Davis college campus. Since everyone there travels around by bike, I fitted right in, until the depressing realisation that I am more than twice the average age of the students made me resent their youthful vigour and wide-eyed optimism.
Later: headed to Lost on Main in Chico, where the hospitality is matched only by the trippy lighting. The kindly promoter had heard about my sciatica and arranged for a massage therapist to work on me after soundcheck. I was almost too relaxed at the end of it to play our set.
Day 6: Break
Woke up back in San Francisco at the Kibuki Hotel near The Fillmore. While captain Eddie went sailing around the Bay with Joe and our road crew, Pete and I went to the pictures to watch The Martian – easily the best space movie I’ve ever seen. Not only does it depict Matt Damon as an extraterrestrial potato farmer, but it also features my comedy screen crush Kristen Wiig in a straight acting role.
Day 5: Mill Valley, CA
Having taken it easy Saturday night and then risen early to attend a ninety minute yoga class in Berkeley (lots of chanting in a strange language – felt like I had joined a religious cult), I was feeling pretty smug until I learned from the rest of the band that I had missed an absolutely rocking all-nighter in SF, inducing retrospective FOMO. The Sunday night show at Sweetwater was lots of fun though, and it was great to do a full set with our West Coast horn section, Mike and Daniel. (They are joining us for 9 shows all the way to Boulder – yippee!)
Day 4: San Francisco, CA
It turns out that even the fast road from LA to San Francisco is quite bumpy. I managed just two hours’ sleep before being rudely woken when the axle right beneath my bunk hit a particularly large crater. Couldn’t get back to sleep again for the rest of the night, not even by listening to 16th-century English religious choral music on my iPod. Killed some time by reading the responses to the previous day’s album release on various social media. It seems to be going down rather well so far, which is most gratifying. The advertised 7-hour drive must have taken more like 10 in our lumbering RV/bus because by the time we got to Golden Gate Park there was a sudden scramble to get out of our bunks, get dressed, and grab whatever we were going to need for our midday set on the Arrow Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. We virtually fell out of the bus onto a golf cart, and were dispatched to the stage through reluctantly parted throngs of hippie folk with only 20 minutes to spare. We were to use festival backline – just as well, given how close we were cutting it – which was already set up and in place. My heart sank somewhat upon seeing that the drums were on a ridiculously high riser, but I knew I there was no time to argue for my rightful place down on the stage (where I enjoy the unobstructed view of the faces and fretboards of my band-mates that facilitates effortless jamming.) No matter – this was only a 50-minute taster set, the main purpose of which from our point of view was to deflower several thousand San Franciscan NMS virgins – the strange ones who have somehow managed to resist our charms for the past ten years (during which we have played at The Boom Boom Room, 12 Galaxies, The Independent, Connecticut Yankee, The Fillmore, The Warfield and The Great American Music Hall.)
I found out shortly before the gig that it was going to be streamed live on the interweb so I sent word (and the link) to my family back in England in the nick of time. They usually miss such things due to the 8-hour time difference, but since we were playing so early in SF this was a rare early-evening bonus for my two boys who never get to see me play live. (Luke, 9, on hearing Nervous – “I LOVE this song!”) The crowd was surprisingly lively for such an early slot and the gig flew by. Off the stage and back onto a golf cart which took us to the catering tent for a delicious and much-needed lunch before Pete and I wandered through the crowds to the strains of Hot Tuna’s blues-rock set and made our way to the backstage area where I promptly fell asleep on a bench.
Day 3: Los Angeles, CA
According to Google Maps, the journey from San Diego to L.A. takes 2 hours 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure it took us 6 hours, and the last two seemed to be spent driving in a circle around the venue because they had been unable or unwilling to secure us a parking space for our bus. We eventually spied a spot (4 spots in fact, since it’s a long bus with a trailer) just as an old guy pulled in to park his car. Our manager lept out of the bus and gave him $20 to drive away. Our tardy arrival had left us very limited soundcheck time but this was not a problem, thanks to an extremely efficient sound crew who were using brand- new state-of-the-art gear. (The venue – The Teragram Ballroom – hasn’t been open long.) The opener was Nicki J Crawford, who used to sing with Orgone. She and her band must have done a great job warming up the crowd because we were greeted by such enthusiastic whooping and cheering that I had to double- check that we were actually in Los Angeles. Another fun and easy show – it’s such a luxury to be using our own gear every night – followed by laughs with friends in a bar around the corner while our trusty crew loaded out said gear. I do feel like a bit of a spoilt child but I’m learning to live with it.
Day Two: San Diego, CA
Woke up in Ocean Beach, San Diego in a parking lot 3 blocks from the ocean. Spent the morning trying to finish email interviews for Japan and Germany to promote the new album (out tomorrow!) then borrowed a bike from our merch guy Greg, loaded up Steely Dan’s Gaucho on the iPod, and cycled along a trail until there was no more trail and I was suddenly in an ugly trafficky place, so I turned around and cycled back to the beach. Then I interviewed Eddie for a Chicago radio show, emailed the file and headed to soundcheck, where we met the Najor brothers, Jake and Zak – two of my all-time favourite drummers – along with Andreas Stevens aka DJ Greyboy, who had stepped in at the last minute to do the opening set for our show. (Side note: Zak used to play drums with the Greyboy All Stars, the band we opened for on our first ever US show 11 years ago.)
Winston’s is a rough-and-ready bar that we have played a few times before, always to a rowdy party crowd, and this time was no exception. Big grins and extravagant dance moves all over the room throughout our 2-hour set. There were fun sit-ins from Jake on drums for a tune (Hey Fela!), and local MCs Apaulo8 & Main Flo (rapping extremely capably over the groove from Idle Time and issuing regular reminders of our band name.) As soon as I mentioned the new t-shirts that were on sale, three people stepped forward to demonstrate that not only had they bought t-shirts, but they were already wearing them. After the gig we all headed over to a party at a friend’s beach house which went till 6am.
Day One: Phoenix, AZ
Still buzzing from last night’s tour kick-off in Phoenix. We parked up around the back of an unassuming-looking place called the Crescent Ballroom and stepped off the bus into a wall of 100-degree heat.
Our expectations for this situation are necessarily low: ¾ of the band is still jetlagged, having flown in on an 11-hour flight from London the day before. We’ve not been together as a band since we played a one-off in France at the start of the summer. I’ve been at home in Leeds attempting to put in as much drum practice as I can during the hours that the kids are at school, but there’s really no way to fully prepare for the physical onslaught that is a 2-hour NMS gig, other than playing a 2-hour NMS gig. There’s some trepidation: will we all remember the tunes? Can everyone still play? Which of us has bothered to learn any of the new album tracks that this tour is supposed to be promoting?
What’s different about this first gig of the tour, as opposed to the many previous first gigs of tours we’ve endured, is that we finally have our own gear. Bass, drums, guitar, Hammond: all to our ideal specifications. Our new manager, apparently some kind of miracle worker, has cooked up a plan (without robbing anybody, I am assured) which finds me at the side of the stage unpacking a brand new Ludwig silver sparkle drum kit and scratching my head trying to figure out how to assemble it. I’ve been awake since 2am since I’m still on UK time, and 12 hours later this is not helping me maintain the required methodical approach to the task. Mercifully, help is at hand in the guise of two loaders, hired by the promoter solely to lug flight-cases in and out, but who bring with them technical expertise, enthusiasm and a positive attitude that exemplifies everything that is so wonderful about this place, the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix. The sound team, the front-of house staff, the servers in the restaurant, the people in the kitchen (who made the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted, btw) all exuded a warmth and sincerity and an apparent love of their jobs which also explains what a fan had already told me about the place in an earlier Twitter exchange: it’s a good venue for the concertgoer, and that’s what really matters.
Our gig went surprisingly well, with all in attendance lining up patiently afterwards to buy a surprisingly large quantity of merch and to thank us heartily for coming to Phoenix, as if it’s not something that most bands are prepared to do. Which would be odd, because it seems like a great place to play.
New Mastersounds ‘Made For Pleasure’ Fall Tour Presented By Live for Live Music
9/30 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
10/1 – San Diego, CA – Winstons
10/2 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom
10/3 – San Francisco, CA – Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
10/4 – Mill Valley, CA – Sweetwater Music Hall
10/6 – Chico, CA – Lost On Main
10/7 – Eugene, OR – HiFi Music Hall
10/8 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
10/9 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge
10/10 – Seattle, WA – Nectar Lounge
10/11 – Missoula, MT – Top Hat Lounge
10/13 – Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
10/14 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre
10/15 – Steamboat Springs, CO – Old Town Pub
10/16 – Albuquerque, NM – El Rey Theater
10/17 – Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall
10/19 – Bloomington IN – The Bluebird
10/20 – St. Louis, MO – Old Rock House
10/21 – Memphis, TN – 1884 Lounge
10/22-25 – Rockdale, TX – Art Outside
10/23 – Dallas, TX – The Loft at Gilley’s
10/24 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live Studio
10/27 – Birmingham, AL – Workplay
10/28 – Baton Rouge, LA – Varsity Theatre
10/29 – Jackson, MS – Duling Hall
10/30 – Hattiesburg, MS – Dollar Box Showroom
10/30-11/1 – Live Oak, FL – Hulaween
11/1 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Pour House
11/3 – Wilmington, NC – Brooklyn Arts Center
11/4 – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theatre
11/5 – Raleigh, NC – Southland Ballroom
11/6 – Asheville, NC – Isis
11/7 – Nashville, TN – War Memorial Auditorium*
* = w/ Lettuce