Earlier in October, the Incurables had the opportunity to open several Midwest dates for Alejandro Escovedo. Guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Griffin agreed to keep a tour diary for A to Z. Here's the first installment. Part two is here. All photos are from the Bloomington,
Indiana Illinois, show. Stay tuned to A to Z for more recaps in the coming weeks. -- Annie Zaleski
Anyone that's ever played in a band knows that as much fun as it is to play in town for friends, the true test of your mettle is to get out of your cushy surroundings and play for people who have never seen or heard of you before. Touring is often glamorized -- a series of screaming crowds, hotels, free sex and drugs and all the adoration you can stand. The reality, however, is a much harsher mistress.
Hours upon hours of sitting in a van, super nasty truck stop bathrooms, quick stops for sustenance ("You guys want Arby's or Subway?"), only to arrive at a club, find the band's name not on the bill, none of the posters you sent hanging, and play to the staff, the other act on the bill and their girlfriends. Sell one CD, give one away [and] accept apologies from the other band ("We just did a show last week, totally packed," "Everybody's at the _______ show," "We usually play the other club, it's way better than this"). Get back in the van and drive home, or worse yet, stay with a "friend" of one of the guys in the band. This can be the saving grace after a long day of disappointment, or a swan dive into the harsh realities of local color -- "Yeah, this town kinda sucks, but we get the best meth here, sorry my dog pissed on all the blankets."
Needless to say, the boys and I were overjoyed when Alejandro Escovedo offered the band a handful of dates in October. Al and my wife have been friends for years now, and he and I met a couple of years ago while I was teching for Son Volt. A year or so later when he played the Pageant for Twangfest, I jammed with him and his band on his encore tune and flipped him an Incurables disc, and hoped he would give it a spin. Turns out, he liked it.
The next time we spoke was his recent appearance at LouFest in August. He asked why my band doesn't get out much, I returned with the aforementioned laundry list of excuses, to which he replied, "Why don't you come out with us?" Tours with an established artist are always more beneficial because at least you know you have the opportunity to play FOR PEOPLE, which is why you go anywhere in the first place. When you're an opening act on a tour, there are occasions where the headliner may have dates that you cannot play with them (TV performances, festivals). It's your job at this point to find something else to do on those days and rejoin when scheduled. Because we got on the tour so late, there were not a lot of options other than to play places we could hit in a day and come home. If there seems to be long stretches of days in between these shows, that's why.
October 12: Lincoln Hall, Chicago Worst thing about driving to Chicago is hitting it at rush hour. Most of the load-ins and soundchecks on a tour like this occur between 5 and 7 p.m. The only way around this predicament is to leave early --not very rock-n-roll, but better than biting your nails while trying to maneuver a fifteen-passenger van through Chi-town gridlock. Here's how a typical day on this run went.
9 a.m.: Pick up van 9:30: Rendezvous with band at rehearsal space, load up and head out and into the fifth season, ROAD CONSTRUCTION. Stopped about two hours out of Chicago (Funks Grove, I think -- SUBWAY everybody). Hit the venue right as Al is finishing up his check. I realize at this time that we are listed that evening as JIMMY GRIFFIN, instead of The Incurables. I pacify the five boys in the band with the finest bottled water and complimentary chips and salsa the venue can supply, and set out to find out where we sell merch.
Lincoln Hall is a new room opened up by the same people that run Schuba's in Chicago, which I played a couple of times with Nadine, and is also the coolest small place to play there. What makes or breaks a venue is the staff, and Schuba's is always extremely friendly, a free meal (of really good food), ample drink tickets, and a production crew that actually cares. Great room that holds about 300, well done and sonically pleasing. Stage was a little smaller than we expected, and Hector (Alejandro's drummer) was kind enough to let us use his kit to conserve space and Bobby Daniels (bassist) lent his Ampeg 8x10. Soundcheck from 6:15 - 6:45, doors at 7, on from 8 - 8:45.
The first thing we notice about Al's audience is how attentive and quiet they are. By quiet I mean, at the end of a song they applaud, then they LISTEN SILENTLY to anything you have to say in between. Some of our songs start very low on the dynamic side, and it was a very intimate feeling to know that the entire room was fully tuned into a band they had never heard before. My guitarist Jordan told me later about stepping on one of his pedals at the beginning of a tune, and actually heard it click, kinda freaked him out. Great set. Get the gear off the stage and head to the merch booth and stand around looking hungry, sold 15 discs, I've sold a lot less.
Watch the beginning of Al's set -- he's great, we'll see him in Cincinnati on Saturday. Load up the van, and we're on 55 by 10 p.m. I find out later that Al called me onstage for the encore and I was long gone, super not cool on my part. More apologies. Hit the rehearsal spot at 3:30ish, unload, Bryan [Hoskins] and I head to return the van. Slap happy from van madness, we joke about stopping by KDHX to beat up a DJ that's on, playing quasi-jamband/noodleshred.
I also remark that Band of Horses are at the Pageant tomorrow, and what a jerk I was gonna be to them cause I'm so beat. 5 a.m. -- sleep, 11:30ish wake. Open the store fifteen minutes late (Killer Vintage Delmar, it's connected to the Pageant), Band of Horses waiting outside, whole band -- couldn't be nicer guys. Hung out all day. Every one of them bought a guitar -- I kid you not. Got invited to their show. Gave them a disc --.who knows?