By 11am on Thursday we’ve all made our way to the Impose office in Brooklyn. Derek Evers and his girlfriend Sang picked up our shiny black van earlier that morning in Newark, while I shuttled in from Jersey, Nate Dorr moseyed on over from his deep South Brooklyn abode, and Blake Gillespie came all the way from California for our mystery tour to SXSW, starting that night in Buffalo, NY and sweeping through Chicago and Memphis.
We pack the van, so pristine and clean, as the wind blows and a few snowflakes hit our face, already dreaming of Austin or even Memphis weather. The unspoken excitement breaks in the car where exhaustion already sets in as the quiet builds and economy of phrasing is the rule of the day. We all pass out in different angles while Derek keeps us steady and only slighting swerving on our way, music thumping and pumping into our heavy afternoon dreams.
After weeks of build-up, it’s strange to just sit here and realize the anticlimax that is the road trip, spaciously spread out for now and still a little stiff like the sleeping strangers we kind of are. Dunkin is our first stop, and aside from that we dig into our snack bag for assorted pickings, and once I find my flask, we’re sipping a little (too small to sip a lot), but our tummies will be rumbling for real food until after the show. We hit snow halfway through, while we’re all drifting away, and Derek powers through like the Millennium Falcon, little white dots flying for a stretch of highway, but on the other end, there’s still sun, until it sets and we arrive in Buffalo after dark.
As we pull into Derek’s homeland, sliding off the highway into a mostly abandoned neighborhood, he points out the landmarks of his past and Blake exhales, “This is exactly how I pictured it.” Empty houses, boarded windows, six inches of crud on everything and the looming shadows of stilled factory smokestacks rise out of the window as we sail through, searching for the Funeral Home venue, which none of us have ever seen. Turns out it’s got YMCA-style stained glass windows, and we approach with caution, a flickering strand of Christmas lights the only sign of inner life
Inside, the place is mostly gutted, split into a few rooms but bare of any real furniture beyond a few torn-out car seats and bench slabs of wood scattered about the dark corners of the main room, walls coated in strange splatters and graffitied faces. One room is lined with pictures of past acts — penises, blood, lots of sweat and mess in every shot. There, The So So Glos are spray-painting custom t-shirts and guffawing. In the very back, there’s an old wooden coffin that doubles as a bar, scribbled and stickered. The place has barely begun to fill, even though we’ve pulled in at least a bit behind our scheduled early start. More time to leave and grab beer cause this is a true all-ages show, some high school honeys will show up in a little, and completely BYOB. Blake and Derek return with a case of northern New York’s own Genesee and Ireland's own Jameson Whiskey as Sang sets up the merch table.
Bands rotate throughout the stage room, setting up on top of anything and everything, pushing people into different formations as the night goes on and we all nod hard. Flagland kicks the show off with their animal instincts and barbaric yawps. Loose and unpredictable, the boys bounce around and into each other like it’s their own mother’s basement before passing the baton to local duo, Space Wolves. Dressed all in white and sporting flowing auburn beards like two magical werewolf twins from geek heaven, Space Wolves set up in the middle of the room and tell all to gather round and drink the beer they bought. Playing songs in short party bursts and singing into a telephone mic, they set off two tiny blonde dancers, pure sugar and spice, dressed not in the hardcore dim clothes of the rest of the motley crew but draped in bright colors and sparkling headbands.
After the enchanted forest retreat, Big Ups take the stage (literally this time) and lead singer Joe Galarraga starts yanking around it like he’s a puppet that escaped one string and is struggling to get totally free. Barely and not totally contained by the foot-high ledge, Joe’s pumping so much energy into the room that someone busts out a trampoline, which he promptly refuses to use, asking, “What’s this look like, a Phish concert? Actually, we listen to a lot of Phish on the road…” But even though the trampoline came out, the moshing didn’t start until So-So Glos bullied everyone into packing together Brooklyn-style and a few random beach balls hit the air.
Even with a five-band line-up, we’re out of there before midnight, everyone rushing to finish their set before the young ones turn into pumpkins. With the promise of a Taco Bell twelve pack back at Derek’s parents’ house, we leave the funeral lair and soon arrive in a single-story suburban home in a sprawling checkerboard of similar models. Derek’s dad is sitting up late for us wearing patterned pajama pants and a warm smile, watching golf in his recliner. Here, we feast on molten meat and fall asleep in their basement, behind the pool table and covered-up Christmas tree.
The next day, we roll out of bed around ten and set up with our laptops throughout the house, Derek’s weird-shaped dog – big chunky body and tiny head – barking at all in turn. After a dash of productivity, it’s famous Buffalo wings for breakfast at Duff’s with Derek’s daddy, where they warn, “The Medium is HOT. The Medium-Hot is VERY HOT. The Hot is VERY VERY HOT.”
We order 50 wings – five of which are the hottest temperature you can possibly get and aptly named DEATH WINGS. Nate goes for Death first, boasting of a strong stomach, and makes it look so easy, describing the taste and texture with poise, that soon Derek steps up to try, even as Nate blinks back a few subtle tears. Derek, his dad, and I give it a taste and all three of us are suddenly quiet, only Derek voicing his pain from time to time in-between strained faces and grabs for any other kind of food – the celery and carrots, the fries and melted cheese, beer, water, or tea. Eventually, but very slowly, the pain starts to fade, though it’ll rumble on in Derek’s stomach until the Great Release in Toledo later that night.
Shortly after our dance with Death Wings, we’re packed up and shipping out, deciding to blaze through to Chicago all in one trip, with a quick stop in Toledo.
For more images from our Buffalo stop at The Funeral Home, go here.