I had recently graduated from art school, and I was feeling like a getaway. So when I was asked to go on tour from Vancouver, Canada all the way to Arizona with Milk and Gal Gracen, it was the perfect dream: getting away to experience live music, camera in hand.
I packed thirty rolls of my favourite colour film into my denim duffle bag, preparing myself to somehow miraculously arrange my body into a car full of camping gear and instruments. I knew from the beginning that this was sure to be a style of traveling that I had not experienced before; we planned to drive from Vancouver to Arizona and back again in the span of sixteen days. Two bands were to be packed in amongst the tangled wires, the damp sleeping bags and half eaten road snacks: Vancouver’s Milk (Thomas James- vocals; Evan McDowell – guitar, also in Gal Gracen; Al Smith – bass guitar; Akanee Rose – drums) and Gal Gracen (Patrick Geraghty – vocals; Ellis Sam – bass guitar; Nathan Deschamps drums). Seven people. Eight counting me.
Day one, we split into two different vehicles. Akanee’s fancy black whip drove in as smooth as silk. The second car kept us waiting, and Akanee and I opted to kill time sifting through a Target for Budweiser bikinis (sadly, no success). The minivan that finally ripped into the mall’s empty lot belonged to Thom’s mom (shout out to Marion), the very vehicle that had once toted about a small young Thom plus siblings. Patrick and Nathan were completely frazzled, having received a speeding ticket almost immediately after passing through the US border.
Parcelled out amongst the cars – Akanee, Thom and myself in one, the rest in another – we set out to Tacoma. During the first leg of the ride, Thom said something that I will never forget, nor relate to more: “I have two modes: sad boy and party boy. I really don’t know if I’m a grandpa or a teenage girl.”
We arrived at the modestly attended house show, which smelled like vanilla Glade® candles, in which kids were kicking a soccer ball around the carpeted floors. The last few notes of Turquoise Noise were playing as we walked in – they were damned catchy and were bummed to have missed them. After the show, we backtracked for a sleepover at Ellis’s grandparent’s place in Seattle. I made a nest out of a thick magenta blanket on their leather couch, and they sent us off with coffee in styrofoam cups in the morning.
Off we drove to Portland, where we arrived at this magical, sunlight-soaked mansion called ‘The Crush House.’ Patrick thought the name rather violent. I thought it was very cute. It really did depend on how you looked at it, but to be sure, the show was a contrast of both. At one point a girl in a long ponytail and pastel pink jumpsuit was knocked in the face. The crowd, slightly horrified, watched as her nosebleed seeped down over her one-piece. Other than that, the show was very pleasant and the jam-packed basement was full of infectious energy. Another band that stood out for me personally was a called Mini Blinds- between the two of them they sounded like they had recorded their songs underwater.
The next morning, we were all delirious from lack of sleep. We ate grits and I spent the day buying enough tapes to fill a good portion of my backpack. We set off into the night and I made everyone listen to my weird Japanese instrumentals as we drove through the desert. By now, we were nine, and we astonishingly squished into a single Motel Six room. There was no lack of creativity, and this craftiness came in handy for the remainder of the tour.
On the third day, we woke up and drove to Davis, California, which is, as it turns out, a fraternity town. The bands played at an art collective with Pastel Dream, to a room of twinkling lights and keen students.
Day four, and we were all very jazzed to start our drive to San Francisco. As we set off on the highway, Nathan who is usually full of sass (the best kind) uncharacteristically sounded nervous as he announced to all of us in the mini van that the brakes weren’t working. Luckily, he handled the situation real suavely and swerved off of the highway and onto a median. This led us to be stuck at a mechanic’s shop in Vacaville, which was experiencing a million degrees of heat. This was likely the place where a record I had purchased earlier in the trip had acquired its warp. I was warned against buying a record for this very reason but I bought it in secret, and in turn had to secretly feel sad about it. One lost day and $800 later, we got the van back.
We ferried the two cars from Vacaville to San Francisco and were greeted by the sweetest of princes, who had wrangled a full suite for all of us to stay the next few nights. The bands had had to cancel their San Francisco show because of the van incident, so this meant we had a night off. In celebration of our freedom from loading gear and getting lost on the way to the venue, we set out. Patrick got a little tipsy and knocked over a big bowl of maraschino cherries at this weird bar where the bouncer was holding a Chihuahua in a miniature leather jacket. He was asked (not so kindly) to leave the bar, and we did not see him until very early the next morning, when he stumbled into the suite.
We slept in after our night of antics; the bartender, who fell in love with all of us – except Patrick, because of the cherries – free-poured us whiskies until very late. I believe that the whiskey poured into our shot glasses was enough to fill a small pool. Our day consisted of eating burritos and hanging out, people watching in Delores Park (the best specimen was undoubtedly the fancy man in the full black suit, kicking, dancing and dazzling all alone in the field). Afterwards, we drove to Oakland for another house show. This was definitely one of the best sets for both bands. I was swooning over my talented friends big time.
We set off to Los Angeles, where they were booked to play a show at All Star Lanes, a bowling alley in a part of town I had never been. It had television screens with old nature stills, and there were very few people actually bowling. The man behind the shoe rental desk was quite sassy and seemed disgruntled about the whole show in general. But the Coronas passed around in the back room by the bleach blonde bartender – all quick jokes and bedazzled nails – made up for it.
A couple of bands had dropped off the bill at the (very) last minute, so we and the other band from Vancouver that we crossed paths with, Dumb, assembled an impromptu line-up of six bands. It was like a miniature bowling alley music festival. The bands were a mixed bag of genres, but everyone bopped along regardless of each different sound that the individual bands had to offer up. Then, a very tragic turn of events: my friend’s band that I had asked to play the show (who also even went to the trouble of voluntarily making the poster with his name as the headliner, which featured a very spicy photo of himself floating in a pool with very little clothing) didn’t even get to play. The sassy bowling shoe man shut it down an hour earlier than we had been told it would. He was very dramatic about it all too – unplugging every single thing that was attached to the wall. He shooed us out, and we all felt very sad for my friend who didn’t get to play.
After the show, we drove off to a swanky stucco palace in the Palm Desert, owned by the parents of Nick (Dumb). We arrived very late and swam in the bright blue pool, until the sky itself was the same colour.
The next day we set off through the desert; it was my favourite part of the entire drive. Nathan referred to the road dips as “the Dunkaroos of the desert highway,” which I felt was apt. We did get a bit lost, but we didn’t mind; it only meant more time looking through the passenger’s window. This later proved to be a greater blessing than I thought, because it cut down on the time we were forced to spend in my least favourite place: Las Vegas.
When we arrived in “Disneyland for adults” – this is what I actually overheard somebody refer to Vegas as…I think that paints a picture in itself – we carried the gear into a cave of drunkards that smelt strongly of tobacco and contained all kinds of colourful characters. One man, who introduced himself to me as ‘Satan,’ tried to buy me a shot. I politely declined. There was also a wedding reception happening, for a moments-old union that occurred “on a whim.” The ladies at the reception had loud laughs and told very crass stories from their precarious bar stools. I liked them. Thom’s lifelong dream of becoming a wedding singer was almost a reality, but they scooted out before the show began. The rest of the crowd loved every minute of it.
After the show, a few of us piled into the minivan and headed to our hotel (a swanky joint with white robes and shampoos worth stealing). I don’t have much more to say about Vegas except for that it was somewhere I don’t think I will ever return by choice, and that I also cried very hard. We went to a buffet because I guess Las Vegas is famous for them. I ate all of the soft serve ice cream and then we left for Tucson, Arizona.
On this particular drive, white lightning cracked through the dark purple desert sky and it was a spectacle to behold. In the back seat, I was listening to ‘Lightning’s Girl’ by Nancy Sinatra on full blast in my headphones, pretending I was in a cool movie.
When we arrived at the house, we were greeted by dogs and some catchy funk music that I had never heard before but liked very much. The room was full of boys with hair longer than mine, and the lovely people that lived there had concocted homemade hibiscus iced tea, and a few casual lasagnas, just for whoever felt like some. As someone who could drink a waterfall of Arizona iced tea forever and never get sick of it, I can say that this iced tea was a whole different ball game. The bands that played here were incredible. I don’t know how to describe Casey Gold’s sound except to say that it matched perfectly with the walls, which were decorated with paintings and chalk drawings of country icons (my favourite of which was Hank Williams). We woke up to breakfast and coffee ready for us, and then they took us to the best juice place – a dream come true for a group of people who had eaten mostly Taco Bell for a week. Over much-needed fruit and vegetable drinks, the couple from the house told us of how they met… it was at Dollywood, the Dolly Parton theme park. They then proceeded to give us their personal favourite recommendations of Dolly Parton movies. They knew what they were talking about, and I think I fell in love with them.
Pouring rain and more lightning cancelled our plans to visit the swimming holes that were on the way to the next city, which was Flagstaff, Arizona. We did, however, have a quick stop at a gem store, where Patrick purchased a flute (he played said flute at the show later that night). Ellis and Akanee bought crystals, and I looked through a pamphlet of UFO tours as I waited.
When we arrived, there were blue lights on a small stage in the back of a coffee shop. I immediately liked it because I saw a poster from when Jonathan Richman had played there before. It doesn’t take much for me. The bands played wonderfully, as usual. I noticed that they had been experimenting with different styles throughout the tour, which I felt very lucky to have witnessed first hand. The opener was a very nice fellow named Cesar, who played with small stuffed animals sitting on the stage behind him. It was quite a contrast from the last act, who played songs about “fucking” and his “old dog.”
We stayed at a green house with a tent in the backyard, which I was lucky enough to sleep in. The fresh air was so needed after being sealed in overflowing tour vehicles and dark venues all week. Everybody slept soundly (I know this because I dipped inside to brush my teeth and there was an orchestra of snoring) which was a magnificent thing; if any one who is reading has been on a long trip or a tour where beds are limited, shut-eye is a very challenging thing to catch.
In LA, the headliner, Monster Rally, cancelled and a band called Foliage filled in. They were definitely too young to be in a bar, but played some catchy, jangly pop. On this particular evening, Patrick requested that I “make [him] look pretty” so I drew a beauty mark and applied sparkly green eyeliner that matched my own. The teens from Foliage skateboarded around outside the venue, and at midnight it was one of their birthdays so they sang him happy birthday in a way that only a band of ex-choir boys could.
The next few days were spent in LA and everybody split off; some went to the art gallery, others out for fancy brunch, and we had no idea where some went at all. We met up with a pal from Vancouver, who is a rebellious rascal that we missed very much. He gave us a taste of some real spirited Los Angeles night life, which began with many tequilas on ice, and progressed to an eighteen pack of beer stolen from a rude man who was sassing us outside of a 7-eleven. We ran to the lake with our newly acquired beverages and drank it all down as the night gave way to light.
On our final evening in Los Angeles, we set up at a weird bar, which felt and looked like some sort of strange cave, not unlike Las Vegas (but we had a much more pleasant experience). Don Bolles, ex-drummer of the Germs and current drummer of Ariel Pink, had organized the show and I was personally rather star struck. The ‘opening act’ can only be described by the promoter’s words in the Facebook event: “A NEW cat lecture by DR PAUL KOUDOUNARIS! I am not entirely sure what the lecture will be yet, but it will probably be an edited or altered version of the talks I gave at the Cat Art Show and Cat Con.” It was certainly the most unique opening act of the tour. Patrons of the strange cave seemed to be completely dazzled! Gal Gracen also enchanted the crowd with their own special version of ‘Knights in White Satin.’
The next day, we embarked on the gnarly drive from Los Angeles to Seattle. When we finally arrived – stopping only once at a motel for five hours of sleep – the bands played a show at a fancy brewery. We made big, elaborate plans to go to a “crazy house party,” or to a mini punk fest that was happening, or to join the tail-end of the festivities at Capitol Hill Block Party, or to the city to go to a dance party one of the others bands knew about. Instead, we ended up popping one bottle of champagne, waited amongst a massive line of drunken bros for a burrito, and went to bed. A very appropriate end to an exhausting trip, filled with all kinds of wild and wondrous memories. The photographs hardly skim the surface of the faces and places we encountered, who propelled us though this west coast tour.
From stress crying into the floor that was my bed in Las Vegas to crying sappy sucker tears in pride of watching my friends’ bands swoon crowds each and every night, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. I left this tour feeling like a Thom combination: part sad boy, part party boy, part grandpa, and teenage girl.