Tour Diary: She-Devils – Spring 1999, Abject Poverty Tour
March 26, 1999
Venue: The Chukker
City: Tuscaloosa, AL
Since none of the car rental places seem to offer unlimited miles anymore, we were delighted and relieved when a friend lent us her 1988 Chevy Astro van “Luxury Touring” edition. I had to get the rear view mirror reglued to the windsheild, prop up the driver’s seat with wood blocks and contend with an absence of climate control, but I was overjoyed. The back doors were stuck shut, however. Loading and unloading equipment through the side door was quite an ordeal at times. Our gear fit nicely into the space normally occupied by the third seat, so we were good to go. We stopped at the Rapid Lube for a last-minute oil change and filter before leaving Baton Rouge. In what I consider a bizarre stroke of luck (?) the van’s starter motor died while it was sitting inside the shop. Imagine if it had given out at some gas station in rural Mississippi or something! Since we were sitting over their pit, blocking business, Rapid Lube had us fixed up in no time. Long story short: our friend is getting her van back with a new starter motor. The moral of the story: more people should lend us their vans.
Pinky Fingerhut pulled us into the Tusc to a soundtrack of Fatboy Slim just as the last arctic blast of the year settled over the southeastern U.S. The Chukker was extremely dark and dank, but a very friendly bartending staff. Plus, you can hardly dislike a place that has electronic darts. What would have been an ample stage ordinarily was dwarfed by the ludicrously large drum kit of our opening act. There were 11 cymbals (not even counting the hi-hats)! They were called Spaceman Bill and the Groovy Gravy and were terrific guys. They were thrilled to play with a band that had almost as long a name as they did.
Apparently the Crimson Tide was on spring break, so attendance was less than overwhelming. Or perhaps locals were frightened of a band called “Ruff Bitch”, as we were mysteriously listed in a local paper. Nevertheless, once the soundguy woke up and arrived at the club, we played our usual hard rocking set. What audience we did have seemed to like it. We sold a couple cds and got some names on the mailing list. The Countess sold a pair of our chic high-fashion devil horns. Other than me cutting open my little finger during load-out, we escaped the Tusc unscathed. This was Spaceman Bill’s third appearance at the Chukker and although there were more toms on the drumkit than audience members paying attention, it was apparently their best attended show there so far. Insight gained: Tuscaloosans clear the hell out during spring break.
March 27, 1999
Venue: The Hole in the Wall
City: Athens, GA
Sleeping on floors and couches sounds like a good idea when you’re putting together a low budget rock tour. However, Pinkstuff would be the first to advise against hardwood floors even if you do have a row of sofa cushions. I mean, we’re not exactly spring chickens over here (if you’re familiar with that phrase then you aren’t one either). Furthermore, Pinky would probably advise against such accommodations after consuming large quantities of Miller Genuine Draft, which was the complimentary band beverage at the Chukker. When the Countess and I got up at 10am, Pinky was in no condition to move. Leaving the drummer to recuperate in peace, The Countess and I ventured out of Lance’s place in search of cheap cds and food.
The college area was completely torn up with road construction. Very few shops were open. Luckily, one of those stores was Vinyl Solution, arguably one of the better record stores in Alabama. My ongoing quest for the first Luna album came up empty, but I managed to pick up a few tasty items including a band called Sinister Dane. No, I’d never heard of them either, but it seemed like a perfect gift for Dane Adrian of the band Squint when we passed through their hometown of Ruston.
We visited with our friends Lance, Anne Marie and Willy the gimp cat, before resuming our rock duties. After a detour to the Tuscaloosa Books-A-Million and Wal-Mart district (the primary cultural center of Tuscaloosa, apparently), we were on our way to the glorious eastern time zone.
Our beloved van, which already produced a symphony of disturbing mechanical noises, seemed to pick up a couple new ones on the other side of Atlanta. Though probably just manifestation of our auto-paranoia, we went ahead and added some 10W-30 in Athens, putting our minds in a state of well being, if not the engine. We entered Athens high on gas fumes. Seems that The Countess had dropped our spare gas can on blacktop, then returned it to its place under the seat as though it weren’t leaking. Lucky for us, nobody lit any matches back there.
Athen’s Hole in the Wall club was very appropriately named. Conveniently wedged in between a Mediterranean restaurant called Marrakesh and the new 40 Watt Club, it has fabulous pedestrian traffic. As was becoming habit, the other band, Fable Factory, was already set up and sound checking when we arrived. Since there was no way that any more equipment would fit in such a tiny space, we took a stroll around the downtown to drop off a few stacks of the BR ‘zine Jetbunny. We stopped by the house of my one-time bandmate/indie rock luminary Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel fame) and caught up with the Music Tapes and other assorted house dwellers. Jeff confirmed that they were in fact building a camp out in the Georgia wilderness but that it wasn’t necessarily a Y2K bunker.
The She-Devils and I blew the doors off the Hole in the Wall, playing, as it turned out, second. Fablers’ put on a pleasant and polished alternativish country set. We probably should have played first since most of the Fable Fans took off after the Fable Set. The Factory themselves had to stick around because I was using their guitar amp. Ha! Also on hand for the show was Baton Rouge expatriate (and singer for the band “Math”) Alan Tanner.
March 28, 1999
Venue: Bernie’s Corner
City: Montgomery, AL
We woke up that morning at the home of another former bandmate, H. Eric Musgrove. We ate our noontime breakfast at Athen’s famous “The Grill”. The meal was doomed from the start because the place didn’t have Dr. Pepper or orange juice. We learned that landlords in Athens are just as unscrupulous and evil as everywhere else in the nation – doubling people’s rent in town during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It was another check of the oil, brake and transmission fluid (did I mention that the van has to be turned on to check that?) and we were off to the capital of Alabama.
Bernie’s was a dark green shack located across the street from an RV dealership. Apparently we were the first band to ever play there on a Sunday (and the last, no doubt). The main event that night turned out to be the crawfish boil happening on the bar’s back porch. The “soundguy” for the evening was the happy hour bartender. The P.A. “monitors” were mounted from the ceiling across the room from the stage and were on the same circuit as the main speakers, and therefore useless. The entire audience consisted of some friendly bama-raised boys who have a cover band called New Wave Sound. The shortest one must’ve been 6’4″. The Countess asked which new wave songs they covered, but they insisted “You don’t understand. That’s just our name.” We killed some time listening to the stories of an acrophobic firefighter before playing a lackluster set to four guys and the pool table. Somehow, they were still into it. We even got paid for the show and were asked to come back “on a better night”. We hurried back to the Days Inn before anyone sobered up enough to change their minds.
March 29, 1999
Venue: Java.Com Cafe
City: Auburn, AL
Upon arriving in Auburn we thought we had entered some sort of college town wonderland. That is, until we realized that College St. was kind of like a Hollywood backdrop with nothing but desolation around it in all directions. What’s worse, the place is so football crazed they need two mascots: the tiger and the war eagle. While the Countess and Pinky shopped at a vintage clothing store, the owner complained about a fundamentalist Christian group from just out of town that disapproves of education, and protests Auburn graduations with megaphones. I know book learnin’ is scary, but people, please. You’re embarrassing the rest of us southerners.
We met our Auburn liaison Doug Sherrard and his wife at the Boardwalk Grill for vittles. Thanks to the ads in Dougs entertainment monthly we got a free meal and a free place to stay! The Heart of Auburn motel was a little divier than the Montgomery Days Inn, but not to the point of vibrating beds. Noah, the club-guy, gave us his unabridged history of the Auburn scene. He was shocked to hear that I had been playing music for nine years. He had considered himself an elder statesman at age 23! Noah is fighting a DIY battle with ASCAP, the music performance rights group headquartered in nearby Atlanta. Noah said ASCAP spies slink about local bars, demanding dues be paid if clubs play recorded music, or even if bands perform cover songs, by any of their artists. Dues are $600 per year, which Noah thinks is especially wrong since a little guy like him is expected to pay the same amount as the entire Wal-Mart chain. He asks bands that play Java.Com to donate CDs and sign release forms giving permission to play their CDs in the store.
The Java P.A. was a 70′s model Peavey mixer-head and a pair of Radio Shack speakers. Left with the task of assembling aforementioned P.A., I noticed that one of the speaker cords was missing a plug. Doug managed to find a whole new (and nicer) sound system, which he had to the club in mere minutes. This guy was totally on the ball. His band Francis put on a fantastic opening set of guitar driven instrumentals. Our set was typically goofy, highlighted by yours truly being shocked so severely by the microphone that I momentarily saw a white light. The third band of the evening was Channel 4, who rocked despite the fact that none of the three members live within 2 hours of each other.
March 30, 1999
Venue: The Mercury Theatre
City: Hattiesburg, MS
En route to Hattiesburg, we stopped at an Alabama convenience store where locals were giddy over a change in state law. That’s right, kids. Vibrators are now legal in Alabama! Nevermind the widespread poverty and illiteracy in Alabama. Let’s focus on issues that matter. Vibrators, for instance. You’ve gotta love the South.
Russ and Jeff are the wacky proprietors of this converted movie theatre across the street from the University of Southern Mississippi. I think Russ is actually living in the projection booth. The story is that he “left his car keys in another city.” Hattiesburg is hardly a “city”, but nevermind. We had to load in from a side door blocking the entrance to a low-rent apartment complex whose residents have threatened to kill (literally) any unauthorized occupants of their parking spots. So far, they’re all talk, unlike the redneck poolhall three doors down from the Mercury. Reportedly, some countrified hooligans threw a homemade bomb into the Mercury lobby on night. No one was hurt other than possible hearing damage. Jeff looked around for his shrapnel souvenir, but couldn’t find it in the drawer. This sounds like paranoia, but Russ and Jeff were also convinced that the International House of Pancakes and the local tattoo parlor are conspiring against them. Hmmmm… As we loaded in equipment, rain streaming down, Russ told us of the new use they’d discovered for Ross music. They put it on after a late night hardcore punk show and the room was empty five minutes later. I’m not exactly Jello Biafra, I suppose. Russ collects lots of weird junk, some of which he keeps upstairs in the projection booth/bedroom. Before the show, he tested our vision with old eye doctor machines he’d bought at auction. Russ and Jeff were 2/5 of the first band, Undersea Apartment, who made their debut that night. The next act, Verne is Dead, was sort of Leonard Cohen meets The Cure, and consequently quite enjoyable.
Every goth kid in Hattiesburg (all 15 of ‘em) was out for the show. The She-Devils salute teenage boys who dare to wear lipstick in small Mississippi towns. Our show was loud and antic-filled. I matched my previous record of breaking two guitar strings at once, bringing the total broken string count up to about five for the tour-to-date. Russ and Jeffrey generously offered us use of a house that’s occupied mainly by cats. The Countess, who desperately craved a shower, turned squeamish when they said they avoid showering there themselves, and all the sinks are overflowing, but “who needs sinks?” That projection booth was starting to look pretty livable.
We wound up staying over at the home of the illustrious Mr. Verne, who is easy to pick out of a Hattiesburg crowd because he’s the only guy wearing a tophat. He had a clawfoot bathtub and about 40 square feet of free floor space, so we were good to go. Verne woke us up before he left for class the next day. It was another visit to the Waffle House and then on to my old stomping ground of northern Louisiana.
March 31, 1999
Venues: River Records, Norton Tavern
Cities: Monroe, LA; Ruston, LA
We pulled into the bustling metropolis of Monroe with plenty of time for coffee and antique shopping. The Countess and I sold two pairs of devil horns to a costume shop, though the owner was concerned about backlash from the fundamentalist Baptist countryside. West Monroe doesn’t even allow the sale of vibrators, she said, recounting merchants that went to court and lost over this issue. Lets see…which should be more strictly controlled? a)Firearms b)Booze c)Vibrators If you answered “C” you could qualify as a Louisiana legislator!
River Records was only marginally better attended than Bernie’s had been, but we still sold six cds. Playing under flourescent lights didn’t really put me in the rocking mood though. The store owner, Mike Manning, is unbelievably cool. He actually gave Pinky some records and then bought us dinner. On the downside, we learned that our Ruston/Norton Tavern show had been cancelled due to an acute case of bar owner’s disease. Our Ruston liaison, David “Catfish” Mason, had been trying to get in touch with us for days. I quickly got on the phone and secured another show at Monroe’s own Atomic Cafe, which is roughly the size of my office cubicle. There was no P.A. so I sang through my guitar amp. The performance had a scaled down She-Devils meets Low kind of aesthetic which actually worked quite well. After we loaded-out and thanked Atomic proprietors Paul & Claudia, we drove the 25 minutes to Ruston. We had intented to decent upon the flaky Norton Tavern with a vengeance, but once we got there we felt too docile to effectively trash the place. Instead, Catfish bought drinks for Pinky all night and the Countess and I went over to the Chicken Ranch, home of my former bandmates in Squint, and promptly fell asleep on the living room sleeper sofa.
April 1, 1999
Venue: The Rock
City: Dallas, TX
Tenants of the Chicken Ranch take a certain pride in it’s dilapidation. Frankly, I didn’t think the building would survive the years that the band Habitual Sex Offenders lived there. Ever heard the saying about not letting the bed bugs bite? According to Pinky, that’s easier said than done upstairs at the Ranch. It turned out that Dane Adrian already had the Sinister Dane disc – and he loves it! I guess I’m actually gonna have to listen to it now. After a couple of games on the Ranch’s Donkey Kong Jr. machine, I fueled up the She-Devils at the Ruston Huddle House, winner of greasiest breakfast on this tour. After another Chevy fluid check and tire pressure equalization, we were back on the I-20.
We arrived in Deep Ellum around 6:30 to a locked up building. No problem, load-in wasn’t until 8:00pm. According to the marquis, we were playing after a “rock and roll comedy jam”. We speculated about what horrors this might entail, over a fine pasta dinner and cups of tea. I think someone finally arrived to unlock the place at 9:00.
When we returned to the club, we found the doors open and a bossy club owner barking orders at us to hurry up and load our stuff in (wasn’t he the one who couldn’t get his club open on time?). The atmosphere was a tad on the metal side for the She-Devils and myself. It certainly seemed to spook our gear. The drums sustained a broken hi-hat clutch and vacuum tubes started jumping out of my amp. Luckily, the tube was found by Six For Twelve singer/former Ruston, LA denizen Dion Brooks. After we set up, the comics started taking the stage. They bombed terribly, of course. They were well aware of it. I really wanted to laugh and be supportive, but they weren’t exactly giving us much to work with. At least they were an easy act to follow.
The show turned out to be one of our best of the tour, even though I got the living crap shocked out of me again. At another point, a broken string sent the other five so horribly out of tune that the guitar was useless for the rest of the song, allowing the She-Devils to prove, once again, how unnecessary my guitar playing is. Six For Twelve put on a polished set of bluesy rock numbers, most of which seemed to be between six and twelve minutes long. Bada bing!
Pinky’s boyfriend, the internationally known novelist and translator of French poety, Mark Spitzer joined us in Dallas. His hobby is buying rusty old behemoth American station wagons from the 1970′s and then making long cross-country trips making repairs as needed. He has also been known to cut the roof off of a car. He drove up from Baton Rouge with only two breakdowns along the way. Rather successful if you think about it. Of course, he completely missed our set. Pinkstuff and Mark retired to a Motel 6, while the Countess and I stayed with my friends Everett & Tuan.
April 2, 1999
Venues: 33 Degrees, Ruta Maya
City: Austin, TX
We spent an hour of the next morning hanging out in an Autozone parking lot on the outskirts of Dallas. Mark added some StopLeak to his Buick “Estate Wagon” (the engine must be about 50% StopLeak by now). He also noticed that our Astro’s radiator fan was slowly whacking a hole into a poorly routed radiator hose. Let’s hear it for those GM engineers!
About 40 miles north of Waco, we stopped off at Carl’s truck stop, whose garishly painted tractor-trailer billboards we’d seen for several miles. In the front, we found innocent enough souvenirs like a stuffed armadillo licking out a beer can – you know, family stuff. But wandering back into the place a bit we came across a huge cat-walked strip club complete with black lights and neon. The entrance hall was lined with celebrity photos from the likes of Merle Haggard and Poison’s C.C. Deville. Truckers must route their trips accordingly, ‘cause we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere!
Now that every other person in America lives in Austin, a twelve lane interstate just isn’t enough. Our in-store appearance at 33 Degrees (once we finally got there) was five times as well attended as our last and about half as good. I think we’ve officially sworn off shows that involve flourescent lighting. After the in-store, we had exactly 45 minutes to pack up, drive downtown, unload and begin our last-minute show at Ruta Maya. Thanks to James of the band Ant Man Bee for setting that one up. Our second show of the evening went off without a hitch, unless you count me knocking over a cymbal stand directly into the center of the drum kit. I corrected the problem with my foot, which Pinky later characterized as “smooth”. Not only could I hear myself singing, but the crowd (revolving though they were) really seemed to like us. I even managed to sell a CD, and that’s not easy to do in musically cynical town like this. The Ruta Maya guy, Trey, was extremely friendly and helpful.
April 3, 1999
City: Austin, TX
Our rock show obligations were over at this point so we decided to spend a day goofing off in Austin. We ate breakfast at Quack’s bakery, where we were waited on by one of the singers from the band Sixteen Deluxe. We had figured that she’d be a big rock star by now. We saw a documentary film at the Dobie Theatre and wandered up and down Guadalupe St. At one point a local derelict was attempting to show off his sidewalk scribblings to us. Forgetting we were across the street from the University of Texas, the Countess gave him the rock ‘n roll/devil sign, to which he replied “Hook ‘em horns!”. The Countess bought me a new copy of Luna:Lunapark, thus ending the long standing quest. We paid a visit to our (ex)horn clients, Garb A Go-Go, only to discover that they’ve been making inferior knock-offs of our devil horn designs. It was really quite pitiful. We nearly went to see a band at the Purgatory Lounge, but the downtown swing-dance/drunk idiot traffic was too much to bear. Oh, when will this swing revival go away? What has Brian Setzer wrought? Anyway…our host John Paul has an actual Joust arcade game in his dining room which is plenty entertainment for the likes of me.