Just a band and its will to surviiiiiiiiiiiiiive
Wednesday, June 21–Philadelphia
My throat starts hurting first thing. It feels familiar, as if I’ve been waiting for this all along. Only two more shows to go; hopefully, I can limp it home like an ailing car, block by block.
I nap in the hotel while the boys go in pursuit of a famous cheese steak. They bring me back one, but tell me they have misgivings, that the cheese steak joint might be really racist, that it had plaques honoring the officer shot by Mumia, etc. We find out later that this is a well-known racist cheese steak joint.
A homeless man calls Mike “Rocky.” As in “Got any change, Rocky?” Mike is slight and a redhead. Perhaps that’s the default address here, like Hoss or Boss or Man.
The Standard Tap is a 200 year-old space, beautiful and glowing with warmth; you can feel that people have been having a good time here for centuries. The person we’re playing the show with tells us that this bar has only recently started hosting shows. Normally this would be terrifying, but in this case it’s intriguing.
The stage is very small, an arched alcove, and we have to rig up my kick drum so that it’s hanging off the front, in order to accommodate the whole set. I have fantasies about kicking it into the audience on the last song. A couple of songs get bailed on because of my throat, but it’s the most fun we’ve had on stage, with a head bobbing audience who knows the words. Every person seems 100% like they want to be here, like they’re in it for the night.
After the Midwest the Dandy mentions dwindled, but have now been replaced by Counting Crows references about Omaha. We get two of these tonight.
To me, the difference between a person who makes art and an Artist is not the quality or quantity of what they produce, but their orientation to the world. They are like aliens our planet gets to borrow. Kurt Vile, who headlines the show, is an Artist. He is a crazy cocktail of seemingly incompatible elements—looks like Robert Plant, sings like Dylan and Jagger, plays like Sebadoh Freed Weed era and early Liz Phair. When I compliment the show he says, cryptically, “It gets worse every time.” He gives me two CDs and, along with them, the sense he is insanely prolific.
I befriend a guy named Patrick and because I am a singing drummer, we discuss Don Henley and both admit how much we like him. Perhaps, Patrick offers, Henley has too many “yes men” around, and this results in too many un-questioned musical choices, subverting his shot at worldwide domination. We make a plan to start a club called Henley’s, where only Henley’s music can be played. Henley himself will give regular live shows. We decide a California beach is the best Henleyesque location, but that there are obvious franchise opportunities and soon we will evangelize the whole country. Henley himself, of course, will be deeply grateful.
Kurt Vile’s posse has brought its own turntables and records, and once he’s done, they hold court in the red, womblike room, full of the totally game, totally onboard, crowd. Springsteen comes on and we laugh about how perfect, cliché even, that is in Philly. Who would have thought that the indie kids actually do love the Boss? Soon, the DJ quits pretending anyone wants to hear anything but the Boss, and the night turns into a total Springsteen fest. Everyone is dancing, going crazy. Patrick is not only a Henley devotee but an unbelievable dancer, whose style is a hybrid of Springsteen himself and Westside Story. He incorporates chairs into his routine, kicking off them like a donkey and swooping his leg over the backs. As a matter of fact, a lot of people start incorporating chairs. Patrick gets a glass shard in his hand when I show him how to do a vaudevillian dance move called a “coffee grinder.” As people get drunker, chairs go flying, and the waitress keeps saying, “All right, I’m shutting this party down,” but then she stops to dance.
I leave with a renewed appreciation of the Boss and in awe of how cool the people in Philly are. This is the most fun we’ve had on the whole tour, hands down.
In bed, the fun dissipates and I am unable to sleep, swallowing compulsively to gauge how screwed my throat is. Now it’s not just my throat—I’m officially sick. I pray we don’t have to cancel tomorrow.