On The Road: This Piano Plays Itself 2009 Tour Journal

Photos of This Piano Plays Itself‘s homecoming show at 97 Estoria (8/3/09) by Kevin Griggs

It’s been quite a while now since I spent three weeks on the road with Atlanta’s This Piano Plays Itself. The experience was phenomenal for me, so I wanted to revisit it one more time here on the blog. While I was on the road, I figured that inundating you readers with nothing but stories about the same band for three weeks would be overkill, but on the other hand, I think those stories are well worth telling, so the following post is an extraordinarily long exposition detailing my account of the epic road trip.

Week 1: Shove It Down Their Throats

Early Monday afternoon after the 4th of July, Justin came and picked me up and brought me over to the TPPI Bro Hostel Headquarters so we could all load our personal gear into the van. They are very lucky to have a friend in a successful band who has a 15 passenger van and trailer that they can borrow for their touring needs. It was a rather luxurious travel vessel for the six of us. Next we headed over to their practice space to load up their band gear. As they were bringing everything outside, I was struck by the sheer volume of equipment these guys utilize. I really can’t think of another band as unknown that uses as much stuff. They were a bit pessimistic at first as to how they would load all of it in the trailer, but one of the guys from Gringo Star happened to come by and say hi and the well traveled tour veteran reassured us that all of it would fit, and after some gear Tetris, it did just barely. After this trip I have a ton of respect for bands who arm themselves to the teeth with technology. Not only does it makes loading, unloading, and setting up difficult, but the more gear you have, the more essential items can break, and being at the mercy of suspect sound systems and sound guys are some significant hurdles to clear when not using a conventional stage setup. I can see why so many bands these days take the path of least resistance and go lo-fi.

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Ohmpark Mixtape #10: I Heart New York

My time in New York over the last few days was extremely fun, but also rather brutal. This Piano Plays Itself and I bounced around back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan, ferociously partying between shows. Mixed in the blur of all that, I also got to spend some quality time with some dear old friends from Atlanta, and even met a few cool new folks. I truly do love New York City. Today I’m recouping from the exhaustion of two hard weeks on the road, so here’s a short mix of songs from my favourite New York artists:

Here We Go Magic : Collector (Daytrotter Session)
Cymbals Eat Guitars : Some Trees
St. Vincent : Your Lips Are Red
Dirty Projectors : Useful Chamber
Sonic Youth : Anagrama
Battles : HI LO
Akron/Family : Phenomena
Grizzly Bear : Colorado

On The Road: The Midwest

When this trip began, I was probably least excited about the show and following off day in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, but it ended up being the most fun we’ve had all tour. Saturday night This Piano Plays Itself played a raging house party that reminded me of classic Home Park house parties back in the day. Here’s a video of their triumphant performance:

The rest of our stay in Michigan, we were hanging out with the guys from local band Prussia. We ended up chilling out in what can only be described as a mansion, swimming in the pool, relaxing in the hot tub, shooting pool, and getting really drunk. The whole Michigan experience was a blur, but everyone had a phenomenal time. The guys from Prussia were the most hospitable hosts imaginable, and I had some great conversations about music with them, half of which I can’t remember. But I have been listening to their new EP since then, and it is really cool. Here is a sample, and then you can go download it for free from their myspace:

Prussia : The Witch Was A Preemie, God Bless Her Evil Soul
Prussia myspace

Monday and Tuesday we had shows in Cleveland and Columbus Ohio respectively, both of which were pretty weak in attendance to say the least. In Columbus we did play with some pretty decent bands in a really cool venue that had a tree growing through it though. Overall, our Ohio experience was under par for rest of the tour so far. The Pittsburgh show they had scheduled got canceled, so we decided to go camping in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. We ended up at a camp and discovered a little too late that it was a confederate themed campgrounds and overrun with a strange breed of northern rednecks. The experience was very strange and a little scary, but ended up being yet another hilarious misadventure on this roadtrip that can only be described as epic. I just drove the van and trailer across New York City in rush hour traffic, so now it is time to party again.

On The Road: Chicago

The midwest has been very kind to us so far. In St. Louis, TPPI played with a band called Target Market, who not only turned out to be the best band they’ve played with so far, but they were really cool, hospitable dudes that even coincidentally happened to be friends with So Many Dynamos (who I blogged about last time). We had a mini-rager at their house in southern Illinois.

Target Market : Highways
Target Market myspace

Chicago was also a very fun time. Birthday celebrations, family of the band coming out, and some old friends from the ATL made the night a serious party. We ended up camping on a rooftop overlooking the city and then having our tent destroyed at five in the morning by a hurricane strength thunderstorm. So far, I’m barely getting five hours of sleep a night and fatigue is starting to set in a little bit, but we’re all pushing hard and everyone is in great spirits still. We are about to take it to Michigan shortly, but for now, here is a mini-mix of Chicago artists:

Anathallo : Noni’s Field
Tortoise : Gigantes
Wilco : I’ll Fight
The Fiery Furnaces : The End Is Near
Andrew Bird : Anonanimal

On The Road: St. Louis

I just ditched the gang to drink some Fat Tires and do some blogging in a sports bar on the Mississippi River. Even though Memphis looked like a dump, the show last night went pretty well, and after talking to the locals, there seems to be a decent scene of good music going on there. The more I travel, the more I am surprised to find that the Internet music revolution is taking hold everywhere. The impression I’m getting is that regionalism in music is waning, and this global sonic renaissance is growing stronger every day.

I’m going to be brief, because my internet is spotty. One St. Louis, Missouri band I have been jamming hard lately is So Many Dynamos. I first became aware of them after catching them play a show with Athens’ We Versus The Shark and Cinemechanica, who they are sort of a sister band to. Their newest album, The Loud Wars, sees them taking everything that initially attracted me to this band, and turning it all up a notch. Check them out:

So Many Dynamos : Artifacts of Sound
So Many Dynamos : New Bones
Buy The Loud Wars
So Many Dynamos myspace

So Many Dynamos will be playing 529 July 24th with Cinemechanica.

On The Road: Tennessee

Right now I’m hanging out at a weird cafe in Memphis, Tennessee where This Piano Plays Itself will be playing later tonight. Getting on the road with a band and sharing the experience really helps put perspective on things for me, and if you ever have the chance to do the same, I can’t recommend it enough. Each day and night is a new mysterious adventure for a mostly unknown touring band, wrought with obstacles to be overcome. It is a long, arduous road to travel, booking shows in cities where no one has heard of you, financing the gas and food, finding places to crash each night, there is so much to take on. Of course, there are plenty of upsides to the experience as well.

The first show of this tour in an “anarchist bookstore” in Birmingham, Alabama Monday night ended up getting canceled due to almost nobody showing up. But the band set up their gear anyways and played a set comprised of instrumental jams I’ve never heard them perform before to a couple of friends who came up from Atlanta, myself and the bookstore staff. It was a fun kickoff party and a truly special set, and luckily I caught most of it on video that I’m saving to post up here one rainy day in the future. Last night they ended up playing their first real show in Chattanooga to a decent crowd and then most of us stayed up until dawn talking about silly stuff.

Since I’m in Tennessee, I figured I would talk about a few of my favourite Tennessee bands. Knoxville’s Royal Bangs are getting closer to finishing up a new album to follow up last year’s We Breed Champions (my #17 album of 2008). I was on the fence about the new material when I caught them playing in Atlanta a few months ago, but the recorded versions sound great. Here is one of them that has just hit the blogosphere:

Royal Bangs : My Car Is Haunted
Royal Bangs myspace
Royal Bangs will be at The Earl July 18th and October 16th.

At one of the final shows at the 1084 House last summer, we hosted Nashville’s Jeff The Brotherhood to a packed out crowd on a Monday night. I know the guitar/drummer duo thing is a bit overused at this point, but it is hard for me to recall anybody pull it off better live than these guys. Here’s a track to preview:

Jeff The Brotherhood : I Don’t Nee Your Tas-T
Jeff The Brotherhood myspace
Jeff The Brotherhood will be at The Earl November 12th

My biggest Tennessee crush band right now is Murfreesboro’s Blastoids. Since I’ve been talking about them plenty lately, I’m just going to drop a live video on you:

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The Fest 7: On The Road With Sorry No Ferrari

Gainesville, FL. November 1st-2nd, 2008

The weekend before last, I rode along with Atlanta instrumental rockers Sorry No Ferrari for their performance at The Fest, a punk music festival in Gainesville, Florida. I woke up very early Saturday morning after a long Halloween night to ride along with the three fourths of the band I didn’t really know, but between naps I had plenty of conversation with them about things including music, the history of the band, and barbecue. This was actually the first show with their new drummer, Jonathan Balsamo, so there was lots of getting to know each other between the band as well. We were trying to get to The Fest in time to catch fellow ATLiens Benard, but we got there a few moments too late. So we went to the biggest venue of the fest, which was a bit smaller than Variety Playhouse, to catch Atom & His Package. It was a one-man-punk-band who seems to be a pretty big deal in the punk universe, but very much not my thing.

After that we headed to a tiny venue called 1982 to catch the local Gainesville band whose house we were staying at, Giuseppe. The venue had lots of very old gaming systems hooked up to the TVs on the bar, so I played some Dr. Mario and drink PBRs with the SNF folks for a bit. Giuseppe took the small stage and rocked the house:

After that I jumped around to different venues to see some shows, but didn’t see anything too special. So I joined SNF for some food and drinks and drunken music discussions/debates. The band I was most excited about catching down here was Pegasuses XL, an Athens outfit with ties to We Versus The Shark, and they did not disappoint. I’ve really been enjoying their album, The Antiphon, and I will have more on that in a future post, but here is some eye candy from their epic live set:

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On The Road With TPPI/KX Day 4 & 5: (Saturday, Sunday, & Wrap-Up): The Harder You Cry, The Sooner It Will Be Over

Saturday was the only day of tour that the bands had no show, so we headed to a movie theater to catch The Dark Knight as soon as we woke up. It was alright, but that Keith Ledger guy is a terrible actor isn’t he? Just kidding. Seriously though, I was pretty sick of the hype already but I doubt anyone could come out of seeing that movie thinking it was bad, so jump on the bandwagon.

We headed out of Lynchburg late in the afternoon and traveled about halfway to our Sunday night destination, crashing for the night at a cheap hotel in the middle-of-nowhere Tennessee. We hung out in the room and watched TV and got a little wasted. The next morning we jumped back on the road and made our way Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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On The Road With TPPI/KX Day 3 (Friday): A Legendary Homecoming

We started the day with another Cracker Barrel stop, which has become the official breakfast place of the tour. After that is was time to hit the road again. The fact that a touring band spends a majority of their time in their transportation was something I knew before this, but I don’t think I fully appreciated that until about this point. Being in such a close proximity to various other humans for an extended period of time, where there is no escape and you have to deal with everyone else’s idiosyncrasies, it is an abnormal scenario that can lead to a wide range of outcomes. So far, it has been the perfect conditions for a constantly growing comradery between all involved.

As we were approaching our destination, we were listening to various sing-along sort of songs like Tom Petty hits, Beatles songs, ironically hilarious rap joints, and whatever else while the two bands were jamming again on their percussion toys and the melodica. Riding along the road in a place I had never been before while everyone is singing and laughing and having such a great time, well, it made me wonder how some people can live a normal, 9-5, straight laced sort of life. I mean I just felt so lucky and happy to be savouring this strongly positive experience. I can’t recommend going on tour enough.

We arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia in mid-afternoon and hung out at the house we were staying at that night. This was the hometown of Kebert Xela‘s Chris Howe, and we were greeted as liberators because of it. If you don’t know, Lynchburg is the home of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, so there was certainly an aura of the so-called “Culture Wars” in the town, and we were quickly co-opted into the seemingly tight knit counter-culture contingent.

Kebert Xela‘s historical ties to the town proved to be an asset for the show, as the small coffee shop the bands played in was packed. After two lightly populated shows, it was great to have a respectably larger audience for these guys. This Piano Plays Itself‘s set had to overcome some technical difficulties, but they showed these Virginia folks how we do it in the A. Kebert Xela were the superstars for this one, commanding an enthusiastic crowd. It was truly a heroes welcome. After the show, we all returned to the house where we were crashing at that hosted a rather large post-show party. Lynchburg is certainly not the sort of place I would ever want to live, but the kids there received us with style and grace, so I’ve got nothing but love for them.

Enjoy some videos I took from the night:

This Piano Plays Itself:

Keber Xela:

On The Road With TPPI/KX Day 2 (Thursday): Earning Respect One Fan At A Tme

I woke up fairly early Thursday morning after only getting about 4 hours of sleep, but after chilling out with our gracious hosts, we hit up Cracker Barrel and headed to Greenville, NC. The drive across the state of North Carolina would end up taking us close to 8 hours to accomplish. The mood inside was a bit more low key than the first day, with people trading off naps and chilling out with video games or Mad Libs. We hit up a Wal-Mart halfway through and picked up some percussive toys and the two bands had primal drum circle plus melodica jam sessions, often playing along with accompanying music from the ipod.

As we approached the venue, the place looked like a ghost town. The area was made up of old run-down commercial buildings and very little signs of other human beings nearby. We parked and walked up to the door, and found this:

One of the things that interested me most about this trip was seeing what trials and tribulations an unknown touring band has to go through when they are just starting out. With an ever increasing amount of competition, rising gas prices, and a limited amount of venues, it has to be difficult for a band to tour and make an impression on people. I imagined it to be quite a battle to wage to grow fans outside of your own city, and two days into the tour, the challenges became crystal clear.

We contacted “Jeff” and found out the show had been moved to a weird alcohol store in a shopping center called 21 Eleven Beer and Wine. I have never seen a place like this before, carrying very high end microbrew beers only for cheap prices and being pretty much a specialty store that had been hosting other shows as well.

Jeff and the few other locals who came out for this one turned out to be cool dudes, but with a bill completely filled with obscure out-of-towners, there wasn’t much in the way of an audience except the other bands. Apparently the Spazzatorium was facing typical problems a DIY venue faces when it is no longer under the radar (think ISP Space, 585, 141, etc). The two bands that opened before our Georgians were two groups steeped in the Minus The Bear school of Hardcore, but Native was pretty good, so if that’s your bag, check them out. Both of our bands put on great performances regardless of the circumstances. I am really digging Kebert Xela right now. We finished the night at a cheap hotel watching the ridiculous Batman And Robin movie while partying late into the night.

Both of these bands are damn spectacular and I feel honoured to get to experience the chemistry between these musicians and fun atmosphere on this tour so far. There may not have been many people at the first two shows, but you can’t win a fanbase overnight, and these guys are having a great time together earning it the hard way. I’m having lots of technical difficulties as per usual with getting reliable Internet service, but hopefully I’ll have much more for you soon.

Kebert Xela:

This Piano Plays Itself:

On The Road With TPPI/KX Day 1 (Wednesday): The Red Velvet Cunt Cake Tour

Wednesday started with me running all around town doing last second errands before getting picked up by This Piano Plays Itself in the van they are borrowing from XO while Say Anything is on the Warped Tour. We headed to Athens to pick up the duo of Kebert Xela, squeezed their gear in the trailer, and headed on the road 7 people deep. The journey to Asheville, NC seemed to fly by due to hilarious yet lewd and offensive conversation and jokes. The mini-tour has been dubbed “The Red Velvet Cunt Cake Tour ’08″ by the two bands, so you can imagine the dialogue that lead to that. The first day of any road trip is always filled with electric anticipation and excitement, and everyone was hyped up for this.

The Asheville venue, The Rocket Club, was actually in West Asheville, a sparser part of town I had not been to before, but there was a great record shop right nearby that I blew some money in. The place was pretty cool and the sound system was very nice. A few ATL superstars also made the trek up to catch this show and support their crew, so us ATLiens bounced back and forth between a restaurant across the street and the club pregaming before the show.

Our two touring bands were on the bill with a local Asheville band that was playing their last show ever. The band supposedly drew lots of people to their shows, but other than our crew and a few bar regulars, there was very little attendance for this one. The bands were not deterred, though, and both put down some great sets. Kebert Xela are really cool and I highly recommend checking them out. Doug and Chris each play multiple instruments and run everything through various looping devices. I will have some videos from the show up soon, but all of you planning on coming out to Lenny’s Monday night are in for a real treat.

This Piano Plays Itself ruled the joint as per usual blasting it out hard. They played a new song from the new album they are currently writing. The fresh material I have heard from them so far is actually a bit different then what is on the self titled EP, but just as impressive. The night ended with some more krunkness, and then an hour and half drive being lost in Asheville trying to find the family member we were staying with. Late in the night we finally arrived to a warm welcome and got a little bit of sleep. Day one was a fun adventure and stay tuned for total coverage.