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.
After loading up the van and the trailer, we headed for Birmingham, Alabama. Upon arriving, we spent some time walking around an area near downtown Brimingham where we spotted multiple fliers for the show, and even read some quotes from Ohmpark printed in a local newspaper, but no more than two locals would show up for the show, so the venue proprietor decided to cancel it. While this was obviously a disappointing start to the tour, TPPI decided to just perform anyways because their equipment was already setup. Former bassist Mike Balls and another friend surprised us by making the trek from Atlanta to catch this show, so the band basically played a private show for us and the employees of the so called “Anarchist Bookstore”. Thanks to Mike and Bob providing a heavy supply of booze, we had quite a party to accompany the concert. The band played exclusively instrumental jams I had never heard before, and it was one my favourite sets from them I’ve ever heard just because it was so different from what they normally do. Everybody had a great time at our private party and the band and I ended up sleeping in the bookstore that night. Before I laid down to sleep, a mini pool appeared in the ally way we were hanging in that the guys tried to swim around in hilariously.
I awoke to the guys reading pornography and instructional sex books they had discovered, and after slowly packing up and cleaning some party fouls from the night before, we headed on to Chattanooga. Once we arrived we hung out downtown, mostly tailgating around the van in a parking lot next to the venue. We were accosted momentarily by a older African American musician who performed a song for us and explained that music was all about making hits and writing songs that everyone can relate to. This of course is philosophically exactly the opposite to how I feel about music, and it helped cement my thoughts on the subject. After the show as we continued to tailgate outside, I became a victim of some drunken wrestling and Doug came down right on my neck. The injury I sustained subsided in only a few days, but would mark the beginning of a trip marred with scrapes and bruises for me. That night we stayed with a friend of the band in some extremely rural location in north Georgia. Most of us and a few of the locals stayed up talking and partying until nearly dawn. Sleep was already becoming a rare commodity.
In the morning, the guys rode around on four wheelers before we set off towards Memphis. I drove my first shift halfway through the drive and took us through Mississippi to the venue. Upon arriving at the dive bar in a decrepit looking city, spirits were momentarily dashed, as Memphis is about as unappealing a city as I’ve ever seen. The show ended up being better than we expected, and the locals seemed to be fans of TPPI‘s style. Afterwards I drove us to a motel in bumfuck Arkansas where we stayed up drinking 40 ozs, which became the official beverage of the tour. Most of us managed to stay up extremely late again, and the next day I would begin to feel the heavy weariness that accompanied me the rest of tour.
After spending the day checking out downtown St. Louis, we ended up heading to southern Illinois to stay with one of the bands they had played with at the Brewery that night. We drink and smoked and talked music, the triumvirate of entertainment for me. We had a great sing along and celebration for Justin at midnight for his birthday, and then spent a lot of time hanging out on their front porch, which seemed like a foreign concept to these Midwesterners.
The next morning we headed to Chicago and I spent that trip getting a lot of writing done. After arriving outside the venue, we walked around a while, and then I met up with my Chicago friend Josh. We had some drinks and then ate at some place that was very much like Atlanta’s Eats, but better. At the venue, Justin had some family there to see the show for his birthday. After having some nice conversations with Justin’s father, I spent most of the night inside the bar hanging out with Josh and his Chicago friends while the band drank 40′s in the ally outside. Because I would be hanging out with my friend in a city I loved, I had intended to get as wasted as possible this night, but somehow by the time the night was over, I realized I was the most sober member of our traveling entourage, so I had to do a little babysitting to get everyone to the place we were staying. Their friend Mike had a rooftop where one could view the entire Chicago skyline, so we opted to set up tents on the roof and urban camp that night. After everyone had passed out and just as I was about to fall asleep, I noticed lightning, thunder, and dark clouds amassing above us. I opted to ignore it, but the vicious storm eventually hit us and flooded the haphazardly put together tent before knocking it down. We hurried back down inside the apartment with our rain-soaked gear, and I ended up getting some decent sleep on the floor.
Mike, our host, treated us to hamburgers and hot dogs for breakfast before he sent us on our way towards Detroit. Just about 10 miles from the house show we were scheduled to play at, highway traffic came crashing to a halt. It took something like almost three hours to travel only a few miles to our exit because the Interstate was shut down for some mysterious reason. When we did finally arrive at our destination, we found one of the better house parties I’ve experienced. The kids here in Detroit had a distinct “don’t give a fuck” attitude, and while a raging party like this would most likely have resulted in police coming to shut it down in Atlanta, the weakened public services of Pontiak, Michigan only drew a firetruck honking a friendly horn beep as they drove by to their station, only mere feet away from the party. The band played a very well received, chaotic show and I descended into blackout drunkeness during it. I was told afterwards that I went into “Kimbro-mode”, trying to haulk “Heady TPPI albums” to everyone at the party. The next morning I woke up and reached in my pocket to find my camera completely obliterated.
We spent that night at the house of one of the members of the band Prussia, who helped put together the show. Sunday was an off day, so the Prussia guys brought us to their parent’s house, which unless I’m forgetting a particular location, was the nicest house I’ve ever stayed at in my entire life, and probably will retain that title forever. I spent at least 5 hours in the water between their pool and their hot tub. We drink all day and night, and I again blacked out. At one moment I was having a conversation outside with everyone, and in a blink of the eye, I suddenly woke up on a couch early the next morning. I caught my second shower of the journey that morning, and we headed off to Ohio after getting some lunch with the Prussia guys. The gracious hospitality we enjoyed in these foreign lands has been very impressive to me, and the culture of bands helping other bands is something I scarcely thought about until taking the road, but the first week of this tour we experienced it at its best.
Week 2: That’ll Put your Dick in The Dirt
I drove us from Detroit to Cleveland listening to an extended mixtape I had put together days earlier. We arrived at the venue in Lakeland and after a little while, me and 3 of the TPPI guys went down to the lake to check it out. With Cleveland’s skyline in the distance and the sun setting over the water, this was probably the most enjoyable moment we had in Ohio. Honestly, Ohio seemed kind of lame. After getting back to the venue, the terrible comedy show that was opening for us had already begun. As soon as TPPI went on afterwards, their loud sonic assault was to overwhelming for the comedy crowd in a tiny coffee shop and one by one everyone left during their first song except for literally one or two people. This was about the worst show on tour, so we headed out of town to a hotel. On our way there, we listened to an advanced copy of the new From Exile record, which was awesome despite the terrible van sound system. We partied in the hotel room, and I ended up not falling asleep until a few hours before we had to check out.
It took us under an hour to get to Columbus from the hotel, so we had an entire day to kill there before the night’s show. We went to a movie theater to watch Bruno, which I thought was hilarious and I think I liked it even more than Borat. After that we found a nice park to chill in and play frisbie. By this time I was hallucinatingly tired from lack of sleep, but I couldn’t manage to sneak in a nap either. Once we arrived at the venue, I headed to a bar and restaurant down the street to do some blogging and get a good meal. The venue that night, called the Treehouse for the giant tree that the venue was built around, was really cool, but the turnout was pretty much comprised exclusively of the three bands on the bill. Both bands were pretty decent, and we ended up staying with a couple in one of them that night, and being exhausted, I crashed out while everyone else socialized.
The next day we headed into Pennsylvania to find a place to camp. After discovering the State Park we had picked out didn’t allow alcohol, and our GPS then sending us down someone’s private driveway in search of another, we settled on staying at the first private campground we came across. That camp ended up being a Confederate themed campgrounds and was both completely weird and kind of scary. We set up our camp and began drinking heavily while entertaining ourselves with sing-alongs as Eric played banjo and Jayson played acoustic guitar. Eventually a few dudes from a nearby campsite came over to talk to us, all vividly displaying rebel flag tattoos, shirts and belt buckles. They had a northern accent, but tried to incorporate as much southern slang as possible. We quizzed them on the significance of the confederate symbol to them, and while a at first they tried to explain it was about being “country”, eventually one of them admitted their racist tendencies. Eventually they left and we continued to party until one of them came back again. This guy actually worked for the campgrounds and told us stories of fucking girls on the back of a horse and other lameties that made me decide to just go to my tent and fall asleep. As we were leaving the next day, we saw him by the horse stables waving at us, and we all had a good laugh about it. The whole experience was quite a culture shock.
I took another turn at driving just as we were entering the New Jersey suburbs of New York City. After trying to go through the Holland Tunnel and being turned away because of our trailer, I then navigated the huge van across the city through the Lincoln Tunnel and over to Brooklyn in rush hour traffic while our GPS was yelling at me to go the wrong way. I’m not sure too many drives in my life left me with such a great feeling of accomplishment as successfully navigating this one. That night a few Atlanta friends, Roger and JP, came out to the show and we got to catch up and party like it was old times. i ended up splitting off from the TPPI gang and left to drink at a bar one of my friends worked at. The end of this night was a blur, but I stayed with Roger in Brooklyn, who had a divine view of Manhattan from his rooftop. I woke up around 1pm the next day, and after Roger walked me to the nearest subway station, I headed across Brooklyn to JP’s house. We caught up some more and I drink a vodka OJ while he finished some obligations he had, and then we went into Manhattan to meet back up with TPPI. We met them in a very touristy part of town, so we decided to take it to the lower eastside/ East Village area. I took them to Katz Deli, which I had incorrectly remembered as being cheap and had been harassed the rest of the trip for making everyone eat fifteen dollar sandwiches. I still think they were worth it, though. Ever since departing Brooklyn, JP and I had been mixing drinks in the streets from a bottle of Captain Morgans, so we then headed to a park for a while to enjoy our open containers. After that alcohol supply had been just about depleted, we found some dive bar in the Village and drank for a while. When we were done there, it was raining, so we got soaked while ambling around the Village and getting increasingly intoxicated. Eventually, me, JP, Jayson, and Eric split off and headed to Brooklyn to go bar hopping. We were delayed by some weird subway train switching as I downed a few Guinness cans in front of the crowd and subway cops, or at least so I was told. We barhopped around Brooklyn, but by this time I was beyond blacked out and apparently slept in every bar I zombie walked into with them. I woke up the next day at JP’s place surprised to find all my valuables intact.
JP had a prior engagement for Saturday, so after getting some delicious bagels, Jayson and Eric went to see Harry Potter in a Brooklyn theater and I headed into Manhattan again. I ended up meeting up with my friend Zach, and we spent the afternoon walking around the Eastside having great conversations. I was planning to go see Built To Spill play at Coney Island later that afternoon, but being too tired and enjoying my time hanging out with Zach, I scrapped that plan. When I finally got to Pianos where TPPI was playing, I was greeted by Aaron who informed me that the tour van was stuck in traffic for hours and that their equipment might not even make it in time for their 8pm set. The van did finally arrive just minutes before they were supposed to start, so we all rushed to load in and luckily they were able to utilize a vast supply of house equipment. The show itself was probably one of the worst I had seen from them as their performance was mired in technical difficulties, low spirits, and the rushed situation. Just moments after their set, we learned that Aaron, their bassist, had to leave the tour immediately due to a family emergency. He said goodbye and headed to a subway, and this was probably the tour at its lowest, most negative moment. Expensive New York had put a hard squeeze on everyone and we were all on the verge of being broke, we were tired both physically and emotionally, and on top of that they were now down a member of the band.
Then like a tornado out of nowhere, a few ATL superstars showed up too late to catch the show, but just in enough time to get everyone’s spirits back up. Mike Balls and Mr. Go Big ended up buying us drinks and the night turned back around quickly into one final party in New York City. We eventually got back to where we were staying out in New Jersey and went to sleep just as the sun was coming up.
The next day was the final off day of the tour, so we spent it at Doug’s uncle’s house in New Jersey recouping from the first two weeks on the road, and they spent some time practicing, having to go back to a 4-piece setup for the following week. While hanging out in Jersey, we got to meet some really interesting characters, and again experienced amazing hospitality.
Week 3: Man Up Or Boy Down
Monday we got going early, newly recharged from the restful Sunday, and headed south. It was kind of weird getting back in the van together after days of being split apart all over New York. The van had become our home for this journey, and there was a welcoming feeling of normalcy to be back in it again. Although the rest of the week also felt kind of weird without Aaron. It was like we had lost a man in combat or something.
Upon arriving in Charlottesville, Virginia, we had to load in to the venue in the rain and up a flight of stairs. The venue, a weird tea house, was pretty cool though, and it would be the best Monday night turnout thanks to a local high school band attracting a ton of 16 year olds to the show. That band wasn’t that great, as one would expect, but the other band sharing the bill was Chicago’a A Lull, who turned out to be one of the better bands TPPI shared a bill with on this trip. Without being able to find a place to stay, we all pitched in and got our last hotel room of tour.
Richmond was only an hour away, so we spent a lot of the next day killing time along the riverside there. We hiked over some weird bridge over to the rocky side of the river and chilled out with a very trashy crowd. On our way back to the van, I got offered drugs, asked for drugs, and got yelled at by some girl who appeared to be extremely drunk and was struggling to pull her pants up. The show that night had very low turnout and terrible bands on the bill, but the bartender at the place was really cool and helped all of us get completely sloshed on a budget. That night we ended up staying at someone’s house, but I can hardly remember it.
While we were in Richmond, we realized that the van was leaking coolant, and after lots of very amateur guessing among us as to what the problem was, we decided to bring it into a Ford dealership early the next morning to get it fixed. We spent about 6 hours of that Wednesday playing poker for gummy bears in the repair shop before finally being able to head to Durham, NC in the late afternoon. The bar they played at that night had some great beers on tap, so I drank up to fight the exhaustion that had again swept over me. At one point during this TPPI set, Doug ran around behind the stage while playing and kicked open a door to the deck outside where people were hanging out and it was one of the most hilarious rockstar moves I’ve seen in a long time. That night we stayed with a friend from Athens who lived way out in the woods. After more of the typical end of night chilling, everyone crashed out hard.
We all slept in very late the next day, and then spent most of what was left of the afternoon watching bad television. Afterwards we headed to nearby Carrboro right in the middle of XX Merge Fest. The small town was bustling with activity on this beautiful Thursday afternoon, and we got some BBQ and watched a bluegrass band. Then we headed to the venue and played pool and darts until it was time for another TPPI show. This was a good one, there was a decent crowd, the bar was really cool, the other band they played with, The Bronzed Chorus, were incredible, and we were even given a cooler packed full of Schlitz to drink. After hanging out until the bar closed, we then stopped by a local 24 hour institution and got some tasty late night snacks, and headed back to our backwoods castle.
Friday we got an early start because Asheville was having one of its largest festivals and with all of the streets downtown blocked off, we had to get there early to find parking near the venue. We then hung out downtown with the army of hippies, families, and art booths that were overrunning the city. In the middle of the afternoon, we were surprised by a van full of friends from Atlanta who came up for the show. The rest of the night was a party of us Atlanta folks in Asheville. At the end of the night, our ATL visitors headed back and we headed to Jayson’s uncle and aunts house, where we sat around a fire hanging out pretty late. When I woke up late the next day, it seemed everyone who was there the night before and more were chilling in the backyard like the party had never stopped. Eventually we departed for Clemson for the final show of the tour.
We got to Clemson and played wall ball on a dumpster for a while and then met up with the other Atlanta band playing this show at a Mellow Mushroom. We all hit up a local bar for a while and drink and competed on the Iphone game Paper Toss, until Doug destroyed us all with a ridiculously high score. The bands set up outside for this one, and while the fratty crowd wasn’t exactly TPPI‘s target market, the people who stuck around for them seemed to enjoy it, and we even had a few other Atlanta folks come over for this one too. It was great how many times people decided to travel to support these guys and have some fun with us.
After the show we decided to just head straight back to Atlanta. Justin and i had been pretty obsessed with the new Phoenix record the entire tour, so we put it on one last time and we headed home, and I’m sure every time I hear a song from it the rest of my life, I’ll think of this three week trip.
I want to thank TPPI for allowing me to tag along yet again and share in this incredible experience. I can’t wait to hit the road again.
TPPI Tour Posts:
- Posted by Davy Minor on September 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm