"puttin' the opera to bed" tour diary - week 1

mike watt and the black gang

"puttin' the opera to bed" tour '98

nels cline - guitar
bob lee - drums
watt - thud staff, spiel

steve reed - soundman, backup singing at the mixing desk

steve kaul - the man outside the van

performing watt's punk opera "contemplating the engine room"

monday, september 21, 1998 - tucson, az

from bob lee:

   dang it, I left my giant box of spare heads and sticks and shit at home! off to a raging, or enraged, start. this is the second time I've been in tucson (note for context's sake: I am also the drummer in claw hammer which has toured the u.s. twelve times since 1990, this is only my second u.s. trip with watt, in case you hear me talk about "when I was here in 1993. . . "). met up with al perry, leader of the cattle, who I last saw shortly after I moved to l.a. in 1988. jack drag are back with us for the first two weeks of gigs, good news to me as I really like them & they're good guys to have around. their third disc "dope box" just came out on a&m, have only heard the advance single but those two tracks sound fantastic. their previous releases were well-made 4 track recordings, but their shimmery/explosive contrast comes across much better in a good studio. so any of youse coming out to our gigs on or before october 3, get there early! tonight I am working on the club's computer during jd's set but hear all the subtle guitar effects with perfect clarity since the computer is right next to john's amp. second band on the bill are the recliners from austin, a lounge act doing satiny remakes of "stairway to heaven," "come as you are," "welcome to the jungle" etc. ha ha very funny, for the first two or three songs, but gawd. . . they take this on tour?!? they're not a bad lounge band but the material is unsuitable except as a joke which gets lets funny each time it is told, and by the end of a forty minute set, I was in pain. woulda preferred they stuck with "fly me to the moon. " we play the opera tonight quite well but the encores are all seriously flawed, by tuning, misssed cues, tempo shifts, deer-in-the-headlights confusion or other. this is only the first or second time we have performed most of these songs, so I am optimistic.

from steve reed:

   well this is the last time mike is going to perform his opera. IT's been a great piece of music to perform and I have enjoyed all of my singing parts. I think with nels IT sounds the best ever. Joe was great to but nels brings the opera to a new high. He's AMAZING!!!!!!!!! IN route to Tucson for first show at club congress hotel. I'm also doing sound for our support Jack Drag from Boston. So double duty for me about two weeks. Both groups sounded great making are first show very successful.

from watt:

   the last time around for the opera and I'm ready. well, I guess I am - I know I'm willing. of course the beginning of a tour is like a vortex, sucking all activity just before it starts into one swirl. I must've had like six gigs right before among other things that just _had_ to get done so by the time of h-hour, I was an emotional mess. this means of course, I space and forget shit like the digital camera and a coat. as for the coat, since we're doing a big counter-clockwise swing of the country hitting the southwest then south first, it won't be necessary cuz it will be fucking well broisting out there. as for the camera, fuck - we'll miss shots of the first two days but helen over at columbia (one hell of an uber-lady) well get it to us by b'urque (new mexico).

   I say bye to the man, my older cat (17 years) and the little girl, the kitten (just turned one year) and jump into the boat ('90 ford econoline e250 van) and head for mister reed's. I loaded up the day before to save some hell pressure (but does that ever work?) and so all I got to do is gas up and roll. I get some pedro gas, look in the mirror and see pedro fade as I drive up the harbor freeway toward south central l.a. it's great to see steve reed, all ready to go and focused as all hell. this man is something else, what can I say? more than ten years I've shared the hell-rides w/him. he's the fist in the air, the soul that really cares - I love this man.

   next stop is bob lee who lives in granada hills, the northwest part of the valley. los angeles is one fuckin spread-out place. we pack up his drums and again set sail. good to be shipping w/him again. after just two weeks to learn the piece, this'll be his third round w/us. he is a committed man, a no-bullshit man that does what he says. likes to think too. much, much respect to bob lee. if anybody was going to do the hodge parts for the opera, he's the one.

   we make a fuck-up and head to nels' pad in highland park. of course I forget to tell steve nels had called and asked for us to get him at carla's so we got to head a little north and pick up the nelster in eagle rock. what a gift it is to be sending off the opera w/nels on the guitar. joe baiza is in europe w/his _mecolodiacs_ (who had just released an album over there and are touring it along w/his former band mates from _universal congress of. . . _ who are now called _kool aid acid test_) and it was great having him the last three tours but the nels thing is neat cuz it was nels who recorded the piece w/me along w/hodges. hodge is still helping some other cats out and is not available but to have nels kind of brings the piece full circle. when I realeased the opera last october I promised myself I would play it everywhere I could for one year. it's gonna end up more like thirteen months but to do it w/nels is a neat twist of the fates. so good to see him, he's ready to go and give it his all. in the preceding weeeks we worked up sixteen encore tunes to really give the opera a good send-off. in fact, nels wrote us a piece,"this is a prayer" just for the tour and it's great - me and bob lee really dig playing it w/him.

   I am a very lucky man to have these three cats w/me as we set forth on our way. what a hell-ride to tucson, across the mojave and into arizona. I gotta stop driving as we cross the colorado river and let steve reed take over. the heavy winds and desert heat have the van (boat) run a little hot so I ask steve to keep it a little calm and she keeps her cool. I love this boat and tell her that constantly. I tell the crew it's like our ark and to give her good wishes. we're half an hour late for soundcheck but it's the first gig, no prob! this tour is on!

   this "puttin the opera to bed" tour cherry gig is a the "club congress," a place in downtown tucson we played on the first run last october. john dillinger stayed here once in the thirties but I think that part burned down. the tour shirts just arrive from north carloina, they're white on brown and they got a nanny roeland drawing of my two cats in hammocks, dreaming of this tour. there's a porthole too. I put all the towns on it, fifty-two to do in fifty-five days. a band that was w/us a while last tour called _jack drag_ is doing the tour w/us through florida. john, joe and jason - great cats that have a trippy sound and have a great spirit. I dig being around and rolling w/them. another band, the _recliners_ from austin, I think are also on the bill but true to watt form, I konk after soundcheck and miss both bands perform. it's fucked but after that hell-ride, I need the z's bad to play my heart out.

   we hit the stage after midnight (aghhh! but it's ok cuz they're letting us sleep upstairs and we don't have to load up the van until the morning) and this tour has it's first gig! steve reed's got the monitors great and the cats in the crowd are really helping us along so it's great to unwind the story to them. nels is unbelievable and I'm digging it, looking over at bob lee and seeing the look on his face too. we're bound in the endeavor and I feel the wind in our sails, billowing and breathing, like a living dream. I see the faces from my past come before as I wheel out the chapters of the tale, it's a trip. we're done before I know it and doing encore and encore, then the lights come on and they makes us stop. I thank the crowd for coming and staying so late on a work night and the first gig is done. we spiel a little w/brian, a tucson cat and his bud about music ideas, I thank the black gang, bless the boat once more and konk on the floor of one of the rooms, spent but happy the motherfucker is underway.

tuesday, september 22, 1998 - flagstaff, az

from nels cline:

   Whoa! Back in the van. It's been awhile - since '95. We've done 2 shows : Tucson & Flagstaff. Only about 51 gigs to go! Things seem relatively calm and affable - especially as compared to those hell tours 3 years ago! To all those tenacious souls who braved the torrential outpouring of my '95 diaries, please bear in mind that I am quite different internally now, OK? Still trying to play up a storm, but I've learned a lot since then. . .

   Watt's "opera" is an affecting piece, and very challenging to play (even tho these are all my parts). Watt's got us cranking on some really cool encores - some cover songs that I never thought I'd play. Check us out!

   The desert is still so beautiful, the Congress & the Monte Vista old hotels w/ tons of atmosphere - a welcome change from the inevitable parade of Mo 6's! Last night (Flagstaff) was pretty wild: one of those tiny-pad-packed-out-and-swarming affairs. No one seems able to believe that someone of Watt's stature would play here. Anyway, it was pretty insane. Only hit one poor guy w/ my gtr headstock once - he was OK- thrown to the stage by the roiling crowd. Some woman afterwards said that there should be "more bass licks. " I think she believed Bob when he said that he also plays in the Rolling Stones. "Were you there at the Coliseum with Guns & Roses?! When Axel ran all the way around the whole Coliseum??. ". . Hmmmm. Anyway, in spite of annoying security guys (they didn't really know what to do and were nervous - at one point one guy was right next to me and I could feel him every time I moved even a bit. He didn't budge even when I gave him a couple of good "accidental" rams).

   So trying to get together. Watt's got these hand signals for encore songs that Bob and I totally blanked on. But the music's sounding strong to me (even Watt in his super-concerned way - Read:anal- would agree, I think).

   When we get home I'll be thrashed - and then Carla B. and I will try to do some west coast shows to support the release of Scarnella (Nov. 2, beloved acolytes). No rest for the wacky! Turning the laptop over to another Crewmember now. I sure miss my sweetheart (already! whine whimper. . . ). Love is the key. Goodbye, Flagstaff! You are beautiful and you smell really good. Off to Albuquerque - hope to see my old pal Mark Weber (poet - check out his CDs that I'm on). Wish I had the phone # of those fabulous Baca sisters (The Eyeliners, whojust totally rule!). More later.

from bob lee:

   I always like playing in flagstaff, though I'm not sure I'd wanna live there. very pretty, and cooler than the rest of the state, in fact cooler than most of the southwest since it sits at 7000 feet. claw hammer's show here was followed by a day off during which we climbed volcanic rock craters. the town itself is quaint and collegiate, with more than its fair share of coffee, beer and pizza. like last night, we are playing in a hotel bar and staying in the hotel so after soundcheck and a surprisingly good thai meal, I check out "aka cassius clay" on tnt. I need to see some more documentaries of muhammed ali, watching him talk to reporters is funnier than any standup comic, and while I'm not really a fight fan, watching him in action is stunning. "when we were kings," about the ali/ foreman fight in zaire 1974, is one of the best documentaries I've seen in years. sadly though jack drag have started their set early and I walk downstairs just in time to watch them tear apart the stage. somehow between soundcheck and the gig, my high tom and woodblock mount have decided that they have been good too long, and I am unable to use either one. the monte vista lounge has a pretty big room to play in but a two-foot-high stage, so everybody tries to push right up to the front to try to sneak a peek at the musicians, and once in a while they spill up onstage. joe baiza went tumbling into the drums last time, luckily tonight is not quite so bad although the bouncers have to stand onstage right in front of mike and nels to push em back (I suppose they figure I'm already protected with this wood/ steel barrier I play on. ) and mike has to ask the kids to calm down a few times. due to the cramped quarters my set of chimes ends up right by an electrical cord which shoots out gigantic sparks the first time I hit em, causing me to miss part of "boiler man" while frantically trying to unplug my fan. the opera is not as good as last night but the encores are generally smoother although both nels & I forget the introduction cues mike taught us in the van. "oh shit, he's holding up three fingers. . . which one is that?" aargh! progress, progress, it'll be better tomorrow. the highlight of the evening though is when some young woman, evidently coked out of her gourd, comes back where nels & I are having a drink and talking about the show and says "so. how does it feel to be playing second fiddle to a bass player?" "hey, story of my life," I reply. within the next 30 seconds she complains that we didn't play long enough ("we played for almost two hours!" "yeah? well where was I?" this I cannot answer. . . doing lines in the ladies room maybe?), complains that her friend came to the gig to see the bass player from primus and don't anybody tell her that she got the wrong guy, and tells us that mike needs to get more licks in, he's not playing nearly enough notes. when she asks me what bands we've been in I say,"oh I used to play with the. . . rolling stones. " "oh my god, were you there at the l.a. coliseum shows with guns 'n roses? I was there! axl rose was running around the stadium on that big runway thing. . . . " "oh yeah, that was thrilling playing to a hundred thousand people, thanks for coming to see us old geezers. . . " having effortessly convinced her that I am the drummer in the rolling stones, I go out to pack up. minutes later I hear a voice over by mike,"hey your drummer and guitarist are pretty good but you need to get more licks in. my friend came here to see the bass player from primus. . . " it takes all kinds, eh?

from steve reed:

   Monte Vista lounge hotel , this is are second time in flagstaff and the show came off very good . The only weakness was their sound system but scott , there young ambitous soundman did agreat job because the system was upgraded since last vist. Thank you scott , IT should be better next.

from watt:

   crack of dawn and I'm up. I walk the town for a while. early enough so it's not too hot. bag and pack them shirts (six hundred of them) and then the equipment and we're off due north to flagstaff. up in the mountains. the boat takes the climb w/out the temp going over half way and I'm grateful and whisper thank you. the gig is another hotel, this one is called the "monte vista" and it's the same deal as the congress in tucson - they let us sleep upstairs and leave the shit on the stage until morning. we're up like seven thousand feet though and the air's just a little thinner. the stage is a little lower too, maybe six inches from the ground! maybe a eight foot ceiling too, tiny world. I take my nap and wake to the pad packed w/folks and waiting. it's ten of eleven and it's show time! nels is cramped big time, just like joe baiza was last time we played here in april. I really dig doing the piece even though the monitors sound like wet towels are draped over them. bob lee is almost electrocuted by a fucked-up extension cord that arcs from his fan. damn.

   we've worked out a bunch of encores that tell about some of the music where I came from in my early punk days. there' a blue oyster cult song ("the red and the black"), a roky erickson one ("I have always been here before"), two television ones ("little johnny jewel" and "friction"), a john cale one ("fear is a man's best friend"), a captain beefheart one ("my head is my house unless it rains"), a pop group one ("we are time"), a wire one ("the 15th"), besides some watt ones ("intense song for madonna to sing," "drove up from pedro," and "forever / one reporter's opinion"). we also do nel's "this is a prayer," daniel johnson's "walking the cow," john devries' "the big bang theory," the kinman brothers' "big train" and bikini kill's "rebel girl. " we get to play maybe half of these but time runs out again and the employees there are yelling to get the people out a close the pad. it's been a great two gigs so far and I konk happy in clump onto the floor of a room upstairs. I think it was the "eli wallach" room.

wednesday, september 23, 1998 - albuquerque, nm

from bob lee:

   the launchpad club here in abq has become one of my favorite places to play, good sound system, stage is the perfect size, and the folks running it are very nice. so's the audience, I met some very cool folks tonight, and saw my friend tim from pennsylvania, who I haven't seen in ten years. last I saw him, we went to nyc to see pere ubu & john cale, then completely lost touch with him when I moved to l.a. first band tonight was fatso, a local metal band, and though I wasn't expecting much, they rocked my block off. best metal performance I've seen since nebula/ vengeance bros. "they don't like me/ I don't like them/ fat chicks with glasses/ I'll kick their asses!" cream of the jest: actual fat chick with glasses was heard to yell "fuck you!" when they finished that one. jack drag had tech problems but were as impressive as always. a good p. a. really brings out the best in these guys, their material is very finely textured and the textures can be easily lost. our own show tonight was really good, by far the best yet, I am finally finding my stamina to get through these two-hour gigs. laura & gel of the eyeliners, a wonderful power pop band of three young sisters who I've seen and met a few times, came out & gave me a single, awww. . . thanks ladies! I hope they come back to l.a. soon!

from steve reed:

   Launch Pad, albuquerque N. M. - this is one of my favorite venues in the world! I love working here with Rick the house soundman who keeps his system working great. On this show however we had problems with monitor EQ and volume which frustrated MIKE BE ON BELIEF!!!!!!!!!! SO RICK ran away from the gig and left me alone, so I just pushed all the highs and volume to the limit and god willing it seemed to work out. I guess I didn't need him afterall. Show came off well for both BLACK GANG and JACK DRAG.

from watt:

   I wake up and damn, was that a heavy nightmare I just had! I was being fucked w/by some thug types for what seemed like hours and hours or even days! this sometimes happens to me at beginnings of tours. some kind of buried insecurities raising their ugly heads and scaring the shit out of me. the dreams seem so lucid, like it's actually happening and I don't know what to do next. makes me wake up in a fucking shudder. I get out the door and start walking it off. down the tiny old downtown of flagstaff. looks like the babbit family was big here (maybe still is) by the looks of the buidings names and businesses. the air is thin but clean and that feels good to a cat from so cal. our lungs end up feeling like fucking fram auto filters, being there too long. this walk feels good for both my mind and my body. tour is fully on now, that's for sure.

   after stopping at a music store for bob lee (he spaced too like me and forgot all the extra heads and sticks he had bought for the tour at his pad in granada hills), we take the I-40 which pretty much is the old route 66 to albuquerque. nice drive and the boat (van) is running great - ironed out that heat hell from the first ride. first thing I do when we get into town is hit the store up the street w/the kachinas and get one called "longhorn. " he's bad and I dig him much. I try to get one of these kachina dolls everytime I'm in new mexico. one thing is bugging me - why did they change the license plates on the cars to read _new mexico usa_ instead of just the state's name like every other state in the union? are people that fucking stupid? they had the plates just saying _new mexico_ for years. I wonder what's up w/that? damn.

   this is third time in one year we're playing the "launch pad," a pad I never played before last november but dig very much - the best pad I've ever done in this town. the folks there are great. they chow us on lasagna and salad. I check e-mail and then go to the van to konk (drove the whole way here) but get woke soon by the opening band, _fatso_ who is wailing through the open alley back door. this band is a band of zip's who works here and they're happening. sort of melvins thing w/some big bloat guitar sound. like vince would say, foom. next is our buds _jack drag_ and they do great. these cats are using samples so it sounds like there's more than just the three of them on stage. very sweet people, no 'tude whatsoever and you know that's the best. they also got their own sound too which is what it's all about. it's great to see (hear) that tradition carried through the years. I don't why cats would want a clone of their own band opening for them. damn. just before we go on, richard fuckin bonney's bro, steve and his cousin tony ulibarri show up and tony gives me some pictures he took of me and spike jonze making the "liberty calls!" video. I really dig tony and as so glad he can see this last run through of the opera. it means a lot to me. we start the piece and it's going good except the monitors are muffed up and then the cat who's running them runs away! damn. steve reed gets it together though and by the end of the piece they're fine. I play my heart out anyway and nels and bob lee are great. we play and play until again the lights come on and we have to stop. that's how much shit we have this time. I wonder if it's gonna be like this all tour. folks are happy though and that's what counts.

   when eveything's done, we connect w/the cat who traded me for a string bass name jeff. he's got a pad east of b'urque and we head there. what a hell-ride, it must've taken almost an hour! well, it's on the way to austin so no harm, no foul - no blood, no ambulance like chic would say. I'm so beat I konk right there on the deck w/just an indian blanket. fuck it, sueno.

thursday, september 24, 1998 - sweetwater, tx

from bob lee:

   we had apalling meals at cline's corners famous truck stop, and a smartassed sandwich artist at subway today. somehow I mentioned that we were a band and he said,"you should play in lubbock, the audience goes wild even if you suck. " yeah pal, we suck, that's why we're on tour and you're making sandwiches. otherwise, not much to report.

from steve reed:

   driving through New Mexico for show in Austin on friday, went to FORT SUMNER and saw Billy the Kids grave. We stayed outside of Abilene, Texas in a Motel-6.

from watt:

   no gig tonight. just drive and drive. laying on jeff's floor was a trip, hearing all them outside sounds. crickets chirping and dogs howling plus all kinds of sounds I'm not used to in pedro. weird sounds. jeff's not got much curtains in his pad yet (sort of like a long thin trailer house merged w/a living room kitchen, this pad is still a work in progress) so when the sun came up, it blasted me in the eye and headed for the van and spent the rest of my konk on the bench w/an indian blanket over my head. something about sunlight - it's hard as hell for me to stay konked when the light is on me. one reason I'm up at the crack. about eleven I roust the cats - everyone scared to use the head that jeff has. looks like a giant garbage disposal/trash compactor when some all along where the rim meets the hatch. no one has the nerve to even open it, even though jeff left detailed directions to get it happening. somethings are just too heavy and we just piss in bottles and the turds are happy to remain w/us until the next gas stop up the road. such is the reality of some situations. big thanks to jeff though.

   we bail and head east on the I-40. only a little while though cuz there's no direct interstate going from b'urque to austin. instead we head southwest on us-84 which gets us to clovis and then into texas towards lubbock. on the way near fort sumner, we stop at the site of billy the kid's grave and take some pictures. all of us pause and think about richard fuckin bonney. his people are from santa rosa which isn't far from here. funny how the gravestone is shackled to the ground cuz motherfuckers have stolen it twice. damn. from there it's onward to abielene but before we get there we stop about forty miles short in a town called sweetwater and stop at our first (of many) motel-six for the tour. damn, it's the end of september and still hot as hell. I drive the whole way, flannel shorn and the grease caking up on the skin. small hell though cu I really dig hearing nels spiel his history of his personal journey through music and how he got to where he is now - which is rolling w/the hell-ride along w/us! damn, am I a lucky man. I kind of started him off by telling him how joe baiza was tripping that nels would be into our scene cuz when joe baiza first met him, it seemed he hated the whole rock thing then. well, nels wanted to fill us on in on where he'd been from the mid sixties to now. we also listened close and then bob lee and steve reed chime in too w/their tales and I figure what a trip it is that all our lives brought us to this mission to deliver the piece.

   like an idiot, I forget to wear my baseball hat (a dinsoaur one mascis gave me) and my yellow cop glasses when I go to check in and due to the fact my sister melinda cut my hair kind of short and I ain't shaved since the first opera performance (septemer 5, 1997), I guess I look like a crazed whatever foreign threat and scare the desk lady. last time I do that. have to look safe, like a nut trucker. whatever. after some beam, I konk on the motel-six floor, good and tired.

friday, september 25, 1998 - austin, tx

from bob lee:

   played at stubb's bbq, which was a good thing as I was unable to eat the beef bowl I got from magic dragon, chinese fast food in the flying j truck stop- avoid at all costs - and hit town starving. one soundcheck and one giant sandwich later, I walked up and down 6th street. it seems to me that there was even more live music on this strip when I first came here, maybe fifteen blues clubs was too many for a one-mile stretch of road. but there's still plenty of action, I saw a few moments of a play and a couple mediocre blues bands through the front windows of clubs, but was real impressed at a spray can artist who created a psychedelic landscape outside on the street in about 5 minutes. glad to see that emo's is still happening, although it no longer has the monopoly on good rock shows it once did. too bad, cos in those days (around 1992-94) you could see the likes of L7, rev. horton heat, killdozer etc. for free, and the bands got paid their usual fee out of the bar proceeds. from what our friend john lambert told us that was a little too ambitious and the owner couldn't support himself from what was left over. well here's to a great idea! killdozer once said they wouldn't tour again till emo's opened chains across america like k-mart. not to run down stubb's, which was a very hospitable venue with a nice, helpful staff and good chow. local veterans peglegasus opened the show, as impressive as always, fast spidery licks bouncing off weird rhythms, still sunny & melodic enough to be a considerable pop band. great version of the who's "sparks" closed it out. our friend dan, who I last saw in salt lake city, showed up too - I have enough trouble remembering people I meet on tour, but when they show up in different cities I get cognitive dissonance. I enjoyed our show tonight a lot, mike seemed to be highly caffeinated as we played (what seemed to me) a really fast version of the opera and I was later corrected for playing too slow! more likely he drank half the bottle of dave's insanity sauce before hitting the stage and every cell in his body was screaming for vengeance.

from steve reed:

   Stubbs Bar-B-Q. I liked this venue because the help their was very helpfull to both groups. It was a good show - sound system pretty good and Dave the house soundman worked with me the whole night. I like it when the house soundman stick around because they know their system better than me the visitor.

from watt:

   ten in the morning texas time and we're up at going again. looks I'm driving this whole leg too (did yesterday). it's good for my sore ass joints, the ache and hurt much and the vibrations from the steering wheel help big time. another nightmare again last night, one where I've lost my cat and can't find him. the man lost and all I keep seeing is these tabby like cats but they got long bent necks - sort of like that kokopelli cat you see in the indian petroglyphs. he's the hunchback always playing the flute. in the nightmare, his back looks like these cats' necks. then there's this one mountain lion - scared the shit out of me big time. I also lose my wallet and the van in the fucking dream and I'm a wit's end to what to do. thank god I finally rolled into the clothes dryer rack and it fell on me, yanking me into this world where I found these profound problems and worries were only in the dream. two nightmare hell-rides almost back to back. damn. this is the way it is w/me. hopefully the shit got wrangled out of my system, whatever it is but I kind of doubt it. well, onward, forward and w/more vigor as someone once said.

   this pad is called "stubb's" and it's a new one for me, never played here. they serve ribs upstairs and we play downstairs. our good buds _peglegasus_ are opening up in fron of _jack drag_ so it's a family affair. very cool folks, these peglegs and we're glad and hear all of them: pete, burke, john and new bass man bryan who has a picture of me to sign. damn, it's from a while ago cuz there's no gray in the beard! other pals show up, like paul leary, curt kirkwood, spot and john lambert from dallas who's got a happening beefheart boot (roxy '75) I want taped. I tell him so. spot's been to every opera performance in austin but it's the first time for paul and curt and I'm real glad I get to play it for them. means a lot to me. I eve got curt (and spot's) name in "topsiders. " the piece is really for us cats from that place and those days. it makes it real for me to be doing it for them. I'm a lucky man.

   it's too sweaty everywhere (this is texas) and where there is a. c. , there's a big old mold smell so I just sweat it out in the van which is at this point a shvitz. kind of a reverse boat, more moisture inside than outside. I just keep perfectly still. the que (bar-b-) here is ok but it's no _brohter in law's #2_ (up by the _church of saint john coltrane_ on divisidero in san francisco). fact is, I think it was heavy and made everyone kind of play tired. me and steve reed immediately blow it out but I think nels and bob lee hung on to there and got weighed down by the extra ballast. the set was good but kind of tired (especailly in the encores) until I said "hey, we're playing tired" then things got going for the last tune "we are time. " I did feel real good about doing the roky erickson and daniel johnson song cuz they're from austin and this is their town even if they weren't there to see it. the folks working here were great too and we all laughed and laughed while we were loading out. on long talk w/spot (he's got a house now and is starting a small sound company) and then we're off to the mo-six. I am soaked w/sweat so I strip down and konk on the deck, naked.

saturday, september 26, 1998 - houston, tx

from nels cline:

   So yes, we're edged about hurricane Georges hitting N. O. almost the same time as we do - looking like our show at Tipitina's will be canceled. Sure hope no one gets hurt. . .

   Brief reportage: Gig in Albuquerque was really cool - really nice folks, a strong set. My friend Mark and his friend Mark came down, as did Gel and Laura from the fabulous Eyeliners (w/ their new 45 + a nifty new T). The crowd was great. Someune gave me a homemade shaving brushto play my gtr with- - found it on top of my amp. THANKYOU, whoever! Good sound forJack Drag - thanks to Steve Reed. Goofball crunch from Fatso.

   Bailed out to a remote pad owned by a musician named Jeff. Beautiful stars, scary toilet - Watt would'n't even get near it ! The place was unfinished - but it was practice ready for Jeff's band. Bailed out for horrendous cuisine at Clines Corner - gawd! Fired off postcards to Mom, sweetheart, bro A - actually 4 postcards to sweetheart. Had to get that Clines Corner postmark! Hot but pretty drive on the Clovis-Muleshoe route. Took us past Billy the Kid's grave, which we stopped at.

   Just heard that our show in N. O. is canceled - we may play here twice. Better than dying! Highway 10 is closed! Hmmmm. . . Hope it stays away from Florida. But it's not supposed to. . .

   Austin was fun at Stubbs (recommended: the serano spinach). Good enthusiastic crowd. Saw Stepanie and her friend Wes, plus Fibbers superfan (and supersweetie) Amy drove fromHouston to hear us. Saw Spot, too who seems fine - getting gray! Watt was a bit picky about the show, but I think it was pretty good. Local boys and old Watt pals Peglegasus opened. I really liked their pure Fender-y sound The kind you don't hardly hear no more. A lot of Guitar worship went on. . . ow!

   Now it's Sat night in sweltering Houston - and maybe Sunday, too.

   Holding up Ok - this tour is SO guitar-heavy. I try to pace myself, but I kind of always get wild. We. ve got 30 gigs in a row, so. . . Must call sweetheart. She's worried about us and Georges.

   Favorite Texas road signs: Noodle Dome Road - we wanted to pull off but resisted the temptation - and a town called Blanket. It's a tough call 'cause Texas has so many wacky town and creek names. More later.

from bob lee:

   uh oh, hurricane georges is headed straight for new orleans, where we "were" supposed to be tomorrow, so it looks like we're being held over in houston for an extra night. luckily there's only one band on the schedule, so they'll let us play tomorrow early. I was looking forward to n. o. especially since we skipped it last time, but at least we have a gig. the instant karma has one of my fave pinball games, theater of magic, and I spend several hours in a vain attempt to win a free game. former l.a. resident & old buf robert fernandez is there with his wife chris, nice to see them again. meet daphne & pete, watt fans from wichita falls who have come all this way for the gig, and a bunch of their friends (names fail me again), I hang with them & reminisce about husker du, beavis & butthead, and the big boys. daphne & I develop a fierce pinball rivalry. I like jack drag's set tonight the best of the tour so far, although john d is very upset because the mic was shocking him continuously. middle band the flaming hellcats are sideburn-sportin, hot-rod- tattoo-bearin, low-bass-slingin, big-beer-drinkin good time rockers, not too bad. we have a good, fairly short set, probably saving it up for tomorrow, which will consist of all the encores and no opera. which will still be a good long set since we have 16 songs to pick from. party down with the jack draggers at the bay house in la porte afterward where mike mc guire and his roomates squeaky & erin have prepared a lovely spread for us. I wuss out at 5:15 am and crash to the strains of the frogs blasting from the living room. also have my first experience with undiluted dave's insanity sauce which proves pretty mindblowing.

from steve reed:

   oh i forgot to tell you all this is my first tour without any drinking or smoking AND I FEEL GREAT!!!!!!!!!!! Way more focused then any other tour and I also have discovered JESUS CHRIST. I'M not a JESUS FREAK!!! only the love JESUS had for all mankind and the power he gives me daily in my life. The show was SOLDOUT!!!!! AT the INSTANT KARMA . Shawn the house Tech has upgraded the P.A. since the last time and the sound was POWERFUL. Our show in NEW ORLEANS has been cancelled do to bad weather, so we are doing a sunday show here at the INSTANT KARMA. The first time two shows in HOUSTON. WE will stay at the bay house with MIKE McGUIRE, that will be nice.

from watt:

   I'm up early cuz it's three thousand miles for the boat (van) and I gotta get the oil changed. no prob and it's well worth it. what a econo piece of insurance. I wheel it over the firestone and wait for the shit to get done there (I used to do it myself but what do you do the old oil?). I walk around waiting and boy am I aching from last night's gig. the first big ache of the tour. damn. who comes into the firestone but pete from peglegasus and his buddy mike maguire (who's pad on the gulf we always stay at when we play houston) who are there to get a tire after blowing one out. damn, what a coincidence! they're gonna drive w/us to houston. pete use to live a couple blocks from tonight's gig which is at "instant karma. " we take us-290 from austin to houston and on the way over we stop at the 290 cafe. it's in a small town called manor just east of austin and it's got good chow. I have grilled livers, good shit. everybody digs their chow - it's a first for nels and believe it or not, pete and mike too! me and steve reed have been eating there for years, it was bob lee's cherry meal there last tour. sure lots of folks chowing there have some massive bells for guts but for once a tour, it's great! only thing now is that they don't have the red long sleeve _290 cafe_ shirts now ( I got one years agao). they're all tie-died. damn, why does shit like this happen?

   it is humid as fuck and the newspapers are full of warnings about _hurricane georges_ and we're starting to get scared. supposed to hit new orleans tomorrow morning and we're playing there tomorrow night. damn. it killed over two hundred folks in the domincan republic and tore up puerto rico, cuba and the florida keys. last hurricane I was in was 1985 at the start of what was to be the last minutemen tour, opening up for rem in tallahassee. the gig was called off and national guard was all in the street. wonder what's gonna happen this time? we're praying. meanwhile, we stop for a purge and soil and the lock on the hatch is fouled so a cowboy walks on me doing the full court press in this tiny coiling booth. there's an immediate about face and it ain't me, there's no room.

   we get to the venue - it's the pad we played last time called "instant karma." it's a bass player named mitch's pad and tinna helps run it, both righteous people to me. I played here last tour and I'm happy to play here again. jack drag has a great set and then some locals called the flamin' hellcats are up. they do like rev. horton heat type of thing w/a latin twist and then it's our turn. houston has a good vibe for the opera and I'm glad we're giving it to them. it's our best performance of it of the tour and I'm happy. the crowd really digs the trippy encores too. I let them know at the end that I talk to the man in new orleans and the gig at tipitina's is cut (scissored). I tell them mitch is letting us play here again tomorrow night and we'll do all the songs we learned for the tour for after the opera. they're all into that, nice folks.

   we head down to the bay house in la porte where mike mcguire lives. we've stayed here for years. mike's the best. pete (his bud and the drummer of peglegasus) comes too from austin. driving down from houston to la porte is a weird parallel to driving from hollywood to pedro where I live. la porte's on the water near galveston and on the way you go through a town called pasadena (texas now, not cali) that's filled w/all these refineries, just like passing through carson to get to pedro but they got like three times the refineries. what a fucking stink - you can't believe it. the whole place spells toxic dump and then you finally get to la porte and the place is serene and great. one thing la porte has (as does houston and in fact, everywhere east of the rockies) that pedro doesn't is mosquitoes and these fuckers eat me and nels alive. parts of nels' body start to swell even. bob lee and steve reed are spared, blessed ones. mike mcguire cooks up some good chow and they got some knob creek bourbon so I'm sitting good here in texas. tired as fuck but glad to be among friends. a pal of mike's named squeaky does the dj thing and plays all kinds of trippy records, all soft like cuz our ears are ringing from the gig. it's a good scene. I find a book that is talking about kierkegaard, dostoevsky, nietzsche and kafka written during the early 50s and get into that real late (maybe 6 am) and then konk w/it in my face. we're playing in the same town again so no sweat w/any hell-rides and I give myself the luxury taking it easy the next morning. what's the writer's name, hubber or something? oh well, his cold war perspective is obvious and funny. some trippy insights, however.

sunday, september 27, 1998 - houston, tx

from bob lee:

   ahhh, a day where we don't have to get up and start running. if we are to be held over for a day anywhere, this is the place, as mike feeds us breakfast & bongloads and we stare out at the bay listening to 13th floor elevators. more fun than starving & watching cnn at motel 6 like we probably would if we were stuck anywhere else. the gig is starting at 5pm with clack, featuring dom & kyle who we have met at the bay house before. however kyle is nowhere to be found come gig time so nels & steve sit in! (steve reed is a shit-hot bass player in case you didn't know that.) cool noisy improv stuff, mc guire says it's a bit different than their usual sets but I really like it. play pinball with daphne for hours again before mr. reed takes her over to the board to give her sound tips. she told me she's tried to get assistant sound jobs & has found resistance to the very idea of a female engineer. although ten years ago women doing sound were almost unheard of, it seems to be becoming more common, (studio wiz sally browder is one of the best I've ever worked with, also g. fibbers, jesus lizard, sonic youth and others have toured with female engineers in the last year, a few clubs also have women as house sound engineer- the one at vancouver's starfish room is fantastic), maybe it's taking time for people to get used to the idea in texas. actually come to think of it there was a female assistant at this very club last time... well I sure wish ya the best daphne! she told me she almost fought two girls that wouldn't stop talking during the quiet parts last night. wow! this gal's got our back! the gig runs late because the hellcats have forgotten what time to show up and there's a half hour lull in the action. for shame guys! bands that stall & make the gig run late are a big pet peeve, especially if it's my friends doing it at a gig I set up, which happens time to time in l.a. so my best advice to aspiring bands- if ya wanna make a good impression, show up on time & don't bogart. well, I must admit I've had to stall a few myself due to lameness so before my email box fills up with "what about the time..." messages, allow me to confess my sins & beg forgiveness. especially from you, f.j. I will try to do better. jack drag play a lot of stuff that they haven't been doing in a normal set so I really enjoy this one. we play almost all our encore songs, have a good old time, and for a secret gig, there's a pretty good crowd to see it. not at all bad for an emergency show. but have to pack up in a hurry and bail amongst rushed hugs & kisses goodbye. go back to bay house & check out the storm. good thing we didn't try to make new orleans, as the freeways are shut down and hundred of thousands have evacuated (over 10,000 didn't make it out by the time the freeways closed & had to seek shelter in the superdome!) as far as we can tell, gig in pensacola is still on, so we hit it fairly early in expectation of 7 am takeoff.

from steve reed:

   JACK DRAG is also here with us at the bay house, and the show starts at 5 o'clock. NELS and myself are playing in the first group, that will be fun . Hopefully the bad weather will clear up so we can get to PENSACOLA safely on monday. We're in gods hands now but we always are anyway. Thank you Lord for a smooth trip so far.

from watt:

   we take it easy an head back up to houston and instant karma about 3 pm. pete's gotta bail back to austin so we say bye and promise to send him jpegs (digital shots) of peglegasus steve reed shot of their austin show. he's a great cat as are all the pegs. there's a houston pirate station called _montrose radio_ and they're gonna try to broadcast the show again cuz last night a cord got pulled after three songs. I wish they give more notice about this though so I could give my people more advance notice. the other fuck thing is that they used netshow which is lame ass microsoft monopoly fuck piece of shit ware that cuts out all the mac cats. fuck bill gates and that whole kind of think - so god damn dinosaur and fascist. I let the motrose radio guy know what I think. use real audio, I suggest. he says they get shit free from microsoft if they play along w/the peckers - corruption through co-opting, damn. same old fucking hustle. when are people gonna fucking wake up to these shitbags and their dick-leeching ways? anyway, back to the gig. before doing my wash (a laundrymat right down the street is a gift from the gods - why can't all pads make sure they're near one?) I see steve reed and nels cline do an improv set w/kyle (a friend of mcguire's) and his bud. they're great. steve reed on a hangstrom bass, damn! he kicks up dust all over the place as does nels. I go to do wash while two other bands and jack drag are set to play next but after returing find out some of the bands stalled and have fucked everything up. now this was supposed to be a local band called t.k.oh's night and they gave us time to play before them so I'm feeling the pressure to get off so they can get up on stage on time. let me tell you one thing that probably bugs me as much as anything real corrupt and that's opening bands who stall. I fucking really, really hate this. it just ruins things for everyone. what a greedy motherfucking thing to do. the pressure to get things going and done adds an intense feel to the set (which is not the opera, first time I've done this since september 5, 1987!) and the crowd digs it. I think nels and bob lee are smoking and tell them when were done and hurrying getting off for the locals. I'm really happy to be doing this w/them, absolutely. we got a down team.

read week 2 of the tour diary

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