Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hey, Montreal--

This weekend two of my favourite bands going will be playing shows back to back!

This Saturday evening, August 25th, Allston MA's mighty situationist bluegrass ensemble Bread & Roses will be playing a house show in Point St Charles (Metro Charlevoix) at 1981 Wellington Street. This is the first time they've played in Montreal since October of 2004, when my band (The Improved Binoculars, defunct) played our first show opening for them only to be shortly thereafter blown off stage by their performance at the back of the room. Those who've been following this blog for a while will recall my beaming review of a B&R show in Massachusetts back in the spring. If that show was any indication, the band is in fit and fighting form and will play a hell of a show on Saturday. Two local hardcore bands (?... don't ask me. Joan grabbed the show out from under me and set up the bill herself, saving me a whole lot of trouble) will open. Show starts 7pm sharp and costs a paltry five bucks.

The very next night, LA's danceable old school hardcore sensations Mika Miko will be playing at the Casa Del Popolo with local favourites Thundrah (at the beginning of their Eastern Canada tour), supporting the interminable hippie noise of USAISAMONSTER (mercifully, I believe, going on last). I glowed with joy over their debut LP on Kill Rock Stars, and all reports suggest Sunday night will be a heartstoppingly good set. There's one other band opening as well, and the show starts at 9pm.

I'm thrilled at the prospect of both of these! Hope you all can come out too!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says, "It's hard to give a shit these days."

God willing, I find myself saying with certain frequency, I want to look as damned good as Lou Reed does when I'm his age:

(Photo from some stranger on the internet; thanks, stranger!)
Not necessarily because he looks good-- at least, in any sort of objective or quantifiable sense. I suppose there are people his age (65) who look a lot better, but when I get to 65 I want to look as much like Lou Reed looks right now as I can possibly manage. Because here's a guy who's been through more than enough, who has done what would seem immeasurable injury to himself through years of self-abuse subsequent to being abused by his family and electrocuted, like Carl Solomon, at Rockland, yet he looks... fine. He doesn't look great, but who wants to? Instead, he looks like a shrug, a smirk, and a snort, and it's glorious. He looks the way the best songs on his record New York (1988) sound-- wise, wry, and unconquerable.

I don't usually pay very much attention to anything he's done since 1973, but I grew up on Transformer and virtually everything the Velvet Underground ever recorded; I have much love and respect for that band and that particular solo record. I've never had much affection for Reed as a person-- until recently my feelings for him have been closer to contempt and dismissal. As I get older, though, I find I have a grudging respect for his utter unwillingness to endure what he feels to be bullshit, even if it does manifest itself in self-aggrandized arrogance. To paraphrase John Cale in a recent issue of Mojo, you can't really expect anyone to live the life that Reed has endured and turn out nice, even if that means you have to live with the fact that he's a jerk.

New York is, in a lot of ways, a jerk record, but in no way devoid of real, if scaly, emotion. It's arrogant and disdainful but largely of those things most deserving of disdain. The attitude of the record is akin to that of Hunter Thompson, who said of the Bush administration in one of his last writings (the first, however, to be relevant in some years), "I piss down the throats of these Nazis, and I'm too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them.” As many have said before, New York is a grown up record, marked by the cynicism and wrath of years of resentment. Thank god-- it provides dose of real feeling generally absent among the later output of rock-and-rollers of yore. As a document of aging, New York is phenomenal. Tracks like "Romeo Had Juliet" and "Dirty Blvd." are expressions of perspective from a personality sharpened, not daunted, by age.

I spend a lot of time thinking about getting older, and too often my feelings are grounded in dread. From time to time, I need to be reminded that there's more than one way to get old, and that it's entirely possible to be on your way to 70 and still look as cool as you sound. I will count myself lucky if I get to the age of 65 and wear my years so well without varnish or apology.

(Photo from Reed's website; don't sue, I'm broke!)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My all-time favourite record:

It took me 11 months to find a copy of Television's Marquee Moon in 1998. Someone (Joel Taylor? Darren Peacock?) brought it over to my house and played it for me in the fall of 1997 and from that point on I was obsessed with finding it, but it had been out of print for years and required a lengthy search. I could, perhaps, have ordered it, but at that point mint copies were going for $50-$60 on collector websites, and besides, I wanted to seek it out until I had it in my hand. There's a thrill in that you can't find through mail-order.

Like a lot of bands for whom I searched obsessively at one point, I had always been aware of Television and had a couple of tracks that I liked on compilations. They were a band I knew I'd eventually get a record by and like, but I was never driven to seek them out, at least not until whoever it was stopped by my apartment one afternoon after shopping at (Montreal's late) Disquivel and dropped the platter on my turntable. In about twenty minutes they went instantly from a band that seemed promising to the greatest music I'd ever heard. Over the next year, I made weekly trips to every used-vinyl store in town looking for the record and turned up nothing, growing gradually ever more frustrated and conversely convincing myself that the more I worked to find it, the harder it would be for it to live up to my expectations (as certain other highly sought-after records had likewise failed). Finally after ten months of searching, the venerable Simon Harvey found a copy for me in Toronto and handed it off to me as I passed through town en route someplace else. Unfortunately, I squirreled it away so safely that I neglected to bring it with me on my departure and left it at my pal Zoe's house. I could have had her (or Simon in the first place) mail it to me, but that took away part of the quest element of it all. Two months after that, Darren alerted me that he'd seen a copy at Disquivel and I rushed over post-haste to snap it up.

I can't say anything critically about this record that hasn't already been said, and I can't give it more praise than it already has. Everyone who's serious about art rock, NY punk, guitar rock, or "alternative" music agrees it's a masterpiece and that's for good reason. It's hard to say anything worthwhile about something great that everyone likes, and truly the only statement about the album (beyond Nick Kent's famous NME review) that still bears repeating is Patti Smith's description of Tom Verlaine's guitar playing as "sounding like a thousand bluebirds screaming."

But I will tell you this: I'm not one of those vinyl people, really. I like getting records on vinyl when I can and at times it seems like they sound better than CDs, but I'm relatively easygoing about format (I still have 200+ cassettes) so long as I can hear the song I want to. Even so, Marquee Moon makes the most sense as a vinyl LP, and the day it makes the most sense is a day like today, a sunny but breezy Saturday afternoon in late summer upon which you might go out for breakfast or might stay in and read the Globe & Mail but either way you have a good strong cup of coffee, probably espresso, and when breakfast is done you make a second and you put this record on and lie down on the sofa. This sofa should be near the window and there should be enough air coming it that it's not too hot and you can smell the world outside, hear the various things that are happening (whether you live downtown like I used to when I got this album or outside of downtown or in the suburbs or the country, whatever incidental sound around you will be made perfect by the music), and taste your coffee with the freshness of late summer air. Then you turn the stereo up and you listen to the first side, then the second side, then the first side again, then the second once more, then you flip and continue until some sort of obligation forces you to finally (and regretfully) leave the house. You can read--something you feel good about, not just the paper or anything for work or school--or you can not. You can stare at the record with its famous Robert Mapplethorpe cover photo of the band, and wonder at great length about the intensity of their veins and whether any of them were close to healthy when the photograph was taken, and you can wonder whether the album is expressing something about the state of their health, or whether it's a statement against health. You can stare and wonder about all kinds of things; you can even start to drift off for a while, and then drift on again. But you must listen-- after nearly ten years of consistent enjoyment of Marquee Moon, this is the best means I have found of enjoying it absolutely. And the most amazing thing is that it's never gotten tired, never boring. Despite having played this record more than anything else I own, it still manages to thrill and surprise me, every time. A record this good demands a certain purity of enjoyment, so I strongly advise you to listen to it at least once in the manner described above. It won't ever disappoint you.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The under-appreciated: The Old Noise (2001) and Pyrokinesis (2003) by Jerk With A Bomb

The related bands Black Mountain and the Pink Mountaintops have received a great deal of acclaim from critics and fans alike-- that's fine. I haven't been totally taken with either band, and though I'd never say I disliked what they're doing, each plays too much in the mould of 70s rock and 60s psych for my tastes. However, I have nothing but love for their shared predecessor, Jerk With A Bomb, who released their last album in 2003 before regrouping into their two better-known progeny.

When JWAB passed through Montreal in May of 2001, I had no idea what to expect from them beyond a glowing recommendation from a friend recently transplanted from out West. We crowded into the tiny Barfly along with seemingly every other Victoria/Vancouver expat in the city and I was surprised to discover the band that had come so highly recommended was only a two-piece consisting of one guy with a guitar and another who simultaneously played organ with his left hand and drums with his right hand and feet. I'd seen my share of two-piece bands and generally found them acceptable but lacking--either they played two instruments well but left the absence of a third apparent, or they played more than two instruments at once, got confused, and sacrificed proficiency for the gimmickry of multi-instrumentalism. I wasn't, therefore, expecting to be blown away, which made my astonishment when the band began to play that much more acute. As a two-piece, Jerk With A Bomb was technically proficient enough that they sounded convincingly like three musicians, but more than that, the songs were great. They worked hard through their set, played encores to the wildly applauding crowd, and demurred to insistent demands for more that they were out of songs. A voice from the back of the room shouted, "You can't leave. We'll kill you." Chuckling, they bowed to audience pressure and repeated some of their earlier songs before the crowd would finally let them go home.

Live, JWAB was dense and intense. Their songs fit together perfectly and they played them with awe-inspiring skill, so much so that the whole crowd seemed to be watching carefully with consistent amazement that the band kept pulling it off. There were danceable numbers and the room shook for them, and slow mournful numbers to which we swayed, and thus the audience seemed to be in profound unity with the band. It would have been hard, at that point, to imagine JWAB outside of the setting of a tiny grimy bar filled with adoring fans hanging from every note.

On record, however, JWAB makes different use of space-- their arrangements are looser, sparser, sadder, but while their live performance was humble, in JWAB's recorded work there's a delicious contrast between lurching misery and the nihilistic cockiness of its delivery. This friction certainly gives the records their distinctive character. The debut JWAB LP, Death To False Metal (1999?), has some of this charm and is a thoroughly enjoyable record that borders at moments on pop and stands up well to repeated playing, but the band really grows into itself on their second record, The Old Noise, and their final release, Pyrokinesis, both of which hum with a distinct sound which would not be mistaken for another band.

Jerk With A Bomb got compared to a variety of other artists (Nick Cave, Smog, Calexico, etc.), most of whom they didn't really sound like, but while they share sonic qualities with other dark and rootsy bands, JWAB's sound is particular enough to be almost always recognizable. While there's enough range among the songs to prevent them from being boring or repetitive, they all roll out at a pace between a dirge and a shuffle, sounding funereal at either speed. The instruments are simple guitar and drums and organ with little embellishment beyond some echo and tremolo, and they play along a very particular line between country/folk and rock and roll. The sound is warm and organic and feels very intimate-- The Old Noise sounds convincingly like the band is playing in the listener's living room.

Thus there's a certain frankness as singer Steve McBean gasps, groans, whispers, and wails his lamentations, all of which sound wholly sick with grief, a sadness echoed all throughout the arrangement. The Old Noise is a heavily recorded record, with drums that sound cavernous, an organ like an open wound, and guitar that holds it back like gauze. The chord progressions seal the gloom-- the songs don't just flirt with minor keys, they writhe in them. Even a more upbeat number like "No Amount of Pills" is almost dreamlike in the depth of its helplessness, despair, and surrender. But rather than being overwhelming, there's a delicate balance between the anguish and the danceable that makes The Old Noise infinitely listenable. Every song sounds great, no matter how sad, and between engaging intimacy and fascinating emotional hollowness it practically begs for close attention.

Pyrokinesis adds a perhaps unnecessary third member, whose presence is not so obvious but probably contributes to the incredible murk that colours the record. More carefully recorded, the last JWAB album is louder and clearer and consequently runs between being more distinct and sparse than its predecessor and far muddier when the instruments all blend in at once. A few critics have recognized a "stoner rock" influence in Pyrokinesis, but to me that seems unfair-- so much stoner rock predisposes a stoner listenership by providing repetitive and derivative riffage wound around tired buttrock cliche, but this record remains fresh and true and sad. Even where the stoner sound is most evident, with tracks like "On the Rails," JWAB maintains its originality, toying here and there with elements of the genre rather than simply taking the mantle on and playing by the rules. Though it has several of rave-up numbers, Pyrokinesis seems like a slower album, and is even darker than The Old Noise. The album's key track is the six-minute trudge "Among Thieves," a song almost otherworldly in its despair, heightened by the power of its smudging, suffocating organ and the play between sparsity and density in its sound. It's never quiet-- like the whole album, even its quiet moments are quietly crushing-- but as it moves from the gentle spaces between notes to the huge warm waves of sound at its chorus, the interplay is just delicious. With this song JWAB perfect everything they had been working towards. They're in absolute top form here,-- "Among Thieves" is a perfect expression of sadness, disillusionment, and surrender that's uniformly strong and moving both in its construction and in the way it's played. It's a fantastic song on what is already a fine album.

"Those Hard Wrecks," the second last track on Pyrokinesis, is refreshing as a simple rock song that sounds almost like The Band or the Stones without ever forgetting the inherent gloom of the rest of the record (and the record before). It works here as a palate cleanser and should have been followed by a rich dessert of a final track. However, the title track which ends the album is its only minor misstep-- a short and halfway silly song, it seems unfinished and leaves the record on an uneven note. However, given the strength of everything that comes before it, this seems almost calculated to inspire the listener to put it on from the beginning once more.

I was disappointed to hear that Jerk With A Bomb were nominally breaking up, and doubly disappointed to discover their two offshoots were pursuing sounds that didn't entirely interest me, but it makes sense-- after Pyrokinesis it would have been hard for the band to continue putting out records without retreading material they'd already perfected. As such, Jerk With A Bomb's three records, and particularly their last two, are a complete package. They did very well what they set out to do, and they then moved on to other things. For that, I can only salute them.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Diary entry: Aug 1-3, 2006: America (Part One)

The massive heat of the past couple of days has been reminding me of exactly one year ago, when it was just as hot (if not hotter), and Ang and I, plus our friends Anne and Victoria, drove to Washington DC to see one of the last 3 Sleater-Kinney shows. I originally posted this account of the trip elsewhere, but it seems worth reposting if only in honour of the amazing heat (42c/106f humidex in Montreal yesterday afternoon). It's really long, so I'm posting it in two parts. Here:


So Tuesday morning, after too few hours of uneasy slumber, Angie and I wake to the alarm at 6am. We'd been stressed out the previous night trying to help get Greg ready to depart Montreal for indefinite travel and then dealing with a bunch of organizational stuff for the trip. We eat our breakfast and I have a cup of coffee and we take a taxi to the rental place with our huge bag of food, bag of pillows (thanks for the suggestion, Katie!), knapsacks, and sleeping bags. Anne arrives after us and we findout the car we were getting is not the inconspicuous sedan she'd booked, but an electric blue PT-Cruiser. Huh. Victo hasto run an errand for Anne, so she arrives last to find us sitting outside the rental spot in this absurd vehicle. Off we go-- first to drive around the city to run another errand, then slightly lost with the highways, and finally over the Champlain bridge.

Waiting in the huge lines for the border some woman in a minivan then hits our spotless PT-Cruiser at low speed trying to bud in line. She dents and scrapes the back but not too badly. As I'm getting her name and number and license plate info, she said, "I... I just couldn't believe that no one was in that centre lane." I said, "Guess they could tell there wasn't enough room, huh?" Border crossing is easy and then we're in America.

The driving isokay. I do it all myself because Anne hasbeen up all night the night before and she and Victo are sleeping comfortably in the back seats. Then Ang is also sleeping. There are a couple of moments when I am almost sleeping too, but rest stops and exciting US sodas and caustic snacks kept me alert. The farther south we get the hotter it becomes. I didn't realize it's this east-coast heatwave-- I just thought it was always like that down there. When we get out at the Kingston rest stop in NY, or the Walt Whitman rest stop (!) in New Jersey, the heat radiating off of the largely empty parking lot is like nothing else I've ever felt. Interesting set-up, I find myself thinking.

We arrive in DC just after 8pm. Mapquest gets us right to the club. By that point we've noticed that DC seemed kind of different than other places we've been-- the buildings aredifferent, for one, but there are also a lot of them boarded up, and the streets seem to go from looking really nice to really rough back to really nice in the same block or two. I've been warned by a couple of people that DC is a really heavy place and that I should watch my back, but what do you do with advice like that other than to feel a little more nervous than usual? We pull around the club and pass a bunch of enthusiastic fellows wearing fluorescent "SECURE PARKING" t-shirts trying to block the street and wave us into an old warehouse. "If they have to say 'secure' on their t-shirts," says Victo, "does that make you feel that secure?" The presence of "secure parking," however, convinces us that maybe we shouldn't park the shiny blue PT-cruiser on the street, so we see dudes in 9:30 Club t-shirts waving towards a parking lot (fenced in with barbed wire on top) and park there for $10. We ask the friendly lot guy ("You drove from CANADA? Welcome! Welcome!") about parking safely. He says, "In DC?" I say, "Yeah...?" He says, "Well, there isn't any place in DC where you can park safely on the street, so you'd probably want to park over night in a lot. If you can't, well, take your chances. There's a pretty good chance your car'll be left alone, but if not it might just be kids scratching it up or smashing the headlights or the windows." Huh.

We get inside and discover the 9:30 club has a kitchen with food, which we eat with the kind of gusto only possible when you've had nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and rest stop snacks for 14 hours. The Rogers Sisters go on and we watch-- they're better than when I saw them in Montreal, but I'm not that interested. Far more interesting is my looking around the crowd and realizing that as far as I can tell, there are no black people in the room. On our way in, we've seen almost entirely black people, and I recalled hearing that DC is black by a pretty large majority. Why, then, is the show crowd almost entirely white? What is it about this music that determines it wouldn't appeal to black people? I'd wondered that kind of thing before (like when I was at the Loud House with Teacher Mike and he saw a black dude in one of the bands and said, "Hey, cool, for once I'm not the only black guy in the room!") but it never seemed as predominant a consideration as in DC, where we've seen hardly any white people until we get to the venue, at which point we see only whites. I'm feeling distinctly uneasy about this, saying to Ang, "Do you get the feeling like we're a part of something much bigger than we understand, and that it's a bad thing? Don't you figure there's something really wrong with this?"

Gear-tech people are setting up SK's stuff and we've positioned ourselves early to the left, in front of Carrie's amps (Vox! Just like I play! Only not nearly as well!), and the techs are getting everything tuned and set. Then a guy in a 9:30 Club t-shirt who's previously been testing the mics comes on stage and says to the crowd, "How you all doing?" The crowd cheers. He says, "I suspect you're not going to be in such a good mood when I tell you what I have to say. The transformers for the club are completely overheated and overloaded and the fire marshal is here. By his order, the show tonight is cancelled. We need to evacuate the building immediately by the BACK, away from the transformers, because we need to shut down power to the whole block as soon as possible to avoid a possible explosion."

As Greg predicted when I told him this story, I kind of knew this was going to happen. You don't drive 12 hours into the worst heat you've ever experienced to have everything work out. That's not how things work. As we file outside without saying anything, I hear a fellow behind me complaining about how far he came for this. I say, "Man, I came from Montreal for this. 12 hours in a car." He says, "Montreal? That's nothing. I flew in from Calgary." I say, "Whoa, you win. Ouch."

We're dying of heat, we haven't found Angela, the person we were supposed to stay with, nor Mary Timony, who Anne needed to swap a snare stand with, so we get into the car, turn the air conditioning on, and sit a second in silence.

"That's it," said Victo. "Something really, really good had better happen. Things don't get this unlucky without something good happening. Something has to happen."

...continued in next post.

Diary entry: Aug 1-3, 2006: America (Part Two)

We sit in the air-conditioned car a while as the parking lot empties and debate what we could do next. Victo wants to go to NYC the next night even the show's been sold out for months. She says we might be able to get tickets on the street for some insane markup. I'm not sure I can pay for that. She says she'll loan me the money but I'm still uncertain, more about whether it's worth the effort to forestall defeat after driving 12 hours for nothing. We get out of the car.

Though Victo has been talking over cel with Angela (guitarist of DC band Partyline; Anne and Victo opened for them a week or two ago) who we're supposed to stay with, we haven't actually met up with her yet. We file out to the area near the front of the club (though the street in front is full of firetrucks and fire marshal people directing people away) and take a seat on a curb, four of us in a row, chins in hands, looking as dejected as we feel. We see Ian MacKaye and Guy Piccioto walk by, also looking unimpressed with the situation. Then a cheery looking fellow rolls up on a bicycle.

"Hey guys," he says, "What's going on with the show? Is it over? What's with all the firetrucks?"

Victo looks up and says, "Jerry?" At this point I realize that I've seen this guy's band before-- he's in French Toast with James Canty and I recall their show at Casa in 2002 descending into an all-out dance party which they extended by improvising jams when they ran out of songs: a fine time. I find out around about 30 hours later that he was also the unofficial fifth member of Fugazi. Cool. French Toast had played earlier this winter but I skipped the show for dumb reasons-- however, Victo and Anne's band opened for them and put them up that evening. Jerry says, "Victoria?! What are you doing here?"

We're introduced. Victo tells our sad story and Jerry agrees that this is, indeed, a stone-cold bummer. He also explains that DC's built in a swamp, which guarantees that even in the evening, the crushing summer humidity never breaks ("And the winters suck too, but you should see this place in the spring and fall!" he assures us). We're noticing this. It's 11pm and it's still hotter than I've been all year. But more importantly, when Victo tells Jerry that we're considering NYC (which I, secretly, am not), he says, "Listen. Give me your cel phone numbers. I don't want to guarantee you anything at all, but I'd like to see if I can try to do something for you. I've known the band for years and years and they're great people, so I'd like to find out if there's any chance at all they could maybe put you on the guest list for the New York show. It's a shame that you'd come all this way and not even see them." We are incredibly grateful for this, but it doesn't sound like the kind of thing that'd work out. Jerry heads off and we're fully appreciative of him, but we're feeling pretty bummed.

Finally we meet Angela, who is, frankly, kind of bizarre, but in a very friendly and welcoming way. We cram her into the back seat with Anne and Victo and head back to her apartment, about five or six blocks away. It's an interesting area, and I can't get a grasp on it. There are a lot of houses and apartments that look nicely-maintained, but as I look more carefully I realize there are also a lot that are boarded up or totally overgrown and falling down. I'm always a little on edge when I'm in big US cities and I'm never sure if that's justified or not-- we talked this over in the car later and concluded that we're just not used to being places where guns may be a part of the equation, so we assume there are guns everywhere and freak out accordingly. The area looks okay, more or less, though-- there are some friendly looking folks out walking dogs and generally not seeming frightening, so I figure I'm overreacting.

We go into Angela's apartment building and I'm desperate for the relief of air conditioning. So when she opens her door and we discover her apartment's about 10 degrees hotter than outside, I'm perplexed to the point that my brain almost shuts down from the confusion. Doesn't everyone in an absurdly hot climate live in air conditioning? Even the rougher looking houses on the street all seemed to have air conditioners in the windows. Angela, it turns out, has an air conditioner after all-- it's just cheap and doesn't work, but in honour of helping it try, she's shut all the windows (or they may be sealed-- we're not sure). She doesn't have ANY OTHER FANS. All she's got is one air conditioner dribbling lukewarm air that is indeed colder than the air in her 4-room apartment, but then most things would be.

We decide to go to the Black Cat club to have something to do, but when we get there our mood does not improve, particularly since some jerk figures it's funny to put all of Dig Me Out on the jukebox. Angela's off talking to friends and the four of us are glumly staring at the wall, so we decide to head back. Walking back up some large street that looks like it'd be pretty safe during the daytime, we're unsure of how safe we actually are. A family of six or seven is making their way towards us pushing shopping carts and carrying bags full of belongings-- my thought is they're homeless, but Ang figures since it's the 1st, they're moving (at 1:30am). This further drives home the fact that our problems are indeed of the first-world variety: driving 13 hours to go to a concert that gets canceled seems a ridiculous concern compared to the apparent lots of some people we're seeing on the street.

There are a lot of dudes just kind of hanging around and staring what feels like aggressively and I'm not sure whether this should or shouldn't be unsettling. People seem to just hang around much more in the states than in Montreal-- it's rare to walk around a major intersection at home and see five or ten or fifteen dudes just leaning against buildings, utility posts, or mailboxes, watching people go by. It might not be threatening at all to get stared down by some of these guys, but I'm just not sure. We go to a 7-11 that's entirely out of bottled water and are walking towards Angela's place when we pass a homeless dude who's drunkenly yelling, "I'm half white! I'm not dangerous." This is half-directed at us, but the guy's kind of ranting, so Ang and Victo and Anne walk past him. As I pass him he says something to me, so I respond by asking him how he's doing. He says, "I'm homeless, I'm harmless, and you're the first person who's talked to me all day." I say, "I'm real sorry to hear that, man." He says, "I'm half white." I say, "Doesn't matter what colour you are, so long as you're a decent person." He extends his hand and we shake. "You're right. You're a nice guy. It's real nice of you to talk to me," he says. "My name's Pierre. I'm a person." He pulls out his state ID and shows me. "See," he says, "I'm just a guy. How come your friends all just walked by me?" I said, "I don't think they thought you were talking to them." He says, "That's very rude, just walk by someone like that. You're a good person, but they aren't." He's starting to be more aggressive. I say, "Hey, they're good people. We've had a real long day and things aren't going very well for us." Pierre is annoyed at this and getting more aggressive about why people might not respond to him. I try again to explain that we've had a rough day and he says, "Your day's rough? I'm homeless!" which we concede is, by all means, a great deal rougher than we've had it. Pierre starts demanding to know why Ang and Anne and Victo didn't talk to him and they say they're sorry, tired, etc. So he starts demanding that each of us give him fifty cents. I dig in my pocket and give him what little change than I have, as does everyone, just hoping we can walk away before he gets more aggressive than he's becoming. We don't have much money between us and he's not impressed with his. He starts making comments about "rating" the kindness of each person, all the while telling me, "Not you, you're a nice guy, but these people...", which makes none of us comfortable. The whole scene is bizarre. We really just want to get back to where we know where we are.

Pierre lets us go, muttering that we make him ashamed to be half-white, and we turn down the street where we're heading to discover that the smoke we've been smelling the last couple of minutes is a car on fire in the middle of the street at the end of the block. There's a group of unfriendly-looking toughs around it, tending to it somehow. Anne and Victo begin saying, "We'd better go check that our car's okay," to which I reply, "No way, man. Our car's three blocks away and around that corner. It's fine." They say, "Let's just go check." I say, "Those dudes down there don't look very welcoming and whatever the deal with the car is, whether they're starting it or putting it out, they've got it under control. They don't need our help." Ang agrees with me, and Victo and Anne decide maybe we're right, so we let ourselves back into Angela's strange apartment, the sparse decor of which has been chosen out of the absolute ugliest of Salvation Army cast-offs. There are only two chairs in the apartment and it's the least welcoming home I've ever seen. Yet it's a place to stay, generously offered by someone who's nearly a stranger, and I'm sure glad we're not sleeping in the car.

Inside, it's no cooler than it was. We're spreading sleeping bags out on small available area of the floor to give us something to lie on and lie down as Angela arrives home. She's sleeping in her bedroom with the window sealed, no fan, nothing. I can't believe it. It's very giving of her not to stick us in there, but it's not that much cooler where we are. Somehow I manage to fall asleep-- having been awake since 6am on three hours sleep helps, but within an hour I wake up, absolutely certain I'm about to throw up. There are streams of sweat all over me and I've been asleep-- I"ve never been this hot in my life. I get up and stand in front of the air conditioner, which allows me to get a full lungful of cooler air, but I still feel sick. Finally I stagger through Angela's room into the bathroom, where my body decides that maybe I don't need to puke after all. I stagger back into the room where we're sleeping, lie down, and am immediately on the edge of vomiting again. I consider my options: garbage pail in our room, the smell of which would make sleep impossible for all. Bathroom, waking Angela-- faux pas. Kitchen sink: might not be able to wash it down. These thoughts do not temper my nausea. I stand in front of the air conditioner again considering it and see that Ang's awake. I tell her I'm sick and she gives me a bottle of water that's remained hot from being in the car. It makes me feel a little better, pushes back the lump of bile-infused matter that's rising in my esophagus, but doesn't take the nausea away. I say, dramatically "This is about the worst night I've ever had." She says, "Me too." I don't say it, but all I want to do is leave, get in the car, drive to a cheap motel with air conditioning, and shovel the four of us into one room-- except I don't feel safe enough outside to walk to the car with all our knapsacks and sleeping bags and pillows. There's a police helicopter circling around and around above us, spotlight trained all over, and it doesn't make me feel any safer. It's the strangest feeling of being trapped, one that I realize at the time i was probably overstating, but nonetheless I don't't feel good choosing between fear and advanced discomfort. Finally I manage to fall asleep and miraculously sleep until after eight.

After Angela leaves in the morning (she is truly kind, after all, and she's been as helpful as she could), we unanimously decide to leave DC forever as soon as we can. Turns out we all had the motel idea; we all didn't say it both for fear of offending Angela, and fear of going outside to where hard-looking dudes were setting cars on fire. We end up arguing over whether or not we should immediately try to get money back for our tickets. I say we should wait until we're home, but Anne wants to work it out while we're there. Everybody snaps at one another, fuelled by hunger, exhaustion, crankiness, and anxiety. Finally we go out for breakfast and when we have food in us we start to feel a little better. We agree that the best thing is to go straight home to Montreal, cut our losses, not mess around with NYC, and chalk it up to an experience we can learn from.

[incidentally, three months later I notice that Partyline has filmed portions of a video in the room where we slept (the parts where they seem to be playing in a house). All of the musical equipment visible was in place when we stayed there, leaving us only a tiny portion of floor in front of it all. That's no complaint-- Angela not only gave us a place to sleep, but offered us the room with the air conditioner in it, which makes her damned kind in my book. But it did make the accommodations a little cramped.]

We finish our breakfasts and wait until noon in the sweet coffee shop that's playing some sort of classic soul radio station (I could stay there for a long ass time), hit up a drugstore so Ang can get some migraine medication we don't have at home and I can get some hard-to-find pomade, and roll over to the 9:30 club, where we do, in fact, get our ticket money back. Huh. We get in the car and away we go, on the road, heading home. We're feeling a lot better with full bellies and the knowledge we'll be home soon enough.

Just past our first rest stop (we're making pretty sweet time), my cel rings. I pick it up (I NEVER do this while i'm driving, and felt bad, but I wanted to make sure we got it). It's Jerry. He says, "Where are you guys? What's the plan?" I say, "Were somewhere in Maryland and we're heading back to Montreal." He says, "You don't feel like risking it in NYC?" I say, "Well, we didn't know what the odds were, and i have to work tomorrow afternoon, plus we have to have the car back by seven."

Jerry says, "Because I just got off the phone with Carrie, and it actually looks pretty good for New York." I said, "What? Really?" He says, "Yeah, she really wants to help you guys, but she's not sure if she can. Chances are pretty good, but it's a matter of whether she can add four extras to their guest list. They filled it up a long time ago so she needs to get in touch with club and find out whether this will mess with capacity, but she's going to try. Does that change your mind at all?" I say, "There's a good chance of that. Can I ask the car?" He says, "Sure, call me back." Two minutes later we call back and tell him we're going to New York. He says, "What about getting back tomorrow?" We say, "We'll drive all night, it's fine." We figure that if we get there at 8:00 and we're not on the list, it'll only take us until 4am to get home. He says he should know even within a couple of hours, so we could be home earlier than that if it doesn't work out. On we go.

I should mention I'm doing all the driving because Anne doesn't like to drive and I'm more comfortable in urban areas. Plus I've slept better than anyone else, miraculously. We arrive in NYC via the Holland Tunnel in rush hour-- we're right downtown, following instructions Ang's copied off of Mapquest, in the most intense traffid I've ever seen. Stuck at an intersection, we see three plainclothes security dudes holding plastic handcuffs chasing another guy out of some brand-flagship store through four lanes of traffic. They tag him in a gas station, but he somehow gets away, and they're all running, only in the heat they seem only capable of a slow jog. It's unreal: they look like they're play-chasing him or reliving a scene from memory in slow-motion. We turn the corner, make another couple of turns, jockeying for position with cabbies who make Montreal taxis look like paragons of etiquette, find the club, and finally locate a place to stop behind it. We still haven't heard from Jerry, so Victo calls him. We listen to the conversation-- it starts out kind of sad and uncertain, and she's asking if he thinks we should pay to park the car if we're not sure we'll be able to get in. Halfway through her mood lifts and suddenly she's cheery, and she ends the conversation by saying that he's doing the nicest thing anyone's done for her all year. Turns out halfway through the conversation, James, Jerry's bandmate, got a text message from Carrie saying, "You're on-- 4 peeps on list!" We don't know this yet, but everyone in the car is yelling at the phone, saying, "Thank you Jerry for whatever it is Victoria's so happy about!"

Following this we find an great parking spot, leave the car, find an auxiliary cable for Victo's ipod that allows her to connect it to the car stereo (which she's been coveting for the entire trip, and pleases her greatly), and head through Tompkins Square Park to Kate's Joint, this tremendous vegetarian diner that Philippe had told me about ages back, where I get a non-turkey club sandwich and Ang gets fried unchicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. It's fantastic.

We walk to the venue, get to go to the head of a huge long line, and go directly to the front left of the stage in front of Carrie's amps. We could have done without the Rogers Sisters again, and the wait for SK is long, but when they come on stage it's all amazing. They open with "Start Together" and the whole floor is bouncing up and down with the crowd. We're in front of the PA, so we hear the band largely from being directly in front of the equipment, and I realize from our proximity to Carrie's amps that she's responsible for all of my favourite guitar lines in all my favourite songs. I'm in awe of her ability-- she takes risks with open strings and notes just on the edge of being in key that she pulls off masterfully. Her playing has the effortless perfect expression of Mike Watt's bass playing or Richard Lloyd when I saw him with Rocket From the Tombs. It's phenomenal. They're dying on stage with the heat and we are too-- Carrie says at one point that the whole room is like a sauna minus the flipflops and strange men in towels. It only gets hotter-- I'm wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt that I'm progressively unbuttoning and i notice toward the end that the three pieces of paper in the breast pocket have turned to pulp from my sweat. I'm dizzy and keep thinking that I have to be able to get us out of NYC and should take it easy, but the show is too damned good-- they play every single song I want to hear except for "The End of You," which I can see is actually listed on the set list for their 9-song encore, but they leave out, assumedly because it's just too fucking hot. Carrie looks like she's lost about ten pounds by the end, and it's not like she's got a lot to lose to begin with. There's an atmosphere of ecstasy in the crowd-- the spontaneous handclaps in the choruus of "Turn It On" are mindblowing and I feel high with the music and the insanity of the previous two days, thinking back to Victo saying that something good had to happen and thinking, "did it ever."

We stagger outside, and my legs and feet are cramped to the point of limping from standing for four hours. At a food market I get a bottle of "vitamin water" with caffeine, a can of Rock Star "energy drink," and a bottle of water. For some reason I don't drink the water, but gulp back the caffeine-and-flavour water and the horrible "energy drink," which is just dumb, a decision that I'll regret when I'm throwing up at dawn into a ditch behind an 18-wheeler at a Robert-Frost-picturesque rest stop in northern new york (poor diet, exhaustion, and carsick from moving to the back seat when Anne was driving). We follow mapquest directions given to us over the phone by Kate who used to live in Montreal, get a little lost, but make it out of the NYC, get significantly more lost but eventually also make it out of New Jersey. I cede the wheel to Anne sometime between four and five when I'm seeing trails off of every lit in front of me. At 8am, we arrive back in Montreal, slurring our words and staggering tired, exactly 48 hours after we left. Whoa.

Happy to be home to our cat and our lovely, welcoming house, Ang and I fall asleep around nine. The end.