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Road worriers

Obscene gas prices, stolen equipment, broken vans, no sleep -- so why do bands still go on tour?
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  September 4, 2008


Pretty & Nice: a tour diary: On the road from Oregon to Boston with New England's newest Sub Pop signees.
Tour story
Right around this time 10 years ago, our van died in the desert plains of Arizona on some godless stretch of I-8. After a long wait and a longer tow (during which I rode shotgun while the rest of the band hunkered down in the van, tilted at a 45-degree angle), we finally reached a lonely garage. There, we were given a list of our beloved Big Blue’s extensive transmission problems. In her stead, while mechanics tried to save her, we were offered a smallish egg-shaped minivan rental with which to complete the West Coast leg of our month-long tour. Desperate, late for San Diego, long since broke, and teetering on the edge of multiple forms of meltdown, we took it.

We discovered that three of us could squeeze into the front (with one straddling the gearshift), and that, with the rear seats popped out, all of our equipment could be Tetris-ed into a seamless black mass of amps and cases. In the very rear corner was a tiny cubby of empty space, where the remaining two band members could hug their knees, make like luggage, think of England, and enjoy whatever was piping through the back left speaker — of course, no one up front would hear their protests if they didn’t.

Must-have tour items from Jim Countryman of Lovewhip

In case your drummer has mental breakdown and gets hospitalized. (This actually happened to us in North Carolina. We finished a tour this way.)
To get rid of bad and/or illegal van smells.
Much better than sleeping on someone’s floor.
If it’s starting to sound like a camping trip, that’s because, sometimes, it is.
Over-the-counter and illegal.
Itchy feet can really bum you out on long drives.
Sometimes they’re the only way to get clean . . .
. . . unless you find a swimming hole/unattended pool.
No signal necessary for this baby.
Many of our nation’s bathrooms are worse than the Rat or the old Bunratty’s — it’s better to shit outside than throw up mid shit.
Johnson & Johnson, and anyone else you can scare up for company.
Electrolytes are your friends!
Not all clubs will see you as a performer — and they’ll make you pay to drink!
During one of my two-hour shifts in the “slot,” my legs began to go numb; my guts started to churn; fear, dread, and claustrophobia began to set in; and admonitions from my parents that I should just get on with grad school echoed through my head — along with the left channel of Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West, which the dudes up front were blaring to stay awake. Forced into the fetal position in the stow of a Plymouth Voyager, careening through the dead of night toward another show, another bean burrito, another pair of drink tickets, another $50, another floor offered up by another snoring host — I was ready to crumble. Then we took some sort of sharp turn and a trash bag filled with our dirty socks emptied onto my head. (I knew that bag was a bad idea.)

We had pulled abruptly into an ugly Diamond Shamrock to refuel. I hobbled out to restore blood to my legs, and once beyond the station’s aura of fluorescent lights and swarming bugs, I could see the massive, distant expanse of Mexico flickering along the southern horizon, indistinguishable from a night sky ablaze with stars. A 22-year-old lifelong Masshole, it was a vision unlike anything I had ever seen. And just like that, my whole outlook flipped.

I grabbed a Snickers, a 32-oz. Snapple (large enough to nix at least one future pee stop), and readied myself to take the wheel for the final leg, fortified by this de facto adventure we were on, the unexpected beauty that seemed to salvage every disaster, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) the blessing of gas at $1.50/gallon.

The warped tour
Most tour stories go something like this, with heroic romanticism swooping in just in time to cancel out the anguish of every cracked axle, every flat tire, every police stop, every hunger pang, every Visa charge at every Hardee’s, every show where the number of hours you drove to get there exceeded the number of people who showed up — or, put simply, every tiny, daunting reality of DIY touring. Nowhere does the old adage about the journey being more important than the destination ring truer than in the average band’s van. But these days, it’s a little hard to ignore that the journey has gotten really fucking expensive. Still, a band’s gotta do what a band’s gotta do.

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