In March this year, The Monochrome Set embarked on a breakneck USA tour, packing in nine gigs in ten days on both the East and West coasts of America.
Merchmeister Dave has already filed his report from the tour, but the West coast driver Steve wrote a brilliant account of his time with the band, which I’ve reproduced in full below:
The Monochrome Set Tour Diary, Part One.
Alright, I’ve been trying to get started on my TMS tour diary (or whatever this is) since I returned and I’ve been waylaid by general post-tour exhaustion, a broken water main, laundry, and life in general so I apologize for the delay. I’ll say from the outset that a lot of this stuff is just gonna be me unloading memories while I can still remember them and may not interest the casual (or even most hardcore) fan.
Most will be for the benefit of my future self so I can actually remember this trip in my senescence, but it was a special week so I hope I can also capture some of that. Here we go…..
I was very excited driving up to meet the band at SeaTac, where they were arriving after dates on the East Coast but I was also nervous about my responsibilities as driver, since I had about 1,750 miles to go until LA, not including another 900+ to get myself back home from California.
No one else in the band or crew was keen on driving a 12-passenger van on the right (correct) side of the road so I was pretty sure I’d have to do every mile, some of it on short sleep.
The spectre of their 1982 tour debacle hung in the air and I didn’t want to go down in history like THAT GUY. Still, I had no job beyond getting them to where they needed to be, relatively on time, and I was on vacation from work, so I was optimistic that all would go well.
I got the text that they had landed so I entered the airport parking garage and was greeted by the dull thud of the height restriction bar hitting the roof as I drove under it. I spent the next ten minutes looking for parking, sure that I was going to wedge the van on the roof of the garage, helpfully ducking as I drove through.
Miraculously, nothing happened (those height restrictions signs are lying to you, fyi) and I soon found the baggage claim for their flight and got ready to greet them with my helpful, hand-made welcome sign.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I wasn’t able to deploy it because they straggled into the baggage claim area where I was waiting and promptly starting walking away from me and their arriving bags at a very fast clip. I had to run to catch them and steer them back to the carousel and their checked luggage.
After introductions (I had only formally met a few of the traveling party in London), and some arrival ciggies, we drove the short distance to the hotel and made a plan to meet, after a brief rest period, in the lobby and find some lunch.
I scoped out some decent-sounding places that we could drive to which were all scuttled in favor of a stroll to a close-by IHOP (I’ll cover the various eventful meals in ensuing posts) where the group tore into plates of pancakes. We drove into Seattle for soundcheck with Mt. Ranier and the Olympics looking great on a rare sunny winters day.
As recounted earlier, the gig went as well as could ever be imagined, culminating in 4 encores and many happy fans, most of whom had waited a lifetime to see the band, and some of whom had crossed an international border to do so.
I strolled by the merch table after the set to see the action and was wide-eyed at the money rapidly changing hands; like some crazy 3 Card Monte game in Central Park. I took this to be a good omen: based on the crowd reaction to their set and the after-show sales, there was obviously a lot of pent up demand for this band and the next few days would bear that out.
Good Morning, friends, and welcome to another Tour Diary edition of ‘The Monochrome Set Friday!’ These are coming slowly, thanks to a general lack of free time available, but I’ll try to document each day of the tour and post some photos. This is from Day Two, Wednesday, March 6: the band played Seattle the night before and the Portland show is tonight.
It’s long so you may just want to skip to the video…
I awake early, still on my work schedule and not quite used to the rock n roll lifestyle yet. I’m enjoying the free breakfast in the Best Western lobby when Bid joins me and we have a nice ‘get-acquainted’ chat. We talk music for a bit and then the topic changes to the subarachnoid hemorrhage he suffered 8 or 9 years ago.
As a nurse, it’s a topic that intrigues me and he is clearly still fascinated with the experience and the sequelae. Slowly, the band rest of the band and crew join us and we pack the van for the 3-hour drive to Portland.
The pack is mainly luggage, merch, and a few guitars but it’s a small space and requires some skill. As the packmaster in my band, I’m pretty critical of the work of others but I dare not intercede in another bands ritual. Bid, who fills the role in TMS, gets a ‘B-minus’ from me for the first pack of the tour. Since the band usually travels by train or private car, this is a decent early showing, with plenty of room for improvement.
The great weather that greeted them in Seattle has changed to a wintry mix and we head towards Portland on Highway 5 in a driving slush. The traveling group take their spots in the van that they will keep for every drive going forward: Jane (booking agent/tour manager), Dave (Merch/married to Jane), and Andy in the way back; John, Bid, and (friend of the band, keeper of the setlist) Kathryn d’Turquoise on the bench behind me, and drummer Mike, in the navigators’ seat, from where he streams a great set of music from his Android (not Apple) phone.
Unfortunately, all the beautiful PNW scenery is hidden in deep fog and I feel terrible that they’re missing out on the various volcanoes and other scenery along the way.
It turns out that former Go-Betweens (my other favorite band) bassist, Robert Vickers, is now a freelance promotions man and has been hired by their label Tapete (Ta-PEH-ta) to set up interviews along the route to promote the band and tour. The first west coast assignment is a short set by the band in a studio and an interview with Bid to be broadcast on XRAY.FM (where friend-of-the band Dave Cantrell has a show).
The address of the studio in South Portland gets updated via text from Robert a couple of times, and we find ourselves on a very suburban street in the Lents district of Portland with nothing that looks like a studio in sight. Mike and John are dispatched to knock on doors (while Vickers’ name is taken in vain a few times in the van), and eventually find the place, a cute little home studio in a converted garage.
Bid gives an interview that, as he does many times on this tour, goes well beyond the usual pop-star interview topic fare. I’m sure that Jane will post the link when these get broadcast.
The snow is now sticking to the ground, threatening to quash attendance at the Doug Fir show tonight, as we make our way to the motel, an old-fashioned, but updated, motor court on Sandy Blvd, across the street from a Bikini Barista coffee stand (a business idea which fascinates many in the group).
The check-in process is endless, a phenomenon that will continue, and even get worse, at each hotel as the tour progresses. Apparently, British people checking into an American hotel is very complicated and I can only imagine that Brexit is to blame.
We head the club for soundcheck and I find a stack of the ‘Willamette Weekly’ papers that has a preview of the show that was written by my friend Jason. I hand them out to the band as we sit down to a happy hour nosh at the bar and I quickly regret it.
It’s a great article but it turns out to be focused mainly on me and my fandom of the band and credits me with bringing the band to Portland, a point that is not lost on Jane, who actually did all the work to book the shows. And what band doesn’t love to read mostly about their volunteer driver in a piece ostensibly about the group?
I was very self-conscious and took some well-deserved ribbing from the group but Ms. d’T assured me that it was a fine article and the local angle was a good way to interest Portlanders in the band.
The Portland show goes well, though the fans are not quite as fanatical as the Seattle crowd, and multiple encores are played. Local legends, The Prids, open the show and greatly impress the band.
Bid, as it turns out, watches the opening band every night and is particularly impressed by the Prids bassist, who, as it turns out, had also suffered a similar brain injury to his many years ago.
I drop the band at their hotel and Bid asks me if I could change some of the small bills they’ve accumulated on the tour into 100’s at my bank to make his billfold less burdensome.
As he hands me the bulky envelope at the end of the night with thousands of dollars in 5’s,10’s and 20’s, I realize that this long, involved con game that I’ve been running has finally paid off.
Sure, it was a lot of work to write all these TMSF posts, and volunteer to drive the band, pretending to like them, but here was the big payoff and they would learn a tough lesson about trusting Americans. However, sometime in the dark night, I had a change of heart and, in the morning, handed Bid a slim envelope full of Benjamins and took my seat at the wheel, and headed south to California.
The video this week is a real treat: the full Monty Hall show from New Jersey shot with multiple cameras and great sound!
The Monochrome Set Tour Diary, Part 3.
Going back to the first night of the West Coast tour, I was struck by something Mike said; We were all 7 of us searching for a place to eat in Seattle after soundcheck, an unwieldy challenge for a band in which diets varied from strict vegan to omnivores, with a pitstop at ‘picky’.
I suggested to him, as an aside, that, for simplicity’s sake, the band split up and eat separately, but he dismissed the idea: “We like to eat together, it’s a bonding thing.” I was moved by this idea as it’s probably true that a band that likes to break bread is a tight band. I’ve traveled with bands that went 3 or 4 different ways for dinner and most of those bands are no longer together!
We ate Mexican food that night despite the fact that Andy, the bass player, was not a big fan of that particular cuisine. We had a few great meals together over the next few days and I’ll share some of those stories with you as the diary goes on. Meanwhile, back to Day 3:
The next morning I awoke in my own bed, with a stack of 20 dollar bills on the nightstand, making me very disoriented. Had I robbed an ATM? ‘Ah, I’m driving the Monochrome Set to Redding, California today!’ I realized, ‘better get to it.’ I made a stop at the bank to change the small bills to large ones, and I drove out to Sandy Avenue to retrieve the band.
As usual, I found Bid out front having a cigarette. The rest of the band slowly straggled out with Andy, the most fastidious packer, pulling up the rear. I was excited to get on the road so that we could make it over Mt. Shasta by dusk.
I didn’t favor driving that treacherous part of Hwy 5 in the dark and I wanted the band to be able to enjoy a view of the mountain in the daylight. We thought we had left plenty of time to get to Redding, our way stop for the night, in plenty of time for an early dinner but we soon learned that you have to add an hour to the plans for every 3 that you drive.
First, we stopped for a nosh at a Panera just south of Portland since no one had enjoyed a real breakfast (tho some had braved the snow and the traffic on Sandy to get a bikini coffee) and that turned into a lovely sit-down brunch. Next, we had a stop for a ciggie, some coffee, and mints and, a little later, a bathroom break to get rid of that coffee. Luckily, we had the day off so there was no soundcheck or interview to make.
It wasn’t long before people were looking for lunch, and Jane’s ‘Happy Cow’ app pointed us to lunch at the family-owned Bluebird Pizzeria in Roseburg, Oregon. The waitress quickly figured out that we weren’t the average tourists and became very excited when she discovered that she had English New Wave-Post-Punk-Pop-Rock Royalty in her place.
She excused herself to call her boyfriend, who was apparently a big fan of the rock and roll (she herself preferred opera and classical, a bit of a shock, given her tattoos and general RnR appearance) and gloat that she had the Monochrome Set eating calzones in the cafe.
Meanwhile, the owners, an older couple, came out and just positively beamed at us, wordlessly, while we ate their delicious food. To be honest, when we initially walked in, I flashed back to a lunch stop I made with Straitjacket Fits, back in 1994, somewhere in Michigan where the staff had roundly ignored the scruffy band until we gave up and left. But there was no such attitude here, and we were made very welcome.
The rest of the drive to Redding was a gorgeous daylight jaunt through the Siskiyou Mountains and the band were enjoying the gorgeous scenery until the sun went down and the rains came, and the drive through the Shasta-Trinity NF became a white-knuckle affair.
We survived though, thanks in no small part to DJ Mike’s buoyant personality that kept me alert and laughing over the challenging mountain roads (his timely choice of ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ by the Smiths as we passed slow-moving trucks (…And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, Well, the pleasure.…) was a perfect choice to break the tension of the drive.
We arrived in Redding much later than we planned and only had time to drop our bags at the Thunderbird (after another long, involved check-in) and jog to the only place open in town, the Mexican restaurant (!) next door where Andy had convinced the staff to stay open late for the hungry travelers.
A margarita helped calm my frayed nerves and I enjoyed a large plate of chorizo eggs, a menu decision that would not take long for me to regret (I vowed to stick to quesadillas going forward). I had a very restful sleep until the train went through (what sounded like) my bathroom, and then, a few minutes later, when the garbage trucks came to collect the dumpsters, also apparently stored in my bathroom.
Happily, the day dawned bright and I killed the time before with left for SF by walking around Redding, enjoying the mountain views. Tomorrow: A stop at the Nut Tree en route to San Francisco!
The Monochrome Set Tour Diary, Part 4:
I could sense the excitement in the van as we approached San Francisco. Everyone was jacked up at the prospect of playing in the City and, with brisk advance ticket sales, a good turnout was assured. Clearly, the fans in SF were still stinging from missing them 37 years ago, and those who were still above ground and ambulatory were not going to miss another chance.
The band had the previous day off, their first since the tour started one week before, and though it had been a long drive from Portland, they’d hopefully had a restful sleep and were ready for the busy last weekend of the trip.
We hit the road on only coffee and pastries so, naturally, after a couple of hours, talk turned to lunch. I had suggested to the band that we make a slight detour and arrive in San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the truly great highway entrances to a city, but one that would take a little longer than the direct route and put us crosstown from the planned 3pm radio interview at KXSF.
So far, we had been able to do precious little sightseeing, and I felt bad that the band had come all this way and were missing out on the high points of the cities we were visiting. I hoped that I could make up for that in one of my favorite cities.
A quick lunch stop is planned, and I suggest a Panera at the Nut Tree shopping area, a sprawling mall built on what once was an actual Nut farm. It had been a common stopover for my family when we were driving to and from Reno from SF when it truly was a farm and our young boys could run around and burn off some energy.
Later, when we moved to the Northwest, after it was developed, it became an crucial last stop out on visits to California to stock up on cheap, relatively untaxed booze. It seemed like a safe bet and an easy off, easy on solution. I was wrong.
I dropped the band at the door and went to park the van, returning to ‘The Panera Mutiny’ as the group rejected the crowded eatery and spread out to find more suitable eats. Since the choices there were mostly bad chain restaurants, I was pessimistic about our chances.
Luckily, we soon stumbled across a Vitality Bowls shop that was able to please everyone in the group but, unluckily, the staff was very laid back in a California-Health-Food-
The plan to detour over the GG Bridge was scrapped and we made a beeline for the Bay Bridge and San Francisco (certainly a top ten entrance into a city) and arrived right on time at the radio station.
I listened to the interview on my phone while sitting in the van, enjoying the California sunshine, as Andy and Bid tried to make an interesting discussion out of the DJs pat questions. It’s been nearly 3 decades since I did a college radio interview and I was disappointed to learn that the level of questioning had not elevated much since then.
The boys dragged it into an absurdist realm to entertain themselves, dog bless them, clearly confusing the jock and, after a ticket giveaway, we were on our way to the hotel for a rest before soundcheck.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never encountered hotel check-ins as long as this group has suffered and the Best Western in Millbrae may have set a new record. By the time we got our keys, there was barely enough time to drop our bags and get back in the van.
The thrill of returning to the city that I spent a decade in was slightly tempered by the incredible traffic that we face going against the commute, back into the city on a Friday night. Every other car seems to have a Lyft or Uber light-up sign and I wonder if it’s like this all the time now.
I’m assured by my people who still live in the City that it’s worse than I can imagine. We arrive at the Rickshaw Stop, a good-sized venue in upscale Hayes Valley, unrecognizable from the dodgy neighborhood I avoided decades ago.
Tonight, I won’t be dining with the band, instead, I’m meeting up with some dear old pals to catch up on our long-distance friendships, an unadvertised perk of the job. After dinner, I tell them that the band won’t be going on until 1130 and their faces fall.
They are unlikely to last the 4 hours until set time without some assistance so we set off on foot to find them the nearest Marijuana dispensary, recently legalized in California. Along the way, I manage to somehow step into a gap in the sidewalk and severely twist my ankle.
As Connie tends to my foot, she tells me that she had a similar experience not too long ago and it turned out to be broken under the sprain. (10 days later, an X-ray would reveal that I had suffered a similar fate). I limp back to the club and the helpful bar staff makes me an ice-pack to apply to my swollen ankle and I take a spot on a balcony sofa that allows me to elevate my foot and still see the bands.
I catch the last few songs by the opening band, who seem to have listened to only the Delta 5 growing up, while entirely missing the point and I’m glad when they finally clatter offstage.
It’s interesting to me that just about every opener I would see on this tour was doing their best to sound like an English band, while the Monochrome Set had often made a point of sounding ‘American.’ That’s a rash generalization but one I feel certain I could defend, given enough time and cider.
The lads played a great set, marred only by muddy sound, inexcusable in this day and age, really, and get the usual handful of encores that the fans demand.
After the set and the many autographs around the merch table (the band are tireless when it comes to indulging their fans), I try to subtly round up the gang, who are reveling in their well-deserved post-gig glow, reminding them that Dave and I have to be up in a few hours to ferry the van and equipment to San Diego for the next night’s show, while they will sleep in and fly to the SD gig (I drop several completely tasteless Buddy Holly references to John so that he feels guilty about missing out on the longest drive of the trip but I really don’t blame them one bit).
Kindly, they acquiesce and we drive back to the hotel, where I hit the pillow at 2:30, the alarm set for 3 hours later. Dave and I will drive 500 miles tomorrow, on short sleep, through the heart of the Central Valley, over the Grapevine, and through LA, before heading down the coast to San Diego International Airport, where we will meet the band at 5pm.
Dreading the drive, I text my wife from bed, telling her: “you are supposed to talk me out of doing crazy things like this.” “Not a chance,” she replies.
Bon Jour, fellow travelers, and welcome to ‘The Monochrome Set Friday’, Tour Diary Edition; Part Cinq! Dave and I arise, predawn, and meet in the hotel breakfast room, caffeinating for the long drive ahead today. The plan is for us to drive the van with gear from SF to San Diego while the band flies, rendezvousing at the airport just in time to drive to soundcheck at the Soda Bar. A seemingly lovely plan that would go slightly askew before the day was over.
I remember discussing this drive with Jane when she was still planning the logistics of the tour and being shocked that the band was hesitant to take it on. Then I compared the distances to the UK and saw that it was the equivalent of a journey from Brighton at the Beach to just north of Edinburgh, Scotland.
I think when you’re living on the West Coast, and esp. when you have family spread across the seaboard, these kinds of drives become almost routine, while the idea of driving across almost your entire country can send one sweating to Expedia.
Despite the daunting drive, I was looking forward to having a tete-a-tete with Dave, the band’s master of merchandise. Up to now, I hadn’t had much chance to get to know him (Bid insists that he never leave the merch table, even forcing him to set up shop in hotel lobbies while we wait to check in, and diner parking lots while the rest of us eat, lest he misses out on a chance to sell a shirt), and the long drive would give us a chance to compare notes, entre nous.
The drive is a familiar one to me, through the garlic fields of Gilroy, across the vineyards of Paso Robles, over to the 5, and Dave and I find a lot in common, despite having grown up thousands of miles apart. The soundtrack is an iPod mix of theirs that bridges our shared love of Sixties garage/psych and the line from that to punk rock and it goes a long way towards keeping my energy up on short sleep.
We are having fun until we hit the traffic in LA. Naively, I had assumed that a Saturday afternoon would be a good time to sneak through the famous gridlock, but lots has changed since I last made this trip with the kids in car seats and the 5 resembles a weekday rush hour.
We sit in stop-and-go traffic, pretty much from Santa Clarita until, well, San Diego, and it’s a big bummer. I’m getting worried about meeting their plane when Dave receives a text from Jane at SFO, telling us that their flight is delayed by hours and there’s no way they’ll make soundcheck at this point. Quelle dommage!, I think, as their plan to avoid a long drive has turned into a long wait on airport chairs while missing out on all the glorious feedlot smells that the Central Valley offers its visitors.
At least when we get past the sprawl of LA, we are treated to a view of the Pacific Ocean on our right for much of the remainder of the slog into San Diego. We are tempted to ditch the highway for a weekend a la Plage but, remembering the fans, we press on forward.
We arrive at the hotel, with time to spare before the flight lands and attempt to take care of the entire check-in process but the fellow in the glass booth insists that he can’t issue keys until all passports are produced and a cavity search is done on each guest. Dave and I are able to take a catnap before meeting the now-exhausted travelers at SAN and ferrying them to the Soda Bar, a smallish place in the University district.
Tipped off by a knowing local, I recommend the hipster taco joint, Lucha Libre, for dinner and Andy is thrilled. “Burritos Again?” he enthuses, with typical dry wit, but the place eventually earns even his hard-won praise, and he goes back to the counter for more guacamole as the rest of us soak in the pleasure of fresh Mexican food and the wrestling motif.
We arrive at the club with just enough time for the band to take the stage, sans soundcheck, and launch into their set for a small, but a rabid crowd.
The band are very tired but end up giving, to my ears, a great performance. I’m being a little selfish here, I admit since I’ve had to share them with much larger crowds, but it’s nice to just stand by the bar (no sitting after that drive) and watch a fantastic band run through their set in what feels like a neighborhood bar.
Bid is in great voice, amazing given their travel schedule and his relentless interviews and long chats with fans, not to mention frequent American Spirit breaks. The sound is crystal clear and the group sounds sharp, despite their fatigue. It’s my favorite show of the tour, so far, and I’m beaming as we make the short drive back to the hotel.
I thought that the short drive tomorrow would give us some sleep-in time but apparently, there’s a radio show taping to do in LA, so a 9 a.m. call time is announced, much to everyone’s chagrin.
Andy reminds us that, with Daylight Savings starting today, that’s actually an 8 am call but citing our raison d’etre, management does not budge. John and I contemplate a late night drink, but, discouraged by the lack of walkable options, settle for a ciggie and a chat before heading off to our rooms. #TMSF
The Monochrome Set Tour Diary, Part 6:
I’ve never been a fan of Daylight Savings, and today I’m considering moving to Arizona or Iceland, where the residents had the common sense to send DST packing.
I can’t complain too much as today is a shorter drive, just a couple of hours up the 5 to Los Angeles, where the band will play their last show of the tour at Echoplex on a ‘Part Time Punks’ night. This is a long one but we’re almost to the end! Be Strong!
We hit the road north but soon stop for a lovely Sunday brunch in Oceanside. All the varied diets in the band are satisfied, except Andy, the one most bothered by the early call time, who just orders tea. Again, I’m not allowed to pay for my meal, as the band generously picks up the tab (as they have all tour).
I’m trying to remember the last time I used my debit card and I have to think for a minute to remember my PIN.
Our first stop in LA is in Glendale, at a storefront recording studio where they will tape a session for the PTPunks radio show. The band have this down after a half dozen of these and run through Jet Set Junta, OYIGtbiYDT, Mrs. Robot, and a breakneck version of The Ruling Class, obviously in a hurry to get to the hotel and get some rest before the show.
Our Super 8, on Sunset Boulevard, hard by Dodger Stadium, sets an all-new record for slowest check-in and Andy, a little peckish after skipping breakfast, decides to get some lunch while our rooms are prepared. I offer to join him and find a good place and he accepts, “as long as it’s not Mexican food.”
Andy is about the only one in the traveling group that I haven’t had a genuine conversation with, and I was looking forward to getting to know him better. Anyone who has seen the band knows that Andy has a unique stage presence which can best be described as ‘actively scowling’ while standing stock still, dressed in black and shades of grey.
He’d displayed a very dry sense of humor in the van (as all bass players are required to) but hadn’t been the most forthcoming in our group conversations. I was worried that it would be an awkward lunch but, like most quiet people (myself included), he’s far more comfortable and open in a one-to-one situation.
After we ordered, I had to let him know that he was one of my favorite players, always serving the song with his inventive walking lines and beautiful melodic work when called for.
We then spent the rest of the meal talking about his career in the Ants and TMS (surprising me with the news that he was disappointed that he had missed out on being in Bow Wow Wow because Malcolm had hired Stuarts’ band away from him but Andy had just left). Like everyone in TMS, he’s got a real job waiting for him at home, at a charity that assists refugees.
Anyway, I’m glad I got to visit with him, he’s a very warm and sweet man behind the monochromatic facade, and he kindly picked up the tab before we head back to the hotel.
The Echoplex is an impressive venue, actually two venues, and we linger upstairs until someone heps us to the fact that there’s a whole ‘nother club under this one and that’s where the band is playing. It’s a cavernous place but the staff is super friendly, and the sound equipment is state of the art and I can tell the band is psyched to end the tour in a great venue.
I sneak away to have dinner with some old, dear friends down the street, and, when I return to the club, the place is packed and the merch table is hopping.
I kind of figured that, with all the expensive gear, the sound would be good but I’m surprised at how amazing the band sounds from the first note. It’s like recording studio quality in the club and the band is both loose and tight, with Bid finally delivering on his promise to jam out on ‘Z Train’, channeling Robby Krieger, just a few miles down Sunset from where the Doors recorded their debut.
It’s a great set and the crowd asks for and receives 4 encores, with ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (now much tighter than the Seattle version), ending the set and the tour on a high note.
Back at the hotel, the band is thirsty for a quiet end-of-tour drink and decides to find a bar within walking distance (so that I can enjoy a cocktail). I’m so giddy about the show (and happy we completed the tour without incident), I even bum a cigarette from John, my first in years, to celebrate.
We come upon a bar and the band sends me up to check it out. It’s pretty noisy, with a packed dance floor, not really suitable for what we’re looking for and I tell the doorman that “I’m traveling with an English band who’ve just completed their US tour and are looking for a quiet place to celebrate.”
He says they have a private room but usually don’t open it up unless it’s reserved. I tell him that sounds perfect and promise a big bar bill if he lets us use it. He disappears for a minute and then comes back and ushers us into their ‘VIP Room’, (which really just looks like the storeroom where they keep the disused furniture) but the band is easily impressed and happy to have a quiet place to reflect on the tour.
John and I are dispatched to the crowded bar where we order a round and, back in the safety of the VIP quarters, we raise a glass to a successful tour, thanking Jane for all her hard work.
We close the place down and John and I straggle behind the group as we head back to the hotel. I’ve liked him since we met in London (it turns out we share a birthday, tho he is much older;—]) and as we weave and bob back to the Super 8, he fills me in on his family and their Mancusian concrete business. I even get a quick lesson in the art of pouring cement, with our sidewalk pressed into service as a learning aid.
We enjoy one last cigarette before heading to our rooms, for what will be a relaxing sleep. Bid has called for one last lunch together at noon before we head to LAX and their flight back to Gatwick.
The Monochrome Set Post-Tour Wrap-Up: The Epilogue.
I know, I know; you don’t want this diary to end! As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve put this all down mostly for my future self so I’ll remember the high points and details. If you enjoy it, all the better. Here’s the last days’ diary (I promise) and some thoughts:
I awake in my hotel room in LA a little hungover but relieved that I finished my task; I got the band from Seattle to LA without incident (save for an off-ramp taken a little too fast in SF), and the only job I had today was to drop them 20 miles away at the LAX curb before starting my journey home.
I wander the streets around the hotel looking for coffee and soon discover that Shepard Fairy’s studio is right across from the hotel, and one of his agitprop art posters adorns the wall in front. A little later, as we stand outside the hotel, waiting for everyone to join us for lunch, Bid was worried that I would still be in ‘tour mode’ when I got back to work and that my ‘van language’ might shock my patients.
I assured him that I’d try not to tell them “get in your fucking gown” when they arrived for their colonoscopies. “You know, I’m also a Nurse” he noted, gesturing towards the band as they joined us. He was joking, of course, but it was true that he has the heart of a caretaker.
He likes to make sure that everyone is doing well, frequently asking after my recently broken arm, swollen foot and the maladies of the band. He’s a twisted git, as his lyrics leave no doubt, but a very bighearted guy.
The mood at lunch is bittersweet, as everyone reminisces about the high points of the trip, while the thoughts turn to the reality of going home. For me, there’s no bubble quite like the ‘Tour Bubble’, when your only worry is getting to the gig or finding a decent restaurant, and when it bursts, reality can be unsettling. Bid treats us to a nice lunch and one more glass is raised (mostly tea, this time) to a successful tour.
The van is packed one last time (Bid finally getting it right), and, with some time to kill before their flight, I offer to take the band to Griffith Park for some actual sightseeing. I just feel terrible that we’ve visited such beautiful cities and I haven’t been able to show them around properly.
Paul Westerberg used to tell his band, “We’re on tour, we’re not tourists” but I always thought that was idiocy. How often are you 6000 miles from home in a beautiful place? I used to get up early when my band was in Europe and soak it all in, never knowing if I’d get back. There were so many places I would have loved to show them but they had a very demanding schedule, and the schedule is king.
Unfortunately, I can’t join them due to a parking crunch at the summit but, when I collect them, I’m happy to hear that they enjoyed the grounds and even got some great band photos taken outside the observatory (see below). As we descend back down to the highway, Mike cranks ‘Observatory Crest’ by Captain Beefheart and we all hold hands and sing along (well, I’m not sure that last part happened but it could have).
We make the drive to LAX with ‘Lady in Red’ taking us up to the International terminal where we say our rushed goodbyes at the curb. I get a rush of melancholy as I leave the airport, a sure sign that I had a good time. I’ll certainly miss their company, they were all very fun to be around and they get along better than any band have a right to.
I’ve got a two-day, 15-hour drive ahead of me (tho it did occur to me that, since I had the full insurance on the van, I could just set it on fire in nearby Compton and take a quick flight back), but it goes by quickly with great music on the stereo (no Supertramp of Chris De Burgh in sight), and I mentally replay the tour in my head so I can remember to write it down later.
It was definitely a strange experience to take a week off from work, leave the family behind, and join up with one of my favorite bands to drive them down the West Coast. It doesn’t sound like the work of a sane person, but I’ve always had a taste for the crazy. After flying to London to see them play, this just seemed like the natural progression.
There’s only a small handful of bands that I would have even considered doing this with, and I feel fortunate that I ended up with a great bunch of people, not to mention a fantastic band to see every night.
The job of driving was a little more tiring than I had bargained for but I have no regrets. I had answered the posting for the gig thinking it was a fun way of seeing them play multiple times, and get some time in with far-flung friends and family.
Apparently, they didn’t relish the idea of driving in America and I didn’t want them to have any excuse not to make it to the West Coast.
Most times when you’re driving, you take it for granted that you’ll arrive safely, but when I looked in the rearview mirror on this trip, I felt a genuine responsibility to get the group there in one piece. I didn’t want to tarnish my place in ‘rock history’ by going down as the guy who lost the Monochrome Set!
Lately, my Facebook feed (and real life) have been filled with reminders of my/our mortality and I’m keenly aware of my own family’s genetic history. I’m looking for opportunities to really live my life and this was a great chance to combine two things I love: music and travel. Thanks to the band for having me along!
Steve Michener is a former musician who lives in Portland, Oregon. Check out his band page at https://www.facebook.com/
[Photos by Steve Michener and Mike Urban]