After two whole weeks, CJ has finally decided to rest. He asked Jared to drive from St Louis to Wichita. The dude with more longevity than a ultramarathon runner has reached his limit.
I’m excited for Wichita. Jared attended university there, so I imagine lots of his friends will be attending. Staying with his friends in Minneapolis was a fun time, so I hope there will be a similar party tonight.
We listen to the band Kansas on the way to Kansas, and then I put on Fleetwood Mac. It just feels right to listen to classic rock today. This is followed by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Queen.
Kirby’s, the venue is a tiny bar opposite the university that Jared studied at. Emphasis on the tiny. It is plastered with stickers, posters and graffiti, and there is no lock on the door of the bathroom. Jared tells me that he used to work there.
Loading in is interesting. There’s barely enough room for four musicians to stand onstage, let alone with amps and drums taking up space as well. I spot a poster advertising a Staghorn show stuck to the ceiling. I send it to Alan from the band, having met him in St Louis a few nights ago. He loves it, but is shocked to hear that Ranges fit on the stage.
The band play well tonight. They play a 40 minute set rather than the usual 30 mins. The extra song is awesome, with thrashy drum parts. Why don’t they usually play that song???
But things fall apart after the set. There’s an argument between some of the band members, with accusations that some members didn’t put in as much effort as usual. I personally think the set went fine. It’s a telling sign that we are all getting too worn out from the long drives and inadequate sleep. It doesn’t help that the next band plays horrible, erratic free-jazz. That crap is enough to put anybody in a bad mood.
Jared loves catching up with all of his arty friends from grad school, and one couple hosts us at their house that night.
Tour Day 15: Friday 13 October
Triple Nickel Tavern, Colorado Springs
w/ Eyelet, Blind, the Thief, Euth, Shiii Whaaa
I had thought that we were due to play Denver tonight, going off an old tour poster. Turns out that gig had fallen through and we had a gig in Colorado Springs instead, a few hours drive south of Denver.
We stop at a shopping mall on the way to the venue. We’re all running low on clean clothes so a few of the guys grab buy some fresh gear to prolong the illusion of cleanliness. I buy a New York Yankees baseball cap to please Mark. He used to write for some baseball publications covering the Yankees on their way to the playoffs, so insists that I rep his team. He’s as pleased as punch once I start wearing it around, especially when the game is on at the bar later in the night.
We eat at El Taco Rey, just around the corner from the venue. It’s one of the meals I’ve had on tour. The food tastes outstanding, and it’s affordable too.
Triple Nickle Tavern reminds me of Triple Rock in Minneapolis. There’s a distinct punk feel to it. Lot’s of bands are playing tonight so it’s a struggle to find enough space for everyone to put their gear.
Shiii Whaaa start the night off well with their fun punk style. The following two bands are horrible, with lots of screaming, so I head outside to chat to Sam, a Ranges fan who has driven for over an hour to get to the gig.
My highlight of the night is the last band, Blind, the Thief. They play upbeat math rock, similar to Toe. It’s fantastic. I love dancing to energetic music so I make sure to get my fill.
Tour Day 16, Saturday 14 October
Shooters Bar, Billings, Montana
w/ In Rapture, As The Crow Flies
Everyone is in good spirits today. The last night of tour! The guys are keen to get back to their families and sleep in their own beds.
I sleep during most of the drive up through Colorado and Wyoming, but when we stop for gas I notice that we are in the middle of a snow flurry. It snows in New Zealand, but usually I need to go up a mountain to get to it, so it feels novel to experience it here.
Shooters Bar in Billings feels more like home. Good old Montana, with plenty of red necks wearing trucker caps and no sales tax – one place in America free-er than most.
Joey’s wife and daughter have made the drive to Billings to see us, and CJ’s sisters come to the show as well.
First act As The Crow Flies are from Bozeman as well. They play awesome, stomping southern styled blues rock. The use a truck exhaust pipe as a mic stand, and Mario the singer plays a sci-fi looking guitar that he built himself.
Following act In Rapture are a sight to see. They play industrial tech metal. They’re good, but their sound mix lacks punch. And although I like to see musicians getting into it as they play, the way they moved onstage felt forced. The girl on keys actually ran out into the audience and started pushing people to start a moshpit. The music was good, and if they spend some time refining their tone and mix they’ll sound great.
I know the guys in Ranges were excited to finish. We were so close to home. They dedicated their final song of the tour to me.
We finish the night with shots and beers (a double shot of mountain dew for CJ because he was driving). Joey is dropped off somewhere in Billings where he is staying with his family for the night, and the rest of us get back to Bozeman around 2am.
As hard as it was sitting cramped in a van day in, day out, as tiring as it was pulling the late nights, as grotty as it made me feel eating pizza and gas station food for many meals, I’ve had the time of my life.
In the past few months I’ve traveled from the east coast to the west coast of America, and then met up with Ranges and driven most of it all over again. I’ve seen some amazing places, but more importantly, made some amazing friends.
dunk! was incredible. Truly memorable… well… the parts I was sober for. Certainly a great time.
And the guys in Ranges are the best. It is hard saying goodbye and returning to New Zealand after having lived in such close quarters with them for two weeks. It’s crazy that I can count them as some of my closest friends after only having known them for a short space of time.
I’ll wrap up my tour blog with something absurd, an in-joke within the band that sums up our journey well:
Apologies for the lack of images. I’ll update this post with photos when I get wifi access.
Tour Day 11: Monday 9 October
Spark Contemporary Art Space, Syracuse, New York
w/ Man Mountain, Against The Giants, Machine Moon, How To Disappear Completely
The drive from Vermont to Syracuse is incredible. I lived in Maine for a few months earlier in the year, and it feels good to be back in beautiful New England. Upstate New York is aglow with autumnal hues. We drove through winding country roads, past glassy ponds, and through misty groves of vibrant deciduous trees. Joey put on Young and Courageous, the Tides of Man record. It seems like the perfect soundtrack for this beautiful drive. Joey and I get watery-eyed. It’s crazy how closely attached we feel to the guys in that band, considering that we’ve only known each other for four days.
I was up into the early hours of the morning hanging out with some of the musicians from dunk! in the Junius hotel room, so wasn’t feeling too crash-hot due to limited sleep.
We arrived in Syracuse and unloaded the gear into the venue – an art gallery similar to the one we played in Minot, although this one was bare.
I asked CJ what he was thinking, going from playing the biggest show of his career to the smallest. He sad he was happy for it because the pressure from dunk had been lifted off his shoulders.
We walked to a nearby pizza joint a few blocks away. It was chaos. We had to order from one place and pay at another. The staff didn’t even seem to know what was going on. I sat down with my laptop to sort through photos I’d taken at dunk!
After pizza we walked back to the venue, and I realised that my wallet was absent from my back pocket where it usually lives. I searched my bag thoroughly, emptied out my pockets and asked the guys if they’d seen it.
After turning my bag inside out a few times, and retracing my steps and searching the pizza joint, I came to the conclusion that my wallet was stolen. I spent the next hour sat in the van ringing banks to cancel my cards and trying to do some damage control for when whoever had my wallet was trying to get access to things with it.
I can’t comment on the bands that night. I was too absorbed in my own little world and took some time out in the van. Not a good day for me.
Tour Day 12: Tuesday 10 October
Spacebar, Columbus, Ohio
w/ Man Mountain, Deprecator
Thankfully I still had my passport on me, and was able to withdraw the rest of the balance from my American bank account. It wasn’t much, but it should last me the rest of my time here if I’m not stupid.
Local band Deprecator played a fun set of thrash metal, with some Slayer thrown in for good measure. It was a refreshing change from the music I’ve listened to over the past few weeks.
The End Of The Ocean live in Ohio, so we met up with some of the band at the show. The bar had ginger beer – my personal favourite – so I bought a round.Then Tara from TEOTO bought a few shots, then I had a few more beers on the band tab. Before I knew it I was buzzing.
Ranges did their usual thang. You’d think that after seeing them play the same stuff for 11 nights I’d be sick of it, but I still love watching them play. I’ve seen them enough now that I’m confident I could step in for Mark on drums if he should go Spinal Tap on us and spontaneously combust or fall off a stage.
Man Mountain were great. I posted a status on twitter: “Man Mountain: 100% bearded, 100% awesome”. I still stand by that drunken statement. It was lots of fun dancing along to their music. They have a foot pedal that sets off flood lights during their heavier passages of music. It’s simple, but adds so much to the experience.
After the show we headed down the street for a few more drinks at the bar Tara works at, and some pizza from a connected pizzeria. I covered my slice in unicorn sauce. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but it tasted amazing.
A homeless guy asked Mike from Man Mountain if he was from ZZ Top, clearly because of his impressive beard. Mike played along completely straight-faced. I just lost it.
Tour Day 13: Wednesday 11 October
Foam, St Louis, Missouri
w/ Man Mountain, Staghorn, CaveofswordS
One thing I adore about this scene is the DIY mentality. Ranges print their own merch and record their own music. Mark built his own snare drum. Jared made coffee cups to go with the deluxe edition of their album.
We met another band in St Louis with a similar mindset: Staghorn. Staghorn also has a printing press, so do their own t-shirts and even screen printed some posters for the show as souvenirs for us. On top of that, they even make their own amps!
Their set revolved around a dystopian comic that the band had written, with the narrative coming through the PA on a back track. I’m a sucker for spoken word samples in post-rock, and I also subscribe completely to dystopian texts, so this was the best of both worlds.
As well as drawing me in to the music, the band looked amazing. Their own custom amps look unlike most I’ve seen. They also had two lights that included salt lamps and spotlights. Allan on guitar had a balaclava/turban wrap around his face and head, adding to the sci-fi imagery. And they had a harmonium – like a piano with bellows – which was new to me, and great to watch.
Man Mountain, as usual, killed it. Those dudes are super talented and I wish them all the success they deserve.
CaveofswordS ended the night with their unique electro/darkwave/synthpop. It was quite the set up, with plenty of synths and modulators and things with buttons that I couldn’t name. The music was fun and depressing at the same time.
After the show most of the people in bands hung around outside. It was our last night with Man Mountain, and sad to see them go. Jacob the drummer and I bonded over an intense love for Into It. Over It. Bryan the guitarist told me about how he got into post-rock by listening to Lowercase Noises, which prompted him to experiment with his own ambient sounds, and later join Man Mountain.
I’m not sure exactly what time we left the venue, but apparently about ten minutes later there was a shootout right outside where we had been, resulting in a police officer being shot!
The name dunk! may as well be synonymous with post-rock. dunk!records are one of the leading labels within the scene, and their long-running festival in Belgium has a fantastic reputation. Starting another festival in America was an interesting experiment. Would they be able to replicate the Belgium experience in this setting?
They were in good hands. David Zeidler, Arctic Drones writer and general post-rock authority, took it upon himself to run things. He’s a driving force behind the Open Language and Hemispheres compilations, so already had lots of contacts with bands around the world.
Burlington, Vermont, was chosen as the site to birth the American festival – mostly because that is where David lives. The rationale was that it is within tolerable travel distance for major East Coast cities like New York and Boston, and could also attract Canadians. As a non-American, I can’t comment on the most suitable location for the festival. However, I do know that America is an incredibly big country, so the reality is that no matter where you chose to situate the event, it will be a long way to travel for many people.
They chose to run it on Columbus weekend, which would give people the Monday off to travel home. While a good idea in theory, this didn’t help the festival because many Burlington hotels were booked out for the long weekend, making the festival more costly to attend for anyone from out-of-town.
Not that I, a New Zealander and dunk! virgin, understood any of those matters when I decided to go. As far as I was concerned, a band had offered to take me on tour around America, and there was no way I was going to pass up such an opportunity.
That band is Ranges. The tour has been brilliant to date, and dunk!fest was supposed to be the climax of the trip. Ranges have recently released their new album, The Ascensionist, so it made sense to tour America on the way to dunk! to promote it. CJ and Wilson from the band also run A Thousand Arms, a screen printing company that make merch and functions as a distro for bands and record labels. One such label is dunk!records, meaning that A Thousand Arms were responsible for the merch booth at the festival.
Emma Ruth Rundle
We arrived at the venue early on Saturday morning, slightly bleary-eyed, but excited for the weekend. Rages had played a show in Brooklyn the night before, and CJ had stayed up all night driving us to Burlington. I don’t know how he functions.
Higher Ground was a great choice of venue. They had two big rooms, each offering a stage so that acts could play continuously throughout the day. If a band was playing on one stage, stagetechs were setting up for the next set on the other stage next door. Initially there was a no pass-outs rule, but that was removed to allow people to get food. The venue was brilliant, other than the lack of food options on site. It sounded good, looked great, and ran smoothly.
Saturday 7 October
Chinese act Zhaoze started of the weekend on the main stage, albeit slightly late due to sound issues. Central to their sound is a guqin – a traditional Chinese instrument that looks like a slide guitar crossed with a harp. The guqin is played with a bow or plucked, much like a violin. It was also plugged into various effects pedals. Their set didn’t blow me away, but the cool lighting foreshadowed the amazing light shows due over the course of the weekend.
Local band Sad Turtle baptised the second stage with their jazzy, indie-styled instrumental rock. It was instrumental rock music, but not like most post-rock we are accustomed to hearing. It’s refreshing to hear upbeat music that steers clear of restrictive genre clichés.
So far on tour, Ranges have been using their own lighting rig. It includes blinders, strobes, red spotlights and Edison bulbs that flicker and glow along to the music. The light show syncs up to the music, making a Ranges set an impressive audio/visual combo.
Which begged the question: do they use their own lights, or take advantage of the light show offered at a big festival? In the end they opted to use the blinders, but drop the rest of their lighting setup in favour of the stage lights. It’s a shame, because their own setup is impressive. The show looked fine in the end, but lacked a component that usually wows people.
However, they played great. Easily the best I’ve seen them play. I got a bit emotional watching them, seeing my friends reach a career milestone that they’ve worked so hard towards. If they were nervous it didn’t show, because they owned that stage. I still don’t understand how CJ can function without sleep.
If they needed any verifying that they’d done well, they completely sold out their first pressing of vinyl following that set, mere weeks after the album release date.
Of The Vine
Of The Vine
Of The Vine showed that you don’t need an impressive light show to look impressive. All the members wore black or grey, and the band was starkly backlit by white lights. The stage was alive, with all the musos whipping about with intensity. One of the guitarists broke a string, so the band had to pause between songs so he could re-string. Usually a moment of boredom, the band told jokes to pass the time, and the crowd laughed along. It was a nice moment that represented the culture of the festival.
This Patch Of Sky
This Patch Of Sky
This is the third time I’d seen This Patch Of Sky this week, having shared the stage with Ranges for two dates on their tour. Sadly they’d had sound issues and inadequate set up for the mix both times. But thankfully, this time they shone. Maybe, despite their recent album title, they suit bigger spaces better than small clubs?
Boasting easily the best light show of the weekend, the band played their tranquil tunes bathed in lush hues. They have a lot of members, so took up the space on stage well. And they sounded great. I prefer energetic songs over dreamy music, so my favourites were the ones that featured heavier drum beats, and melodies on the cello, rather than mournful swells.
Similar to Of The Vine, Appalaches rocked the stark black outfits. Five members on a small stage looked crammed, but that didn’t prevent them from moving about erratically. The guitarist on stage right had long hair that looked fantastic as he head banged. Take note bands: long hair and frenzied movements make your stage presence so much cooler!
Tides of Man
Tides Of Man
Tides Of Man have shared the stage with Ranges for four nights on tour, and we have grown tight with the lads in the band. They are the best dudes, and their music is phenomenal. I joined the Ranges guys on the balcony overlooking the stage as we watched our friends show how it’s done.
Tides Of Man have a few songs that feature sweeping melodies that I find irresistible. They fill me with bubbling, intense joy. That, and the fact that the band members are so talented makes me rate them very highly.
Tides of Man
As a drummer, I’m drawn to the rhythm section. Josh is a monster on drums. His little flourishes and fills are the best. And Alan doesn’t just play bass, he plays lead bass. There is a difference. His parts stand out.
If you can’t tell already from my fawning, the set was superb. The band played four unreleased songs, making me very excited for the upcoming album. It was bittersweet though, because as amazing as it was, it was the last time I will see them play for a very long time.
The Eye Of Time
The Eye Of Time is a solo project. I didn’t catch much of his set because I’d been helping Tides Of Man and Ranges pack their gear away. He had visuals projected onto a screen behind him, with music coming from a laptop and cello.
Emma Ruth Rundle
Emma Ruth Rundle
Perhaps an odd fit for a post-rock festival, Emma Ruth Rundle brought variety to the day. I applaud whoever opted to add her to the lineup, because it’s nice to have a break from the same style of music after a full day of it, and because female artists need more representation at events like this.
Rundle, backed by her fiance’s band Jaye Jayle, looked the part. The room was thick with illuminated stage fog, making the atmosphere palpable. And they were all dressed sharply, with a cohesive image.
Emma Ruth Rundle
Chatting to one of the guys in the band after the set, I asked how he would classify the music. He said he doesn’t like pigeonholing their sound with specific genre – he just plays music. Fair enough. The music was eerie, touching on gothic. And it was spellbinding. Everyone I talked to raved about how great it was.
This is when the night started to get wild for me. Joey from Ranges beckoned me to the bar and handed me two beers. Turns out he’d just bought 10, and someone else had bought a round of whiskeys. “We’re double fisting!” someone shouted, and a group of us including Ranges, Tides of Man, myself and David Zeidler made our way upstairs to the balcony overlooking Astronoid’s set.
I’d already been helping myself to the beers in the green room for a few hours, so those extras I got given was enough to send me over the edge.
Astronoid played a blistering set. Again, a guitarist on stage right was a highlight, turning into a flurry of long hair. Cousin It crossed with the Tasmanian Devil.
Mark, the Ranges drummer, was having the time of his life. He was air-drumming along to the Astronoid set like a madman. His enthusiasm was infectious, and we were all cheering and yelling. After a few songs I decided to make my way downstairs to see the band up close.
Emma Ruth Rundle
I didn’t make it that far though. I spotted Joey backstage and went to see him. Next thing I know, I’m chatting with Emma Ruth Rundle while she has a smoke. Turns out she used to live in Wellington ten years ago, which is where I’m from. I got caught up in talking to her band and missed the rest of Astronoid’s set.
Ok, I’ll admit that I’m super hazy on Pelican’s set. Too many beers are bad for you, boys and girls. I remember enjoying it, and thinking that the photos I took were really good. Sorry that I’ve let you down on the journalistic front. I also asked a girl to dance, and she politely turned me down, saying that it isn’t really dancing music. She had a valid point.
After the set I made the most of any beers left in the green room, the last of which was confiscated from me by security.
The same crew who had been on the balcony during Astronoid gathered behind the venue. It was the last night Ranges and Tides of Man would be together, so we were all doing drunken goodbyes. Two men from Quebec joined us. No-one knew where they had come from, but it was in a backstage area, so we assumed that they were in a band. Eventually we found out that they just wanted to party. We all took a group photo together to commemorate our time together on the road.
All the beers in the green room had been exhausted so someone made the call that we head to a bar. CJ, who had been awake for roughly 30 hours straight at this point, wanted none of it. He just wanted to sleep, and understandably so. He climbed into the van to catch some zzzz’s and texted Joey: “Don’t let Joseph in the van or I will punch him”. Opps, maybe I was being a menace.
The rest of us piled into the Tides of Man van for the drive into town. One of the Quebecers asked us to sing one of our songs, so we all joined in to “sing” a rousing rendition of Tide of Man’s “Young and Courageous”, shouting the tune to the guitar line at the tops of our voices.
I can’t believe I was allowed into the bar, being as intoxicated as I was. I don’t remember doing much though. Jared found an X-Men arcade machine that he played for a while, before smashing a glass. Someone rang David Zeidler to tell him the hotel had messed up bookings, so Ranges conceded their room and we headed to David’s to sleep in his lounge.
Sunday 8 October
As you could expect, I felt worse for wear the following day. A bagel or four from a nearby café helped my body replace what it needed though.
Started the day off with a bang. Easily one of my favourite sets of the day. They made a speech before starting about writing music with a message, despite the lack of vocals. I agree with their anti-gun sentiment, but don’t know if it was an effective way to share their thoughts. Asking the government to regulate gun laws and then saying “Fuck the Government” with your next breath is an interesting move.
Politics aside, it was a killer set. They deserved a later slot in the day. Seriously good stuff.
I was beginning to notice a trend. Most bands on the second had minimal lighting, but crazy energy. Case in point, Unconditional Arms threw themselves around the stage, backlit by a stark green light. The guitarist was headbanging so hard that his glasses went flying. The slow songs bored me a bit, but I loved it when they were rocking out. And I loved the clean guitar tone.
Set and Setting
Set and Setting
I didn’t like Set and Setting’s sound. Something about it was too discordant for me. I decided that my time was better spent trying to nap off my hangover, so I headed upstairs to crash on a couch in the green room. I slept through my alarm and completely missed KYOTY, which is a shame.
Pray For Sound
Pray For Sound
I woke up feeling groggy after about an hour. I zombie walked to the balcony to see who was playing. It was Pray For Sound. I have a copy of their latest album, and to be honest I never got into it much. But now I’m converted. Their set was great. The drums were especially good, and I think the drummer even broke his kick pedal half way through the set.
Pray For Sound
Reminding me of The Eye Of Time, thisquietarmy is solo show featuring projections up on the wall. He improvised as he played, building dark layers and textures of drony sound.
The End Of The Ocean
The End Of The Ocean
David Zeidler had told me that The End Of The Ocean were the party band at dunk!, so I was excited to catch this set. They started off on a good note, promising to play Nickleback and Creed covers for us during their sound check. Sadly, it was a lie. I still appreciate the humour though.
The thing that I enjoyed most about The End Of The Ocean is that they mixed things up. Whenever I’d expect them to launch into a crescendo they’d pause, or shift direction. I like how they avoided the conventional clichés of the genre.
The End Of The Ocean
The End Of The Ocean dunk!USA hospitality rider
They were fun too. Half way through the set they threw a dozen inflated beach balls into the crowd. And the two girls put on a show by whipping their hair around. Tara on keys got so into it that she fell over and sent her keyboard off the stage. Thankfully I was there to catch it, and helped her set it back up. Not all heroes wear capes.
The coolest part was a sample that played during an interlude. It was a quote from Walking Dead about how brains function.
Bonus points to The End Of The Ocean for having the most incredible hospitality rider. Read what they requested and enjoy how brilliant it is!
Portland crew Coastlands were fun. Consistent with most second stage bands this weekend, they had good energy. The drums especially were great – dude has chops!
Junius played in a gloomy haze, lit only by a few dim Edison lights attached to their amps. It made taking photos a nightmare, but it was super effective at creating atmosphere. Hindsight is 20/20, but after seeing how cool that sparse lighting was, it is clear that Ranges should have used their own lighting rig the previous day.
Dimly lit in front of their backdrop, the band delivered a pummeling set. I was surprised that the vocals were not as sludgy as I’d expected, but sounded great.
Arms and Sleepers
I missed most of this set. I was busy chatting to guys from Coastlands backstage, and lost track of time. It’s a shame, because it looked like a cool set up. They had an electronica vibe, courtesy of many racks of keys and synths stacked upon each other.
Although Russian Circles are a big drawcard, I wasn’t that excited about seeing them .This is mostly because I’ve already seen them play in my hometown of Wellington a few times already.
They played well. You don’t get to this level by being sloppy. But the stage fog was so thick I couldn’t even see them. I love watching technically adept drummers play live, but I couldn’t see him. The music was fine, but to me it didn’t feel like much of a show. I preferred seeing them play a small club in Wellington.
It would be nice to see more variety in the lineup – it felt like I saw the same band four times over the weekend. Post-rock has become clichéd, and bands need to work on having a point of difference in order to standout. There are also some bands that sound fine on record, but need to put in more effort onstage if they don’t want to bore their audience.
That said, there was still a good mix offered – local, international, solo projects, bands with vocals, heavy, dreamy… It must be hard as a promoter to decide upon which acts to book to draw a crowd with wide appeal, and they did well.
It has been a while since I’ve been to a big scale concert, so seeing things like the impressive light shows you only find at larger gigs was great. Refining still needs to happen, including changes like perhaps changing the date and offering food options for attendees. But for a first attempt, the festival was amazing. Hopefully there will be another next year!
Words and photos by Joseph James
Poster by Error! Design
The End of The Ocean hospitality rider courtesy of Bryan Yost
Man Mountain, Vision Explored, You Rest, You Joy Life, Hollow Paradise
We drove out of Illinois up to Michigan the night of the Chicago show. We watched another of Joey’s horror films on the way – one called “Strangers”, staring Liv Tyler. The hotel that night left a lot to be desired – the guys swore that it had bed bugs, and the complementary breakfast was stale. I slept in my usual domain – atop the loft in the van – so it didn’t bother me.
Next up was a trip to Guitar Centre. Mark managed to crack his 16″ crash cymbal at some point over the past few days so was keen to replace it, choosing a slightly bigger (and hopefully more durable) 18″ crash to replace it.
I remember chatting to Joey when I first met him a month ago. He mentioned that the band was going near Detroit, his eyes lighting up, He pulled up an article on his phone and showed me some statistics about crime in the area. “We’re going to get stabbed!” he proclaimed excitedly.
Ypsilanti seemed relatively non-descript. Not a big city, but not too small. Not as rough as Joey’s stats would suggest, and certainly not as rough as the area we’d been in, in Chicago the night before. Loading in and setting up was easy. I don’t have a lot to say, except that the songs playing over the PA were way too loud, and the food at the bar was exceptional.
I wasn’t feeling it that night. Man Mountain were great – good music, good beards, friendly dudes – but I wasn’t in the mood for loud music and just hung out in the back.
Tour Day 5: Wednesday 4 October
Voltage Lounge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
w/ Tides of Man, This Patch of Sky, VEXES, The Sound of Rescue
Pennsylvania takes a long time to traverse. We spent virtually all day on a free way. Let me tell you, it’s not cheap either! It cost almost $100 to take the toll roads to Philadelphia all day.
Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love – the greek translation. Joey set about making the most of the setting by chatting to the guys in Tides of Man – the headliners – who happened to be one of Joey’s favourite bands. The ToM guys were super friendly and it was great to see a “big” band acting so down-to-earth. Maybe this brotherly love thing has clout?
Voltage Lounge – the venue – had a cool feel. Decent sized, with a mezzanine balcony and ample backstage area. Every square inch was covered in graffiti or band stickers – something that I like in venues because it adds character to the place. Oddly enough, the sound guy was friendly and supportive, breaking the stereotype.
First act, The Sound Of Rescue, played post-rock. It was ok. They didn’t push the envelope in any way, but it wasn’t terrible.
VEXES were great. Energetic and heavy, in the vein of Deftones and Thrice. I was getting annoyed at the red lights on stage – something that makes photography a lot harder – so started playing with my camera settings and began shooting in black and white. So thanks to VEXES for helping me evolve my photography skills.
This Patch of Sky came with big expectations. Having recently signed to Equal Vision Records, and released an album to rave reviews, they’d developed a reputation. unfortunately they didn’t meet the hype. Something sounded out-of-tune for the first two songs. Granted, they had a fill-in drummer, and it was their first night of tour. Kit the frontman is interesting to watch. He throws himself around the stage with abandon. Sadly, the rest of the band didn’t match his energy. It didn’t help that half of them play seated. I’ll be seeing them a few more times over the course of the tour so hopefully they fare better in other cities.
Tides Of Man slayed. It was instantly clear why they are headliner material. They played four unreleased songs, as well as content from their album Young and Courageous. The combination of memorable melodies and sheer talent means that there is no way you could dislike this band. That is an objective statement.
Following the gig we tried to navigate Philadelphia’s tight one-streets and went to buy cheese steaks from Pat’s, as you must do when in Philly. There was no parking for a van with trailer, so CJ drove around the block a few times while we picked up the food.
That night I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in the van on the drive to New Jersey, and remained sound asleep in that spot until around 7am. I remember removing my glasses, and in a groggy moment of decision-making, placed them down beside me to be “safe”. To my horror, come morning I discovered I’d slept on top of them and broken the arm.
Tour Day 6: Thursday 5 October
Dingbatz, Clifton, New Jersey
w/ Tides of Man, Gatherers, VEXES, Fence ≇
The hotel we were in was a mere 20 minute drive from Dingbatz, so we made the most of the relaxed morning. Mark and I spent some time in the “fitness centre” – that is, a gym – followed up by a soak in the pool and hot tub. Lunch was at Red Rooster – connected to the hotel – and then we headed to the venue.
Dingbatz was not great. The space to store gear was limited, and the sound guy came across as a total dick. He did play some good music over the PA between sets, including Jakob – which made me feel homesick – but there is no excusing how he treated people.
Tides of Man finished their soundcheck and invited me on an adventure. A quick google search of “things to do in Clifton” revealed a tunnel system a few miles away nicknamed “The Gates of Hell”.
I was super stoked to be in a setting other than a tour van or music venue. I handed out flashlights (I call them torches, and I have an incurable addiction) and we climbed down into the abyss.
The guys loved it. We walked through large drains, trying to avoid stepping in any water and inspecting the graffiti on the walls. I’ve done a bit of draining and caving in the past so it was nothing new to me, but still really fun to explore. We chatted on the way. Turns out Tides of Man toured with Australian band Karnivool a few years ago and we bonded over a mutual love of the band.
Back at Dingbatz, after a few beers with the VEXES dudes (Iron Maiden Trooper beers \m/), we watched local act Fence put on a grunge tinted set. They didn’t seem to take it super seriously, but I liked the music.
VEXES did their thing again. I like their style. Gatherers followed, but I didn’t like their intense screaming.
A handful of Mark’s friends had made the trip from New York to Jersey specially to see him. They hadn’t told him their plans, so he freaked out when he saw them. It was cool to see him so excited about catching up with old friends he hadn’t seen in a very long time. And super cool that they’d made the effort to drive all this way, even though we were scheduled to play Brooklyn the next night.
Setting up for Ranges set was interesting to say the least. The sound guy was being a grouch, telling us off because some of the early bands had run over time, putting us late. Mark fell backwards off the stage. He’d thought that it was a wall behind him, but it was just a fabric backdrop. So as I carried a cymbal stand onto the stage I saw him in an odd section between the stage and backstage, on his back with all his limbs in the air, like a stranded beetle stuck upside down. Thankfully he wasn’t seriously hurt.
Mark actually played harder that night – probably a combination of a few beers and trying to show off for his friends who had shown up. The rest of the band caught on and it was nice to see them band together and play well, despite the negative vibes coming from the sound guy.
Following the set we hurriedly took the gear off stage, aware that we were running late. Joey, CJ and I got stranded backstage. We weren’t allowed to open the back door while Tides of Man were playing, and it would have felt rude to run across the stage during their set. All being said, I can think of worse places to be trapped. Tides of Man are incredible. It was nice, having some alone time backstage and listening to great music.
After the show finished and we’d packed our gear into the vans we migrated across the road to another bar. Mark was on fine form, shouting and laughing with old friends. The rest of us hung out with the Tides of Man crew, who shared funny stories about past tours.
That night before bed I reflected on how much fun I was having. I’ve grown really close to the Ranges crew over the past week. We have so many laughs together. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to join them on the road.
They’ve given me a nickname: Baggins. And introduce me to their friends as “our New Zealander”. All day they tell me how happy they are to have brought me along. I feel exactly the same.
Tour Day 7: Friday 6 October
Gold Sounds, Brooklyn, New York
w/ So Hideous, This Patch Of Sky and Tides Of Man.
I had been looking forward to this date all tour. Mark has such a larger-than-life personality, and I wanted to see him in his native environment. Plus, he comes from a hardcore/punk background, and kept promising to introduce me to his old band mates and friends who had been involved in the early NYHC scene.
Mark didn’t start the day so chipper though. He’d drunkenly left a bag at the bar and was worried that he wouldn’t get it back. He’s been making an effort to get healthier, so his bag contained medicines and foods like seaweed, dried fruit and nuts, and apple cider vinegar. We rocked up to the bar at midday to see if the bag was still there. Thankfully it was, and I nearly wet myself when I saw the note attached to it. It read: “Someone left their Hippie Survival Bag here Thurs Night”. Brilliant!
The drive to New York had Mark back to his usual self. He excitedly pointed out anything that came to him – where he’d met his wife, a venue he used to attend, where he’d got some tattoos, his favourite pizza spot.
It was surprisingly easy to find a car park for the van a trailer. We took the L line on the subway over to Manhattan and lunched at Katz’s deli at Mark’s insistence: pastrami on rye with mustard. There was a long queue and it was expensive, but damn it was an experience trying to consume such a large sandwich.
It was surreal seeing who had showed up to the gig. Some friends from Bozeman just happened to be in New York on the day. So as well as Wilson and myself (art/merch guy and token New Zealander/roadie), they also had their sound guy and tattoo artist. And there were all the New York locals who showed up to see Mark as well.
They’ve been improving every night, and again, Ranges killed it. Mark went extra hard in front of his punk friends, and CJ and Jared got more physical moving around the stage. Even Joey – not one to rock out much while he plays – nodded his head more than usual. And their light show synced up to the music usually impresses, but tonight it really set them apart from the other bands.
The venue was great. The perfect size to fit everyone. Easy parking, too. Ranges opened for the night, and the place looked packed out. To be fair, it was close to full, but the size of the room enveloped everyone and made it seem more intimate.
Although one major downside was that the only restrooms in the joint were side of stage. So in between sets – when we needed to shift amps and instruments – everyone was queuing right where we wanted to put the equipment.
So Hideous played next. I couldn’t handle the roaring, but I’ll give them credit where it’s due and say that it was awesome seeing a guy shredding on violin.
This Patch Of Sky drew a decent crowd. They played better than in Philadelphia. Guitarist Kit Day snapped a string and ran backstage to borrow another guitar. Dan from Tides Of Man stood near me and watched on nervously. “He better not break a string – I need that guitar for later!” he confided.
Sadly Dan, and the Tides Of Man crew didn’t have a good time on stage. They had issues with their bass cab, meaning that they needed to borrow Jared’s last-minute. And then another amp blew. This pushed their set up time, meaning that they couldn’t fit in a line check, and the mixing levels weren’t to their satisfaction. I can understand that would have been incredibly frustrating, having your gear fail you, and being unable to hear the band as you play.
But, in all honesty, I don’t think it affected their set other than how they were feeling. I loved every minute of it. It sounded great – maybe not perfect, but still fantastic. I could tell that the guys were beating themselves up after the gig, but they needed have worried.
We stayed around until 2am. Mark was reuniting with friends, and the bar had converted to a nightclub, meaning it was hard to pack out gear because we had to push past everyone in the bar. CJ, the trooper that he is, did an all-nighter, driving the five hours to Burlington, Vermont, for dunk!fest. I don’t know how he does it.
w/ Home Invasion, Icarus the Owl, Breakup Haircuts
Damn it’s early.
Is it even legal to be awake at this hour? I mean, I’ve been awake earlier than this in the past – you know, before I was unemployed and homeless – but … time zones? I don’t know, I’m just tired.
Joey’s bought coffees for all the guys. All six of us are loaded into the van and CJ is driving. Driving east seems like a poor decision currently, seeing as we are driving directly into the blinding sunlight. Even with sunglasses and squinty eyes it’s hard to tolerate.
The guys are all having a laugh, sharing stories about previous tours they’d all been on with other bands. It sounds like I’m in for an interesting next few weeks.
The van has a built-in DVD player. Joey has a massive collection of dubious looking horror films that he want’s us to get through by the end of tour. I can’t tell if he wants to get scared or appreciates how funny poor quality horrors films are.
We christen the DVD player with the obvious choice – This Is Spinal Tap. I’d forgotten how funny it is. Hopefully it doesn’t foreshadow anything that will happen to us on tour. Although… as much as I like Mark, how cool would it be to see a drummer spontaneously combust!?
That was one of the longest drives of my life. It took roughly 12 hours to drive from Bozeman to Minot. One of the guys mentioned that we’ve moved into a different time zone. This whole time travel business confuses me.
We load the gear downstairs into the venue. 62 Rooms is a shared studio / art gallery deal. I enjoy looking at the range of artwork hung up throughout the building.
I don’t know what to make of Home Invasion. They’re a two piece. I guess it’s hardcore? They both have cheap, nondescript face masks and felt wide-brimmed hats on. The drummer takes turns between drumming and screaming into the mic out front, while the guitarist builds layers with a looping pedal and sometimes sings as well. It’s loud and violent and the drummer keeps turning the sole light on and off with his left foot, which is disorienting.
Ranges play next. It’s actually the first time I’ve seen them play. Their whole rig is all connected so that the lighting rig syncs with the music. It works well – ambient music coupled with stark lighting.
Icarus The Owl play mathy pop-punk. It’s busy music. The drummer has great chops and I like the three-way vocal harmonies, although the lead singer is very high-pitched and I tire of his voice quickly.
Breakup Haircuts round off the night with some great hardcore styled music. I enjoy what they do, but miss some of the set because I’m helping the band load gear into the van.
We eat at an Irish pub called Ebeneezer’s just down the road. My meal came on one of the largest plates I’ve seen in my life and the band couldn’t get enough of my excited reaction. After the meal we drive on for roughly an hour, stopping to sleep overnight in a town called Rugby.
Tour day 2 – Sunday 1 October
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota
w/ Drumbeat Red, Lions & Creators
Joey’s pretty excited about the venue we’re headed to. Triple Rock is co-owned by Erik Funk from the punk band Dillinger Four. Now that he mentions it, I recognise the name from a NOFX song. The drive isn’t nearly so long today, and everyone is in a good mood. The guys speak fondly of Minneapolis – they have friends in town and all have a story or two from last time they were there.
A storm hits and one of the windscreen wipers gets caught by the wind and flicks off the windshield. Thankfully CJ is able to find a space to pull over and was able to sort it out. I don’t know what we would do otherwise because most mechanics would be closed on Sundays, and it wouldn’t be safe to continue in the heavy rain.
We arrive in Minneapolis early in the evening, with plenty of time to kill before the show. One point of interest is a vending machine stocking guitar strings, capos, picks and drumsticks. It strikes me as a good idea. The venue has a cool aesthetic, with gig posters and band stickers on most walls.
Food seems like a very attractive option after the long van ride, so once you’ve unloaded the gear from the van we head next door to the restaurant area of Triple Rock. The jukebox is playing loud punk music, which prompts Mark to tell me about his musical background. He grew up in New York in and around the hardcore scene. I mention that I saw Gorilla Biscuits play in Auckland a few years ago, which sends Mark down a rabbit hole, mentioning all his friends who played in associated bands. He also knows Vernon Reid from Living Colour, and can’t believe that I interviewed Will Calhoun from the same band earlier in the year. I can only imagine how awesome it was playing shows at legendary places like CBGB’s when he lived in New York. I’m looking forward to the Brooklyn and New Jersey legs of the tour because we will get to meet Mark’s old friends.
Lions & Creators are amazing! Just three guys on stage throwing themselves around wildly. They find a balance between control and chaos and I love it. They also talk about murder sneezes, which is something that more people need to know about.
Ranges play better tonight. Being on a stage and have a black background helps to add gravitas to the set, and the band sounded more confident because they could hear themselves better in the mix (compared to last night). My friend Will watches the set with me and he mentions how impressed he is with the overall setup. He has a point. The band play well and the music from the new album sounds good. But that they’ve managed to build a stage set with a synchronised light show in the icing on the cake.
I miss the last act because I was catching up with Will. The guys in Ranges tell me that I really missed out.
Jared’s best friend Mike lives in Minneapolis so we’re all staying at his place. Most of us stay up well into the night, talking nonsense and watching music videos. At one point Mike’s wife brings out a box of nerf guns. I’m not sure what I expected from tour, but this isn’t how I imagined it. It sure is fun though.
Tour Day 3 – Monday 2 October
Subterranean, Chicago, Illinois
Outrun The Sunlight, Atonement Theory
Chicago is one of the few cities on tour that I’ve already been to. I stayed with Matt from Aviation and the War in August. I rate Chicago as having had the best food in my American travels to date. All the guys say that they’re looking forward to some deep dish pizza.
Joey gets into weird spaces that he calls “second wind”, usually as we enter cities. He puts on a hick accent and starts talking about diesel engines. I’m starting to get used to it, but I doubt that I’ll ever become immune to his silly sense of humour.
Arriving in Chicago is different from the other cities. We hit traffic and have to pay to drive on toll roads – something that isn’t found too often near Montana. The city feels vibrant as we enter, full of all walks of life. There are hundreds of cyclists, and apparently they all have a death wish because they keep cutting CJ off as he drives. Finding a park for a van and trailer is quite the ordeal, but after circling the block a few times we find a space near the venue.
Subterranean is a cool venue. Space is tight so we play a game of tetris with drums, guitars, amps and lights to try to squeeze the gear out-of-the-way.
After packing the gear in, I walked to a nearby taco restaurant just around the corner. Turns out my grasp of the Spanish language isn’t as good as I’d thought it was, because the simple act of ordering two tacos proves extremely difficult. At the taco place I meet David, one of Mark’s old friends who lives in Michigan, and drove a few hours to make the gig. He’s a friendly guy and we chat over our meal.
Turns out the meal took so long to order, cook and eat that I ended up missing the first act! I’m told that Atonement Theory were great so I was sorry to miss them.
Setting up proved tricky with such limited space, so we opted not to use a few of the lights. Jared’s pedal board was also bugging out, so he chose to bypass a few pedals.
Tonight’s set was great. The mix sounded good and I caught the guys flashing grins at each other throughout.
Outrun the Sunlight closed the night with their technical post-metal. It was a wonder to see them pull off intricate melodies that switched time signatures. I stood side of stage watching the drummer make magic happen.
Outrun the Sunlight at Subterranean Chicago
After packing up the venue we went round the corner to Dino’s Pizza. It was a shame to leave Chicago immediately after, but the city had a reputation, meaning the band were anxious about parking the van somewhere with a likelihood of being broken into with their instruments inside.