The Elvis Room
The BFD part of my day started when my fiancee Michelle and I met the band as they pulled into the parking lot at the Red Roof Inn in Salem, NH. I was absolutely pinging with anxiety. I felt I had done everything possible to fulfill my Guest Host obligations, but I'm just the kind of person who won't rest until all is said and done. Michelle spent most of the afternoon trying to calm me down, but to no avail. As the band and crew piled out of truck, van, and automobile, obviously exhausted and disheveled from two days of driving, I felt like the collective weight of the entourage rested not-quite-squarely on my shoulders. This was not true of course, but truth and perception rarely coincide in these situations. I reminded myself to keep breathing.
Scott and Mike were staying in a room in the hotel, and everyone else was crashing at my bosses' house. Let me take a moment to extend enormous thanks to my bosses, Jan Thayer and George Hague, without whose superhuman generosity and hospitality this event would not have gone nearly as tolerably as it did. They rule my personal world. We got Scott and Mike set up in the room, and then we were off to what had by this time been affectionately dubbed "Bosshouse".
Let me give you a little geography. The hotel is in Salem, and the Bosshouse is in Londonderry, about 10 minutes north. The gig was in Portsmouth, a good hour drive from either. Two things made this situation acceptable: the "free, comfortable lodging for six" angle, and the fact that Bosshouse was in the right general direction from the gig to Philadelphia, site of the next day's gig. Philadelphia is about a 7-8 hour drive from southern NH, so the hour drive to Bosshouse/Red Roof Inn shaved at least a little time off the next day's journey. Anyway, master navigator Bryan examined the maps and decided the whole scheme actually made sense, a conclusion to which I had not been at all convinced I would be able to lead them. Okay, this was good. A seemingly epic inconvenience turned into a logistical advantage. We are still happy.
So I, in the MK-BFD-mobile, led the convoy the two exits up I-93 to Londonderry. The whole time my attention was divided between making sure everyone was still following me, and apologizing to Michelle for unintentionally ignoring her efforts to soothe my nerves. She is truly special; she really tried to calm me down, but my mind was on other things and she forgave me. What a sweetheart.
We got to Bosshouse. Big Stress Moment #1 coming up: the band meets the bosses. I don't think it could have gone any better. Everyone seemed to get along famously right off the bat. Jan and George have a really good sense of humor, and I think the novelty of the whole situation held a certaing appeal for them, especially once they realized I wasn't bringing a bunch of heroin addicts into their home. There was hospitality and gratitude to spare; a regular love fest. Jason approached Jan and asked if it would be possible for him to do "just a little tiny bit of laundry" (imagine blue-fingernailed hands held about a foot apart). Jan said sure, and Jason dragged in a laundry bag that held what seemed to be about a year's worth of clothes. Not at all fazed, Jan seemed to be rather amused, and in fact gave Thomas Nordegg the green light to do his wash as well. Such a boss I have, eh?
So as those who were sleeping there got settled in, Mike took up a position in the living room and set about the task of chilling out for a while. "Ron, Ron, Ron. Come. Sit. Talk to me for a while." Well that sounded like a pretty darn good deal to me, so I grabbed a piece of couch. We chatted about all sorts of things; the tour so far, Tar Tapes 2, any suggestions I might have for tracks to put on future Tar Tapes CDs, we even touched briefly on what my bosses and I do for a living (I won't bore you). Mike is perhaps the most gracious guest ever to set foot in a house, and we all sat about having a really great time. My stress level plummeted. I even smiled. I remembered to check regularly to make sure Michelle wasn't sitting in a corner somewhere being bored and out of place; to my delight, she and Jan were bonding like peas in a pod. Good, I would feel bad about absorbing all this fun while she was feeling left out.
As the hustle and bustle of pre-show preparation went on around me, I remembered that I had a few gifts for the band. Marc had asked months ago for a copy of the Dutch radio special, and I had only just received it a few days before. Also, the band had not been allowed to tape the Berklee gig (damn tape Nazis), so I wanted to give them a copy of that as well. So I gave Marc his tape and he was psyched. I gave Bryan the Berklee tape and we got to talking about the tape liner. I've done colorful liners for every MK tape in my collection, and I just happened to have my entire collection with me (what a coincidence, eh?). Bryan said go get 'em, so I did. Soon everyone in the entourage was gathered around checking out my tapes. Now this was very cool. Mike seemed pretty impressed; he asked, "uh, can I get copies of like all of these? 'Cause they're so pretty!" Needless to say, I've spent the last few days dubbing and printing like a mad fiend in preparation for Saturday's Boston gig. Mike will get his tapes.
Okay, it was time to hit the road for the hour drive to Portsmouth. Bryan assured me they were all set on getting to the gig, which came as a huge relief to me because it meant I got to be just Ron for a while, rather than "Guest Host Ron Spiegelhalter". So Michelle and I hopped in the MK-BFD-mobile (oh, if I didn't tell you, that's my car; the plate says MK-BFD) and hit the road at a nice leisurely pace. Relaxation had finally settled in. It was the happiest I would be for the rest of the day.
We found the Elvis Room. The guys from the Berklee gig were there; you remember, the ones who "knew Mike" and went around back looking for the backstage door. We had a little meet-and-greet with them and Michelle and I made our way into the Elvis Room.
If you're in a band, and a booking agent comes to you and says, "Hey, I got you guys a gig in this place in Portsmouth NH called the Elvis Room," take my advice. Look him straight in the eye and tell him to go fuck himself. The Elvis Room is easily the shittiest venue I have ever seen in my life. It's ornate enough, but it's approximately the size of my friend's living room. Most of what would have been space for people to stand is taken up by huge bookshelves and a pool table. The walls are painted with fascinating murals, but apparently they didn't put as much effort into the stage area. First of all, it is very tiny. Second, there are tiles hanging off the ceiling above the stage, with bundles of cabling hanging down through them. Totally pathetic. An emotion was bubbling up from my gut, and I was pretty sure it was utter embarrassment.
We had some time to kill; the band was going on third and the first band was just finishing up. There were supposed to be four bands, but one dropped out. Smart band. So Michelle and I sat around drinking and sweating for a while as the lovely Cami set up her merchandise table.
Okay Ron, cut to the chase, you say. I wish it was that easy. The band finally got on stage and got set up. It must have been during this time that they learned one of the uglier facts of the evening: this was the sound guy's first night at the board. Oh joy. He seemed a nice enough young man, but he was in way over his head and he was not handling the stress well. We got to hear just about every profanity this guy spewed over the course of the night, as I had set up the DAT gear on the pool table right near the board.
Oh, a quick word about the DAT gear. I've been referring to it as "my gear". It is not mine, it belongs to a very good friend by the name of Glen Daniels, aka Gub. Without Gub's enormous generosity, the excellent tapes I acquired over the course of this tour would not have happened. Gub is my personal hero. All hail Gub! Excelsior!
Okay, the band is all set up, and they seem ready to go. Except nothing was coming from the mikes. The sound guy was at a loss to explain it. They went back and forth trying to figure everything out, and when all was said and done the band had been on stage for almost a half hour and not one note had been played. The "crowd" (if I can call it that), which started off at around 50 people tops, was dwindling, and the vibe in the room was taking a turn for the disinterested. This was not good. By the time they figured out that not only was the power amp not plugged in, but that none of the mikes were even connected to it, the room was down to maybe 40 people. Ugh.
As everyone scrambled to get the sound up, Mike attempted to hold on to as much of the crowd as possible by leading the band into an improv which he later said was called "Look At My Toes." Sadly, it did not get taped, but it was actually pretty cool.
Okay, the sound problem was finally conquered, everything was ready, and Mike counted off Natty Trousers. Then he stopped the band because he forgot to let me introduce them. Well that was thoughtful. So I sprinted up there and made it brief. I put on my best Broadway the Hard Way voice...
"Laaaaadies and Gentlemen... Mikey has just entered the Elvis Room. Let's hear a very loud manual banging noise for Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins!" Okay, it was all out of my hands now. Here's what happened:
=Natty Trousers - A great song of course, but the somber tone did nothing to hold on to those who were entertaining the thought of leaving. A few more people wandered out.
='Cause of Breakfast - This did not go well. With all respect to the boys, it was a pretty botched attempt. The room was feeling very weird (not to mention empty) and as a result, any missed note seemed to snowball throughout the band and throw everything else off. By the time this song was done, there were maybe 25 people. My embarrassment was growing.
=Killer Fish - A very good rendition! Bryan and Bob Tedde (oh did I mention he was there?) had to share a mike, and Marc had no mike at all, but it was still very good.
=Tug - Mike did his crowd-walk during this track. Some people seemed impressed, but I'm not sure how much it boosted the energy level in the room. Of particular note was the young man (way too young to be in the club) who had crashed out on a couch and was having no trouble sleeping right through the show. Mike stopped by him and played for him for a moment, but he did not stir. It was truly symbolic of the evening.
=Voyage to Manhood
=Top of Stove Melting - I know I'm not saying much about this show. It was hard to describe. There were many times when, if it was my band up there, I would have just ended the show and called it a night. But Mike and the boys are real troopers, and they made every attempt to get things going against all hope. During this number, Mike started thrashing his guitar. He was literally beating the living shit out of it with seemingly no regard for chords or notes or music in general. He screamed the lyrics (this is Top of Stove Melting, don't forget that). This craziness was all about generating energy, and the effort was not lost on the band, although it frankly did little for the room. Mike had savaged his guitar so unmercifully that he had to offer it up to Thomas Nordegg for quick repairs. He ended the song without it, and didn't get it back until a few measures into...
=Inca Roads - Now there were no more than 20 people in the room. I was really disappointed and depressed. I wasn't disappointed with the band mind you, far from it. They had shown valor and determination above and beyond the call. But I was embarrassed to be a New Hampshirite. Their last NH gig (Nashua, 4/12/96) had not gone entirely according to plan either, and this show was easily closer to the brink than that one was. Certain that they would never come back to my home state, I was in a real funk. After Inca Roads, my buddy Jim (who was in Rutland with me) came up all excited and asked, "Wow, is it me, or was that and even better Inca that in Rutland?!?" "Uhhhh...it's you." The instant I said it, I regretted it. It was totally unfair for me to heap my crappy mood on someone who was obviously having a better time of it than I. But I was right, the Rutland Inca was better.
=The Cowlogy - I couldn't believe it, they actually did an encore. Talk about professionalism! Mike did another crowd-walk during his solo. He wandered out to where Cami had her table set up and sat for a while. Then he picked up and wandered out into the street! This was really very cool, seeing Mike strolling leisurely down the middle of the street, soloing away. Just then the bartender, this tattooed Sarah McLachlan wanna-be Lilithpalooza kinda chick, came storming out from behind her bar shrieking, "THIS IS NOT OKAY! THIS IS NOT OKAY!" It was really very amusing. We all scampered back into the club and they finished up the number.
So after the gig was over, there wasn't much to do other than just look at each other and say "well, that was certainly something." It wasn't exactly the high point of the tour. But we tried to laugh it off. Mike and J (I think; my memory's getting hazy now, maybe it was Jason) wandered outside and had a fun time defacing the dry-marker board that announced their performance. "Oh my God! Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins!!" became "O my O! IS MK KFNFA and EEP FA DOP II" which, if you pronounce it right and you're somewhat giddy from just having survived such an emotionally grueling gig, is pretty funny. You probably had to be there.
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