Tour Chronicle: Tartar Lamb and Hazel-Rah (winter ’06/’07)

December 26th, 2006 – January 20th, 2007

Tartar Lamb & Hazel-Rah (playing the music of Tim Byrnes and Toby Driver)

This is the tour chronicle of Tartar Lamb & Hazel-Rah’s trip West, their time in Seattle, and their return trip, including the disaster that happened in Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2006, Toby Driver had it in his mind to record a piece of music called 60 Metonymies that he had written for guitar and violin. Previously that year, he and Mia Matsumiya had done a few performances of it in various places in the United States and Canada. During several of those performances, Toby had asked certain musicians to come in and augment the piece with improvisations. He liked the results, and decided to have improvised parts on the final recording.

After weighing his options for an engineer and producer, Toby decided to go with a Seattle based man named Randall Dunn. Toby had worked with Randall earlier that year recording vocals for the band Asva, and liked both his style and vibe very much. Randall also had an analog tape setup, some vintage microphones, effects boxes, and other rare instruments that Toby thought he might like to use on the recording. The plan was to take the Kayo Dot van out to Seattle, playing shows both on the way there and on the way back. He hoped that this would both make some money and give the musicians a chance to play together before they recorded the piece.

Toby contacted me about doing the tour with him in August, and I offered him a counter-proposal to play my own music; a 15-minute-or-so that I would compose specifically for the tour.  About a month later, we decided on Andrew Greenwald for the drum position.  Later in the fall, I decided to name my project “Hazel-Rah” after Richard Adam’s Watership Down.  Around Thanksgiving, it was decided that Mia Matsumiya would not join us until Chico, California.

I left from Meriden, Connecticut with Toby the day after Christmas, after packing the last of our gear and supplies in the van. We started driving around 7 pm, and spent the night in Queens at Andrew Greenwald’s house. We rose at daybreak to pack up the drums, and were heading out of the city by 7:45 am.

Cleveland, OH

Our first stop was Cleveland, Ohio for a performance at the Parish Hall. The trip from New York City was long-10 hours in total, including stops. There were about 20 people in attendance that night. We performed with two local bands: 9-Volt Haunted House and the controversial Hamas. Due to Mia’s absence, we played a shorter set which featured a re-arrangement of Toby’s “Eptaceros”, the three Hazel-Rah songs (“Good-bye”, “Kaleidoscope”, and “‘Ty”), and an untitled original that Toby composed for this segment of the tour. Our set was bad, riddled with technical errors in both playing and sound. My voice had suffered strain from the holidays, and I was in no shape to perform the music.

We spent the night with Craig from 9-Volt Haunted House. He and his wife cooked us breakfast in the morning.

Chicago, IL

The next stop was Chicago. We arrived into the city early enough to have a meal in Wicker Park before we had to play. The name of the venue was Hottie Biscotti, and we shared the bill with Bruce Lamont from the band Yakuza. Our set again did not go well. We spent some time afterwards hanging out with Toby’s friend at the venue, and ultimately crashed at the home of one of Andrew’s friends who came out to the gig.

Omaha, NE

We got a late start the next day. We returned to Wicker Park for some late-morning food, and by the time we were finished eating, it was about 2 pm. The trip was long; we arrived in Omaha around 10 pm (this was the night that they hanged Saddam Hussein). The performance was at a place called the Pizza Shoppe, and there were quite a few people out to see us that night. We met the people from Public Eyesore Records and the band Shinyville. There was another act on the bill, but we did not arrive in time to see them. My health took a turn for the better during that day, and as a result, I was finally able to sing the Hazel-Rah music during the performance. The response was good, and many of the people there bought merchandise from us.

The trip into San Francisco

We then decided to drive through the night. Our next destination was San Francisco, and we had to be there on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. By the time we finished loading out of Omaha, it was 1 am on the 30th. There was a bad snowstorm up ahead on I-80, and we thought that we would have a better shot getting through it leaving when we did. I don’t know whether we were right or not, but it was totally Hell driving through it. The only thing that saved us was that we missed the actual snowfall, and only had to drive on it. Still, we only made it about 2 or 3 hours into the trip before we had to start driving 30 miles per hour. We had to do this for about 5 hours. Toby did all of the driving at this point.

We took a very short sleeping break, got some breakfast at a diner, and headed off again around 10 am. We were still in Nebraska. The conditions, though, did clear up as we exited the state. We entered Wyoming around noon, and drove though it straight, crossing over into Utah at about 8 pm. I believe that I did most of the driving at this point. The large expanses of land were as impressive as people say. It was dark all throughout our drive in Utah, so we didn’t see much of it (though we saw it’s splendor on the way home). We crossed into Nevada around 2 am and stopped at a casino for coffee around 4 am. The café was closed until 5, so we chose this place as a place to rest for a while. By now, it was technically New Year’s Eve, and according to the posters on the walls, Brian Howe, one-time singer of Bad Company, was the evening performance that night (!). Our gig was better…because it was in San Francisco!

We gambled our pocket change as we waited for the café to open. We hit the road again around 5:30 am, and I was back in the drivers seat. What was incredible to me about this part of the drive was that we started going downhill, and we didn’t stop going downhill for about an hour or so. Then something amazing happened; we finally hit flat land, and the sun had just started rising. It was absolutely glorious. We were now in what is called the Great Basin. I drove for another 5 hours after that.

We did not stop for breakfast until we reached Lake Tahoe. At that point, we pretty much realized that we were on schedule, and could relax. I had gotten 2 hours of sleep or so in 48 hours, so I went immediately to sleep in the back after eating, and Toby took us the rest of the way into San Francisco.

Oakland, CA

By now, the climate had changed radically from the dangerous mid-winter cold of the Rocky Mountain region to the perennially pleasant weather of San Fransisco, CA. We rolled up into the venue in Oakland at about 3 pm (New Year’s Eve), and were greeted by Toby’s friend Terran Olson (and ex-Kayo Dot member). The space was a loft, and the show was being put on by students of Mills College. We pulled in a decent crowd for a holiday, and again we played great. The response to our music was good. Several notable people came out, including Sam Gutterman (ex-Kayo Dot), Chris Peck, and Karl Tupper.

The bill was fantastic and included a solo guitar set by Alee Kareem, plus other fantastic composers from Mills whose names elude me right now.

After the show, Toby drove the van to pick Mia up at the airport. Andrew and I spent the rest of the night with Karl Tupper and his fiancée. We were very tired, so much of the night was a blur. I remember a small house party, some Mexican food, and playing some “New Year’s” games. After the party, we crashed at Karl’s apartment and slept soundly.

I awoke to the first warm New Year’s Day of my life, and strolled happily on the streets of San Francisco with my friends, in search for a good breakfast.

Chico, CA

After a relatively short drive of about two hours, we arrived in Chico to play our first tour-performance of 60 Metonymies. As far as I can remember, the performance went well. It was at a gallery, and I remember the flyer featuring a painting by Bosch. Chico is a college town, so it was generally abandoned, and the turnout was low. We crashed with a hospitable local, who ran a temple of some sorts out of his house. His dog had three legs.

Portland, OR

Our trip to Portland was a bit of a debacle, with the end result being that we ended up missing an afternoon engagement that Toby had. The weather took a turn for the worse, raining all night. We played at a venue called the Towne Lounge. Alex from Grails came by, and the crowd was decent. We smuggled in an underage kid. This is first show when I realized that people who enjoyed 60 Metonymies generally did not enjoy the music of Hazel-Rah.

Seattle, WA

Our stay in Seattle was fantastic. It was the goal of the tour. We played two shows there, with Seattle locals Master Musicians of Bukake, which included our host and sound engineer, Randall Dunn. Both shows were great.

Most of the week was spent recording 60 Metonymies at Randall Dunn and Mel Detmer’s studio. It went very well. Randall’s skills and equipment are great. He and Mel were also a great hosts, hilarious and gracious with their time. One day, he took us out to Twin Peaks and it was beautiful. We had quite a few great outings.

Recording in Seattle

The recording of 60 Metonymies took about a week. It was a full analog affair, peppered with plenty of strange electro-acoustic instruments and effects. I got to use an Echoplex for the first time, Andrew got to play with all sorts of cymbals and gongs, and Toby had a bunch of fun with a Vocoder. All of this mixed with Mia’s 150+ year-old violin made for a pretty interesting record.

Aleph (which is Randall and Mel Dettmer’s house) was a great hang. Entirely purple, it is overrun by cats, and filled with curiosities and toys. We topped the visit off with a screening of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet.

Shows in Seattle

We played two shows in Seattle, and both were great. One was a house show put on by Adam “Superfan”, and the other was a show at a club named Rendezvous. Both were well attended.

The headliner of the Rendezvous show was Seattle’s Master Musicians of Bukake, featuring Randall, Don from Earth, and the singer of the Accüsed. The audience included such luminaries as Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls and Joe Preston (these appearances were spoken of, but not confirmed).

Our music went over generally well. There was indeed a Kayo Dot contingent in the city, so that helped, and being associated with Randall didn’t hurt either.

Twin Peaks

We took quite a few excursions that week, but the most memorable was the trip out to Twin Peaks. Although the quality of food at the famous diner was poor, the town was great.  Both beautiful and frightening, it embodied the spirit of the legendary David Lynch sitcom/soap opera of the same name. There were many recognizable sites, and quite a few shops that were cool, and made for a good place to pick up some souvenirs.

Boise, ID

Leaving Seattle was bad. There was a large snowstorm hitting just outside of the city, and it was closing down many of the highways that we would need to get to our next destinations. The going was slow. We drove all day in dangerous, albeit beautiful conditions. We had no show that night, but we rolled up in to Boise, ID around 4 am. We were able to crash with someone who had booked shows for Kayo Dot in the past, though there seemed to be not a little tension over the excessively late arrival. We spent a good part of the next morning in Boise. It was probably the most remote American city I had been in to date. It was quaint, with a small downtown that had plenty of hip shops, cafes with wireless web, etc. But it was still Idaho; I couldn’t get past the fact that these people lived in Idaho. We had good breakfast and pretty much left.

Logan, UT

The ensuing drive was the daytime corollary to our late night drive through Utah. This time we got to see its splendor. The trip was not short, and the last stretch of it was spent on a fast two-lane road, one of the most nerve-wracking drives I had ever taken in my life.

Logan is a college town. We had no idea what to expect. We showed up at the space, and it was a large warehouse type of situation. We could tell right away that the crowd was going to be young. It turned out that our concert was the event of the night in Logan. Although the audience was quite gracious (particularly to Hazel-Rah!), the show was a horrible misfit, pairing our sets up with high school and college rock bands. Poor Toby had to cut 60 Metonymies short due to excessive talking by the grand majority of the teenagers.

Denver, CO

Some trouble started on this part of the trip. We noticed the heat in the van going away when we began the approach into Denver…

Denver suffered from some very severe weather that winter, resulting in extended airport closings, and countless stories of people getting stranded for absurdly long periods of time. For us, we mostly had to deal with slippery roads and cold.

We played a show at West Side Books, and it was probably the best show of the tour. It was a very large audience, and a very cool environment. All of the music went over well; merchandise was sold, and we each got a free book at the end of the night (on top of a good amount of money). We had the privilege of playing with Denver/Colorado Spring’s Action Friend, who played a very noisy and schizophrenic set. One of the coolest things of all, though, was a young couple with two infants sitting in the front row. They stayed the whole night, and there wasn’t a peep out of the children, who couldn’t have been older than 2 or 2 ½ years old. They seemed to be enjoying it! This reached its height of hilarity as the young boy stared with delight at Action Friend’s guitarist as he ripped into a passage that was (very) reminiscent of Orthrelm’s “Ov”….

The snow storm

One of the great things about going on tour is meeting people who are fans of your music who own real estate. Often times, they are happy or even honored to have you stay at their houses, and everyone leaves satisfied. Now, such a thing happened in Denver. Our stay was good, but it ended up being the beginning of some very hard days. We were well aware early on in the morning that we were not going to be able to make it to our next show, which was supposed to be in Warrensburg, MO. There was a massive snowstorm completely battering the MidWest, and it was completely in our way, through Kansas and all over Missouri. Our only hope was to head for Lincoln, NE and stay with Scott from the band Shinyville.

This was a dangerous trip, and now the heat had completely died. Toby took the burden on his shoulders, and drove most of the way. Much of the ride was a white-out. We were all huddled under blankets and sleeping bags to keep warm.

We arrived into Lincoln late. Scott and his wife stayed up with us, and we listened to music together. This hang turned out to be the last comfortable thing of the tour.

Minneapolis, MN

Toby had thoroughly burned himself out from driving to Lincoln. He humbly laid the steering wheel down, and I took it up for the 8+ hour trip to Minneapolis. Not having had many chances in my life to prove extraordinary manhood, this day stands out to me.

The daytime wasn’t bad. Our first goal was to get to Des Moines for lunch. We got lost looking for the restaurant that Toby and Mia had in mind, and that set us back by an hour or so. The rest of the trip was pure endurance…Des Moines to Minneapolis with very few stops. It became brutally cold. We were sick of music by this point, so we drove in utter silence (NPR may have been on for awhile, but I do not remember clearly).

The biggest problem was that my feet were losing feeling.

We did arrive in Minneapolis and played the show. Andrew had gotten sick from the cold. By this time, we were having a hard time facing each other, though no major hostility broke out. The show went over well, despite the very slim turnout. Two pleasant surprises came our way, though. The first was that Sam Morrisson, an old friend from Wesleyan University, happened to stop in and catch some of our set. The second was that a large group of about 10 gay men got really excited about Hazel-Rah, particularly the song ‘’Ty’, and bought quite a bit of merchandise from me, at least 3 CDs, and a shirt, I left the venue (Kitty Kat Club) happy.

Tomah, WI

This is the beginning of the end of the tour.

We began to head out of Minneapolis with the goal of reaching Wisconsin before settling to sleep. By this time, the lack of heat in the van (actually, it was not necessarily a lack of heat, but the fact that the fan had seemed to have burnt out, and thus not being available to circulate warmth in the van) had become a problem that could no longer be ignored, and Toby and I set out after the rest had settled in the motel room to take a look at the problem. Here begins a series of technical blunders that are not worth going into in detail…suffice to say that we went to bed with some pretty false hopes of getting things together in the morning.

The next morning was spent running to WalMart and Home Depot trying to find ways to fix the fan problem. It was frustrating. Here’s what happened: after we thought all was lost, the fan started working again. The best solution we had come up with on our own was to use heat packs for our feet and pockets. At this point, while in Wisconsin, we thought that we were on our way and had overcome the worst. Our goal for the day was Chicago, where we thought that we might have a show waiting for us to play.

While on the highway, we began hearing a bad sound coming out of the back of the van. We pulled into a mechanic shop in Tomah, WI (it was about 2 pm), where they had to keep the van overnight. Again, we got a room at the hotel, where we spent the rest of the day relaxing and hoping for the best.

The next morning, the diagnosis came in early. The spider axle was shorn, and there was no hope for fixing the van for under $1,000, nor within a week (we needed to get home).

The day that ensued was very chaotic. It is not worth going into all of the different phases and schemes that we thought up to get out of the mess. I will just tell you what we concluded on: Andrew flew home that day from La Crosse airport, getting a cab, and leaving his equipment behind. Toby and Mia rented a 2-seater one-way U-Haul in order to get home with the gear, and left Tomah that night. I bought a plane ticket online at a local library and flew home the next morning, out of La Crosse (the night that I spent alone in Tomah was legendarily depressing).

State College, PA

Toby and Mia made it to State College, PA in just under two days, time enough to play the show that Tartar Lamb had booked there. Allegedly, the show went well.

Brooklyn, NY

I arrived back in New York City several days earlier than I planned, which allowed me to get back to my jobs a little earlier and earn a little more money. This was good in light of some of the unexpected financial losses that I incurred during the tragic final days of the tour.

Toby and Mia rolled up in the U-Haul in good time to play our Brooklyn show at the Water Street Lounge on Friday, January 20th. I met up with them at the Water Street Restaurant, above the Lounge, while they were eating a complimentary meal. Make A Rising from Philadelphia was the first band. I had never seen them before, though I had known the members for several years, and loved what I had heard on record. Their theatrical performance (which includes a boat and a large lobster) was a delight.

Hazel-Rah and Tartar Lamb played second. Our sets went over very well with our home-town crowd, and I felt great about that. The night ended with a set by the James Plotkin/Tim Wyskida duo.

Epilogue

It is worth noting a little of what happened to Toby after the tour. Toby returned the one-way U-Haul to the depot in Connecticut, and that went well. However, a major loop was thrown at him when he realized that it would be more expensive to “junk” the van and leave it in Wisconsin (and pay off the loan) than it would be to get it fixed. This began a chain of very extreme events.

Follow me here: Toby was now in Connecticut at his home in the town of Meriden. To leave the van in Wisconsin for any amount of time would mean more money, so the sooner he acted, the better. There is a Greyhound that, believe it or not, goes right to Tomah. Less than a week after beginning to settle down after this rather traumatic tour experience, Toby jumped into the Greyhound, and headed back for Tomah. This took a few days. After picking up the van, he then proceeded again to cross over half of the country (this would be the 6th time going such a distance in a little over a month); and for this final time he was alone. I have received the impression that much of the music on the new Kayo Dot album (Blue Lambency Downward) reflects this experience, and others like it that arose in that season.