Rich Girls Tour Diary: Fury Road
by Luisa Black
Rich Girls Tour Diary 2015: Fury Road
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Day 11. San Francisco
I wake up early in my own bed and my first thought is that I have to can Chris. Chris is our drummer and has been with Rich Girls from the beginning when it went from a solo recording project to a live band. He’s a good drummer and a great guy so the fact that we’ve come to a crossroads blows. But he’s not happy and neither am I so there’s only one way forward. I send him an email with my thoughts and ask to talk on the phone. I get a quick reply: “Received loud and clear. Goodbye.”
Day 1. Sacramento @ Press Club
Tour is a fast train to band love or hate. It’s been a while since I’ve been out and this is the first real tour for Rich Girls so it’s an obvious test of the band’s road-worthiness. Chris is a tour veteran and August rolls with whatever game is on the table so I’m not worried. Some basic ground rules and we’re fine: there will be no gruesome car crashes, no DUI’s, no cocaine heart attacks on my watch. Other than that, whatever.
Cleverly, I’ve chosen the Thursday before a holiday weekend to start the tour. Every jackhole in the entire bay area is trying to beat the rush out of town. It takes three and half hours to crawl 80 miles. August and I spend the time in an obsessive recap of the new Mad Max. Chris drives separately in his own car, a habit we’ve fallen into for local shows. At one point, just as the traffic finally lets up, the highway drifts east and the Sacramento skyline comes suddenly into view. It’s not the gates of heaven but it may as well be and I remember what tour can feel like. Valhalla. Witness.
The best part of going on tour is the meeting of the tribes. We’re out with The Mozzies, a surf pop band from southern California, and we meet them in person for the first time at load-in. They’re cute and friendly and younger than us (FUCK YOU, MOZZIES. Waiting for you on the other side). This is their first tour and they’re traveling in an RV with their girlfriends which is totes adorbs. We soundcheck, settle in and wait. An all-girl garage band opens, followed by The Mozzies and then us. The sound on stage is a cross between an industrial sludge disaster and Steve Albini’s most unlistenable mic-it-and-go technique. We are officially on tour.
The Crepe Place is an actual restaurant specializing in actual crepes so everyone expects it to be a shit venue. Instead, they have impeccable hospitality and a meticulous sound engineer who makes the tiny stage sound like gold. Touring bands come through all the time and now we know why. After soundcheck we’re escorted to an outdoor table and it’s like walking into a some California golden dream circa 1974. Memo to the garage rock gods: more of this.
Later I play virtually the whole set with my eyes closed, a trick when I’m nervous. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. When I finally look up I’m surprised to find there’s a crowd in the room. It’s weird to see bands we’ve only met online show up out of the blue. Casting Circles, a cholagaze band who are the Mexican us, have made the trip from San Jose. The tribes are gathering. Rad.
The show is a vibey blast and everyone’s in a great mood. So when it turns out that some junkie in the parking lot has smashed Chris’ car window and stolen his clothes during our set, it’s an immediate screeching buzzkill. To make things worse Chris is staying the night with friends and is now stuck in a suit for the weekend. He’s super pissed. There’s no help for it.
Day 4. Santa Cruz @ Streetlight Records
Band controversy. Two weeks before we’re scheduled to play this show Chris asks if we can cancel it. He thinks the routing is lame and it’ll be a waste of time. He’s right about the routing. But the time-waste thing is a problem. One lifer I know says overvaluing your time is a musician’s greatest sin. We have a candid band meeting about this and levels of commitment blah blah blah. It’s two against one so we’re doing the gig. We drive down together this time and it’s a glorious day and there’s no traffic and we do a lot of rock and roll shit-talking which is half the fun of touring and the lifer’s reward for playing in a band. Topics: bands that recently had all their gear stolen (not us), bands that are stupid enough to leave gear in the van overnight (not us/we’re so fucking smart/we only leave clothes in the car), whether a local singer we know is a lesbian (no), Van Halen. We play the in-store. It takes about sixteen minutes. The sound is crap but that’s show biz. Chris doesn’t even say I told you so.
Day 5. San Francisco @ Hemlock
Hometown date. It’s Memorial Day and we’re playing an early show and it should be a piece of cake except The Mozzies have locked their gear in a storage unit and broken the key in the lock. This is sort of hilarious except that it’s 5PM on a holiday and there’s no way in hell they’re going to find a locksmith in time to make it to soundcheck. I propose they backline with our gear but Chris doesn’t want to lend them his kit. They end up canceling their set and we play the show without them. Sorry, Mozzies. On the plus side we sounded great tonight. Good crowd too.
We’re doing two shows today and have to haul ass 300 miles to make it to the first one, a live session at KCSB college radio, by mid-afternoon. Somewhere in the middle of California we pass the Mozzies in their RV and flip them off. Hope they’re not still mad about the whole drum kit thing. They smile and wave so maybe we’re good.
Santa Barbara is surreal. We skirt hazmat crews on the highway cleaning up a catastrophic oil spill. Somehow make it to the radio show on time. August talks a cop out of towing our van which is parked suspiciously under the campus clocktower. We drive/play/drive/play and it’s no different from thirteenth century troubadours. Same rituals, less mud.
I’m always looking for the underground but it’s bizarre to find it on a pristine college campus in the middle of the California coast. Biko is an oasis of pure garage and punk untouched by the Santa Barbara straight-world surrounding it. The room is small and packed and the set is feverish, one of those sparks of dark magic between band and audience where for as long as we’re here together everyone cheats death. August slays this show and comes out soaked to the skin and talking about punk shows in the ‘90s. We hit a tiki bar after where it’s quiet and we have the place to ourselves. If all nights were like this it would be easy to stay out forever. But they can’t be. It’s the law.
Day 7. Los Angeles @ Three Clubs.
The last time I played Los Angeles was with my beloved Blacks at this very venue so returning with Rich Girls feels ceremonial and a little unnerving. We have a lot of friends coming to the show and I get a surprise visit from Ralph Coon. We talk about music and film and how devotion is its own reward and when it’s show time I’m focused and clear but almost immediately when we start playing something is off. I don’t know if it’s that Chris is drunk or nervous or what but after a few songs the energy starts to lag and the tempos tick down into some weird death zone. The fuckups multiply and it’s all of us, nothing major but enough that the set feels jagged and shallow to me. Even August, a Jedi under any conditions, drops a bridge. I hate it and I never hate us. After the set, Polly who works for CAA and knows her stuff says the sound was pretty good. Translation: shit. Pretty good means it sucks. Everyone knows this. The only thing worse than ‘pretty good’ is the dreaded ‘good show.’ Good show is the kiss of death. Bands, make no mistake: if anyone ever tells you ‘good show’ it’s because you’re fucking terrible. Think back. See?
We crash out with friends in the Hollywood hills and wake up to a panoramic view of LA. We have an easy day ahead and a great venue to look forward to. Still last night was a pill. Enough that no one mentions it.
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Here’s what a band fight looks like: The drummer fiddles with a video camera during soundcheck. The singer wants the focus on the goddam sound not the bullshit camera. The guitar player wants no part of any of this. Presto. Apocalypse, now. It’s a horrible feeling to take the stage with a bandmate who’s angry but I suck it up because the only thing that matters is the music itself and this narrow window of time we’re alive to serve it. Anyway, the venue is a gem and the show a small triumph given that no one speaks a word to each other for the rest of the night. But that doesn’t matter because the sound is great and the crowd is amazing and the night is gorgeous and warm and when we come off stage everyone wants to buy me a cocktail. So OK then. I’ll have a dark rum daiquiri, another daiquiri after my friend knocks the first one off the bar, a shot of Jameson which I fake drink and pawn off, a lemon drop (seriously? I didn’t order this), another lemon drop (looking at you, Grady Dunne), and a Pisco something after which the talent buyer says he loves us, hands me an enormous wad of cash and everything is awesome all of the time. August drives us home and my restraint is a marvel. I don’t even drunk Instagram.
Day 9. Ventura @ The Garage
We’ve entered the hallucinogenic stage of touring where time bends and no one can remember where we’ve been and when. The afternoon is distant, morning another era, last night a complete blur. From the moment we pull into Ventura there are cryptic signs all around us starting with the massive black CGI fog bank that suddenly swells over the horizon and snuffs out the sun. August calls it Ventucky, which I hope he won’t say in public so we don’t get our metrosexual asses kicked in the strip mall parking lot of the venue which is one of those grim circles of hell where everyone is on meth or a single mother or both. The guys are not happy about the place at all so we drive toward the ocean to kill time before soundcheck.
Shitholes like this are a gift and here’s why. At some point a switch flips and there’s a choice before you. Are you an entitled dickhead who thinks the universe owes you something? Or are you a keeper of the flame devoted to the cause? Death or glory. What’s it gonna be. At the intro to Soft Disease, August jumps up onto a narrow ledge at the foot of the stage with his guitar and balances there through the opening measures. I step up next to him and I am all the sons of Brian Ferry in the body of a girl. Suddenly Chris is out from behind his kit too. I want to spray silver paint in our mouths and send us all to heaven. Witness.
The place is completely dead except for four people who watch our set from the corner. Afterward they come up to say hi. They’ve driven an hour to see us play and they buy t-shirts and EPs and want to know when we’ll be back. I pocket enough to cover gas money and move Ventura into the win column. You live, you die, you live again.
At load-out two shady tweakers materialize out of nowhere and sprint across the parking lot toward us. They’re like vampires accelerating across space-time and suddenly one is standing in front of me. He starts some bullshit patter, the whole time casing the van over my shoulder which is full of gear. He pretends he’s seen us play. Does he want to score? Sell? Rob us? He’s too junkie aimless to decide. We finish the fastest load-out in the history of the universe and get the hell out of Ventura.
August calls it the Fury Road. We’re up at dawn and cover the 400 miles home to San Francisco in land-speed time. Topics: apocalyptic draught, historical crime, colony collapse disorder, Frank Black. We drop Chris off first, then dump gear back at the studio and then it’s August’s turn to peel off and I head to the airport alone to drop the rental. Once I ditch the van I’m down to a single light bag. Weightless. I’m a miracle of energy, solo flyer, up up up. I ride the airport monorail an extra stop to the furthest terminal just to prolong the feeling. It takes about an hour to feel the drop kick in and when it does I come down hard. I’d forgotten about this part. Everything stops. You’re dangling over a black hole at the end of an adrenaline wire and your grip has run out. I text a few friends about meeting for a drink but no one’s in town. The house is empty when I get home. I’m hungry but too tired to eat so I sit with a drink and watch the light drain from the windows and think about where we’ve been. There’s something I have to do tomorrow and it won’t be easy but it’s the right thing and it’s in the service of something important. August calls it the swift stroke of Black justice which is hilarious. See you out there soon.
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