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Northampton Nonsense

Dustin’ off the old road journal today!  A couple incidents from the Northampton show last week that are worth mentioning.  First, a guy named Greg hit me up on Facebook with a strange request:


Now let’s take a closer look at this exchange.  In July, Greg Bell wrote me requesting that we play Dear Valentine at our free Boston Common show.  Greg received no reply.  Months later, the day before our Northampton show at the Calvin Theater, spirit unbroken, Greg tries again — this time with the more reasonable request that I strap a camera to my face during a song.  This request was granted, mid-show, and left a dent on my forehead that lasted a day and a half.  Greg might have had the percussion kit in mind for the video, but he got a pretty sweet Homecoming King in our home state of Massachusetts.  Check it out:

Later that same night, we read a Facebook message I got from James Brown asking us to surprise his 63-year old mother Bev with a vocal appearance on stage.  So we did that too.  Bev was shocked and thrilled and had a lovely voice and terrible microphone technique.  She called Ryan a “doll” as she left the stage to thunderous applause.


Update:  Today in Athens Georgia, 16 gourmet cupcakes arrived in the dressing room along with a thank you note from Bev.  James, her mensch of a son who planned the whole gag warned me about the delivery:  “Hi Brian!  My mom wanted to send you guys some desserts on the road to thank you for having her sing with you guys and since hell hath no fury like a Mom trying to thank people with baked goods, Gigi’s Cupcakes will be delivering 16 cupcakes to the Georgia Theater today for you guys and the crew.”



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Pop Has Freed Us

When we were a college band at Tufts in the 1990’s we were actually a part of a thriving on-campus music scene.  There were bands playing school parties and festivals that served as major inspirations to us when we were just freshmen writing songs in our dorm room.  I recall being rejected for a slot in the Tufts Battle of the Bands because we were up against  bands like Milltex 1000, Thumper, Groove This, and Thank God For Frank, who were upperclassmen.

But by the time we were seniors, there were really two bands at Tufts that were had national profiles and planned to stick with it.  Gus (we added the “ter” in 1995) and Papas Fritas.  On the surface, two college pop bands from Tufts couldn’t have been more different.  Papas Fritas were a trio, like us, but where our brand of pop leaned shiny and happy, theirs had a lo-fi attitude that reflected record collections we still hadn’t been exposed to.  Papas Fritas was doing things we weren’t — using the studio as an actual artistic tool, embracing the sugary part of three-part harmony, and hiding their genius beneath electric guitar solos that sounded like they were plugged directly into the board.  There weren’t a lot of people on campus who liked *both* Guster and Papas Fritas.  You liked one or the other, and your identity went along with it.  There was one guy who was above that fray however, always willing to talk music and show interest in what we were doing even though he was the lead singer of Papas Fritas.  His name is Tony Goddess.  In 2002, Tony co-wrote “Amsterdam” with us.

So when I came across this article in the Boston Herald the other day as a part of “Boston 101″… a pretty random countdown that digs deeper into Boston bands than the obvious Aerosmiths and Cars’… it was no wonder that the writing was pitch perfect — the tone seems to carry the gravitas of someone who’s witnessed our band from the beginning, and the knowledge of a walking musical encyclopedia.  Thanks Tony! It’s an honor that you penned this.  Ramona’s groove was just a half-baked attempt to ripoff Papas Fritas’ “TV Movies” — always was and always will be!

Some Tufts era Papas Fritas:


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We are back on the road in Charleston SC

This is one of our favorite cities and we booked a last minute show here so we could get our act together for Friday’s Bonnaroo set.  And for the first time in like a year, Kishi Bashi isn’t opening for us.  Some guy named Michael Flynn is opening.  From where I’m sitting backstage, I was grooving along as one of his songs had a nice deep Portishead-like beat to it, so I googled him just now and clicked on his website where I read this:


How incredibly cool.  We’ll gladly reciprocate and suggest you check out Michael’s music.  The show with Run DMC was at Boston College, wasn’t it?  I specifically remember how pissed they were to be opening for a band they’d never heard of, who couldn’t rap for shit.  Either way, Godspeed Michael Flynn.  It’s okay to be That Guy.


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Goodnight, Portland!

The last night of the tour in Maine had an energy like no other show… Adam’s hometown really stepped up and we fed off it.   The way life should be.  Playing the last Jesus On The Radio of the tour in vests made out of Grandma Afghan Blankets was a nice touch (thanks Dawn!):


All bands should wear outfits that match their stage decor.  Are there young bands out there reading this?  To all you young bands out there reading this, don’t make the mistake we made.  Don’t let the darkness and regret seep in 23 years later.  Grandma blankets.

The kicker was arriving at the airport hotel that night to a sign on the desk announcing that Ryan Miller was the Hilton Hotel “Special Guest of the Day” — It was three in the morning, but the lady at the hotel desk made a nice attempt at showering Ryan with “lucky winner energy.”  She gave him a coupon for a free breakfast and a bottle of water.  As you can see, Ryan was ecstatic.




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Even Kids Can’t Poop on a Tour Bus

On the road with the families this week, it’s nice because the kids get a taste of what life is like on a tour bus, and because we enjoy waking up at 5:30am when we’re on tour anyway.  Guster always gets up to watch the sun rise together when we’re on the road.

But for the 7 year olds, there are hard lessons.  It isn’t all cozy bunk parties and grilled cheeses hot off the Foreman Grill when you’re on a bus.  It’s the cold hard reality of waking up in a poop-free zone, bowels a-knockin’, wishing you were wearing Huggies like your little brother.  Here’s what the interaction went like with my daughter while parked on a tour bus on Hennepin Ave in downtown Minneapolis this morning:
SHE:  Daddy I have to go to the bathroom
ME:  Sure honey, it’s open, go ahead.
SHE:  No, daddy I have to make a poopie…
ME:  Oh.  Okay.  We can do this.  Don’t panic honey.  I know what to do.  Take off your footsie pajamas and get dressed, make sure you put on a rain coat and rain boots, it’s pouring rain outside.
SHE  But daddy I have to go now!
We exit the bus and are almost knocked over by the swirling winds and pouring rains of Minnesota.  In the distance I see the shining oasis of a “Residence Inn” on the corner.  Everything is going to be alright.  I wish I’d brought an umbrella.
ME:  Honey, trust me here — we just walk into this hotel and avoid eye contact with the people behind the desk, and we’ll find a bathroom.  Everything is fine, daddy is going to find you a bathroom.
SHE:  Okay daddy, but I’m really soaked and I have to go real bad.
We enter the Residence Inn and I whisk my daughter through the lobby to where my uncanny radar for lobby bathrooms points me.  We find the men’s room and the women’s room and all is right in the world.  My daughter will not have to live with a quivering sphincter at age 7.
But the door won’t open and the sign says “USE YOUR GUEST KEY TO ACCESS BATHROOM”…
I consider asking the front desk for a special pass for my first grader, but that might embarrass her and in the distance I spy a Panera Bread Company, a sweet reliable Panera Bread Company accessible through a nice dry Minneapolis skyway thing.  I grab my daughter’s hand and promise her that a Panera Potty awaits us.
ME:  Come on, I know where we can go.
SHE:  Daddy, is this really what life is like on the road?
We enter Panera and I somehow follow the restroom signs into an elevator that’s only for wheelchairs.  In my haste to avoid being busted by a Panera employee “HEY!  THEY’RE USING THE BATHROOM AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN ORDER A BAGEL!”  — In that haste I didn’t notice the staircase and now people are watching me struggle to operate a handicapped elevator.  I wonder what lessons I am teaching my daughter.  We bail and run up the steps where there’s a Men’s and Women’s Restroom.
Apparently Minneapolis has a big problem with homeless people and first graders using bathrooms.  I should buy a coffee and get a four digit code but instead I see a bookstore attached to the mall-hallway behind Panera and surely they will have somewhere for her to poop.  My exasperated daughter tags along like the wilted flower that she is.  We go up the escalator.
And a single, open, unisex bathroom awaits us.  A cop is perusing the books nearby and I think for a brief moment that he is going to arrest me for letting my daughter poop.  But then my daughter speaks up.
SHE:  Daddy I don’t have to go anymore.
ME:  But… okay, are you sure?
SHE:  Yes.
ME:  Actually honey I have to go real bad now.  And I can’t leave you here by yourself.  Because someone might take you.
SHE:  Uh oh.
ME:  You know the drill.
And my daughter joins me in the stall, puts her nose in her shirt, and watches me take a crap from 6 inches away.  Welcome to the road, honey.


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Continental Drift Divide

The show in Munich was in this little arts compound on the outskirts of the city.  There was a “female only flea market” that we had to walk through to get to our dressing room.  Like just about every other European show, it gave way to Disco Night in the basement when it was over, which we avoided.  But there were lots of German people hanging around and drinking outside the venue afterwards, and I met quite a few of them.

Among them was a 20 year old girl named Eileen, who was not drinking (though the legal age is 16 for beer), but was insisting that I unlock our trailer full of gear to get out the “oook-lai” … it took me about ten minutes and a few translators to figure out she wanted to play our ukulele.  It was worth hunting down a key to the trailer and digging through the road cases to unearth the instrument to hear her play a few songs in the dark.

That REM song is an All Timer, and it sounds better with an adorable German street musician performing it for you in what sounds like an Irish accent.  After a Bon Iver tune and a few originals, Eileen and her sister a few other locals formed a posse that roamed the streets looking for a place named Cu.Bar that ultimately wouldn’t let us in.  We ended up at Bar Kilombo down the street, closing it down with another ukulele set and foregoing the late night Doner Kebab for the first time on the entire European tour. I believe questionable promises were made to Eileen that she would be the support act on our entire next German tour. Anyway, Eileen please learn “What You Call Love” on the uke and we can play it together next time we’re in Germany. Ciao!


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I think I smell a rat…

This is Ilja.  He is our bus driver in Europe.  He is German.  


Like most Germans he speaks English pretty well, enabling us to wander the streets of Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, and Frankfurt armed with nothing more than “Danke-Shane” and “Doner-Kebab, Bitte” as far as the local language is concerned.  And like most Germans, he’s a straight shooter with an adorable accent.  When we asked him what Frankfurt was like, he said “Frankfurt iz nozzing more dan junkiez, crime, bankahz, and hookahz”

Ilja is from Berlin.

My Frankfurt experience wasn’t like his, I happened upon a delightful bowl of Minced Meat & Leek Soup, window shopped at a store that sold only Steins and Gnomes, and played to an enthusiastic German crowd that sang along to every word of “Lightning Rod” (!?) while bringing us back for three encores.  German crowds are a revelation so far.

The other day we found Ilja on the bus, but instead of watching “Two and a Half Men” dubbed in German like he usually was  he was just sitting there, frozen with his head in his hands.  We asked what was wrong, and he said “Leaven zee door opan, there iz a rat.”

Meaning, he saw a rat scramble across the floor of the bus, and he didn’t know where it went.  And that night we got on the bus and asked if the rat escaped and he said “No.”  So we are living with a rat, and while Ilja thinks it makes its home underneath the bus in the bay area, I am pretty sure it likes to sleep in the warm spot between my “pillow” and pillow case, and pillow is in quotes because it really just feels like I rest my head on a bag of socks every night.  Or a bag of rats.


Anyway, we found a bunch of rat shits in one of the kitchen drawers, so Ilja put a trap in there, the kind that’s more likely to crush every tendon in your finger than it is to catch a rat, but I’ll just let you watch for yourselves and see what happened when Luke opened the drawer….

I know, anticlimactic.  Rat still on bus.


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