Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Austin TX

Austin knows how to treat a lady. Fine flat beers by the pitcher at smoky Lovejoys, spirit-spilling lakes, rivers and preserves (all for diving, dipping and dunking). And, would you believe it, a tasty veggie option can be found every now and then. 4 days in Austin took us to one of the best open mics, one of the most fun gigs, swimming in the beautiful surrounds of the Hamilton Pool Preserve and a glimpse of the biggest carp in San Antonio (and I'm not talking about Huck in his Speedos). We glimpsed some of the most beautiful sights God's country has to offer from the budget and totally forgettable base camp of an astoundingly well placed Super 8 (5 minutes walk from the iniquitous 6th St.)

We've all fallen for Austin and a lot of that is thanks to Grant Ewing from the Triple Crown in San Marco. This bar is how I imagined bars should look like in America (scuttling roaches included). It's dark with neon lights flashing behind the bar. Shelves stacked with gloopy liquors and a local and friendly vibe. The talent of the musicians here is the highest we've seen yet with Grant opening the night with some of the most powerful vocals I've heard. You also need to check out the beautiful Ashleigh Stone. "I used to live in London and loved it so I'm gonna play this song for all y'all English folks - it's called London Towne."

Steve from 'Steve 'n' Steve' who resembles a hybrid of Herbert Hunke and William Burroughs crawked to Huck: "You went to California? We call it granola, it's full of flakes, fruits and nuts."  Huck chuckles in agreement: "it sure was like that for us." The pressure is on. There is a lot of interest in our small group so we better do the night justice. There is nothing to worry about here though as the folks are so encouraging and in the mood for dancing.

The gig goes well and I think it could be the best response yet. As the night winds down Dame Ella is suddenly projected onto the screen behind the bar and sings her heart out to a happy and swaying Fee.  We've found our bar.

So, how do you cap off a night like that? Well, hitting a stray wheel down the freeway at 70 mph is not recommended, but we did it all the same. 'Longette' went down screeching into the central reservation next to a very fast fast line. We had to change the tyre in the pitch black at 3 am while Texans tried to pick us off one by one with their oversize pickups. Perhaps we'd had too much fun and needed a good dose of Karma. Either way, there ain't nothing like a tremendous thump to the car to sober you up.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Albuquerque Blues

Sitting on the plane from New York to Albuquerque I'm reminded how much I love flying and how much I hate small children. One little pug-faced kid sits in the seat in front of me and spends the whole flight staring at me sipping his complimentary beverage through the space between the seats.

I  vaguely recall a Bill Hicks sketch where a child on the plane starts tapping him repeatedly on the back of the head. "They're so cute when they're that small," dotes the child's mother. The child then decides to take his seat belt off and skip around the plane.  When he gets to the plane door he stops and fiddles with the handle. Bill whispers to the child's parent, "Wait, lets just see what he does?" and the child opens the door and gets sucked out into the clouds. "You're right," chirps Bill: "The smaller he gets, the cuter he is. Hey, Stewardess! seeing as we have a breeze in here, mind if I smoke?" If only...

 The boys greet us at Albuquerque airport and we hug. They take us straight to Diner 66 for a slap up meal, and I learn that chips are crisps - not fries. I love Albuquerque. We spend the next day driving around  in the blasting heat. The wind is blowing, but that just makes the air feel like one big hairdryer. We trawl through pawn shop after pawn shop, and finally find my guitar in Grandma's Music and Sound. It's a beautiful new Fender with all the trimmings. I christen him 'Alby'.

Cowboys at the State Fair
We arrive at The Brickyard on Route 66 with all our kit and growling bellies.  A pint and a slice for $4.25? Hell yeah! There is an interesting crowd gathering, of all ages, and we wonder how our set will go down. There is a heavy blues vibe here and our friendly host, Chris Dracup, is a superb player. This guy is blues on tap. We open with Passion Man and the crowd seems to really like it.  Even the dug-up gal in the corner whoops with delight. We're applauded with two encores and sell a fair few Cd's. "We're travelling across your fine country, which ain't cheap. So, wish us luck and give us money," croons Huck.

We chat to most of the crowd. They are all very enthusiastic about our trip and have a million suggestions of what to see and where to play. Our circle grows and Chris buys us a round of tequilas, which nearly sees the end of me. He asks if we want to jam. Tommy and Bat get up for a 12 minute electrifying blues round. After a few too many beers I play a solo set joined by Jeff "Cajones" who plays the cajon beautifully. Tommy decides he should really get in on the cajon action, and joins Huck for a wonderful rendition of Stolen Car. It feels good to be back with the boys and to have a great gig under our belts - after what seems like an age apart.

Next stop Austin via Roswell.  Bring on the UFOs...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

NYC Baby

There's no denying it, New York is huge, unrelenting and very very American. After finally getting through border control (passport check, finger prints, eye scan and a whole bunch of questions), h and I booked a room at the JFK Inn (don't go there!) and tried to sleep through a night broken by intermittent death screams and police sirens. After what seemed like the longest day in history, we'd made it, we'd finally made it - but what was this 'it' that we had fallen into?

The next morning we headed to Willamsburg on the L train and met out trusty pal, Cal, who shoved us into the nearest diner and proceeded to deface our map with things to see and do. Back at her studio/warehouse/squat she took us out to the roof to admire the Manhatten skyline and started pointing out a few neat things like the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan Skyline

Now, don't get me wrong, it's an impressive skyline. So why am I so underwhelmed by New York? Admittedly I have only been here 2 days and so perhaps I should say I am underwhelmed so far. I haven't even scratched the surface - but walking around I'm left with the confusing desire to feel amazed, but the true feeling is: 'what's all the fuss about?'. Perhaps I'm in shock. Has the jet lag killed all my senses, and turned me into a roaming zombie? Or is it all a little too familiar?

New York reminds me of London. A louder, smellier and substantially larger London perhaps, but still just another big city. Maybe it's because it's an English Speaking country. I didn't warm to Tai Pei much, a few years ago, but still I was fascinated by the people and city enough to enjoy the visit. Perhaps I'm more impressed by things I cannot understand, things that are removed from my culture. I feel like I've sat through this movie before. That's not to say that being here is easy, or a walk in the (Central) park. The best thing to do, I reckon, is to let it swallow you up a little.

It's impressive though how a city which at first seems so incomprehensibly big, quite quickly appears totally manageble. I like how New York works. The grids of streets and avenues. After a day here I feel confident enough to skip out of the grid knowing that it will catch up with me again in it's sensible and exhaustive style.


New York is like a group of small villages but, instead of being seperated by trees, they are seperated by looming skyscrapers. The most striking thing about New York for me though is how friendly the people here are. One Manhattan hotel porter looked up from his desk and greeted Henry and I flamboyantly: "Hello ladies!" He was one of the most helpful, friendly and just downright chipper New Yorkers we met. He was also the most embarrassed for a while when he realised his mistake: "I'm really sorry, a big mistake on my part. It's the hair, I think, oh I'm so sorry." People are just so goddamn nice. New York sure has one up on London in that respect.

Next step Alburquerque and The Fee reunited.