Back in Los Angeles for the first time in eight months. It didn’t feel like Los Angeles. Los Angeles. It even sounds like a mystery, a mistake from my lips. And now I’m starting to think that the Los Angeles I lived in was solely in my mind; a massively fragmented volume of blues. Never was I in the pursuit of anything important when I lived there—journalist (fashion), salesman (old furniture), teacher (grammar!). And I was never very good at any of those utterly unimportant things, so life was five-cent philosophy and drinking. But I was happy to be there again, happy to be in a place I once lived, looking at it now from a safe distance. I don’t live there anymore, and regardless of where I’ve been or where I’m going, it feels good to be someplace else looking back at it all.
The show at the Hotel Café was really great. Fantastic lineup. Meghan Toohey played bass and sang some incredible backups. She’s just a brilliant player. I’ve known her for years. Great songwriter as well. She and Jay (who joined on guitar for these shows) were in a great band together some years back. The So and Sos. That’s what they were called. She’s come to LA via Boston, like the rest of us, tumbling unhinged into Southern California for a better look back at the East. She and Angela sang some incredible harmonies. I felt like we were playing these songs the way they were supposed to be played, with that oft cast spell of nuance finally giving up the spook. David Lamoureux played piano and keys, whirling those things around those songs in a way that made me kick myself for not having him play on this record. I met him a while back when we were on tour with Augustana, however many millions of years ago that was. The man is a genius. Played his way out of the womb. Transcendent, sidereal, adjective, adjective. Mark Stepro on the drums. A beast. Played amazing. Sang amazing. I love that guy. Great player. Stupendous. Of course, Jay was the star of the show. Every sound he makes is the perfect one.
Next: Austin for South by Southwest. Jeremy Gomez on Bass. Matt Hammon on drums. Of course, I’ve played with Matt before. He’s my brother-in-law, though really you could just drop the secondary distinction. The guy’s been my brother for fifteen years. Jeremy Gomez was playing on my stereo when I was in high school. Mineral was the band. End Serenading was the record. I used to listen to it with my ear to the speaker, turn it off and try to make those songs come out of my guitar. I hope there’s a little Mineral still lingering in my songs.
We played two shows in one day. Threadgills in the afternoon for the Blurt, September Gurl , Outlandos Music, Something or Other party. That was great. Played outside with my sunglasses on. Patrice Fehlen, the darling publicist who runs September Gurl, got us on the bill. She was the first person to lend a hand when I came crawling back to New York after college, guitar fused to my bones and a million songs going in my brain. This great band called KaiserCartel played before us. They’re just a two-piece, drums and guitar, but I swear they sounded like the Beach Boys. From Brooklyn, too. There’s still something in that water, I guess.
Vintage Lounge off 6th Street that night. We were supposed to go on at midnight. The band before us hadn’t even started playing by the time we arrived at 11:45. Luckily(?) the drummer got sick and had to run off the stage after their second song, so we wound up going on pretty much right on time! There were quite a few Damnwells fans there. They stayed well into the whiskey morning, the tired bustle of South by Southwest trailing past outside the big store front windows, stumbling back to their hotels or someone else’s. We just kept on playing until it was all shut down. I took a few requests. Played “Assholes” and “Texas” for the assholes in Texas. (Just kidding.)
We got to hang out a little bit on Thursday, eat some bbq at Stubbs, wash ourselves in the masses. Got to see Mark Olson and Gary Louris at the New West showcase. Those voices. Amazing. Like two rusty halves of a locket that together, somehow, make a diamond. Tim Easton played as well. I always seem to run into that guy at every major juncture in my life. He came to our show the day before at Threadgills. What a songwriter. Pulled LA’s beating heart out of its chest and strung it up on a guitar. The man has lived what he sings. You can see it in his hands, on his face.
We wandered around for the rest of the night, drifting back and forth along 6th with the fantastic melee, music churning above and below like an earthquake in a hurricane. I got to see some old friends, some great friends, drink beers and talk about the old days like veterans from a forgotten war.
I love what I do.
Back to Iowa now to sleep and dream about the West.
See you in New York. April 4. Mercury Lounge.