On every tour there is one gig that is The Catastrophe. On this tour The Catastrophe took place at Piano’s in New York City. Originally the ensemble was supposed to play at Tonic, where I’ve played all of my New York shows for years, but we got ditched because of unfortunately trying to get a gig there on Valentine’s Day. I guess we weren’t romantic enough. Here’s what went into the Piano’s trainwreck:
1. The four-hour drive from west of Boston to New York City took seven and a half because we got hit with another snowstorm. 2. Our tour book indicated that the Vandermark 5 was supposed to play two shows, one at 8pm and one at 10pm. After we loaded in our equipment the sound tech told us that there were five other bands on the bill. 3. When I asked the manager when we were supposed to play if there were five other groups to contend with, his response was, “When do you want to play?” I asked him when the quintet had been advertised to perform. He said, “10pm,” so I suggested that this would be a good time for us to start. 4. According to the tour book, the quintet was supposed to get 100% of the door after the first five people in the audience had paid. When I asked the manager how this was supposed to work now that there were five more bands to deal with, his response was, “Well, the way it works at Piano’s is that when each customer pays the doorperson they’re asked which band they’ve come to hear, and the money is split up that way.” After hearing of this I met with the band and told them the truth, “We’re screwed.”
We played the show as best we could, but it felt like a fiasco. Some fans were there and the group tried to play to them, though it was hard for me to shake the feeling that I had gone back to square one in New York with a bunch of unresponsive folks standing with their arms folded glaring at us with a look that said, “Just try and impress me.” My biggest hope as we packed the van was that this was The Catastrophe, and it wasn’t going to get any worse that that on this trip.
The next day I tried dig up some inspiration by going to MOMA and the International Center of Photography, two good sources for that kind of thing. I also met with Braden King for coffee and some give and take on having limitations forced upon us, in his case from the film industry. I was supposed to meet Tim at our motel in Brooklyn, straight across the Manhattan Bridge about 20 minutes away from the coffee house, at 5:30pm. At about 5pm I made the mistake of trying to get a cab. Not only was I an idiot for trying to get out of Manhattan at rush hour, but all the cab companies in the city switch their shifts between 4:30pm to 5:30pm, precisely at rush hour. Once I was able to actually hail a cab it got immediately stuck in gridlock traffic. The taxi driver then told me it would take at least an hour to get across the Manhattan Bridge at this time of day, so I’d be better off taking the subway. I called Tim and told him that I would be about a half an hour late and to please call Dave, Kent, and Fred, who were meeting us at the club, to let them know what was happening. After running to the subway stop I asked the attendant which line to take to get back to Brooklyn, and grabbed train to make the connection he indicated. When I got there I asked the next attendant where to catch the train that I been told I needed, and she informed me I was at the wrong stop, going in the wrong direction. Since I was now underground I couldn’t use my cel-phone to let everybody know that I was going to be even later than I had originally thought. When I finally got to the motel it was 7pm, it had taken an hour and a half to go less than 10 miles. Tim had already brought most of the equipment down to the lobby, but I still needed my stand bag, so I took the elevator up to the 8th floor only to find that my magnetic key had been cancelled. I went back to the lobby on the slowest elevator in history, got Tim’s key, got back on the elevator, the doors closed and- nothing happened. The elevator just sat there until someone from the front desk came over and pounded on it a few times. This seemed to be the motivation it needed to get me back to the 8th floor. I grabbed my bag, traveled in the elevator slowly back downstairs, waited with the stuff while Tim went to get the van. Three minutes later my cel-phone rings- it’s Tim. “You’re not going to believe this, but the van is stuck in a snow bank.” I ran outside to try and push him out of the parking spot we had found the night before. This took a while. Then we loaded the van, drove to the club and got there a nice, solid two hours late.
That was the bad news. The good news was that the gig at Union Hall was a blast. David Grubbs played a solo set first, and the quintet followed- wonderful music, fantastic audience- basically the flipside to the night before. We hung out late at the bar, the booking agent for the club used to live in Chicago and he seemed pretty psyched to have something from back home in lineup that night. Kent was so happy that he decided to open some good bottles of wine he had purchased that afternoon. You know that when someone is opening their own booze at a bar, something special is up.
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