It’s 3:32pm PST, and I’m sitting on the back deck of a house on Lake Washington in Seattle, in nothing but sunshine, looking across a table at my unfortunately shirtless friend Snakebob, trying to remember exactly how we got here.
Three weeks ago today, my friends and I were sitting in various convention halls in various cities in various states, pretending like we knew anything about the practice of law and frantically bubbling in answers on the bar exam that may well eventually tell us we don’t know shit. Today, after a week of vacation from our vacation, spent doing little besides seeing a few sights and eating a lot of Dick’s, trying to piece together our path westward in the traditional step-by-step-what-did-we-see-when sense has proven all but impossible.
From Pittsburgh to Chicago to three days at Lollapalooza to a strip club in Fargo to Badlands, SD to Yellowstone to Grand Teton to Jackson Hole to Missoula to Glacier, MT to Spokane to Seattle, none of us have much specific recollection of where we’ve been. There are specific incidents to be sure (being made a friendship bracelet by the door girl at Club Northern, for example), but when so much of the journey is spent viewing God’s Country from the windows of The Dodge Grand Caravan Formerly Known as The Strugglebus whilst sipping on Chelada (passengers only!), the Great American Splendor has its own way of blending together into one magnificent mountain, lake, or stream after another.
Seeing America in 8 days, 3800 miles, 55 driving hours may not be the best way to remember the starkness of the Badlands or the enormity of Grand Teton, but it is one way. And one thing we do remember, is the soundtrack.
Phoenix’s entire set:
So I’m cheating already and going with an entire set, but holy. shit. Why’d they have to hit so hard???
On the final night of the show, as the final act on a main stage, the Frenchmen from Phoenix brought all kinds of ruckus. Suffering from a severe bout of toooldapalooza, I’d resigned myself to gamely weather the first 45 minutes of the type of over-the-top light show and detached performance popularized by Mumford and Sons and Queens of the Stone Age the previous day. Not so. From a strong and energetic opening to frontman Thomas Mars’ wading out into the crowd to sing “1901”, Phoenix left its new-wave inclinations and home and dialed up the electric guitar, making for a lively and surprisingly “intimate” (among 30,000 people) show with broad appeal. In my opinion, a headliner at a large festival doesn’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but it should be a band willing to take on the challenge of making tens of thousands of casual listeners dance until the last lights come up. Merci, fellas.
Father John Misty:
Let me start by saying that if you haven’t seen former Fleet Foxes drummer and folk-rock Jagger-ite Father John Misty play a show, you should go and do so. Quickly.
All sashaying hips, snapping fingers, quick-lipped banter, and good-natured shit-talking, Joshua Tillman aka Father John Misty breathes a lot of individual life into a genre dominated by terrific groups, not unlike his former compadres over at Sub Pop Records. Father John played a terrific hour-long set at mid-sized stage on Friday, and never stopped moving, working the pit, or charmingly denigrating himself and every other artist at Lollapalooza between songs. At a festival seemingly overwrought with hype (and high 17 year-olds), FJM stood out as a more identifiable and individual face of the folk-psych-rock genre, not to mention a hell of a good time.
Fargo, ND: 8/5/13
Alabama, “Dixieland Delight’
Because there’s nothing quite like pulling into a “city” 1,200 miles from anything you could call “Dixie” after a hungover ten-hour drive and going straight to the bar attached to your Howard Johnson. This wasn’t the only appearance of this track, but it was the first. Wouldn’t you know it, spent my first dollar ON BEER!
Badlands, SD: 8/6/13
What? You expected something else? To be honest, I did too, but after an EXTREMELY unexpected “You know, I could use some Bruce right now” floated its way to the backseat of the Strugglebus, I wiped my tears of joy and enthusiastically obliged. Most of Darkness on the Edge of Town later, I’d somehow crossed Bruce-ing my way into the Heartland off my bucket list, and endured surprisingly little shit for doing so.
Yellowstone, WY: 8/8/13
The Babies, “Mess Me Around”
A newly-discovered favorite of Trenchfoot, one of our traveling companions, the Babies are a supergroupish (Vivian Girls+Woods+Bossy) lo-fi/garage rock outfit hailing from BK to tha Fullest, NYC. Their album Our House on the Hill dropped last year to some critical acclaim, and is a fresh, clear-if-not-clean shot in the arm. There’s nothing remotely symbolic about listening to this album driving between the Rockies, but even this far from home its sunny-day-music at its finest.
Grand Teton, WY: 8/9/13
Jim Croce, “I Got a Name”
“Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway, moving ahead so life don’t pass me by.” And looking at that? ‘Nuff said.
Jackson Hole, WY: 8/10/13
JJ Grey & Mofro, “The Sweetest Thing”
1. Get to Jackson Hole.
2. Get to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
3. Don’t let the bartender talk you into a “Prairie Fire.” You’re just not about that life, nor should you aspire to be.
JJ Grey and Mofro on the other hand, are all about it. Around since the late-90’s, and formerly known simply as “Mofro”, the group spins out bluesy, earthy, and funky Southern roots rock like few others. The whiskey drips off the microphone and the miles tick away.
Missoula, MT: 8/12/13
Young Jeezy, “Thug Motivation 101”
Look man, sometimes you gotta make an unexpected stop in Missoula, sleep in the loft of a straw and stucco garage/donut factory, and start some beef with the locals on a Sunday night. Usually those days start with three fifths of Evan Williams and Young Jeezy. At least in my limited experience.
Glacier, MT: 8/13/13
Langhorne Slim and the Law, “The Way We Move”
All respect to Canada’s own Neil Young (who also received heavy rotation this day), but Southeastern PA’s resident rockabilly ambassador Langhorne Slim and his three-man band ruled the ride north to the very edges of the US/Canada border. Having more than a little to do with this being a driving day for yours truly, Slim’s newest album The Way We Move held court for the better part of the afternoon. An electric live performer who’s carved a unique sound out of the neo-Americana movement, Slim’s latest work traces the lifespan of a relationship from cover to cover, and is worth a listen anytime, let alone in the shadows of northern Montana’s snowcaps.
Seattle, WA: 8/14/13
Lest I lose half my readership and have two of my van buddies cease to read my posts, it is with great restraint that I don’t link you to a PJ video below. More importantly, it seems unfair to allow any one individual or group to share this UNDENIABLY prolific space. By the end of our trip we’d listened to upwards of 50 hours of music, ranging from Miley Cyrus (Vegas would set the over/under on Party in the USA at 12, we’d take the over…) to Prince, Cam’ron to Foxygen, Les Sexareenos to These United States, Dylan, Springsteen, CSNY, Creedence, Dead Prez, John Edward Baumann, Sawmill Joe, Queens of the Stone Age, Robert Earl Keen, the Replacements, and on and on and on.
Trips like these are often billed as journeys of discovery. I don’t know about all that, but all those miles packed in a van with guys I can surprisingly still call my friends led to one indisputable revelation.
No matter what you see in America, where you see it, or how you get there, turn the volume up. It’ll help make the memory.