Day One: City Of Trees
As we cross the placid waters of the American river on our way out of Sacramento, the self-proclaimed City of Trees, it dawns on us. Sacramento is the “city of trees” not because of the sheer amount of trees in the city, but because of the severe scarcity of trees once you leave the city limits. It’s a barren wasteland north of the capitol, filled with dusty fields and beige strip malls, the occasional pea green agricultural swath.
Our first day of tour felt pretty seven-and-a-half. Everything was okay, not bad, not great, just okay. Todd took the morning driving shift getting us to Kettleman City and I drove us to Sacramento. The afternoon drive shift is always the most difficult for me, eyelids sagging in the brilliant sunglare of the California summer, bandmates napping or listening to iPods, nothing but the straightness of the road and the slaughterhouse smell.
We stayed at a Fairfield Inn just east of downtown Sacramento by the Exposition Center. After check in Dan, Heather and I went on an adventure to wrangle some dinner and a happy hour beer. Our first stop was Kico’s Mexican Cantina. The place had all the promise in the world, from its brick façade and failing neon Corona sign, to it’s shantytown charmed clientele. Upon sitting down, receiving chips and what seemed to be water and tomatoes blended together, and looking at the menu, with it’s 14 dollar entrees and 8 dollar margaritas, we knew we were in the wrong place for us. With time running out on happy hour we bee-lined it for the Chilis across the street. We’re not proud of it, but at least we got a cold cheap beer and some buffalo wings before having to rush back and grab Todd to head over to the club.
Old Ironsides has a nice corner bar feel to it, with a colorful neon sign jutting into the intersection of 10th and S. The bar itself was old wood and red stools, with a couple of booths and an adjacent live room with a small semi circle stage and another bright green neon sign reading “Old Ironsides” behind it. Larry, the sound guy, had some pretty quotable moments throughout sound check. To wit: “As a black man, I like a big bottom as much as the next guy, but that bass is just too loud” and “Don’t try to fill the room with sound, that’s my job.” He was also very concerned with the possibility of “plain-clothes fire marshals” entering the bar and seeing a guitar case accidently strewn dangerously near the emergency exit—“I don’t know what they look like, no one does, and trust me, we don’t want that kind of trouble.” He also applied a stadium echo to my vocals that nearly caused the entire band to burst into laughter during the vocal break of our opening song. I sound like I’m harping on the guy, but Larry was actually really kind and definitely cared about what he was doing, which is more than I can say for 90 percent of sound guys we’ve come across.
Our set was a good, solid seven and a half, nothing too flashy. I discovered after the show that the kick drum pedal Todd had borrowed from John, By Sunlight’s drummer, had broken during our second jam, and being so concerned by this development Todd didn’t notice the replacement that John had left next to the drum monitor. To play with broken equipment is tough on the concentration, so it was an understandably difficult set for Todd. Being the pro that he is though, I didn’t notice that he was playing a man down.
We played with our friends in Manuok and By Sunlight, which are essentially the same band with re-arranged line ups for each. By Sunlight we’ve known for some time now. They are a band from Seattle who regularly tours down the coast to Los Angeles. Their music is bright, chimey, mathy, and morose, a sort of Minus the Bear hybrid with better songs. They are about the tightest band I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
Manuok is Scott with By Sunlight backing him up. His set is filled with solid songs that mix sadness with humor and tons of dynamic shifts that keep the listener excited. As I write this we are listening to Manuok’s new record The Old Horse, as we twist and curl into the mountains above Redding, the stark desolate landscape falling away into the lake and mountain country that this state shares with the next.