City Paper is not for tourists
Hand Grenade Job is currently on tour throughout the great American south and mid-Atlantic, and over the next six weeks, HGJ’s Beck Levy will be chronicling her experiences on the road. Read part one here and stay tuned for more adventures.
March 1, 2017: New Orleans, La. at Sisters in Christ with Kalvin
We are staying with my friends Adrienne and Dan, who do the local alt-alt-monthly, Antigravity Magazine, and live out in the suburbs in Gretna. I’m on the verge of tears since we got here even though this is the city where I have the most friends—the sweetest, loving, generous-of-heart friends. My neck pain is bad and I haven’t yet figured out the most effective balance of medication—how to quell the pain but not get too drugged and drowsy. I’m not maxed out on Gabapentin yet but inching up towards that.
Our show is at my friend Bryan’s record store. We set up the Ungovernable sign and Bryan sets up chairs.
Three black trans women have been murdered in Louisiana in the past week: Ciara McElveen, Chyna Doll Dupree, Jaquarrius Holland. Stolen lives. We write their names on candles and place them on an altar in front of my amp. Every night I make an altar. Life is an accumulation of rituals.
For our set I ask my friends to sit up front. Seeing them in front of me makes me feel secure and supported. It’s an intimate show where you could meet each audience member’s eyes if they’d look up at you. These settings are raw. I’m nervous and I miss a few notes. Afterward I get daiquiris with my friend Eric, we sit on the bumpy floor of his new apartment and listen to his cat Hazlet yell at us. Back at Dan’s house, Erin and Dee are tipsy and giggling about a red light camera.
March 2, 2017: New Orleans, La. at Mudlark Theater with Gland and Priests
Jean, the drummer of my old band Turboslut, plays in Gland now. I haven’t seen her in more than five years. She still slays and Gland is awesome, good nasty punk. This is our first night with Priests. It’s wild to see them out of the D.C. context, in this funny magical downtown clown theater. The bathroom has lots of eyeless dolls taped to the walls, the bar looks like a an elderly eccentric mermaid’s treasure chest—puppets lounge in the corners. The venue is run by a woman named Pandora. Quintessentially New Orleans. I played here in The Gift, a wild show with No Age, about seven years ago. Glad to see it still hosting punk shows.
My friend Winter from Bloomington comes to the show. It is the first time I have seen her since her partner Feral was killed in the Ghostship fire. We talk about knives (a favorite topic) and Winter shows me pictures of an expensive knife Feral had recently purchased. My heart feels like it is trying to gnaw out of my body or ooze out my eyes in order to transform into a protective membrane around Winter’s body. It fails. It stays in my chest.
While we’re loading out, Erin stands on stage with Taylor from Priests, both of them surly giggling drunks. I try to capture the red stage lights on their face but they won’t stand still so I’m hassling them a little. Taylor accuses me of being an INFJ, which I am, and Erin screams “see the shit I have to put up with!?”
March 3, 2017: Tallahassee, Fla. at Wolf’s Den with Night Witch, Ew, and Priests
The last time I was in Tallahassee, with The Gift, our roadie went for a walk after the show, got lost, chased by meth dealers, and fell asleep under the bleachers of a middle school. Welcome to Florida!
Tallahassee is small enough that we get rockignized at the cafe where we, road dazed and starving, stop for wraps before the gig. The “gig” being a small living room crowded with nervous 20-year-olds listening to fast punk songs about the importance of consent. Erin and I sit on the steps outside trying to strategize about our set. Our band was founded on the principle of responding to individual venues and creating unique experiences; we are often labelled performance art. We decide that tonight we will play one song, “Witchcraft,” for 20 minutes.
I was raised by a jazz musician and thus improvisation has always been a part of my musical landscape. The most exciting part—I love the tension, the give-and-take between bandmates.
Erin sets up her floor tom and cymbal, and also wears my guitar. I grab a mic. It looks like we aren’t even a band. I love it. I demand that the audience sits in, tightens up, scoots forward. I intone into the mic “this is a 20-minute program. There is no intermission. The program does not repeat. Please turn off your cell phones.” At this, people giggle and smile. I just stare. If you don’t take your performance seriously no one will. We play through the song once, in between verses I drink cough syrup and stare at individual attendees. A young man is filming. I take a knee and stare into the lens. After one cycle of the song, Erin keeps up the beat and I sing a medley of Lucinda Williams, Ministry, and an unfinished HGJ song. One more repetition of “Witchcraft.” Then we stop and say “thanks, we’re HGJ, Priests is next,” and start breaking down our minimal gear. Moderate applause. I thought it was great; Erin thought we should never do it again.