Hand Grenade Job was on tour in the great American South and Northeast over the past two months. Over the course of the tour, HGJ’s Beck Levy chronicled her experiences on the road. After the first leg concluded, she came home for a short break before heading back on the road. Read previous entries here.
April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Pa. at the Storefront with Gauche and the Goodbye Party, but actually at the Rotunda for Electrifest with Coup Sauvage and the Snips, Gauche, King Azaz, Wordz the Poet Emcee, Downtrodder, Yatta, Among the Rocks and Roots, Sour Spirit, Ramona Cordova, Interminable, Ex By V, and Pinkwash
I get to Philly early, because I’ve got big plans. My friend Ellen Chenoweth is going to meet me at Grindcore House and help me do my taxes. It’s my first year with 1099s, and I’m really freaked out that I’ll owe money. Ellen is experienced in preparing taxes for artists. By the end of it, I’m massively relieved to actually get a few hundred dollars back.
The show we’ve gotten added to is the first day of a two-day fest, an LGBT/QPOC wellness centric fest. Workshops during the day, music at night. The venue is a theater on a campus, I guess U Penn, on the edge of West Philly. The room where we’ll play is massive, dark, with a tall stage and rows of chairs. The event has the vibe that it’s just ended, rather than just began, folks are leaving looking pretty wiped out from the workshops.
The whole radical-conference-plus-marathon-show thing was essentially my life in the early 2000s. I even was responsible for organizing a few. It seems like such a good idea on paper: rigorous consciousness-raising during the day, a joyful musical coming together at night. Maybe some people experienced the conferences of my youth that way. It seems likely, I have no idea what life is like for neurotypicals and extroverts. But I found the format exhausting.
But I’m not saying that applies to Electrifest: I wasn’t around for the workshops, and the event isn’t for me, as a white cis straight-passing queer who mostly dates men. The workshop descriptions looked amazing, and the fest must have required colossal effort. It was generous of the organizer, writer/artist/Afro-futurist visionary Alex Smith, to add us to this already stacked gig. Apparently a couple of the bands dropped off, so hopefully it wasn’t too much of an imposition.
The mighty Coup Sauvage and the Snips—probably the best live band in D.C.—opens the gig. The room is still largely uninhabited. There’s just a small audience scattered around the room… but Coup takes every single one of them to church. They deliver an uncompromisingly energetic set, like they were playing to a sold-out club. They speak to the exigence of the fest’s mission, talking, among things, about access to healthcare. From the eponymous track on Heirs to Nothing: “Oh I was born with nothing/ But we’ve been born again.” I think about an article I read explaining that it would take the median black family 228 years to acquire the same wealth as the median white family, and another article about how in D.C., white families are 81 times richer than black families. Arash Daneshzadeh says that instead of “low income” we ought to say “historically looted.” Accuracy.
Since there are so many bands playing, and because Alex was generous enough to let us hop on the show, I’m just doing a three-song set. The stage is high; the gulf between me and the audience feels vast, but the acoustics of the room provide the ideal conditions for what I’m doing. I bathe in the reverberations of my own voice, I try to push its limits fearlessly, and then, quickly, it’s over.
Expecting to play a three-band show and then playing a 12-band fest is… a lot. I don’t have much energy so I’m trying to slowly spread it out over the rest of the night. On the bright side, there’s bottled water for the bands here, which basically makes me feel like my name’s on a solid gold marquee. So I’m sitting down at the merch table and sipping that sweet, sweet complimentary water and hanging out with Matt Korvette, who blows my mind with two searingly hot takes:
- Wrestling is just problematic LARPing.
- Riff Raff is the unsung Marina Abramović of our time.
Tell me, where is the lie?
I want to hang out with and talk to my friends here, but I’m feeling pretty checked out, most of my magic drained by my performance, the rest occupied with keeping bad thoughts at bay. The two bands that stand out to me are Downtrodder and Among the Rocks and Roots. Downtrodder hits with high energy immediately, and it’s immensely inspiring to see a hardcore band going HAM in an atmosphere not designed to accommodate their sound.
My stamina is starting to fray. The muscle that keeps my desire to run screaming into the ocean from flopping out of my body is tired. I want to stay and see Ashley play in Ramona Cordova, and see Pinkwash for the first time in a couple of years. But I can’t stop thinking that I shouldn’t be there anymore. I’m not sure if I should drive home or what. I tell everyone sorry and load out into my car. It’s a Saturday night and we’re in University City. As I pack up my car, there are actual frat-boys-being-boys walking around holding solo cups.
Instead of driving home I drive to Megan and Tommy’s house in North Philly. Megan gives me a cocktail and snacks, and we watch Seinfeld. Before I go to sleep, their dogs, Stella and Emma, say goodnight to me. Their cats Ben and Corgi take turns sleeping on me all night. It’s comforting.
I miss sleeping with a cat.
April 9, 2017: Brooklyn, NY at Trans Pecos with Gauche, Coco Mamba, Abandon, and DJ Jolie MA
Yesterday I did my taxes before the gig. This morning, before I drive to my show in Brooklyn, I’m going to a bridal shower outside of Philly. So this is touring in your 30s.
Paula and I have become fixated on the idea that my one true love and fated husband is Desus Nice, and that we are destined to meet and fall in love when I’m in New York. We both have a very dark sense of humor. “You’re both woke but would sell out your morals for the right check,” Paula offers. So we embarked on a social media campaign to bring the show into his awareness. But no matter how many times I tweet “Liveleak and chill?” at him, no fave, no reply, no nothing.
I know Carlos from when I was living in Oakland. He played in Wild Moth and we worked together, moving boxes around at a fulfillment warehouse for an upscale men’s goods webstore. He moved to NYC before I moved back to D.C. I meet Carlos at a small bookstore that has no WiFi and also a no laptops rule. Despite the pretenses and the (intentionally?) bad coffee, the place is pretty cozy.
Trans Pecos, in the former Silent Barn space, is one of the nicest DIY venues I’ve ever played: small vegan cafe attached to the space, hardwood almost everything, large potted plants, clean bathrooms, glass bricks, actual sound booth, lovely enclosed outdoor patio… and Club Maté.
First I’m overdressed then I’m underdressed. I’m overcaffeinated then exhausted. I feel like an imposter, but not exactly like imposter syndrome-style, not really about feeling like a fake musician. Just, non-specifically, I feel like I’m creeping around pretending to be a person but really am just like a stack of rotting notebooks and bent-up underwire bras inside a trenchcoat. Today the uncanniness is so visceral that I actually give myself an out-loud pep talk in the bathroom mirror, topped off with ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me.”
When I play the audience is silent and still. I am picking up a feeling like they’re scared.
The show goes late, then I load out, then I drive to Carrie and Matt’s place. First I can’t find parking, then I can’t make the building key work, then I can’t make the apartment key work. The problem was me. But when I get in, I find the coziest guest room. They left me towels and a sheet mask. Through the window I can see Manhattan.
To be continued…