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 of the tour concluded, Beck came home for a short break before heading back on the road. Read previous entrieshere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.
March 25, 2017: Savannah, Ga. at Spaceland/Starlandia with Ankle Sox, Valore, and Orthodox
For some reason I thought Savannah was five hours away, but it’s just two! It’s back to the beach once more. At this point, it fully feels like I’m on vacation. Chem’s friends are at the beach too today, along with their flock of children. Chem and I hang with a child watching little clams wiggle into the sand. On my way to reluctantly leave, we observe beach cops hustling local teens.
I don’t know anyone who lives in Savannah. I got the show tonight through help from Katie Alice Greer/Sister Polygon Records, who referred me to a guy who had booked Priests and Downtown Boys shows. It’s exciting to play for a room of complete strangers, an audience with zero preconceived notions about who I am or how I perform. The only downside is, since I don’t know anyone there, I probably don’t have a place to stay tonight. It’s a gamble, if someone offers me a place that seems reasonably safe and slightly comfortable I’ll take it. Otherwise I’ll probably try to make the drive to Columbia (halfway to my next show) and Priceline a hotel.
The drive to Savannah is brutally hot, and despite being shorter than I remembered, it feels long. I’m sweating and sticking to my seat and desperately wishing my car had air conditioning. It’s when I hit traffic that I first hear it: the horrible grinding sound. I turn off my music to hear it better. I try to experiment with pressing the clutch, tapping the brakes, to see what triggers the noise. I get off the highway at my first opportunity. Because my car is so low to the ground, I have to drive halfway on top of a curb to get under it. Under my car everything looks normal. Nothing smells weird. I get a cup of ice at the gas station and return to the road. The on-ramp to the highway affords me a chance to turn. When I turn, the noise is much worse. My mind starts to spiral into a punishing cyclical reflection:
Why can’t I figure out what the noise is?I took my car to the shop before I left, and everything was fine.Did I mess my car up when I drove into that ditch?I am so stupid for doing that. I wish I hadn’t.Am I stupid in general?Is going on tour stupid?Was it stupid to go on tour after Erin quit?Whatever this noise is, it’s going to be expensive to fix.I shouldn’t have spent money on that hotel in Jackson.I should have just slept in my car.Sleeping in my car makes my back hurt so bad.Am I stupid for going on tour when I have chronic pain?Am I having brain fog? Is this a fibro flare?Why can’t I figure out what’s going on with my body?Why can’t I figure out what the noise is?
The part of my mind that is calm and takes charge calmly takes charge. Whatever is happening with my car, the steering, brakes, and shifting all feel normal. I will focus all my attention on driving gently with extra caution, and reevaluate when I get to Savannah.
When I arrive, I see tall gnarled trees with Spanish moss forming a canopy over the streets, old Victorian houses, cobblestone streets. I wish I’d gotten in sooner so I could see more of the city. I’ve only ever been once, at night, to stand outside the club (I was underage) in which Damad was playing a reunion show. I’ve arrived just early enough to grab coffee and some food at what turns out to be a pretty gross cafe with mediocre overpriced food. I’m disappointed with both my coffee and my “tacos,” which are more like three corn tortillas with random toppings from a salad bar tossed haphazardly atop. I sit outside in my sweaty, disgusting clothes, and eat the unappealing food whilst staring at my ambiguously broken car. I call Dave Rosenstraus, my friend the mechanic (and the alternative fuel genius who converted my car to run on veggie oil). Dave makes some noises on the phone and asks me which one sounds like the noise the car is making. I try to get him to make the noises again because it was hilarious, but he won’t, so I imitate the noise. He guesses it’s probably something stuck in the dust shield. I tell him about the ditch. “Well, yeah, then,” he says. He says it’s safe to drive back to D.C., noise and all.
This guy comes and sits with me outside. He pulls a beer out of his jacket and I remember that Savannah, like New Orleans, doesn’t have open container laws. The guy’s name is Edmund and he doesn’t have a home anymore. We talk for a bit but mostly drink, he his jacket beer and me my lukewarm sour coffee. Eventually his friend shows up and they engage in a lively conversation about this one bus driver they both hate. He sounds like a real pill.
I search for a Facebook page for the event to see at what time doors are listed. I find the page, and disconcertingly, it has almost no information on it, and only three people are listed as attending. Maybe this is a town where the paper flyer still reigns, I think hopefully, and head to the venue.
The venue is a pink-bricked art supply store where all or most of the materials are donated, recycled, or upcycled. It’s well-organized and cute. There’s a room attached to the space that is modestly decorated around an ’80’s futuristic space theme, with pink being a dominant color. Pink being my favorite color, and space being my favorite place, I’m starting to get pumped. The guy who booked the show is a patches and studs punk, a friendly shy young man whose hand is never without a tallboy of PBR. As I’m setting up my merch for the night, the young man admits, apologetically, that he normally books punk shows. “That’s okay,” I reply. “I normally play with punk bands.”
Folks are slow to trickle in, but among the first are a couple from D.C., Renee and Aaron, who happened to be passing through Savannah on vacation. They’re theater folks I know through having accompanied Taffety Punk’s production of An Iliad. It’s nice to see familiar faces, and the three of us clump together, somehow the most normy (and oldest) people in the still mostly vacant room. There are, generously, six people in attendance at this point, scattered throughout a room the size of the Velvet Lounge’s upstairs (but brightly lit and clean and not a bar…).
The first band is a guy named Christian performing as Ankle Sox. He plays YouTube videos through his iPhone and distorts/loops them. I’m confused about this until I remember SCAD is here. At one point he just throws on an FKA Twigs song. Accidental? Not clear. Then he fucks with the restaurant orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally. Funny and masterful manipulation. The set has been about 20 minutes. That was a cool set, I think. Then he plays for another 25.
The audience is still small—under 10 people for sure. It’s not clear if booker is taking door money. He drifts in and out of the room, always with a beer. The meager audience essentially hugs the walls and hides in corners. The next performer takes the stage. It’s a white woman with long, fine blond hair, who looks like she is either 19 or 40 (nothing in between). She is wearing a gray hoodie with big pom poms hanging from the zipper pull, hoop earrings also with pom poms, a black t-shirt with a picture of Paris Hilton on it, pants that are the shape of JNCOs but the texture of yoga pants, and teal sneakers: an ambiguous, enigmatic visual brand. She introduces herself as Valore. A prerecorded beat plays and she begins to rap. It’s a song about positivity and self-love. At this point, Valore isn’t yet rapping in affected AAVE. The songs flow one into the other because the tracks are being played from an iPhone playlist, so anytime Valore wants to talk between songs she has to rush because the next one is already starting. Many of the songs feature the words “intricate” and “succulent.” Her stage presence and physical movement is reminiscent of Jonathan Davis from KoRn: lots of moody crouching and menacing or sullen gazes through her hair. With each song, she slips further into AAVE. Five songs into her set, I notice that half the audience has left.
Valore announces that the next song is called “Gritty Marsha Brady.” The most memorable lyrics are:
Call me Marsha BradyMarsha, Marsha, MarshaAnd that is Marsha with an S-H-AFuck the CIAKill your fucking phone
There is also a brief and startlingly graphic song about being raped, another song critical of having an iPhone, and a song about smoking weed. There is a song about hanging out in southern towns, smoking weed, and feeling targeted and profiled by the police for being an artist. Another song begins:
I pledge allegianceTo the flagOf the United States of Corruption
The set runs about 45 minutes. The booker does not intervene, nor does he spend the whole set inside. By the conclusion of her set, the audience is down to 4. Valore and her boyfriend leave after her set. They do not return.
I set up quickly. Once I am ready, I beg the remaining audience members to come closer to the stage. “Just for this song,” I entreat. “After this song, I’ll close my eyes and you can go anywhere you want.” I play the song, then close my eyes. When I open them, the audience is down to two—Renee and Aaron—plus the booker and the sound guy. Perhaps because of the intimate setting, the sound guy chooses to respond to anything I say between songs as though it were a private conversation between the two of us. I push through my whole set, and at the end I wonder—where is the headlining band?
“Should I even do it?” the sound guy says. Do what? I think. The booker says, “I guess. Yeah. Do it.” When the sound guy disappears then re-emerges with gear, I realize: he’s the headlining band. He sets up. It’s a noise table. “These are my sounds,” he tells us modestly. “I don’t practice ever,” he warns us. I think about the hours I spent practicing and driving, and try not to attempt to calculate the sum total. He plays his sounds for 15 minutes.
Afterward, as I consolidate my belongings, a young man who I don’t recognize approaches me. “I like your music,” he says. “It reminds me of Low.” I’m shocked, and grateful—Low are a favorite of mine, and influenced my decision to play minimal slow music. I tell him as much. “If you want to come back here, we could play together,” he says. I ask him what band he is in. “I’m not in a band right now,” he says. “I think I could add a lot to your songs, work in your format, take them to the next level,” he says. That is when I realize that he is generously offering to join my band. I pack everything up besides the remnants of my ego, which I leave behind, thanking the young man for his words.
The booker approaches me with $30, which is about a third of what I’ve paid for gas. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why more people didn’t come,” he says. “There is a fest competing with the show, maybe that’s why people didn’t come,” he offers. “Oh, what fest?” I ask. “It’s Savannah Music Fest, a lot of big bands play it, like pop radio stuff,” he informs me, suggesting that there is considerable crossover between that fanbase and prospective attendees of this show. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why more people didn’t come,” he says. I know. “I could go to an ATM and get you more money, I should do that,” he says. “That’s so generous of you,” I reply. He doesn’t go to an ATM. I load my gear into my car.
Sitting in my car, I try to think of a plan for where to stay. It is midnight. I get on the highway in the direction of Charlotte, my next show, aiming to drive far enough away from the city that motel prices will fall. Fatigue hits me hard around Walterboro, a small town an hour away from Savannah. I get off the highway and scope out the hotels. The cheapest one that seems to be decently rated on the internet is a Rodeway Inn. “How many people?” the night attendant asks. He looks to be an octogenarian. “Two,” I say. It is not safe to admit to being a woman traveling alone. He charges me $20 more than the price listed online, but it is past 1 a.m. and I am too exhausted to get back behind the wheel. The non-smoking room smells like cigarettes and the carpet feels somehow damp all over. I fall asleep around 3 a.m.
To be continued…