Fear and loathing in New Orleans.
Fear and loathing in New Orleans. Credit: Teddie S Taylor

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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 entries hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

March 20, 2017: Day off in Louisiana

An hour outside Baton Rouge I take over driving again. The road is foggy, my skin is clammy, I can’t quite figure out the right music to keep me awake. Josh naps in the front seat, and I pinch my wrists to stay alert. I intended to continue on to New Orleans, but find myself increasingly unable to stay awake. So once we get to Baton Rouge, Josh goes to work and I stay at his parent’s house. I fall quickly asleep and have vivid, painful nightmares about being in charge of a touring zoo.

After a few hours of napping, I wake up and recognize these vivid unpleasant dreams—and their accompanying physical malaise—as a symptom of withdrawal from my medication. I hadn’t realized that I’d forgotten my last two doses. Even with my weekly pill planner, it can be hard to keep track in the unnatural, rhythmless schedule of touring, and I take medication 3 times a day, so it’s even easier to throw myself off. I struggle awake and take both doses together in a hurry. The chills and nightmares abate. I sleep another couple of hours.

Group chat reunion. Credit: Craig Mulcahy

I drive to New Orleans drinking iced coffee and singing along to Angel Olsen at the top of my lungs, thinking about how lucky I am to be on tour. The show tomorrow is so exciting to me, and I just have four shows left. I wasn’t sure I could do this alone, then everyone believed in me, and now I’m really doing it. My bar of emergency chocolate has melted in the heat. I lick it out of the wrapper. By the time I get to Jes, Romeo, and Nathan’s house, I’m full-on manic. Eric Martinez, who is both my friend and my research interest, drives me around town in my car, because I’m beyond transporting myself. For fun, we play a sort of game wherein Nathan earnestly attempts to tell us a story, and we interrupt him at every turn with clarifying or pedantic questions. Nathan and I have matching stick’n’poke tattoos on our wrists that say “NO∴DC”, from the day we met many years ago when I booked Small Bones and Necro Hippies at Everlasting Life. I’m happy to see the flyer I made for that show hanging, framed, in the guest room.

March 21, 2017: New Orleans, LA at Castillo Blanco with Thou, King Woman, and Kalvin

I never want to leave New Orleans. It feels like I live here. I love my friends. It’s warm. I go to Sacred Grinds, a cafe/occult shop/vape shop attached to a cemetery. I browse prayer candles, ultimately settling on “Law Stay Away.” I ask if they fix candles, but they don’t know what I mean by that, which makes me miss Ancient Ways in Oakland.

After sitting and reading for a while, I meet up with friends at Juan’s Flying Burrito. For four years I’ve been in a group chat with Eric, Lauren, Megan, and Nathan, but in that time we’ve never been all together in the same place at the same time. This is also the first time I meet group chat member Lauren’s baby, who has stolen much of Lauren’s attention away from me and is therefore my rival. I’ve brought a grocery bag full of my rancid, soiled laundry for Lauren, who has offered to wash it and bring it to my show tonight. Feeling enveloped in kindness and friendship, I’m so giddy that I day drink, downing most of a frozen margarita. Weeks of self-denial cause this drink to hit me hard, so my next major activity is falling asleep using Megan’s butt as a pillow while we half-watch Dave Chapelle’s disappointing new special.

NO .:. DC Credit: Jessica Chavez

Megan lives in Philly, not New Orleans, but she’s from here and planned a visit to coincide with my show (and to make possible the group chat summit). I met her through her brother, Darin. I met Darin, on the same night as Nathan, and Darin too bears the mark of “NO∴DC”. (Candice, who I saw in Austin, is the fourth member of this small cult). Darin used to make mockumentaries about Nathan, but these days is mostly making video games. His new game, Norco, is a natural extension of his old zine Geography of Robots. Both are science-fiction stories set in Norco, the oil town in which he grew up. Norco has the same effect on me that Myst did: I want to enter the screen and live in that world, in that color palette. I don’t play games that much. The last one I played all the way through was Gone Home. Norco made me tear up just like that did.

Tonight’s show is at Castillo Blanco. For weeks, people have been rolling their eyes when I tell them where the show is, and explaining that it’s the techie-burner-gentrifier headquarters of the Bywater, the same folks that do Krewe of Chewbacchus. My only knowledge of Chewbacchus comes from the Antigravity Magazine article by Jules Bentley, and his description of it as “a self-congratulatory celebration of ascendant nerd supremacy” comes to mind instantly when I get to Castillo Blanco.

It’s a huge open space, with no aesthetic unity save for the fact that every object or decoration is self-consciously quirky and intentionally wacky. There are multicolored flashing lights all over the room. The space is festooned with references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Trek, and (naturally) Star Wars. A giant, gold pyramid—likely a remnant of a Mardi Gras or Burning Man float—lurks behind the tables where I’ll set up merch.

Dwarfed by this monument to douchebaggery, amongst atrociously decorated unusable thrones, a group of my friends are sitting together and hanging out. Lauren presents me with a bag of laundry that is not only clean but also folded, with a encouraging note tucked inside! Lauren is part of a crew of my New Orleans friends who mostly all know each other from high school, and are mostly not transplants (an even more distinguishing trait in New Orleans than it is in D.C.). Recently I was talking with my friend Thera about how you know you’re getting old, or not really that cool, when the people you know in any given city are definitively NOT the punks, or at least not punks-who-look-punk. As if to drive this point home, one of the people I’m chilling with is a uniformed fireman. I hadn’t seen Andy (not the Andy in Thou) since Christmas at Lauren’s house five years ago. “I love when shows are at this place,” he says, diverging from popular opinion.

I ask if he’s on call or something. He laughs and explains that he’s actually just at work—his station is right next to the venue. All night his two-way radio crackles at his waistband. All night I watch showgoers freak out at the sight of a man in uniform, mistaking him for a cop or a fire marshal shutting down the space. It shouldn’t make me laugh… but it does. Especially because it’s actually just a dude eating Church’s Chicken, goofing off at work, and talking shit with old friends.

Kalvin from Gland opens the show with their solo project, in a different iteration than the one from our show together earlier this month at Sisters in Christ. This time she has Drew Stephan on drums. It changes the vibe from Cocteau Twins to Best Coast. Either way it’s good, but I had liked the way Kal’s beautiful, unusual, unearthly voice was more audible in the unaccompanied version of this project. The stage is flanked by two huge golden lions with glowing red eyes. They’re so massive and gaudy that they overwhelm any aesthetic a performer might bring to the stage. They each emanate red light from their sides, staining the entire stage.

There’s no way the vibe here could get any more whack, I think to myself, and am instantly proven wrong as a gust of fog shot out the mouth of the lion closest to me. It was so sudden, and so out of sync with anything happening. It wasn’t at a climactic point in the song. It wasn’t the last song of the set. It wasn’t even in sync with the other lion, whose mouth remained dry throughout. The mildewy, humid air slowly dissipated, but I remain in an agitated state, plagued by one incessant thought: what if this happens during my set?

The anticipatory embarrassment nearly disables me. The instant Kal’s set concludes, I find Bryan and tell him there’s no way the fog machine can happen during my set, and that the flashing lights near the stage need to go too. It feels like a totally reasonable demand, and also simultaneously like a total diva moment. Bryan says “I’ll see what I can do.”

Beck with Kal from Kalvin and Kristina from King Woman. Credit: Teddie S. Taylor

I summon up all the professionalism I can, and load onto the stage. As I finish setting up, I see Bryan and the woman from the venue disabling the flashing lights and unplugging the lion, allowing me to establish a modicum of control over the on-stage vibe.

The hardest part of my set is having to pace myself in my roasting of the venue. After my first song, I thank everyone for “meeting me here at this rave.” Light laughter, but as usual I’ve scared people enough with my first song that they are too nervous or confused to laugh. Additionally, I won’t speak directly into the mic when I’m not singing (because jokes through reverb aren’t legible enough), so the songs are interspersed with medium-shouted banter. One of the only pieces of non-nerd venue flair is a huge sign mounted on the wall directly across from the stage. It’s one of those carnival-style signs with holes cut out, for people to put their face and pose for a photo. Except instead it’s two holes side by side, and the sign says “Free Breast Exams.” I draw the audience’s attention to the sign, and say “I had heard that the techies had a solution to the healthcare crisis, I just had no idea it would be so… analog.” Matthew and Andy join me for the last song.

King Woman is captivating, Kristina’s vocals are scary and beautiful. The band is tour tight. I wish I could see them every night. After their set, I’m outside talking with Kris and we discover we lived in the same warehouse in West Oakland, the one that was recently demolished by notorious predatory scumbag developer Danny Haber. My mind is blown that we didn’t run into each other out there, but we lived on opposite sides of the building and I was pretty antisocial during my Oakland stint. Still feels like a missed opportunity.

The reverb doesn’t get turned off before Thou’s set, so Bryan sounds like a black metal vocalist.

I want to hang out late after the show, but I have a long drive to Gainesville the next day. I’m tired just thinking about it. I try to convince Bryan to come with me, but I’m destined to be alone.

To be continued…