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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 parts one, two, three, and four. here, here, here, and here. Stay tuned for more adventures.
March 12, 2017: Richmond, Va. at Gallery 5 with Magnus Lush and Bad Magic
I stay up till 3 a.m. again, making little promotional images with the tour dates on them. It’s so depressing to crop Erin out of these photos. But if people expect a duo and it’s just me, I’m afraid they’ll feel ripped off, so I do it anyway.
When I wake up, I feel a grim determination and deeper, a secret flutter of excitement. The box where I put my other feelings is still out there, in orbit, in the coldness, in the expanse, in the endless.
Before I’ve even finished my first cup of coffee, my dad, who is on Spring Break, demands that I record some vocals for him, on a live version of a song he wrote denouncing the dishonesty of the current president. Though I find all critiques that exclusively target 45’s rhetoric to be terminally lacking a true analysis of power and capital, I will record vocals on pretty much anything my dad asks me to, because I’m a diligent fucking daughter. Voices are lower in the morning; the croakiness expands my range about half an octave down… but hitting my higher register is always painful till about noon. With recording, it’s great to do a couple of vocal takes in the morning then move on to instruments, and return to the vocals later.
My stepmom—who is a textile artist and thus overqualified for the task—reinforces the buttons on my coveralls, which are loose and threatening to detach. I’m already feeling charmed when she hands me a care package of tea and honey. I’m over the moon when my biomom shows up to my dad’s apartment bearing new windshield wipers, energy bars, a sleeping pad, and best of all: homemade hamantaschen. Both moms help me schlep gear, merch, and personal effects into the car.
I love adventure, I thrive in chaos, I perform best when threatened with defeat. This perversity is an asset. In marker on two pieces of construction paper adorned with star stickers, I’ve written rules and positive affirmations for myself. I tape the papers to my dashboard and hit the road.
Gallery 5 is in a former fire station. I’m glad my first solo show is with friends performing and attending. My cousin, local light feather jiu-jitsu champion and fashion plate Nora Levy-Forsythe, shows up early with a salad and a cupcake. I convert a bathroom to my dressing room. In the last year I’ve become obsessed with makeup. It started while I was a longterm hospital patient. I spent hours each day watching makeup tutorials on Instagram and YouTube. Implementing them was a boost to my self-confidence and a way to assert control of my body during a time where I felt very little. Post-discharge, I was a performer in Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Woman in E” at the Hirshhorn, and my love affair with cosmetics flourished. During rehearsal we had consultation sessions with the gifted local makeup artist Ali Pohanka. This IRL tutorial was catered specifically to my face, which leveled me up. And we got a small makeup allowance for the gig! I used it to purchase an Anastasia highlighter palette (Moonchild). Each museum shift afforded me the time to hone my skills.
So after all this instruction and practice, I’m just really fucking good. I love to put the effort into my appearance for performances; I love any opportunity to give generously of myself to an audience. Since women/femmes aren’t taken seriously in the world writ large, and in the music world in particular, many of my fellow women musicians eschew all but light makeup. But being contrary is embedded in my nature. Plus either way, door guys are going to assume I’m the girlfriend of the actual band, and misogynist sound dudes are going to act like I don’t understand my own tech requirements. So why not project “I can do everything you can, but in high heels and with a dramatic winged eye”? I came to play and slay.
Magnus Lush plays first. Adrienne Shurte, the guitarist, is also a “Woman in E” alum. Her terse, sharp riffs are balanced against a deep synth, and her vocals harmonize with the synth player’s. I’m pleased to mentally draw a comparison to fellow Virginians Denali.
I try to stay relaxed as I set up. I took notes during my solo practices, and I refer to them on stage, even as people start paying attention. I open with “The Name,” and I can feel from the audience that it was the right choice, picking up vibes that the song is functioning as a prayer for attention. There are a couple low points. It seems like “July” doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped solo, though it’s hard to gauge in the moment. I accidentally delete the guitar part I set up to loop in accompaniment to my autoharp for “New Year,” and need to start over. The biggest flop is in “Jupiter,” which I intended to be the denouement of the set. The live-looped crescendo generates unintended feedback at an ear-shattering frequency. For the first time in my career as a musician, I just stop playing the song. “You know… this just doesn’t feel fair to either of us,” I tell the audience, who react amicably enough. To further garner sympathy, I share that this is my first solo set, the disclosure earning me a smattering of applause. Mind racing, I settle on an a cappella cover of the Hatebreed tune “Driven by Suffering.” It isn’t my best work—I feel like I’m doing karaoke—but it closes the set.
And I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid to try and fail, publicly. That’s why all of this—the solo tour, the high stakes venture of DIY touring, my medically precarious existence—is possible. I’m not afraid to bomb, however badly it goes I’ve lived through worse. If you’re not afraid to bomb you’re more relaxed while you play, which makes you a better player. Saves you from taking yourself too seriously, also. I take my art very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously and that’s why this is all possible, too.
Bad Magic blows me away. The drummer hits hard. The bass player has hard-rockin’ long hair. And Julie Karr is a powerhouse. It’s Natalie Merchant singing for Nirvana.
One of my construction paper rules is “no drinking,” which I break this very first night on a double shot of sippin’ whisky. Another is “stay healthy,” which I break this first night on a cigarette. Here, my notes state:
12:30 a.m.: Richard Spencer looks like Roger M. Klotz from Doug. Make meme?
Back at my cousin’s apartment, I stay up late watching a ball python named Mortimer contemplate a thawed rat while a cat named Trucky snuggles me, a huge painting of Christopher Walker presiding over the entire scene.
March 13, 2017: Greensboro, N.C. at Legitimate Business with Kris Hilbert
Woke up and Trucky was right next to me purring. I dreamed he was a human who wanted to fuck me. I guess it was a nightmare; I was also on a crashing plane, trying to text people to tell them goodbye I love you.
Last night was my first solo show. It didn’t feel worse, at first, than having a bandmate. I felt the freedom to do what I wanted to do in the first song, without paying half attention to Erin, being attuned to her moves and needs. There’s give and take in a band, and in a duo it’s more pronounced. I spontaneously decided to add an a cappella song at the beginning of my set.
I’ve been on tour for one day and I’m already smoking cigarettes and steering with my knee.
Tour is a scavenger hunt for WiFi passwords.
I first played Greensboro in Turboslut. The show was down the street at a now-defunct spot called Square One. My next shows in Greensboro were here, at Legitimate Business back when it was a mostly-raw warehouse space. The people who made such things happen (there’s always one or two cabals of these, even in smaller towns) built a decent stage backed by a gorgeous wall made of salvaged doors. The sound was always good although it was one of those rooms that really sounded best when at least half full (Black Cat’s main stage is one of these too, IMHO).
Something life-changing happened to me here in 2010: I met my wonderful (ex-) partner, the furniture designer Ben Saperstein. He co-founded and built this venue. It is utterly transformed now. Co-founder Kris Hilbert took it over and runs his recording studio out of it. What once was raw concrete is now warm wood panelling, well-kept rugs, an abundance of instruments and other toys. Hilbert rarely does shows here, and I’m honored to be an exception. Greensboro rolls deep and the room fills up. The lighting is low. I DJ pre-show tunes (Goatsnake, Kelela, Mercyful Fate), and Hilbert lights incense. We’ve set up next to each other, Hilbert’s area defined by full stacks and fronted by a pedal steel guitar. His set is two long songs utilizing a combo of drone guitar and the pedal steel. It’s mesmerizing and builds the ambience in this gorgeous space, which feels like a big luxurious living room.
The audience is quiet, respectful, and comfortable. Taking advantage of their hospitality, I use the gig as a proving ground, playing an 11-song set with one brief intermission. Hilbert joins me for the closer, “Wildfire,” sitting in on pedal steel. I almost cry while playing from how beautiful it is, knowing that it will spoil me for the rest of tour.
Hilbert and his partner Britt, a clothing designer, live next door to the venue with a massive brood of animals. They are big-hearted foster parents who can’t turn down a furry creature in need. Word gets out amongst creatures who seem to seek them out. Currently the squad is four dogs and eight cats. I pet every cat. The newest and littlest one, an eccentric black kitten (the runt of her litter) reminds us all of Ben’s cat, Birthday, a former Hilbert rescue herself.
I was worried I would miss The Bachelor but watching it next. Come on, Raven!
I just saw that Vanessa won… not by watching the show but by logging onto the ABC website to try to watch the show. Great. Might as well go home now.
The Biz’s control room is my quarters for the night. I eat cereal in my underwear and watch TV until I fall asleep.