My Vacation With The Shemps: Riding along on the Shemps/I Farm “We Play Darts” Midwest Tour ‘07

Allow me to get all perzine-emo on you for a moment; I’d been really bummed out. Like a LOT. I didn’t know why, but it was likely the culmination of everything that’d been going on: conflicts at work, family issues, and I just hadn’t been feeling like myself. I really needed to get away for a little bit, and the chance came up when my friend/bandmate Bill said I could ride along with his band The Shemps (http://www.myspace.com/theshemps), for their first tour of the Midwest (with I Farm, {http://www.myspace.com/ifarm} on pretty much their last tour ever). Now, I realize there’s some irony in trying to relax by going on tour with a band whose members have managed to provoke people into dumping garbage cans on them, not to mention grabbing my crotch (and hard) while seeing them live, but I figured at least, if nothing, it wouldn’t be boring.

Day 1/2 (Leaving NYC):
I convince my job to let me out early enough to meet up with Bill in downtown Manhattan for dinner before we leave, and I’m completely anxious and on edge all day, eager to get going. The first show is in Cleveland, so the plan is do get at least a good chunk of driving done the night before. It’s about 10 PM by the time we actually get going, but it’s a nice, warm pre-summer evening, and I’m sitting back in the van, starting to relax. A little ways into Pennsylvania the transmission on Bill’s van dies. I’m not feeling as quite relaxed now.

Day 1 (Cleveland):
So we ended up in Scranton last night (which is okay with the optimist in me, because I am a big fan of the American version of The Office), and found a cheap hotel room. First thing in the morning I go with Bill and Squeaky to find a repair shop, where we find out that it’ll take about a week to get fixed. Fortunately, we also manage to find the last mini van for rent in town, and figure that if we cram most of the equipment and one person in the I Farm van (who, conveniently, just played in Binghamton an hour away last night and are nearby), we can actually make this all work. So we all group up, reconfigure everything, eat our first big group meal, and get back on our way.

Tour realization #1: Most of the drives are pushing at least seven hours long.

We arrive in Cleveland in the early evening, and it almost feels like we’re in some sort of retro science fiction movie because the neighborhood seems abandoned. The show is in the local punk rock bar (complete with “Bun in the oven? Two-for-one drinks for all nine months” special), so we load in and walk to a diner down the street for a light meal.

The first band on the show is a Ramones cover band called The Pinheads, followed by I Farm. Now, granted, technically speaking, there are no original members (their incredibly nice friend Dean is filling in on bass for this tour, as they’re forming a new band anyway), but holy moly, it still sounds amazing. I want to say it’s like if The Ergs! went and started playing math rock, and become bored playing any one riff for more than ten seconds, but played with the same intensity that they’ve always been known for. It’s seriously amazing. Plus, they bring out a great Mission of Burma cover (something about “stealing it back from Moby or something”). Shemps play next, but not before I’m told that the bar we’re at was formerly a local gay bar (which explains all the paintings of penises on the wall), and that the OTHER local gay bar was almost right next door, and frequented by guys who kept insisting “YOU’LL NEVER STAY IN BUSINESS! WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU FAIL!”

The headliner of the night is We March (http://www.myspace.com/wemarch), from Ohio, whom I’ve never seen before but heard great things. They play really fast, hardcore-esque rock’n’roll, and start chants (Por que nudo? Porkey noodle?), and are great. Their singer totally confronts the crowd, and was throwing around a fake severed head, which inspired an empty beer can fight. Afterwards, we all end up staying at one of the bartender’s houses, which has a huge collection of records, and various music/audio equipment. Most everyone else is partying, but I’m really tired, so I pretty much set up my sleeping bag under some weird analog mixer and go straight to bed.

Day 2 (Chicago):

It’s raining when I get up. We all go for breakfast at a really nice local diner, and I debate if I should eat something other than a giant pile of hash browns, but figure why not and do it anyway. Then I proceed to feel really sick during the drive. By the time we get to Chicago, it’s raining fairly hard, and we stop at a gas station in the city to use the rest room, where a news crew is filming and gives us super dirty looks.

Tour realization #2: Most of the people I’m traveling with take their coffee really, really seriously.

Tonight’s show is at the Beat Kitchen, which is a nice combination of restaurant and fairly professional medium/larger size venue (I compared it to a cross between Maxwell’s in Hoboken, and Common Grounds in Gainesville, which doesn’t do you much good unless you’ve been to both). Good news: the promoter makes sure we get free food, so I get a nice little salad. Shemps and I Farm are opening up for The Copyrights (http://www.myspace.com/thecopyrights), and The Methadones (http://www.myspace.com/themethadones), who are both fairly popular pop punk bands from Illinois, which leads to fairly big, but mellow crowds who are pretty much indifferent to the New York City bands. I hear someone from one of the other bands say “Man, it’s like a big party!” while The Shemps play, and I Farm pulls out a cover of “Six Pack” and invite Artie, the lead singer of the Shemps, onstage to sing it. I enjoy the other bands’ sets, not to mention talk to a bunch of them throughout the night, not to mention one of The Copyrights dudes gives me free stuff, which I’m always in favor of. I end up selling a bunch of T-shirts, and we end up staying with a friend of Bill and Artie’s, where I sleep on the kitchen floor and am very anxious to go to Minneapolis.

Day 3 (Minneapolis):

I’m very excited and anxious today, as I’ve wanted to see Minneapolis for quite some time now, plus my friend Kat is putting on the show (she’s the only person I really already know on this tour, plus she’s a solid dude). However, we’re pretty slow leaving Chicago, so it’s after nine by the time we get to 7th Street Entry (keeping in mind, “load in” was at “6:30”). We walk inside and there’s a small handful of people at the bar, as well as my friend who I hug, and then attempt to get something to eat before everything starts, with limited success. I set up the merch (I’ve now taken over as I Farm merch guy too) in a corner, and numerous attractive girls come up to me and ask me about shirts, while frat-looking dudes scowl at me, which makes me a bit nervous.

My friend Kat’s band, The Strait A’s (http://www.myspace.com/smartasawhip), go on first and I want to say they’re like a mid-‘90s style pop punk revival band. They’re catchy as all hell, but damn it, all of their instruments sounded quiet for some reason. This wasn’t a problem for The Shemps, who everyone loved (7th Street isn’t a huge room, but it filled up pretty fast) to the point where the crowd practically demanded they play every song they know while Artie was swinging from the ceiling pipes. The same thing happened with I Farms’ set, who opened up with the beginning riffs to “Damaged I.”

Now, I like to think I know a decent amount of bands from Minneapolis, but I’d never heard of the last band, Sofakingdom (http://www.myspace.com/smartasawhip) before, but they were absolutely great. Think if Propaghandi’s new records were all about partying, and you can imagine what these guys sound like. Dudes were pulling some SICK finger tapping too. After the show, we all pretty much split up between two different apartments to stay with, and I end up watching videos on Youtube and sleeping on a couch (making this the only night I don’t sleep on a floor).

Day 4 (Duluth):

I stayed up pretty late (TOTALLY partying; right…), but I dragged myself up fairly early because I want to get going, and hang out and see the city. However, searching for a place to eat for an hour and walking around one street downtown doesn’t really bode well with my plan, and on a rare occasion we leave for the next show on time.

It’s Memorial Day, and there are two shows; an earlier all-ages matinee at a local community center, and a later 21+ bar show. I’m grumpy as anything so I sleep for the entire ride (even though it’s the shortest one, by far), and don’t really talk much as I bring in everything (not that I talk much anyway), and don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on. Artie tells the crowd that he’ll give everyone a free shirt if he can hit me in the back of the room from the stage with a kick ball (but he misses). Before I know it, we have to leave before the shows even over so we can get to the other show.

Now I’m a little confused; the first show was in a fairly quiet suburb, but the later show is in a fairly bustling area right on the water, complete with a casino and abandoned strip club. Then we start to load in equipment, and get stared down by a group of old people who 1) Say “Hey look, it’s Van Halen” as I carry in two guitars, 2) Are smoking at the bar, while hooked up to oxygen tanks, and 3) Yell at Josh from I Farm for getting in the way of their dart game (which gives birth to the new tour inside joke). We get some dinner at a big pizza place, even though I order some mediocre tacos, and go back as the show is starting. The first band is called Horse and Rider, (http://myspace.com/horseandfuckingrider) who are mildly Tiltwheel-ish and pretty good, until their last two songs which are VERY Tiltwheel-ish, and amazing. I’m curious to see what the crowd will think of the New York bands (the whole show for that matter, though a few people have strolled in who actually look like they came to watch the bands). Artie tells everyone, “I’m not really sure how to act tonight. We’ve never played in a gay bar before,” and an old woman keeps walking past I Farm to use the bathroom again and again, and does a push-the-air-“screw you”-gesture as she walks back during their last song, which is the greatest thing I’ve seen all day. Also, a dog is walking around the bar.

Afterwards, we hang out in the bar a little bit, and I talk with Mike, who put on the shows for today. He’s a good guy and I get the impression that he’s really enthusiastic about helping bring bands through his town and that makes me feel better about everything. Apparently, we tried to book a room at some fancy hotel, but they don’t have the reservation, so we stay at a smaller hotel. Totally partying.

Day 5 (Madison):

So, last night we parked the van in the hotel’s indoor garage, and yet there’s still a new dent in the side when we wake up this morning, no one having any idea what caused it. Always a great sign.

Following a common theme, it ends up taking a while for us to figure out what to eat for “breakfast” (I get a BBQ pizza around noon), and get back on the road, back to longer drives. I hold off on eating cheese curds from the gas station, opting instead for donuts and potato chips (and I wonder why my stomach is completely shot). Tonight’s show takes place in a basement, in a house that’s within walking distance of the state capital building (as in, you turn the corner and it’s pretty much right there). We walk up to the house to see two frat-looking-dudes sitting on the porch, asking us why we’re here. Another dude from one of the local bands tells them, “It’s cool. They’re playing the show tonight,” to which they respond, “You’re having a show tonight?”

I love where this is going.

A few of us walk around town to look for something to eat, and by the time we get back the first band, called The Gusto (http://www.myspace.com/thegusto), is almost finished playing. But, as we walk down the stairs, we can hear an intro that’s something like “THIS NEXT SONG IS ABOUT BUTTS AND BONERS!” so I’m won over. This basement is actually pretty crazy in the sense that it looks pretty cool (there’s a bunch of X-mas lights and comic book character cardboard cutouts behind where the bands play), and that it has an insanely professional sound system for a basement (the sound is practically as good as the Chicago show, and that was at a decent sized club). Shemps play, and tonight is Dean’s first night of filling in for Squeaky since he left to go back to work, and it still sounds great. The only problem is that everyone seems to be getting shocked, so Artie takes off his shirt, shoes, shorts, and then puts his shoes back on. I Farm starts their set with “Damaged” again, and plays to one of the most psyched crowds on the whole tour so far. On one hand, I’m feeling really lucky that I’ve gotten the opportunity to see I Farm for a whole week. On the other, a bunch of people are smoking, and it’s so stuffy that I can’t breathe that much, so I’m not paying much attention to anything going on. I miss the last band’s name, but they’re pretty good, though I’m still somewhat grumpy, and pretty much want to relax and go to bed. Also on note, there are multiple dogs wandering around this show—will there be more tomorrow? Cats? Other pets?

The show finishes up, and I have no idea where anyone else I know is, so I wait for the crowds to clear out, and bring all the merch to the van (since I’ve been given the key), and wander around trying to call people, but I figure everyone from home is asleep already, and my friend Megan isn’t picking up. I come back to the house and see Bill and meet his rollergirl friend, and a bunch of people go to a bar where I can’t help but feel “Okay, I’m basically just not going to sleep yet.” I’m sitting at a table with Bill, his rollergirl friend, and a guy who just sat with us, who starts telling Bill’s friend, “Yeah, I’d totally love to clean your house.” My friend Megan calls me back and I’m excited for a few minutes until my phone dies, but at least it looks like everyone’s leaving. We wander around for a few minutes, back to the house, where random guy continues to creep us out, and I start pulling the “Okay guys, I think it’s time to call it a night” card. Finally, we start to head to our hotel (Neil Shemps’ girlfriend flew in, so we’re staying at the same hotel), and I think the guy whose house we played at curses at us. I feel awesome. We proceed to get really lost on the way to the hotel (which, in an ironic twist, lets me actually see a decent part of the city, thus preventing me from getting super pissed).

Day 6 (Saint Louis):

For some reason I think today’s drive is going to be a lot longer than it is, but I’m wrong. In fact, we even have time to do some sight seeing, so we stop in Paducah, and Metropolis. It makes me a little less grumpy, I mean, goddamn, we saw Superman!

We get to Saint Louis not super late, coming in right past the arch. Apparently, we’re the first ones at the show space (a local art center), so we keep driving around to look for something to eat. And we keep driving. And driving. And driving. It’s well over an hour before we settle on something. I’m getting grumpy again. I kinda see a song or two of the first (to me at least) band The Humanoids (http://www.myspace.com/thehumanoidsruleearth), but I couldn’t even really tell you much about them because I spent the rest of their set setting up a merch display on a couch. The room’s fairly small and it’s not that crowded, so I walk up to watch the second band, who I don’t think introduced themselves, but were pretty cool. They kinda sounded like a weirder Regulations, but it sounded like their singer was yelling complete gibberish—but actual, written-out-beforehand gibberish.

The Shemps and I Farm, um, play. I sell stuff to one person the whole night, who responds to me giving him his stuff with “Whatever,” and walks away. Great. Afterwards, the Shemps camp decides to start driving for a little overnight, stopping at a Walgreens outside of the city to rest and get some snacks, and I drink soda in the parking lot by myself, which makes me somewhat homesick.

Day 7 (Nashville):

During today’s drive I get a voice mail from my cousin who lives in Nashville that she’s trying to come to the show after work, which is pretty cool. The bar seems pretty cool, too. I Farm is sound checking when we get there, and they say it sounds great. We eat at a really good Mexican place across the street and hang out until the show starts (it’s a late one tonight), and I’m starting to relax again.

I Farm and The Shemps play good sets (some lady is REALLY into I Farm, while Shemps provoke cries of “YANKEES SUCK” over and over again). The third band are these nice dudes from Carbondale called The Hell (http://www.myspace.com/vivalahell) who are totally awesome, playing crazy, balls-out psych rock. Next are The Titts (http://www.myspace.com/tittsrock) who are a pretty good local rock’n’roll band, and some Warped Tour band. My cousin shows up, but I really only get to talk to her for a few minutes before she has to go. I tell her I’ll call her about trying to get together the next day, but we end up driving out of town that night. We stop at a Waffle House, and I don’t feel good in the middle of eating, put my money on the table, and lie down in the back of the mini-van until we get to a hotel.

Day 8 (Asheville):

I wake up the next morning and walk over to a rest stop with Bill. I see a license plate for Alabama, which amazes me, considering we were just hours away from Canada a few days ago. I call my cousin to tell her we’d already left Nashville, and I can’t help but feel like I’m constantly letting people down.

On the way to Asheville we pass by a lot of mountains, as well as the Sun Sphere (which gets me excited because it was in that episode of The Simpsons). Tonight’s show was originally at a house, but when we get there we find that it’s been moved to a coffee shop. A few people go to eat while I stay with Bill and Dean at the house, talking to some locals (though it feels like no one in Asheville actually LIVES in Asheville, and is just “passing through”), and the other band on the show called Hex, from Minneapolis. We’re sitting around on the porch, and, apparently, there’s a minor league baseball field (or stadium, whatever, I don’t know sports) right around the corner, because we can hear the game going on.

The show’s being put on by Bill and Artie’s friend’s sister Erica, and it’s another late one. Hex plays first, and they’re a three piece (four if you count their roadie who introduces them by lying on the floor wearing nothing but hot pants, and making farting noises with his back) comprised of a drums, tuba, and viola. This is actually the first “non-standard” punk band I’ve seen all tour, and it’s pretty cool, plus the crowd really likes them (also, some of the dudes look like gypsies – this isn’t counting the people who walk in off the street with sleeping bags). I Farm and Shemps sets go well, and Erica pulls me outside with urgency to ask, “WAIT A SECOND – Is that Artie from MILHOUSE?” I don’t sell anything, but Erica had to shake down people just for three dollars, so whatever.

After the show, some guy is talking to I Farm about going to the “members only” bar (“It’s okay – you can get in with me” – sounds like fun), but I go with Bill, Artie, and Erica to the local vegetarian eatery. I’m delayed going inside by the fact that I need to videotape the dude who’s passed out on top of his car, so I rush inside looking for them, and end up walking straight through the kitchen, and one of the workers gets really pissed and keeps yelling at me. I eat a really greasy grilled cheese while everyone else argues back and forth (in a friendly matter), and the weird guy next to us walks over and laughs at everything that anyone says, like “Hey, where are the napkins?” The owner starts arguing with him (in a not-as-friendly manner), and we decide to get going again. On a positive note, I sleep on what’s likely the most comfortable floor of the whole tour.

Day 9 (Norfolk):

There isn’t really anything super crazy or exciting on this drive (then again, some may consider eating at Denny’s and random gas stations “exciting”). When we get to the bar/restaurant for the show, there’s tons of high school aged kids walking around in tuxes and dresses. We end up going to a record store where there’s another show going on, with bands we have no desire seeing, and getting dinner at a Thai restaurant. After a while we realize it’s after ten, and we walk back over to find that nothing’s started yet; it’s another late show. Everyone’s pretty much talking to someone else, but I decide to just set up the merch in one of the restaurant booths, and sit in it (the booth, not the records and shirts). I feel like I’m “settled” in the sense of “I’m pretty much used to the whole living on the road/being on tour thing,” but I do miss some of my friends from home.

I Farm plays first, introducing themselves, saying that it would most likely be the last time they played in a long time. Assuming that no one would be buying anything for a while, I sat up on top of the seat. Granted, for the past few days I’ve been somewhat grumpy, and mildly sick at times, but I really can’t believe I’ve been witness to all this. Dean looks up during the Mission of Burma cover and smiles at me, and I feel all badass and whatnot. The Shemps play probably the best set I’ve ever seen; Artie pulls out the luchador mask, breaks a mug within the first song, genuinely scares the crap out of people, and ends up provoking a beer can fight (similar to the first night, now that I think about it). There’s one more local band, but I sell a bunch of stuff so I don’t pay super close attention. The tour pretty much comes to an end with everyone going to a friend’s house to party, and I sleep on the floor.

Day 10 (Going Home):

I drag myself up off the floor pretty early today as Bill, Artie, Matt Shemp, and myself head home (everyone else is leaving in the I Farm van later this afternoon). It’s raining pretty hard, and somewhat gloomy. It ends up being the longest drive of the whole tour (we take something like a twenty-five mile long bridge out of Norfolk, which amazes the bejesus out of me). At this point, I just want to get home, take a normal shower (I’m kinda gross), sleep in a real bed (I’m kinda sore), and see the rest of my friends again (I’m kinda lonely). But, at one point I’m walking around a fireworks store thinking back to something my cousin said to me on the phone a few days ago: “At least you’re not at work,” which is absolutely true. I mean, it was a great week; I saw a bunch of new places, new bands, made some new friends, and was witness to some truly awesome stuff. And now, I feel a little better about everything that’s been going on.

And then I got home at 11:30 PM before going to back to work the next morning.