Why Don't We Do It On The Road?

10 days on the road with Friends Like These

But we don't. Eventually, we find the van. And when we climb back inside, I can still hear John singing. "Jonathan, New York City/Why would you leave it all behind and make a new start?/The streetlights, they are deceiving/They lead you on and on and on and break your heart."

 

Baltimore

If you can't feel the air move, you're probably in Baltimore. Restaurants close early here, and old ladies sit on their front steps, waiting for something to happen. The bartenders at The Mojo don't say much, but when they hear tour manager Keri Wiese say that a Marylander just asked her if the band was from "Mindianapolis," they smile and bring the next pitcher. The second we roll into this town, our blood pressure drops.

Today Steve turns 36 years old. "I used to be this punk kid who would hang out at the railroad tracks paying the older guys to buy me beer," he says. "Now I'm this older guy on the road with the young kids, hoping the bartender will give us the beer for free."

Steve ends up paying for his own beer--and the band's beer, and most of their dinners. He doesn't seem to mind. No one seems to be bothered by anything in Baltimore. Pterodactyls could pluck swimsuited toddlers from the shoreline and folks would go right on fishing. All bad news comes with a shrug.

"At least it's guaranteed that we won't get paid here," Matt says. "That makes me kind of relieved."

When you don't play for money, you play how you like. Adam's and John's jagged guitar chords skate zigzag trails across each song. Steve and Matt anchor the rhythm section with a pulse that you can feel in your shoes and your chest. Since no major label execs are waiting in the eaves of this bar, Friends Like These play like four kids rocking out in somebody's basement. Almost by accident, they play the best show of their tour.

Tonight, everything is easy like that. John and Steve venture into to a gay bar just to see what's inside, and immediately, four men with Freddie Mercury mustaches offer to buy them drinks. Steve even lets them call him "Girlfriend." Later, when the whole band decides to get drunk, it takes only a small glass of whiskey to get the job done. I fall asleep effortlessly, dreaming even before my eyes are closed. When I wake up, it's still dark outside, but I can vaguely see shadows. John, Steve, Matt, and Adam are standing over me, singing at the top of their lungs.

The next morning, I wonder if I dreamt the whole thing. I ask John if he thought there was something strange about Baltimore. "It was just like any other city on tour," he says. "We didn't even get paid and we played the best show of our lives."

The way he says it, it's hard to tell whether this is a good or a bad thing. But I catch him smiling as he turns away.

 

Philadelphia

Dr. Watson's Pub is having a quiz show. The winner gets a $25 gift certificate.

"We might not get paid for playing here," John reminds the band as they load in their gear. "So we should win the quiz show. Then we should climb up on the table and rip up the gift certificate as an act of protest."

As it turns out, we do win the quiz show. Someone hands the gift certificate to John.

He starts to climb up on the table. Then he looks back at us sheepishly and spends the money on beer.

 

New York, part two

If you can't find a place to stay, you might end up sleeping at Rocker's house. Rocker is Steve's friend. And Rocker is his real name. Judging by the drum kit, five guitars, bass guitar, microphone stand, and several ukuleles that he has encouraged us to play in his Brooklyn apartment, Rocker lives up to that name. This prospect excites me; it almost makes up for the fact that we will be sleeping on Rocker's cat-hair-encrusted kitchen floor. I am hoping that Steve may have other friends we can crash with. Drinker, maybe. And Breakfast Cooker.

 

New York, part three

If you've played for people in Brooklyn, you won't recognize Manhattanites. Everyone's too good for you on the island. There are no drag queens named Britney here, only Jacqueline or Eugenie or Gwyneth. Everyone is proud of the fact that they know the fastest way to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from any point in the city, and even prouder of the fact that they can't find Minnesota on a map. From the moment Friends Like These step into the Sin-é, you can tell what the sound guy is thinking: You ain't the Strokes.

The show doesn't go well. A show never goes well when it's the most important city of your tour and you're stuck playing at seven o'clock on a Wednesday. Right away, Adam breaks a string, and the other band members get so nervous and exhausted that they keep sliding off rhythm. Matt just plays louder and louder, trying to get the rest of the band to sync up to his lead. "That's a good drummer," says the bartender, a dead ringer for C.C. DeVille. Then he looks at the four Friends Like These fans at the bar and decides to charge them double for drinks.

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