On my way to join Slate's Washington, D.C., office—I'm relocating from Seattle—I loaded up my Subaru wagon with a week's worth of clothes, guitars, amps, a keyboard, a drum kit, bags of microphones, cables, and stands, along with my good friend and musical companion, Quinn W. Shagbark. He and I put together a group especially for this trip. We'll be touring from Seattle to Washington, D.C., as the Crispin Glover. Then it's back to my day job as Slate's technical manager.
On Saturday, as we headed into Boise, Idaho, Shagbark couldn't find the phone number for Trevor, our contact there. Trevor was the one putting on the show, and we were supposed to get in touch with him once we rolled into town. Shagbark called another friend in town, who said he'd called the Bomb Shelter—a real bomb shelter where we were supposed to play that night—and been told that there were no events planned that night.
We headed to the closest Starbucks to find a WiFi connection so that we could look for Trevor's phone number. We found the number in my e-mail and called Trevor, who met us at the Starbucks. He told us the show had been moved because the last show at the Bomb Shelter had gotten out of control. He'd found a better venue, he said: the Riot Factory.
The Riot Factory is the latest in a string of underground venues in Boise that are hosted in people's basements. Aluminum foil hung from the walls, and glowing red lights hung from the ceiling. It felt like being inside an oven. Especially because the room was about half the size of our hotel room. In the audience were some young punk kids who couldn't have been older than 14 or 15, some older college students in both undergrad and graduate programs at Boise State, some local musicians, and all of the performers, almost all of whom had traveled from out of state to play the show.
Four acts went on before us. Elijah started out the evening by singing along with a CD of prerecorded songs. Ordinarily, I would have been turned off by something like this, but I must admit that the songs were really good. And even though the room was packed to the door, it never got too hot or too loud.
Next up were two performance-art groups who were traveling together from Chicago. The first, Flight, was a woman in a chicken suit who took off her chicken suit and pulled a video tape out of her pants as recorded music played over the PA and lights projected onto the wall. Flight put the tape into the video projector, and the next performance-art group started, called Marriage.
Marriage consisted of two a cappella singers, with the video and more prerecorded music in the background. They were dressed all in white and wearing fencing vests. At one point during their 20 minute performance, they sang the line "I will be your rabbit," and a live rabbit appeared at the back of the basement. I thoroughly enjoyed their act, as did all of the locals.
Princess, also from Chicago, followed. Princess is two men, Alexis and Michael, playing keyboards, samplers, and guitars. Alexis described their music as "new school beats, old school rhymes, and we're gay." I enjoyed it this one immensely, too.
Shagbark and I were both getting pretty antsy to start playing. I'd been looking forward to it all day, and it was now close to midnight. We pulled all of our gear out of the back room, while Princess broke theirs down.
The Crispin Glover is a full rock band—only two people, but trust me, a full band. For weeks leading up to the tour, Shagbark was convinced that everything that would go wrong would go wrong simultaneously, and we'd never be able to put on anything but an embarrassing show. I've held the opposite opinion, knowing that we would be able to navigate any obstacle we would confront.
We set up the instruments, miked everything, and sent the signal into a single looping pedal. The show started with me on drums and Shagbark on keyboards. He was also manning the looping pedal. It takes one of us to start and stop it while we play. We opened the set with a song we improvised when we first tried out this experiment. The song is called "Jerry." Once the loop was going, I moved to bass guitar and Shagbark started singing along. But before that, we called our friend Julia in Seattle to wish her a happy birthday. We had the audience join us in the serenade. Then we did our set. There were lots of chances for failures—the out-of-tune bass we had on stage, the guitar strap that kept falling off, and the chore of mixing our own sound as we played, but we persevered through it all. I felt very confident while we were playing, and I know Shagbark felt just the same. And the audience response was all very positive and supportive.
I think the show on Saturday went a long way in reassuring Shagbark that everything is going to be OK.
Now if only I could get him to learn how to drive a manual transmission.
Tomorrow we'll head down to Colorado and maybe spend the night in Boulder or Fort Collins.
Jonathan Epstein is Slate's technical manager. He is relocating to Arlington, Va., after seven years in Seattle, Wash.