Tour Diary: Curious Pets '06 Northwest Tour

(because calling it the "hell hands tour" just wasn't working)

April 6, 2006
Venue: Le Voyeur
City: Olympia, WA

The recent Hellpets/Curious Hands northwest tour was an incredibly fun, if incredibly exhausting, three days of music, mayhem, gear destruction, fantastic people, exotic food, regional beer, general intoxication, observance of local customs, international goodwill, and narrowly avoided international incidents. In other words, a complete success! What follows are our hazy memories...

Moment of fate #1: In the spirit of punk, I opted to make it a one-guitar tour, practically daring myself to break strings on stage.

Moment of fate #2: C. Baker, having forgotten to pack his drum throne, loads up the Countess' drum throne instead.

We side-stepped the tour van rental expense by piling ourselves into C. Baker's
pickup; our narrow butts just fitting in the rear jump seats as they do.

Leaving our home base in lovely SE Portland, we pointed the truck at Tyler Riggs' house on N. Maryland Ave (future site of many basement shows, I'm excited to have been told). Once there, the Countess attempted to be befriend Amanda's cat, Growlie. Okay, his name was actually Stanley, but he just barely tolerated being in the same room as a human being. Sometimes, I can identify.

The Countess and Amanda compare pictures of cats. Not necessarily their own cats...just cats.

Since Curious Hands would be traveling in a late '90s model Toyota Celica, we piled their amps into the back of our truck. There wasn't room for two drum kits, so we brought C. Baker's drums, while Nick brought along his kick pedal and snare. It's common for drummers to bring along certain small items when playing on other people's drum sets. A kick pedal, for example. And if you haven't seen Nick LaRue of Curious Hands perform on the drums, he's quite the force of nature - all jumping around like a madman and such. Is that enough foreshadowing? Okay.

The stage area of Olympia's Le Voyeur.
If you know what the bulleye is for, let us know.

Some things to know about Le Voyeur:
1) The fries are super garlicky, even more so than the garlic fries at the Laurelwood brewpub in Portland.
2) They have two full shelves of whiskey. Meanwhile, the vodka, tequila and rum all fit on one shelf.
3) The rum and cokes are 90% rum.
4) The blinding white stage light on the ceiling can be pointed away using the end of a microphone stand.
5) The staff are super friendly, or were on the night we played.

Jack, Nick, Ross and La Contessa discuss the finer points of rocking.

Tyler Riggs eating the soup du jour.
A lemongrass/veggie concoction, if I recall.

Moment of fate #2 (continued): The bolt that adjusts the height of the Countess' drum throne fell out sometime during load-in. I later found it either on the floor or in the back of the truck, but not before the seat slipped down, gouging Chris' hand good enough to soak at least one band-aid. First blood had been drawn without us even playing our first note! At the end of the night, Nick gave Chris the bolt for safe keeping (we think), though as Chris recalls it, he "was 1/2 on the horse at this point." The bolt was never heard from again.

Manos: the Hand of Fate. And, yes, Chris is taken. Sorry, ladies.

At the high water mark of our set, there were probably 15 people watching us in the back room, and only 7 of them were members of other bands. Check it out: that means *over half* of the audience were either there to watch the show, were the girlfriends of the other band, or had absentmindedly wandered into the wrong bar. That ain't bad! I played through Jack Tuftee's "Tube Driver" amp, which is an impressive little box o' wires. It was possible to actually tell what notes I was playing. Could it be that my bizarre attachment to third-rate, 1960's-era products of failed electronics companies from San Antonio is somehow misplaced?

Curious Hands unleash their fury on a formerly innocent Le Voyeur.

Jack, Tyler and Nick took the stage second and tore things up! Literally, in Nick's case, as he pounded his kick pedal into extinction. And, like any genuine rock star, Nick LaRue knows that it's necessary to occasionally, inexplicably, vanish. Thusly did he.

Last up was the Olympia band (and Le Voyeur veterans) Glass Elevator, who played trance-inducing proto-psych-rock to a partially gyrating crowd that had swelled to about twenty people.

Glass Elevator lays down the groove, Olympia-style.

After posting to the Seattle pop email list in search of a Friday show (more on that later), I heard back from the super-cool Courtney in Olympia. It turns out that the Hellpets have LOTS of Courtney connections. For one thing, she knows a bunch of my old friends in Athens. People such as Mike Turner (of Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records), John Fernandes (of Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System) and Will Westbrook (of The Gerbils). Courtney was also the organizer of a fashion show at Ladyfest in Olympia a few years ago, which featured the Countess' handmade devil horns.

Some vagrants loitering in front of Le Voyeur.

After the show, Courtney invited us all for a campout at her studio apartment in The Martin in downtown Olympia. It was a tight squeeze, even without Nick LaRue who had disappeared into the night with some of his Olympian friends. It was also approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit in there.

The second-floor hallway in the legendary Martin apartment building.

The Martin is an important monument in rock history. It was an "old man hotel" in the '80s before Calvin Johnson moved in, transforming the place into a center of creativity. At one time or other, almost all the members of Bikini Kill lived in Courtney's actual apartment, and the first Riot Grrl meeting was held in the Martin laundry room. It remains groovy to this day, featuring foyer artwork made by the landlord from old paint chips, blown out fuses, and fluorescent light bulbs. Plus, the candy machine in the hallway dispenses organic rice and pinto beans, 25 cents worth at a time.

Modern art. Retro materials.

Courtney is a renaissance woman who promotes shows, makes jewelry, hosts visiting musicians, works in a library, and just started grad school. She hopes to someday buy a house in Olympia in which she'll host basement shows, and have fold down cots for the bands. Her rock memorabilia collection includes the chair that Belle and Sebastian’s cellist used at a recent Portland show, and several of their handwritten set lists. She has an impressive button collection.

April 7th, 2006
Venue: Fairhaven College
City: Bellingham, WA

As always, I was in the mood for flapjacks the next morning. Courtney was quick to dismiss the Olympia breakfast scene, however, and directed us instead to the Batdorf & Bronson's coffee house where we commenced to eat pastries and get caffeinated. Naturally, I spent the rest of the day pointing out every roadside IHOP and Denny's, which probably annoyed the living crap out of everyone.

Jack and Tyler plot their next diabolical move at Batdorf & Bronson's.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the legendary Dumpster Values thrift store/Phantom Records on 4th Street in downtown Olympia. There, Jack bought a tres chic argyle sweater, which can be seen in every picture of him for the rest of the tour. I, meanwhile, continued to look for a copy of the Seattle Weekly. Here it was April 7th and the newsstands were still full of the March 30th issue. What, if I may ask, gives?

Nick LaRue chooses his next victim.

Passing through Seattle, we stopped off at The Trading Musician, a mostly second-hand instrument and gear store. Legend has it that former employees of the place moved to Portland and opened the well-known Trade Up Music. Nick bought a new kick pedal to replace the one that he had recently obliterated. The Countess bought a glow-in-the-dark skull shaker and showed me the flying-V ukuleles. They didn't have any Tube Driver amps, but they do have an enormous mural of an insect band performing for a gathering of insect fans. It's so big that I wasn't able to get the whole thing in my camera frame.

Would I rock harder with four arms, or would I merely enrage Hindu fundamentalists?

We stopped in for more coffee [Official denial: We do not have a coffee problem.] at a coffee shop next door to the music store and hung out with the friendly staff for a while. We quickly learned that, not only does the place regularly host live music, but there wasn't any scheduled that night and they had P.A. speakers ready to go. The room was so cozy, we thought about sticking around and playing there that night.

Jack Tuftee chillin' with the Virgin Mary.

A little background is probably in order... The original plan for this tour was to play Anacortes or Port Angeles on Friday, skipping altogether the giganticism (if that's a word) of Seattle. Yet, even with 2-3 months advance warning, the scheduling didn't work out. Then, a few weeks after posting a message on the internet looking for a show, Tyler got a mysterious phone call.

Gruff Caller: "Is this Tyler?"
Tyler: "Yeah."
Gruff Caller: "I want to see if your boys wanted to play."
Tyler: "Um…who is this?"

Who it was was Boner, the booker of a bar in Everett, WA called Jimmy Z's. In a fit of desperation, we accepted the offer. We were to play on Jimmy Z's second, smaller, stage opening up for a reggae band who reportedly "bring the crowd." It should be noted that there's a red Corvette parked in front of the bar in their website photo. While I never doubted that we could convert some dreadlocked, Boeing-trust-fund fratbillies to the ways of hellpop, others weren't prepared to give up the hunt for a better show.

Enter our savior: Common Grounds in Seattle. Near as I can tell, the Common Grounds space is an all-ages hall built into the side of a church that mostly puts on punk rock shows. Perfect for us, basically. Then, two weeks before the tour was to begin, we received word that Common Grounds had been shut down due to a noise complaint. Once again, we were showless on Friday.

Our options as we saw them: 1) head up to Vancouver a day early and be tourists, b) scrounge for a last minute show somewhere, iii) drink a whole lot of coffee. Naturally, we opted for plan b…and decided that Bellingham was the optimal location to scrounge, especially since we had a place to crash there either way courtesy of Nick's friends Keone and Barb.

Before leaving Seattle, we swung over to the gates of the University of Seattle and ordered falafel from the sidewalk window of a Lebanese restaurant. Maybe it was the road talking, but I began to muse about moving to Seattle to take on a new career working at the falafel window: "I'm sure it's a fringe benefit." I said about the possibility of free daily gyros. "I could work at the schwarma place and never show up at my job in Portland, or my house, ever again!" Jack suggested that I get a morning shift at the IHOP down the street in order to diversify my diet.

"Let there by rock," sayeth Ross.

I never knew that going door to door looking for a place to play music could be such fun. Our first stop in Bellingham was the Grand Avenue Ale House. The owner, a shrewd, but helpful woman named Pootie was very close to telling us to play, but must have mentally talked herself out of it at the last minute. Instead, she gave us a list of other places to try.

Our second stop was a coffee shop. We like coffee, okay? The first thing I noticed about the place were the words "The Dude Abides" etched into the glass near the front entrance. Next I noticed the very Abercrombie-esque male baristas, who could easily have been members of a German art rock band. Then, I noticed the Big Lebowski poster hanging on the wall. And, finally, a huge stage with microphone cables and stands laying around. Obviously, I took it as a sign. The baristas seemed hesitant to introduce us to the owner, but the Countess and I staked out the office door long enough to be granted an audience. The owner, Boo, came out talking a mile a minute and wearing a Big Lebowski t-shirt. The first 60 seconds of our conversation consisted of he and I exchanging Lebowski quotes and references (his coffee shop does not play The Eagles, I ascertained) until Boo shouted "Over the line!" at such a startling volume that one of his counter boys came upstairs to make sure everything was okay. The upshot was, he already had two solo acts and a band scheduled.

Whilst wandering in downtown Bellingham, we pass by a typical street corner.

Stop number three was at The Rogue Hero, a fairly standard looking bar with a nice-looking stage in the back. The bartender paused from slicing limes to tell us that if we want to be added to the night's bill, we would have to talk to someone named Buckets, who can only be reached through email. It sounded less than promising. Meanwhile outside, Nick was talking on the phone with someone who placed a classified ad looking for bands, but not for that night as it turned out. Thwarted again! And who's naming these people?!

One of these people is just pretending to talk on their cell phone!

Taking a new tack, we drove up to Fairhaven College, part of Western Washington University in Bellingham. There, we met a group of college students who thought that having us move some couches around and set up in the student lounge was a great idea. It was almost as if to say: Of course…why wouldn't we? One of the students was Sam, who turned out to be a total superstar. First, he called around looking for a house show - which he found, except the people who live there were out of town. Next, he called around to the clubs he had contacts for. When that avenue was exhausted, he simply rounded up a group of people for our show in the student lounge. He even found us a microphone stand at the last minute.

Curious Hands lay waste to the Fairhaven College student union.

And thus did our performance at the Fairhaven College Student Union come to pass. With no publicity and with almost no prior warning of any kind, we had more audience members and twice the enthusiasm as our show in Olympia. In another notable first, C. Baker had to leave the stage mid-set to prevent his truck from being towed. The Countess and I proceeded to play "You and Me" as a duo. Then, a guy named Kyle asked if he could play drums with us, which was probably the wrong time to launch into a driving number like "Here's the Part," but it worked out just fine.

Ross croons a chunky pop number with a little help from David Byrne.

Sam (2nd from right) and his superfriends.

After the set, Nick's friend Keone took us all on the Bellingham bar tour, which only had two stops this night, but that was enough. First up: The Grand Avenue Ale House (Reprise). Pootie was talking to some patrons outside when we arrived. This time, she was somewhat drunker than before and absolutely in love with us! Just about everyone ordered the chicken tenders, except the Countess who ate fries (we're 99% sure they were vegan). There was talk of moving on to some less deep-fried food options, but there was a distinct beer-consumed-to-organizational-ability inverse proportionality in play that prevented any such plans from moving forward.

Traveling rockers in downtown Bellingham.

We did eventually hop to the next bar, though this was mostly out of sociological interest. Dangling out over the Puget Sound in Bellingham you can find the Waterfront Tavern. The primary claim to fame of this bar is the curiously large number of serial killers who have hung out here in the past, most notably Ted Bundy, the DC sniper (the older of the two), and the Hillside Strangler. In fact, one might wonder which of the unfriendly-looking poker players in the back of the room might make a name for themselves next.

The Grand Avenue Ale House.

Our hosts in Bellingham, Keone, Barb and their son Logan, were incredibly accommodating. We slept like rocks over there. There was even enough room for me to inflate the air mattress without butting it up against furniture, walls, and other people. Nick LaRue, as if to prove once and for all that drummers are more animal than man, laid down directly on the floor and refused even to take a blanket. While at their house, the Countess got to meet Red Racer, the family turtle. According to Logan, “When he gets mad, he pees. And sometimes he pees when he’s happy.”

April 8th, 2006
Venue: Pub 340
City: Vancouver, BC

The first stop this morning was Arlis's, a Bellingham breakfast tradition, where I finally got my plate of delicious flapjacks! The next stop was the liquor store, where Tyler and Jack waited in what I thought was a suspiciously long line for 11 o'clock in the morning to buy a fifth of tequila. (The Countess pointed out to me that the next day was Sunday, and it suddenly made more sense.)

Not wanting to appear as though we were crossing the border to take gigs away from Canadian rockers, we had stashed all of our drums and amps in Keone and Barb's foyer. With me behind the wheel and the Countess in the passenger seat, we gave the appearance of a typical American nuclear family on an ordinary family vacation. Though, in this scenario, our son, Chris Baker, would have been born when I was negative four years old, making me the most virile man in history.

Nick and Ross plot the course.

We had been walking around Gastown (named not for it's gas lamps a la San Diego, but for an early settler to the area known as "Gassy Jack") for approximately 60 seconds before the first time we were asked if we wanted pot. Fantastic service, all in all. The venue we would be playing that night was less than a block from a Gastown coffee shop called New Amsterdam. The first thing you notice about New Amsterdam is the massive wall of smoke that hits you on the way in. The place is full of friendly, way mellow people gathered together to enjoy the fine fruits of Canada's independent agriculture scene, drink some coffee beverages, and probably do lots of snacking. For some, it's probably what heaven would be like.

Gassy Jack and a statue of some dude.

Vancouver residents are strangely fascinated with blown glass crafts.

We had brought along four Canadian quarters, which translated to about 20 minutes of parking meter time for two vehicles. It was time to find a national bank from which to extract funds from our yankee accounts. On the way I found a copy of the Georgia Straight. It's kinda like Vancouver's version of the Village Voice. Much to my and everyone else's surprise, the Hellpets were made the official music pick of the night, citing our "pitch-perfect harmonies" (who knew?!) and my ancient associations with certain other musicians from the southern reaches of the U.S.

Tyler, Jack and Nick looking for totem poles.

The Hellpets in Stanley Park.

We spent the afternoon taking in the natural splendors of Stanley Park. Being the northwestern most tip of the downtown peninsula, it has amazing views of the Vancouver skyline, the straight, and the surrounding mountains. Other features include totem poles, large open green spaces and walking trails. Additionally, Stanley Park is the home of the most-photographed raccoon in British Columbia.

One of these people is just pretending to photograph the raccoon!

When we arrived at Pub 340, all of the patrons were glued to the multiple TV screens showing the Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames NHL game. I quickly realized why it had been so difficult to find street parking near the club. The hockey game was taking place about three blocks away from us. Vancouver had a comfy 2-0 lead in the third period and things looked pretty well wrapped up. Then, Calgary finally scored their first goal. No problem. Then, uh-oh, another quick goal from the Flames and we were suddenly in overtime. We needed Vancouver to be in a partying mood for our show, so there was a lot riding on this, obviously. Then, boom! Two minutes into overtime, fan favorite Ed Jovanovski, in his first game back from a two month medical leave, scored and the crowd went wild. Too wild, maybe...

The Flames just tied it up! (If you're a hockey fan, that sentence makes sense.)

I introduced myself to Kevin, the sound guy, and Pierre, the house promoter. Soon, Dave arrived and we met his girlfriend Steph, their friends Marie and Dana, and Tanya, who designed the poster for the show. The Countess also met Laura Baird. Laura is a Vancouver-based cat video artist who wrote the Countess a letter of support recently after the Countess acquired some unwanted notoriety from her artwork.

Canadian tobacco labels are extra truthful.

Vancouver's own The Approach played first. Marty, Steve and Daryl play mathy instrumental music that totally rocks. They're incredibly tight and have incredible energy. They're also super friendly. They even agreed to let a bunch of strangers use all of their gear for the night.

The Approach rocking out hard at Pub 340.

Curious Hands took the stage next, turning in a performance of which Tyler later admitted to have no recollection. This is hardly surprising when you consider that each band receives two free pitchers of Molson Canadien when playing Pub 340. It's the amnesia potion of the great white north. At one point Jack, realizing he forgot to bring his shaker, ran over to borrow the Countess' new skull shaker. She couldn't find it fast enough in the depths of her purse, so John played a bottle of ibuprophen instead, which sounded surprisingly good.

Curious Hands proceed to shake Pub 340 to its very foundations.

Our set was easily our most difficult of the tour. Firstly, there were bizarre guitar issues, which I hesitate to blame on the Canadian electricity. Next, Chris put a drumstick directly through the head of Daryl's floor tom, which everyone is reasonably sure had been severely weakened by Nick (we gave Daryl some money for a new one). Then, after we hit our stride, a small mosh pit formed in front of us, complete with young revelers trying to get onstage and steal the microphone. One person even tried to strum my guitar for me. Meanwhile, I could see Nick, Jack, Marty and Steve all positioning themselves to spring to my defense should things turn ugly. The house bouncer was keeping an eye on the situation too, but didn't intervene because I was smiling throughout the incident. The lesson here is: if you're annoyed, look annoyed. One of the Curious Hands remarked to me that "that's what you get for being so dancey." I had no idea we were dancey!

According to Dave, there were many local music luminaries in the crowd for our show, but we had never heard of any of them. It was probably the equivalent of playing in Portland and having your show attended by Sam Coomes, Larry Crane, John Chandler and Tres Shannon. I know what you're thinking. Who? Anyway, one person that Dave made a point of introducing me to was the painter, graphic artist and musician Jim Cummins, also known as I, Braineater. He was fantastically charming and encouraging of our musical craft.

The famous Railway Club in downtown Vancouver, BC.

At this point, Curious Hands headed over to the Denny's, where they encountered some actual mean and rude Canadians (they exist!). Meanwhile, Chris, the Countess and myself carried out guitars through the rain to the famous Railway Club to hang out more with Dave and his entourage. The Railway, which has model trains that run along tracks near the ceiling, was a bar I patronized while first visiting Vancouver six years ago. Dave described it as the only good bar in town. Jim told me that it has a reputation as the place where old rock stars go to die. The Railway also has a hot nuts machine, which for one Canadian dollar will give you a cup of toasty cashews, peanuts, brazil nuts and macadamias. Some of the patrons seemed to really be into the hot nuts machine. It's a thing there, apparently.

Hellpets at the Railway Club.

April 9th, 2006
Drive Day

Our 11:00am check out time at the City Centre Motor Hotel came awfully quick. As usual, the drummers had volunteered to sleep on the floor, while we delicate players of stringed instruments got the beds. While packing, we became momentarily entranced by the spectacle of non-Olympic, televised curling. I can't claim to understand the objectives of the sport, but the guys who were releasing the stones sure had intense looks on their faces.

Vancouver as seen from the City Centre Motor Hotel.

We stopped off for coffee and pastries, crossed the street to buy obscure Canadian candy bars, and then it was off to the border. The border guards seem pretty surly, but we got fairly standard questions. What did we do up there? What do I do for a living? Who's truck is it? Etc. Curious Hands received a slightly different treatment. Reportedly, part of the conversation went:

Border Guard: "How do you guys know each other?"
Tyler: "We're friends."
Border Guard: "Where did you meet? Prison?"

The Freedom Arch: your one last glimpse of freedom.

We stopped to change our currency in Blaine, WA, which appears to have been built solely for the purpose of being an extremely depressing border town. The woman behind the counter counted up my Canadian money: $140.60. Then she yelled over to her partner with the calculator "$40.60."

"You mean $140.60, right?"
"Um, yeah…$140.60"

I-5 in Washington State: the long and misty road.

The next stop was Keone's house to load up our gear. Nick gave Logan a ride around the house wrapped up in a blanket. The Hellpet half of the caravan stopped back off at Le Voyeur in Olympia for lunch and we all rendezvoused back at Chez Tyler in North Portland. One of my favorite things about living in Portland is that, no matter how fun a trip is, it's always exciting to come home.

And somehow I made it through the weekend without breaking a guitar string.

Home sweet home.


Welcome to the online home of Portland, Oregon songwriter and producer/engineer Ross Beach.



Get in touch with Ross via:
hellpets at hotmail dot com.