Part one of the story of:
The "Back From The Dead And Ready To Party" North American Tour
Ahh... Nothing like the invigorating scent of a freshly minted blog. Once again, as the self-appointed chronicler of the ongoing trials, tribulations, testicles and triumphs of Exhumed, I shall attempt to encapsulate our mildly retarded escapades into a vaguely digestible format for your reading pleasure. Now, to pick up where we left off:
After returning home from the week of Hellfest and Death Feast, we were excited that skin-pounder extraordinaire Mike Hamilton had passed through his trial by fire and kicked some ass in Europe. We were also stoked by the fact that we all didn't want to kill each other even though we smelled terrible by the time we got home. After a flight delay which left us all scrambling to make our connection, we were headed home. Leon set off for his swanky bungalow in Echo Park, and Mike and I hopped in my 1995 Isuzu Rodeo (yeah, we live high on the hog!) and settled in for the four-hour drive back to San Luis Obispo, dropping Wes off in Oxnard along the way.
Our tour with Macabre, Cephalic Carnage, and Withered was only a few weeks away, but there were a number of question marks: Our go-to T-shirt guys at Warlord Merchandise (shameless plug) would be in Europe touring with D.I.S. When we would need a ton of shirts made. Leon, who unlike the rest of us schmucks is encumbered with a “real” job (you know, one where you don't describe your pay scale in terms of “__ dollars an hour”), wouldn't be able to do the tour, due to said "real job." Then, within two weeks of the first show, our plan to share transportation with Cephalic Carnage (which was ill-advised from the beginning in hindsight) was scrapped. On top of that, we had a much longer, more extensive set of songs to learn. What can I say? I love a challenge.
The most important thing was getting a bass player / low vocalist on board. One of the great things about playing in multiple bands (aside from the awesome schedule conflicts that always come up) is that you play with a lot of different great musicians and develop a lot of killer friendships. You also learn that if you can stand being in a Dodge Durango with four other people for three weeks, that you get along with those people pretty damn well. One of those fellow Durango-dwellers of whom I speak is none other than Gravehill guitarist Bodybag Bob. I've stayed at his rustic (read: shabby and squalid) apartment in Orange County countless times getting plastered and blaring old Judas Priest albums until five am, and he had told me that he had recently joined the ranks of the unemployed. That combination made a small, very dim light in my head turn on. Rob (sorry, I call him Rob a lot more often than Bob) is a great player and a good friend, and I had heard him say that he enjoyed playing bass once or twice before. Total Exhumed bass-player criteria right there. He very obligingly agreed to do the tour and things were moving along. I sent him all the tablature for the songs to get started. Of course, I'd never heard his low voice, which was arguably more important than his four-string skills. Rob came up to San Luis for a week before the tour started, his arrival coinciding with Wes' moving out of Oxnard to relocate to the warm, arid climes of Tempe, Arizona. The four of us convened at Wes' place, helped him finish packing up his stuff, and headed north to my town, Arroyo Grande.
The following day, storage space was procured for Mr. Caley's nonessential possessions, and we started to rehearse. I forget how nice it is to actually practice with everyone in the band present at once – that's become a long-forgotten luxury from the days where everyone in the band lived in the same general area. Things were coming together nicely over Thursday and Friday, and then we headed down to Orange County to sneak in a Gravehill practice before our show at the Central Illinois Metalfest, which would be double-duty for Rob and I. Rob, Wes and I trekked back up to San Luis (mind you, it's a four-and-a-half hour drive one way) the following morning to resume Exhumed rehearsals. Rob and Wes crashed at my place most of the time, while Mike worked construction during the day and met up with us to jam in the late afternoons / evenings. An old friend, Kristoff from Shadow Graphics had stepped up with some killer merch that had arrived just in time, so we combined that with what we had left over from Europe and the LPs we had gotten from Relapse, and our merch woes were more or less squashed. Meanwhile,I spent my days frantically trying to locate a suitable tour van, which proved to be an exercise in futility. It seemed that every 12-15 passenger van from San Luis Obispo to San Diego was spoken for. Bogus. A couple of different options that looked very promising came into the picture and quickly faded. I was resigned to doing the tour in a minivan, which would have been insane, and in retrospect, impossible. Due to a weird set of circumstances and things going wrong that are way too idiosyncratic and convoluted to go into here, we weren't able to even rent a minivan Saturday morning, the day before the first show. Like the song says, we had no car and it was breaking our hearts, but we did however, have a driver for the tour, my good friend Dylan Wordeman, host of the Slaytanic Carnage Radio show in San Luis (broadcast every Wednesday, 11pm to 1am on KCPR here in San Luis and streaming on the web at http://kcpr.calpoly.edu/), and that's a start. So that Saturday, the five of us- Mike, Rob, Wes, Dylan and I - convened at my house to try to figure something out.
Mike remembered that Inherit Disease from Ventura had bought a van a few years back and weren't playing too many shows, so he put in a call to their bassist Josh about renting their vehicle. After checking with the other guys, Josh got back to us and said it would be cool. To say I was relieved when we got that call would be the understatement of the century. I was beside myself with happiness. We headed to Ventura that night in my car and Mike's truck with Mike's drum kit, our guitar stuff, a bunch of merch, our bad selves, and Wes' necessities that would be dropped off at when we hit Phoenix for transplant to his new home. The van was a beefy Dodge with six captains' chairs, and not too much room for gear and merch – which wasn't the biggest deal, since we were sharing a backline and trailer with Cephalic Carnage – but we wouldn't meet up with them until Sunday evening in San Diego. And we wouldn't get Wes' personal belongings out of the van until the following day in Phoenix. And there was still one more person to pick up. Wes and I took my car to Echo Park to retrieve the sixth member of our touring party, Deedee, our merch girl. This would be the first tour where we would actually have not one, but TWO crew folks to help us, which was a massive improvement over all the tours we'd done in the past. We'd usually traveled without any crew whatsoever, except for a couple of short runs with a friend doing merch. It was also the first time we'd ever toured with a woman present. So it was exciting to have the help but there being a woman present was a bit of an x-factor to be honest. Luckily, I've known Deedee for about ten years now, so I felt pretty confident that she would be able to roll with the punches of touring and more importantly, tolerate a fart-filled van full of idiots making terrible and offensive jokes for three weeks. Turned out I was right.
We crashed out at Rob's pad in Orange County for the night, woke up and dropped my car off at Mike Abominator's pad in Garden Grove, where he and his very kind girlfriend Christa had offered to let me park for three weeks, then headed south to San Diego. The van was a bit cramped, but spirits were still high from the simple fact that we had pulled something together to ride around in in the first place! We would find out that day that our buddies in Cephalic Carnage had an even rougher time getting to the first show than we did. First they had engine trouble at the Arizona / California border, then they had a flat tire on their trailer, which they had to ditch at a repair place until the following day and pile all of their gear into their van in order to make it to the show. The drive to San Diego was a breeze, totally unaffected by the much-hyped closure of a section of the 405 freeway (remember “Carmaggedon”? It was just as fucking lame as you thought it would have been), and of course the weather along the coast was beautiful.
We arrived at the Ruby Room in San Diego, which is smack dab in the middle of the gay part of town. It was also the day after their pride parade, which seemed like it was a pretty big deal. Having lived in San Francisco, this didn't faze me in the slightest, and we loaded in on time and more or less relaxed. Sid, the promoter was truly a gentleman, and hooked us up with copious amounts of homemade and delicious food and a full keg of microbrewed beer. Things had come together and were officially looking up. Mike Abominator and Christa came down and hung out, some friends of Dylan's and Mike's cruised out, and the mood was good. We were getting travel updates from the Cephalic guys, who finally made it just in time to load in and get onstage. The room stayed pretty empty until late, but right when I went out to get ready to load Cephalic's gear in, I was pleasantly surprised that it had gotten really full as To Violently Vomit (which is basically all the guys from Disgorge except the singer) were kicking out their brutal death metal jams. Cephalic made the best out of their undoubtedly terrible day, and we had a killer set to close things out. It was great to see Leonard and Steve again, as Cephalic has been a band we've played with pretty much at every stage of our “career”. Our European tour with them and Inhume in '04 is still my favorite tour of all time. They had to stay in San Diego to pick up their trailer at the repair shop the following day, and we headed East to Arizona to Ryan Butler's pad in Chandler for a bit of rest before the next show in Phoenix.
For those of you who don't know Ryan, he is one of the genuinely nicest people you could ever meet and a killer engineer who runs Arcane Digital Recording in Phoenix (well, Chandler) where we tracked the guitars, bass, and vocals for “All Guts, No Glory” (for full details, read the older blogs here). Oh yeah, and he also writes some of the heaviest riffs known to man in Landmine Marathon, who we were really stoked to have playing the show with us that night in Phoenix. We divested the van of Wes' moving stuff early that morning and he left for Tempe while the rest of us went to shower and get some rest at Casa de Butler. Ryan kindly took Deedee and I out to run some errands and get some miscellaneous stuff we needed but couldn't afford until generating some cash from the first show. We grabbed lunch at Qdoba and eventually headed over the venue.
Monday Night is the night to rock in post-nuclear Phoenix.
The weather in Phoenix was weird to say the least. Of course it was mind-bogglingly hot, but apparently July is Monsoon season there – I didn't even know that Phoenix had a monsoon season. So a weird thick fog / smog / smoke hung in the air around the venue, and a hot wind blew mercilessly. It was very nuclear winter-ish – artificially dark in the late afternoon with torrid, violent winds whipping shit around in the parking lot. Very pleasant. At any rate, Cephalic again were pretty late in arriving, due to waiting for their trailer to be repaired. The show itself was a little less well-attended than I had hoped, but by no means empty. Undaunted, Landmine sounded awesome to get the party going after sets from a couple of other locals, as did Cephalic. The sound was a bit off for our set, which made it less than ideal, and apparently the sound wasn't too great on the floor either, but we had a good time and the line-up was gelling nicely as we bashed it out. After the show, we finally got all the excess stuff out of our van, since the trailer was back up and running and Wes' stuff was moved to AZ, and more legroom was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The next day we were due in Albuquerque, New Mexico for show number three. I was excited that we were playing with Laughing Dog again, hell I was excited that Laughing Dog was playing again, period. We had played the Launch Pad a few times before and it has always been a good time, and this would prove to be no exception. The room filled up really well, especially for a Tuesday night, and all the local bands were pretty killer – Torture Victim was a great crossover band, and Suspended was a really good all-girl Death Metal three-piece. There's a band description you don't hear too often! Unfortunately, I was grabbing dinner when Laughing Dog actually played, much to my disappointment, but hey, you gotta eat. I am really looking forward to hearing some new stuff from these guys. Anyway, we got back and started getting ready as Cephalic Carnage was entertaining the folks, and our show went really well. Steve from Cephalic ran our sound (for the rest of the whole tour, luckily!) and did a great job, and the kids were going mental. It was a great night, and the best show of the tour up to that point. The drive to Denver was pretty gnarly, though, so we loaded out, had a few beers in the parking lot and settled in (read – passed the fuck out) for the long night's ride.
We headed to Steve's house to once again bathe and nap, and old buddy Sherwood Webber (formerly of Skinless) came over and brought some beers for lunch. We hung out for a few hours before heading to the Marquis Theater, where Steve and Brian of Cephalic both work doing sound. Being in our tour-mates' hometown definitely did not hurt the draw, as the place was pretty fucking packed by the time the tour package was taking the stage. It was also great to catch up with ex-Cephalic bassists Jawsh and Patrick Russell, two great dudes. The show was really kickass, with a LOUD audience that makes our jobs onstage so much easier. Of course Steve knowing the soundboard like the back of his hand helped us sound as heavy as possible. Everything was going great until... we went to load out and I realized that someone had totally swiped Ted, the severed head prop that I pour blood out of at the end of every show. We frantically searched around and asked security, but no one had seen anything. I'm still pissed about that. What kind of fan steals an irreplaceable stage prop from a band? What a dick. At any rate, after my ire subsided to a manageable level, we hit the bar across the street for a couple more beers with Patrick and his girlfriend before piling back in the van. I really, really, really love having a driver on the road so there's always someone sober that hasn't just played to drive after shows. It's pretty much the best thing ever.
Touring in the west means that most drives are fairly long (and some can reach excruciating lengths, but there were hardly any of those on this tour), and the trek from Denver to Merriam Kansas (basically Kansas City) was no exception. We had already mapquested all the drives and were pretty hip to how long it would take, so there weren't too many surprises in that department. What we weren't prepared for was just how insanely hot the midwest is. Phoenix has nothing on Kansas (and Iowa for that matter). This show was cool because Origin would be joining us, a reprise of the Relapse Contamination tour Exhumed, Cephalic, and Origin did together in the summer of 2001, which was actually Origin's first tour. In fact, their original bassist, my old friend Doug Williams, was co-owner of the bar we played! The original plan for the night was that Origin would play between Cephalic and us, but because they were shooting a video that day, they opted to play a bit earlier so that they could stay set up from soundcheck. Their video shoot was appropriately raucous, and the rest of the show was a bit more subdued after the hometwon heroes left the stage, but still a great time.
"I've got a golden ticket - wait a second... What the fuck?!?!?" - Charlie
The next day was Des Moines, Iowa, a city we had never played before, so we didn't really know what to expect. The venue, Vaudeville Mews, was right next door to a great English-style pub with an excellent beer and Scotch selection. I spent my per diem pay on a glass of Dahlwhinnie Scotch. Mmmm... delicious and peaty. After a light lunch and a couple of drinks, we headed back to the venue once the show was getting underway. I was stoked to play with Black Market Fetus, who put on a great show for a rabid hometown audience. My friend Krista Spikes, who I used to work with at Necropolis Records way back when, was there with her husband, and it was really nice to catch up for a bit before we hit the stage. The turnout was actually pretty decent, although the venue was indescribably hot. I'm gonna digress here for a minute. When we play, I invariably sweat a lot, and when I do some of my longer screams, it's not uncommon for me to see stars and get light-headed, especially when the stage is particularly hot. That usually happens only once a night, though. This show took things to a whole new level. I saw stars three times, and finally during the first scream in “Open The Abscess” the entire room went white and I heard a loud buzzing in my ears that blanked out all the music – it sounded like an alarm clock from the 1970s, and it engulfed all the sound in the room for about 10 seconds. I just kept playing and hoping it would go away and that I wouldn't pass out. Luckily, I didn't pass out, and things returned to normal within 10 or 15 seconds. After we got done, I wrung out my shirt three times. I probably could have filled a medium soda cup with the sweat from that shirt. Gross. Anyway, that should give you an idea of just how fucking hot that place was. You can read a review of the show here. After the show, the venue closed quickly to re-open for a weird cover band / white rap thing, so we went back to the bar next door, played Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and the Scorpions on the jukebox, and drank a lot of Duvel and other good beer with the BMF guys and Cephalic, capping off a really fun night.
The next day we were due in Urbana, Illinois, for the Central Illinois Metalfest. Small-market cities with fests are always a little weird, but Matt Bishop, the promoter is an old penpal and a great guy, so I was psyched. We hit town around 9 in the morning or so, but were luckily able to find a hotel that could check us in immediately. We get some rest and got cleaned up and headed for the venue which was located in the college in town. Matt met us at the door, and we got set up with wristbands, drink tickets and all the stuff one needs at a fest, as well as a prime merch spot right across from Jon and Jill of Ibex Moon. It was killer running into a bunch of old friends like Jim and Don from Nunslaughter, Tom, Dave, and Adam from Cardiac Arrest, Dave from Insanity, Mark from Impetigo, Greg and Carly from Relapse Records, and of course the creeps in Gravehill. Also, Kristoff met us there with a much needed merchandise refill before we would head to Canada in a few days. The Gravehill set went over really well and was a lot of fun. Cardiac Arrest guitarist Tom Knizner who filled in for me in San Diego while I was on tour with Exhumed came out for the last two songs, which was awesome.
Gravehill gets all Maiden on your ass with three guitars - sorry Tom, that makes you Janick Gers!
Thankfully Rob and I had about four hours in between sets, so I headed back to the hotel for a shower before the Exhumed set got underway. We took the stage a bit behind schedule, but not too late, and the set went down pretty well, considering that it was nearly 1am - a lot of these all day / two-day / three-day events turn into endurance tests after a while. Like I said, festivals in small-market cities aren't particularly glamorous or anything, but all the folks there, attending and playing, were 100% into the whole thing, which is what really counts in the end anyway. We scarfed some pretty good pizza from the place next door and retired to the hotel for a few beers and bad tv (the Mary J. Blige “Behind The Music”- yeesh!) before crashing out.
The often imitated, never duplicated Wes Caley at CIM, doing what he does best: finger-tapping solos with his tongue out.
The next day was our only day off for the whole tour, and most of the band returned to the festival to catch Hod, Withered, and Macabre, but instead I went to the gym with Matt from Cephalic and then joined he and his bandmates to watch the Captain America movie, which was pretty damn good. Not as good as Iron Man or Thor, but still quite good. Steve and I ended up being the only ones that didn't go for the 3-D version of the film, so we had a popcorn tub intended to feed the 6 of us all to ourselves. I have never ate that much popcorn in one sitting in my life and I hope to never do so again. At any rate, before I bore you all with a tedious analysis of the film that calls upon my 30+ years of Marvel Comics readership, I'll stop here and resume this chronicle next time with a gripping account of our show in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm sure that alone has you on the edge of your collective seats. I know I'm about to piss myself in anticipation. Must... hold... on... until... the next... chapter – if only it's not... already... too.. late...
How's that for a cliffhanger?
See you next time for more thrills, chills, and spills with the usual gang of idiots!