Slow Down Molasses tour diary: “Slice of banality, bite of life”

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Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011
Saskatoon, SK

I am stewing in my journalist office job when a co-worker saunters in with a bag of chips. They are auspiciously labeled “Ballpark Hotdog” and boast flavours of mustard and relish. Despite a spate of missing people, armed robberies and civic property taxes rising 30 per cent since 2003, the wiener chips are easily the most newsworthy item of the day.

Reporters line up and dig in, their facial expressions encompassing both the headline and the review. The chips have a certain weird factor going on, but I realize I don’t know what a real hotdog tastes like anymore. A vegetarian for over a dozen years, the last ‘dog I remember eating was a high school boys-only trip to the lake. I can only assume the reason I retained this memory was due to my best friend getting alcohol poisoning at a remote northern Saskatchewan cabin.

I eye the clock, lick greasy lips and fidget uncontrollably. My band, Slow Down Molasses, is off for a weekend tour of Alberta. I contemplate what thrills me most about the tour. The shows seem pretty solid. I am stoked on seeing certain friends. And I am thrilled to get away from my desk for three whole days.

The truth, however, is that I am mostly jazzed on the eats in restaurants in cities I don’t live in.

The “Ballpark Hotdog” chips churn in my stomach and I realize that once again I forgot to check a label for meat products.

Friday, Nov. 25, 2011
Calgary, AB
@ The Gateway

A pretty girl has given me an organic baguette made from what I suspect is kamut flour. It’s a startlingly appropriate gift – I spend several minutes fashioning a massive Dijon-and-cheddar sandwich, which causes me to forget to pack other tour essentials. Toothbrush, allergy pills, megaphone, extra guitar strings, dental dams and spare socks are quickly neglected and left at home. I do remember to grab a few pieces of well-intentioned fruit for the six-hour drive. Once in the van however, Jeanette shares a bag of cookies with me. I shrug, pop several pieces of sugary confection in my mouth, and crack a beer. It’s nearly lunchtime.

We stop in Kindersley, which yields bags of chips, corn nuts and a pee break, before finally getting another rest stop in Hanna, Alberta. Ryan insists we eat at a derelict-looking Burger Baron. Visions of a drunken Chad Kroeger helming a deep fryer abound. I conjecture eating here would be the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with a janky condom, resulting in bloated stomachs, morning sickness and the feeling that you have essentially ruined your life. Ryan eventually concedes defeat – everyone is eating Subway minutes later.

The Gateway is one of my favourite venues we have played at, despite being the antithesis of a slummy rock club. The staff is friendly and helpful and the room is cavernous and clean – typical college hangout. The place is packed with students who are engaged in some good old-fashioned binge drinking. We carry amps onstage and are immediately catcalled by several dudes. I can’t tell if they are stoked on seeing me play a G chord or if busting my teeth with a bottle of gin is relevant to their interests. I start tuning my guitar and look up in time to see a tiny woman tipple over a massive bar stool, smashing her skull and pint glass. I sound check with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and nearly cause a bro riot.

Being in a band can be hard, thankless work. I’ve been spat on, slapped and made the subject of fun. But venues like The Gateway make it all seem worthwhile. Backstage there are veggie trays, fruit, granola bars and bottles of water. Also, massive amounts of beer. We are informed we are being fed as well – “order anything off the menu,” says the promoter, “but don’t order the fries.” Everyone gets burgers and salads. Tellingly, I take the promoter up on her dare – I get fries. Tellingly, everyone helps themselves to the contents of my plate.

Our set is fun, competent and energetic. It’s sort of what Slow Down Molasses does now without trying too hard. Meh. Openers Lorrie Matheson and his backing band play awesomely, flexing several power-pop muscles simultaneously to achieve that vein-y ‘90s bulge.

Unfortunately, there are few people there to watch. Hours previous about a dozen police officers are called to the club. According to staff, a patron has consumed four pitchers of beer, causing him to forget about at least two of them. Outraged at his ostentatious bill, he dials 911. The club takes him up on the challenge and also dial 911.

In the end he is made to pay his totally unreasonable $40 bar tab. He and his friends are banned for life. Or at least from our show. The hecklers have been weeded out and few are able to appreciate the Blundstone-clad high kicks.

Tubby Dog

After the show I am momentarily hoodwinked by Saskatoon friends who ply me with backseat whiskey and a ride downtown to Broken City. We crush cans of Lucky and watch a fairly banal band play before heading over to Tubby Dog. It is my quasi-ex’s birthday. I watch her drunkenly cram a “Yogi Bear” ketchup dog into her mouth. I make a mental note – she still rules. I get a “Sumo” not dog, which makes me unreasonably happy. I used to despise Calgary for nearly a decade. I think it had something to do with the never-ending concrete, the knee-jerk agrarian politics and women who were far too vixened for me to handle. Nowadays mouthfuls of soy, seaweed and wasabi are all it takes to put me in a good mood. I saunter back to Joey’s for sleep. Finding a spot on his living room floor, I rock and cradle my stomach. It gurgles and kicks – I coo. Together, we fall asleep.

Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011
Edmonton, AB
@ The Haven Social Club

The next morning Joey and I had back towards Tubby Dog. Breakfast dog? Why not. Except it’s 9 am. We relent and eat at The Coup, which is slightly more money than I care to spend on a breakfast that isn’t a hot dog. But it is also delicious and whompingly vegetarian.

Stuffed once again, all I really feel like doing is laying down. Apparently the gamut of touring these days is eating at wacky restaurants and attending rock shows. I think about all the places I have traveled to non-tour styles. A precursory itinerary shows a lot of tacos, record stores and sly beers. It takes very little to make me happy apparently. So why don’t I do this more often? I make a mental note to get my other band, The Eyebats, on the road. Our set is less than 10 minutes long anyway – more time to go eat.

Slow Down Molasses makes the leisurely drive north to Edmonton as I munch on a Vietnamese sub I purchased more out of duty than hunger. We arrive and check out The Royal Bison Craft Fair. I immediately go and bear hug Raymond, who has flown in from my days of living in Montreal. I’ve missed him but mostly his pitching voice, which varies from dude-falsetto (happy) to low drawl (business). I purchase a DIY graphic novel from new-bro Josh Holinaty before being spirited off to The Black Dog for pints with Garrett, the other half of his and Raymond’s The Famines.

This is my first time playing at this venue. But The Haven Social Club is already in my good books – they give us each a menu and tell us to order whatever we want. I get another veg burger and fries. I’m already drunk and greasy carbs pugilistically pounding it out with the alcohol is a fight I am willing to bet on – The Montreal Canadiens game, sadly, is one that I am glad I did not.

Doug Hoyer

Up first is Doug Hoyer, who is clad in an all-white suit. I note that he is smarter than I am and didn’t eat supper in his stage clothes. His show is by far the most compelling and kooky I have seen in a long time. Slow Down Molasses play competently and are joined onstage by Edmonton gal-pal Kristjana. The headliners, the laughably-named Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, are actually far better than I initially give them credit for. The singer proposes to his girlfriend mid-set and I, feeling slightly left out, start making snarky comments to anyone who will listen – the Internet being a person in this case.

Post-rock show drunkenness is one of my favourite things. Everyone is usually in a good mood. We probably got paid. And we are about to embark on one of my favourite late night adventures: pizza. Tellingly, we pick the sketchiest dive on Whyte Ave. They take unreasonably long to make our food, which is strange considering how terrible it sort of is. I am compelled to write them an email suggesting they change their slogan to “we fuck pizza and then put it in you” but decline. I’m tired and full of congealing agents. I’ve done enough damage with my iPhone for the evening. Mercifully, I pass out on Laurie’s couch in a cheese coma.

Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011
En route back to Saskatoon, SK.

We breakfast at B’s Diner, which always makes me sad. The owner, a jovial man with good spirits and a cruel sense of humour, apparently lost his son to an accident years back. In the menu there is a Tiger Burger – “dedicated to my son Jeremy.” Despite the tragedy, I am always happy to eat at B’s.

On our way home, we stop in Lloydminster for liquor. $50 yields approximately 48 beers. The part of me that appreciates a good deal high-fives the part of me that likes cheap alcohol. Ryan, straight edge drummer extraordinaire, purchases multiple bags of chips. We don’t really need to eat that many chips. But I likely don’t need to drink that many beers.

Like so many tours, this one seems to have gone full circle. Kristine has purchased chips entitled “Thick Cut Pizza”. One bite in and they have already slayed their odious “Ballpark Hotdog” counterpart. We spend the rest of the trip pounding van beers and crunching on salt, relieved that once again nothing terrible has happened.

Monday, Nov. 28, 2011
Saskatoon, SK.

Back at work, I stare wordlessly at my mid-afternoon snack of plain salteens.

For more on the trip, including pictures, visit New Music Michael’s blog.