The North Shore area of Massachusetts is not somewhere I’d been before, but it ended up being one of those places that makes me wonder out loud why on earth I live in London. We got up slowly at Matt’s house to a glorious cloudless day. We wandered a few minutes down the road to get coffee and bagels and then strolled over to a small grassy park above the Atlantic coast with our host and his children. It was blissful. I have a little idiosyncrasy born of an ancient Greek tradition: when I reach a new shore I wash my feet in the sea. I managed to convince Evan to join me, and felt pretty good gazing out over the bay in the warm sun with cold water lapping on my toes. I could understand why pilgrims arriving from the old world would have stayed here.
After washing the salt water off my feet in Matt’s paddling pool, I put my shoes back on and we headed over to the Deathwish Records office, a few blocks away, where Matt also works. Here we saw Jake from Converge again, who was working on the artwork for their new album (hint: it’s awesome). They kindly piled me up with some label swag as well, including filling all the remaining gaps in my Converge record collection. So it was with a slightly heavy heart that John and I bade farewell to Evan (who was flying home that day) and Matt and headed north towards New Hampshire.
Being an (old) Hampshire boy born and bred, I was interested to see what was so damn snappy about the upgrade version. In the event it turns out that NH is pretty, and pretty empty. The show that night was in Gilford (it’s *Guildford* people, christ) at an outdoor amphitheater. People kept telling us we were in hippy country, and the crowd were certainly receptive to my set. The other events for the evening were the fact that the winners of a local competition were opening the bill (John’s favourite new band…), and the fact that Sum 41 take a masseuse on tour with them. I fucking love a good massage, I do, so while they were onstage I availed myself of a thorough backrub. Lovely. At the end of the night we returned south to Matt’s place, en route to Philadelphia.
The following morning Matt and family took us for breakfast in Salem, famous for its stringent policies towards witches, back in the day. In fact, given that what we’re essentially discussing is mob hysteria and murder, the gusto with which the town celebrates its “heritage” was a touch tasteless, but there you go. Breakfast was awesome, and then John and I set off on part 2 of our trek down the coast. Today’s engagement was at my friend Jon’s house. Jon played in a band called Barlights who I did some shows with a few years back, and he’d offered to put on a show in the punk house he lived in (the Titan House) in Philly. More so than in the UK, American is populated with these little almost-squats, generally in the poorer end of town, generally a ton of fun. We showed up at 5pm or so, got some food, and waited for the evening’s festivities to begin.
People often ask if I prefer bigger or smaller shows, and the answer is that the size is immaterial: the key ingredient of a show is atmosphere, and for that everyone, audience and performers alike, needs to pitch in. By the time I got set up to play we had about 100 people crammed into the small front room of the house. The air was hot and humid, with the paltry ceiling fan singularly failing to make any difference. John was crouched at my feet leaning back to try and stop the front row, inches away from me, from smashing the microphone into my teeth. Everyone sang along at the top of their voices, and I can honestly say that it was one of the top 3 most awesome shows that I’ve ever played. The awesomeness was boosted by the fact that I’ve never actually played in Philadelphia before. Madness.
Post-gig euphoria, combined with a bottle of Jack Daniels donated by straight edge Matt (thanks very much), produced a late night and a painful morning, made all the more painful by Titan housemate Dave’s propensity to run around in purple body stockings at an early hour. The downside of punk houses is sleeping on dirty sofas under dirty sheets and not getting a shower, but it’s a small price to pay. A solid breakfast put us back in high spirits and we set off for Baltimore.
I was excited about hitting this next city, mainly because I’m a huge fan of The Wire. Unfortunately, given the nature of the show, it’s not exactly easy to go sightseeing around town – the sets are either so generically urban as to be unnoticeable, or in areas of the city where you’re more than likely to get jacked. So we stuck around the city centre, sharing a beer and an interview with friend and cohort from the previous evening Katt (from DC). The club was almost impossible to locate, signified only by a scrap of paper stuck on a door. Despite this slightly worrying first impression, it was a cool venue, and the turnout was a pleasant surprise – more than 100 people – which made for another fun show. In truth I was a little sad to see the last of my headline shows over here be done. They’re a pretty useful morale booster in between the faceless megashows. I can’t complain though – all of my own shows on this trip have been great.
After the show we drove a few miles south to stay with Wes, an old friend of John’s, who lives outside Washington DC. He was deliciously southern – the accent, the manners, the boisterousness, and the goddamn motherfucking Pantera tattoo. We happily a cappella’d most of “Far Beyond Driven” whilst slamming whiskies at the bar, which meant that by time we got back to his place I was out like a light, and a little further south, a little closer to the end of the tour.