After the high-water mark of New Hampshire, we were heading relentlessly south as the tour continued. The drives were getting longer and the air was getting heavier. The Atlantic Coast in summertime has a tendency to be like a sauna, particularly as you head into Florida. I remarked to John that it was hotter than a Mexican arsehole as we drove through Virginia into North Carolina, and he laughed long and hard, telling me to wait for Miami.
The south is a fascinating place. As you cross the old Mason Dixon line, you really do feel like you’re entering another country. It’s a culture much mythologized and maligned, but I have to say I’m a big fan – people are unfailingly polite, and everything has a well-worn, ancient feel to it. We stopped in a restaurant for some lunch and some phone interviews, and the walls were festooned with old photos of previous owner couples, high school football teams and so on. There was 4th July bunting still hanging from the porch, and hyper-slick over-produced country videos playing on the TV. We had burgers and shakes. It felt like the ’50s.
The show in Charlotte, North Carolina, was in an outside amphitheater, and by time I got onstage the weather was perfect, and anyway we were both over the moon to be out of the fucking car after nine hours’ drive. I was a little cautious as to how a more southern audience would handle my material, especially the “cuss” words, but in the event the show went down fine. The only small downside of the evening was that we broke our tour-long commitment to not paying for any hotels. A stage shout-out for somewhere to stay was impractical and perhaps a little much for the Carolinans, so we ended up in a Super 8 by the highway. In fairness it was great to sleep in beds, have cable TV and air-conditioning and so on. So, not a massive problem then.
The next day was an off day for the Offspring, but we were due in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to play a show with Sum 41 as the headliners, at the House Of Blues. Another long drive and another few notches on the thermometer brought us to a tourist beach town that has a large marine population. Many moons ago I was a little dismayed to discover that the House Of Blues was a chain (rather than there being just the one in, say, Mississippi). But they’re great venues on the whole and this was no exception. Once again I was a little nervous for the show, because I was playing as direct support, with punk bands on either side of me. I feel like having an acoustic act at the beginning is less controversial, and thus less likely to excite any arseholes in the crowd into life. Locals Hand Grenade opened up competently enough, and after a slightly nervy start I had a great gig to a packed house. Those kind of shows always end on a high, so I enjoyed hanging out and watching Sum 41 from the merch table, doing swift business and drinking with some colourful punters, including a man who said “Awesome!” more times in 10 minutes than I have in my entire life to date. Good times. As the show finished we high-tailed it to our car to escape paying merch fees (which, incidentally, are the biggest fucking con this shitty business has yet devised), and were met by a crowd of people waiting by the stage door. Cue silly antics with a video camera and an attempt to high-5 100 people in 10 seconds (didn’t work).
We drove into the night to try and knock some hours off the next days’ drive and got another motel. I feel like American motels get a bad rap actually – they’re generally pretty clean and comfortable in my experience, and pretty damn cheap too. Our next drive took us into Florida (via Georgia), our final state. Some mapless genius had booked the tour so that we drove past St Augustine down to Orlando, just so we could go back north the next day, and then south again the next day to Miami. Argh. Anyway, we made it, a little carsick, to Orlando, for a show at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is in the heart of the Universal complex, which is basically Disneyland. Despite the horrible mix of schlock, concrete and terrible urban planning that surrounded it, the venue was actually really nice, and was packed out for what I felt like was one of my best sets of the tour.
After playing I hooked up with some old buddies – Look Mexico, a band from Florida who I toured with in the USA in March (you should check them out – they rule). As well as being well-honed face-rockers, they’re very nice dudes as well, and boy they can drink. Before anyone drew up a coherent plan there was wrestling in the dressing room, me haranguing the Offspring guys into doing Jager shots with me before they went on, manic singalongs to ‘Come Out & Play’ on the side of the stage, and a retreat to Hunter’s house (a friend of John’s) for another short set from me in a Michael Jackson latex face-mask. You read that right. I succeeded in scoring a bed to sleep in (again!) and conked out hard, getting some rest in before my killer hangover.
The bad news, the following morning, was the hangover. The good news was the short drive back up north to St Augustine Amphitheater. This show was outside again, but being quite a way south of Charlotte, it was a whole different humidity deal. I was sweating like a pig before I even got onto the stage, and by the end, well, it wasn’t pretty. My treasured last few clean clothes were running low fast. Thankfully Mark, the Offspring’s stage manager, took pity on me and gave me some clean pairs of socks to tide me over until I got home. Legend. We spent the night at John’s mum’s (mom’s?) house in town and had a pretty quiet evening of it. Hey, everyone needs a night off every now and again.
Our final 5 hour drive south to Pompano Beach, near Miami, went smoothly, although it started dawning on me that the tour was nearly done. Being a musician, I find, means spending an inordinate amount of time feeling slightly nostalgic – the end of every tour is a mini version of leaving a school or a university, tinged with regret and bittersweet goodbyes. We hadn’t bonded with the other bands as much as you usually do on a smaller tour (which is to be expected at this level), but we had been hanging out a bit more. I was also certainly going to miss John. The last show was outside again, and this time we were joined by John’s older brother, Frank. Just before the gates opened, a serious motherfucker of a storm swept across the sky, fearsome black cloud moving visibly quickly and bringing ominous gusts of cold air. It looked like something out of Independence Day. The heavens opened for a short while, drenching the dedicated first arrivals, but it wrapped up just before I took the stage. Weird. No longer concerned for how my voice would be the next night, I gave it my all, sweated buckets, broke a string or two and had a fun show. We hung around to watch the other bands for the last time, and bid everyone tearful (and tequila-stained) goodbyes at the end of the night. After stopping off briefly at a houseparty on the way home, we crashed out soundly at Frank’s place.
This morning John dropped me at the airport. As we munched bagels and coffee in a hangover haze, we talked about the lives we’ve chosen to lead, lives lived in passing, on the move, in transit. It’s something that you can hone and perfect, but on some basic level I feel like you’re either cut out for it or not. And if you are then hell, it gets in your blood, and nothing else will do. As Townes Van Zandt put it, much better than I ever could, “Where you’ve been is good and gone, all you keep’s the getting there”. In other words, we fucking love our jobs, we do. We hugged, realized we’re seeing each other in less than a month, stopped being such utter pussies, and parted ways.
So there it is. Quite an experience. When I read back the first entry in this diary, Buffalo and Donny’s place seem like a million years ago. That’s the other reason I love this – I feel like I’ve lived a few years in 3 weeks. There’s so much to be packed into life when you’re on tour. I met some old friends, some heros, made some new ones, played to a lot of people. America is fucking great, all in all. I’m endlessly fascinated by its culture and endlessly charmed by its people. I’m back in September with The Gaslight Anthem and I can’t wait.