Monday, April 27, 2009
Flint Happens Across America
Heading out on their first tour across America, the Kinetic Stereokids had every notion to be ecstatic about soaking the experience in, but simultaneously the focus primarily lied on getting their name imprinted in college cities down the Eastern coast.
While passing over 4,000 miles of incomplete white/yellow lines, a story, rather stories wrote themselves. Looking for sex, not here, all band members came in with girlfriends and chased home to get to them. Looking for drugs, too late, a brief glimpse at some meds one night, about it. The music is obviously a mainstay, but most prevalent is the drama. At only 27 years old, they're eleven years into their venture and rewinding half that, stars aligned. Opening for headlining acts on National tours, playing premiere venues in Detroit, the accelerator was on the floor, only they chose to crash the moving vehicle by building bridges with contacts through reckless behavior. Now, they're left attempting to drive through those bridges.
"wherever we go, we bring Flint with us" - justin ford (frontman)
Mike Steibel...Mike Steibel...Mike Steibel, seems to be tattooed on all their worn lips. Truth breathes an intriguing, yet lame figure. A highly creative source to the band, who in extended lapses no longer figures in the band. Wearying 'behind the music' drama spanning years has generated restraint from inclusion on being a full fledged touring member. Present scramble of molding what was a 5 piece into a trio spotlights missing pieces to a finished puzzle. Yet, resolving the issue by making it a permanent change proves challenging as the man in question shares artistic control. Further question marks pertain to band cohesiveness, with members residing sporadically via Detroit, Flint and Chicago; it's difficult to co-ordinate practices, let alone schedule advanced weekend gigs. But for this initial tour across the country, their alter livelihoods were booked off to delve full throttle into this great quest. With the first tour gigs scraping off any rust, KSK were polished by the time they graced the stage at Divan Orange in Montreal. Strutting their vast instrumentation in garnering everyone's ears and equally competitive eyes, the boys didn't disappoint, only a lazy Sunday turnout did.
As the chill of a windy Montreal March night hit, hid away in all night diner munching on poutine, we pined to head south in search of warmth and more importantly crowds. On with the nerve racking border crossing, the highway crawling fog and picturesque mountain greenery and scenery filling Vermont.
Pulling into Burlington is in accordance with confronting any one exit city, really we're there? Without a booked gig, KSK audibled storming a popular open mic venue entitled 'Radio Beam' to unmask local hippies needs. Ostensibly, the opposite occurred as attention was warranted for the circus acts that filed through the cozy room that evening. From dreadlocked college Caucasians playing sitar, a paraplegic comedian placing no laughs with stories of cancer, an egotistical guitarist from over hyped local band masturbating his craftwork to no takers, to the grandiose finale of a notorious hobo and ex child offender 'the birdman' stealing the mic for his erratic, yet well polished and city wide known 'five cent version of flavor flav' rap. Surprisingly, the city stuck as the most memorable stop on the trip, how else to file a night that also included spotting a man licking a tree, 6 years of dissension and ignorance between childhood friends melted away and squatting in the banquet hall of a hotel.
With a limited budget, sleeping arrangements are tentatively booked, left to float on economical alternatives. Reality proved radical for struggling musicians. From a roadie's stain drenched carpet, to squirming a suite on top of the Renaissance, taking cover on friend's futons, and staying in the 'cinema room' at a band relative's mansion. Yet, worth exaggerating was the accomplishment had at the Holiday Inn in Burlington. Booked across the street at the Ramada, we ventured testing the market strolling into the opposition lobby, confronting a red faced Irishman steaming about a lack of staff presence, antsy we shouted about to no avail, snooped our sneakers around many a corners and pushed against a door declaring 'oak room'. Emerging was an unfinished banquet room with carpets strewn about, a sun roof, dimmer, convenient exit falling into the parking lot and check-in free hassle. Shrugging shoulders hurried out nabbed their backpacks and barricaded themselves in for the night.
With a tour planned by office chair, bookings are not all sunsets upon confrontation, odds propel the existence of Spinal Tap moments of pulling up to a venue, and grasping it’s simply a coffee shop; enter Cambridge, Mass. and ‘Café Luna’.
After whipping through dismal Boston, we reach the heart of college cities. Rather than playing to a mass at the premiere spot 'Middle East', the band stages a Starbucks reminiscent coffee house across the street. Squeezed in tightly to the sobering environment, a quieter set is elected, involving minimal movement, yet still tweaks some ears.
With so little of the day consuming music, the glamour of being 'on the road' quickly fades as you find yourself passing cityscape's in Laundromats, department stores, idle at venues, loading-in loading-out, bars, restaurants, highway rest stops. Romantic laid out on paper, tour stops are a wash in what eyes retain, assessing strictly on a street or two perched on for 6 hours.
Post stopping and starting with America's well harvested highway toll booths, the GPS throws you around a corner onto a street the garbage truck seemingly frequents, yet reassurance "arriving at destination". All you see is some back alley exit covered in spray paint. This is Brooklyn and this is where the music rats crawl at night.
Brooklyn, New York.
Straight from 6am wakeup in Cambridge, it's a race to ViVa Radio headquarters in Brooklyn for a noon radio recording. Arriving on Flatbush, to surmise the next 6 hours would be painfully spent in a squeezed box above American Apparel. From there a direct steer to the evening's venue, the aforementioned high ceiling, two room, warehouse styled 'Public Assembly'. NYC being host to the bands label 'Overdraft Recordings', shapes up a prime showcase and as the mic is approached, the room gets stuffy. In typical hipster form, the crowd looks unimpressed throughout, arms crossed and no movement as the band wear out their tools. When KSK crash to a halt and descend the stage they sweat over the poor reception, only to be informed that the majority were blown away, NEW YORK!
KSK eat molasses, hence a free day in nyc results in Central park, the post office, a bank, dinner in Chinatown, and that's it! Taking care of business more than tourism, a theme for travelling musicians. Vast free time is further spent hating on nyc subway delays, getting carded at every bar, wasting money on a Japanese act at the 'Knitting Factory' and watching the whole band go down with illness. One evening we took cover under the label heads abode in Brooklyn. Mike Koueiter also roles as a lawyer in Times Square who has bled a fair chunk of his funds towards his belief in this band.
I opened dialogue with said man regarding why KSK's live shows exclude the song of their recently released debut video. Revealed was the age-old battle of band conformity vs artistry. Essentially the stubbornness to play their public pleasing card over personal desires. Although in excellent standing relationship, Koueiter has debated at length with them, the need to pull audiences in, with song requests falling on plugged ears. In the bands words, they don't want to give a false representation of who they are, preferring artistic freedom to a controlled plan. Accordingly, they've been playing those songs so long, they attest to being 5 years ahead of the recently released album and want the live act to coincide.
Overall, the 5 day layover seemed like a perfect stay, but turned into a burden, as the lull brought a halt in momentum and depression of questioning purpose. Fortunately, the tension and frustration brought about the most electric set of the tour.
Rain trickles in unison with our Tetris packed rental minivan moving along the I-something to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Mid afternoon we find ourselves among sparse in the unofficial Tar Heels sports bar, the bartender placing the KSK album into the stereo system and kindly evaluating its merit, a New York lawyer judging in favor enough to commit to the nights gig.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Hunting down 'The Cave' for the night's conquest, we encounter truth to the name. Locating the tunnel squeezed beneath a building, with its shallow roof melting on patrons, we encounter the owner, a four foot version of Matthew McConaughey. He advises to give a shout out mid-performance for sleeping quarter suitors (three parties end up tussling). Further evidencing southern hospitality, he directs us to some hunger quenching diners affording some of that all gravy, all fried action their cuisine is established for. With the day darkening, the stage is set, KSK anxiously await sonically relieving themselves all over the local acts draw. Past taking their spots and putting hands to work, the connection and intensity between the band is electric, felt by all. Although all bringing their 'A' game individually, it seems unspoken tongues further surround the core, creating unfathomable sonic bliss. They give until their allotted time won't give anymore, punishing with a ferocity, that leaves them bleeding all over their equally injured instruments.
As the clock ticks around musicians, hangers on are belittled regarding their interest in music. Creative, creative beings, when not making beats in moving vehicles or recording subway sounds for samples, their ears were booked listening back on the previous shows audio, noting mistakes, talking what worked, debating next set list. Stepping into a record shop peaks the demeaning and proves challenging to walk away witnessing their wallets spend less than $100.
Noting we were within 3 miles, it proved awkward and disappointing to only note our surroundings as cattle and farms, till finally the city opens up and slaps you across the face. Basically a few drawn out streets, suddenly present bar after restaurant after bar and blood hits the veins, excitement arises. If only it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day and you weren’t playing some hidden, heavily encased, dark dump. With more of the crowd playing the show than witnessing, Athens was a wash, but as usual KSK didn't check out, rather they excrete sonic imagining a packed house. In celebration of the $0 pocketed for the 16 hour combined driving dedication, KSK proceeds to take advantage of the free Pabst Blue Ribbon offered up. Sauced, they play their pseudo act 'back seat drivers' as I steer through eighteen cop loving checkpoints exiting the U of Georgia vicinity to crash at the opening acts confines neighboring Atlanta.
"when you smoke, it's like you're playing in a different band, I mean you're a good band, but its like listening to two bands at the same time" - j.ford directed at Tony Vu (drummer)
Omnipresent with music is obviously the drugs, and although KSK has pretty much docked that ship, it has heavily influenced the path leading to their present state. However, there is no moral to the story here, it has hit both sides of the fence. The in excuse, those drugs allowed the courage to make what has been made. From aiding the formation of their sound, to their artwork and musical influences, substances have had an assist. They've also formed a stronger bond among the group, as they foiled and toiled in alter experiences together. The out excuse, at the age you start abusing drugs/alcohol to the extent of forming an addiction, you become stagnant in the mentality/frame of mind of that age/time forever. Matter of factly, the missing members of this band remain stuck dealing with their personal demons, out of the bigger picture.
How could the tour be swung without the van breaking down, suiting an emergency oil change layover in Biloxi, Mississippi. The rewards, breathing time at a seafood joint the monkey George W. munched at, doing our own Hurricane Katrina surveillance and tasting the Gulf of Mexico. As carbon wore back on the pavement, and the tank guzzled empty, we hit a Texas rest stop and uncovered treasure, connected to it was the world's dingiest casino, red neck central. These sights helped us humorize the 16hour drive mapping Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the don't mess with state. At last, the pinnacle, the reason for rolling the vehicles mileage, arrival at the most important music festival in North America.
Imagining a small town completely wrapped with South by Southwest, the highway drive by painted a sizable city without inclination of a daunting music scene. But curving along to the '6th street' exit, wheels confront blockades withholding the cowboy boots, moustaches, skinny jeans and aviators of hipster college. Literally inhabiting 20 square blocks, sxsw accompanies your mood with either a glimpse of sonic heaven or a depressing sense of music overload. Endless bars sandwiched within the festival grounds present bands from noon to ears content.
Of these bands, the Stereokids in their second life of the festival are shown a couple noon bookings. Stuck trying to entice the early risers to hug the scorching heat on a patio proves challenging. Actually playing to only a handful at a highly populated festival pours frustration, dictating an indifferent 30 minute set upstairs at the 'Blind Pig'. Turning the clock ahead a day, with the minivan fuelled up for the first stretch of a 24 hour trek home to Flint, KSK brace to expel all remaining energy on the outer brim of sxsw in the final gig of the tour. As the band kicks into the set, the sounds a rarity with the live show mirroring the album recording, heavy on samples, Tony weighing light on the drums, but as time slips in come the loops, experimental jamming and heavier beats. Crowd reaction brought a reminder of why the music game is continually recycled and played again and again. Lunching with separate families, a pair of young teenagers happen upon this Irish pub showing, enthralled midway through KSK's opening song, both race for the merch table, inquiring on iTunes availability, but picking up the physical lp nonetheless. Back in their respective seats, they record the name and swallow every chord of the set. When Justin crescendos all by throwing his guitar, pulling the cord on the static, without hesitation the tastemakers of the future bound towards the band to make acquaintance and get autographs on their new discs. Quietly loading out, a serene smile is shared, while the tour may not have reaped in green, it ends with the original purpose had, getting the name Kinetic Stereokids out there for all the right reasons!
For audio of Viva Radio Recording go here. Footage of the Montreal stop on the tour. Finally, Check out the KSK rating in Toronto Star.
Labels: Music Manipulation