The Smugglers “Suntans Are For Winners” California Tour 2004

 

Wed May 19, Chain Reaction, Anaheim CA (w/ the Groovie Ghoulies, the Phenomenauts, Treephort)

As is the case with most Smugglers tours these days, we luxuriously arranged to fly in for these Californian tour dates. As is the case with most Smugglers tours these days, our arrival into LAX had the potential to be a complete organizational disaster, but thanks to precise advanced planning and lots of luck, the five members of our band managed to fly in on four different airlines from all three countries in North America to meet up in LAX within an hour of all of our arrivals. The highest stress flight was Beez’ (surprise!), as he was coming in from “Oaxaca” Mexico (where he and his wife are currently living high on the hog after Beez hit the jackpot when he sold his shares at the phone sex company) but… ole! No problemo, Senor Pantsdown! Minutes after Dave, Graham, Nick and Grant met up, out bounded a tanned, slim somewhat relaxed and smiling Beez, ready to rock a new fault line into the state of California!

But before there was any rocking to do, we first had to make the rounds throughout steaming LA to gather up our merchandise and equipment. First stop was Silver Lake to see Ronnie from the Muffs, who lives off the flotsam and jetsam of Ebay and happily received all our merch packages for us; then to the Echo Park Film Centre to borrow a snare drum from former Canadian indie rock star Lisa Marr; then off to the Black Market music shop in West Hollywood where we discovered that this tres-cool store run by LA’s garage rock elite rents only broken amps; then off to a massive amplifier rental house in downtown Hollywood that has just about anything any rocker could ever want. And it was here that we chocked up our first bonafide celebrity sighting: Rivers Comeau of Weezer!! He ignored us!!

Finally, on the I-5 South to romantic Anaheim California for gig number 1. As most people are likely aware, Anaheim really just has not too much to offer except for Disneyland, and a few surrounding malls and entertainment centres so we had no clue what was in store (Dave won a shiny loonie for being the first to spot the shimmering peak of the Matterhorn). Turns out the Chain Reaction is in a run-down, sun-baked strip mall off the side of the highway – a foreboding description to be sure, but this gig turned out to be pretty fun for an “opening night”.

Each of the first three bands were given twenty-five minute sets, which may sound a little ridiculous, but being fresh off the flights, we didn’t complain. The Phenomenauts were a rockabilly Man Or Astro-Man? complete with gags like lazers, flash pots and massive balloons. Treephort were a bizarre, unique punk rock band, which, sadly, is an increasingly rare find. A high energy four piece, Treephort’s phorte was essentially the lead singer’s between song rants. Whether they happened to be about school yard politics or the merits of Bill Paxton, this dude, who looked like a cross between the Bare Naked Ladies lead doofus and Urquel, had the crowd in hysterics the entire show. Until the finale. That’s when the guitarist took centre stage, slowly stripping down to a tiny g-string while standing on his head. He then began rubbing some sort of chemical all over his penis and testes, and then completely shocked the entire crowd by proceeding to LIGHT HIS COCK AND BALLS ON FIRE. Yes, to reiterate, the guitarist of Treephort was hopping madly about the stage with HIS COCK AND BALLS ON FIRE. Incredible.

Beez was later overheard saying to the promoter: “I loved Treephort – I’ve never seen anything like that on stage before, and believe me, bitch, I’ve seen it all. I’ve smuggled hash out Morocco, started a riot in Denver, shat my pants in Tokyo and dated a fifteen year old when I was 30, and after all that, I have the authority to say that Treephort have a great show”.

Admittedly stage-struck by Treephort’s wild antics, we played our 25 minutes, reminded ourselves how our songs went, did some rapid-fire California NHL trivia (Q: what was the last California team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals? A: Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Q: what was the last California team do it before Anaheim? A: Los Angeles Kings. Q: In what year? A: 1993. Q: Name three Canadians who owned LA Kings season tickets that in 1993? A: Alan Thicke, John Candy, Michael J. Fox) and got the fuck off the stage.

The Groovie Ghoulies were the Groovie Ghoulies: they are what is great and what is missing in most rock n roll. If you don’t know what that is, come over to my place for a three way. I’ll show you what’s what.

 

Thu May 20, Old Ironsides, Sacramento CA (w/ the Black Dahlias, the Knockoffs, the Hangmen)

We took the “picturesque” route up to the Capital City on this day, driving through towns like Bakersfield, Fresno, and Stockton, instead of the usual I-5 speedway. Always take the route less chosen. Or something like that.

We played Old Ironsides just a year ago and this show was pretty similar to that in that it was flat-out fun with a lot of great people in attendance. Also like last time, the Sacramento bands playing were awesome. The Black Dahlias rocked, featuring our pal and tour t-shirt designer Adam Miller (also of the Mallrats) as well as the legendary Matt K (who plays in all sorts of Sac-Town bands, including the Ghoulies for a stretch). The Knockoffs, who played next, are probably one of the best bands to ever come out of this town. Think Heartbreakers, Dragons, Stones, and Dictators and you’re on the right track. The right stuff.

This show was very special for us because it featured the extremely rare sighting of one Mr. Larry Livermore, co-founder of Lookout, and dear friend and supporter of the Smugglers for many years. But as the song states, it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen Larry, but also like the song states, he tends to show up in unlikely locales. Chock Sacramento up as one of them. It was an odd thrill to play “Larry Where Are You?” with a grinning Larry standing right in front of us. Stranger still, this is the first time we’ve seen him since even before we wrote that song, hence the song. Get it?

And so the set rolled on with lots of requests being yelled out, one of which was the soggy old tune “Alan Thicke”. We hadn’t played it since Grant royally butchered it at the Brickyard in March so out it came for another try, and we managed to pull it off a plunder. Next up we decided on a whim to hold our latest on-stage contest “Top the Tattoo” (the avid reader will recall our premiere of this contest at our outrageous fuck-fest gig in Victoria in April of 2004. Basically, the premise is someone gets on stage and shows what they consider to be a pretty great tattoo, and we see if anyone can “top” it. The owner of the best tattoo gets to blow Grant. And win a new CD). Pushing through the crowd came a strapping young man who bounded up onto the 15 cm high stage and proclaimed he had a tattoo that he thought we’d really dig. Whatever. BUT… to our total and utter SHOCK, this man rolled up his sleeve and produced a LIVING, PULSING, FLEXING, PERMANENT SHOULDER TATTOO OF… ALAN THICKE!!! We were all totally and utterly flabbergasted. And this wasn’t even the guy who requested the song “Alan Thicke”!! It was a total coincidence!! When jabbering to the guy after the show, it turns out he just REALLY likes Alan Thicke and in fact sent a picture of the tattoo to our website. Sure enough, here it is as part of a web feature we did four years ago called “Letter Of The Month”. We had completely forgotten about it. And not only does this guy Johnny have Alan Thicke tattooed to his arm, just down from the Thicke man is another tattoo… of SAM THE SHAM!! When I told Mike LaVella from Gearhead about all this he said “why isn’t this guy, like, our BEST friend? How do we NOT know this guy like a BROTHER? Why I am not ENGAGED, like, long term to this guy?”

Later that night, Adam from the Black Dahlias was nice enough to allow us all the crash in his outrageously gay brothel/apartment, where gay porn blasts out of one TV and “Sex In The City” blasts out of another. Beez entertained a room full of ladies with whiskey from Mexico and stories from India, while Nick, Graham and Dave watched animated hardcore gay porn, and Grant crawled into a bed owned by a kid with a mohawk named Mickey.

 

Fri May 21, Thee Parkside, San Francisco CA (w/ Red Planet, the Troublemakers)

We spent the afternoon watching a marathon of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” (as supplied to us on video very kindly by Sacramento Sandra) then made our way in to San Francisco, one of our top three all-time favourite American cities to play (the others being New York and Tuscaloosa).

On this night we were booked to rock a relatively new and happening joint called Thee Parkside. Right away we were greeted with open arms by the staff: we were shown an amazing silk-screened poster made for the show, fed large, hearty meals, and had booze practically sprayed in our faces and poured down our throats. Now that’s a fucking bar! Yes!

The first band of the night were the Troublemakers, a garage-rock unit with zebra skinned vests who we last played with in… for fuck’s sake… in 1994 at the Purple Onion!!! And they had the same vests! Only they were loose-fitting then! Nick even caught himself muttering “I can’t believe these guys are still together”. They immediately broke into a rather wild, frenzied set, with the stork-in-a-suit-like lead singer jumping up onto tables and chairs and throwing the mic down with a loud clunk, much to the soundman’s extreme chagrin. Three or four more songs flew by, with more and more bawdy behavior by the teetering singer, charging into the audience, leaping on furniture, more loud throw-downs of the mic. The biker/ Vietnam vet-type soundman eventually blew a blood vessel and stormed the stage, snatching the microphone out of the lead singer’s hand, then attempting to unplug the rest of the mics. At this point our Sacramento pal, the aforementioned Matt K, jumped up on stage and grappled with the soundman, assumingly an attempt to help his Troublemaking friends. Within the blink of an eye, the soundman reeled back and simply cold-cocked Matt K with a round-house right to the centre of his face, knocking him out at the knees and sending him sprawling backwards into an amp. The lead singer then leapt upon the soundman, the bouncers then leapt upon them, and then the rest of the zebra-vested band (or is it white tiger?) leapt upon them. The entire bunch spilled off the stage and across the dance floor, crashing in a heap of fists and fury in front of the bar. 

Within three minutes the dust had settled: Matt K disappeared out the door, the Troublemakers set was over, the soundman was back at the booth and the bouncers went back to the door as if nothing happened. We had no idea what to make of any of it, and so … the night rolled on!

Our great, hilarious, rockin’ friends Red Planet were next. A better bunch of guys would be harder to find and they performed a fabulous set of tunes from both their full lengths and the new one on its way. Thanks for playing with us RP!!

Since the Bay Area is home to our US record label and we thankfully have so many friends and fans in this town, we decided to break out a growing Smugglers tradition that is pretty much just as stupid as the dance contest, kissing thing, or the tattoo bit. Beach balls. Yes, backstage before the show Grant simply gets on his knees and starts blowing. By the time he’s done, everyone is smiling and about 20 medium sized fifty cent beach balls are tossed into the crowd during the chorus of “Stay With Me”. The balls are immediately bashed about with unabashed glee, essentially igniting a drunken, in-door beach ball fight where no one gets hurt. Thee Parkside’s stage is pretty tiny and the crowd was pretty much directly in front of us so the balls didn’t have far to travel to be beaming both the patrons and ourselves directly in the face. As the set rolled on… I got pegged point blank in the head several times (mainly by shit-disturbing dicklicker Seth from the Panty Raid / Gravy Train)… at one point we invited the audience to see how many times they could hit Beez in the face with in the duration of one song and some guy stood in front of him and literally dribbled the ball of the frame of his glasses…Nick landed a particularly nasty upper-cut soccer kick to the face of Sacramento Sandra… and Graham’s drums acted as somewhat of a beach ball dragnet, as most of the balls ended up bouncing onto his lap, in his feet or between his arms, much to his rage….

We wrapped up a very rambunctious performance after which the audience was warm enough to invite us back for a few more, so after a couple tunes (including our cover of the Boys’ “Kiss Like A Nun”, requested from an actual member of the Boys in the audience!!!) we broke out the tattoo contest again. This being San Francisco, we knew there had to be some ideal ink. Sure enough a hand shot up, and through the crowd emerged an extremely sexy little brunette who seemed very… familiar… why… it’s Carmen Sanchez of Lawrence Kansas, she the giver of great… advice!!! Sure enough, this honey is COVERED in tattoos, including two full sleeves and a full back. But it was her latest tattoo that she wanted judged for the contest. Standing up on stage Carmen hiked up her skirt in a Charo style, then exposed her entire inner thigh, the very upper, sexiest part of which revealed a very large, very new tattoo of a… SPREAD EAGLE. Winner!

Thanks to all of our great friends who came out to this show. We often say that we have more friends in this part of the world than anywhere else. You know who you are! Cheers!

 

Sat May 22, the Troubadour, Los Angeles CA (w/ The Ga Gas, Jackass, Fabulous Disaster)

For some reason, playing Los Angeles has always been our Achilles heel in the States. New York? No problem. Chicago? Ca-ching! Green Bay? Green backs! Besides the odd show opening for the Donnas or Reverend Horton Heat, we have NEVER done well in LA, yet just a few hours away up the road in San Francisco every thing is always great. We’ve never been able to figure it out, and suffice to say, we were pretty nervous about this gig.

For once, the organizational side of things looked pretty solid. A Saturday night at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood – a famous rock n roll club that everyone from the Doors to the Dickes have played. Elton John played his first LA show there, and a glance at their current calendar showcases a who’s who of the rock elite. So of course we were asking ourselves “how the fuck did we get this gig?” Pays to have a great agent I guess.

This is also the type of venue that is highly organized – a totally thorough soundcheck (our first yet of this trip), our full rider laid out in the back stage dressing room, wristbands for backstage access, set time sheets, meal buy outs, the WORKS. Nice.

Between soundcheck and showtime we had a few hours so we stepped out into the bright sunlight of the California evening to walk the walk. The Troubadour is in West Hollywood, right on the border of Beverly Hills. In fact, the famous sign and palm trees are right across the street. As Dave, Grant and Nick rounded the corner of the club, which celebrity should we IMMEDIATELY spot but Molly Shannon, movie star and former Saturday Night Live cast member! The coincidence here is that Molly Shannon was at our last LA show with the Donnas at the Roxy!! Unfortunately she was unaware of the coincidence nor able to make it complete as she was not planning on attending our show!

Meanwhile, Beez met up with his out of work LA actor friend Dean Haglund, once a co-star on the hit Fox series “The X Files”. He played one of the Lone Gunmen conspiracy guys (the one with long blond hair who wore Ramones shirts). Beez and Dean were cruising in the vicinity of the club when suddenly Beez spotted another celebrity walking straight towards them. Beez froze in his tracks, grabbing Dean’s arm with one hand, and pointing at the celebrity with the other.

“Oh my god!! That’s… that’s… who is that??” The aging, short celebrity was now right in front of them.

“Oh my god!! Oh my god!! You’re … you’re BERETTA!! But wait - you’re supposed to be in jail! You’re not in jail?”

“Kid… I’m not Beretta” said the cross-eyed, frumpy celebrity out of the corner of his mouth.

Aghast at Beez’ behavior, Dean leaned in to Beez and said “Beez, that’s COLUMBO”.

“Columbo! Columbo!! PETER FALK!!! Wait - NO!! Peter Falk’s dead!! Isn’t he??”

Peter Falk then leaned in towards Beez and said “I ain’t dead yet, kid” and shuffled off into a waiting limousine. Ah, Hollywood!! (When not at an audition or doing a set at a comedy club, Dean Haglund sells cooling pads for computers on line… check it out at www.coolingpad.com).

The show was fantastic. Thankfully, many kind LA types were in attendance, including our regular pals the King Of Boston, the Muffs, Lisa Marr, and the visiting Groovie Ghoulies, filling the Troubadour’s dance floor nicely and actually dancing. Dean Haglund, aforementioned star of the television series “The X Files” was the celebrity dance contest judge, awarding the prize to a very sexy young thing, and we brought out the beach balls in a big way once again. They worked a lot better in a big open room like “the Troub”, allowing Grant to work on his vicious spike. In fact, to the beautiful dance contest winner’s shock and dismay, Grant mistakenly slammed a beach ball directly into her face, snapping her head back like a Pezz container.  Amazingly, after the show people actually saved their beach balls and had us autograph them! New angle!

Our dear friend Chris Freeman from Pansy Division closed the show with his new band The Ga Ga’s (pronounced “Gay Gays”), his all-male, all-gay tribute to the Go Go’s. They were fantastic and even had their own really massive beach balls (unlikely tour theme?), but this being West Hollywood where it is a major challenge to find someone who is NOT gay (unlikely tour theme?), I was expecting a lot more people to be rockin’ cocks to them. They’ve been on the cover of the LA Weekly for fuck sake!

 

Sun May 23, The Kensington, San Diego CA (w/ the Groovie Ghoulies, “The Phuzz”)

When are we going to learn that we shouldn’t play Sunday shows? Way back when we were setting up this trip, we were going to have to be steadfastly convinced to play another Sunday show after what happened earlier in the year in San Antonio, especially since this Sunday show fell on Nick’s daughter’s 2nd birthday. But the promoter assured me repeatedly that Sunday night at the Kensington was “going to be a huge show”. Exact quote.

When will we learn to trust our gut instinct? At least we were playing another gig with our pals the Groovie Ghoulies, but sadly, the show was fucking lousy. If this was a “huge show”, San Diego truly sucks. What frustrates us as a band is talking to the people that were there. The ones that said they heard next to nothing of the show, that posters were put up a day before and only in the bar, and that the guy in charge of promoting the show just got back from tour the day before. A decade and a half into it and this kinda shit still happens? Such is rock n roll.

We tried to have fun at this show, to make the most of it – the room was actually really cool - but you know it’s a rough gig when the promoter spends the entire night at the bar next door and gets so wasted they refuse to serve him any further. Even our beach ball gag bombed. People didn’t like the beach balls. They let them fall to the floor and stood and stared at them. It was truly pathetic. People were angry about the beach balls. So what would a good Canadian do in such a situation? Finish up the set, get drunk at the bar, gather up the balls, and start beaming them at the lame crowd while the Groovie Ghoulies played. And we saved the last beach ball to spike into the promoter’s face as we drove away at the end of the night. Good riddance! Don’t fuck with our beach balls, San Diego! They’re fun!!

Thanks to all who helped out with this 95% fun-filled trip through the Golden State – until next time, always remember, Suntans Are For Winners…

See you in the front row,

Love,

Your Smugglers