Most of the tidbits we’ve been sharing here to reward fan interest and closer scrutiny by people whose support we’re trying to muster up to vote to send us (only ’til noon Tuesday!) on that Tracks on Tracks musical train ride to Toronto for the NXNE festival… well, many of them have been more than a little fallacious. The pictures, especially. A picture is worth a thousand words and most of them are BS. But what follows is a mostly-true account of hidden Planks history punctuated by, well, very sporadic photography. We took lots of pictures, and somewhere in the haze of time lost almost all of them. But when discussing one grand trip, why not finally air the accounts of this epic voyage? So without further ado…
It just goes to show you that you never know where the ripples in a pond will go from its initial splash. In a January 2010 show we covered very cursorily (our website was down, we had no choice!) the folks at Accordion Noir invited Renée de la Prade (of Culann’s Hounds) and Amber Lee Baker (of the Anomalies) to visit Vancouver to promote their fabulous Accordion Babe cheesecake pin-up calendar / CD and put together a squeezy show here — the first of their Pleasing Squeezing series — to help display them in a relevant and exciting context. The supporting acts were grand, but as so often happens, the Planks were provided to headline, to help sweeten the deal with their regular venue and just to take the sometimes unglamorous closing slot. The night had so much entertainment the Planks ended up barely getting a chance to take the stage before we had to shut down, but we made a strong impression on our visitors and when we parted ways they vouched to put in a good word on our behalf back in their stomping grounds.
Fast-forward two months and we found ourselves the recipients of an unsolicited invitation to play at that year’s Cotati Accordion Festival! Clearly this was an offer we could not refuse. And yet clearly, due to the distances and time involved, ultimately it was an offer that many of the Planks couldn’t accept, either. At the last minute the to- and fro- portions of a 10-day journey of gentle drives were axed from the itinerary, replaced by a glamorous rump of an unlikely Planks trio — accordion, cello and bari sax — salvaging the tour through triage, determining to fly down, rent a car (”the Hearse”, the rental folks called it) and play 5 gigs in the Bay Area over 4 nights, making the most of our weekend staging ground.
… for various reasons, incognito:
Basing ourselves out of Berkeley, where friends Ben & Rachel (of Vancouver’s epic but defunct folk combo Tarkin) were temporarily calling home (gosh! land of huge jade plant bushes! sulfured apricots! the Cathaus’ front gate!), we extraordinarily rented some equipment from Oakland’s Best Music Co. (only traveling with one of our three axes for several reasons, not limited to our airline’s sterling reputation for safely transporting instruments) and headed forth to play a test set at the Delta of Venus in Davis Thurs Aug 19th, trying out our rented and borrowed gear with Ben (later issued the impromptu pirate codename Hawknose Stilton) sitting in on banjo and mandolin. We didn’t make a huge impact in the hollowed-out summer-vacation college town, but a good time was had by a few and we worked out some parts for our extraordinary instrumentation… then got some much-needed shuteye after being up for 40 hours.
Friday the 20th had us inadvertently taking a scenic detour (a recurring theme in our generously-scheduled navigation) through the heart of California’s wine country en route to Santa Rosa and an exciting gig at the Toad in the Hole with our Babe-ly friend Amber Lee. The Toad is the kind of neighbourhood pub that you only wish you had down the street in your hometown, a fun and whimsical place where the regulars might decide to mount a parade and re-enact the Sgt. Peppers’ album cover on a lark, later refreshing themselves with a startling array of artisanal beers and what must be the Platonic ideal of pub food, deliciously made with simple and local ingredients. Recovering from the discovery that Blackbox’s borrowed instrument had, following 50 years of survival traveling from Sweden to Canada, lasted precisely one night in his hands before becoming inoperable, we followed up Amber’s adept opening set to her hometown crew and kept their attention through to the end of the night, joined by friendly resident squeeze-weirdo J D Limelight.
Amber put us up that night (with her fabulous snake) so we’d be well-situated for the 20-minute commute to Cotati the following day (she had to leave early that morning for pre-fest rehearsal with the astounding Hubbub Club marching band, but we left her with a very relevant bottle of “Accordeon” wine for her troubles). Then we promptly got lost in Sebastopol, going down the road in precisely the wrong direction.
Ultimately we made it to Cotati and managed to unload, whereupon Blackbox had to take off on a quixotic quest. Ironically, following the disintegration of the loaner instrument in his hands, he had found himself committing the egregious faux pas of headlining at an accordion festival without an accordion. Fortunately, if there was one place in the world he could be reasonably assured of being able to borrow a squeezebox, it was here. And lo, the clouds parted, and the sun shone down on a dealer’s tent… revealing the kindly gents from Victoria’s Tempo Trend music store, filling their RV with surplus squeezeboxes and taking to the summer festival circuit in an attempt to offload some of them. Just bring it back to Victoria in good shape, they told him, after attending to a long line-up of prospective customers. Meanwhile, he was missing a great line-up and a chance to have Dick Contino autograph the record sleeves he’d brought down carefully packed away in his luggage!
Backstage, things were gloomy. To have come all this way, to this, the largest crowd we’d ever played to… and have so few Planks to show for it… fortunately, someone flipped the “festival magic” switch, and suddenly Alex Meixner’s drummer was sitting in with us. (Why not? After all, he came here to drum, and drumming is what he loves to do!) Matt Tolentino asked if we could use a clarinet, and finally Alex Meixner concluded that while we were poaching nearly his entire crack band, he may as well join us also. Hats off to the Cotati tech crew who was able to accommodate a more than doubling of our band size with about 20 minutes’ notice. The Great Morgani suddenly wrapped, and then there we were, on stage, blinking in the sunlight (and holding on to our charts for dear life, as galing gusts threatened to whip them away at every turn!)
The advantage of playing simple arrangements of well-known songs is that talented musicians can parachute in on literally less than an hour’s notice and grandstand all the way home. (Also for members of an act who play to crowds who may leave the room if a Polish polka is followed by a Slovenian polka, we represent a chance to play the songs we love to play, not necessarily the songs we have to play 8) With Meixner’s band providing a new heart for us, we gave up the gusto and were well-received. Also, we had a blast on-stage.
Cotati being an alt-accordion fest, it represents all kinds of traditions as well as having a strong strain of the bizarre from the Bay Area punks. So you get polka, zydeco and cojunto along with Dick Contino, but sometimes the crowd is really ready for some Gogol Bordello and Nine Inch Nails without knowing that it’s even on the table, and then they get it served up to them. (Polkacide was prepared to bridge the gap, piercing implants shined up and faux sausage links dangling out of leiderhosen leg holes, but not for a little longer yet.) Duckmandu relieved us on the side stage, and there was a lot of outrage backstage when they found that by “we have four CDs to sell” what we meant is that our total stock of CDs was four, not that a selection of four different albums were up for sale. We had a blast with Alex Meixner (I crashed an interview he was conducting backstage and some version of our story ended up in the final account 8) and his crew, and they were dismayed to hear that instead of jamming all night in the party suite nearby we had to scoot on along to San Francisco in order to make our gig later that night at the Revolution Cafe.
But first, you can get a great eyefull of the festival milieu and us in it courtesy of Rachel, who posted a whole gallery of shots from this impossible and wonderful event. Someday we hope to return, and we hope to have our act a lot more together when that time comes 8)
You can also hear a terrible live recording of our entire set. Killer playing at very low levels, buried beneath the incessant blowing of the wind over the mic. If you crank it, you can hear our great performances clearly and imagine you’re hearing us playing an exclusive engagement in the eye of a tornado.
Creaking Planks At Cotati 2010 (feat. guest players Hawknose Stilton, Shirley Temple, Razorneck Chowder, Bones McGrew, and introducing Eurus, the East Wind!) set list:
01:20 — Insane in the Membrane
05:45 — Womanizer / Toxic
12:28 — Fight For Your Right to Plunder
16:59 — Dead Man’s Pants
19:10 — Psycho Killer
24:01 — the Song of the Count
28:20 — Kishka Anthem
31:09 — Kiddie Closer
35:31 — American Wedding
44:09 — Snazzy Portland
Barring one or two wrong turns, there we were pulling up to the Revolution Cafe, where we discovered resident weirdo Count Z Bop defending his territory by insisting that we let him accompany us on bongos. No problem, we needed percussion anyhow! The crowd was pleasantly baffled by our set, by the end of which Blackbeard was singing with the Tom Waits voice (the gurgle of a dog that has barked until it cannot bark any longer, and tries to continue nonetheless; the sound of two pieces of beef jerky rubbing against each other) from overuse. But our musical cold-call there was well-received, profitable and got us an invitation to a Hungarian picnic the following day (which we couldn’t find, another side-story.) Sunday was our day off and our pay was getting to see the sights of San Francisco, the platonic ideal that Vancouver tries, stuntedly, to emulate. To Taqueria Farolito where we quaffed off-menu horchata and consumed burritos the size of babies (and discussed with Ludwika the doula dressing them up in baby clothes) and compared technique with the notorious donair vampire of the Outlaw Band. Off to gawk at wild parrots in the neighbourhood trees and the sea lions delivering the oceanic equivalent of Hastings & Main! The mechanical amusements museum provided plenty of quarter-powered diversions (including a mechanical accordion-playing device demonstrating the horrors of automation and a kinematoscope revealing just what exactly the belly dancer does on her day off.) Then we briefly dipped our toes in the Pacific (though there was no real need to, as we have plenty of it up here), and then we were off to our final gig: at Peri’s Saloon in Fairfax, a venue with the longest contract we’d ever seen (admittedly, much of it codifying common sense).
There we posed for a photo (since lost) of us under our name on the marquee, and deeply entertained our barmaid Denise, who enjoyed our set so much she got on the phone and brought all her friends in to enjoy our performing our set a second time, at the end of which Blackbox’s voice was really done, for reals. Rachel sat in with us on mandolin, tipping us off to the someone-beat-us-to-it pirate codename Amanda Lynn Peg. As the hour got later the venue mysteriously filled leaving us to wonder exactly who goes out to drink at midnight on a Sunday night? The answer is: plenty of wonderful weirdos, one of whom got to enjoy a moment of XKCD t-shirt solidarity with Cap’n Jack Spare-ribs for the second time that day.
That wraps the whirlwind visit! We managed to get the Hearse back to the airport car rental office essentially by coasting it into the parking lot in neutral gear. The flight back north was uneventful (though an observation: many more settled, illuminated areas are passed continuously when flying north-south than east-west) and to avoid a repeat of the World’s Most Expensive Cab Ride fiasco which we started the tour with, saved money by chartering an airport limousine to return us to our domiciles.
A year and a half later, we told you about it. The statute of limitations has got to be up on that one, right?
In conclusion: can’t wait to do it again! Even this hypothetical trip to Toronto won’t top it, but maybe we can shoot for a close second. Big thanks to Renee and Amber Lee.