Cold Spark

PYRO! I’M FINALLY ON A TOUR WITH PYRO!

Well, almost. This is actually what’s known as cold spark, shot from, imaginatively, cold sparklers.

It assures you can enjoy a Rammstein-approved show without minor inconveniences like the venue burning down, or the charring of various tour personnel. It also means, as pictured below, that you can fire off confetti during the encore and watch it blow, consequence free, into what appears to be open flame. Neat!

It’s pretty wild - you feel a small amount of heat, as you would standing next to any large-ish light, but you can hold your hand over cold spark and be totally fine. And it’s hilarious eavesdropping on Train’s infinitely patient production manager explaining all this to fire marshals who are mostly just annoyed they’re not working the Brad Paisley show. 

I would say don’t try this at home, but you totally can.

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LEGO

How you know you’ve made it in the show business: when a fan at the meet and greet presents a LEGO replica of your stage, complete with lighting fixtures, techs, and a whole buncha adorable mini guitars (and I’m sure Craig can look past the indignity of his LEGO likeness being caged behind a drum shield). 

Am I jealous? Intensely.

But I’ve caught a glimpse of the mountain top, and it is, my friends, glorious.  

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Craft

Every Goo Goo Dolls song uses a different tuning, hence the army of acoustic guitars pictured below, about half of what John Rzeznik uses every night.  

In the foreground, you see his back up guitar for “Iris,” hands down the most popular song ever inspired by Nicolas Cage.

It’s in our cultural lexicon that song, almost impossibly massive, and yet its origins are humble, more than likely coaxed into existence on that very guitar in a moment of welcome disquiet, after hours of seeking and questioning and nearly giving up. 

Its a reminder that, when you strip away the video walls and the pyro and whatever accolades, it’s all about the courage to embrace the blank page.

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Sturdy Chain

One of the neat things about being the opening act on a big tour is actually rolling with the tour. Train and the Goo Goo Dolls, for example, either fly between dates or immediately head to hotels when the busses park, showing up at the venue just before soundcheck. We’re here from breakfast ‘til last call, which, if you’re a nerd like me, is heaven.

Take, say, the picture below. Hanging the PA’s a fascinating and sorta terrifying process, linking the speaker stacks (accompanied today by encouragingly little profanity) and yanking them precariously fifty feet or so in the air via two ton motors and, fingers crossed, sturdy chain.  

Our PA tech, Nikki, is a superhuman, and I’ve seen her both expertly delegate and undertake the entire process herself, the latter occurring when the local hands have been, to quote a saltier crew member, “brain dead pieces of shit.”  

Thankfully, no one seems to mind my being a fly on the wall. I’m learning a lot.  

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A Hundred Mortgages

West Valley City UT, aka Salt Lake City UT, aka the first show without managers, label reps, and other dubious industry types decimating the green room deli trays. We are now officially just three bands on tour, and it’s wonderful. 

The Allen Stone Band vibe’s always been very laid back and inclusive, whereas the Train and Goo Goo Dolls keep their cards a little closer to their chests. Everyone’s friendly, but they’re decades deep in the game, sober family men, and protective of their time, having long ago made and lost all the friends they’d care to.

We’ve done a thing or two in this business, but none of our songs have been sent into outer space - we’re in the building phase, they’re in the sustaining phase, and there’s a marked difference.

But it’s inspiring - the focus, attention to detail, humility in appreciating how rare it is catching a multi-decade wave, and the perspective to nourish it into a career that pays about a hundred mortgages. 

Green Tape

There are, between nine busses and eight trucks, 88 people in this touring party, one of whom’s job is to tape the stage every night, as pictured below.

It continually amazes me how much attention to detail’s required pulling off a production this size, and how fortunate I am to be writing this in skinny jeans and pointy boots, ostensibly working for a living, and at least my high school romantic underachievement compelled me to practice arpeggios.

Performers get the glory, but we have, by far, the least important jobs on the road, and I’m grateful for that perspective every single day.  

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Present Participles

In a production this size, nobody stops moving. Crew workdays are 8am-2am, everyday, a hastily gobbled lunch the only respite from hanging, pinning, tuning, clanging, and generally present participling their way through an ideally-but-never-the-same obstacle course of unforeseeable logistical and technical snafus.

At this time of day, the uniform’s all black, the mood’s undistracted, the tone’s matter-of-fact. I’m not really supposed to be out here. I mean, there’re no rules saying I can’t be, but I’m decidedly out of uniform and blatantly, woefully under qualified. Hence, I’m writing this about as far away from the action as possible while still being able to eavesdrop.

Shortly, band members will emerge from bunks, hunt down catering, and blemish the scene with floral shirts and pointy boots. Until then, I’ll luxuriate in this zero percent chance of rain day, content to learn via osmosis and, fingers crossed, not piss anyone off.

 

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Mesas

Waking up, slowly but surely, stepping out of the air conditioned cocoon of the bus into the borderline impossible Arizona heat, projected to hit 110 by set time.

The American Southwest is deep and mysterious and challenging and my favorite landscape in the lower forty eight. There’s something about perennial and inhospitable places - whenever I’m in a spiritual deficit, I’ll happily spend weeks at a time lost amongst the mesas.

One of travel’s gifts is a reminder that no one place provides the answers, the truth, or whatever we label that perceived lack within a nebulous sense of otherness.

But movement is soothing, as necessary as water, and in the process of simply endeavoring, the path reveals itself. 

Jump Kicking

I’m watching the Goo Goo Dolls side stage, and bassist Robbie Takac’s running all over the place, jump kicking and hooting exuberantly at an increasingly inebriated crowd. He makes frequent pit stops over in bass guitar world, chiefing not-so-surreptitiously on a vape pen, which makes him that much more smiley and apt to jump kick.

He notices my noticing him and, during Johnny Rzeznik’s solo acoustic moment, introduces himself, says we sound really good, how it’s going to be a great summer, and “somehow, I’ve convinced that fucker to keep me around for a few decades.” He says he’s grateful he still has a job, then realizes he’s about to miss his cue, runs back on stage, and resumes jump kicking.

It’s encouraging hearing multi-millionaires with multi-decade careers say they’re happy to still be out here. The road can be tough, but it can also be a celebration, of trails less trodden, nurtured dreams, and going where the light shines. 

Jackets and Chains

When you pass Johnny Rzeznik’s dressing room, you see a wardrobe case filled with, as Tom Petty puts it, leather jackets and chains that will jingle. 

You also see several photos of his wife and infant daughter, purpose and stability discovered in his early fifties after a predictably circuitous path. 

He’s five years sober now, performing with the fire of someone who knows how lucky he has it, and how easily it could’ve gone the other way.

I think about Johnny Rzeznik and so many others, people with magnificently warped DNA and way too much fuck you not to indulge rampaging inner demons. 

The upside’s an “Iris,” a song we’ve literally sent into freaking outer space. 

The downside? If you’re not careful, maybe the good stuff, the really good stuff, passes you by.

On this tour, I’m a little fish in a big pond, and it’s my job, simply, to pay attention.


Off-Kilter Professionalism

The pre-noon ecosystem of a big tour, not normally welcoming of spoiled band dudes, brings me inordinate comfort, and I’m up early - well, touring musician early, around 7:30am - watching dozens of hardhat-clad local crew unload pieces of LED wall. 

The bus and truck drivers, united in their contrariness and off-kilter professionalism, bust each other’s balls, chain smoking in condiment-stained, Costco-brand sweat pants. One of the truck drivers has a Siberian Husky, and my goal tomorrow’s to win its favor by way of bacon from catering. 

A well-run stage feels similar to a well-run kitchen - nothing’s rushed, no one’s yelling, and everyone knows, to the microscopic detail, what their job is - and Train’s tour manager calmly directs traffic, barely speaking above a whisper. Both their and the Goo crew are seasoned pros, and appreciative I think of this not being our first rodeo.

Everyone’s still in early tour focus mode, but judging by the progressive metal cranking in the next room, there’re kindred spirits to be met. 

Day One

More than playing our thirty minute set and being generally affable, our job as first of three on this Train/Goo Goo Dolls run is staying out of people’s way, and in that capacity here we are, hanging out in the parking lot of the White River Amphitheater, watching truck after truck expertly slalom through an obstacle course of concrete dividers, mobile lighting fixtures, and disheveled personnel.

The first day or two’s always a little interesting, as camps get used to each other and respect’s earned, and fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to know what everyone’s job is, what their day looks like, and when it’s best, say, to peck away at a daily email newsletter rather than hunt down the barista station.

It’s summer in the PNW, which means it’s cloudy and in the 50’s with a chance of thunderstorms throughout the day, but my floral shirt’s all the radiance I and about 15,000 others will need. A preemptive “you’re welcome” is in order. 

Hero

The second Climb The Sky single’s available on all platforms! 

Hero was the first song I brought to the table that really got Gideon and Gabe excited, and I think sorta sold them on being in the band.

It’s also the first song we’ve recorded that showcases their unique voices as producers and engineers, tasks I happily delegate to their fastidiousness, perfect-pitch, and photographic musical memories.

The drums, bass, lead vocal, and rhythm guitar were recorded live off the floor, and we ended up using the first take (a small point of pride for me and my, to put it charitably, developing voice).

A couple overdubs and a few hours of gleeful mad scientist-ing later and we had the finished track, along with a unified belief that this is something we absolutely should be doing, even if just to bask in some well-earned jubilance and indulge preposterous, nourishing dreams.

 

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Grey Velvet Sky

The pitter patter of rain from a grey velvet sky underscores polyrhythmic birdsong, and hey, wouldn’t you know it, I’m back in the Pacific Northwest. 

We’re rehearsing at a secluded lodge just outside of Spokane, and it’s peaceful and calm at a time when the Al Stone organization could use a healthy dose of both.

We’ve got a couple subs on this run - both friends of ours, thankfully - and it’s been the perfect environment to reconnect, take woodland strolls in artsy-farsty rumination, and zigzag our way through a tight and utterly ridiculous thirty minute set.

Tomorrow, we meet up with the bus and head across the mountains to the White River Amphitheater, where we shall entertain with gusto a sea of day drunk forty-somethings and commence a multi-month Dungeons and Dragons odyssey that’d make even the most resolute nerd try out for the football team. 



Honesty

One of the biggest lessons the MOAT has taught me is if you want to stick to your habits, you have to commit to telling the truth. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been catching myself kinda phoning in this newsletter. Writing something everyday is therapeutic, helpful in codifying thoughts and organizing the mind, but lately I feel the exercise has become a little too vague.   

Writing to fill a quota was never the spirit behind the MOAT. In asking myself why the newsletter’s felt like a chore, I realize I need to rededicate myself to carving out consistent, uninterrupted pockets of time, sharing fragments of my mind by way of good, readable sentences.

I want to write well, not because there’s an audience (which is kinda miraculous, thank you thank you thank you), but because doing a shitty approximation of a thing makes me feel like a chump.

For a while, it was enough simply to get better by doing, but now I need a strategy and to start tweaking.

 

Trains

I’m writing this on a train, headed from a densely populated area to one slightly less-so, excited about the upcoming Train/Goo Goo Doll tour and reflecting on travel’s changing role in my life.

Early in my touring career, in the whacky reality of pipe dreams becoming less pipe-y, every sunset, ovation, and brush against the walled garden was MINE. Essentially overnight, I found myself with this prismatic and, I’d later appreciate, deeply confusing life, and I left my previous one swiftly and unsentimentally. 

I was, of course, running, from the failure I perceived myself to be and timidities too numerous to count, and finding yourself, such as it is, out on the proverbial dusty trail is a fool’s errand.

You can leave the bubble, experiencing and questioning and living your best life, but the bubble remains unchanged when you get back. At some point, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you like the SOB with the side parting staring back at you.

And, questionable hairstyle notwithstanding, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made.