October 30 - The Magic Skull, saki Chicago

Tonight we performed an original three act theatre play for the saki in-store seance.

The Bitter Tears
The Magic Skull


Alan Scalpone as Buzz Cudz
Mike McGinley as Babs Cudz
Reid Coker as Tiny Cudz
John Leonard as Uncle Professor Cudz
Tony Mendoza as Vinnie Draculabeletti
Holli Hopkins as the stage manager?

Act I
The Cudz family (pictured) is getting through another day together.
It is filled with the violent images of war, franchise restaurants, and fiendish accusations.
"Well I never wrote my name in snow with a cat's face!"
In a moment of frustration, Babs Cudz, a wounded floozy with a box of wine for a purse, vacuums a magic skull from their couch cushions.
The Skull speaks with a thick, Mexican payaso accent, and bemoans his wasted life watching TV.
He lists the many television programs that took up his existence:
... Spencer For Hire, Benson, Jake & The Fatman, Lifestyles of The Rich and the Famous, Highway to Heaven, Helltown, TJ Hooker, the black Jackson 5, Quincy, Ripley's Believe It or Don't Believe It, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, The Morton Downey Jr. Show...
While listing, the Cudz family decides to sell the skull for money.
The professor, a pedophile with Tiny Cudz (a consenting bearded baby), suggests they sell the skull to Harvard.
They get in their Lexus QX-570 and head east.

Act II
The Lexus QX-570 resembles a Yamaha PSS-470.
Buzz Cudz, a Vietcong obsessed veteran, leads the family in song.
"Sonics for breakfast, Sonics for lunch, Culvers for dinner..."
The skull gets diarrhea and they must pull over.

While the skull shits on the side of the road, Dracula emerges.
"Why is that skull shitting in my fog?"
We learn that he is Vinnie Draculabeletti, the great grandson of Dracula residing in a castle there in Hackenbuttz, New Jersey.
The skull and Vinnie recognize each other as long lost lovers.
They sing a ballad.
The skull demands a marriage.
During celebratory swigs of box wine from a nearby bucket, both Tiny and The Skull have disappeared.
Tiny returns to let everyone know that he buried the skull.
Dracula punches the baby and yells at the audience in the record store.
The Skull speaks from Heaven.
He likes it up there.
He breaks up with Dracula and informs the Cudz family that they are fart smellers.
Everyone feels shitty.
Tiny begins a song called "That's Life".
Everyone sings and dances.
Though Uncle Professor never did find a way to turn horse manure into lightning.

Here's a review of our smash hit box office record busting one night only revue.

July 11 - Circle A, Milwaukee WI

We woke up surrounded by first generation hippies swing dancing to zydeco at a Cajun festival. Egad!
Where are we?
While Mike went book browsing, Alan, Justyna and I stumbled around looking for World Cup action, only to find it in a SRO sports bar.
A lot of the college kids rooted for the pot team.
A girl jumping for Spain got her college hair in my mouth.
It was 0-0 after all that standing so I went to heavy metal/punk record store and read new information about Danzig. I guess he has a few cats and doesn't vote. He has some conspiracy theories about the Bilderbergs and...
Then I realized I had outlasted the kid in the giant mohawk, and could read about Danzig anytime.
So I went back to the sports bar and watched Spain score a goal.
Then the satellite went out.
Alan and Justyna headed for Milwaukee while Mike and I walked through a rain storm.
A parade of five drunk wet people smeared in red and yellow sang Spanish victory slogans to White Stripes riffs.
World Cup fever.

Circle A is the best.
Tiny, fun, beer, jukebox, grouchy soundman, real people.
More folks from Chicago and as far as St. Louis travelled out for the show, including our keyboardist John!
Also on board was Liz from Bully Pulpit, who later audio taped us in the men's room getting into character. Wow, it's like she won a radio contest or something.

We were reunited with our friends The Itinerant Locals, who were winding down their US tour by train. Yes, starting from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the duo and their children have embarked on a 50-some day, 20-some city jaunt across Texas, the southwest, the northwest, and the midwest. They lead impossible lives!
Their accordion and a tuba combo resurrected scratchy gems from the past and the unknown.
"Squeezin' oil out of oliiiives!"
A grand time indeed. I hope to play with them again someday.

Our set, the last Bitter Tears set for a while, was described by Mike as wily. His upright bass poked patrons and Alan and got unplugged by dancers. I dropped sticks I wasn't supposed to and stunk up the slide whistle solo and drum fill pick up on "Inbred Kings".
Shit happens.
During "Moline" Mike's baritone guitar became unstrapped.
Then shouting people wanted to be a part of Alan's monologue.
"You guys are weird!" was ultimately observed out loud.
The soundman begrudgingly gave us an encore, and we played "Things The Boys Love" quietly sans microphones.

We arrived home around 3am.
I didn't get to bed until 5, ruining any chance of catching up on sleep until next weekend.
I mean, shitty day job!

July 10 - The Project Lodge, Madison WI

The drive proved nice and short.
Short enough for Mike and I to wax poetic about life and ideas.
And short enough for Chicago friends from the Columbines and the Electrical Audio board to join us for the festivities.
The Project Lodge seems to be a general performance space, catering to wall art weirdos, theater geeks, improv nerds and music jerks.
On its stoop, we drank Supper Club canned microbeer, while Julia introduced Mike to brandy.
A bag of No Salt brand potato chips sat on a stool, lonely and unpopular for all of the night.

The Bitter Tears were a three piece tonight.
In the van, Mike and I made a decision to wait for me to catch my aerial drumstick during the break in "Stumper" before jumping back in. I had been dropping it about 86% of the time, because I was trying to bounce the stick off the floor tom, catch it, and hit the beat, all in one quarter note rest. You can't rush gravity. It's like trying to throw a ground ball to first before it gets to your glove. The ball goes through your legs.
So now we are bringing the song to grinding halt, all for one lame bit of flash that I clearly stole from 1966 Keith Moon.
I think the show was fun. It was a bit sloppier than last night.
We played "Things A Boy Loves On TV" for the first time in a while.

Mike Behrends and The Gentlemen Trailblazers headlined with suitable music that sounded good. Hooks, y'know. Those things work.

Around 11pm we were suddenly kicked out of the space because one of the owners had a tummy ache. So our friend Reem ended up hosting an after show party on her deck.
Of the ten people there, she knew four.

More brandy was consumed and stories were told.
I learned that the guy from Anthrax invented a watch that operates in speed-metal time.
Then a local man told us his tale: He smoked a bowl to prepare for the washing of his dog, when suddenly his parents showed up unannounced. He kept them busy outside with his dog and his children while he ran around those spraying solvents. Every time his dad comes over to the house he has to take a poop. Luckily, on that occasion he chose not to.
Somewhere around here someone fell out of their chair from brandy.
The evening was telling us that it was going home.

July 9 - Quencher's, Chicago

What a delight to play first.
Get the show out of the way, and spend the rest of the evening with remnants of gunk smears on the face and glops of stage white in the hair.

While getting dressed in the men's room, we were heckled by some guys while they urinated.
It seemed we had hit a new low.
"Hey, flush!" Mike commanded to one of the departing urinal hecklers.
To his credit, the heckler complied.

It felt good to play again.
We didn't rehearse.
Hadn't played since the PRF BBQ about a month ago.
Mike resurrected his upright bass, and strapped it on like an electric.

An old friend of the band made dolphin coos from the audience.
Then she lifted her shirt to expose her braziered boobs.
That was my first time meeting her.

Alan's "Moline" monologues have been getting funnier and funnier.
I almost choked on the popcorn I was method-acting eating.

IfIHadAHiFi curated this show, and acted as the bougher between us and the headliners. They filled the room with gorgeous down-stroked noise shenanigans. I love seeing that Firebird get tossed around. It's my pornography. Mr. Alarm played a fender bass, in that he played his bass with a car fender.

The reunited Fuckface had a polydemonic setup: Four drum kits sans snares and cymbals in front of the stage, two guitars, a bass stack taller than the bass player, and a guy on his knees banging away at barbells and things that go ding in the night. The frontman, a greying acid casualty with a T-shirt tucked into a braided leather belt mumbling through a shitty PA, could not compete with the ferocious drum moat. All eyes were on the four drummers, pounding and pounding the toms. It was hypnotizing, though their cover of "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" broke the spell. If they added some horns and some cheerleaders they could become Fucka Face-a.

We all went home separately and slept in separate properties because we live here.

May 31 - Cardigan Arms, Leeds England

I would have used an exclamation point but I needed to conserve my energy for the show and drinking pints.The morning began with a gift-o-gram from Electrical Audio's Greg Norman. Presented during breakfast croissants, our former brassman, slide guitarist, danswer, and slide whistlist showered us with two bottles of champagne and an assortment of ethnic and mammary-specific pornography publications. Distracted, I mistook a picture of a hag resembling a Steven Tyler blow-up doll for a platter of bangers and mash. Thank you, Greg!!

Moments later, the six of us embarked on a voyage through the English countryside in search of an abandoned manor. Nestled in the small village of Sutton cum Duckmanton, Derbyshire (where teenage boys perform handstands for the passing motorists), sat the Sutton Scarsdale Hall, a once-tony, now-bony estate. It overlooked a green and yellow meadow, popular with dog walkers and couples reading the newspaper in peace or aborted argument. The information plaque mentioned that William Randolph Hearst had once had his hands in this palace at one time. I suppose the SLA got to it later.

Ten miles down the road was a functioning castle, The Bolsover Castle, which is politely pronounced "balls-over-castle". Upon our arrival it was discovered that The Castle charged an admission fee of seven pounds. I suggested we go "balls-over-fence" instead of paying. This was not a good idea, so we went to a roadside pub on the way to Leeds for coffee, pints and crisps. There's something about the British pub that I find comforting. The stenchy carpets, the semi-surly service, the dark wood. I understand why many men choose to live in them.

The Cardigan Arms is a traditional British pub with a squatty venue upstairs, torn of all its traditional charm. I had my fourth pint of the day during soundcheck, and then we all went to Daniel's flat for dinner. Daniel put us up last year after our Brudenell Social Club show, and made us the UK's best coffee. His girlfriend, a culinary wizardress, had been preparing our meal all day, and it showed. The lamb was tenderer than Alan Alda, while the tofu with peppers punched me in the taste. Plus we got to eat more of these green items named vegetables. I required seconds. Thank you, Leeds, for one of the best meals on the tour.

Gareth S. Brown performed movies and music, sampling live instruments with old short films. We had a reunion with Cowtown, with whom we played the Spanish leg of last year's tour. They were in fine form and fine sweaters, debuting a new heavy number that took Mike's fancy. If I hadn't done all my drinking in the afternoon I would've caught more than the end of their set. Instead, Alan had to wake me up in the van, just in time for me to misremember Dave, their excellent drummer, by calling him Nick. Embarrassed, I apologized and told him my name.
"Right. Tony. I remember."
I decided against quitting drumming forever and played the show, THE LAST SHOW OF THE TOUR .It was a decent set, I suppose, despite the soundman insisting on keeping Now I Got Worry up at full volume during Ronald's awkward spectacle. Mike teased the Brits about the doughy qualities of their skin. We berated them for cheering the mention of George Jones, after berating them for the previous silence to the mention of George Jones. Simmo said my drumming had energy, and seemed genuinely enthused about the performance. We closed THE LAST SHOW OF THE TOUR (!) with "The Fire Messiah" and cleaned the scum off our faces in a public water closet for the last time.
On the drive back to Nottingham, we subjected Simmo and Helene to Henry Rollins reading Get In The Van. Thanks to Hank, our ride home "was the most direct line to what the fuck it was all about."

This European tour was easier in some ways (the van has seatbelts and less than 200,000k on it!), and harder in other ways (no time to skype, no time for laundry). There were some constants: Alan's perpetually intermittent sneezes, Reid's hemorrhaging geyser snoring and somnambulent mutterings, Mike's insomnia-influenced darkness, my effeminate giggles and sighs and bad punnery.

Sometimes we had excitements: like the surprise of a bright flash-bulb explosion from a French speeding camera, that parking ticket on our first day, discovering overnight dents. One night someone used one of my drumming brushes as a flirtation device.Tolls, ferry fares, gas. Side of the road lunches. Gas station lunches. Lunches behind the wheel.
Laying down for five minutes while everyone else gets out at the rest stop. Naps in the van. Naps in the park. Naps behind the drums. I slept on two cots, three beds, and 17 floors. Some of them were cushioned, the punishment for bringing a sleeping bag.

We lost a different sleeping bag, as well as a camera, a keepsake cushion, 2 pairs of sunglasses, a piece of equipment, the other drum brush, a sweater, earplugs, and money. Mike tried to lose his blazer, his sweatshirt, and both of his bags, but they kept getting returned to him. Alan broke his glasses.
It could have been a lot worse (see Brainiac, Minutemen, Lynyrd Skynyrd).

Earlier in this thing, I have extolled the virtues of all the rad folks that helped put this together, and made it as smooth as it could be. A lot of these people who put on these tours, put on these shows, put up these bands, work themselves to exhaustion. As do the bands. Everyone is exhausted.
Is it fun?
Yeah, man. I loved seeing The Pyrenees, and the dopey Black Forest, and the big dumb Alps. I loved the home cooked meals we had. I loved when people laughed or danced or felt compelled to enjoy what we do. I love Europe.
Despite these perks, many of the promoters we talked to have mentioned impending retirement. It makes sense. This version of rock and roll or whatever you want to call it is a young man's game, and many of us are getting older and married and having kids and cats and houses and eking out a stable life. Suddenly taking months off from that life for a seemingly endless existence of beer, bad sleep, and sexual frustration appears less appealing.
Would I do this again?
Well, of course.
I wonder if anyone else will want to.

May 30 - Dot to Dot Festival - Trent University, Nottingham England

A late breakfast of croissants, French bread and salami, and chocolate pain was supplemented with Simmo’s sausage sandwiches. Another afternoon performance with The Dot to Dot Festival. We followed Burly Nagasaki, a local coed two-piece that cracked me up. Joey and Tez vogued to a dance track, played scissors on a K-Records sweater ballad, and shambled through a surf instrumental (“Phew!”), before taking audience questions related to Elvis. They closed with a call and response tune about a giant peanut butter sandwich. Nottingham’s Mo Tucker answered with supermarket intercom authority.

JOEY CHICKENSKIN: How much does that sandwich weigh?
TEZ WRIGLEY: That sandwich weighs...four..pounds.

After their set I asked Ms. Wrigley, who reminded me a bit of an old pom-pom flame's haircut, who her favorite member of the Memphis Mafia was.
"Charlie Hodge," she replied without hesitation.

With a feedback soaked soundcheck, we took the stage to another backline of Marshall stacks. Like Robin Hood, we used the equipment of the rich to make music for the poor. Mike’s wisecrack about Margaret Thatcher mistaking a milkshake machine for a bidet, and sitting on a steaming pile of bubble and squeak, resonated with the poor. After the set a gentle security thug paid me a compliment on my drumming. Thanks, mate!

These afternoon sets are funny. What do you do afterward? We chose to hang out at a pub that served honest ales and scrumpies while smoking fags with goofy French birds speaking in cat tongues. Right? We met some new Brits that made fun of my Dunhills (“That’s what my father smokes!”) and told us about a ploughman’s drink that tasted like meat! Of course I wanted to try this chumly or brimbly or brapsworthy or whatever the fuck it’s called, but the pub didn’t serve it. So we went back to the club to cash in our food voucher. Gimmee a fuckin’ bap, man, I’m drunk and hungry!! Right? Every inch of the festival crawled with current British style: gals in black leggings, men in skinny jeans, L.A. pay-to-play hairdoos, Desperately Seeking Susan hats, I even saw a guy sporting a 1987 tight roll around his ankles. I never knew irony could be sexy.

It was decided that the festival was stupid now, so we went back to Simmo and Helene’s for some more spirits and listening to fuckin’ records, man. We busted out Isaac Hayes, Lionel Richie, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” Heavy Vegetable, Half Man Half Biscuit, obscure thrift store funk finds, and Simmo’s coup de grace, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” at 33 & a third. Don’t knock it til you try it.

Then Simmo, like a librarian, read us jagged children’s satire by Raymond Briggs, and I admired Helene’s twisted Peanuts drawings, demanding that she contribute artwork to my other band.

The evening faded, the turntable spun, my eyelids kissed. My surname, shouted with a British accent, arose me as I grasped a sweating Czech Budweiser, glazed in an armchair.

May 29 - Dot to Dot Festival - Thekla, Bristol England

The clouds pissed British gloom on Alan, Reid, and I. Mike emerged from the morning fog of his overnight in the van. Another morning, another English breakfast. Beans!
"You guys look a bit knackered," observed our host Gary. "Do you know what that means?"

The Dot to Dot Festival had come to Bristol, and The Bitter Tears were slotted a corner to play it. The van rolled up to a mess of tents and fences choked by a serpentine queue of indie blokes and indie birds. We checked in, grabbed our complimentary 4-packs of Red Stripe tallboys, affixed wristbands to our wrists, and walked toward Thekla.
Thekla is a boat, an oldish vessel, docked on Bristol's Mud Dock. We were the first band to play the afternoon stretch, beginning at 4pm. It was nice to have a backline already set up, so we only had to bring the guitars, the keyboard, and cymbals. But with the amps being huge Marshall stacks, the bar's tiny stage barely accommodated a quartet. I had to hoist myself up by the ceiling rafters just to climb over the drum kit.
With only thirty minutes per set, we stayed tight and upbeat. Tightish. During "Grieving" I tried to do gymnastics on the ceiling for the cymbal washes. I lost my balance and crashed into the kit. It might have looked like Gladys Ormphby ruining an innovative Lionel Richie video.
Reid's Reggae Ronald character has been interacting in the audience before the set. He was almost accepted by a few fashion-savvy indie cliques, but ultimately rejected thoroughly. Such is the life of Ronald. The boat hipsters seemed to like us though.

After the set we made way for a Dutch band that didn't like us, and hung out eating savory pies out of a box while watching festival kids. Then it rained and got boring. We were told we had to move the van. I suppose I liked Bristol during the three hours we had inhabited it. Performing on a boat again was fun.

We met up with our booking agent Simmo and his lovely fiance Helene in Nottingham. We treated at a vegetarian restaurant, where vegetables were consumed for the first time in 47 years. It felt weird and strange. I'm not sure my body was ready to adjust to something healthy, but you have to take chances in life. Our waiter, the chef, was a skeletal man with silver eyes whose voice growled and whose smile doubled as a checkerboard.
Afterward we relaxed at a pub with real ales until it closed at midnight. Then it was time to get rained on for the fourth time in a day.