“Last minutes and lost evenings”

I’m having one hell of a time harnessing my thoughts today, despite the fact that there’s lots of ’em swirling around my head. And the longer I sit, staring at a blank computer screen, the more elusive those thoughts seem to be. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this level of tired. The sort of tired where getting out of bed in the morning requires a superhuman effort; where, once you finally get to work and are sitting at your desk, it might take a solid thirty seconds for it to register that someone’s calling your name (this isn’t a true story or anything). Why so tired, you ask? But really, is that something you need to ask? If you can’t guess by now, then you really haven’t been paying attention. The only real question is: which band was I following this time?

If spending a week crisscrossing the northeast by car, plane and Uber seems a bit excessive, it’s because I’d heard tell that, after the current tour wraps up, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are taking a yearlong break from the U.S. (boo!) to record a new album (yay!). Now, I’m well aware of how spoiled I’ve been: I first discovered them in the fall of 2015 when they were in the midst of their huge tour supporting Positive Songs for Negative People and it’s taken them this long to wind down. I was able to see them sixteen times in thirteen months. They’ve been stateside so much, I’ve kind of started taking it for granted.

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My most-seen artists. Frank has now surpassed JD. Yikes…

So if anyone deserves a break from making that ridiculous transatlantic trip, it’s them. But having gone no longer than about two months in between shows, a year is going to feel interminable, and I wanted to make sure I saw them as many times as possible while I could.

Which involved a whirlwind week of driving to the outskirts of DC on the eve of the inauguration, then trekking to Philadelphia the following day, then heading back to Baltimore to catch a flight to Chicago, where I spent a long, sleepless, incredible weekend, before heading home. I covered almost two thousand miles in six days. So yeah, I’m a bit tired. But it was worth it. It always is.

Silver Spring, MD:

I don’t plan on using my blog to discuss divisive topics. But rest assured that I do have opinions, strong ones, and this was one of the best places I could have been on that particular night. It was emotional, it was affecting, it was heartening. And it was really, really good to see these guys again.

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Silver Spring. The first show featuring Felix Hagan on keys, who’s subbing for Matt who’s on paternity leave.

Philly:

I felt like I’d no sooner gotten home from Silver Spring than I had to head up back up I-95. The Arkells, one of Frank’s openers whom we’d seen during the fall tour and who are completely, jaw-droppingly amazing, played World Cafe Live’s Free at Noon series and OF COURSE I had to go, even though it meant waking up way earlier than I would have liked. And if you listen to the broadcast of the show and have sharp enough ears, you can hear me caterwauling. Because I live to embarrass myself.

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Arkells at World Cafe Live

I headed to Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood afterwards to meet with my parents and my buddy Rich for burgers. We relaxed and chatted over a couple of beers prior to the show and had a blast. It was a good afternoon, in short.

It was all downhill from there.

I don’t think I’ve had a more miserable experience at a FT & TSS show. The nightmare that was Coney Island last summer comes close, but since they were the first co-headliner at that one, it a) didn’t last long and b) enabled me to bug out early after I’d had enough. But at Philly, because I was with my mom, who was excited to be in the front with me again, I was stuck there for the duration. Otherwise, I would have left. This is NOT a reflection on the band, mind you – it was the crowd. I have yet to see a group less considerate or more aggressive, with unhelpful security who refused to get involved in incidents taking place behind us (and one very upset woman and her husband actually did leave as a result). And I had the pleasant (*sarcasm*) experience of being called some pretty hideous names by a couple of intoxicated twenty-something girls who apparently weren’t happy that I was on the rail and they weren’t. So way to go, Philly, for living up to your reputation. At least I got to hear Frank play “Broken Piano” on the electric guitar.

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Philly

Chicago:

I needed a break after Philly, so I’m EXTREMELY glad that, for the Chicago leg of my adventure, I allowed myself to be chauffeured for a change. I flew in a day early (the tour stopped in Cincinnati that day) and Ubered my way to the hotel, where I ordered room service, fell asleep at 8pm and stayed that way for ten hours. The next morning, after a fantastic breakfast, I wandered around Chicago for hours until showtime. It was an indulgent, utterly blissful, much-needed respite.

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Wasn’t expecting Chicago in January to look like this.
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The fog at dawn.
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Obligatory visit to the Bean.
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Lake Michigan from Lake Shore Drive.

Night 1:

For the second time in three days, I came very close to leaving a FT & TSS show. There wasn’t a single specific incident that set me off, but it felt like everything that could have gone wrong did. And I’d flown halfway across the country for that? I ended up standing behind the soundboard, near tears over the whole damned thing, and was one step away from putting on my coat and finding my way to the McKinley James show (with his father, Jason Smay, and Ray Jacildo, both from JD McPherson’s band, backing him up), who just happened to be playing in Chicago that very same night. But with a little help from Rich, I talked myself off the cliff and stayed. I’m glad I did – it ended up being a wonderful, memorable night.

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The view from behind the soundboard. Which improved once this bald dude got out of the way. Ahem.
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I was none too pleased at first, but the different perspective was welcome and refreshing, and might expedite my retirement from the rail.

Night 2:

Another near-sleepless night, another amble around that great, interesting city, another show. This time I had one HELL of a seat. Now, I (obviously) love watching the band, but it was fascinating having a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the ENTIRE event: the crew’s goings-on, their interactions with the band during the night. And the crowd. The mass of rapturous faces singing and dancing in unison, their energy almost a palpable, tangible thing. It was powerful enough to give me goosebumps.

But, like always, it was over too quickly. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane headed back east, left with nothing but memories from a weekend that wasn’t even supposed to happen. Going to Chicago was a near spur-of-the-moment decision; it was a lark. Isn’t it funny how those often end up being the most important?

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Where’s Max?
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Chicago, night 2. Speaking of different perspectives.
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Frank’s “Long Live the Queen” drum kit leap
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Ugh. So much love for these guys.
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