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Music Production: Circuits of Steel Tour 2003
07/24/2003 Circuits of Steel Tour 2003: Live in Houston, TX: Circuits of "Who stole my Jesus?"

I awoke abruptly at 8:30 local time, wondering what the hell alarm was going off, and in ten or fifteen seconds realized that it was the automatic coffee grinder. OK, cool. I was pretty awake, so I answered email for a while before getting back to sleep. I woke up again an hour or so later, helped myself to some fruit and coffee (having been invited to), and talked with our hosts, very nice, interesting people. I sent more email, got a shower, and got ready to go. Unfortunately, it looked like we were running too late to hit the artists' brunch, but with any luck I'll be invited back one of these times. Kerry hooked up with his friend again, and the rest of us went in search of food. Happily, our hostess Kim set us up with directions to the Tamale House on Airport Boulevard near 51st (or was it 53rd?)--I had a very, very good soft potato and rice taco for $1.03, including water to drink. Kerry missed out on that one by having bailed, and Manny missed out by staying in the van eating some kind of hydrogenated snack substrate.

Kerry showed up, and we now had some errands to take care of in town: stopping by Waterloo records, and cashing our check from AMODA (which, it turns out, we couldn't do: Manny has no photo ID). Waterloo Records (which Andy had suggested we check out) was really impressive--massive used section with some good stuff in it (I missed Painkiller's Buried Secrets; Jason scored that instead), lots of high-quality new releases, too, and I managed to score some new stuff--Material's Secret Life, ex-Polvo Ash Bowie's solo Libraness CD, the 13th Floor Elevators reissue (we were in Austin, after all), and a couple of early Stereolab CDs, along with a copy of EI magazine.

I rolled us on toward Houston, through a couple of rainstorms, keeping a speed I was comfortable with (usually just a bit above the limit, but significantly below in the rain, but a couple miles below the limit around Bastrop, a speed trap Kim had warned us about. Thanks, Kim!) I put on the Material CD, thankful to hear some guitars again after the nonstop diet of IDM. Without Greg in the van, things got rather quiet and serious, as well as a bit unconscious for the nondrivers. I followed our Mapquest directions right to the venue, although it's so nondescript on the outside (and doesn't say "Fat Cats," but rather "Mary Jane's") we passed it and had to double back.

The venue is pretty much your normal bar, apart from the men's room being out of commission, requiring us to use the men's room across the street at one of the other clubs they own (from the sound of it, a folk club). We loaded in, got set up, and started soundchecks. Greg came in, rejoining the tour after his night away. For a while there I was feeling tired and weird, possibly as the result of not having eaten in a while, or maybe just from lack of sleep. I had a kind of "veteran" feeling by this point, weary but accepting that "this is what we do"--go in, play music, do our best, and move on. I sat down, drank water, worked on tour journals, and tried to make some calls home. Patricia was hanging out with our neighbor Steffi; my parents were hanging out at home. (My mother said, "it would be interesting to see you play sometime." True, it might, but it very well might not, I had to admit.)

Some local guys were going to play first, and eventually some of them came in. The guys from Go Spread Your Wings were interested in our setups, and we talked for a bit. Other locals filtered in, some audience members and a hip-hop duo with (well, maybe with) a DJ. The locals would go first, and then we'd follow in the same order as Denton. I had a few conversations with local artists who seemed very excited to have us here, and who gave me their CDs, as if I was a minor celebrity or something.

While we were waiting for things to happen, the sound guy got on the mic and announced his own personal lack of Jesus. There had been a picture of Jesus inside the door of the club, and it was now missing. He wanted whoever had taken it to 'fess up and return it, which was understandable, but he was definitely being heavy-handed about it. While it wasn't one of our guys, I admit that I did wonder if it had been. (We actually never found out who took it.) After some DJ action (some of which was actually Manny), Go Spread Your Wings played a sort of ambient IDM (as I remember it) which was quite fascinating. They also had some interesting fractal video projections. I dug 'em. The DJ had some good taste as well--starting with a tune from Bowie's "Heroes", he essentially reminded me that I need to reconnect with this album, and then he hauled out some Gary Numan, among other things. The hip-hop guys were on next, but for some reason took about a half hour to get up in there and start their set. They were pretty good once they got going (including a refrain of "Give the picture back!" at one point), and they had a healthy contingent of supporters in the house. There was a really good crowd, in fact, and I was ready to play.

I was up next, and started by thanking the openers and the DJ, which seemed to build some goodwill. I began my actual set with the poem, which people seemed to like. I recall getting some applause, anyway. I followed that up with what's getting to be the standard short set these days, ambient intro, some guitar percussion (which went really well), some dissonant slide stuff to set up the Bush samples, then get out of that and mess with the delays a bit for glitchy effect. During my soundcheck I'd dropped in some beats to check levels, and Jason asked if I was going to do it in my set. Well, why not? So I did, letting it go a bit, stopping it, and then hitting the granular processing to mess it up. I did some further guitar over top of this, and at one point I heard shouting from the audience. I couldn't really make it out, so I kept going and took it as enthusiasm. While the drones were dying out, I took some photos of the audience, and then I was off. Gilbert, one of the hip-hop dudes, shook my hand and told me he dug it. The GSYW guys liked it, too, one of them saying that I was "cinematic--you're making movies, man!" One problem with the set, though, was that it was very, very loud. The sound guy's pretty much deaf, and apparently a few people left with their hands over their ears in that glitchy section near the end.

I stepped outside to call Patricia, and heard Syne Lapse start up, waaaaay louder than I thought was ideal. People started streaming out, and Manny asked him to turn it down, but this was a problem that was going to dog us for the evening. It turned out that I played to the most people, and those who were left were definitely hard-core.

Xanopticon played to even fewer people, but they were enthusiastic. I went up to the stage to try to alleviate the Moat Effect, and indeed a few others joined me. Ryan turned in one of his most physical sets to date, too. For a change, I went around the side of the stage to look back at his screens to see what all he was doing, although I wasn't familiar with the programs, apart from PD and Bidule. I ended up chatting with a guy named Jay about electronica; his contention was that a lot of practitioners, Ryan among them, are trying to copy Aphex Twin, and I found myself disagreeing. Having listened now to Drukqs in the van, I can see his point, but at the same time it's clear to me that our crew's goals are way different than Aphex's, more chaotic and assaultive while his pieces are more crisp, tight, and controlled. Plenty of audio effects are similar, but the goals differ vastly. (I'll also note that the first track of Drukqs is phenomenally beautiful.) It turns out Jay is using Girl, too, so we tried to talk about that as well over the super-cranked system. It was a conversation in which one person shouts, and then the other shouts back "WHAT?"

After my early good set, the evening was taking a bit of a darker turn. This turn got particularly dark for Girl Talk's set. It was a good set, although unusually he slowed it waaaaaay down, like DJ Screw, or so I'm told. His friend's Houston posse was intensely enthusiastic, though, which made things work. Work, that is, until his cover of "Scentless Apprentice," when he crammed the mic in his mouth and took off the ball of the windscreen, as well as causing the XLR connector to separate. He said something to the effect of "What is this, a $20 mic from Radio Shack?" which offended the sound guy to no end, it seemed. He threatened to bill us $120 for the mic, which was outrageous--considering that it was repairable, the worst thing Greg did was insult it.

Kerry's set took us even more toward the dark, particularly when he lost it at the end, threw his Kaos Pad, and broke his Digital Video player. I hadn't followed all the details, but it emerged later that this is what had gone on. I just knew he seemed super-pissed afterward. We loaded up the van again, concerned at what the sound guy might try to do, but we got out of there successfully.

We were supposed to stay with Greg's friend Hymie, so we followed him to some random area of Houston for late-night Vietnamese. We were first led through some of what late-night Houston had to offer. Essentially this meant deserted streets, but we did pass a number of prostitutes parading themselves around a pickup truck, one of whom definitely had masculine legs.

When we pulled up at the restaurant, we ended up parking in their lot a half-block away. While we were walking in, a sports car pulled up sharply and screeched to a halt on the sidewalk behind us. Four long-haired Vietnamese guys got out, the one muttering that he can do whatever the fuck he wants, bitch, because he's a fucking Federal Agent. I doubted his veracity, and wondered how he might try to augment our dining experience. There was a policeman right inside the place, though, which helped the vibe a bit for me. This might have kept Jason outside for a while, however. Our food was good (spicy tofu for me), and we chatted with some of Greg's friend's friends, interesting folks, including the one guy going through his post-collegiate Nietzsche phase.

Time to split. We headed over to the Party House to drop off Jason, Ryan, and Greg, and then to the straightedge house (Hymie's place, a nice little house somewhere south of town) for the rest of us, where I snagged Hymie's room for its proximity to the phone jack. Then, finally, sleep.

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