Since we last left our heroes in Part 1 and Part 2: Nobody got beat up, we explored some cities and ate a lot of snacks, and met up with Deerhoof, who are the best band in the universe. We’re as far away from home as we’re getting on this tour, and the shows are consistently amazing—every show but one has been sold out. Unsurprisingly, though, fatigue is starting to set in…
Today is the worst drive of the entire tour. Eight and a half hours on the road, which means ten or eleven with stops for gas and pee breaks. We’re zombies. Half of us are still sick and the rest are exhausted. My voice is about to give up, so I’m thinking about the two cigarettes I smoked last night. Not proud. We’re a mess.
By the time we get to Duke University, we’re looped out of our minds. Everybody looks half-melted. We have to load in and play right away. College shows are always fun. The first band is almost done when we start hauling our stuff in. Bonus: I finally get to meet Allison Hussey, whose writing I’ve admired for some time.
I don’t even have time to pee before I blink and it’s over. Kids are going nuts, spinning each other around and dancing. I spend the rest of the night hiding out behind the building eating broccoli and staring at the space between my feet, listening to people going screeching ballistic for Deerhoof, who, as usual, play like they’re on fire. Tonight is one of those nights where no matter what I do, I can’t really get it together. But it’s warm, and people are kind, and soon I’ll be home.
We hit the road early this morning so we can swing back through Beltsville on our way to Baltimore. It’s guitar day! My sweet baby has been on layaway at Atomic. Today, I get to pick it up and bring it home with me. I spend the whole drive daydreaming about what it’s going to be like to write my first solo record. I’ve already got shows booked for June with almost no material written.
I fall asleep in the van and have multiple dreams in which I have black hair. When we get to Baltimore, we eat dinner at Sweet 27, a restaurant where everything is gluten-free; then I walk to a drugstore to buy black hair dye and Easter candy for the merch table. I’m starting to get homesick, which is somehow easier to say than “terrified about getting my shit together when I get back.” Since I moved to New York City, life gets weirder every day. I hope I can find the time and resources to complete what’s required of me. I’m always torn between wanting things to settle down and wanting them to stay exciting forever.
Tonight, I don’t feel up for much. I spend most of the evening in the green room, which always feels good at the time but leaves a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste when friends show up to see me with cookies and copies of their bands’ records and I’m nowhere to be found. How to mediate social anxiety without being a jerk dick motherfucker: a book I’d love to read, but a book I know I’ll never be able to write.
We’re so late. SO late. How did this happen again? This isn’t even that long of a drive! We pull up to the back of Pearl Street as the first band, Zula, is starting. We load in and decide we need a drink. This is our first mistake: The bartender is a heaving, gray-haired smoked ham of a human with a serious attitude problem. He’s basically the real life version of a Mike Judge “unpleasant adult,” some grunting, sweating afterthought for Beavis and Butthead to make fun of.
Zula is cool; danceable, mellow, nice to us. We load on and notice our friends have pulled up to the front row. We’re so lucky to be on tour with Deerhoof; they bring out huge crowds who are willing to suffer through us first in order to get to what they want. Kids push up against the edge of the stage.
Two songs in, someone in the audience starts yelling at me to turn my mic up. This happens every night. I can not turn my mic up, no matter how hard I try. I can alert the sound guy that he should turn my mic up, I can gesticulate wildly at my throat and point up at the ceiling until the cows come home, but I physically can not do anything to make my voice louder. This is the reason it sounds like I have spent the last year of my life gargling hot glass.
My band is very loud—offensively loud, a lot of the time. My voice isn’t meant to be heard sparkling clear over top of the mix. Yes, you should be able to discern the presence of a singer, but not what I’m saying. And again—”Turn your vocals up!” Like, I wish I could. I really do. And tonight, I’m sad and I’m frustrated and I know I am going home tomorrow and real life has to start again and I look at everyone and stop the set, something I never, ever do, and I tell them I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can, I’m sorry, I can’t scream any louder, I’m trying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
As soon as we finish playing, I go outside to the parking lot to cry. I’m overwhelmed because I feel like the audience is mad at me, like I’ve let them down. One of my best friends is here tonight; she follows me out to the parking lot and sits down beside me. She’s a social worker and doula who spends her days doing things like negotiating better birthing conditions for young women in prison. Her life is overwhelming. We’re quiet together for a while, then we speak, we get everything out. We listen to Deerhoof blast through their first few songs, because everything is perfectly audible through the club’s heavy steel doors. When it comes to bad sound, I wonder if it’s just me.
When I re-enter the venue, I find my bandmates shook down the club for a couple of pizzas after hours of not even being told there’s a green room for us to put our stuff in. Deerhoof’s encores are somehow more high-energy than their sets, that last inspired sprint to the finish line. We’re eating pizza when they come back into the green room. They always catch us with our mouths open.
We stay with some of the women in Potty Mouth, who we’ve toured with before. It’s such a beautiful house. I get to sleep comfortably in someone’s bed, but only after laying awake and staring at the ceiling for a long, long time. Am I getting too old for this? I’m going home tomorrow and I don’t know how to feel about that either.
I wake up less fragile. I walk across cold floors and down cold stairs to the kitchen, where Ally’s housemate (also her bandmate) is making coffee. I sit and listen to their cats padding around until my dudes start to wake up. Ali and I lock ourselves in the bathroom and dye my hair black. Something about going home looking changed feels important right now. I have so many questions.
We drive through downtown Northampton to eat our last big family meal at Haymarket Café. It’s a cornerstone of Western Massachusetts, and with good reason. Ali and I had eaten there weeks ago prior to a speaking engagement at Smith College, so I knew exactly what I wanted this time. Sambar with dumplings and coconut chutney. Trust me. If you ever end up there, get it. It’s cheap, warm, and you leave changed.
The drive home is rainy, as every day has been rainy. I feel turned down, morose—I’m always the person who stares out the car window forlornly when it’s raining and sad songs are on the radio, pretending I’m in some garbage Brit-pop video—but the dudes are stoked. We’re heading home, into the arms of an army of pals and lovers. Plus, this tour has probably been our best yet. Seeing Deerhoof every night has changed us, it’s made us better musicians and better bandmates to each other. They’ve been a band for two decades, in which time they’ve consistently innovated, all while being good to each other. They’re brilliant, funny, and work toward building family and community between them on every level. Their chemistry on and off-stage is so inspiring. We are so lucky to have had this experience. We’re sad that it’s almost over, but I can tell we’re all leaving better off than when we started.
Webster Hall feels like a pretty big deal, so we’re happy to get a message letting us know the show has sold out. Thank you, Deerhoof. It’s been a wild ride.
I decided that, to celebrate our homecoming, I’d wear the bizarre navy satin jumpsuit I picked up in Atlanta. Returning to New York with different hair, different clothes, on the cusp of a new season, feels right. Frankly, everything is changing. Between the end of 2013 and the end of 2014, we went from barely being a band to playing about 200 shows, touring for the better part of eleven months, before taking a short break and going right back at it. We’ve survived international jaunts, domestic robberies, changes in our lineup and changes in our sound, reviews both positive and tremendously negative, one hundred thousand million beers, and each other. Now we’re living in different cities, working on different projects, but still operating with this band as the center of collective consciousness. This is our family; our life together is better than our individual lives apart. These are the most important people in my life. In many ways, it feels like my writing, my label, my solo project, is for them. Shit, it’s obviously because of them that I’m allowed to do these things.
And I’m thinking about this while I’m dislocating my shoulder, wriggling into a non-stretch power jumpsuit in a bathroom the size of a battery hen cage, so small I can’t even turn around.
So we play like we’re on fire, mimicking Deerhoof in that last sprint, giving whatever we have left at the end of two weeks of shows, all at once. Sometimes being in this band feels like running at full velocity into a cement wall, over and over. It hurts so much and it’s totally worth it. We can’t stop laughing. It’s awesome, we’re drained, we’re disgusting, it’s done.
Webster Hall is here for Deerhoof, and goddamn, if Deerhoof isn’t here for Webster Hall. Satomi is antigravity, bouncing higher than normal, her aircraft marshalling that much sharper, guiding her guys to landing after landing. During a Deerhoof set, the audience regards the stage like they’re watching an old romantic movie on a big screen; sort of warm, acting unconsciously, not realizing they’re smiling. It’s gentle and cool. When they bounce through the final encore version of “Come See The Duck,” complete with Satomi’s incredible pre-song coaching that no one ever gets the hang of because the meter is so goddamn weird, the kids in the front row—who know all the words—really give it their all.
Our weird extended family parts ways outside Webster Hall just as it begins to snow, very lightly, never more than a vague annoyance leaving tiny dark spots on our clothes. We’ll be reunited in a week for two shows in Brooklyn, but damn. It’s obvious that, though we’re exhausted and wanting our beds and partners and showers and to finally change our socks, we’re still reluctant to leave each other. People like Deerhoof set such a strong example for us in terms of how musicians can be more than “just a band” if they so choose. It’s a weird world, but we built it ourselves, for each other. The dudes pile into the van as I throw my suitcase in the back of my very patient boyfriend’s car, and I watch them pull out into traffic, then I’m following the van’s taillights, blinking in what would turn out to be the last snow of this year, until they turn a corner. And then, before I’m ready, they’re gone.
All images courtesy of Ali Donohue, Perfect Pussy’s bassist and ace tour photographer.
Meredith Graves runs a small record label called Honor Press, writes about feminism and culture for many places (but mostly Rookie), and is the frontperson of Perfect Pussy. Right now her favorite things are tuna salad sandwiches, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and wearing party dresses to the grocery store. She’s writing a solo record, which will be out eventually on Captured Tracks.