Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nurse the Hate: Nautica Stage

Tuesday night I went to Nautica Pavilion and saw The Decemberists play for what could be their last time in the area, and certainly the last time they will play Nautica. As Cleveland continues its quest for the winning cosmetic makeover to trick tourists into the city for gambling, the venue will vanish to make space for an aquarium. Why an aquarium? Ya gotta have something for the kids to do while Dad is losing the mortgage payment on a Hard Eight at the craps table! "Daddy look! A stingray! Hey, why is Mommy crying?"

The venue is a great place to see someone, with the stage backing up to the Cuyahoga River. It maintains an intimate feel for the performance space, but holds a good crowd while doing so. As night fell on the city and the Decemberists played “The Mariner’s Revenge”, a giant iron ore ship went by as if on cue. Those boats are so big, it’s like a giant building is floating by seemingly only an extended reach away. What a great prop for that song. The band will remember that forever I’ll bet. A couple quick notes on the show: 1) The band is really good, but I wish they sang more songs about whaling. You could always use more whale songs. 2) There were a lot of bookish dudes with beards there. The concert would have been a bad place to score narcotics, but probably a great place to score a used copy of a David Foster Wallace novel.

I’m moderately sad to see the venue go. While in The Cowslingers, I played that stage a few times. The most noteworthy was when we opened for the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer is, of course, the founder and lead guitarist of the Stray Cats. If you made a flow chart of living rockabilly musicians, Setzer is probably comfortably placed at the top. Note, I said “living”, so you tattoo pompadour guys don’t type me death threats about disrespecting Johnny Cash/Eddie Cochran/Gene Vincent.

We were really pumped to play that show as not only was Setzer one of Bobby Latina’s guitar idols, it was not everyday we had the opportunity to do our thing in front of 3500-4000 or so people. We would get to play a 35 minute set. Not a long time as at the time we were playing about 125 shows a year averaging 90 minutes per show. We were crisp as only a road tested band can be. I remember going to sleep that night with a combination of nervousness about playing in front of the biggest crowd we had ever played to, and the excitement of knowing we were prepared and could knock it out of the park. Sure we were nowhere close to the league of musicianship of Setzer's band, but we did have our moments. Self delusion can be a powerful tool.

I woke up about three hours later and threw up. I threw up again about 30 minutes later. And again. And again. It wasn’t nerves. It was the stomach flu or food poisoning.

Every thirty minutes for the next 12 hours I violently threw up. When I was empty, I threw up bile and had the dry heaves. I couldn’t hold down water. Instead of getting ready for a really big day, I laid in bed feeling absolutely horrible as the clock ticked towards showtime. I was as sick as I had ever been, and show time was in five hours. I dragged myself in the shower, and shampooed my hair as I dry heaved. It was grim. I made the decision of eating a few crackers to build some kind of base. You know when right after you’ve thrown up, you feel pretty good? It’s that illusionary oasis of “well, now that the poison has been expelled from my body, I’ll continue on with my life”. I figured it was my only chance. I was weak and dehydrated, hoping anything would work.

I drove down I-90 to go to Ken’s house and the band van, and I pulled over about ten minutes into the ride. If you wondered who that guy was in the cowboy shirt barfing up crackers from the driver’s side door on I-90 on that hot July day was, it was me. I then pulled into a church parking lot at Ken’s exit ten minutes later, and barfed again in their parking lot. It was about 85 degrees. I was freezing cold with sweat streaming down my face. It was also about three hours until show time.

I finally got to the van, crawled into the bench seat with a plastic bag, and hoped I wouldn’t throw up again on the 20 minute drive to the venue. Leo and Ken didn’t seem too concerned as we bumped and swayed down the local roads to Nautica’s artist entrance. I was sort of moaning and curled into a fetal position. Death would have been preferable to that hot summer van ride.

The main difference between playing Nautica and playing a clubs we were used to like The Continental in New York is that at Nautica there is a whole crew of grizzled professional guys grabbing all of your gear and putting it where it needs to go. At The Continental there were grizzled guys that looked at you with disinterest and/or scorn when you asked where you put your stuff. We felt like real Big Boys having jaded disinterested dudes carry our shitty equipment to the stage, I'll tell you that. We had arrived. Welcome to the top Kid. I didn’t have to really do anything but crawl out of the van and slither on top of a picnic table backstage and hope I died.

About 15 minutes later, Brian Setzer walked by and looked at me like I was a heroin addict. I was splayed out on top of the picnic table, looking bleak. I looked at him with my heavy lids and groaned out a greeting. He looked at me, and said hello with as much enthusiasm as he could fake. Hell, that was more than I would have done under the circumstances. I would have stayed as far away from me as possible for fear of catching spinal meningitis or some kind of exotic burrowing skin worm.

I unsteadily walked out into the blazing sun for sound check, and surprisingly did not vomit again. The stage was huge to us. We were used to playing tiny little stages like the Empty Glass or the Star Bar. This was another world entirely. Bobby and Ken seemed like they were set up in another zip code. As it was usually my responsibility to do interesting stupid shit on stage, I realized I was going to have to move around more than I wanted to up there. To be honest, walking up the metal staircase to the stage was more movement than I wanted to do at that point. I wasn’t in any shape to do David Lee Roth karate kicks.

I managed to sip on a bottle of water before it was showtime. I was still really quesy, and my fear was I would throw up in front of thousands of people in a few minutes. Even if I stopped the show and explained, "I know many of you think I am freaking out due to stage fright, let me assure you that I have the stomach flu. Maybe it's food poisoning. That's not important. What is important is to not leave your seats while we mop up this bile. Sit back and get ready for some rock and roll. Thank you. Um, is that area mopped up yet?" Even if you play that scenario out in your head to "best possible outcome", it's not really something you are hoping comes to fruition.

At 8 sharp, I walked out there into the setting sun with the rest of the band. I hardly remember the show itself at all. Bobby and Ken were like statues to either side of me. I tried to move around a little bit, but when I did I felt really shaky. Towards the very end, I remember some people seemed to like us. Most of them stared at us with a "when do we get to see the famous guy we bought a ticket for" look of boredom. It all happened really fast. Afterwards Brian Setzer was nice enough to seek us out and say how much he liked it. He was probably in his trailer and didn't see a note, but even to make the effort to give us the lip service was great. He didn't have to do that, and I really appreciated the gesture. I remember Bobby and I looking at each other after he left and saying "We just talked to Brian Setzer. Like normal guys. No way." Considering we had been playing music for about four or five years, and had absolutely no idea what we were doing, it was pretty awesome. We were excited just to be there. For God's sake, I used to watch his videos on MTV when I was in high school. You don't get to hang out with people like that. At that point, Brian Setzer wasn't real. He was more like a concept. It was like if Bugs Bunny or Marcia Brady stopped by to say hello.

We hung out backstage for awhile, and then I started to feel almost normal. We waited until the end of the show, put the gear in the van, and went home. Nautica was different to me after that night.


At August 4, 2011 at 12:29:00 AM EDT , Blogger Dave L. said...

I'm a huge Nautica fan. I would hate to see it go (who needs an aquarium?). I've been to many shows where ships go by and it always blows my mind. Fantastic venue.

At August 16, 2011 at 2:29:00 PM EDT , Blogger Not the Kook said...

the Nautica stage is one of the only places in the country that someone can take a boat to. That was what was so stupid about the TowerCity tent, you're on the river but you can't tie up to seawall and go to any of the events. leave it to us (Cleve) to kill one more place in the flats thats boater friendly, especially after they just started using it again. GGRRRRR.


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