A.C. Newman Tour Diary By Jon Wurster: Part 4

longhaul_bristol550If you think that post title is catchy, you should hear Get Guilty (Matador), the most recent solo album by New Pornographers frontman Carl “A.C.” Newman. It’ll blow your mind. Jon Wurster, drummer for indie rock’s A-list (Superchunk, Robert Pollard, Bob Mould, Mountain Goats, Whiskeytown), chronicles his recent U.K. tour with Newman this week at magnetmagazine.com:

May 23
Turns out staying in was the proper thing to do, because the others didn’t get back until 4:30 in the morning. What are these kids doing nowadays, staying out all night? You know there was a video game involved. You just know it. I wake up at 8 a.m., trying to remember all the weird dreams I had. One of them had me eating Rice Krispie treats with the ghost of former Iowa senator James W. McDill. Which is odd because I rarely think about him that much anymore. When Alun comes to pick us up this morning, he parks the van in the first available non-handicapped space. Unfortunately, it’s six entire spaces from the front door, which means we have to lug all our stuff way further than we should. I know, I know, he’s just obeying the rules, but it troubles me deeply for some reason. I can understand his plight. I’m also an extreme rule follower sometimes. I once reported my older brother to the police after he stole a pack of cigarettes. It was the right thing to do. He never touched my smokes again.

We head into town hoping for our first U.K. sit-down lunch. There’s nowhere to park, so we head back to the Premier Inn. Oh, man, is this really happening? Now it’s off to Bristol, where we’ll be playing as part of the Dot-To-Dot Festival. The check-in area for the festival is located in front of a venue/boat called Thekla. Yes, you read that correctly: It’s a rock club in a boat. Superchunk played here some 16 years ago. (It wouldn’t be the last small sailing vessel we played.) The view of the river is really beautiful, and the cameras come out while we wait for Alun to secure our festival credentials. As we’re snapping away, Carl says something I will remember on my deathbed: “Bands don’t take pictures of other bands.”

After we scarf down our complimentary meat pies (yep), Alun hands me a green coupon that I’m to exchange for a case of free warm beer. When I hand a young festival worker the green coupon, he begins ripping the cellophane off a full case of beer and handing us individual cans. “Why don’t you just give us the full case so we can carry it?” asks Carl. “Because you only get half a case,” replies our man. “No, we get a full case,” I object. “No you don’t, you gave me a yellow ticket,” he retorts. “No, it was green.” “No it wasn’t.” “Yes, it was.” This exchange goes back and forth for a while. Look, I am wrong plenty of times. And when I am, I will freely admit it. But I am so not wrong in this instance that it’s not even a little funny. Our friend goes into his pocket and pulls out a wad of loose beer tickets. The one closest to his hand is yellow. “That’s the last ticket I took. Yours. And it’s yellow.” There is no way he can possibly know it’s the last ticket he took.

I reply, “I’m a thousand percent sure I gave you a green ticket.” But this guy is a brick wall. He then goes to his clipboard and asks for the name of the band. He flips through the sheets, locates “A.C. Newman” and says, “OK, I was wrong.” As Carl and I reach down to pick up a fresh case, dude mumbles, “But you did give me a yellow ticket.” More words are exchanged, but the stand-off ends as Carl and I remember England’s strict anti-strangling laws.

When you think of a U.K. festival, you think of thousands of drunk kids in Dr. Seuss hats going nuts in a pasture while the Happy Mondays play, right? That’s not the case with Dot-To-Dot. Our gig is in a very old pub in downtown Bristol called the Fleece And Firkin. I’m not positive, but I think a firkin is a pubic wig, isn’t it? Or is that a merkin? Guess I’ll just have to wait for my summer crotch-wig catalogs to show up. We’re playing with the Hold Steady tonight, and it’s good to see them. They’re quite the phenomenon over here and have been wholly embraced by several of the big U.K. music mags. But you’d never know they’re here tonight, because at 6:30 p.m., the club is pretty much empty, even though the festival is in full swing. We’re on at 8, so there’s nothing to do but sit outside and drink those warm Carlsbergs. But I can’t do it. They’ve been tainted with the douchiness of that guy back at the beer tent. I buy some wine and sit with the gang next to a picnic table that has a substantial amount of vomit under it. It totally takes me back to my seventh-grade church trip to see the Pope.

We’re only required to play for 30 minutes tonight, and this is positively thrilling to Carl. He’s almost giddy about having to play such a short set. I kind of am, too. You get to play pretty much just “the hits,” and it’s like having a half day of school or something. But the show’s kind of weird: Two songs are ended too early, and the vibe is a little off. We finish the final tune, “On The Table,” correctly, so we go out on a good note. Afterward, we join the Hold Steady on their rock bus and hang out for a while. Tad Kubler is kind enough to give me a Xanax for future use. Right before we split, I head back to the club and catch a couple THS tunes. The club is completely full now. Where did all these people come from? And can I stay with one of them instead of going to a Premier Inn? I leave through the side door while the band is rockin’ out.

Tired, we head back to tonight’s Premier Inn. This one is in Portishead. There’s a band from here, but its name escapes me.

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