Billy Cadden, Daniel Balk, John Speyer, and David Dargahi are on the road. They're in a band called The Postelles and they've driven from New York City, through rain, wind, and hail, to the Pacific Northwest. They are on tour with Free Energy, a Philadelphia band who is signed to James Murphy's DFA record label. As they take the stage to soundcheck in Portland's Doug Fir Lounge the foursome dictate their set up to the sound guy: "drums, bass, two guitars, and vocals."
"So, The Beatles," he replies. They get this every night. The joke bombs in each city. Billy takes his place behind the drum kit, Daniel straps on his guitar and steps behind the microphone. He is flanked by Speyer to the right, and Dargahi to the left, bass and guitar respectively.
They plug in, turn up, and begin to play. After several trepidatious starts they begin to run through a new song called "Running Red Lights." On tour, so much time is spent on the road that soundcheck is one of the precious few times they have the luxury to write and rehearse new material. The floor is empty: a blue expanse that butts up against Doug Fir's log cabin walls. The band starts and stops several times, interrupted by the soundboard operator who every 20 seconds asks them to quit playing so he can tweak the levels. He runs through, instrument by instrument. By the time he works his way to vocals, the band is able to run through a full take of the song.
"We're going to play that one tonight," says David, "It'll be our first time playing it live."
The drive from Portland to San Francisco is a long haul and the prospect of the eleven hour trip is hanging over everybody's heads. The band finishes their soundcheck and immediately reconvenes to discuss travel plans. The question at hand is where to make our port of call tonight. It's a toss-up between the Southern Oregon towns of Ashland and Roseburg. The conversation quickly evolves to a critical re-examination of Woody Allen's filmography, which the Free Energy guys join enthusiastically.
The tour goes at its own pace in many ways. Not only are the bands subject to fickle crowds, but to the rigors of the road as well. The bands arrived at 3pm, and spend the next seven hours until showtime kicking around backstage, noodling on guitar, and sleeping. Free Energy plans on leaving Portland in the morning, which will leave them barely enough time to make it down to San Francisco for tomorrow night's show. The Postelles will leave tonight, and will put in at Ashland. Their tour manager, Brian Wilson (not that Brian Wilson), is busy confirming the guest list and nailing down travel arrangements. Nick, the drummer for Free Energy, is asleep on a sparkly red vinyl couch. Scott Wells, their guitarist, strums pensively his guitar, which has a bird feather sticking out of the headstock.
"What kind of feather is that?" asks David.
"A pheasant tail feather," responds Scott, lackadaisically. "It just blew up on the street one day."
"You blew up a pheasant?!" David and Daniel blurt simultaneously.
"I've been thinking about killing a bird for a while now, maybe a Thanksgiving turkey. I'd do it with a bow and arrow."
By the time The Postelles take the stage at 10:00, the crowd in Doug Fir is starting to fill out. Free Energy warms up backstage while they are working through their set. Nick has woken up from his nap and is now practicing drum rolls on a table, joining the group warm up. Singer Paul Sprangers adds his own vocal runs, trills, and eccentricities, alchemizing a hybrid sound between the two bands. Soon the whole band is engaged in backstage warm-ups at the top of their lungs, "Eeeeeyaaaahaaahhaaahh!" while stretching their legs. The Dionysian cacophony reaches fever pitch when The Postelles play "Running Red Lights."
"I love this song!" exclaims Paul, who exits the backstage to watch them play. The rest band follows close on his heels. They return to the greenroom several minutes later in order to squeeze in a few more minutes of practice. The Postelles are back momentarily, and they are greeted by shouts of enthusiasm from Free Energy. The bands exchange hugs and then with a collective battle cry, Free Energy takes the stage.