Wednesday, 14 July 2010

442 THE GRAVEL PIT (supporting The Upper Crust), The Brought Low, BuzzBomb, Brownies, New York City NY, Saturday 20 May 2000

Rachel and I eventually come round following yesterday's arrival and last night's late Pit show and party, then Michael takes us for breakfast in an excellent diner, "Rosebud" in Somerville. We then hang out at Michael's place trying to plan tonight's trip to NYC. I wish we'd tried harder... Tobin, Michael's friend and driver for tonight, arrives and we eventually get under way at 4.30, having done bugger all prep by way of finding somewhere to crash in NYC, and aiming to do a 4+ hour journey in 3 1/2, to meet Ed at the venue at 8 pm. My suspicions that we're not going to hit the time are aroused when Michael's tack changes from, "we'll be there, no problem, and we'll have time to find a hotel," to "I wouldn't worry about the time, Ed is always late anyway, just see". We bomb along the Interstate and hit New York City's outskirts, passing the Yonkers tower blocks as the light dims. Any chances we have of being on time are however lost when we miss our exit off the George Washington Bridge (more on that later) onto Manhattan Island, and spend 1/2 hour trying to get back out of New Jersey!

After getting onto Manhattan - finally - and driving down 5th Avenue, with Rachel and myself craning our necks to gaze at the skyscrapers disappearing into the clouds (I'm particularly goggle-eyed at catching a glimpse of the wondrous Chrysler Building), we eventually dump the car in a parking lot which we believe is just around the corner from the venue but turns out to be a $10 cab ride away! So we finally arrive at Brownies at 9.45 to find EdV waiting outside. With Ed are Jed, Mike Gent of the Figgs/ Gentlemen, and ex Cavedogs vocalist Brian Stevens. We hang out outside and hear Buzz Bomb have a passable go at covering Husker Du's "The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill" before repairing to the bar opposite. Back at 10.45 to find The Brought Low running late. They're also passable, but nondescript poppy rock, and play an overlong set.

We take positions stage right for The Gravel Pit's appearance, and immediately note how bad the floor is! This, however, doesn't restrict our leaping around too much, which is good as The pit are definitely on better form than last night. "New Haven", again the opener, sounds more seamless and effortlessly flowing than last night, and the Pit kick on from there. As do Rachel and I; we've flown 4,000 miles and driven another 200 to be here, so we're not going to let a load of sullen (and some drunken and throwing their weight around) Noo Yawkers stop us dancing!

The Pit are truly magnificent tonight. Powerful, dynamic, fully formed rock music of the highest order, with genius oozing from every musical pore. The new songs are worthy successors to their already-recorded canon of work, and it is they that dominate this set. The instrumentation is tight and powerful, and vocally Jed Parish carries easily as much passion as the bluesmen he so admires. He even finds time to deal with a clueless heckler in style. Strident, dynamic, awesome; tonight The Pit have it all. Better than last night by general consensus (especially Ed, who thought they were, "1,000 times better"), although I think I prefer the ragged adrenaline rush of The Bills Bar show, of the two. Maybe a little tiredness is setting in, as I don't go for it quite as much. I'm blaming the uneven floor. I don't want to hurt my ankle. There you go.

We stick around for some of The Upper Crust, much hyped by our Boston friends. They're awful; 4 powdered dandies in Revolutionary English wear - the silks, the wigs, the whole lot! - plus crappy fake English accents, even crappier than my crappy fake "Caldes" American accent! They play songs called "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and sound like AC/DC or Nirvana; straightforward grungy heavy rock which in and of itself is okay, but lacking any subtlety or presence from the reedy-voiced singer to really carry it off. Like a band from Dudley putting on Nashville accents and playing C&W, I guess. Mike Gent loves them. Don't know why.

And then the nightmare journey starts! We bid farewell to The Pit guys and catch a taxi outside. After an excruciatingly slow trundle through the streets of Manhattan - which are in such a bad condition that road workers are drilling holes in the appallingly potholed street surfaces at this late hour! - we inexplicably abandon our taxi about 20 minutes walk from the parking lot! For some reason, my guts start cramping up, so Rachel props me up and we finally find the lot, noticing our proximity to the Holland Tunnel connecting Manhattan with New Jersey. Tobin disappears into the bowels of the building to bring the car around. However, when he does, we quickly realise... it's got a puncture! We stick the spare on - which in the US is called a "doughnut", and is about the width of a bicycle wheel, no good for going over 50 mph, or for tackling Manhattan's mean streets in search of a hotel, which was our plan. So we head through the Holland Tunnel in search of a hotel instead, and drive into a desolate world of darkness, punctuated only with the hum of factories and the incandescent light of oil refinery burners belching blue flames and smoke into the night sky. This, my friends, is New Jersey. My spirits sink. I've never felt further away from home, particularly when Michael takes a phone call from a friend in Los Angeles and says, "hey Ben, we're lost in New Jersey."

Eventually lights appear on the horizon, and the tell-tale structure of a large stadium looms forward. This is the Meadowlands, home to the New York Jets American Football team, and clustered around it are lots of large chain hotels. Tobin pulls into the Novotel car park, and Michael disappears to "sort things". 20 minutes later he returns with the news that they're fully booked, the hotels down the road are fully booked, and all hotels for miles around are... fully booked. It's 3 a.m., we're miles from nowhere, my stomach is still cramping up, and there are no free beds. I go a little crazy at this point, Michael urging me to calm down and, "keep cool, for Rachel's sake".

I eventually calm down, and we resolve to head back to Boston, and maybe stop at a Gas Food Lodging on the Interstate. We stop at a services on the New Jersey turnpike, where Tobin gets a new tyre, and Rachel and I, in the hope that some sustenance might sort out my stomach, have a fast food takeout from Roy Rogers, the only eatery open. This turns out to be the worst meal I've ever - ever - eaten. Thus fortified, or not, and with new tyre in place, we finally leave New Jersey, and gratefully head onto the George Washington Bridge, spanning Jersey and Manhattan. Then...

As the rain sprays down, leaving a glazed sheen on the road surface, the two cars immediately in front of us collide. Tobin, thankfully president of the Wide Awake Club, slams the anchors on and screeches to a halt, diagonal, in the road just behind the two wrecks. We reverse, then funnel right to circumnavigate the crash site and the upset and shocked passengers, just as another car crumps into where we had just been. More horrifyingly, another car careers through on the central reservation side (left in the USA of course...) and, scratched and marked, trundles to a halt in front of us. I daren't look back; just as we were picking our way around the first wreck, I'd seen one man get out of the first car and sit down on the central reservation barrier. If he didn't see that final car coming...

This changes the whole emphasis of the trip for us, as I suppose a 4 a.m. near death experience would. We all agree we just want to get the hell out of Dodge, and Tobin takes a moment to collect himself, then drives us all straight back to Boston. Following a couple of Interstate caffeine, nicotine and restroom stops, during which my stomach cramping finally settles down, we eventually hit Michael's apartment in Somerville, Boston at 8.30 and all crash out of the floor, sofa and any available flat surface, pleased to be back in one piece.

Later that day, we recount the whole wild rock'n'roll road trip to Ed, friend and bass player of the Gravel Pit, the reason for our trip in the first place. He listens, increasingly awed and agog. Eventually he breaks the silence. "My God, you guys. You mean to say, you actually ate a Roy Rogers??"

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