It’s taken six months of planning, one hastily arranged stand-in drummer and an awful lot of fuming at travel agency websites, but finally we are here. GOOD GRIEF are on American soil. And what’s the first thing that greets us as we wait for our connecting flight in a bar at Philadelphia International Airport? Why, it’s a plethora of TV screens showing the golf at Hoylake while the PA blasts the familiar strains of The Beatles. OF COURSE. Are you sure this isn’t home?
A little background: last year, Good Grief embarked on our first tour as a band, hooking up with ace American garage pop duo Eureka California in the process. Together we travelled the UK, taking in sculpture parks and prehistoric heritage sites in between playing shows and irritating those goodly enough to let us crash on their floors (tour in-jokes are a truly terrible business for collateral victims). Over a year later, Eureka are driving us around the East Coast of America, and we’re stupidly excited at the prospect. Bido Lito! were foolhardy enough to request some of the highlights from our tour journals: what we could remember of it is written here.
EUREKA CALIFORNIA (Athens, GA)
Jake Ward – guitar/vocals
Marie Uhler – drums
GOOD GRIEF (Liverpool)
Will Fitzpatrick – guitar/vocals
Paul Abbott – bass/vocals
Gabby Dos Santos – drums
Tonight we’re playing at Golden Tea House in Philly, a city which reminds us of home in its clear division between regenerated tourist traps and working-class areas left to rot. Naturally, the venue is housed amidst the latter, but we’re bowled over to discover that this gnarled old punk house actually has a much better setup than most ‘pro’ venues. Most notably, the stage is set up on the back wall of the kitchen, facing the fittings, and thereby ensuring that the fridge is handily within reach of all present. Whilst walking to a nearby store to pick up some generic American lager (PBR, Highlights, Icehouse… take your pick – they’re all superbly cheap and taste of fucking nothing), we also discover that in 1965 Martin Luther King addressed 10,000 people at a road junction not two minutes’ walk from the show. Admittedly, we only learn this after tripping over a sign when Jake from Eureka insists on having his photo taken outside a hot-dog vendor called ‘Texas Wieners’, but still, pretty awe-inspiring.
Our hosts look after us nicely, even writing “loo” on the bathroom sign just in case we’re confused about whether to go for a wee or a nice relaxing soak. Tonight’s openers Humanshapes blow us all away with Hot Snakes riffs and plenty of sass, before an incredible acoustic performance from pop-punk legend Joe Jack Talcum of the Dead Milkmen. Our set goes pretty well, but it’s the phenomenally catchy racket of our tourmates that wins the night. Halfway through proceedings, Humanshapes’ drummer drops a veritable menagerie of intricate balloon animals from the balcony. It’s surreal yet brilliant; exactly what we were hoping this tour would be.
We’ve all heard stories of what New York will be like in the summer: sweltering heat, unbearable humidity… but how hot can it really be? Very, it turns out. Manhattan’s sky-scraping tower blocks seem to trap the heat at street level, whilst subway vents blast unfeasibly hot air onto the pavement. It’s impossible to walk 20 metres without dripping with sweat.
One dash under the Hudson later and, despite Brooklyn’s relatively airier streets, the temperature barely drops. As we arrive at the venue, Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles gives the English members of our party some low-grade verbal shit for no apparent reason. No-one cares, though, because we’re too busy racing towards the room’s giant fan (“This is my new god, “ declares Paul) – a popular spot in the oven-like warehouse space known as Shea Stadium. And yeah, we know. A band from Liverpool playing a venue with that name. What are the odds?
In the end, the show is a triumph for all concerned, with great sets from local bands Deep Pockets and Crowbait. We should also mention at this stage that Good Grief’s on-loan drummer Gabby plays in the mighty Town Bike back home, and with TB singer Sarah currently studying in Manhattan, it only seems right that we drag her on stage to sing their brat-punk classic Jerk With New Shoes. As high points go, it’s only topped by the heavens suddenly opening halfway through the night, as everyone races outside to gratefully soak up the rain.
There’s not a lot that can be said for an eleven-hour drive from Queens to Salem, Virginia, but in the event it feels a lot less punishing than it appears on paper – even Marie from Eureka seems unaffected by such a Herculean undertaking, despite taking the wheel for the whole journey. In any case, tonight we’re excited because we’re playing with arch-lunatic pop experimentalists The Bastards Of Fate (anyone who saw them lay waste to MelloMello in 2013 will understand our joy).
Billy’s Barn provides the receptacle for tonight’s show: a huge wooden shed converted into a saloon straight out of The Blues Brothers. As we arrive, a group of around forty elderly ladies are square-dancing to generic Nashville country – this is what you want from America, really, isn’t it? The locals give us a heroically rowdy reception, dancing and hollering with gusto. “You guys rock!” insists one girl as we pack away afterwards, repeating the statement to the extent that my earnest thanks genuinely don’t seem to be enough. Back home, we may be just another bunch of nerds hawking our indie-punk wares to DIY spaces across the country, but here… why, we could be kings…
We’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s the hometown show for Eureka, and we have a lot of friends there thanks to our ties with Athens indie label Happy Happy Birthday To Me. We’re playing an all-dayer called Slopfest, and are determined to make our mark – which goes swimmingly until halfway through the set, whereupon I break a string and swiftly discover that DIY in the USA doesn’t mean helping other bands out. We jettison a few songs and muddle through, attempting to block the nagging suspicion that this may be a missed opportunity. Still, Derek, the promoter, seems pleased, repeatedly informing us we were great before buying shots for all and repeatedly flinging more beer tokens our way. So it must’ve been alright.
At some point in Salem, Jake seems to have been struck down by a mystery bug but, despite having to extricate him from his sick bed, Eureka California are still magnificent tonight. Every track is a relentlessly catchy masterpiece of slacker-pop guts and Kinksian glory – they should be huge. Along with HHBTM boss Mike Turner, they’re also extremely nice folks, treating us to a weekend of mini-zoos, Mexican banquets and swimming in rivers. We feel pretty bloody lucky.
No-one’s sure how we’ve arrived at this point, but it’s the last show of the tour, and we’re all trying ridiculously hard to avoid being glum. It’s been more fun than we could’ve imagined – we’ve eaten so much ridiculous food, drunk so much obscene-strength IPA and generally had the best possible time with some of our favourite people. Almost as if to reduce the culture shock of returning to the UK, we appear to be playing Chester tonight. Or so the town of Charlottesville would have us believe: it’s small and charming, with quite possibly the best comic shop we’ve seen on this entire tour (just show me somewhere that sells Charles Forsman/Oily Comics stuff and I’m happy).
Despite our prospective tears, tonight turns out to be one of the best shows of the whole run. Our host Drew plays in a terrific Superchunk-esque band called International Friendly, as well as being a rep for a local brewery called Champion. He fills us full of a deadly brew called Missile, lending sufficient bravado to me and Paul that we invade the stage for Eureka’s final song, grabbing the mics and honking along enthusiastically. It’s probably a shambles, but it feels right. Celebratory, even – Eureka California are the best. We don’t wanna go home. Don’t make us go home. We’re going home.
The Eureka California/Good Grief split 7”, released jointly by HHBTM, Rok Lok and sncl, is available in the UK from sncl.collective-zine.co.uk. Eureka California will tour the UK again in November.