DEAD AND GONE: A HOLIDAY WEEKEND WITH EKUMEN

ANTIGRAVITY-JULY-2017-Ekumen-2
Published  July 2017

Ekumen is a band comprised of post-quarter-life-crisis adults. Adam plays guitar; AuraLee sings; Chuck plays guitar; I (Ian) play drums; Josh plays bass. If we have our way (and we probably won’t), you’ll never see our names in print again. We play music evocative of the late ‘90s post-hardcore scene, music that we loved when angst ruled everything around us and we definitely weren’t going to live past 25. We are named for a concept within a post-technological science fiction book series from the ‘70s, specifically the Hainish Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin. In a word, we are antiquated. One might even say post-antiquated. “Tour” was three days long.


NEW ORLEANS

We appropriately began our little adventure into outdated nostalgia opening for Parasites, a pop-punk band that has been doing what they do since 1985. The lead singer, Davey Parasite, basically talked the whole time about how much he hated everyone he’d ever played music with over the last 30 years. It was very inspiring and shone a bright light on what it might be like to keep on doing this thing that we do 15 years from now. We also played with Stacks, who we share a practice space with, and who happen to be my next door neighbors. They ripped their Gainesville Fest ‘07-evocative tunes to the delight of all. Local weirdos Name Calling did their emo-tinged, pop-punk nostalgia fest thing too. It was a blast from the past—coming from the present—for all.

The sound guy asked me right away how long our set was. I told him about 17 minutes and he asked if we could double that. We cannot. 

Siberia was in full effect and three dudes were kicked out of the bar before midnight for reasons unrelated to one another. One of them was an old coworker of mine and Josh’s who tried to get behind the bar; one threw a stage monitor onto the floor then whined about it; and one tried to get in for free and then drunkenly railed outside against gentrification and white people for the next hour. Fair enough, but he was definitely angry drunk and looking for a fight for the sake of a fight and it was not a great scene. We left said scene with friends and lovers for a nightcap at Sydney’s.

MOBILE, AL

I had to do adult things in the morning before we hit the road and had intentions of waking up bright, early, and hangoverless. Sydney’s ruined that prospect for me. Actually, I had planned to stay relatively sober all week leading up to tour because staying relatively sober on tour is an impossible proposition for me, and I wanted to start out with a clear mind and limber body. Turns out doing so before tour is equally impossible. Still, I got work done all day and Chuck grabbed me at my house around 5 p.m., band in tow, and we headed out to Mobile. Ten minutes into the car ride, Adam let us know he was going to have a baby in November. He had replaced our old guitarist a few months back, who also had a baby shortly after joining Ekumen. Coincidence? Hard to say, really. Trying to have a baby? Come be our guitarist maybe.

Chuck’s van consists of four captain’s chairs and our band consists of five members. I know all y’all DIY cool kids tour in a van with two bands and a dog for 45 days at a time and it’s totally fine, but we are old and we are not you. We had a beach chair wedged between the two back seats, which was a fantastic idea and certainly beat sitting on the floor, but more than two hours on that thing was untenable, so there was much seat rotation over the weekend, despite the relatively tiny distance we had to travel between shows.

We got to Mobile around 8pm and headed straight for the Merry Widow. The sound guy asked me right away how long our set was. I told him about 17 minutes and he asked if we could double that. We cannot. Come to find out there is only one local act on the show and they want to play their set 30 minutes before the show was listed to actually begin. In my 18 years of playing punk and punk-ish shows, I have never once played one that started even close to on time, so to hear tell and be a part of a show that was to begin well before the stated time felt quite literally unreal. The fundamental laws which dictate my reality have been forever unmoored.

This band was VCCR, a three piece of folks decidedly older than us playing a grungy, metal-tinged sort of female-fronted Misfits worship. Their set was about 20 minutes long, and would have been really fun if anyone had been there. Instead, the only person standing for the band was a 70-something cowboy of a man with buck teeth and moves like Ian Curtis. We later found out the band played early because the drummer had a “real” “paid” “gig” at 10:00 that night. We never found out who that dancing cowboy was.

We were asked to play our set at 11:30, so I went for a walk around Friday night downtown Mobile, which happened to be hosting a comic-con that weekend. The trapblasting, shiny-rimmed cruisers contrasted nicely with the Victorian steampunk pedestrians. I got back to the venue around 11:00 to find zero patrons, but at least five bartenders hanging out, doing rounds of shots every few minutes.

We eventually played to a handful of humans, every one of whom seemed to genuinely appreciate our art. Minutes after we completed our set, many more handfuls of people poured into the bar, lamenting their having missed the show and lumping second-hand praise upon us. It was all right.

We were told before playing this show that The Merry Widow has an amazing green room/ apartment upstairs for touring bands, available to all who travel and play. When we arrived we asked about this as humbly as possible, and witnessed many mumbles and furtive glances between employees when we did so. There would be no room for us. We figured initially that this was because we were undeserving, just as we were undeserving of playing alongside any local acts at a reasonable hour; but it turns out they’d recently converted the room into an Airbnb and it was presently occupied.

Fortunately, we are adults and through his job Chuck occasionally gets free hotel rooms. We slept at a Quality Inn and it was fine. In the morning, Chuck went for a jog. I meditated by the pool, we all took showers, and failing to find any decent coffee in town, hit up a Starbucks on our way to Valdosta, Georgia.

VALDOSTA, GA

This was Saturday morning on Memorial Day weekend along the fringes of the Gulf Coast, and as such, the road to Flora-Bamian glory was saturated with Sons of the Confederacy revving their Harleys, Ford F-350s laden with Trump stickers, and a few good-looking families just looking for a mean tan. It was one way to start the day.

ANTIGRAVITY-JULY-2017-Ekumen-1On our way into Valdosta we made a little side trip to Madison Blue Spring State Park, just inside Florida. On our way to this little piece of paradise, we took a wrong turn down a red dirt road littered with Confederate flags, rusted truck beds, and trailers. We were for a moment convinced that Madison Blue Springs was a lie intended to trap and end the likes of us city-slicker-antifa-queero folk, but we turned around and quickly discovered the true springs. They were very cold and quite blue. I would recommend them to anyone, of any age, who finds themselves travelling long distances through the early summer South in an air condition-less van. Afterwards, nobody perspired even a little bit the whole rest of the ride to Valdosta.

The house we played at had previously been owned by a retired professor who loved to play the organ in the main room of the house while having sexy underwear parties. He stabbed and murdered his young lover in a bout of methamphetamine madness, and now his house is a punk house of sorts. The professor had designed the house specifically for playing his organ in said main room, so the acoustics were actually fantastic for a house show.

We were playing a show—with five touring bands and two local acts— that actually ran very smoothly. We missed the first band, but caught these two hardcore acts from El Paso that were touring together and shared a few members, Sabrewolf and Barbarian. Each band was a perfect archetype of two different sorts of hardcore music, and the musicians were young, sweet and bright-eyed. After them, Northbound played and brought me directly back to 10th grade. I guess these guys are part of this trve emo revivalist movement I keep hearing about, because as soon as they started playing, a bunch of awkward teenagers appeared from the shadows and sang along to every heartfelt word they emoted. As soon as the band was done, all of those gangly, strange, swoopy-haired creatures fell back into the night, but I was left with a nostalgia for my own senselessly heartbroken youth that, well, made me feel really old.

We played a fine set to a decent crowd filled with humans of all ages who seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Local act Prison Daddy closed out the night with a noisy and drunk-as- hell, beautiful punk set. Actually their bass player, Joel, was sober because he’s been sober for a couple of years, being an older gentleman with a clinical imperative to not drink. I know this because he put us up for the evening.

Joel and Jessica own a dream house, set on two acres of woods. Joel works construction and Jessica is a librarian, and they can afford a dream house set on two acres of woods. If I didn’t love my life and I had heard of Valdosta before, I would maybe want theirs. They had an amazing graphic novel collection and a very sweet dog. Before they bought the house, the former owner of the home had willed it to her cats upon her passing—cats who lived out the rest of their lives with minimal human intervention. The house went on the market only after the last cat went to the great scratching post in the sky.

Joel and Jessica took us to Sunday brunch in this Church-centric town. On the spectrum of punk weirdo aesthetic, we as a band look like extremely normal humans, but amidst the floral dress, spray tan, and pastel polo crowd, we looked like superfreaks. The people were kind and tried not to stare. The food was decent.

TALLAHASSEE, FL

Tony DePalma is a long-standing show booker and all around good-doer of the Tallahassee DIY scene, and also a dear friend of Josh’s. We headed for his house upon arriving in town, just long enough to put on some swimwear, then headed back out to an apartment complex pool. This illegal jaunt started as a cozy gathering of seven, but quickly grew to a full-on 20-person, Sepultura-blasting, Tecate-chugging pool party. Tony made a Facebook post about the whole thing, specifically asking that nobody under 30 attend. They didn’t listen. Kids these days, amirite?

The neighbors did not complain, at least not with their mouths. Many came out and stared at us hard from the balcony, but it’s not like they were going to use the pool anyway.

After the beer ran out, we headed back to Tony’s house (which, incidentally, he owns, by way of his being a lawyer for the state of Florida, because he is an adult) and had a nice afternoon barbecue. AuraLee ate a cheeseburger with pepperjack cheese on it, which she is allergic to, and promptly threw up for the third (and last) time on tour. Josh’s long ago ex-girlfriend made a surprise entrance to the barbecue and trapped Josh in a web of inescapable awkwardness for hours.

ANTIGRAVITY-JULY-2017-Ekumen-3We also met Farmer Phil, an odyssey unto himself and a wonderful mirror from which we can observe our pretensions and expectations of social acumen in the tiny punk, weirdo, hipster universe. This man was a facsimile of ideals, a two-dimensional painting of a DIY everyman, replete with every manner of tool on the utility belt that held up his dirty Carhartts. He wore suspenders too. I refused to let him know that I too, was a farmer, because to have to talk to him about anything of substance seemed an impossible proposition. I may never see a fish so far from water again in my lifetime.

We got to the Wilbury around 7:30, and the door guy actually came to us, outside, to present us with our drink and food tickets. This never happens; nothing like this ever happens. Food tickets definitely never happen. Obviously, I was immediately smitten with the place because free things are heartwarming. The venue itself was very pleasant to behold as well. It had a large back patio lit up with Christmas lights and an airstream for a kitchen. If MTV’s Spring Break had followed Mumford and Sons into the future, it would have filmed in a place like this. That is to say, if there was a place meant to make us feel old, this was it.

The crowd here looked to be made up almost entirely of college undergrads, but I felt none of the pain of being an old millennial in a young millennial’s den that I have known so well since I was 26. In all truth, this pain has probably faded only because we have not been sleeping on the dirty floors of strangers’ basements, but instead on the cozy beds and couches of our friends. It makes all the difference, and it makes being old OK.

This show was all dream pop, synth folk, and us. Before our set, snickering young adults could be heard in every corner whispering that a hardcore band was going to play, ironically spin-kicking into the air and “picking up change” as they did so. When we actually played, not one penny was picked up from the ground, as the audience was paralyzed with rapture throughout our set. Seriously. It was weird. We thought everyone would go outside when we played, but the kids loved it. Way to not make us feel old and alienated and totally ruin the premise of this entire tour, Tallahassee. Jerks.

We were sandwiched between a band that sounded like a mashup between Smashmouth and Shania Twain, and a young man with a voice and some pre-recorded synth sounds. I cannot recall their names and while they were sweetheart humans, they were not at all for me, musically. Our viscera did not mesh with their saccharine, but we shared a stage all the same.

A Fourth band, Cough Drop, played some intensely emo-laden surf rock that I got way into. AuraLee and I chatted with one of the guitarists at the end of their set; she was super bummed because the band was breaking up after the summer. College was over and everyone except her was leaving Tallahassee. She will be in other amazing bands. She is still so young.

I know all y’all DIY cool kids tour in a van with two bands and a dog for 45 days at a time and it’s totally fine, but we are old and we are not you. 

The show was headlined by Emperor X, an absolutely perfect combination of The Mountain Goats and Dan Deacon. Apparently he’s a pretty big deal but I’d never heard of him. After our set, he told us that a rock band hadn’t made him feel anything in years, but we had honestly moved him. I was very grateful for his compliment as well as his age adjacency to us (he was born in 1979), but I could not say that his music moved me back. Those kids though, it was like seeing Northbound all over again. They sang along to every word, fists pounding chests and necks bulging out feeling. That was moving.

We started talking about going to sleep around midnight and did something about it around 3 a.m. We had to get going early because Josh needed to be at work early on Memorial Day to cook some barbecue at The Joint. Memorial Day is a busy time for barbecue.

“On paper this should have been awful, but it definitely wasn’t.” —Josh “Soda” Eaton Memorial Day 2017

Ekumen will be playing Banks St. Bar on July 17th and Gasa Gasa on August 6th. For more info, and to hear their self-titled demo cassette, go to ekumen.bandcamp.com.

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