Sweet Spirit Tour Diary

On the road with Spoon

Sweet Spirit, the high-energy pop group led by Giant Dog members Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen, are deep into a two-week tour opening for fellow Austinites Spoon. The former sent us dispatches from the road that she scrawled on toilet paper and delivered to the Chronicle via carrier grackle.

Sweet Selfie: Jake Knight, Daniel Blanchard, Future Island vocalist Samuel Herring, Jon Fichter, Cara Tillman, and Sabrina Ellis (Photo by Photo by Cara Tillman)

Sabrina Ellis writes:

Spoon invited Sweet Spirit on a West Coast tour and we decided to take our full ninepiece band. It was a rainy morning on departure day. We needed to leave by 7am, then discovered a problem with our trailer that would prevent us from taking it.

In a panic, the nine of us shoved into the van with our equipment and all of our possessions. We would have to leave a few members behind or take a second vehicle. I’d been eyeing trumpet player Sam’s minivan on the curb.

I asked him if he thought the van would make it to Vancouver and back. His face went white. I took a bong rip and downed two breakfast tacos which Josh had thrown at me like meat to a lion.

Sam talked it over with his wife in the van. She was down to let us use this vehicle that they’d taken on their first dates in high school. I promised Jessica we’d change the oil every other day, but she said that would be excessive.

The van came to be called “Satellite Jessica.” It bore the burden of four band members a day. The other five rode in the OG van, A Giant Dog’s big, white monster.

Cara sat next to me on a bench seat and took off her head scarf. She’s a woman who will wear a headscarf while also using an umbrella in the rain. As a friend once said to me after meeting Cara, she’s just classy.

”I had a dream last night,” she said, folding her scarf. “We were all there. [Spoon’s] Britt [Daniel] was wearing a crop top.”

She made me swear I wouldn’t repeat that, but this vision remained vivid in my imagination. In that way, it belongs to me now, as well as Cara. I saw the vision as an omen of good things to come for Sweet Spirit on this tour.

Our first stop was the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma, an expansive honky-tonk in a dusty parking lot. We spotted Britt, leaning against Satellite Jessica, talking with Sam. Glowing at Spoon’s beacon, Sam bit into an apple.

“Nobody pooted on the way here,” Sam told him. “That poot gets down into the upholstery, never comes out.”

We were shown to the green room to make some Spoon juice. Spoon makes juice. They show up and there are fruits hidden all around the dressing room. Tour manager Lucie hooks up the juicer, and the boys go mad looking in potted plants and behind sofas for pineapples and grapefruit. It’s like a rock & roll Easter egg hunt. Loser cleans the juicer at the end of the night. 

Britt Daniel’s Spoon juice:
Carrots
Ginger
Strawberries

Cut the tops off the strawberries and throw them in the juicer. Throw some ginger and a handful of baby carrots in there as well. Switch the lever and push the button when you want it to turn off.

Tour manager Lucie also gifted us a bottle of Jameson, which we destroyed on our first night. Oklahoma City gave us a warm response. Spoon packed the house and played a long set including my favorite jam, “Ghost of You Lingers.” Their encore was a room-pounding version of “TV Set” by the Cramps.

It’s not fair to embarrass my bandmates with backstage stories and to withhold all embarrassing details involving me. Full disclosure, Wayne Coyne showed up to watch his bros play. He was clearly enjoying the show, hanging out in a baseball shirt with a flower sticker on his face and his hair a mess.

I’ve always wanted to meet this guy, so I crept around his vicinity for a while. The Jameson was in full effect, so I’m not sure how drastic my creeping got. All I know is that by the time I got the balls up to approach him with a Sweet Spirit record, he was gone.

I ran, like a distressed action hero, through the dark, dusty parking lot after his car. Then I cried, puffing on a one-hitter through sobs. I walked toward the back door like Charlie Brown, and offered my pipe to the doorman, who obliged.

”You missed him by this much,” he said pinching his fingers together.

”I wanted to give him something.”

”Why don’t you just … call him?”

The next day, Andrew’s eyes were lit with mirth when he reminded me of my sobbing and my inscription on the vinyl I’d failed to hand Coyne: “I’ve waited five years to give you this.” Our EP has only been out since February.

Most bands on tour delegate heads – to make sure everything runs smoothly during van travel. For instance, drummer Danny was road head on the way to Kansas City. He gave directions and found places to stop. If we must pull over for country pee breaks, road head surrounds the vehicle with traffic cones.

Jon, our bass player, is usually radio head, the person who chooses and changes the music during the ride. Andrew likes to play talking head. That’s the person in the front seat.

We pulled up into a gas station and a man was pumping gas into his Champagne-colored Cadillac, wearing a black silk Hawaiian shirt. Andrew popped up from his nap, took one look at the man, ripped his own shirt off, and replaced it with a black silk Hawaiian shirt identical to the old man’s.

He stood five feet from the man, staring at him for a good half minute, then went inside. On his way out, he got to hold the door for the gentleman, who looked Andrew over and declared, “It’s like we’re twins!”

Most bands on the road play a game called “Tollbooth I Love You.” After paying a toll, the driver asks for a receipt. When that’s handed over and the gate arm comes up, before driving away, eye contact is maintained while a declaration of love is made to the booth attendant.

Reactions vary. Jon was in the driver’s seat when we encountered the friendliest attendant ever.

”Boys, I reckon the fish are biting today,” he said through the window as we pulled up. “You got kids in there?”

”Sort of.”

”I tell you, I can hear those fish just calling my name. And it couldn’t be a more beautiful day. Here’s your receipt.”

”Thank you. I love you.”

The man’s cheerful face dropped as we pulled away from the window. Though we couldn’t hear him, we saw his lips make the words, “You do?”

There’s a scene in the movie Selena when her boyfriend and his head banger buddies trash a hotel room to an underscore of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. This is how most bands probably behave on tour, throwing TV sets around and smearing the walls with pizza.  Spoon maintains a professional demeanor on and off stage, but every tour has its wild night.

Ours was after the show in Fargo.

Some young people invited both our bands to party at a local bar, Dempsey’s. As soon as we entered, we saw/heard a shy man in a tuxedo singing, “When the lights go down in the city.” After his performance, a drunk lady had her moment of glory at the expense of Joan Jett. It was karaoke to the fullest, and the place was packed.

Alex is Spoon’s new member. He’s younger than anyone in Sweet Spirit and he’s a walking good time. He has a dimple that’s the result of a stab wound and is always a little ahead of the times in his dress. At Dempsey’s, he showed up wearing all black with a wool poncho. My memories of the night are littered with Alex flying across the screen like a sugar glider, in his poncho with his outrageous energy.

Eric plays keys and guitar in Spoon. He has a serious face, which belies his constant humor and go-with-the-flow attitude. He must have arrived at the bar before everyone else, because he was called to the stage next. His song of choice, “Like a Rolling Stone“ by Bob Dylan.

Who chooses to sing Bob Dylan at karaoke?

The words flashed across the screen and we found it funny, as a mob, to scream the final line of every phrase along with Eric.

”JUICED IN IT!”

”USED TO IT!”

”MAKE A DEAL!”

This started the fuse on the karaoke KJ’s temper, and soon our fun-loving blond guitarist Josh caused the explosion. A family, out late together, was digging Freddie Mercury a new grave with a less-than-confident “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Josh handed them a $20, popped onstage, and took over a mic.

”You can’t do that,” said the KJ. “We don’t do that here.”

Josh politely left the stage, and soon it was Jake’s turn to sing. He has a special personality that goes hand-in-hand with a mind brilliant enough to learn piano at age 3. He got work as a toddler playing organ for his church. Something about him unsettled the KJ.

“I won’t let you up here in your condition,” he said.

Inevitably, “I Like Big Butts” came on. Alex and Josh found each other’s eyes across the room. They both had the same idea: a twerk-off. Alex leapt onstage and started shaking it below the poncho. 

The KJ had seen enough. He bounced Alex, Josh, and Jake, so the rest of us followed. Bounced from a karaoke bar, we took the party to the Spoon bus.

In the morning, the band told me I spent most of the bus party singing to Britt. My song of choice, “Do You.” My chosen style, a caricature of Britt – or as he described it, Japanese Melissa Etheridge.

He thought I was making fun of him, so he sang back at me, like a Russian Meatloaf. The truth is, I was drunk and thought I was putting on a good performance. Just like the karaoke crowd.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Sweet Spirit, Sabrina Ellis, Andrew Cashen, A Giant Dog, Spoon, Britt Daniel, Wayne Coyne, Flaming Lips, Selena, Guns N’ Roses, Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, Journey, Freddie Mercury, Queen, Meatloaf, Melissa Etheridge

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