August 21, 2002
Happy heat waves, everybody. Hope your summer has been inspiring. We've been gigging here and there in various permutations, with Mark and Jason giving a little acoustic recital at the opening weekend of Brooklyn's brand-new Southpaw; a Champale tricked out with Don Piper and Dave Rappaport closing down the beloved Brownies; Mark making a solo appearance on KEXP in Seattle; and other performances too numerous to mention. Look for more weird versions of Champale in the fall at a venue near you.
Meanwhile, the long-anticipated Jealousy Records tribute to George Harrison is due out next week. It features our rendition of George and Bob Dylan's "I'd Have You Any Time," and you are sure to dig it. Check out: jealousy-records.com.
Thanks to everyone who made the recent tour so darn fun, and especially those of you who bought those XL t-shirts. We love the Midwest.
Erin Elstner, meanwhile, has relocated to the island formerly known as Formosa, now known as Taiwan. She's teaching, playing music, riding a moped, and eating weird food. What follows are some recent dispatches from Our Vibist in the Far East, an exclusive Champale Bungalow feature we call:
Globetrotting Erin Elstner erstwhile vibes player offers glimpses into her inscrutable new life...
4/1/02: THE TWILIGHT ZONE
My flight out of JFK kept being delayed due to "mechanical difficulties" which caused most of the passengers, myself included, to miss their connections in Tokyo. We found out later that a 200-pound garbage can had hit the wing of the aircraft, so we had to stay in Japan for the night. After waiting for hours, we were shipped off to the Japanese countryside en route to the Chiba Radisson. I had made the acquaintance of two Singaporean travellers and we decided to go exploring outside the hotel in search of some local folk and a beer. We inquired at the front desk as to the whereabouts of any nightlife, and they just laughed and said we were in the country and that nothing existed for miles ... except ... that there was some dive down the road a ways that they knew nothing about.
We headed out into the darkness. There was nothing around for about a mile, and then we saw in the distance a clapboard shack with a buzzing neon sign that read BIG COUNTRY. Crossing our fingers, we walked into a scene that none of us were prepared for: The entire interior was decorated with paraphernalia from the American South, and both bartenders, the barbacks, and the five Japanese patrons were all in cowboy getups, complete with hats, boots, and huge belt buckles. Johnny Cash was blazing from the speakers, and there were instruments in one corner.
We sat down, and the bartender said his name was Winchester. As he said this, I noticed a gun rack adjacent to the tap that had that name printed on the side. The beer on tap was Asahi, so we ordered three mugs.
Then we noticed one older white woman, maybe in her late sixties, sitting near us, with a leathery face and lots of bulbous jewelry on her fingers. She creaked around in her chair and said, "WELCOME TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE," and cackled through a smoker's cough.
We asked what the instruments were for, and she said they had live country music there nightly. "Who plays?" We asked. "THEY DO!," she replied, and pointed at the five Japanese Eastwoods sitting at the bar. I still cannot believe I didn't have my camera on me...
4/11/02: HOW MUCH FOR THE BANANAS?
I am writing this e-mail in an "internet cafe" I use the term "café" loosely, as it is one huge fluorescent sweaty basement with hundreds of young Taiwanese boys playing computer video games. I am surrounded by the sounds of machine guns and machetes performing lewd acts of kung fu combined with synthesized Chinese flutes.
Vega's nephew wanted a cool haircut and asked me if I could shave the back of his head and etch a NIKE symbol across the bottom. I tried my best, but it ended up looking like a boomerang and he cried hysterically for several days.
People here are very superstitious and regularly put small tables out in front of their homes or businesses with food intended as an offering to the good ghosts who roam the earth. There is usually several dishes of meat, some bowls of fruit, incense and paper money (ghost money) to be used in the afterlife. Some brilliant American tourist saw one of these tables outside a small store and asked, "How much for the bananas?"
Most people here drive scooters and wear surgical masks on their faces as protection against pollution. Several years ago someone was savvy enough to start marketing designer face masks, so there are entire stores devoted to this. You can purchase a Chanel, Gucci, Hello Kitty, Punk Rock, Beavis and Butthead, DKNY, etc., face mask and still be fashionableŠ
4/11/02, part two: CHICKEN ASS AND MELON BOY
Let's see...strange foods. Cubed pig's blood soup, duck blood with rice bars on a stick, chicken ass, intestines, stomachs, hearts, oh, I ate some kind of BBQ shrimp the other day which was completely intact with the head, eyes, and antennae. That was difficult. I think it's the consuming of eyes that gets me.
There are many different kinds of tofu, one called Stinky Tofu that smells like ass. I am serious. Um...duck head on a stick that look like some kind of head lollipop. Another popular delicacy is chunks of bamboo drowned in mayonnaise and eaten with toothpicks. 7-11 is everywhere, and in the bigger cities you can find McDonalds and KFC. Oh, and Starbucks. I have never found any place that sells bagels. I have lost about 15 pounds already. None of my jeans fit me.
I have found many hilarious shirts with nonsensical English phrases. One of Vega's older brother's friends who is the epitome of stoicism was wearing a shirt that had a breast pocket with CINDERELLA written across it in pink. I am sure he had no idea what it meant. Vega's 10-year-old nephew is pretty chunky and gets teased a lot at school. The other day I noticed that his backpack said MELON BOY in boldface orange. I told Vega that we needed to purchase him a new bag.
4/14/02: LUCKY HOUSE GECKOS
Okay, so I have mentioned the flesh-colored "lucky house geckos" who live above the ceiling, eat mosquitoes, and bark at me, but last night I discovered a new specimen. People breed daddy long legs in their homes and let them loose because they eat cockroaches. They also like to crawl on you in the night.
I finally caved and bought a designer surgical face mask to wear when I am riding my scooter. It is a replica of a Texas license plate across my nose and mouth.
Found a t-shirt the other day that says POO POO PEE PEE MUSIC across the front.
Met some Taiwanese girls who told me it was the "greatest day of their whole lives because we get to meet you!" That's a little scary. I never felt so important...
Have been eating some kind of bar snack that looks like peanuts in the shell, but the shell is coated with some kind of powder. When asking about the powder, I have gotten the same two responses "dirt" or "dust."
Went shrimp fishing again.
4/18/02: DO I LOOK RUSSIAN?
Vega and I were having dinner last night at a small restaurant near his home. I can never read any of the menus here, so he will translate some of it and give me some choices. One of last night's specialties was "Fish Chin." I asked him if fish even have a chin, and he said, "Of course." He also told me that I had already consumed fish chin at some previous date, but I have a hard time believing that.
We came home and found a toad in the bathroom. I turned around to find Vega spraying hairspray on it, and when I asked him what he was doing he said he was trying to kill it. Using hairspray?
I am getting to be a pro on the scooter driving long distances even! It's so much fun. Except when you wear lip gloss and arrive at your destination with about 25 mosquitoes glued to your mouth.
People still keep thinking I am Russian. Do I look Russian?
4/30/02: STINKY TOFU II
Played drums with a band at LEON the other night. Almost every time some band wants me to sit in, they want me to play jazz. They get really excited and go, "How about swing?! Yeah, yeah, American style, swing!!" and the bass player plunges into a walking bass line. I usually say no, and the next request is ALWAYS James Brown. "Yeah, yeah, you know, I freel gooode! Dah na na na na na na!"
What else...I ate duck neck and stinky tofu last weekend. I have to say it was pretty good!
* * * *
March 10, 2002
Thanks to everyone who came down to Great Lakes the other night to see the impromptu spectacle of Ira and Mark and pal Sam Erickson aka Sea of Scarves, the world's ONLY Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites tribute band rocking it pub-style with, you guessed it, inspiration, living legend, and all-around sweetheart Nikki Sudden. Imagine, if you will, Geddy Lee sitting in with Power Windows, or Jim Morrison sitting in with Crystal Ship, and you get the picture.
February 26, 2002
We're gearing up to hit the highway, supporting Cracker as they celebrate the release of their great new record, "Forever." If you've got pals out there in the heartland, let 'em know we're on our way...
March 11 Burlington, VT: Higher Ground
March 12 Toronto, Ont.: Lee's Palace
March 13 Cleveland, OH: Odeon Concert Club
March 14 Columbus, OH: Newport Music Hall
March 15 Chicago, IL: Metro
March 16 Madison, WI: Luther's Blues
March 17 Milwaukee, WI: Miramar Theatre
Also keep your eyes peeled for Champale's existence, as justified in the pages of The Onion...
January 3, 2002
VCR alert: David and Andrew, the Champale horns, will be appearing this Friday, January 4, on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, as they supply some brass for our buds Clem Snide. Also keep your eyes peeled for a certain cello player.
Over the holidays, David and Andrew were putting the finishing touches on the Anchor Tattoo album, to be released very soon, Mark and Ira were dabbling in a top-secret side project, Jason was in London, Erin in St. Lou, and Len in California. Meanwhile, we've been invited to contribute a track to a George Harrison tribute record. A most noble cause.
Finally, props must go out to REM for putting Simple Days on their 2001 playlist. Thanks.
October 8, 2001
The Pitch-a-Tent Showcase
at CMJ has been rescheduled for Saturday, October 13, at Mercury
Lounge. We'll be joined by our friends Steve Koester (of Koester)
and David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker).
begin at 10 o'clock with Steve, then us, and then David
a rare solo set (with some random Champale accompaniment). Come
early, stay late, say hello.
Also -- on Sunday the 14th, we'll be performing a
song at the launch party for LunaSea Records'
long-awaited Big Star
Tribute at Luna Lounge in NYC. Click on LunaSea's
Web site for details
September 18, 2001
Our thoughts and support go out to the friends and families affected by the recent tragedies in New York, Washington, and Shanksville...
In the wake of the attacks, CMJ wisely pushed back
the Music Marathon to October 10-13. We apologize to anyone who
came to Mercury Lounge under the impression that the
show was still
on. Look for updates on the status of the CMJ Music Marathon here
or on the
September 6, 2001 We're back from
beach, and other points on the globe with an update on
showcase at CMJ: We'll be joined at Mercury Lounge on Saturday,
September 15 by David Lowery (Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven), Gem
(members of Guided by Voices), and Viva (Athens, GA, wunderkind).
Showtime is 10 o'clock, with Viva, then Gem, then us, then David
playing a rare solo set with the possibility of some even rarer
Champale accompaniment. Check
here for tix.
Sunday night, September 16, we'll be throwing down
a Big Star cover at Luna Lounge for LunaSea Records' release of
the long-awaited Big Star tribute record, featuring us,
Longwave, and a host of other local yokels.
Meanwhile,Champale is featured as one of
Bands of Brooklyn" in the current edition of the wonderful online
magazine Free Williamsburg. If you can't make either of the CMJ
shows, you can always sit around at home, order Chinese, and get
eye strain by looking at Free
As some of us prepare to head for the
beach (and Erin
goes off to Taiwan to book some Champale shows in the Far East),
we should let you know that "Hard To Be Easy" has been included
on "This Is Next Year," a two-CD compilation of
Brooklyn music from
Rock featuring the likes of They Might Be Giants,
Nada Surf, Clem Snide, Folksongs for the Afterlife, Ida, Weeds of
Eden, and many more. When we return in September, look
at CMJ in New York, on the road, and performing a lo-fi version
of "Stroke It Noel" on an upcoming Big Star tribute record.
6/27: GEORGIA SWING
We just got back from some great shows in Athens and
Miguel Rodriguez Urbiztondo (Koester,
Fingers) on the skins and John Neff (Star
Room Boys, Japancakes)
throwing down some sweet pedal steel. Check out our AthFest show
on the Digital
'SIMPLE DAYS' NOW AVAILABLE
Our debut record is availabe through Pitch-a-Tent
here for MP3s and the online Pitch-a-Tent store!
performances at Brownies, NYC, and the 40 Watt in Athens, GA,
using the latest technologies...