Archive for June, 2014

Tour Diary – San Francisco, Grass Valley and Berkley, CA (June 19 – 21, 2014)

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

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June 19th

San Francisico has always been one of my favourite cities in North America. It's an extreme city, intense, truly urban. There is a lot of wealth here and there is also a lot of human tragedy and it all plays out on the streets. The street life here reminds me of NYC back in the late 1970's. It's a city where you always have to be slightly on guard and be aware of what's coming at you half way up the block; a city where the locals know which streets to avoid as a matter of course. Intense and vibrant.

We flew in here yesterday. Pete and John drove the gear. We all left LA at about the same time and seven hours later we all arrived at the hotel at the same time, which tells you a lot about the speed of commuter air travel these days. Jared, Pete, John and I found a hole in the wall Indian restaurant and had one of the best meals of the tour. We played the Great American Music Hall tonight. Its one of the few legendary halls left in the US. It's always a thrill to stand on a stage where Duke Ellington once stood. We had an amazing night tonight. The audience let us know from the second we took the stage that they were not about to let us get away with anything but an intense, focused, creative effort…and so we gave it to them. So. Much. FUN!

Yesterday the world champs, Spain, lost and were eliminated by a very strong Chile. Today we watched England go down to the mighty foot of the Uruguayan striker Suarez….which essentially eliminates England from the tournament.

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June 20th

This morning we drove two hours North and in to the interior to Grass Valley. We came through here about 18 months ago when we were in the area to play the Hardly, Strictly Blue Grass Festival in San Francisco. It's a cool little town that has a gold rush history. The town still has a hint of its gold rush roots, you kind of feel like you should be wearing your six-shooter while walking down main-street…although I suppose that wearing ones six-shooter while walking down main-street isn't such a relic of the past as one would hope it had become. In any event, this small peaceful, hippy enclave was a nice respite from the intensity of San Francisco. We had another very good show in front of another very good audience….I suppose I should be getting jaded about all these good audiences and the quality of our performances, but I never take that kind of stuff for granted…it's like a baseball team when the offense is hot, you ride the streak as long as you can and you keep your fingers crossed.

We watched a listless Italian side get beat 1- 0 by an inspired Costa Rica team and the French continue their rampage through the first round by beating the Swiss 5 – 2.

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June 21st

Before we left the hotel this morning we watched Messi put his Argentinian squad on his back and score the only goal of the match, with one minute remaining, to give the Argentinians a ticket to the next round. In the car we listened to the Netherlands vs Ghana match as we made the trek back to the San Fran area, to Berkeley. Soccer is definitely not the best sport to listen to on the radio (maybe the worst), but we got a sense of the game. It was a boring first half and then all hell broke loose: four goals in less than fifteen minutes and the game ended in a 2 -2 draw. This sets up a dramatic game for the US tomorrow against Portugal. If they win they will win their Group and move forward in to the elimination round. Sunday will be a busy day in the bars of the USA. We were at the Freight And Salvage tonight in downtown Berkeley, home of all things Left in America…at least that is its rep, I'm not sure what comprises the Left Wing in America anymore or whether those kinds of definitions are even relevant. In any case it was a very nice room, very airy and comfortable with a very good PA. We kept the good vibes rolling forward and had another excellent night in front of another excellent audience. We are absolutely exhausted but the audience infused us with enough energy to come through with another good show.

This has been an excellent tour. We fly home tomorrow with a great sense of satisfaction and a little money in our pocket (which is the ultimate combination when it comes to touring). A huge thank you to all of you that made the effort and paid your hard earned dollars to come to a show and especially to those of you that took in multiple shows (special commendation to Jason, Chris, Terry and Stephen who took in them all)….we truly appreciate it. We have a few shows throughout the summer and then we plan to take several months off the road. During that time we'll start working on a new album as well as few one-off recording projects. Please keep in touch through the website and through our Facebook page, that's where we'll be hanging out, drop in and say hello.

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Tour Diary – Berkeley, CA (June 21, 2014)

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

The last day of the tour began in Grass Valley with one last trip to the record store to dig for vinyl after watching Messi create a miracle in stoppage time. Arriving in Berkeley later in the day, we were limited to exploring the streets around the venue. Downtown resembles most college with unlimited cheap eats from $1 ice cream scoops to countless Indian, Pakistani, Greek, and pizza spots. It didn't take much walking to figure out that Berkeley is adamant about establishing itself outside of the mainstream world. Counter culture is the culture. On the busiest corner, the religiously zealous performed music loudly as the panhandlers and homeless walked slowly by.

Freight & Salvage has an established history in this town and the staff could not have been more accommodating. There was a relaxed but organized attitude to the entire place that made for a peaceful final day on the road. As the Nomad set kicked off, the acoustics of the room sounded a little overwhelmed by the louder songs but "Fairytale" and "Renmin Park" were exquisite. The audience was polite and reserved which is a mixed bag on the last night of a tour. The insane energy of San Francisco was not to be found on this night but the band didn't let it hamper the second Trinity Session performance in three nights. After the show, Margo came out to say goodbye to the fans, more than a few who made multiple shows on this California run. The boys packed up the van as I headed for one last Holiday Inn Express near San Francisco airport.

The end of the tour seems so far away when you arrive for the first show and then suddenly, it's over. I've been through California often and I'm always blessed with great traveling companions, excellent weather, and beautiful concerts. I've never seen a day on the road with Cowboy Junkies where the band didn't take time out of their work to say hi to fans or work on a song request that holds special meaning to one fan. It's those actions that give the band special meaning to those of us who have followed their journey back and forth across North America. Thank you Mike, Margo, Pete, Al, Jeff, Jared, Ed, Farnes and everyone who came out to a show for another great tour. In the words of Vic, I will see you around. 

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Tour Diary – Grass Valley, CA (June 20, 2014)

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

Winding into the valley of grass, the intensity of San Francisco and before that, Los Angeles, finally began to dissipate and we could relax. The never ending expense of parking a vehicle in San Francisco was exchanged for a historic mining town with a single stop light downtown. A warm sun and well stocked record and book stores made Grass Valley the most enjoyable day of this tour. There's not much to do in Grass Valley but I'd love to have more time here to not do much. 

The venue was the standard small town arts center, cozy with an excellent sound system and lacking a bit in personality. It feels fairly new so hopefully it will age gracefully. The town deserves it. The show sold out and those in attendance came out to hear a lot more than "Sweet Jane". The Nomad set included the first appearance of the razor sharp "Ladle' and the band was locked into the material. The band has taken quite a few requests on tour but tonight was truly epic for a long time fan. The second set opened with "Crescent Moon" and included a sinister "Floorboard Blues" and an aching "Spiral Down". The little arts center turned into a Texas roadhouse as Mike channeled Lightnin' Hopkins on "32-20 Blues" and "Shining Moon". Even "Sweet Jane" transformed itself on this evening as Mike and Jeff fell back in the final verse and Margo sang over only the bass line. It was a subtle addition of space that breathed new color into the song on this tour. 

Throughout this tour, I've been finding new meanings in a lot of the music that only time can reveal. The song that converted me into a Springsteen fan and my favorite American rock and roll song ever written is "Thunder Road". As Margo sang the opening line in Grass Valley, the song opened itself up to me in a new way. We ain't that young anymore but there's still magic in the night rang more true than ever. Nothing last forever and there's a finite amount of Cowboy Junkies left in this world. Hearing Margo sing "Thunder Road" tonight was a powerful reminder that I need to be at as many as those magic nights as possible. 

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Tour Diary – San Francisco, CA (June 19, 2014)

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

With a day off, we slowly made our way up to the city by the bay. I've been coming here for many years and there's an excitement about the city that you feel as soon as you cross the bridge. Back in college when money was tight, a fan on the band's website offered me a couch to crash on after a show despite having never met me. Thanks to him, my adventures following the band from town to town became a reality.

After a late night closing down the same hole in the wall dive bar we found on last year's Junkies tour, show day started with a walk down to Fisherman's Wharf where we watched Suarez dissect a slow defense and push England to the edge of elimination. The Wharf has grown into another nondescript hub of American vacationing with a multitude of chain restaurants and food stands offering ice cream and fried everything. A mile away but a world apart, Great American Music Hall sits in a crumbling area of the city that seems to be slipping further and further away from the souvenir stores and donut stands on the Wharf. After sound check, I went to meet Chris and Stephen in the bar next door and walked in to find a pit bull wandering around having just left a puddle near the pool table and a troubled soul being thrown out by some of the regular drunks. Trouble was brewing and we dared not stay much longer.

The Great American Music Hall is an absolute gem and there was an energy in the room even before the show started. Built in 1907, the classically designed hall with beautiful mirrors and ornate molding adds to the atmosphere on stage. The lighting design was the best I've seen at a Junkies show and it added to the mystery of the music as Margo stepped forward to sing "Mining for Gold".  The Trinity Session was recorded live and represented a moment in time that can never be replicated. It was special. Tonight, the band created another special moment in time with stunning versions of the same songs in front of an audience that could not have been more in tune with what it all meant. The excitement boiled over during the encore as the band cut loose and the audience roared in appreciation. On these trips, our little caravan of fans rotate who takes the floor of the hotel room (Holiday Inn Express seems to be sponsoring our vacation) and there's always that one show that makes those nights on the floor worth it. Tonight, the band and audience delivered that show together.

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Tour Diary – Solana Beach and LA (June 14 – 17, 2014)

Friday, June 20th, 2014

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We spent the past three days of sand, sun and fun on Highway 101….Solana Beach bums. Solana Beach is a little community just up the beach from San Diego. As one spends more time down here one begins to see the attraction…it's definitely the weather, its perfect. Feeling a little chilly?…step in to the sunlight. Too hot?…duck underneath an umbrella and let the cool gentle sea breezes cool you down. Cloudless, sunny skies, the temperature peaking in the high seventies at mid-day and then cooling down in to the mid-sixties each evening…the perfect weather for us humans. This little town has all the makings of a vibrant community, lots of locally run bars and coffee shops and niche retail outlets, an amazing beach and an affluent citizenry, but it suffers from that which ails most of the communities in this part of the State, it has given itself over to the automobile. Highway 101 is basically the acting Main Street for the town and rather than it narrowing to a gentle stream as it passes through, it roars passed in all its four lane glory….and the energy of all that motion kind of sucks a lot of the towns energy along with it.

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On Saturday we did a private concert, it was a wedding anniversary. It was at a private home tucked away in the hills up from the beach. It was an excellent day, we were treated royally, fed well, and watched Italy take down England on an 80 inch high-def screen. We were hired by a true music lover, someone who has made a lot of money in his chosen field and isn't shy about spending some of it on stuff that makes him and those around him happy. As the music industry collapses, it is important that Patrons step in every now and then to fill the void left by the dollars draining from the working musicians various revenue streams. We are all in desperate need of some 21st century Medici's (just the patronage, not the murder, greed, incest and the other nasty stuff that the Medici's brought along with their florins). I know, it's not the only industry suffering these days, but I'm not in any other industry. Redundancy sucks!

We had a day off on Sunday, which allowed us to explore the town and the beach, drink beer and watch soccer. Jared, Rachel (Jared's sister) and I, watched Messi's Argentinian squad play their first game and post their first win against a feisty Bosnian squad. A beautiful goal by Messi is hopefully a portend of good things to come.

On Sunday night we played The Belly Up Tavern in Solana. This is a good listening room that has a proud music heritage dating back a quarter century. It's definitely a bar, but it's clean and the owners have put some money into it, so the production is decent and the place doesn't stink like its been around since 1974…its the little things that one appreciates. We had a great night…the show has been sold out for a while, so it was an excited and appreciative audience….the second set was definitely the highlight of our tour…so far.

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Los Angeles (June 17, 2014)

LA has been a bit of a black hole for us over the past fifteen years. We seem to have a strong following to the south of the city and down in to San Diego, but for some reason LA proper has been a bit of a puzzle. It use to be one of our strongest cities, but in the late 90's our audience in LA dissipated…maybe the hip-factor wasn't in our favour anymore. This time through, we decided to try and root out the hipsters and book ourselves in to one of their favourite nesting spots, Largo at the Coronet. It's not a bad room, and it has a long Hollywood history, but it seems to rely a bit too heavily on its hipster cred. Unfortunately there hasn't been a whole lot of energy put in to making it a good listening room. The PA stinks and there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in improving it. We did two separate shows tonight which is always tough. I thought both shows were really good, despite the encroaching exhaustion (too much “soccer”). The second show was a lot looser and a little more fun, but both had some excellent moments. Great audiences for both shows…I'm not sure if we connected with any hipster crowd, but whoever they were, they were a lot of fun to play for.

We continue to absorb as much of the World Cup as we can digest. I got together with Jason on Sunday afternoon to watch the USA pull a few horseshoes out of their ass along with a victory. They beat their nemesis Ghana, who has booted the US out of the past two World Cups, a truly thrilling victory. Mexico is looking strong and looks to have the Patrick Roy of the soccer world in their net. His Herculean efforts allowed Mexico to tie host country, Brazil. The Germans look unstoppable, as usual, and the Portuguese look disinterested, as usual. The goals keep coming and no lead looks to be safe, which is a nice change from some past World Cups….the only thing that hasn't changed is the rolling around on the ground to try and draw a penalty….disgraceful conduct for someone brought up in a hockey culture.

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Tour Diary – Los Angeles, CA (June 17, 2014)

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

As Joseph Conrad wrote, we penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. Such is the feeling as you crawl along rivers of metal and concrete towards the center of Los Angeles. Our intended landing on this river was the Coronet Theater, a quirky old room that once housed experimental productions including the world premier of Marxist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht's 1947 work Galileo Galilei. It straddles the line between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood with an imposing mall standing watch over the area and plenty of adult film clothiers lining the street.

The tiny theater's courtyard offered a respite from the onslaught of consumption that is Los Angeles. A DJ spun vinyl records outside as new friends made during this Southern California tour shared beers one last time. Inside, the room proved a somewhat difficult listening experience with the PA sitting on the sides of the stage offering no center fill for live bands. The music hit you from the sides almost like you were listening through headphones held away from your head. In such a room, the softer material worked best and the band offered plenty of highlights.

With two shows, the clock is always ticking and the first show maintained a brisk pace. The band seemed to dig in and stay focused throughout with Mike providing some of his best guitar work on this tour including a blistering solo on "Working On A Building". The second set felt more relaxed but the challenge of playing two shows back to back can be formidable. The band worked hard not to let the music slip and the audience helped them along. There is something about Cowboy Junkies in LA that seems to bring out a smart, appreciative audience and tonight was no exception. Choosing a highlight from two packed set lists would be difficult but a tender take on "Thousand Year Prayer" felt fitting in a city slowly paving every inch of this beautiful coast.

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Tour Diary – San Diego, CA (June 16, 2014)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

The alarm went off at 4:30am in Las Vegas and I was headed to the airport for a 7am flight to Long Beach in my own personal Groundhog Day. It was the exact same morning I had last week when I headed for the Agoura Hills show.  Landing in Long Beach, I met up with West Coast tour mainstays Chris and Stephen and we ran, literally, to an Amtrak train that hugged the ocean all the way down to Solana Beach. This was my second visit to Solana Beach and The Belly Up for a show and I'm not sure I have any better idea of where I am in California. The expensive homes on the cliffs, the beautiful people, and an endless selection of specialty boutiques seem to stretch from San Diego up to Los Angeles. It's a bit disorientating at times but its also a relaxing sliver of the world with a steady ocean breeze. Football fever was high this afternoon as the local pub fill with red, white, and blue and the Americans scrambled to a promising victory.

The Belly Up is a funky little rock club with an efficient staff and a giant shark hanging above the bar. After two shows in odd dinner theater rooms, The Belly Up was a welcome sight with enthusiastic fans crammed around a small stage. The Nomad set opened with three beautiful Vic covers to set the mood as Margo continues to wrench more and more emotion from Vic's magical words. The second half of the night simply soared from the first chord of "Notes Falling Slow" to Mike and Jeff digging up ghosts on "Me and the Devil Blues". Margo's voice powered through their fuzzy din as smiles darted back and forth between the musicians.

"Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning" made a welcome return and I was struck by the grace in Margo's delivery. Years pass, music evolves, lives change, and we know a little more than we used to. All of that comes through when she sings the older material. On stage, she looks the same as she did when I first saw them in the early 90's but a simple line like "No milk, god how I hate that" comes through with multiple layers of meaning that only time can teach us. The integrity of the music and how it is presented has been a calling card of the band from its inception and the reward for that consistency is beautiful shows like tonight. Loose and fun, Solana Beach made that early morning cab ride to the Vegas airport a distant memory.

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Tour Diary – Agoura Hills and San Juan Capistrano, CA (June 12 & 13, 2014)

Monday, June 16th, 2014

 

#CJCaliTour

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Agoura Hills, CA 

I'm not sure what it is about Southern California, but I anticipate this part of any tour itinerary more than most. I think its because I've yet to figure out what Southern California is…a paradise by the sea or a glimpse in to the decline? Every time I'm here I can smell the rot, but I can also smell the sea and the blooming Jacaranda trees…what is it about this concrete encampment that is so enticing? I love it I hate it I love it I hate it daughter sister daughter sister (a Chinatown reference for those of you not up on your American Film Classics)….Our visits here are always fun and weird…two important ingredients of any successful tour. And the audiences play against type and are attentive, demonstrative and usually show up in large numbers….another important ingredient….and you can't beat the weather.

We started in Agoura Hills, an area where we haven't spent much time, about 50 miles up the highway from The Staples Center. Because of the time difference Jared, Jeff, Pete and I woke up early and went for a drive. We found a couple of beaches and a vista or two to gaze upon. This part of the region still has some natural beauty, but you can feel it being pinched. We played a venue we've never played and had a respectably sized audience who were keen and energetic. They allowed us to work through some first gig jitters and kept us buoyed with their energy. A nice start.

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San Juan Capistrano, CA

Its when you finally make it south of the Staples Centers, that humanity in all our Glory (yes, that means you too) have really put our stamp on the territory. Lots of concrete, highways, foundations…the blunt force of human presence. If you were to arrive here as an alien anthropologist you would probably assume that the car was the dominant species….because it is. Mile upon mile of concrete infrastructure all to the service of the automobile. It's not that I'm not use to traffic (my beloved city of Toronto is choking itself to death with its traffic) it's the scale of it down here that is stupefying.

We played the Coach House tonight. This club was an early home of ours when we first started coming to Southern California. We have always had great crowds here and tonight was no different. It would be good if the club could spend a bit of money on upgrading their PA system…their patrons deserve it. We had a great night. Backstage, we watched the Kings lift the Cup on an old vacuum-tube TV (remember those?)…and then we had a very good night on stage, helped along by an excellent audience.

The 2014 World Cup kicked off to coincide with the tours kickoff (I'm pretty sure FIFA planned it that way). We watched the opening game in our Agoura Hills hotel lobby. It looked like someone had paid someone to make sure that the host country, Brazil, won in a convincing manner…I figure that all one needs to do is buy a ref and a goalie to influence the outcome of a soccer game. As we waited for our rooms in San Juan Capistrano we went to a local bar and watched 2010 finalists, Denmark, work out four years of pent up rage as they dismantled the 2010 victors, Spain. It has been a great start to the tournament with lots of goals and lead changes. I've decided to adopt Argentina as my team. I'd like to see Messi ascend to the pantheon of soccer greats and the only way he will ever be allowed entrance is if he brings home a world cup. Game on.

 

 

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Tour Diary – San Juan Capistrano (June 13, 2014)

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

A beautiful morning was spent near the pier in Huntington Beach watching the waves roll into shore before finding a television to watch the Dutch roll right over Spain. Heading down the Pacific Coast Highway, the mansions in the hills from Agoura Hills were replaced by spectacular cliff side homes all peeking over the next one's shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of an indifferent ocean. 

The Coach House has posted many, many shows over its long history, all in the most unlikely of places. The venue sits unnoticed amongst office buildings in an industrial complex off an overflowing highway. Inside, the venue is wider than it is deep with picnic tables covering the entire floor. A vague seating system exists and doors open three hours before the show to serve dinner. The room hasn't been updated in many years but there is some charm to that if you get the right sightline with a good sound mix. Tonight, I was lucky to have both as the band's crew wrestled a pristine mix out of the worn PA. 

The first set felt a little disconnected at times but the second set took flight. The set list was abundant with rarities such as "Witches" and Dylan's "License To Kill". Tour regulars such as "Hunted" had a little extra bite and the audience was feeling it all evening. The band has played this room often stretching back to some of the earliest tours. The town seems to have stuck with them all along and knows the music well. Every song was met with recognition and appreciation. The second set could have lasted all night and nobody would have left.

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Tour Diary – Agoura Hills, CA (June 12, 2014)

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Jason Lent will be following us and the World Cup over the next 10 days. We'll be mixing things up by posting his diary as well as Michael's diary (whenever he can pull himself away from watching futbol).

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by Jason Lent

#CJCaliTour

It's a familiar feeling after all these years. Waking up at 4am to catch a flight, reconvene with old friends, and head out for a Cowboy Junkies show in a new town. As the years pile up, the yearning for an afternoon nap grows stronger. But today was the kickoff of the World Cup so reaching Agoura Hills early enough to find a pub was the order of the day. Settled into a bar in one of the many strip malls that make up Agoura Hills, we watched the ref take down Croatia and preserve peace in the host country. 
 
The venue sat in a strip mall full of antique shops where one man's trash now retailed for $500. I never saw a home driving around the city but one has to believe there are some beautiful estates nestled somewhere up in the surrounding hills. The band spent the afternoon shaking off the dust in sound check as family and friends came and went including sister Cali Timmins who appeared in the video "Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning" a few years back. It brought back fond memories of the band's emergence in the late 80's when I fell for the music, a feeling that has yet to waver.
 
Doors were at 6pm so we dutifully arrived at 6pm (for a 9pm show) as the many housewives of Agoura Hills began to fill the tables near the stage. The venue charges extra to reserve a table and then requires you to purchase a pricey dinner once sat. If cheap is how you feel, you can stand in the back or sit in a few rows of chairs to the side of the stage with a pole cutting the view into two. It allowed the west coast fans of tours past to seek each other out and reconnect as we wandered around the eclectic road house decorated with House of Blues leftovers. 
 
When the band took the stage, the set offered some wonderful surprises including a stunning take on "Spiral Down". As Margo sang about the slipping away of life, two young boys shot pool in a small room adjacent to the stage. Somewhere between the waning moments of life in "Spiral Down" and the innocent hope of being a ten year old playing pool sits the rest of us. As these tours pile up, I feel myself inching further and further away from that pool table and I'm reminded to cherish every step of the journey. The band played the rarely heard "Rock And Bird" in the middle of the set and I was full of joy that can only be felt when your favorite band plays a deep cut that you've waited a lifetime to hear. Moments like that are why you leave your bed at 4am and head out in search of the next show. 
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