Monday, September 14, 2015

Vegan on Tour with Usnea and Ufomammut

Early into the tour in Boise, ID. Day three of forty.
(left to right: Aubrey, me, Zeke, Johnny (crouching), Joel)

    This article is about last May and June, when my band Usnea were granted the great fortune of touring the continental U.S. and some of Canada in support of our latest record, and as the support act for the extremely talented UFOMAMMUT on their first U.S. tour from Italy. We had an incredible time and quickly became dear friends with them. We anxiously await seeing them again in Spring 2016 when we are touring in Europe.

    On that tour I was the lone vegan, though all of my bandmates have been vegan in the past. Joel and Johnny are still vegetarian, and though he is an omnivore, Zeke likes eating that way as well, so they were all very accommodating about my dietary needs. Our friend Aubrey, who was coming on the bulk of the tour to share in the adventures and help us when needed, also loves vegan food and was often game to seek out the less convenient but none-the-less rewarding vegan loot.
    Urlo from Ufomammut is also vegetarian so all together we had a solid group of veggies in our ranks. Still, eating vegan on the road can prove to be quite challenging, especially in the plains and farmlands of the rural US. One great reprieve was that the booking agent for the tour had ensured that the Ufomammut rider for every show would require the promoter or venue to provide hot meals or a $10 per-member buyout. Ufomammut were also very keen in their rider to have fresh vegetable trays, fruit, sparkling water (Europeans love it) and other healthy snacks, in addition to the standard beer and bottle of Jack Daniels at each show; and they were always generous and shared with their scrappy little brothers in Usnea.

Uzala charming the Neurolux at our show together in Boise, ID.

We were lucky enough to be able to catch Samothrace at the
Crazy Horse in Boise, Idaho right after our show at Neurolux ended. 
    We started the tour playing five shows on our own and then meeting them in Chicago where they had flown in to start the tour. Those first shows were all in pretty friendly territory for a vegan and among good friends. The co-op in Boise, Idaho is stocked with all that you might need to bulk up on for the long drives ahead of us as we plunged eastward into the great plains and nothingness.

      Then both Salt Lake City and Denver were also great for vegan food. We ate at Sage's in SLC (234 900 S, Salt Lake City, Utah) which was a great all vegetarian cafe with an emphasis on local and organic ingredients as well as local Utah beers. Speaking of FULL percentage beers, Utah has weird Mormon-influenced conservative laws regarding everything, including alcohol and we lucked out on finding a great beer bar with regular full strength beer in the bottles (drafts all have to be 3.2% sadly) called Beerhive (128 Main St, SLC, Utah). A slight time warp, but at the end of the tour four weeks later, we returned to Utah (playing an awesome show with Ufomammut and the local brilliant folks in Subrosa this time) and we all had phô at an awesome vegan Vietnamese spot called All Chay (1264 W 500 N, SLC, Utah).

     The first show we played in Denver we were in a rush due to the long drive through Wyoming and thus we didn't eat anywhere memorable but just hightailed it to the venue. I ate at some nondescript Thai place near the venue before the show with Johnny, but the second time in Denver with Ufomammut we ate together at an awesome dinner with great vegan options next-door to the Hi Dive (the venue we played that night) called Sputnik (3 S Broadway, Denver, CO). I think we all ordered the falafel... my memory is a little hazy. Of course Denver has many more options than that. I have eaten at the excellent vegetarian Denver institution Watercourse Foods (837 E 17th, Denver, CO) many times on tours past.

Usnea drunk on the couch in Denver. Photo thanks to Aubrey.
Homebrew, couch and breakfast thanks to our pals Tyler and Kelly!

    While we had a great time in Lawrence, KS; food wasn't a highlight. I think I went hungry that night just munching on warm hummus and bread that I had bought in Boise at the co-op. Kansas is a large state and the drive from Denver, CO to Lawrence, KS is LOOOOONG, practically all the way across the state to Missouri.

90% of the time on tour: drive, sleep, drink, wait, van party... Repeat. 

First night with Ufomammut at Reggies, Chicago, IL.
    On the first night with Ufomammut in Chicago we played one of the biggest and most professional venues of the tour, or that I have even been honestly, called Reggies (2105 S State St, Chicago, IL) where the food provided was excellent pub-grub. I had the house veggie burger made of shredded potatoes and black beans and it was great minus the cheese. We didn't get a chance to explore Chicago the next day having early load-in times for a proper soundcheck and video set-up for Ufomammut each afternoon, so we hit the road early most days to conquer the long drives.

    Next was Cleveland, OH where we again ate at the venue, Now That's Class (11213 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH). The food was prepared off-site by Orale Mexican foods and reheated at the venue. All-in-all, they had decent vegan options and it was filling. Cleveland is a weird city. On to Rochester, also weird, and there was nothing food-wise worth mentioning.

     Following a quick stop at Niagara Falls, we drove on to Toronto. The promoter there gave us all buy-outs and some of the band and our roadie/buddy Aubrey ventured off for an Ethiopian craving they had, but Zeke (the drummer of Usnea) and I went walking and found a delicious Phô place. Later in the night, on that same street (the trendy strip of College St in Toronto; there were all kinds of affordable food options including a vegan charcuterie that I didn't get a chance to check out) we had delicious and cheap late night falafels from a little Middle Eastern spot.
The "Patti"Burrito at Velo Burrito, Montreal, QC.

The marquee at Le Ritz, Montreal.
Ufomammut <3 Usnea and vise versa.
     Montreal was also impeccable for food, and the venue bought us out again this time suggesting Velo Burrito (32 Rue Beaubien E, Montreal, QC) who deliver by bike, and quite often to bands at this particular venue, though we were excited to explore a little before the show and stretch our legs out so we walked a few miles to eat there. Johnny loves a good excuse to skateboard on tour anyhow so he was off kicking around on his board. I was skeptical of a burrito in Canada, and while I wouldn't put this in the same category as burritos in San Diego, the Mission of San Francisco, or Mexico; it was really delicious and HUGE and had creative ingredients. Also cool was that all of their concoctions on the menu were veganizable. I believe I had the Patti (roasted potatoes, cumin pinto beans, spanish rice, pico de gallo and shredded red cabbage).

     Our Montreal show was one of the highlights of the whole tour with the local black metal bands Show of Bedlam and Tunguska Mammoth both playing impressively heavy sets and the crowd being very enthusiastic and warm. Le Ritz, the venue, had also lined up a beer sponsor so there were cases and cases of really great and strong bottled beer for the bands to enjoy into the night.

Vita from Ufomammut praising the energetic crowd at Le Ritz, Montreal, QC.

     In the morning, before leaving for Boston, MA for a show without Ufomammut (they had a day off from shows every week, while being the younger band and needing the income from shows to keep going, we chose to play through those days that they had off), we stopped at a random coffee shop that Zeke had looked up when we had wifi and it just so happened to be entirely vegan and stocked with vegan pastries and sandwiches. The cafe had a distinctly French-Canadian flair and was called Café Résonance (5175 Park Ave, Montreal, QC). I was happily sated with a vegan pâté breakfast sandwich and pastry in addition to our morning coffee needs and we were on the road back to the U.S. border.  

    In Boston we played at the Middle East upstairs (472-480 Massachusetts Ave, Central Square, Cambridge, MA) where they fed us for free as opposed to a buy-out. The food was good hearty Middle Eastern mezza with a plethora of vegan options. There were also two all vegan restaurants on either side of the club on the main street out in front and the area itself is loaded with vegan options as it is across the street from the famous MIT University. Our good friend Joey (from the band Fórn whom we toured the West Coast with last summer) put us up after the show, and in the morning took us to Refuge Cafe (155 Brighton Ave, Allston 02134) where Aubrey split a hangover absorbing and delicious vegan breakfast burrito with me. It was so good I got another whole one to eat on the drive to New York.

Aubrey and Johnny slinging Ufomammut and Usnea merch.

Aubrey and I getting in touch with our inner pizza punx
at Saint Vitus Bar, Brooklyn, NY. Compliments of
Vinnie's Pizzeria.
    After goodbye hugs and the peculiar drive through Connecticut, the state I was born in, but know very little of having moved at a young age, we arrived in New York City at Saint Vitus Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and were reunited with Ufomammut for our show there that night. The bar itself is an awesome creation of love and blasphemy, with gothic black metal touches at every turn and also boasting its own food later in the evening with plenty of vegan options but we all had New York-style pizza on the mind, and I was craving pizza and "wings" from a place I had visited years ago on a vacation with Amyrose; Vinnie's Pizzeria (they have two locations, one in Williamsburg and the other in Greenpoint- Not having time to walk there or risk losing our parking spot in front of the venue if we drove, I phoned in a delivery order for Aubrey and I to split a large pizza; half BBQ "chicken" and 1/2 eggplant "parmesan", a "ham and cheese" pinwheel and small order of vegan "wings". The pizza was good, not as good as I remembered but time has a way of doing that. The "wings" and pinwheel were indeed amazing though. 

    That was the extent of my culinary dive into NYC on this go around, having to leave right away as being on a tour with shows every night demands... but I am fully aware that NYC boasts an array of vegan options and cheap late night eats that I could wax on about indefinitely. Here is a comprehensive guide to NYC vegan spots, some of which I have enjoyed on trips previous:

Vegan Philly Cheesesteak, Blackbird Pizza, Philly, PA.
      The next stop was Philadelphia, also a paradise of vegan cuisine and an all around cool city. After getting into some goofy touristy stuff and walking around at the old Italian markets on South Street (where most of our entourage got their share of delicious and cheap food) I convinced them to go with Aubrey and I so we could try Blackbird Pizza (507 S 6th St, Philadelphia, PA;

      Blackbird Pizzeria was quite possibly the best place I ate on the whole tour. The entire menu is vegan, and while I was dead-set on getting a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, Aubrey chose the cauliflower pizza and shared some with me. It was unbelievably good and bested the pizza we had just eaten in New York. I cannot recommend Blackbird Pizza enough.

Vegan Taco Salad, Soy Cafe, Philadelphia, PA.
     Later on at the venue, we received our buy-outs and Joel (bassist and vocalist of Usnea) and I walked around before the show with no plan. We ended up finding the Soy Cafe (630 N 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA) which was pretty good, though in retrospect I wish we had made time to go get the famed vegan Dim Sum that I have heard praised. After the show, we stayed with my dear friend Erik Petersen just outside of the city in Upper Darby, and he shared his fancy stores of rye whisky and graciously gave us access to his washing machine so we could rid ourselves of the first two weeks of tour funk. In the morning we hugged it out with him and then hit up a small Jewish deli for bagels and hummus before getting on the road for Baltimore, MD.

    At the Ram's Head Venue at Maryland Deathfest catering was provided, and being that I really wanted to watch every band playing that night, not-to-mention I was so amped about playing myself, I stayed at the venue and ate the tofu stir-fry and salad provided for the bands. As such I was able to watch all of the bands that night; Iron Man, Primitive Man, Mantar, Conan, Jex Thoth, Ufomammut to the climax with Yob. It was an unbelievable night that no words here will do any justice and we felt pretty elated to be involved at all, let alone getting to play it.

CONAN wreaking hoodie-clad havoc on the crowd at the Ram's Head in Baltimore, MD for Maryland Deathfest XIII.

    Our next show was in Raleigh, NC. When we got to the venue everyone went off on their own to explore. My aunt lives there and hadn't seen me in a long time so we met up and dined at a high-end Lebanese cafe with a good vegan mezza platter. After Raleigh was Atlanta, GA where we again all went walking off on our own and this time I found my way Soul Vegetarian No. 2 (652 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, GA) which was within a mile of the Drunken Unicorn (where we were playing). I had the Marcus Garvey Burger and vegan mac and cheese and both were satisfying in that way that only soul food can be. The next morning in Atlanta was the only time I attempted to go on a run, even though I had brought my running shoes with the intention to run whenever I could. The day was a hot and humid one but I was glad to get some exercise while temporarily living an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle on the road. 

Breakfast of champions: Frozen Daiquiris, New Orleans, LA.
     We decided to cancel the show in Memphis, TN the next day after all of the local bands had dropped off of the bill and the promoter had no one else to fill the slots. Instead we joined Ufomammut who were already going to have a day off in New Orleans, LA anyhow. After the beautiful swampy drive into Louisiana, we arrived at our friend Kaiti Fink's house in the muggy twilight. She hopped in the van with us and we met up for drinks with Ufomammut and their friend Gary. That first night, those of the entourage that eat seafood were delighted to eat all of that stuff that NOLA is known for, and I just drank my fill of local Abita beer. Later, when Kaiti directed us back to her house, we made a stop by a little grocery store in her hood with vegan goods. Back at her place I made a late night dinner at her place before we partied the night away.

Sippin' daiquiris at the Mississippi Delta, NOLA.

     The next day we fulfilled a drunken NOLA custom and had "breakfast" drive-thru daiquiris (the many fruit options had no dairy), after which Kaiti led Zeke and I to massive breakfast burritos at 13 Monaghan (they boast many vegan options; 517 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA) and then coffee, which after drinking a fruit-slushy alcoholic drink first thing in the morning, was certainly an experience. We wandered around the French Quarter a while, I tried some vegan gumbo (I make one that is better), and then Kaiti brought us to a favorite spot of her's; a decrepit old cemetery where the bones float to the surface due to the water-logged swampy grounds being below sea-level to appease the goth within us.

     Our show that night was at Siberia (2227 St Claude Ave, New Orleans, LA) and they provided delicious food of Eastern European/Russian influence. I had a beet burger and with a beet salad, and the others enjoyed some blinis and pierogis that they seemed to enjoy. Siberia is a really cool spot that I highly recommend checking out whether there is a show there or not.

Some human bones were scattered around that had floated up from the swampy ground at Holt Cemetery, New Orleans, LA.
    After saying our goodbyes in New Orleans, we drove across Louisiana which I had not previously known was so damn beautiful. The I-10 is elevated above the bayous and swamps for many miles and I was mesmerized by the unique fauna of the swamps. Houston and Austin were flooding pretty badly at this time so there was some consternation about whether the Houston show would happen. We ended up going for it in spite of the declaration of a "state of emergency" and the show, while under-attended due to the flooding, was still fun. I have nothing really to say about the food in Houston as I did not have anything worth mentioning. Who knows, if I had been able to explore a bit and things were not closed due to flooding, I might have found some vegan oasis in Houston.

The scrumptious "Renedict" at Bouldin Creek Cafe, ATX.
    We tromped on to Austin the next day and were early, as usual, so we set off in a thickness of humidity I had never before experienced, to find tacos and margaritas somewhere near the venue. Our show at Red 7 that night was fantastic, aside from that unforgiving humidity that can only be understood by being there, and then the next day we got together with Ufomammut for a big band-family breakfast at Bouldin Creek Cafe (1900 S 1st Street, Austin, TX). I had the Renedict, a vegan ciabatta tofu-bacon benedict as I am a vegan hollandaise addict, and most of the others in our entourage enjoyed some of Austin's famous breakfast tacos.

     Ufomammut wanted to go and "see the UFOs" in Roswell, NM for our day off between Austin and Albuquerque so we drove all day through some intense winds and thunderstorms getting into Roswell late but early enough to check into a divey hotel and then meet up for beers at the only spot nearby that was open, Applebee's. Yeaaah, that place still sucks. There is not much of a nightlife in Roswell, NM.

When in Albuquerque:
      In the morning we explored some kooky tourist trap UFO "museums" and a few rad but overpriced antique shops and then got on the road for our show in Albuquerque. At the venue, a bar called Sister, Joel and I passed the time with several games of kicker (table soccer) against each other and eventually with the extremely skilled bartender. Before the show, we were invited to the home of some friendly crust punks that were friends with Zeke, and they made us a generous tofu and veggie taco dinner with a case of PBR to wash it all down.

Ufomammut tearing it up on the stage at Sister, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tacos con coliflor, Tania's 33, Tucson, AZ.
     The next stop was Tucson, AZ where I had a few old friends from my years living in Arizona that I was glad to catch up with. Another pal, Ana, had recently relocated there from Oakland and offered us a place to stay so we scooped her up at her place and then headed over to Fourth Avenue where the Flycatcher (the venue for the show that night) was. Everyone wanted Mexican food again, an obvious choice being in THE land where it is authentic, delicious and plentiful, so after a quick stop at my old friend Kellen's excellent record store Wooden Tooth Records, we ventured over to Tania's "33" (614 N Grande Ave, Tucson, AZ) at his recommendation. I had deep-fried cauliflower "fish" tacos on fresh tortillas. Tania's 33 proved to be SO GOOD that we went there AGAIN FOR BREAKFAST, but that time I tried the breakfast soyrizo burrito.

      You might ask how I can eat so much Mexican food, and I would tell you that I could eat Mexican food everyday until I die. It is my favorite of all foods... and as such, Tania's 33 is on par with THE BEST Mexican food I've ever had, definitely joining the ranks of my other favorite Mexican eateries: Ranchos Cocina (3910 30th St, San Diego, CA- however, we didn't make it to San Diego on this tour), Pancho Villa's Taqueria (3071 16th St, San Francisco, CA), Yeikame (Calle Jose Mariscal 10, Sayulita, Mexico) and La Penca Azul Taco Truck in East Oakland (720 High Street, Oakland, CA).

My precious: soyrizo breakfast burrito wrapped in a mouth-wateringly delicious handmade tortilla.
At Tania's 33, Tucson, AZ.

Proof dinosaurs coexisted with humans.
     Leaving Tucson, we made our way through Phoenix and onward to Los Angeles as Zeke fought off one of the worst hangovers of his life in the sweltering dry Sonoran heat. We made a mandatory quick stop to pose with the dinosaurs from Pee-wee's Big Adventure alongside the highway and then made it to LA. After load-in I snuck off with the van to battle LA traffic just to try this vegan pizza spot called Cruzer Pizza that I had wanted to try on the tour the summer before with our buddies AUGURS thanks to the suggestion of Keen, their drummer. I ordered a BBQ "chicken", spinach, red onion pizza and a piece of the Tiramisu for later and hightailed it back to the venue.

Pizza punx gone wild!
Cruzer Pizza, Los Angeles, CA.
     Our LA shows have always been stellar and folks there have been supportive of Usnea since our first time there, and this show was no exception, though it topped our previous LA experiences selling out and being an exceptionally receptive crowd. Ufomammut had a lot to do with that, of course. Afterwards, our friend Kevin Chan took us back to his house to after-party and eventually find our way to some sleep. In the morning Kevin and Eric (from his band Pendulous), a fellow vegan food and beer connoisseur, surprised me with decadent vegan doughnuts from Donut Friend. I decided to share them with everyone else because they were too rich to eat so early and with such a wretched hangover.  

Vegan doughnuts from Doughnut Friend, LA, CA.
      Ufomammut had another day off but decided to come to our small bar show in Los Osos, CA. The show was small but we had a great time drinking and playing pool with Poia, Vita and Ciccio from Ufomammut and the two bands on the bill were both great in spite of the lack of an audience. After a rare good night's rest in some seaside motel, we headed north to our next show in Santa Cruz, CA.

Nils and his tofu scramble at the
Walnut Ave Cafe, Santa Cruz, CA.
     We decided to take the long and scenic route along Route 1 through the southern coastal redwoods and Big Sur since it was their first time here and we had always skipped it on our West Coast tours in years previous. When we pulled into Santa Cruz, a little car-sick from the winding switchbacks of Big Sur, we were early as usual, so we all went and wandered around town on our own. I ran into our friend Nils in the way of a small town, and we wandered around together chatting and highly caffeinated until he had to go run some errands before returning for the show. I ran into another friend, Isabel, and she joined me for a bite to eat and some beers at an Indian buffet before we went to the Catalyst for our show. It was a good show and I met a rad kid, Colton, who took great photos and presented me with a piece of art he had made inspired by our band.

Salud! Tofu Rancheros Burrito from Pancho Villa,
San Francisco, CA.
     The next morning we had breakfast together with Ufomammut, some friends of theirs, and Nils at the Walnut Avenue Cafe where the tofu scramble he recommended was tastier than I would imagined from the look of the place. Afterwards, we left for our show at the Elbo Room in San Francisco. Once we were all loaded in, Zeke and I snuck away and over to one of my all-time favorite burritos to get anytime I am nearby, the tofu ranchero burrito at Pancho Villa's Taqueria (3071 16th St, San Francisco, CA). I already mentioned that this place is among my favorite Mexican eateries in the world so I will just leave it at that. The show in San Francisco was another one of the manic ones selling out and being full of great reunions with bay area friends. Sadly, it was also one of the last metal shows at the Elbo Room in its Valencia St/Mission locale as the condos and tech-yuppies destroy every last bit of old San Francisco.

Badr Vogu crushing as they opened the show at the Elbo Room, San Francisco. 

      In the morning after a late-night with our lovely pals Keen and Clint from Augurs, another excellent band we've toured with, they insisted we try Timeless Coffee, a fairly newer vegan coffee shop and bakery. I tried an empanada, a "cheese" pesto roll and had the affogato: vanilla soft-serve doused in espresso. I was impressed and have been back since on more recent trips to the bay.

Vegan pesto "cheese" roll and Affogato, Timeless Coffee, Oakland, CA.

Tacos dorados con papas picante y tecate, Chita's Taqueria,
Sacramento, CA.
      Our next show was a short drive away in Sacramento, where Zeke and I again found our way to some Mexican food, this time at Chita's Mexican Grill around the corner from the Press Club. I had the Papas Tacos Dorados (fried flour tortilla tacos with spicy potatoes) and they were impeccable. In Sacramento, our tour companion Aubrey had to leave us to go back to Chico, CA and prepare for another tour she was going on. After the packed show with Church and Lycus, we bid her a fond farewell and went to an afterparty with Chris and his bandmates from Church at his house.

Lycus dropping their gloom on the crowd at the Press Club
in Sacramento, CA.
       With another long drive ahead and some much-too-brief sleep, we pushed off early in the morning hauling the gear up along I-5 to Eugene for a special show at WOW Hall that night featuring Ufomammut, Yob and Agalloch, giving Usnea the night off. Joel and I volunteered to sell the merch for Yob and Ufomammut all night and then after the show we eagerly drove back home to Portland since it was only two hours away.

     It was nice, though a bit dizzying, to have such a short respite at home in Portland. All of us went home to catch up with our lovely partners and make amends with our cats/dogs. After the brief break in Portland and a great home-coming show at Rotture (RIP to a great venue), we were back on the road with Ufomammut this time joined by our friend Brian as roadie and merch person for the final stretch of tour.

Happy hour reuben at Plum Cafe, Seattle, WA.
Being a short drive to Seattle, we arrived early to Chop Suey where the show was that night. Capitol Hill is very gentrified, thus there are many vegan options and drinking holes to choose from. I'd never eaten at Plum (1429 12th Ave, Seattle, WA) and I saw it was happy hour so some of the Ufo fellas and Brian joined me for a quick bite there, I had the reuben and Brian ordered their slider sampler. Seattle was a great show and afterwards we stayed with our old friends Craig and Taryn. We were up early the next day and out the door for the long drive back to Boise, ID to start the eastward final loop. I already touched on the food of these places before, describing with brevity this part of the tour as well, so I will skip ahead to yet uncharted passages.

Subrosa sharing some of their incredible heaviness with us in Salt Lake City, UT on our second round there.

Brian approves of nutritional yeast and pizza, the thumbs-down
is to my obsession with food photography. At Classic Slice,
Milwaukee, WI.
      After the second round of our shows in Boise, SLC and Denver, this time with Ufomammut, we had a long day off driving across Nebraska and Iowa where I basically ate potato chips and felt gross for it. I should have stocked up on good supplies for that stretch but I was not prepared. We finally arrived in Minneapolis/St Paul at the Turf Club (1601 University Ave W, St Paul, MN) and the hospitality was great. The show was sponsored by a local beer brewer like the Montreal one had been so we had a large supply of that beer and the venue has several vegan options so instead of a buyout I had the Turf Club which was vegan and quite good. Post-show, we went to Minneapolis to unwind and sleep at Johnny's old friend Bretton's house. In the morning she took us to the co-op up the street and remembering my empty stomach the days previous I stocked up this time. We spent all day driving to Milwaukee, WI for the final show. The venue had a kitchen and provided a deli tray but it was pretty meat and cheese-centric so I convinced Brian to trek off with me to a spot I had looked up that had vegan pizza called Classic Slice (2797 Kinnickinnik Ave, Milwauke, WI). The pizza was good, though not the best of the tour.

Urlo and I wearing one another's hand-drawn art after we traded band shirts.

    The last show was bittersweet as parting ways with the guys of Ufomammut was sad, and being at the end of such an epic adventure was also intense, but we had one last rowdy night of partying with them at the hotel in Milwaukee and in the morning they departed for Chicago to fly home to Italy and we set out on the long drive from Milwaukee back to Portland. On our way we mostly just drove with few stops other than to sleep; the first night at a hotel in Dickinson, ND; and then to camp along a beautiful creek on the final night before getting home just east of Missoula, MT. When we reached Portland, there is no denying that it was good to be home, but we also all left a little piece of ourselves on the road and with our friends in Ufomammut.

Ufomammut and Usnea farewell huddle.







Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Short Post About Our Weekend in Vancouver, BC, Canada

    When I set out writing that first post I guess I really had a lot to say and so I tried to condense it. Alas, it still ended up being longer than I had initially intended and even leaving a lot of experiences out. In this post, it shouldn't be too hard to keep things concise as we were only in Vancouver, BC for a few days to celebrate our five year anniversary and also to see the legendary Bolt-Thrower on their exclusive Canadian North America 2015 tour. I had also just returned from a five week full US/Canada tour with my band Usnea supporting Ufomammut from Italy, so Amyrose and I had some catching up to do on the adventure front. 

     Just prior to leaving we had some friends from the Bay Area, Jehn Wa and her husband Ross Sewage, ask us for rides from Portland to Vancouver after having missed their connecting flight and being stranded in Portland, and of course we happily obliged.

The 20-sided DIE OF DESTINY: which drunk will you get?
Storm Crow Tavern, Vancouver, BC, Canada
    We got an early start for the 5-7 hour drive (depending on the lines and the temperament of the officers at the border of course) and made a quick stop just before reaching the border near Bellingham, WA to stock up on liquor and beer since it is so expensive and heavily regulated in Canada. The border crossing was super easy, for once, and we dropped Jehn and Ross off at their friend's house and made our way to the air b and b Amyrose had booked us.

    We were famished having only eaten hummus and bagels and road snacks on the way up so we went out for vegan Dim Sum at a place called 3G Vegetarian Restaurant (3424 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC). We ordered the black pepper "steak" and veggie stir-fry and an assortment of Dim Sum dumplings which were all very good.

Carcassonne and libations at Storm Crow Tavern
   That first night we drove downtown so I could show Amyrose around, not that I knew my way around THAT well, but I had been up there a bunch when I was driving bands on tour for a few years, and I wanted to show her around what little I did know. We ended up on Commercial Drive, of course, because that is where many of the bars and shops and interesting restaurants are. After walking around for a while we got a drink at The Storm Crow Tavern (1305 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC), a fantasy/sci-fi/gamer-themed nerd bar that I had been to when I was driving Warcry to some gigs in Vancouver a few years ago. Storm Crow has all kinds of vegan options on their menu from poutine (a Canadian tradition of Belgian-style fried potatoes topped with cheese curds and gravy, though obviously veganized for the likes of us) to chickpea fries and various sandwiches and "burgers". We weren't very hungry so we just got the chickpea fries and did the silly roll of the 20-sided dye for a random drink decided by the roll of the dice. While we were there we played Carcassonne, a Medieval fantasy tile-game my bandmate Joel has made the rest of us in the band adore, and otherwise we just admired all of the various sci-fi and fantasy memorabilia and decorum such as this Cthulu statue:
An Altar to the Old One, Storm Crow Tavern, Vancouver, BC
    After Storm Crow, we decided to get one more drink at a fancier looking spot (hey we were dressed up for a date night) called The Locus (4121 Main Street, Vancouver, BC) where the art installations were really mesmerizing with big dark carved sculptures of gnarled and twisted trees climbing up to the rafters between the booths and dark art nouveau-inspired paintings adorning the walls. We were not hungry yet so we skipped the food there but they did have a menu with some vegan options and the server informed us that the vegan options were really good.

    There was a punk show happening that night in BC featuring our friends and fellow Portlanders WARCRY but we had decided that we wanted one mellow night out on the town since the next night was going to be consumed by the Bolt-Thrower/Hellshock show and it was our anniversary, not to mention, I had just gotten off of a 40 day tour myself. WARCRY are amazing though, and if you love hardcore D-beat punk, there are none better than they. We have the fortune of seeing them pretty often living in Portland.

    On our way back to our air b and b spot in Burnaby, Amyrose suggested we stop and get vegan pizza at this little spot we had passed and that had piqued our interest earlier called the Vegan Pizza House (2119 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC). They were open late so we stopped by and went in to their nondescript strip-mall entrance. The dining room was really small and we wanted to get back to our room and drink some of our wine anyway so we just got a few slices to go (one a-piece of hawaiian and BBQ "chicken") and a slice of vegan TIRAMISU and headed to our temporary home. The pizza was pretty damn good for how cheap it was and we were left wishing that Portland had a late-night place with such good and cheap vegan pizza (don't say Sizzle Pie, it's decent but definitely not cheap or this good). 

Drinking some breakfast at The Wallflower 
     The next day we met up with our friend Chris Pinto who hails from Oakland-by-way-of-Boston (if you also love sludgey doom metal check out his band Fórn here: who was also in town for the show that night as well, and his buddy Brittany Bird, whom we became fast friends with. The purpose of our meeting of course: breakfast at The Wallflower (2420 Main St, Vancouver, BC). I have been to The Wallflower several times because it is open late, has awesome vegan options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has been the workplace of many punk friends who urged bands I was driving on tour to come in. It helps that the menu rules across the board. Everything I have had there is really really good. On this occasion we had mimosas and coffee (vacation day-drinking is A-OK right?) and the delicious vegan benedict (Amyrose and I both ordered this as we are suckers for good vegan hollandaise).

Black Lodge Buddies.
      Post-breakfast we wandered around the neighborhood by the Wallflower checking out some over-priced record stores and shops until Brittany suggested we grab beers/ciders at a liquor store and make our way to a rad park with lakeside hidden benches to relax for a while before the show. After a little while of basking in the glorious sun (I forgot to mention that it was the Summer Solstice that day and the sun set super late around 10:30 PM at that high of a latitude on that evening) we met up with some more of Brittany's friends and headed to the infamous Black Lodge Bar (630 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC).

Interior of Black Lodge Bar, Vancouver, BC, Canada. 
     Black Lodge Bar is, as I hope you have inferred, a Twin Peaks-themed David Lynch hallucination of a bar, small and filled with the antique Pacific Northwest reliquary and forest tchotchkes one would expect from a bar devoted to the small-town fading-logger's glory of late 80s/early 90s nostalgia. And to top all of THAT off, they are completely vegetarian with every item easily veganizable. We ordered the pulled-"pork" jackfruit poutine with its delicious red cabbage slaw and the coconut "bacon" BLT featuring sprouts, avocado and a garlic aioli. Damn. And the drinks were stiff and affordable. To finish it all off and in keeping with Agent Cooper's theme there, we ordered a "damn fine" piece of cherry pie a la mode with vanilla coconut bliss. 

Coconut "Bacon" BLT and Jackfruit pulled-"pork" poutine at Black Lodge, Vancouver, BC.
Amyrose in particular was in heaven with the pie a la mode: 

For Victory... the inimitable Bolt-Thrower
     After that we headed over to the Rickshaw Theater and once we found and secured all our valuables in the trunk of our car (Hastings St. is a particularly rough and economically-depressed area, go there and you'll see what I mean) we ran over to the show and got in just in time to see Hellshock tear it up and drink over-priced PBRs in anticipation of Bolt-Thrower. Hellshock played a blistering set with their singer Joel taking to the floor making their set more in-the-crowd's face. And it should go without saying to any metalhead in the know, but Bolt-Thrower were absolutely devastating and brought the epic hair-whipping war metal fury like no other. It was triumphant and invigorating how utterly unstoppable and ferocious they still are this far into their long career.

Party people amongst the rad witchy Victorian decor of the
house hosting the after-party
        Post-show and all of the socializing and milling around that happens when energies are so elevated, we shimmied off to some house party that our pal Jehn Wa and Ross Sewage were going to, though Ross was exhausted and decided to take to slumbering in the back of their friend's car to avoid the loud heavy metal and raucous festive spirit inside. It was a good time but eventually Amyrose and I decided to sneak away so we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the rented room in Burnaby.

     The next morning, we chose as our last meal in Vancouver to hit up a Mexican-inspired vegetarian cafe Brittany Bird had recommended to us and it ended up being the absolute BEST meal of the entire weekend.

The Lemmy: butternut squash chile rellenos... 

     The place is called Bandidas Taquería (2781 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC) and is a super cozy and sunlit place on upper Commercial Drive close to Black Lodge Bar from the day before. I ordered the Lemmy (of course I did, fucking Motörhead) which is their take on chile rellenos featuring large poblano peppers stuffed with house-seasoned pinto beans, sweet potato hash, pureed butternut squash "cheese" sauce and topped lightly with sprinkles of Daiya cheese and then served with corn tortillas. Amyrose ordered an equally creative and delicious spread; a butternut squash scramble with apple salsa, breakfast potatoes, cabbage slaw, seasoned pinto beans also sprinkled lightly with Daiya and two corn muffins to top it all off. Additionally we added a side of Field Roast breakfast sausage links which was a good choice. They also have this house-made habanero salsa that was the perfect blend of spicy heat-sweetness-and smokiness. We ended up purchasing a mason jar of that sauce it was so damned good.

Butternut squash scramble with corn cakes, pinto beans, cabbage slaw and Field Roast "sausage". Also visible is that addicting habanero sauce in the background...
Singapore Curry Rice Vermicelli with veggies
and "chicken" and lots of Sambal chili garlic

      After our morning repast we hit the road for Portland to get back to our routines and jobs the next day but we did stop at the Bellingham Co-op for some sweet treats and yerba mate to keep pumped for our drive and then again for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese cafe there called Moonlight Cafe (1919 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA). I end up eating at Moonlight almost every time I am in Seattle it is that good, and this time was no exception; I ordered the Singapore Curry Vermicelli and we split the shredded tofu-skin fresh spring rolls and I believe, if memory serves me correct, Amyrose ordered her old stand-by; "chicken" chow mein. After dinner we drove the rest of the way home, ears ringing from the night before and glad to have had a chance to spend some time eating, drinking, and adventuring our way across Vancouver, BC.