Frank Turner & Mineral in NYC
Rooms filled with hope
At the beginning of September 2014, two good friends went on a trip to New York to see a band that had defined their youths..and had then promptly split up. Back after 17 years, Mineral played four dates in New York City after a warm up show in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Frank Turner tells us about his experience over the three days and nights he spent in the glow of one of his favourite bands of all time.
Words by Frank Turner
I had sensed a disturbance in the force.
I play live music for a living. That means that I spend the vast majority of my time in a live music environment – back stage or out front, loading in and out, watching other bands or playing myself. That also means that when I do get some time off the road, I'm often a little reluctant to head straight out to go see a gig on my nights off. It feels a little too much like work. If it's down the road from where I live or it's a band I am friends with, then I'm more likely to go, but if there's nothing out of the ordinary to recommend the show, I'm likely to stay sat on my sofa and enjoy a night in.
"I mention all of this to explain that flying to New York for a gig is a pretty big deal for me. I've never travelled that far or paid that much to see a show before, and I'm not sure I will again. I grew up with punk rock, hardcore and post-hardcore, and a fair amount of emo...and my favourite band was unquestionably Mineral"
When I say emo I mean it in the original, real sense of the word – a melodic offshoot of hardcore that was heavy, intense, weird - not the sickly-sweet tidy bullshit that the mainstream media cottoned onto many years later. In the midst of all that, my favourite band was unquestionably Mineral. From Austin, Texas, and active only for a few years (and split up before I'd heard of them), they made just two records, the first of which is almost a demo. Their final tour was, I'd read, an under-attended affair. This isn't Led Zeppelin we're talking about.
And yet, in the intervening years, a lot of people had been hit hard by the music they had left behind. I was one of those people.
"The sounds they captured on their second, defining record EndSerenading (which they never even toured) sank into my soul. And there's a fair argument to be made that Mineral still constitute one of my biggest influences, especially as far as lyrics and vocals go."
In short, they're one of my favourite bands. But I had long resigned myself to the reality that I would never get anywhere close to seeing them live.
I had actually met Chris [Simpson, vocalist and guitarist] from the band at a house party in Austin in 2007 or so, when I'd been on the road myself. I fan-boyed out pretty hard, we exchanged email addresses and so on, and he'd told me about his new (excellent) project Zookeeper. But that was about it, a friendship born of a faint connection to music long passed.
And then I felt that disturbance.
A number of friends of mine either texted or tweeted (or any other number of these cursed avenues of communication) to say that @officialmineral had come into existence. There was also a website. And a Facebook page. Something was afoot. Maybe a reissue? I texted Chris, and also got in touch with Tom [Mullen], who runs the Washed Up Emo podcast, to ask if anyone knew what the hell was going on.
Within a few hours, the fullness of the news had become apparent to me. Mineral were back together, and they were planning a tour, opening with two nights at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. In fact, at this point, it looked like those might be the only shows they were going to do. I knew, instantly, that I had to go.
Fate has been kind to my career of late, and the fact that I generally stick to the pretty frugal habits I picked up through years of low-level, hand-to-mouth touring means that I do have some cash at my disposal for emergencies and so on. Maybe even for flying to New York to catch two shows. Fortuitously they fell in a small gap in my tour schedule.
Immediately I fired an email to my manager and booking agent telling them that NOTHING was happening in that gap in early September. Nick, my US agent, kindly replied saying that that was fine, and also that he had secured me guestlist to the two shows (I have played that venue myself a number of times). So no need to get lost in the mad ticket rush the following morning. My plan was working out beautifully.
Next up, I got chatting with my good friend Rob about the whole thing on Facebook. Rob and I go way back (I'm being best man at his wedding next year). He's also as passionate about Mineral as I am, and he'd got in touch with me to ask what was going on after he'd seen the online activity.
Slowly but surely a plan came together, and it looked something like this:
Rob and I would fly out to New York on the Thursday together. We'd stay at the Marriott Hotel in Midtown, where my friend Dennis works and can get mates rates on rooms. We'd have an evening to acclimatise, and then we'd go see Mineral for two nights in a row – Friday and Saturday - before taking the all-day flight home on the Sunday and returning to normality. Everything fell into place, tickets and rooms were booked, and I started reimmersing myself in the band's back catalogue.
Before the big day rolled around, a couple of other developments arose; first, my friend Arty got in touch. Arty used to play in Gay For Johnny Depp (among other bands), who had opened for Million Dead back in the day. We had remained friends. These days he runs a very hip bar in Greenpoint called St Vitus. He emailed to say that he had Mineral playing a secret (ish) warmup show there on the Thursday evening. He knew I was flying over; would I be up for opening that show? Reader, you can imagine my answer, and how quickly it came. This was fast turning into the trip of a lifetime.
The night before our trip began, Billy The Kid was playing a show in Camden. I produced her album [Horseshoes & Hand Grenades] back in January and we are good friends so I felt duty bound to hit the show, and Rob came with. We had a very specific mission however: not to get too wasted, as we had to be up very early the next day for our trip over the Atlantic.
Thankfully the excitement around the trip was more than enough to make us behave (we'd spent the intervening months occasionally texting each other the word “MINERAL”). We were in bed in good time, and got up at 4am feeling comparatively OK given the hour – a time I'm not used to seeing at the start of my day, if you see what I mean. We showered, finished packing and got on the tube to Heathrow. I live in northeast London so it's a straight shot on the Piccadilly Line, but it's also a long run, over an hour, during which we dozed fitfully, trying not to miss our stop.
Heathrow arrived, we checked in fine. It's always something of a treat for me to travel with just a small suitcase, rather than a guitar or a mountain of musical equipment (Arty had promised to sort me a guitar for the show). We swam through security with ease and treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast at the terminal. The flight itself was uneventful, other than the fact that we found ourselves in bulkhead seats, which always makes life easier for tall bastards like me. The seven hours crawled by, punctuated by sleep, reading (W G Sebald's Rings Of Saturn, since you ask, and a masterpiece it is too) and watching films (Locke - go see it, it's amazing).
New York was hot and humid when we landed, but immigration was easy enough and we were soon in a cab heading to the heart of the city. Dennis was preparing our rooms for our arrival and had promised to meet us in the lobby when we pulled up. I know Dennis through Chuck Ragan, he's really one of the nicest guys I know, always helping out the bands he loves with hotel-related stuff and in the process becoming firm and close friends.
When we arrived and loaded our meagre baggage into the hotel we discovered that Dennis, true to form, had sorted us out good and proper for our stay. We were put up in a suite of rooms on the 16th floor with a massive balcony, complete with chairs and table, overlooking Lexington Avenue and midtown Manhattan.
"As we stood there, two friends far from home on a mad jaunt to catch an obscure and long-departed indie band, sucking in the sunshine, the city air and a cigarette (hey, I was on holiday), I felt pretty good."
Time was taken to shower, change and freshen up, to wash the grime of travel from our pasty skins, before we got stuck into our evening. Once revitalised, we caught a cab over to Greenpoint, an area I know a little as we finished off the album Poetry Of The Deed in Alex Newport's studio there. I hadn't been to St Vitus before, so there was a little bit of confusion and phone mapping, but sooner or later we stumbled from the bright sunshine into the bar.
Straight away I spotted Chris from Mineral, and we were happily reunited. I met the rest of the band and also said hello to Evan [Weiss] from Into It. Over It.; Evan opened for me on a US tour in 2011, though at the time he was a solo act, whereas now he has a full band (who are excellent). They were opening all the Mineral shows, the lucky so and sos. Arty hugged me hard and gave me my guitar for the evening. A quick soundcheck followed, during which I discovered that my cold, which had been bothering me for a while, had gotten worse on the flight across the pond. My voice wasn't up to much. Sigh. All the same, as much fun as it was to play, I was there to see Mineral, so my spirits were undaunted.
Rob and I went to dinner with Nick, my aforementioned agent, in a cool Italian spot nearby. We almost made it through dinner without talking business as well, which was a welcome respite. Much refreshed by food and beer, we went back to St Vitus. More old friends arrived – Erin, who is my best friend and who lives in Brooklyn; Dan Ozzi from Noisey; Tom from Washed Up Emo; and many more. There was a tangible buzz in the room. Everyone knew that Mineral had played one show so far, in their native city, but this was the first time we were going to see them, and it still felt totally insane that this was even happening.
I've written up a review of that evening's show. My set was OK – I enjoyed playing new stuff but my voice was a bit fucked. Into It. Over It. were great.
"Then there was Mineral. Rob and I stood side by side, swaying, eyes closed and arms outstretched, like the credulous at a religious revival."
I knew every song back to front and still couldn't convince myself this was actually happening to me. This band defined my adolescence, and here they were, 17 years later, me aged 32, actually playing a show. And not only that – they were fucking good. They sounded full, tight, glorious, overpowering, everything I wanted. Sure, I'm a biased observer, but fuck it, they were amazing.
After the set was done, we had a few drinks at the bar, but quickly decided that, if we had ourselves a 16th floor suite with a fucking balcony and a living room (the whole thing was considerably larger than the flat I live in) we might as well make use of it. Rob and I and a couple of friends piled into cabs, stopped to pick up beers en route, and drank the night way in the open air, soaked in sweat and happiness and booze and emotion.
Thursday night turned into what scientists and experts refer to as “a big one”. The combination of booze, excitement, jet lag and Mineral meant that Rob and I were drinking into the small hours. We got ourselves a few fractured hours of rest, but by about 8 in the morning we were both wide awake and hungry for the next round.
Beer at 8am is something that, on occasion, seems like a good idea, but I'm old and experienced enough to resist that temptation. Usually. But these were not usual circumstances. We still had an ice bucket full of cold beers, and the New York heat was revving itself up, so Rob and I tucked in. This, reader, will later be referred to as “the first mistake”. Not that it seemed that way at first. At first, it seemed like a fucking stroke of genius.
"We felt like supermen, gazing down the long hollow avenues of the Manhattan streets, basking in the sun and shaking off our hangovers by working on new ones."
As you might imagine, the Friday daytime passed in something of a blur. We ate some breakfast, we called some friends who came round and tutted at our overindulgence before themselves getting ensnared in the madness. We had a quick beer with Dennis at the bar downstairs and then got ready for the next round.
In a bid to leave the confines of our balcony, which had gone from being an awesome place to hang out to something of a prison after many hours' drinking, we set out for Niagara Bar. It's a place I know because it's part-owned by Jesse Mallin, who I'm friendly with, and I've been there a few times before; it's also reasonably near to the Bowery Ballroom, so we happily cabbed our way down there for a drink before showtime.
That actually turned out to not be the best idea. Sometimes when you return to a place where you got utterly smashed, the reentry can awaken vivid and unwelcome memories. Given that I was already pretty smashed, the fact that I got a huge flashback to my last evening in Niagara didn't really help matters. We met a few friends but didn't linger, heading over to Bowery sooner rather than later. Rob was also having something of a fading moment, so I was duty bound to buck up his strength and his ideas; after all, we'd come a long way for this show.
Thankfully, the shadiness of Niagara soon passed. We were welcomed into the Bowery Ballroom on the guestlist, and in fact given some VIP passes and even some drink tokens, which made me feel very welcome. We ran into some of the Mineral crew who greeted us like old friends, which in itself was a bizarre experience. I got to catch Into It. Over It.'s set in full this time and actually consider it properly. I think, for whatever it's worth, that Evan's music has fleshed out enormously since he gained the band and I really enjoyed their math-emo melange.
Mineral took the stage at 10 and played a reasonably similar set to the night before, albeit in a slightly different order. Rob and I had decided to make use of our VIP passes and had taken up seats at a table on the balcony overlooking the gig. This turned out, I think, to be a mistake; as much as the view was better, the sound was not as loud at that angle, and as a result the experience was slightly less overwhelming.
And Rob and I were ready to be overwhelmed.
All the same it was a good show. We made a few new friends and met up with some old ones, not least Mischa and Brad, two English friends of ours who were living in and visiting New York respectively, but who were both as fired up about the shows as we were. Rob and I were by this point very much in the grips of our second (third? Twelfth?) wind, and the evening turned into something of a repeat of the night before – everyone back to the balcony suite! We were later joined by Barry [Dolan] from Oxygen Thief, who was on the east coast doing a house show tour. I think he might have been a little perplexed by the level of drunkenness on display when he arrived, but nonetheless it was a fun evening. And this time round we managed to wrap things up at a sensible hour and get some proper sleep.
Saturday morning was pretty rough, if I'm being honest.
"As experienced as I am (or like to think I am) at getting wasted, I still have to deal with the consequences, and the first half of the day felt like it was coated in rust and slowly running out of fuel."
We got breakfast in an excellent diner near the hotel; American breakfasts are one of my favourite things in the world, but I wasn't able to stomach much of it. Afterwards we returned to the suite to lie on the sofa and watch cartoons (Archer, since you ask) for a few hours, attempting to regain our strength.
Salvation came in the form of a six-year-old. I had arranged, on the first day, to have lunch on Saturday with Dennis and his son Colin. Colin is a total, stone-cold badass of a kid, a ball of energy, inquisitiveness and originality. When it was time, Rob and I stumbled down to the lobby wondering if we were going to make it through lunch. In the way that only little kids can, Colin steam-rolled his way through our bleariness by simply ignoring it. Within 10 minutes we were sat in an excellent Mexican restaurant, armed with ice-cold margaritas and being treated to a well-considered treatise on the plot lines of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. All of our painful, fuggy weakness was swept aside by Colin's joie de vivre (and, it must be said, by Dennis being the lovely man he is). We had a great, fulfilling lunch, and left feeling much, much better about ourselves.
Back to the hotel for an afternoon nap before the final outing for Mineral. I'd arranged to have dinner with Erin and our mutual friends Drew and Chris next door to the venue, where we had one of those catch-ups where you realise it's just a shame you don't live in the same city, because you barely even scratched the surface of the things you could talk about, endlessly and forever. It was almost enough to make me reluctant to head into the show, thus curtailing our conversation. Almost. This was the final Mineral show for me. I had to be there.
I not only felt better about my life in general than I had at the second show, I also avoided my mistake of the night before and took up position down the front, as close to the stage and the speakers as I could get. For the third time around the band had rearranged the setlist again, and this time round I think they got it absolutely right. They played everything I wanted to hear (with the exception of 'Gjs' but I'll let it slide) and the setlist built perfectly to a climax.
"It was that feeling, combined, if I'm honest, with the hangover, that really got to me that night. I stood lost in the crowd and actually had myself a proper cry. Which is emo as fuck, I know, but in this instance I actually couldn't give a shit."
The music washing over me was not only beautiful and good in and of itself, it also reminded me of my past, my childhood, of learning simple songs on out-of-tune acoustic guitars, of discovering excruciatingly perfect new sounds on traded tapes, of ordering mysterious records from American mail-order catalogues, of singing earnestly with broken teenage voices around campfires on summer holidays, of friends I grew up with but don't see any more, and so many other stereotypically emo things. And I just let myself get lost in it all, and it felt beautiful.
Rob and I retired in a more sensible fashion after the third and final show (for us; the band had added another night at Bowery after the flights had been booked). We had opted to get the all-day flight home, which leaves at 7am and arrives at 7pm. It's something of a pain in the arse at the time, but it does mean you don't lose another night in transit, and given that I had a tour coming up soon and Rob had work to get back to, that made sense for us.
We slept a few hours then staggered into a cab heading for the airport, feeling pretty shitty. The wait around after check-in was nothing short of torturous, my whole body longing for a horizontal berth and sleep. Alas Business Class is out of my price range and we were herded back into economy, this time without the benefits of extra leg room. I was not looking forward to the next seven hours.
In the event it was actually pretty survivable. By time we arrived back in Heathrow, my body clock was confused by being in the right place – we hadn't been away long enough to have adjusted at all, and though we might have been tired and hungover, we were in the right time zone. We had ourselves an emotional goodbye as our differing public transport routes diverged, and I was back home and in my bed by a reasonable hour, sleeping a well-earned sleep.
So. 6,000 miles or so of travelling, two planes, two tube trains, many cabs, more drinks and cigarettes than I care to remember, one amazing hotel room, a handful of awesome meals, many old friends and a few new ones as well, and three shows, three perfect, awesome shows.
"I was reminded of how much Mineral mean to me as a band, but also of how important any music can be, how much of an impact it can have on me, and how deeply it can shape the contours of my life."
Mineral started for me as some songs on a traded tape that still had the crackle and warp of the vinyl it was copied from captured in the soundwaves, imperfections that I got to know as well as the songs with endlessly repeated listening. And now they're a real band that I have seen play, that I have opened for, and that remain just as important to me, if not more so.
They're in the UK early next year, and I can't recommend the shows highly enough. I'll be there if I can; see you down the front.
You can preorder the reissues of Mineral's The Power of Failing and EndSerenading on vinyl, and their new CD or download compilation Mineral - 1994-1998 The Complete Collection which gathers both albums together with bonus tracks.
You can also buy tickets for the UK shows direct from Xtra Mile Recordings (excluding London date) or from KiliLive. [And as someone who ALSO went to the NYC shows - including the Sunday, skipped the Friday - it'll be one of the best decisions you'll make this year, sincerely. See you there? - Brad].