Just outside of Benson, Ariz., on I-10 we see a similar van and trailer pass us on the left. It's gotta be a band van, there's even a fake tennis ball stuck into a cracked windshield. Sh*t, it's Annua

Tucson, Ariz., December 2, 2006

Rialto Theatre Benefit Concert for KXCI Community Radio, Humane Borders and Solar Culture

We start the day by pulling out all of the backline and gear from the storage space and see if it still works. Some of it does. Some of it doesn't.

The evening turns out to be a big celebration and a lot of people come to the show. The energy is all positive and Annuals kick off the night on a great note. They are cool. Down to Earth.

Tonight we are raising money for local community radio station KXCI, Solar Culture gallery/productions and Humane Borders, a group offering humanitarian aid to the situation along the US/Mexican Border. This year-end benefit concert is the fourth we've done and like many a concerts in the past, have asked local musicians to sit in and join us.

Tonight Salvador Duran plays a few solo songs and sings in Spanish on tunes "Roka," "Guero Canelo" and others. Nick Luca plays keyboards and guitar with us. Johnny Contreras and Ruben Moreno from Mariachi Luz de Luna also join us on the latter portion of the set to help make for a dynamic ending. The show is one of our best hometown concerts. Feels good to give back to the community and it looks like a decent amount of money is raised for some worthy causes.

Albuquerque, N.M., Dec 3, 2006

The Launchpad

I wake up at 6:15 a.m., stop off for coffee and a breakfast burrito at Tucson's B-Line cafe and make the rounds to pick up everyone. First stop is the Convertino household.

Everyone there is awake and moving slow around the breakfast table. We chat for a while and enjoy the early morning warmth inside the kitchen before sliding back into the cold snap of winter morning. Fortunately, the sun is out and makes for a pleasant ride downtown to the Hotel Congress where the majority of our band and crew are staying. Al Perry, local musician and icon greets us as he begins his morning shift behind the front desk; he is in a good mood. Sends us off with fresh coffee and NY Times to chew on for roughage.

Just outside of Benson, Ariz., on I-10 we see a similar van and trailer pass us on the left. It's gotta be a band van, there's even a fake tennis ball stuck into a cracked windshield.

Sh*t, it's Annuals -- and they're flashing fresh tattoos and sticking out their tongues. How could you not love 'em. They drove the whole way from North Carolina without stopping, just rotated drivers, all seven of them. By the time they made it to Tucson, they'd all agreed they'd get a band tattoo. They decide upon using the design of their mascot, a mouse.

Drove thru Hatch, NM and stopped off at the Pepper Pot for lunch. Most everyone has the rainbow combo; an enchilada each of red and green chili plus a chile relleno and rice and beans. Unfortunately we have to pass on the homemade chocolate cake.

Paul, Volker and tour manager, Alyson West all buy fresh chilis for the road. I think I still have a bag of roasted green chilis in my freezer at home from earlier this year. Green corn tamales anyone?

Today's drive is long but the trek through New Mexico is always an inspiring one lost of mesas and open landscape. Peaceful. Stopped off in Soccoro, NM and bought our pals in Annuals some plastic toy dinosaurs. I thought it might help decorate their van or keep them occupied on their long drives. They chose to decorate their merch table.

Upon arriving at Albuquerque's Launch Pad, we see a policeman in the alley trying to get a homeless woman to pick up her things and move on. It's a little strange and it's very cold outside. We head inside and meet up with our longtime pal and biker/plumber, Leonard. He's in his 60's and about 5'5", long grey beard, small gnome like hat, overalls and a big smile. We just saw him in Tucson the night before as he was going to hang out with Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins performing as Mr. Tube and his flying objects.

The Launchpad is a little chilly inside. We set up and get ready for sound check. There's a Galaga machine and a couple of other vintage arcade games. I try but can't resist and give a few turns -- so does Jacob.

Jeremy Barnes from A Hawk And A Hacksaw shows up with his accordion and we hang out catching up on tour stories. We all toured together in the U.K. last October and hit it off beautifully. We talk about doing some recordings together.

There's a blog group that wants to release a series of split 7"singles donating proceeds to charity. We agree to do some collaborations and that giving money to the Humane Borders is a worthy cause especially since we are already involved with the humanitarian group on this mini Southwest tour. Some of the members from Humane Borders -- Augustin and Riando -- set up their table at the club and we discuss the issues and ideas for making a film to spread more awareness to the crisis along the US/Mexico border.

After sound check, I go check-in the band at the Blue Hotel a block away. It's freezing outside and I am enjoying the sting of cold air and being wrapped with sweater, jacket and scarf -- something I rarely get to do back home.

Returning to the club, I see people starting to show up. Folks are bummed that tickets are sold out. I am too. I feel bad that anyone would have to go out into the freezing night only to be turned away.

The show is a good one. The crowd is crazed and positive. Jeremy joins us on accordion as does some of the members of Beirut for some musical meshings. We meet a lot of really nice locals who all ask us to return sooner than two years. Has it been that long? I too hope we return sooner.

Flagstaff, Ariz., December 4, 2006

The Orpheum Theatre

The next morning we wake up early to meet Jeremy for breakfast at Frontier cafe, an old restaurant and local favorite. We dive into hot steamy plates of chopped green chili and eggs. The decor inside this place has not been changed since it probably opened in the '70s. Wagon wheel chandeliers, bull horns and old rifles from the 1800's adorn the walls. This place is massive with rooms extending the length of the whole block.

The day's drive is an inspiring one, passing some fascinating sites: Meteor Crater, Zuni pueblo and El Morro. We stop for gas and try to clean our windshield with a frozen windshield cleaner turned Popsicle.


Somehow I'm drawn to the scorpion paperweight also frozen but inside a dome of resin. I decide this is a good gift to our friends in Annuals. They love it and decide to glue it to their dashboard. Maybe a new mascot for their tour?

I love the Orpheum Theatre and the town even more. I head straight to Late For the Train cafe and get a short latte. They call it a Santa Fe.

The train blows through town, reminds me of Tucson. I go across the street to a Kitchen supply store. I have to head back for sound check, but instead eye the fine French cookware and their colors, especially the red Emile Henry tadjine cooker.

After sound check, Scott Katz the cook for the Orpheum brings in a delicious home cooked meal, as well as an incredible batch of his famous green chili n fudge brownies. They kick ass. Scott is cool, a pleasure to talk with. He begins telling us how he and his kids started a company to make going to festivals easier for everyone. They invent the Sukbag, a floppy plastic water dispenser and set up shop along with water tanks at festivals like Telluride and ACL. Good idea and he hands us some samples.

After dinner, some of the band head down the street to play some pool and spin records on the juke box. The trumpet section, Martin and Jacob, and I hang out backstage glued to our computers and trying to stay warm. The laptop doubles as space heater.

Annuals are wined and dined by Island Records who want to take them on helicopter rides at the Grand Canyon the next day. I hope they wear their seatbelts.

The Flagstaff audience is another great crowd and high energy folks looking for some warmth and a break from the oncoming winter zap. We all have a good time and reluctantly make our break for the hotel.

We get some good rest that night since our drive is a short one to Phoenix where the locals are still enjoying summer. I could stay in Flagstaff for a whole season.

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 5, 2006

The Club House

We call promoter Charlie Levy in the morning and ask him what's for dinner tonight. His rough Soprano-like voice says "I dunno. My car's just broke down." I offer my sympathies and suggest we call up Chris Bianco at Pizza Bianco to send over some of his pies for sustenance and strength. Charlie agrees and says he'll make the call once the tow truck shows up.

We are stuck in traffic once we hit the city limits. This place is becoming more and more like Los Angeles, the bad parts. In a city of 4 million people, how can there seem to be no sign of city center?

Phoenix needs help. Tonight we'll ask the crowd what we can do.

As I am writing this, we have been stuck in traffic for now over two hours, slowly inching our way to The Club House. This is going to be fun... once we arrive.

I call Salvador Duran in Tucson and ask if he wants to meet us tonight in Phoenix. He says he wants to, but can't drive his car since they have Sonoran Mexican license plates. I make a call and find a way to get him to Phoenix... I mean Tempe.

I peel off my headphones. We've arrived. We're in a mall...

Time to crawl out of the pod and unload gear.

We get tangled up in wires, cables and speakers... fortunately there's a stack of fresh made pizzas delivered from Pizza Bianco. That, with some Chianti, make for a fine quelling to the day's long traffic congestion.

Annuals return from their Grand Canyon tour. They look awe inspired and a little weary from similar highway blues.

What's up with Phoenix? 4 million people and the crowd pales to those from Flagstaff and Tucson. Nevertheless, the show is a lot of fun and packed with energy.

Salvador Duran is our surprise guest in between sets. With the force of a full hurricane, he blows many away with just his guitar, harmonica and foot stomp box. He joins us on songs; Roka, Inspiracion, Guero Canelo and we back him on his original tune, "Avismo de Amor." The crowd seems to dig the connection of musical influence we share with Salvador and the free flow improvisations that spark and arc. Truly one of the reasons why we enjoy playing live.