You always hear about how "fun" it is to go to shows, but when you get right down to it, most musicians aren't even trying—not jumping around on their amps enough, not throwing confetti. And then there is D. Crane, the singer and multi-instrumentalist who was showering the crowd in confetti the last time his band BOAT played the Comet, jumping off amps into the drum kit, crashing into other band members, and letting his froggy, slip-slide-y, made-of-Silly-Putty voice do its froggy, slip-slide-y thing—the sort of singing that's extra rewarding to sing along to. During the set, he invited two drunk fans who knew all the words to come sing along into the mics. One of them was me. I hadn't realized I knew all the words to all the songs.
The first time I saw BOAT—two Decembers ago, also at the Comet—they knocked me sideways with their let's-drink-Diet-Cokes-and-take-the-cushions-off-the-couch-and-build-a-fort philosophy toward the world. BOAT are an energetic, slightly sloppy, unpretentious happiness machine. They drink, but not much. Crane is a seventh-grade teacher, and his songs are as vivid as cartoons, neighborly, colloquial, easy to be around, ideal for bike rides, weirdly automatically familiar ("This sounds familiar—what is this?" someone who'd never heard them said in my apartment the other day). Something about how simple they are, how okay they are with things—they sing songs about being in love with the way she washes her hands after putting out the trash, or changing his schedule at work to hang out with her, or staying up late to draw after she goes to bed—conducts warmth. My home wouldn't be the same without them. After years of wanting to write about BOAT, and going to see shows, and failing to come up with anything other than I like these guys and Their shows are charming and They make me want to drop everything and be in a band, we hatched this plan where I'd drop everything and be in their band for a weekend, hit the road with them, and write about that.
We met in the Taco Del Mar on Fourth Avenue South—their band-practice mealtime tradition (when touring along I-5, the tradition is Burgerville)—and walked over to the practice space, in a nondescript building among nondescript buildings under the gaze of Starbucks world headquarters. We went through a couple doors and down some stairs and into a soft room crammed with instruments and lights, and played a dozen songs or so, some only once, me banging drums or shaking tambourines or singing backup in BOAT-style crazy-man falsetto or (in the case of one song) plunking out a chord on a glockenspiel (that's German for "mini metal xylophone made for adorable children and encased in blue plastic"). Guess who knew all the words? And when to drum harder? And the sudden pauses? And the uncapitalized-on opportunity for a background "Ha ha ha!" when Crane sings, in one of their new songs, "We laughed a lot, we ate birthday cake"? As for my prowess on the glockenspiel—well, guess who took piano lessons as a kid?
Still, we only went over the list of songs once, and then a week passed, so by the time BOAT's bassist, M. McKenzie, picked me up for the drive to Portland to play at Musicfest NW, I couldn't remember any of my parts. So we listened to BOAT on the way and sang and drummed along and cracked each other up doing the froggy parts and the falsetto parts, and three hours went by like nothing. "No, you're in a band now, you can't not have an opinion," McKenzie said at one point, after getting no help deciding where we should pull over to re-up on Diet Coke. He had been dispensing being-in-a-band advice about all sorts of things—what to do if you accidentally play the tambourine when you're not supposed to, how to make positive-sounding small talk backstage with a band that's just played badly. He went on, "You have to have a really strong opinion. You have to say, 'Fuck no, man, we're not doing that. Fuck you.'"
"Fuck no, man, we're not doing that. Fuck you," I said.
"You're doing great," he said.
We got to a Burgerville just north of the border, where Crane and the rest of the band were eating sweet-potato fries at a table outside. Ladies and gentlemen, the band, in addition to McKenzie and Crane: J. Long on drums (constantly smiling, good drummer, loves Pearl Jam), J. Goodman on keyboard and guitar (bearded, loves the Long Winters, teaches fourth grade, married Crane's wife's sister), B. Stewart on guitar and keys (an occasional member). Among the things discussed at this Burgerville meal: the horrible music at Burgerville ("I want to take you for granted," McKenzie lip-synched to Matchbox Twenty), video-game basketball, Barsuk (Long is married to someone who works at Barsuk), the Jewishness of the Black Eyed Peas, getting asked to stop playing in the middle of their set at the SIFF opening-night party (because they were "too loud for some donors"), how much time we had to get to Portland (plenty), and the set list. Crane had written one out, and Long, who always proposes a counter set list, was drawing arrows all over it.
"Hardest part of the night," McKenzie said. "Most epic part of the night."
"Where fistfights happen," someone cracked.
When we finally got to the venue in Portland, for a gig BOAT was being paid $150 to play—"The low-cost leader!" Crane likes to say—we loaded in through the back, which might seem glamorous if it didn't so closely resemble moving furniture. Once all the furniture had been moved in (amps, the drum kit, my precious glockenspiel), there was nothing to do. The backstage area was a bunch of random crap (boxes of paper cups, napkins, straws), a couch piled with stuff, a futon with a checkerboard cover, a mountain range of empty bottles on the coffee table, and beer options ranging from Heineken to Heineken Light. It occurred to me, sitting there, how much more fun it is to listen to BOAT than to do the work of being in BOAT: the driving, the not-making-money, the not-great food.
And that was before I messed up on the glockenspiel.
Here's what happened: The moment we walked out under the red lights, the set list Crane wrote for me in red Sharpie disappeared—I literally couldn't read it. When those words vanished, my confidence vanished, and a person without confidence will be holding a glockenspiel in his hands and feel a bubbly nervousness on the bottoms of his feet and accidentally hit the space between two keys instead of the key he's supposed to hit. Gah! The song was "We've Been Friends Since 1989," the first track on BOAT's new album, Setting the Paces, which is bursting with bells and drums and yummy guitars and gummy vocals. The most radioworthy track is "Lately"—hand claps, briskness, a sing-along melody about longing—which Megan Seling has been playing on 107.7 The End, and which was great to play live, because my whole job was to bang a floor tom over and over, launching the tambourine resting on top of it into the air with each beat. The most elegant of the new songs is "Name Tossers," which commences with a few winning notes on an old-timey piano ("I wanted a sound like 'Cathy's Clown' by the Everly Brothers," Crane explained) and has sliding-around lines like "And when you're not here, your name gets tossed around, your name gets tossed arouuuu-oou-oouunnd"—a song about hating yourself for talking shit.
In any case, it really, truly didn't seem like anyone noticed—a glockenspiel is wonderfully hard to hear. And the set went off like fireworks, especially because we had the good fortune of being preceded by two of dullest bands currently practicing music, and because BOAT's fans in Portland include three frat boys no one in the band knows who turn up at their shows bearing their own confetti (the band has seen these guys before). After the show, we got burritos at some all-night burrito place, then sneaked into the home of the owner of Magic Marker Records (their label) after he and his family had gone to bed, slept in the basement, and the next morning got up early and had a chat with their label guy as he bounced his baby on his knee.
We had a lot of things to do. We needed breakfast. "Burgerville?" Crane said. I thought he was joking. He was not. We stopped in Tacoma for a while, where Crane lives with his wife in a nice house with a nice garage, which was full of huge pieces of painted cardboard for the band's October 22 album release at Neumos: a giant toaster, a giant bagel to somehow pop out of the toaster, several towering red tulips, a big Interstate 5 sign, racehorses, jockeys, a sign with Superman lettering that says "BOAT." Then we finished the drive back to Seattle and played Fremont's Oktoberfest, where it rained, making everything slipperier and even more fun, even though, once again, and in a totally different way, I messed up on glockenspiel. What a relief not to have to do this all the time.