Tour Tales: Michael J. Epstein


2012 marks thirteen years since Jeff Mangum suffered a severe nervous breakdown and quietly deactivated the greatest band to ever hail from Ruston, Louisiana. Despite the group’s unexpected disbandment, Neutral Milk Hotel remains one of the most omnipresent outfits in indie rock.  

Case in point: Neutral Uke Hotel.

Neutral Uke Hotel, the east coast musical project comprising of Golden Bloom frontman and ukelele enthusiast Shawn Fogel, bassist and horn player Matthew Girard (The Future Everybody), percussionist Andrew Laubacher, keyboardist and melodica player Josh Cohen (Guster) and the man of a million bands, Michael J. Epstein (The Motion Sick, Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, Do Not Forsake, Me Oh My Darling), turns Neutral Milk Hotel tunes from way-back-when into catchy ukelele-driven tributes that might even make Jeff Mangum crack a smile and whistle along. After all, Neutral Uke Hotel’s mission statement is simple: to unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea album, played in its entirety on ukulele by Shawn Fogel, with accompaniment from the members of Golden Bloom and The Motion Sick.

Before heading out on a West Coast tour this February with his Neutral Uke Hotel bandmates, The Motion Sick’s Michael J. Epstein recalls the weirdest “fan” encounter he has ever experienced while on the road:

The Motion Sick had just played a show in Madison, Wisconsin and afterward, we drove a mile or so over to our friend’s place to call it a night.  It was around 4am as we were getting out of the van. From the distance, we saw a stumbling, giggling 40-year old woman approaching us with a big bundle of flowers in her hand.  The flowers still had dirt and roots attached, so it was pretty clear that she had just pulled them out of someone’s garden.  The woman focused on me and stumbled forward with her arms out.  I wasn’t really interested in being anywhere near her, but I figured this was some poor, lonely drunk woman who was wandering by herself in the middle of the night, so I could at least suck it up and give her a hug.  I sighed and kind of put my arms down, figuring she would hug me and it would be over with soon enough.  As soon as she was close enough to touch me, she clutched the perennials tighter, lifted her arm up, and began repeatedly hitting me in the face with the flowers.  I stood in disbelief for a moment allowing myself to be hit three or four times before I picked up my guitar and took off running down the street, screaming like a little girl.  As my bandmates all pointed and laughed, the woman gave up and just stumbled off into the night, as mysteriously as she had arrived… 

 -Michael J. Epstein 

February 2012 Neutral Uke Hotel Tour Dates

(wsg Golden Bloom and Michael J. Epstein)

February 17, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA – The Echo (with Miracle Parade)

February 18, 2012 – San Francisco, CA – The Hotel Utah (500 4th St.)

February 20, 2012 – Eugene, OR – Sam Bond’s Garage

February 21, 2012 – Seattle, WA – Sunset Tavern

February 22, 2012 – Portland, OR  – Mississippi Studios

Photo Credit: Kelly Davidson

Tour Tales: Destroy This Place


Just as the name suggests, the Metro Detroit supergroup Destroy This Place intends to take no prisoners. Although Ryan Allen, Sean SommerMonday Busque and John Nelson describe their latest outfit as “Fugazi playing 70s power-pop, weaned on thrash metal, hip-hop cassettes, indie-rock’s heyday of seven inch singles, and Magnet  Magazine,” Destroy This Place is really just a band of “four beautiful men in their 30s with responsibilities and respectable bedtimes,” or so they say.  The gentlemen of Destroy This Place kicked off their latest tour on September 29th with London’s latest export, Yuck, and proceeded to document the Midwestern mayhem they witnessed in this exclusive tour diary:


Day 1 – September 29, 2011

Tour kick off party w/Yuck & Porcelain Raft

@ The Magic Stick  – Detroit, MI


Is a weekend on the road considered a tour?  Well, when you’re in a band of 30-somethings with day jobs, two of whom are fathers and husbands, two days on the road absolutely counts as a tour.  Was this show really a tour kick off party?  Well, let’s just say that we were lucky enough to be added to the bill at the last minute, and the show just so happened to occur on the day before we left for tour.  Was this show a blast, despite having to work at 7am the next morning?  Hell yes!  Monday thrashed around the stage so viciously that he kept unplugging his bass. Sean slammed on his drum kit with such power, that he cut his hand open and sprayed blood all over the stage.  The crowd was awesome, Yuck was awesome, we were awesome, and getting to work on time in the morning was no easy task.


Day 2 – September 30, 2011

Destroy This Place w/Craig Ramsey & Tunabunny

@ The Happy Dog – Cleveland, OH

After the excitement of leaving town dies down (roughly 5 minutes after merging onto the freeway), you have to find ways of entertaining yourself on the road.  Did Sean treat the band to a tour of “romantic destinations” while driving through the Downriver, Michigan area?  Yes.  Did we listen to the major label debut from Babes in Toyland on cassette tape? Unfortunately.  Did we see Jeff Milo and Chevy Chase doppelgangers at Subway?  Yes!

Arriving at The Happy Dog fashionably late during Tunabunny’s set, we got the feeling that the crowd might not be into our style of music.  This was hilariously confirmed during our set, as people backed away from the stage and then slowly migrated outside to smoke after a few songs. Non-smokers began taking up smoking as an excuse to get away from our punishing onslaught.  Did this bum us out?  No.  Did Ryan declare to the remaining crowd members that we had “weeded out the pussies?”  Yes.  Did we screw around and play three cover songs to make the night more fun for us?  Yes.  After watching the splendid Craig Ramsey and his band, Craig was nice enough to host us for the night at his house.  Did Ryan and Sean drink 40s?  Yes.  Did we watch a movie about trains hitting stuff?  Yes.  Is Craig Ramsey’s bathroom the best?  Yes.


Day 3 – October 1, 2011

Destroy This Place w/Lasers and Fast and Shit & Hospital Garden

@ Pancho’s – Chicago, IL 

To prepare for the 6+ hour drive to Chicago from Cleveland, we stopped at the Inn on Coventry in Cleveland for brunch, which we wholeheartedly recommend to anyone visiting the area. The drive to Chicago was long and relatively uninteresting. Did Sean enjoy a mini Butterfinger Blizzard that he purchased at a rest stop?  Hell yes he did!

When we arrived at Pancho’s, we discovered the venue was hosting an early hip-hop show before our set, so after loading in our gear, we continued our weekend of consuming complete garbage and ate pizza at The Boiler Room. From there, we headed to the Logan Bar & Grill to meet Monday’s friends, Chris and Heather (who graciously offered to put us up in their cozy apartment for the night).  Ryan, John, and Sean then migrated into the van to relax. Did Ryan relax?  Yes. Did Sean and John sit in the van and freak out over how many attractive women they saw walking around the streets of Chicago? Definitely.

After we had our fill of Chicago nightlife, we headed to the venue to hang out. Pancho’s is a cool place that we would revisit just to hang out with the staff.  The owner (Pancho, duh!) constructed bizarre physics experiments at the bar to the delight of some female patrons.

We also didn’t know whether the custom drink tickets we were given were supposed to be a joke or not.


The Show

Okay, let’s get one thing straight – Hospital Garden is amazing.  We walked into this show knowing next to nothing about this band and were so pleasantly surprised by their thoroughly enjoyable set.  Also, the band consists of a group of great people; we really feel fortunate to know them.

After Hospital Garden’s set, we took the stage.  Was this show fun?  Yes.  Did Pancho himself spontaneously join us on stage to play percussion during “Hold Tights?”  Yes.  Did Pancho then leave the stage briefly, only to return with a saxophone?  YES!  We had a blast and the crowd was amazing.


Lasers and Fast and Shit closed out the night. If you’ve never seen this band’s live set, you should feel sorry for yourself. They have a crazy fog/light show extravaganza, which, combined with how much the band rules, makes for an amazing experience.  Were any of the bands, audience members, or bar owners tonight [smoking deck bailers]? No way.

Day 4 –  October 2, 2011

Chicago to Detroit

@ Home! 

On the way home, we jammed the Hospital Garden CD that we scored in a “cool band record trade.” By scanning the radio, we also caught the Detroit Lions’ comeback from a huge deficit to go 4-0 this season (John was especially pumped about this).  We also ate one final, awesomely unhealthy meal before heading back to reality.

In retrospect, when looking back on this weekend, we realize that some bands go off and do what we did for weeks, or months at a time.  After three long days and nights in a row of traveling and playing shows, we felt exhausted and couldn’t wait to get home. It isn’t easy to say that we can’t hang like we used to; now, we just do things on a level that is so physically and psychologically draining that it’s not possible to keep up that kind of lifestyle for more than a few days.  Was this weekend the shit? Yes.  Do we feel lucky that we had the opportunity to go on tour and do we hope to do this again in the future? Totally!

Destroy This Place: Pioneers from Scott Allen on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Sean Sommer for the commentary and photos.

Band Photo Credit – CJ Benninger

Tour Tales: gates


As his former project, Lydia, began to disintegrate in the summer of 2010, guitarist Ethan Koozer relocated from Arizona to the Garden State, collected a few friends along the way, and began conceptualizing the early line-up of New Jersey’s latest indie outfit, gates.

With the January 2011 release of their six-track EP entitled, The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home, Kevin Dye (vocals/guitar), Ethan Koozer (guitar), Dan King (guitar), Mike Maroney (bass), and Dan Crapanzano (drums) caught the attention of Rival Schools, Catch 22, Jaguar Shark, and former The Movielife and I Am the Avalanche frontman Vinnie Caruana, earning gates an opening slot on several east coast tours.

By August of 2011, gates was ready to embark on their first headlining tour, weaving through the Midwest on their way to Lincoln, Nebraska and back during their two and a half week stint.

The following is an exclusive photo diary constructed by the members of gates during their recent summer tour: 


We decided that standing on the beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago was as good of a setting as any to take a photograph with all five of us in it.  The boat and the seagull just happened to fly into the frame as this photo was snapped.



This is our guitarist, Ethan, at Lake Michigan.


Danbury Park:

We arrived super early for our first show of the tour, so we typed “park” into the GPS, found our way to Danbury Park, and played a few rounds of frisbee. This ended up being the go-to option when we would get anywhere ahead of schedule. I swear, we really did play shows on this tour!



We spent a total of over 48 hours of drive time on the road during the tour and another 48 hours or so hanging out in the van when we had down time between sets. Luckily, our van had some pretty sweet amenities, including mood lighting, pull-down shades, and a “leather” scented air freshener Dan purchased at a truck stop.


Lincoln Lake – Lincoln, NE:

Ethan is originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, so when we got there, he took us to Lincoln Lake for a relaxing afternoon before playing in Omaha.  We hung out, drank some Jeremiah Weed, and enjoyed the fresh air. Overall, the weather couldn’t have been better on this tour.


Load-In – The Zoo Bar: 

This shot was taken in the alley behind the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE, a venue that was kind enough to host our show after the original venue we booked unexpectedly flooded due to a water main break. We went from waking up that morning with a hole in the calendar, to playing one of the best shows of the tour.



After playing a show in Worcester, Massachusetts, we drove for hours through the darkness and stayed at a new friend’s place way up in the mountains. The foggy drive out the next morning was beautiful.


Romeo, MI: 

Kevin’s hometown of Detroit yielded another great show. This was another case of an early arrival and subsequent street strolling.  It was pretty interesting not knowing what to expect from the shows each night; either we were dead-on, or completely surprised by the outcome.  On our way out of town, we stocked our cooler with Faygo before heading to Kalamazoo.



We nabbed a skateboard in Lincoln and shredded every city thereafter.  Skating provided an alternate way to get to the closest liquor store, gas station (to stock the van with cough drops and beef jerky), or kill some time before a show.

The Van: 

Surprisingly, our van made it through our two and a half week tour without any major breakdowns. Life on the road was a little cramped at times, especially when packed with five people and all of the things we picked up along the way, but we made it work.  When we step into the van for a ride now, it feels like home.

Special thanks to Kevin Dye for the commentary!

Photo Credit: Mike Maroney

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