Back in the spring, I followed Eisley on tour for a few dates. Eisley is my favourite band and whenever they go on tour I take a few days off work and follow them for a few days. It’s been a ritual of mine for a few years now.
Their spring tour this year was a special one for me in particular because I proposed to my wife on the first night of four. An Eisley fan site asked me to write up an account of my travels following the band. I wrote this for the site but they never ended up publishing it. I just found it sitting on my computer and I was sad that it never saw the light of day so I’m posting it here now. It’s just a pretty straightforward account of my trip, nothing terribly exciting but I thought it was worth posting anyway.
Currents Tour, April 2014.
I started listening to Eisley in 2007, shortly before Combinations came out. They were one of my ex’s favourite bands so I had to listen to them quite a bit. It wasn’t until Combinations came out and I heard Invasion that they piqued my interest and became a band I listened to on my own, even when B wasn’t around. In 2009 I saw my first Eisley show. They were opening for Say Anything in the fall/winter of that year and I found out too late to get tickets for any of the shows closer to me. As a result, I ended up buying tickets for their show in Atlanta at the Masquerade. My roommate and I drove nine hours in a thunderstorm from Richmond to Atlanta to see Eisley. When we arrived no one told us that the Masquerade has a downstairs venue as well as an upstairs venue, so we missed the first few songs of Eisley’s set sitting downstairs not realizing the show was already underway upstairs. Since neither me nor my roommate are big Say Anything fans, we turned around and drove nine hours back to Richmond after Eisley’s set ended. All in all, we drove 18 hours in pouring rain to watch Eisley play eight or nine songs, all from the back of the venue. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I was hooked.
Since 2009 I have seen Eisley 16 times. It’s become my routine that whenever Eisley announces east coast tour dates, I immediately put in a request for time off from work and plan to either rent a car or take buses to see a few shows in a row. My wife had recently started listening to Eisley before we began dating, and following Eisley on tour became our shared tradition.
On the Currents tour in April of this year, we saw Eisley play four shows: at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, at the U Street Music Hall in DC, at the Boot and Saddle in Philadelphia, and at the Bowery Ballroom in New York.
The first show, in Chapel Hill, was an important show for me because I had decided it would be the show where I would ask Leah to marry me. I had gotten in touch with the band prior and they’d agreed to make an announcement for me before playing Shelter.
At the Chapel Hill show, after the guys came out and set up Eisley’s instruments, but before the band had taken the stage, the fire alarm began shrieking inside the venue. Not seeing or smelling smoke or fire, and not wanting to lose my spot at the front of the crowd for Eisley’s set, I stuck my fingers in my ears and stood around waiting for that awful sound to end. After an agonizing five minutes, the staff at the venue managed to silence the alarm. The venue dimmed the lights and we were hopeful that Eisley would be taking the stage soon. Unfortunately what we got instead was another round of shrieks from the fire alarm. This time the alarm only lasted a little over a minute before it was silenced. This trend continued for about an hour. The venue would dim the lights and five seconds later the fire alarm would pierce the air. By the end of the ordeal, the crowd’s reaction had become Pavlovian; the lights would dim and everyone would instinctively stick their fingers in their ears before the alarm would start shrieking.
I was more nervous and frustrated than anyone else that night because I was waiting to propose. Between the fire alarm and the troubles the band had had on the highway getting to the venue, I thought it likely that either they would cancel their set, abbreviate it to the point where it wouldn’t be feasible for the band to make an announcement for me, or that they would simply forget.
After an hour or so of trouble with the fire alarm, Weston came out and told us that the band would be playing an acoustic set outside in the parking lot. We turned and made our way outside. The back parking lot at the Cat’s Cradle has a raise loading dock area, a patio with some stars, and some picnic tables scattered around. Eisley played on the blacktop, with a single extension cord running outside from the venue so that Stacy’s keyboard could be plugged in. Chauntelle and Garron played acoustic guitar, and Sherri sang. Weston took the night off, and the girls made fun of him for not even sticking around to watch their set.
I made my way with Leah to the front of the crowd, and relaxed a little bit. I was relieved to know that the show was still going to happen, and an acoustic set outside under the stars was actually even more romantic than what I was imagining. It was an incredibly intimate experience, being at eye level with the band and only a few feet away. The ladies were charming as always, apologizing profusely for the technical difficulties. The whole set was dreamy, magical, and quiet. Sherri encouraged the crowd to shout hello and wave to pedestrians walking their dogs nearby, and smiled big as the crowd joined in for huge singalongs for some of the older material they played. The weather was perfect, a cool spring evening in the south with only a slight breeze.
As Stacy sang Ambulance, their next to last song, Sherri walked around behind her and made eye contact with me over Stacy’s shoulder. She raised her eyebrows and nodded at me and I nodded back. I put my sweaty hands in my pockets and searched for the ring.
After Ambulance, Sherri came out in front again, “Thank y’all so much for coming out tonight and watching us. This next song is called Shelter and it’s going to be our last song. But before we play it, someone in the front row has something really important to ask someone else in the front row. So I want to dedicate this song to y’all,” she said, pointing at me and Leah. Leah, confused began to look side to side to see who Sherri was talking to, eventually turning around behind her thinking that Sherri might have been talking to someone behind her. When she turned back around I was on one knee holding out the ring. She clapped her hand over her mouth in shock and then held out her right hand to me. She realized her mistake and took back her right hand and held out her left hand. I nervously put the ring on her finger before she had a chance to say yes. I kissed her and told her that she had just made the worst mistake of her life. We laughed as the crowd cheered around us. Eisley played Shelter and then congratulated us. Garron grabbed me and hugged me.
Our travel arrangement was such. Our mutual friend Desirai drove us to Chapel Hill and back. We took buses everywhere else after that. Because the show in Chapel Hill ran so late, we got back to Richmond with just enough time to grab our bags and then get Desirai to drop us downtown at the bus station. Our bus from Richmond to DC left at 3:30 in the morning.
The rest of the shows on the tour were wonderful. It was exciting to see the new lightshow that Eisley has for their shows since we didn’t get to see it in Chapel Hill. They definitely add a powerful visual element to the show, even if they do blind you once in a while if you’re standing up front.
The setlist for this tour was what I expected, heavy on Currents and The Valley, with a few older songs sprinkled in the mix. I was sad not to hear Sad or Smarter on this tour but Sad at least has been on heavy tour rotation for the past couple years so I understand wanting to rotate it out a little bit. I was really impressed with how heavy many of the songs on Currents sound live. The entire record sounds much much heavier live than it does recorded. Although I love all of Eisley’s material, even the softer dreamier stuff from early on, I do get more excited for the heavier material, especially the songs from The Valley. I liked Currents on my first listen, but the songs grabbed me much more live than I was expecting. The standouts for me were Blue Fish and Millstone. Blue Fish had me headbanging in the front row during the “we all fall down” bridge. On some of the shows, most notably in DC, Garron turned his bass up so loud during Millstone that the entire venue was vibrating. It was, in a word, awesome.
As I am neither a musician nor a sound engineer, I feel powerfully unqualified to speak to the sound at any of the shows. But speaking only from my own personal experience and preferences, I think they sounded incredible at every show. Of the three shows I saw that weren’t acoustic — DC, Philly, NY — I think they sounded the best in DC. It might have been where I was standing — front row slightly to the stage left — but the heavy, loud, almost shoegaze like sound of the songs was really enjoyable and seemed to amp up the crowd.
As far as the crowds, I think Philadelphia probably had the most responsive crowd. All of the pre-Valley songs they played in Philly got huge singsongs. You almost couldn’t hear the vocals from the PA over the wall of sound coming from the crowd.
As an opener, Merriment is really coming into their own. I have been seeing Merriment open for Eisley since 2010 or maybe 2011 and it’s impressive to not only hear the progression in their songwriting but also to see them mature in their stage presence. On this tour, as on previous tours, it was just Christie and Collin playing without a drummer. Collin has always been a fantastic guitar player but in the past he has seemed uncomfortable on stage, but he has noticeably loosened up in the past couple of years. Hearing Christie banter and chat is also refreshing. When I first saw her play, she kept her eyes closed throughout her whole set and barely spoke a word. On this tour she was bantering with the crowd, talking about their songwriting process, and even poking fun at Collin. It has been a real privilege to watch them grow into their own as performers. I usually wait until the last night of tour to pick up merch or records but I ended up regretting that decision on this tour because Merriment sold out of their CDs before I had a chance to pick one up.
The New York show was bittersweet. It was a really impressive show and we had the chance to meet some cool people there. Beyond the benefit of longer Eisley sets, I enjoy headlining tours because you get the chance to meet more fellow Eisley fans. Next to us in line was a man named Joseph who was seeing Eisley for the first time. It was like watching your favourite movie with someone who’s never seen it before, you get excited all over again imagining seeing it for the first time again. While there were some overzealous fans at the New York show who never seemed to stop screaming at the band, it was a really fun show.
It’s hard to put a cap on a trip like this. How do I conclude a story about traveling around the country seeing my favourite band, visiting friends in far away cities, and getting engaged to the love of my life? I guess the only thing to say is that I can’t wait to do it all over again — except for getting engaged, obviously. There’s always a sadness to my first few days home from tour when I’m seeing the band’s social media posts about the shows they’re playing after I’ve left the tour. Maybe some day I’ll have the money and time to be able to follow a tour from start to finish. That would be truly amazing.