Suffragette Tour Report #1: Wigg-ing Out On The Road

Ex-Breeder explores frantic rehearsal sessions, the big kickoff and the illicit pleasure of getting what you ask for.

(Editor's Note: The logical stepsister to the all-women Lilith Tour, the Suffragette

Sessions is a 12-date, women-centric outing that recently kicked off with an Aug. 19 date

in Portland, Maine. The tour will wind its way through the Northeast and Midwest through

early September. One of the featured performers on the bill, ex-Breeders bassist

Josephine Wiggs, is taking notes on the road and chronicling the trials and travails of the

outing, which was organized by folk-rock duo Indigo Girls' Amy Ray (guitar, mandolin,

vocals) and Emily Saliers (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals). The Suffragette Sessions

also features female funk-pop act Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach (drums,

percussion); violinist/singer Lisa Germano (keyboards, violin, mandolin, accordion); folk

singer Jane Siberry (keyboard, accordion, guitar, vocals); Gail Anne Dorsey (bass,

guitar, drums, vocals); Lourdes Perez (guitar, percussion, vocals); Jean Smith (slide

guitar, vocals) of Mecca Normal; and Come's Thalia Zedek (guitar, clarinet, vocals). The

tour is loosely based on folk legend Bob Dylan's '70s Rolling Thunder Revue, with each

artist sitting in on each other's sets and songs. In her first report, Wiggs explores the

frantic rehearsal sessions leading up to the tour, an unpleasant stay in a deceivingly

pastoral-sounding hotel, the surprisingly well-attended tour kickoff and the illicit pleasure

of getting what you ask for on your tour rider. The Suffragette Sessions continues this

week with a Tuesday stop at the Boathouse in Norfolk, Va., and a Wednesday show at

the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.)

We have all been sent a tape with 23 songs on it (with two or three songs chosen by

each person; mainly their own songs, but with some covers) about a week before we are

scheduled to meet for three days of rehearsals in NYC.

We are going to play 12 shows in 16 days. The only person I know in this group is Kate

[Schellenbach] (since 1993 when Luscious Jackson toured with the Breeders) and I had

met Thalia [Zedek] (when the Breeders and her band, Come, toured with Nirvana, also in

'93).

We end up working our way through about 16 songs, managing to play each song from

start to finish, though not necessarily without mistakes and annotating (heavily, in my

case) the chord charts and lyric sheets in an endeavor to remember what our parts are

and how the songs go.

The basic premise of the tour is, as Amy [Ray] and Emily [Saliers] put it, a socialist

experiment. To wit: People are free to choose what songs they want to play (including

ones not on the tape) and who they want to play on them.

This produces a kind of free-for-all (e.g. fuzz-mandolin on the Kostars song "Roll The

Dice," accordion on [David Bowie's] "Ziggy Stardust") within the bounds of the collective

taste of the Collective, if you will ... the proviso being that if the person whose song it is

hears something they don't quite like, they have the power of veto (theoretically ... ). I

heard Jean [Smith] lamenting the fact that during rehearsal she "had been thrown off the

'Midnight Train to Georgia.' " However, I've had confirmed reports that she jumped right

back on it during the show.

The first show is in Portland, Maine, an eight-hour drive that we will do overnight on the

bus, leaving right after rehearsal. We arrive at the Susse Chalet Motel at 4:30 a.m.

Opening the door to my room, rather than evoking the pine woods and freshly fallen

snow implied by the name of the establishment, I detect an infusion of stale

cigarette-smoke and air freshener. The next morning, Jane [Siberry] says this was also

her experience and Kate offers everyone the use of her Champa incense, which she

brings on tour for these occasions.

I get up around noon and meet Kate in the lobby to get directions to somewhere to get

coffee. Some of the crew guys are there and tell us that at 7 a.m. there were already

people lined up and sitting on lawn chairs outside the theater. Denny's is across the

parking lot, but we pass on that and get iced coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. On our way

back, we meet Lisa [Germano] in search of water and a cup of tea. No doubt she'll end

up at Dunkin' Donuts, too.

Arriving at the gig for soundcheck, the first thing to do is to inspect the [tour contract] rider.

I am pleased to see the familiar jars of peanut butter (crunchy) and jelly (raspberry) and

immediately set to work to make a sandwich. Amy follows my lead and we exchange

hearty appreciation of the old pb & j, she saying she could live on it and me replying

sometimes you have to. Everyone seems a little taken aback at the presence of a bottle

of Makers Mark and even more so when it becomes known that it was I who requested it.

I overhear Jean and Jane saying in hushed tones, "... and she seems so quiet and

mild-mannered."

In the face of the general bemusement, I find myself admitting that in fact my request had

really been more an act of bravado than anything else and that I had not thought that we

would really get it. Now I am afraid that we will end up with 12 virtually untouched bottles

and am a little embarrassed. Ah well, Christmas is not far away ...

We go out to dinner with an old NYC friend of Kate's, who tells us we are in the "bad,

scary part of town, which for Portland means that there are people in wheelchairs on the

street." The restaurant's specialty is, it proclaims on the menu, "surprisingly good clam

chowder," at which Kate remarks: "It wouldn't be surprising for the clam chowder to be

good in Portland. What's surprising is that they think you would be surprised."

The show goes surprisingly well and the crowd was wildly enthusiastic, which is always

nice and especially so when you've only had three days of rehearsal. Tonight's setlist is

composed by Amy, but the idea is that we will take turns performing this duty.

Jane proposes a song (not on the tape) called "Flirtin' is a Flow Thing," which seems to

have no set structure (she wants to go with the flow, I imagine). She tells us she will

signal the necessary details (chord changes, stops, starts) as we go along.

There is quite a potential for confusion on my end, however, as I am never quite sure if

an upward sweep of the arms means: (a) get louder, (b) go to the next chord or (c) here

comes the chorus. Jane conducts the whole thing with such panache and good humor,

however, that the confusion (and mistakes) merely add to the fun.

We later learn that Jane once got kicked out of a Karaoke bar for improvising, and we

can well believe it.