On The Road: Doom Squad's WigWam Tour, Pt. 4 by V. Rachel Weldon

V. Rachel Weldon is on a West Coast tour with Toronto's psychedelic rockers, Doom Squad. This is her third dispatch from the road. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

After returning to Vancouver from Poole’s Land, doing a mountain of laundry, running the hot water cold, scrubbing our dirty feet and so on, we were all set and super anxious to cross the border, bound for Portland, Oregon and Doom Squad’s first American tour date the following evening. Getting into the USA was causing us almost as much stress as finding and purchasing our tour vehicle did. The band was supposed to have VISAs as they were technically working in the US, playing shows and selling band merch, even though there never really was any expectation to make any money. But the process to get a VISA is lengthy and labyrinthine; their tour itinerary would have had to be set in stone months before, and any changes to it would have to go through US customs. And since the itinerary was and is still pretty much tentative, any hopes of crossing the border according to the big fat American books were gone like yesterday’s ganja. Plan B: split up the band gear between a couple vehicles and pretend there never was any band tour. This also entailed mailing the band merch to Portland (which we soon learned wouldn’t make it there until after the show) and wiping the internet clean of any sign of Doom Squad or the WigWam tour’s existence, just in case they found the band’s name while searching the vehicle and googled it. We knew not to underestimate the US border patrol.

Che, a good friend of the Doom Squad family had offered to drive WigWam’s keyboards and the Ghost Prom DJ equipment across the border, going with the alibi of an afternoon playing music with friends on her grandparents’ boat on the American coast. She and Wolf had left a bit earlier than we had, and were already on the US side, news we happily received via text message from Wolf, by the time we pulled up to the American border in White Rock, BC. After waiting in line for about an hour, we pulled up to the border patrol booth and were greeted by the tired border patrol agent with an identifiably American drawl. Lamb was in the driver’s seat and I was in the passenger’s with a pile of passports on the dash, and another pile of fallback documentation – flight confirmations, burning man tickets, proof of enrolment and class timetables at our respective universities in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa, to which we all had to return right after the Burn. The agent proceeded through the same questions he had been asking all day, probably all summer, to motorists like us and nothing like us, which we answered with honest smiles hiding our anxious thoughts. Five minutes of standardized questions later, the agent slapped an orange slip on our windshield.

“Pull over there to the secondary inspection area, please.”

We weren’t in the clear yet, but we had anticipated this; an RV full of Burn-bound hippies and artists has got to raise a few flags, especially at the United States border. We anticipated the worst, actually. In the past, Treymor was stopped at the border on route to LA where he used to study. He had to wait eight hours after the border patrol agents found some promo copies of recordings he did with his Toronto band Corduroy, considered commercial merchandise by the border, and was still turned away at the end of the day. Border patrol guards have more power than American or Canadian cops, and are under homeland security jurisdiction to shatter any sense of the “inalienable rights” to liberty that you thought you had. They searched Treymor’s email and text messages among other things, finding one he had sent to a friend waiting for him in LA about these asshole border patrol agents that were giving him such a hard time. You can bet the times got harder after that.

So we pulled up to the secondary inspection area, surrendered our keys to the agent there and went to answer more questions in the huge sterile American inspection building. But, it must be said, as much as we expected hell from these border patrol agents, they were actually quite friendly and accommodating, more concerned about any fresh produce we might be smuggling across rather than band gear, commercial merchandise or residual fun from our weekend at Poole’s Land.

After about an hour of anxiety in the waiting area, we were given the okay by the border patrol guards, and piled back onto our RV. We waited until we were absolutely and completely over the border, now in the town of Blaine, Washington, before howling and hollering with joy. We pulled up to a strip mall where Wolf was waiting, smoking a cigarette beside the pile of gear, grinning a big gratifying grin as we rapped on the windows and howled in his direction. We loaded up and hit the I-5, Oregon-bound.

We didn’t really intend on making it to Portland that evening, and almost didn’t when at dusk we realized that our taillights had burnt out somewhere between the border and Tacoma. But after a quick, and pretty clever patch up job by Rye Toast with reflectors, battery powered lights and duct tape, we were back on the road, weary but eager to make it to Portland so we could have the whole following day there to enjoy before the Doom Squad show. We finally arrived at about 1 am, glued to the RV’s windows and digging everything in sight: cool looking industrial bars and restaurants, closed cafés, street art, funky store fronts and record shops, colourful residential homes with huge front porches, ornamented with planters, hammocks and benches, and the words KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD painted in yellow on the back wall of a rock venue.

“We’ve been driving trough this city for five minutes, and in the dark, and I’m already certain I could live in Portland!”

We pulled up to Nick’s residential home, sandwiched in between Hawthorne and Belmont, and parked our home in the street. Doom Squad met Nick a few summers earlier at the Peppermill music festival in BC, a Portland born and raised folk-turned-rock musician who fronts Gratitillium, also on the bill for the show the following evening. We all sat around his spacious living room, met his roommates and chatted over a few beers, catching up before crashing.

The next evening, after a day spent enjoying Portland’s various sights and attractions, Nick and Doom Squad were on their way to sound check at the Someday Lounge in downtown Portland while Soleil, Lamb, Wolf and I went to the airport to pick up Rohto Vee, another friend from Toronto who would be joining us from there onwards, down to the Burn and everywhere in between. We found her in the airport lost and found office.

“They lost my bag!” Poor Rohto was having a rough go. She had almost missed her flight from New York City that morning, and lost her bag somewhere between Pheonix and Portland. She hurriedly filled out the frustrating airline baggage forms, and we left bound for the show, which we were getting close to missing.

We arrived at the Someday Lounge luckily just as Gratitillium were going on. We quickly set up the merch stand and started grooving to Nick’s colourful brand of rock-pop music. As young Portland filed in the door, we called them over to the merch table, handing out handbills and spreading the word about the show Doom Squad and Nick were going to play the following evening at some to-be-determined location, taking down numbers to inform interested parties the following day when we figured it all out. We wanted to throw another bush rave in the forest somewhere, the likes of the Poole’s Land show, but still had to figure it all out, a location to find, gear to rent and people to invite.

Doom Squad went on soon after and tore into the night, putting us in the audience into the usual trance, dancing, arms swinging, feet stomping, our individual tones now all harmonizing with the musicians’, with Aloe’s singing bowl bong-bonging with the beat, all falling into step now. Local kids, more hip than hippie, got into it too, closing their eyes like the rest of us and letting the music do the work. Real tribal power, taking over, taking its toll. So this is what they’re into in the Great White North. This is what Canadians dig, huh? Tribal trance, I dig it too.

Van Go Lion picked up the baton to close the night, a two-piece electro dance-pop group voted Portland’s favourite band in some forgotten publication, to a shrinking audience composed now only of some of us courteous Doom Squad tribe members and a handful of girls dancing in flip flops and chandelier earrings. Call me biased, but I think most of us there would agree. Doom Squad stole the show that night; they made an impression on that city.

The next day, tired, hungover and under prepared, we resolved to throw the party that night in Nick’s basement instead of in a forest. Free power and borrowing gear from Nick had its appeal of course, plus we were told time and time again that Portland doesn’t go anywhere they can’t bike to, and the only forest we could fathom throwing a rave in without interference from the cops would have to be out of the city limits. We hit the town to spread the word with a location finally in mind and to check out the downtown in the light of day. Thrift shops and arty boutiques, voodoo doughnuts, beer on tap, fruit stands -- it dawned on us pounding the pavement in the downtown core: Portland loooooooves Portland. The 100% local obsession, from jewellery and clothing to the grain-fed chicken breast on their plates, Portland-themed street art and graffiti on every turn, the headline in the street rag: WHY BROOKLYN WISHES IT WAS PORTLAND. Oh yeah, Portland loves Portland alright.

We returned home, tired, still sick with head colds, and pretty unmotivated. The poor Doom Squad siblings were all feeling under the weather. WigWam was shivering with a fever; Aloe was close to tears with a sore throat. But they pulled it together, those troopers, hung sheets to hide the basement-yness of the basement, the boiler and washer dryer, weaved sound-sensitive L-wire around the ceiling and set up the gear. Aloe and I stapled L-wire to a huge piece of white drywall, looping it around to spell the word GUILTY in Aloe’s cursive handwriting, inspired by a surrealist art piece that WigWam had made last summer for her London art show. The GUILTY sign pulsed with the music, a big red throbbing glow.

It looked super rad and had a real dreaded effect. We managed to turn Nick’s basement into a formidable rave venue, and by the time it was ready, tons of people were already on the front porch cracking beers and chatting, wondering what these crazy Canadian hippies had in store for them.

Nick opened the evening with a few folk songs, self-penned as well as covered. A really talented entertainer, his solo set really shone compared to his also-impressive set with Gratitillium, and not just because of the L-wire. Honest quality folk music like his didn’t need all the fringes that we had adorned the basement with, but the intergalactic vibe was a pretty cool contrast nonetheless. Ghost Prom went on next, now with Rohto behind the wheel too, a stark shift from folk to electro trance, but no one minded much. Dancing harder and harder as the temperature rose, more and more attendees joined us in the basement, greeted by the throbbing GUILTY sign at the back of the room. Doom Squad took over and conducted the energy, reverberating all over our subterranean rave den now. No one would have noticed they weren’t feeling tip top, everyone in their trance. Ghost Prom picked it up again after Doom Squad closed with “Land of the Silver Birch (Home of the Beiber)”, not letting the energy hit the floor, as we decompressed, some dropping out and others falling deeper into the trance. We had done it again, thrown another amazing rave, and even when none of us were feeling our best.

“Guys, we’re making impressions. We’re leaving our marks on people. Portland isn’t going to forget this.” Yeah, I really don’t think they will.

After waking up in our various positions, packing up and fuelling up, bidding farewell to Nick and his roommates, to Portland, we hit the road once again, now bound for the Oregon coast and the sand dunes Wolf couldn’t stop talking about, having visited them a lot as a kid. As we drove, WigWam and I sat in the back of the RV, myself scribbling in my notebook and WigWam braiding a long piece of red yarn. She had applied months earlier to exhibit an art piece at the Burning Man centre camp café, and had heard that it had been accepted via email when we were in Vancouver. Her original fantasy was to knit the whole way down the coast for the duration of the tour, the pieces of red yarn weaving through one another and each other like the interdependent time-space fabric itself that keeps us hurtling forwards, a break-neck speed it often seems, towards the desert, the burn.

Well, it turned out WigWam overestimated her capacity to knit, and when her project was crawling along even slower than our maxed-at-60 mph vehicle, she started braiding the yarn instead to catch up on the elapsed time. Three long pieces of red yarn, one end wrapped around her big toe, and the other being choreographed by her quick determined fingers, left over centre, right over centre that day as we drove towards the dunes on the Oregon coast, the next as we drove through the redwood forest in Northern California, and finally yesterday, as we drove across the Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco. Despite our climactic destination, the Burn, the flash of blazes that will close this chapter of self-discovery, we all have intentions and expectations for this journey, the means to that glorious end. WigWam’s art piece, Treymor’s film and my own quill-driving, we all had creative investments in this trip, as well as personal investments, spiritual investments. We were all sitting around talking about the Burn in the RV yesterday, Soleil and I always hungry for more inexplicable explanations on the progression of events at Burning Man, the essence, the point, the punctuation mark the end of this chapter. Soleil mused.

“I really think it will answer some questions I have”

“Well, I don’t think it will. I think if anything it will invoke more questions,” WigWam replied. “But that’s okay. They’ll be questions you never knew you were supposed to ask.”

WigWam brought out the ever-lengthening braids at every stop along the way. She lay it out end over end on the dunes at the Oregon Cosat, coiled it around stones on the bank of a river we dipped in and picnicked beside near Eureka, and wrapped it around a huge redwood tree trunk in Northern California.

“It’s funny, it was actually the perfect size to fit around that redwood trunk.”

Every time we move forward, we change the space we fill, and the space changes us. We’re all growing and evolving every day, premeditating and reflecting, looking forward and looking back. The road runs both ways. No questions being answered, only new ones being posed. We’re headed for the Burn, but we have no real destination. Only the road, in front of us and behind us, and our ever-expanding list of questions. 

“What is to become of us when all of this is over?”


Part 5 coming soon.

Photos by V. Rachel Weldon.

V. Rachel Weldon is an arts journalist and English Lit student currently traveling the West Coast of British Columbia and the United States, on tour with Doom Squad. Some names have been changed to protect the subjects, and some just for fun. You can read her all of her posts here or at her blog for full tour coverage Hot Wax & the Ecstatic Sound.


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