News & Insights 15 October 2008

In The Lightyears, we like to eat.

George on stage in Union SquarePart Two of my American Tour Blog…

SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER, 3.30pm (Union Square, New York, USA):
Let me bring you up-to-speed.

Less than twenty hours ago we were playing a gig in Southampton, England.

Now we are standing onstage in the sweltering Manhattan heat performing to a crowd of thousands at Union Square in New York, USA. I am sweating like a TROOPER. I may never have been this hot.

My internal clock has given up the ghost and checked out. It simply has no idea what time it’s supposed to be. I resolve to give the gig everything I’ve got and to hell with the consequences. Heck, if this really is the city that never sleeps then I guess I won’t have to worry. Just push through the burn.

As we sing the closing note to Gimme Some and segue into the opening chords of She’s The One, I look out across the square and spot some fans from England in the crowd. Across the other side of the plaza I can see our Philadelphia faithful gathering near the stage. They are out in force and have even brought a rather splendid Lightyears banner with them.

Somehow, we’ve made it. Against all the odds, we are here in one piece, with all our instruments (most of which work), beaming at each other across the stage and knocking out a spirited rendition of Beat Alive. This is surreal. When the song finishes I tell the crowd that, when I say we’re happy to be here, I really mean it.

The Lightyears with Melissa BakerToday’s show also represents the launch of our new EP, At Midnight, and so we play the rest of the songs from the record in the set – This House Will Burn, Brightest Star and Run. After we finish, a big crowd of newly-converted fans converge on the stage to buy CDs and we’re kept busy signing autographs for nearly 45 minutes. I apologise profusely for my sweaty demeanour, for I am soggy like a flannel. I personally don’t consider this to be especially attractive although that doesn’t stop me having my picture taken (along with the rest of the LYs) with a Sports Illustrated model called Melissa. This sort of thing only happens in New York.

Presently we’re escorted off to The Revival Bar, round the corner from Union Square, where the after-party is in full-swing. We’ve barely stepped through the door before we’re introduced to a English chap named Neil Thomas, who we’re playing a gig with in Brooklyn on Thursday. Two minutes of chatting leads to the discovery that Neil specialises in beat-boxing and that, by sheer coincidence, we saw him perform onstage with Shlomo & The Vocal Orchestra at Glastonbury Festival back in June (and here’s the proof – check out #33 in George’s Glastonbury Top 50). So there you are. Plus he lives about half an hour away from us in London. Check him out at Neil Thomas’ Myspace Page.

Tony orders a Manhattan cocktail, for no other reason than a stubborn desire to sample all locally-named delicacies wherever we tour, and declares it to be quite disgusting. Truth is, Tony’s allegiances in America lie firmly with Dr Pepper and you’d have a fight on your hands persuading him that anything else is worth drinking Stateside.

The night descends into a montage of singing, drinking and debating and we end up back at Ashley’s apartment at around 2am, leaning out of the window watching the Manhattan traffic zoom by. Bizarrely, I don’t feel tired. I think my brain has forgotten how to. Best get some sleep though. We’ve got a whole week ahead of us…

MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER, 10.30am (Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York):
Monday brings an equally stunning New York morning into our lives. Groggy and jet-lagged, we drag our sorry asses out of bed and stumble blinking out onto the street. 

It’s time for breakfast.

With all that gigging nonsense out the way, we can get down to focussing on what this tour is really about – eating. It’s no secret that, in The Lightyears, we like to eat. Even Tony, who’s a vegetarian and therefore not technically a human being, can Eat for England. ‘Course, being eligible to Eat For England doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for American food. I mean, I can over-indulge with the best of them but we’re in the States now. The goalposts have most definitely shifted.

Tony has eaten all he can..!Ashley takes us to her local diner, “3-Decker”, and we order pancakes, maple syrup, scrambled eggs, a veggie burger (for Tony), two omelettes, a beef and pastrami wrap, coffees, Pepsi and two sides of fries. Disgracefully, I make it but halfway through my “All-American Wrap”, so-called because it has ALL THE MEAT IN AMERICA inside it. Or at least that’s the only plausible explanation I can find. I am surprised at myself but refuse to feel ashamed. It was like trying to eat a baby’s head! Just, you know, a really delicious baby’s head with crunchy salad and a gherkin.

Somehow, barely four hours later, we find ourselves uptown in the Brooklyn Diner, settling down to another massive feast. The Brooklyn Diner famously serves the best burgers in New York, a claim that George heartily substantiates. I won’t go into the gory details but I mention this because, when we stepped into the doorway of the restaurant, we bumped into an old friend of ours from London. Apparently this happens all the time in Manhattan. I guess on an island, there are only so many places to go…

TUESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER, 9.30pm (Pianos, Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York):
The second gig of the tour is at Pianos, a venue we played for the first time last summer. The night is called “Cross-Pollination”, a format which can perhaps best be described as the musical equivalent of swinging – you play, then the other guys play, and at the end you all get onstage and play together. If you see what I mean. Chaos inevitably ensues due to the fact that there’s rarely an opportunity to rehearse beforehand (since in most cases the two acts have never met). In this instance we are at least fortunate that we know the other guys on the bill – Seth Kallen & The Reaction, a band with whom we have shared stages on both sides of the Atlantic.

George tries it on with Chris. Chris isn't amused.The set-up lends itself to acoustic performances but the crowd tonight are relatively raucous so, having kicked off with Fine (our staple acoustic opener), we head straight into a slew of more upbeat pop numbers such as Sleepless, This House Will Burn and Beat Alive. The crowd is a combination of familiar faces from last year and the Union Square gig on Sunday along with fans of Seth’s, some unknowns and a contingent of Cross-Poll regulars. It’s a good mix of people. We end on Brightest Star and Emily to appreciative applause and ready ourselves for the unpredictable act of musical pollination about to take place on the Pianos stage.

In the 45 seconds that we have in which to decide what to do, we elect to treat the audience to a Britpop double-bill – Parklife followed by Don’t Look Back In Anger. Both inspire mass singalongs and a general appreciation for all things British. Which works out rather well for us.

It’s a unique event and definitely worth a look if you ever find yourself in the area – check it out online at the Cross-Pollination website.

Much of what happened afterwards remains something of a blur – mainly thanks to several misguided rounds of black sambuca – but I do remember fragments of a conversation I attempted to conduct with an enormous beefcake of a doorman outside a nightclub at around 2am:

DOORMAN: “Can I see your ID? It’s over-21s only.”
CHRIS LY: [just a little slurred] “Ah, stout fellow… fear not. For I am a grown man – I am no whippersnapper.”
DOORMAN: “I need to see your ID.”
CHRIS LY: “D’you know, good sir, I don’t believe I have it with me. I’m British you know. I’ll just pass on through shall I?”
DOORMAN: “No ID, no entry.”
CHRIS LY: “Would you accept this shiny sixpence as a bribe?”

How I don’t get beaten up more often is truly beyond me.

Chris Lightyear

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