Spokane, Seattle, Portland. Normally you'd call that a "three-city tour," but when the band is Volumen, "nine-meal tour" is probably more appropriate...and "15-meal tour" more accurate. The Missoula quintet's memories and road stories are almost always edible: Cheese and mustard sandwiches on white bread with fresh pickles at a gas station in Oklahoma. Chili onion rings in Sacramento. Iron Cheffing 20 different french fry dipping sauces in exchange for crashing on somebody's floor. Drummer Bob Marshall's recollection of renowned L.A. club Spaceland? "They had the best Thai food right next door," he says.
Food is also what puts food on part of the band's table in Missoula. Marshall is the owner-chef of Biga Pizza. Bassist Bryan Hickey manages Big Dipper Ice Cream (and co-owns its new truck). Singer/guitarist Doug Smith used to run the cooking school at the Good Food Store, and is now a wine consultant. As for keyboardist Chris Bacon (who manages Edge of the World and makes BOMB skateboards) and singer/guitarist Shane Hickey (a computer network guy), they just like to eat—especially Hickey, creator of the upload-your-own-food-porn website Chewtime (www.chewtime.com). The band members' careers and families are a big reason why they haven't hit the road in four years.
"This is the longest I've been gone since the restaurant opened," says Marshall of his four-day absence.
I meet up with Volumen on the last night of the tour in Portland, where the rock club Dante's is a cruller's throw away from local institution Voodoo Doughnut, famous for both its vegan doughnuts and its bacon maple bar, as well as other quirky touches ("I got VD in Portland," reads a bumper sticker). It's 6 p.m. on a tourist-heavy Saturday, and the Voodoo line is 50-people-long around the block.
"I wouldn't wait in that line for crazy sex, let alone a donut that costs four dollars," Shane Hickey says.
At the moment, he and a few others are content to accept free salads and pizza from the club. But clearly that won't do for Marshall, who already had a ho-hum heat-lamped slice the night of the Spokane show, and relishes discoveries—sometimes, back when the band was touring hard, to everybody's irritation.
"We're driving from Phoenix to Austin or something, three in the morning, exhausted, and we'll pull over and ask, 'Hey, where can we eat?'" Shane Hickey says. "And it's like, 'Well, Denny's or Taco Bell.' Then Bob will be like, 'Is there anywhere with more soul?' I'm like, 'Fuck you, we're going to Denny's!'"
It's still too early for Portland's downtown food carts, which are mostly late-night on the weekends, so I lead Marshall and Smith to Santeria, a newish Mexican hole-in-the-wall attached to Portland's oldest strip bar, Mary's Club (just imagine Charlie B's with boobs and butts).
"We had Mexican a lot this trip," Smith notes: once in Spokane and once in Seattle, both trucks. But earlier today, they'd had a dim sum feast at Jade Garden in Seattle's International District. That made up for last night's low—the nuclear-yellow pickled eggs an equally pickled Shane and Bryan Hickey had at Seattle dive The Buckaroo.
"I'm like, 'I like eggs, I like pickles. This is gonna work out!'" says Shane. "Terrible. You bite it and it's really hard to get through, really rubbery. And then inside, it's dry, like egg dust."
Smith passes up a taco plate called "When Pigs Fly"—three different kinds of pork tacos—in favor of the "First Class Flight," which includes one pork carnitas, one pork pastor and a chicken tinga. He also orders a fantastic cocktail called the "Spicy Robert": tequila, mint, lime juice, agave nectar and cayenne pepper. Marshall orders chile relleno with cinnamon tomato sauce, cotija cheese and guacamole.
"Those two are pretty safe," the waiter says, putting down two squeeze bottles of salsa. Then comes the third bottle: the habanero. As if there's any doubt what these guys will be having.
"Food is just a vehicle for condiments," Smith says, pouring out the salsa, and I wonder what the rock 'n' roll equivalent of that statement might be.
"Music is just a vehicle for effects pedals," Marshall suggests, digging in intently. Soon he's sweating like Sipowicz on his first date with Sylvia on "NYPD Blue." "A compliment to the chef," he says.
Three hours later, after a hard-edged set in front of "West Missoula" (the audience included more than 20 expats, including former International Playboys drummer Joe Brennan and Brent Shultz from Squalora), a portion of the traveling party heads to Mary's Club itself. Marshall misses out on nearly all the unclothed entertainment, as he wants one of those cocktails—and then we spend 10 minutes chatting with Santeria's manager about ordering procedures, local farmers, recipes and flavor combinations. Don't be surprised if there's tequila-mint dressing on the Biga special salad soon.
The night ends with a Hawaiian "plate lunch" of chicken thighs and mac salad for Shane, never mind the rat we see under the cart ("I'm used to bears and raccoons"), as well as "Northwest quesadillas" (fresh-caught albacore tuna, chicken sausage, vegetables) at the Killa Dilla truck parked next to the van. Then, surprisingly, just as Portland's bars are closing, the Voodoo line gets short. Marshall spends the wait fantasizing about savory donuts ("Ortegas chiles and cheddar. Blue corn and ancho..."), and is unimpressed by Voodoo's sugary schtick.
"The flavors are so unimaginative," he says. "I don't want Froot Loops on a donut." (For the record, though, the cost is less than four bucks.)
"How is it?" Marshall asks the customer in front of us, a Latina in a skin-tight, low-cut top who then proves to be an astute culinary critic. "It's good, but I'm really drunk," she says.
For Volumen, eight hours of driving and a Monday workday beckon, but the food part of the tour still isn't over. Come morning, there will be "Dutch Tacos" with maple syrup and sausage from Flavour Spot, a Portland truck that partially inspired the Clark Fork River Market's Mmmmm...Waffles stand. And at 6:20 p.m. Missoula time, I get a two-word text from Marshall about the band's next stop: "DICK'S SPOKANE."