Places to listen
The Reno band People with Bodies recently toured South America. Here, in their own words, is what they found.
When we start shows in the United States, we usually say “We are People with Bodies and so are you.” This September, in four cities across southern Brazil we said, “Somos Pessoas Com Corpos e você esta também,” and later in Uruguay and Argentina, “Somos Personas Con Cuerpos y ustedes estan también.”
It was our second time touring Brazil, our first time playing Montevideo and Buenos Aires. We booked the five-week tour across three countries exactly the way we’d book a D.I.Y. tour in the U.S.—finding bands, asking around, and writing a bunch of emails.
There’s an air of importance when you tell somebody you’re touring internationally. It must mean your band is big, or that you’ve made it. But that’s simply not the case. In 2016, we toured twice—in Brazil and in the Pacific Northwest. In 2017, we returned to both, and each time booking in South America was the easier and more fun of the two routes.
Reno band the Vampirates said something on stage once after returning from a sprawling international tour. It was along the lines of “If the Vampirates can do it, so can you.”
That’s the perfect way to put it. If you want to be in an internationally touring band, you can. You just have to do it yourself.
In Curitiba, a city south of São Paulo, there’s a DIY house called Lavanderia. Lavanderia means laundry room in Portuguese, and the show space is exactly that—a tiny room in the basement with no windows and just enough space for a small band and maybe 20 people. They moved the washing machine into the bathroom.
There’s a semi-enclosed, down-sloped driveway—think Reno’s Fort Ryland—and a large backyard. The outside of the house is covered in art and tags, and when the show starts a person sits at the front gate and collects a cover. Like any DIY show, the cover goes mostly to the band, but what sets Lavanderia apart is the bar.
In the corner of the living room, there’s a counter with a selection of liquor, a fridge full of beer, and a lit up deli-style hot box filled with empanadas made in the home’s own kitchen. The roommates DJ behind the bar and mix drinks, selling them for a mark up, but still less than they’d cost at a conventional club.
“It pays almost everything … the rent, lights, water, internet,” João Paulino told me. Paulino is one of three housemates, and on the night we played there, he shifted between tending bar and checking in on the 100 or more people who filled the living room and backyard.
“Yeah, we do it like two or three times a week, and it covers everything.”
We shoulder through the packed basement and set up. The room can fit 20 people, and there are about 30, some pouring out into the hallway. It’s sweaty, it’s loud, and people listen.
Minor House is a vegan, straight edge space in Porto Alegre. Porto Alegre is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul which is the southern most state in Brazil and shares a border with Argentina to the west and Uruguay to the south.
The show space recently moved from its original location—a small apartment under a night club—to a commercial storefront. We played the house last year and were ecstatic to be invited to the new location by the venue’s sole resident, Alan Chaves.
“It’s a store now, but it’s a house inside of a store,” Chaves said. “When you open the door, you go into another universe. … It’s very exciting.”
Chaves lives in the storefront and is building a kitchen in the back. In addition to running the show space, he’s a chef and restaurant owner. Every Minor House show has a giant pot of vegan rice and beans, and a perfectly sweetened jug of iced tea. The food is always free, and instead of a cover, Chaves passes a hat around for a suggested donation.
After moving from a small apartment to a big commercial space, Chaves was worried he might lose the cozy living room feeling, so instead of pushing the band in the back of the room like a bar might, he asks the band to set up in the middle. There’s no stage, and people surround us. We start to play, and they sing the words from the songs we have online. They sway and nod, and they make eye contact. The people aren’t there to drink, Chaves explains, they’re there to be with other people, and to listen.
How to go there
To get to your show in São Paulo, walk past the pitched tent of a woman who screams all day and night, to the subway station on Ave. Paulista. Buy a ticket, then take the green line from Brigadeiro to Clinicas, in the cleanest and fastest train you’ve ever seen. Walk about a mile through the Pinheiros district, carrying your guitars, as Mark’s bass case gradually falls apart, to finally arrive at your venue. Answer the first of many interviewers who will ask “Why did you decide to come to Brazil, of all places?” by saying, “I dunno, we just like it here.”
To get to Curitiba from São Paulo, watch Mark duct tape his bass case back together while you wait at the bus station for Fil to buy tickets. Get stuck in a traffic jam in the mountains. Look out your window to a lush landscape of tropical forest under a radiant sunset. See a boy maybe 5-years-old in the seat ahead, staring at Fil like he’s an orangutan in a suit. Listen to a tape as you watch the sun go down, and when it’s over, the sky is dark and the little boy has fallen asleep with his head on Fil’s shoulder.
To get to Florianopolis from Curitiba, take another bus. To get from the station to the venue, in Rio Vermelho, in the northeastern part of the island, wait for Fabiano, the bassist of the band Decurso Drama. He will have brought his friend Gesiel along with an old Volkswagen Beetle. You won’t be able to fit all three of you with the guitars in the Beetle, so one of you will have to ride on the back of Fabiano’s motorcycle to Rio Vermelho. Elect Fil. He’ll take hairpin turns through the mountains while you and Mark get lost in the sprawling commercial district known as Ingleses. Finally get to the dirt road that leads to the venue. Play a 30-minute set before the crowd asks for a few more.
To get to Porto Alegre from Florianopolis, use a Brazilian rideshare app called BlaBlaCar. Stop at a gas station for a stale hot dog. When you arrive in Porto Alegre, glean from your limited Portuguese that the driver is telling you not to linger in this part of town, because it’s dangerous. Rain clouds are gathering. Walk through a crowded street and hear a sudden series of explosions, but don’t stop to investigate. Meet Julian in a coffee shop right before the clouds burst.
To get to Montevideo from Porto Alegre, take an overnight bus and arrive at the Uruguayan coast at dawn. Send a postcard back to the states and wonder if you’ll get back before it does. Make small talk with the cab driver about how your disparate homelands have legal marijuana in common.
To get to to Buenos Aires from Montevideo, first talk to people across Uruguay and Brazil who will suggest setting aside some time to visit the beautiful, historic Colonia Del Sacramento. When you actually get to the Colonia Del Sacramento by bus, it’s being assaulted by a torrent of cold rain. Get on a ferry that takes you across a stormy channel, swaying back and forth. Listen to all the passengers on the boat gasp in unison as the vessel dips low, as if the boat is a roller coaster. Stumble around the deck trying to keep your balance. Look out a window at the rain beating the glass. Listen to Leonard Cohen in your headphones as brick buildings start to appear out of the gray horizon, then some skyscrapers. Look to your right and see a little girl next to you being hoisted up by her grandfather, pointing at Buenos Aires approaching you.
To get from Palermo, in central Buenos Aires, to your show in Jose C. Paz, on the western end of the city, take a train. Ignore the vendors walking along the aisles with snacks bought from a corner store to sell to the passengers. Ignore the little girl making the rounds with a photocopied handwritten note asking for “ayuda” because you know someone else is bound to hand her some pesos. Meet songwriter Luis Baumann at the train, take another crowded bus. Get to the venue, only to fall asleep waiting for the show to start. Wake up to a performance artist screaming into a plastic bag. Wait for the Metallica cover band to finish, wait through another band, then finally plug your guitar into the amp. Play your heart out. Sit out the remaining four bands, because you don’t know how to get home on your own. Get frustrated, tired. Long for the comfort of your own bed. When you finally get to the end of your rope, hear Luis play the first few chords of his set. Instantly become moved to tears by his beautiful music. Realize that you live in a world much bigger than yourself. Walk back to the train station, past old ladies opening their shops for the morning. Ride back into Buenos Aires as the sun rises, thinking of all the people who thanked you for being the first American band to venture so far out to play for them. Sleep for a whole day.
To get to São Paulo from Buenos Aires, first buy as many bottles of wine and Fernet as you can carry on your person. Then buy a single bus ticket for a 41-hour journey across three countries. Drink the wine you bought. Listen to a lot of music while looking out the window at small Brazilian villages, dogs running down the road, kids playing soccer in bright orange dirt lots underneath swaying green palm trees. See a flamingo flying against a cloudy sky with a spot of sun leaking through. Watch clusters of birds fly, keeping pace with the bus. Sleep a lot. Get woken up in the middle of the night to groggily stand in the customs line at the border. Show an irritable man your passport. Get back on the bus. Sigh at the beauty outside your window. Wonder how many countless beautiful places there are around the planet you may never get to see. Drink more Fernet. Start to resent your friends and bandmates. Stop in gas stations and buy cheap meat to keep yourself going. Sleep, eat, wait. Get to São Paulo, but stay stuck in traffic for two hours. Think, this is harder to stomach than than the entire previous 40 hours, because you can see your destination, but can’t touch it. Finally, get there.
People with Bodies has been to São Paulo twice and has eaten at Bar do Biu five times.
Bar do Biu is a neighborhood restaurant in Pinhieros, a hilly district in South America’s biggest city. The outside is a nondescript facade up against a bunch of other nondescript facades on a gentle slope. The front room straddles a street corner, tucked underneath a canopy of wide leaves, wads of power lines, and São Paulo’s endless grid of towering skyscrapers.
The fluorescent front room features a TV above the grill, playing either a Corinthians game—the bar’s favorite Paulistan soccer team—Metallica concert footage, or a YouTube samba playlist. Other times it’s shut off, because this is a restaurant that always seems to maintain the perfect vibe.
Our third time in, fumbling through Portuguese, Kent and I ask a waitress for a table. She quickly realizes we’re idiots who understand nothing, and sits us in one of the two small dining rooms. She smiles and leaves to get Rogerio from the bar. He’s more equipped to handle idiots. He speaks English, and from his Instagram we find out that he goes to punk shows, and that he has a picture standing next to Thundercat in the front room of this very bar.
By the fourth time in, Rogerio recognizes us and points at some items on the menu. “You haven’t had this, yeah?” He starts to explain it, but then just says, “You’ll like it.” He snaps his fingers, takes our menus, and heads off to the kitchen.
The first time we came here, Bar Do Biu was suggested by our host as “kind of a slap-in-the-face, you’re-in-Brasil kind of place,” thinking we might prefer pizza.
An hour later we were in the back room with a dozen plates of food on the table. I recognized two dishes—one was white rice, and the other was feijoada—a classic dish of meat, fat and black beans that I saw on an Anthony Bourdain episode once.
The rest was a mystery. An entire plate of spiced pork, a bean thing with plants in it, an entire plate of different plants, some sort of stew thing, and a half-dish of muted yellow powder. The waitress held the powder up and showed us how to shake it onto everything, to coat the whole meal.
Our second time back, we’d learned the powder was called farofa, a salty, savory, corn flour thing, that can be its own dish, or can be sprinkled over any other dish. We sat with our host, Alex, and my old friend Marcelo, the two of them speaking in Portuguese, and Kent and I sucking down caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail made of booze, sugar and lime. Bar do Biu serves them in pint glasses.
The light blue dining room walls are covered in Corinthians memorabilia, a thousand best-of restaurant articles, and a crooked framed photo of a golden retriever driving a car. The beer fridge proudly displays its temperature “-3.2 C” and like most of Brazil they serve beer in freezing cold liters with a bunch of small cups meant to be shared. That’s also how Bar do Biu serves the food—big piles of meat, beans and greens, with plates to pass around. Nobody owns any dish.
The fat, the beans and the greens are filled with brand new flavors, sharp and subtle, salt and citrus, ones I don’t have words for. Every meal is filled with soul. Kent describes it as a psychedelic experience.
The last day of tour, on our way to the airport, we stopped for a final meal. Halfway through the meal, Rogerio came out of the kitchen and held his hand up to his ear. “Hear that?” He asked us. We didn’t, so we asked him what he meant. He pointed to the front room, and we walked out to see the TV over the bar playing People with Bodies. We made it.
Song of songs
A lot of my memories of South America are tied to specific songs. There are some universally revered oldies among young punks in Brazil. Caetano Veloso, Tim Maia, Chico Buarque come up in conversation across the country. Outside of Kiko’s Bar in Curitiba, a group of older dudes sit around a table singing classic samba songs with classical guitar and makeshift shakers. A crew from the venue we played hang out front smoking and drinking. They know every word to these old songs and sing along, while Fil and I eat french fries with mayo and farofa. When they start singing “Ella Partiu” by Tim Maia, Fil and I sing the chorus.
There’s a TV camera pointed at me, and I’m trying to figure out how I should present myself. Should I sit with my legs crossed, should I smile and gesticulate to seem engaged with the interviewer? He puts on a song by a famous Brazilian singer, hoping to get my reaction. I’m conscious of how I appear. I think, “How should I make this fun to watch?” So I do a dumb move with my hand like it’s surfing. I don’t want the viewers at home to see me just sit there while the music is going. Then the interviewer asks me what bands influence ours. I offer him Nick Drake and the Buzzcocks. He asks if I like Weezer. I give him a lukewarm “yeah, sure.” I think that’s the end of it. When we see the finished program, I see my dumb surfing move has made the cut. Also, he lists three of our main influences as “Buzzcocks, Nick Drake and Weezer.”
There’s a chicken crossing the road. It’s blocking our way to a vegetable market. We’re on our way there to try and find a pepper spicy enough to cook Mexican food for dinner. We chose this as a uniquely North American way to thank our friend Gus for letting us stay at his house for almost a week. I put “Brazil” by Wire on the car stereo. It’s late evening, and there are people walking everywhere.
Birds across South America sing a wider range of notes. Their voices feel omnipresent, making even the innermost city districts sound like a rainforest. This is because you notice the sounds they make. For the people who live there, it just blends into the background noise, along with cars, voices and moving feet. Noticing an unusual bird sound is just one detail that can make a place feel like a foreign country. Food is another. Something might taste like it has 12 exotic ingredients in it, but it is probably something as simple as lime in a place where you wouldn’t expect it. But for the most part, nothing really feels foreign.
There is a Boom Boom Kid sticker on the wall at Minor House in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I recognize the name. Boom Boom Kid is a great Argentinian punk band, who I once saw play at Clark Lane Maul, mere blocks from our house in Reno. Our friend Rael also has a Boom Boom Kid sticker on his guitar, at our show in Florianopolis. It’s exciting to see how all these vastly different places are connected through the music of one artist, and to feel a sense of camaraderie with another touring band.
The first time I saw the sand dunes in Florianopolis, I felt that I was in the spiritual center of all I had come to know as Brazil. The golden sand stretched for miles, with jutting green mountains rising up in the horizon, and the line of the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it all. This time, Gus’s dog Winnie follows us there, runs around free in the sand. Our friend Marcos points to the mountains on the other side of the dunes, identifying them as the Spider Hills. “One time, I saw two spiders there, tarantulas. They were copulating,” he says. “That’s not something you see all the time.” I follow the dirt road back home and listen to “Spider Cider” by Man Man.
The dunes feel like a very sacred place to us, but even they aren’t isolated from some of the city’s darker aspects. One morning, Gus’s neighbor informs us a dead body was found in the dunes, shot twice. It was the latest in a long series of drug-related homicides this year. It’s difficult to imagine any violence, anything bad at all happening in Florianopolis. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place. Yet things are not always as they seem.
In a park in Porto Alegre, Brazil, we hear an accordionist and a guitarist perform Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” Many gather around to watch this passionate rendition of the Argentinian classic. We continue through the park with our friend Alan Chaves and pass a group of indigenous children singing a song. A boy strums the open strings of a guitar, and a girl beats irregularly on a tambourine. Alan tells us that the number of indigenous tribes in Brazil has steadily been dwindling, and is in particular decline now. Brazilian president Michel Temer recently slashed crucial programs protecting indigenous groups from aggressive loggers and developers, which has already resulted in ethnic violence.
Later on the tour, in Buenos Aires, Mark and I hear “Libertango” again, this time in a dance hall, drinking Fernet and coke and watching countless couples try their hand at tango dancing. There are many different people with varying ages and skill levels. The tango is a very intimate dance, often performed by two total strangers. Depending on who you watch, the dance can look like a strained first date, a decades-long romance, or a tense argument. In contrast, on our way home from the tango bar, we walk by an endless row of clubs with throbbing bass drum beats behind their doors.
Standing in front of the TV at Bar Do Biu, I watch myself play “Finder.” For possibly the first time, I feel completely at peace with my own music. The music video features a staircase in São Paulo we visited on our first trip. One of the bar employees recognizes it, remarks that the video was shot before they painted over all the graffiti. We walk by the staircase again, and see the new paint job, new graffiti already taking root. We take a taxi to the airport, on our way home.