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July 13, 2007
Motorbiker Ari Shapiro has had a prolific few years, covering close to 70,000 miles of riding since his debut as "Smoothie Rider" in 2002. Most of the Tucson-based rider's releases have been centered around the Western United States and Canada; none have seen wheels travel East of the Mississippi, and only a few have ventured beond the Continental Divide. To quote Shapiro from a recent tour: "the true west is truly the best." The Poets have never claimed him, and thankfully he keeps the lyrical commentary to a minimum, though purely instrumental would be even better.

The current Shapiro travel epic, Solo Moto Mojo, was recorded earlier this month during adventures through the scenic byways of abbreviable States AZ, UT, ID, AB, BC, WA, OR, and NV. Over the course of a dozen days, the tracks play as a continuum, with one flowing into the other, like the sequential passage of time. The album has the highs and lows that one would expect from such an ambitious effort. Overreaching at times, but never ostentatious, Shapiro manages to incorporate several genres into the mix: grunge, speed metal, math rock, rockabilly, garage, shoegaze, dreampop, noise, cowpunk, and screamo. Unfortunately, there are no traces of riot grrrl to be found, perhaps a small concession of thanks for being unmolested by death metal.



Solo Moto Mojo begins briskly with day one to "Marysvale UT," a smooth opener that takes Shapiro out of AZ, over the mighty Colorado River, through low and high desert, and ends in the Betsy Ross room of the Old Pine Inn, Utah's oldest historic hotel. Swooping in at over 620 miles in 10.5 hours, it's the longest track on the record, but the reward comes with a drop in temperature, from a flowing 108 to an ebb in the mid 80s. The opening combines beautifully with Day 2 to "Bellevue ID," which starts out beautifully through southern UT but hits the skids mid-way, at Salt Lake City. The sprawling metro ensnarls Shapiro's rhythm and, with no easy passage around it, demands a struggling Interstate sequence, a departure from the flow of Solo Moto Mojo. By the final third, "Bellevue ID" gives a sense of freedom after hitting open country in Idaho, with Shapiro waxing poetic: "The beauty of two wheels is simply/ That forward motion brings balance." Whatever, dude.

On Day 3, "St. Maries ID," the Smoothie Rider encounters his first craziness. Facing an impending storm and darkness he pushes forward through the Idaho wilderness. Pausing in a town with only a bar, he asks directions to the nearest place with a motel and is pointed further North, to the ATV-loving rural community of St. Maries. After the misdirection, in a room in a basement more like a dungeon, Shapiro happily settles on to solid ground, and swiftly imbibes several Buds and a huge calzone. Later, after dinner and a nice rain, comes a sequence of encounters: a group of tweens hanging out at the local burger/shake joint in a pickup; a crazed teenager speeding through town on an old 500cc Kawasaki, nearly hitting two pedestrians and one car; and a burley, drunk redneck who, as Shapiro innocently walks by the saloon, "call's him out" in order to kick his sorry ass. A tense moment, "St. Maries ID" would have been a striking way for things to end.

After the thrill of being called out, Solo Moto Mojo really gets going on Day 4 to "Banff AB." Not only is the riding up through Northern ID and into Canada dazzling, Shapiro unwittingly misses a massive storm and follows briskly on the heels of a rare tornado that hit the previous day, the backdrop of "Banff AB" strewn with debris in a glaring testament. Reports from local yokels spoke of twelve motorcyclists being swept into Lake Coeur D'Alene. Myth or not, his narrow escape is one of several serendipitous events that pepper Shapiro's release like fresh-ground spice on a salad. Upon entering Canada, Solo Moto Mojo makes an orchestral shift, like entering a different country on a journey; the vibe immediately changed, mostly for the better. The scenery was more drastic, the jagged Canadian Rockies reaching for the sky with snow-capped peaks. The eponymous town of Banff is almost too good to be true, like a postcard from the past, or the iPhone. Having reached his northern-most destination, Smoothie Rider surveys the landscape, pondering his route back, when a chance meeting takes place. Over rooftop beers with Paulo, a local electrician/electronic musician who eyes Ari's bag o' Bali Shag, an offer is made to diplay a killer rolling technique - involving his knee?! This leads to a topical shift, and a chat about must-see Nelson BC marks the route of Solo Moto Mojo West to South.







From beginning to end, Day 5 to "Nelson BC," is perhaps the highlight of this epic, as the riding West through "Beautiful British Columbia" was pristine, and the hamlet another stunner. After a pleasant al-fresco meal of fish & chips, Smoothie Rider wanders into a small bar/restaurant tucked away in a back alley. Over gin and scotch (The Macallan, thanks Neil Peart), he observes that every one of the staff are smack-down gorgeous, including Michael. Then, the model/bartender drops the bomb that there's a two-to-one girl-to-guy ratio in town, prompting Shapiro to immediately flirt with the idea of becoming a Nelson property owner. The notion comes about five years too late, as with every cool town in the West.

Day 6 to "Spokane WA" contains the life-saving encounter of the trip, an unexpected collaboration with a mystery SV1000 rider from Calgary as the wheels head in to Portland. Riding in front at high speeds on the straights of WA, Shapiro's radar detector saves them both a huge ticket. In the next section, SV rider pops a huge wheelie, one of his saddle bags pops open, and Shapiro promptly flags him down. After some roadside chit-chat and mutual thanks, SV points out the limitations of gear on full-lengths like Solo Moto Mojo;Shapiro's rear tire has about 300 more miles on it, the stock Dunlops too weak of a sauce for epic expanses of these tracks. A detour to Spokane, the great shop Ed's, some fresh Michelin Pilots, and Shapiro salvages Solo Moto Mojo from what might've have been nothing shy of a rural Americana disaster.

As often occurs on these odysseys, one small event changes the entire course of the set list. The detour to Spokane led to Day 7, "Unknown," and the most sublime riding of the trip, through the incredibly remote regions of Southeast WA and Northeast OR. It also led to an early end to the riding day, due to the enticing idea of staying the night in a teepee on a ridge. More from the street poet: "One must find the rhythm of the road." And so it goes.

Day 8, to "Mountain City NV," is notable for the instant change in the feel of Solo Moto Mojo upon entering the state of Nevada. Even in the utterly remote sections that Shapiro traverses, something is different. Maybe it is the road, covered in the blood of giant beetles being run over en masse (a slippery hazard, that causes accidents); or maybe it is the "casinos," which pop up in even the most isolated spots of the state. Regardless, the "City" of under a hundred was a place to stay and the one motel, strongly smelling of stale air, makes for a cold pre-dawn end to the bit.

Traversing the Great Basin of NV, day 9 takes Shapiro through what Neil Peart labeled, in his book Ghost Rider, "The Loneliest Road in America." Peart nailed it, and the isolation is profound, continuing all the way into western UT. The road is so vacant of vehicles, Shapiro breaks pace with a technique of riding slalom, crossing the yellow line and creating his own curves, over the hundreds of miles of straights. This section of Solo Moto Mojo is both cathartic and macabre; during one stretch so much old, flattened-out roadkill (mostly prairie dogs and desert hares) dots the measure that Shapiro uses them as imaginary slalom/kill gates. Riding as if he were hatching a scheme to gain Olympic recognition for this "sport" at the upcoming summer games in Beijing, Shapiro arrives in Cedar City for a visit with his brother, Ethan. A nice respite from the steady cadence, the timing of "Cedar City" is on point. Just days prior, Ethan's wife Shana had undergone a 48 hour delivery with three midwives, thankfully producing a healthy new boy. As one who has professed to "not getting the whole kid thing," Smoothie Rider was grateful to have missed that miracle by just a few days.







For the final two tracks of Solo Moto Mojo, Shapiro heads through some of the best motorcycling in the world. In the perpetually amazing Southern expanses, UT is in a class by itself, with the Birch-drenched Dixie Forest, endless panoramas, towering red cliffs, other-wordly rock formations - the whole region feels like another planet, probably Mars. Biking through to Canyon De Chelly in Chinle, Shapiro considers winding things down via the Coronado Trail in eastern AZ, perhaps one of the best motorbike roads in the US, with over 575 switchbacks in a 75 mile stretch. The option dashed by a wildfire, Solo Moto Mojo takes a detour through NM nearly as spectacular, closing with Shapiro cruising peacefully back into the staggering heat of Southern AZ, sipping every last drop from his Camelbak.

Taken as a whole, the 5010-mile Solo Moto Mojo is an accomplishment for Shapiro, up there with his two previous releases, in the summers of 2005 and 2006. Again working in tandem with Yamaha, this time on a FZ1000, he proves that minimal lo-fi is still alive and well. Aside from the SV, the only other touring bikes to cover these expanses are overproduced Harleys and multi-tracked Sport-Tourers. Shapiro has said that he's influenced by the sparseness of Spoon and the slackness of Pavement, and both of those can be heard echoing through Solo Moto Mojo. One can also pick up the wistful, glacial sway of Sigur Rós , especially on one of the only quotable passages from the trek: "The continual wind shapes and smoothes me/ Like it does to jagged rocks over time." I suppose the following elegiac verse is barely tenable as well: "There are places where the earth doesn't feel pillaged/ Unscathed by the long touch of humans." Perhaps, through the extreme ebb and flow of it, with Solo Moto Mojo Shapiro has unwittingly created a new genre: new-age-grindcore.



LINER NOTES:

.: Starbucks has officially taken over the land. "Although I never saw a store, every po-dunk gas station had bottled Frappuccino's."

.: Fresh fruit is not readily available in rural USA. Not one small town gas station/mart had even an apple or banana for sale. In Canada, they did.

.: Good beer is always easy to find, lots of local breweries, even in remote parts. God bless.

--
Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other articles by Ari Shapiro.

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