By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 15, 2011 at 4:05 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With a string of good shows and solid turnouts behind them, Milwaukee indie rockers Jaill packed up the van and headed to St. Louis.

Days four and five of Jaill's trip to the massive South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, found us rumbling through the guts of middle America seemingly unable to shake the spirit-crushing snowstorms that had shadowed us all tour.

Soon after pulling out of Chicago, where we had caught our only glimpse of the sun all tour, heavy rain struck again.

After about a four-hour drive we pulled off the freeway to check into a hotel drummer Austin Dutmer had booked online. On the way down he had joked about how anonymous online commenters had been so harsh and hyperbolic in reviewing the place.

"'Check-in was horrible.' When exactly did the check-in descend into horror?" he had joked.

After disappearing into the well-worn hotel lobby for almost 20 minutes he reemerged.

"So, check-in was horrible," he said.

Somehow at 5:30 p.m. the room wasn't ready, the wireless Internet wasn't working, and the young lady working the desk handled the band's complaints about this by saying they should tell someone about it tomorrow cause it wasn't her job to help.

But rather than mess with trying to get the room refunded through the online travel site and find another place to stay, we sat in the lobby laughing with amazement as the woman essentially told one customer after another to go screw themselves.

After finally getting keys to the room we unloaded our gear and collapsed onto the beds, the first we'd got to sleep on since leaving Wednesday. The fact that we wouldn't be sleeping on hardwood floors tonight made the faint smell of cat urine that wafted through the hotel easier to stomach.

After taking much needed showers and naps we made our way to The Fireside, the venue where Jaill was set to play that night.

Finding the Fireside was almost as difficult as figuring out why someone would put a rock club there. Nestled into what looked to be some kind of corporate park with dozens of office buildings but not a hint of nightlife to be seen, the band sat there staring at the non-descript building thinking they must have mixed up directions or something.

We walked inside to find about 20 people milling about, including the opening band whose set later that night would bludgeon the listener's spirit without mercy.

Vinnie's sister and brother-in-law live a couple hours away and drove down to catch the show. Her husband's Milwaukee Brewers cap would prove to be the highlight of the night.

These are the shows on tour that test a band. It's easy to play to a packed club on a Friday night in a big music town, but can you muster up a good performance for 15 people gathered in what looks to be a recommissioned Chili's?

After opting to spend most of the opening band's set huddled under an awning in the pouring rain outside, Jaill took the stage and banged out an impressive set under the circumstances.

When Obits, the band Jaill is opening for as they head down to Austin, took the stage, they seemed to relish in the challenge and knocked out one of their best shows of the tour.

The band couldn't get out of the club fast enough and by the time we got everything loaded into the van even the smell of cat pee at the hotel seemed like a welcome escape.

After a few days on floors, the beds felt great and we all passed right out.

We woke up early to find that somehow it was snowing again. After grabbing a bite to eat we hopped on the freeway, where the snow quickly gave way to heavy fog and rain making visibility terrible. The horrendous weather made the drive to Memphis a nerve racking one.

The band seemed pessimistic that Memphis on a Monday was going to render much of a turnout. Even though the venue that night -- the Hi-Tone Cafe -- has a reputation for good live music, Monday is Monday even in the birthplace of rock and roll.

And as the band struggled to place food orders and get some drinks from the bartender, who looked like an emaciated Kid Rock impersonator and seemed to intentionally ignore the band, you couldn't help but feel that the night was going to be a long one.

Fed up with the wai,t I ran down the street to pick up some beer for the band. I walked about a mile to Joe's Wine and Liquor and just stood there staring at one of the most amazing neon signs I'd ever seen, a starburst of gyroscopic whirring color that was one of those beautiful things tucked into out of the way corners all across America.

By the time I got back with beer the club had filled up substantially. Opening band The People's Temple were a group of really young guys who had also played the Chicago show, and it was fun to talk to them about the excitement of being on their first big tour.

When Jaill took the stage the room was almost packed and you could see the band was energized by the sudden shift in optimism about the night.

That spilled over into their set and they weaved from one song into the next as the crowd cheered and danced along. Playing day after day, bands get so locked in with one another. It's really impressive to see the silent communication that goes on. Again and again the band would segue from a wall of feedback into the next song, gliding through their most loose and enjoyable set of the tour so far.

Jaill had a late night with the Obits guys cutting loose in Memphis so they could rest up in Dallas in anticipation of the rigorous schedule of SXSW. The Obits are a group of guys from New York that have been playing music for a while, and their seasoned sage vibes had made the tour awesome to be a part of. After a few laughs and beers in the back of the club we headed back to the hotel and crashed headlong into sleep.

The madness that would be SXSW 2011 with all its free swag, cheap beer, tacos and 5,000-plus performances was just a day away.