Back to civilian life. The last notes of "The Days of Wine and Roses" nothing but an ear-ringing memory, I woke up at 7am to put John Munson into a cab for his return to the states. He's on his way back home to Minneapolis where he will be doing some dates with Mike Doughty (I hope I'm spelling it right), the former lead singer of Soul Coughing and Dave DeCastro will be reclaiming bass duties for the upcoming tour with Ryan Adams. Jason is on his way to Germany where he will be recording a new album with Chris Cacavas on the days where he's not on the road with me--a near impossible, double-duty of a life but he's young, lean and a mean guitar-slinging machine so he'll do just fine. Linda will be scouring the various stores of Carnaby Street for just the right mod outfits for the coming dates and I'm going to spend the next 168 hours at the fabulous Sounds of the Universe record store where I will fill my mind and soul with thunderous bass, slinky grooves and wallet-draining selections. Is this a paid advertisement? Hardly, I just dig the store and recommend that you visit it the next time you're in London.
I'm looking forward to these dates with Ryan Adams--it will be the first time I've ever supported any other act on tour in Europe and it will be a nice chance to spread the word to a larger audience. I think that my music will be compatible with his audience and we generally seem to rise to the occasion of "the big game." News, of course, to follow.
But, for now, this is the end of this current Tour Diary. Thanks for visiting and please drive safely on the roads of the internet highway.
Typing from an internet cafe just about one block from the Borderline in the West End of London, a city that feels like a second home to me at this point. Well, there are a LOT of cities that feel like a second home at this point but London is at the foremost of the list of the secondaries. If that makes any sense--and, if not, I must apologize. I would write off any failure in logic or syntax or accuracy and blame it on our whirlwind travel yesterday that began in Newcastle (a beautiful city, one that should be added to the second home list, if possible) and ended at one of my favorite Indian restaurants in London where much food of five-alarm fire intensity and heat was consumed. Hallucinations and heavy sleep followed and now we're ready for the last show of this current tour--at the Borderline where so many other tour-ending shows have occured. It will be my eighth show at the Borderline in two years and I won't be surprised if they hand me a broom at the end of the night and ask me to clean up and lock the doors when I'm finished.
It's one of those mornings that test, defy and define human endurance. Inspired by the chance to see 16 Horsepower the night before (great band, great show), we blasted through a two-hour set at Hamburg's Knust last night, ending just moments before midnight with a marathon, post-punk, free-jazz (free-punk?) version of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues." And with a 9am flight to the UK looming over our heads and knowing that the flight would mean the final separation from the van, our backline and both Thomas and Carsten, we headed back to the hotel to use the few hours for packing, re-packing, stashing, planning and ultimately an hour of sleep. No problem--adrenaline, adrenaline, adrenaline, adrena.....zzzzzzz
And just when it appeared that this tour (and this edition of the tour diary) was about to come to an end, everything has changed. The last date was scheduled for the coming thursday at the Borderline in London. Bags would be packed, equipment would be stowed and dirty clothes would be placed inside a hermetically sealed plastic bag and we would be on our way across the Atlantic,
But, to quote the tired cliche, it ain't over until it's over. And it's most certainly not over.
I had been receiving various emails in the last few days in which I was told that Ryan Adams had "The Days of Wine and Roses" in heavy rotation during the making of his most recent album "Rock and Roll." Very flattering, to be sure--readers who have followed this very diary for the last few days know that I have been enjoying this album during recent drives. And last night I was told that Ryan had invited me to open the shows on his European tour that begins (gasp) in 12 days. The cities include Stockholm, Dublin, London, Glasgow, Manchester, Paris and Amsterdam but that's about all I know right now. In the meantime, the search begins for plane tickets, van rentals, equipment and, of course, a laundromat. Not necessarily in that order.
11.01.03: The road to Bremen
I'm not about to complain about short drives. Hey, the less time in the van, the more time for sightseeing, exploring, napping, CNN-watching--whatever one does when they're not rolling down the autobahn. But it does mean less time for tour diary writing so today's entry will be short. Here are the headlines--
1) Really enjoyable Halloween show last night at the Blues Garage in Hannover. The place feels like a biker bar in Birmingham, Alabama--blues posters, biker regalia, confederate flag, Allman Brothers on the stereo--you get the picture. We played two sets, the second containing mostly requests (including our "cover" of Gutterball's "Transparency") and an encore featuring versions of "Cinnamon Girl" and our favorite current MTV hit, "Hey Ya" by Outkast. The latter will likely be a staple of our sets until the tour ends next week.
2) We spent a semi-leisurely afternoon in Hannover today with our friends Rolf and Nicole (and finally got a chance to see the comic book store where she has worked since we first met in the mid-90s). Some record-shopping, cappuccino drinking, newpaper-hunting and internet access filled the hours and now we're back on the road
3) As the tour winds to a conclusion, we are seeing familiar faces that tie the opening and closing together. Steffen is aboard for a few shows as is Rolf and Nicole and we'll see Jaap Bos as well tonight. Let the credits roll, indeed.
4) I got the news last night that Magnet magazine picked "Static Transmission" as one of the 20 best albums of 2003, a flattering accolade from a magazine that I hold in very high regard.
Hey. We're there.
10.31.03: The road to Hannover
Okay, remember that diary entry from a few weeks ago where I was talking about the five best live albums of all time? And remember that I couldn't think of too many good choices (Neil Young was one and I forgot the other). Well, my good friend Jeroen immediately took me to task by nominating Van Morrison's "It's Too Late To Stop Now" and that certainly is one of my favorites. And in the following days I also thought about Otis Redding "Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go" and Bob Dylan's recently released "Rolling Thunder Revue" CD. But last night at Kiel's (supposedly) legendary late-night rock bar Club 68 the answer became very apparent. We were all sitting there along with our friends Rolf and Nicole and a few other pals and at some point in the middle of an ice cold Jever beer, the bartender put the Who's "Live At Leeds" on the stereo and the combination of the moment and the perfect blend of post-show exhilaration and late night weariness and the proximity of good friends turned that CD into the perfect soundtrack. And that's what music's all about right? A way of touching base with some of perfect (or perfectly imperfect) connection with reality (or some kind of perfect touch of surrealism).
Suffering a little bit from a cold, I nursed the one beer and enjoyed the surroundings until the last song had finished (and this was the reissue long version), savored all of the health-giving properties that one can only get from blistering guitars, bass and drums and--lo and behold!--I'm feeling great today. And it was much more fun than sleep and hot tea.
10.30.03: The road to Kiel
Loppen is a club in the middle of Christiania, a self-contained and self-governed commune witin the city of Copenhagen and the surroundings resemble a post-apocolyptic wasteland (shades of Road Warrior) with huts and stalls bearing various forms of hashish and marijuana, items that would be quite illegal just beyond the walls but which are sold within Christiania as if they were cheese or olives or indian jewelry more commonplace produce items. We wandered the grounds before the show with our friend Larry from New York and made our way to a bar in which each of the 50 or so patrons would have been the drunkest, most messed up person in any other bar you've ever visited. No doubt about it--in this bar, WE were the freaks. But all of this local color put us in the mood for a solid punk, psychedelic (VERY long version of "Coltrane" that Carsten likened to Pink Floyd) set followed by a really nice visit with our very own webmaster hero Thomas Mejer Hansen and then a successful search for a late night falafel that took us to the red-light district of the city. There you have it, folks--sex, drugs AND rock and roll. It must be ratings week at the Tour Diary Network.
10.29.03: The road to Copenhagen
I hadn't played Stockholm with a band since 1998 and last night's show was an absolute revelation--the average age of the fans in attendance seemed to be about 25 and every one of them had a better awareness of my back catalog than I did myself. It was wild--23 year old guys not only asking questions about working with producer Chris D on "The Days of Wine and Roses" (which was made when he was, gulp, three years old) but also ranking his six favorite Gun Club albums in order (I took him to task for saying "The Fire of Love" is overrated). And then there was the guy who had taken the ferry from Helsinki (16 hours each way) to see the show. Incredible. He told me that seeing the Dream Syndicate in 1982 in San Diego changed his life--now he's living in Finland and playing the didjeridoo. I'm not sure if I see the connection but I've learned to never look a gift compliment in the mouth. It was an incredibly fun night and we all ended up chatting with fans until 3am at which point the lights came on at the Debaser (a really great club, by the way) and we were off into the chilly Stockholm night.
Now, 3am isn't what I would call a particularly late evening, especially while on tour but the 7:30am wakeup call was a little tough to handle and this eight-hour drive to Copenhagen began with a few hours of silence (sleep, reading or headphone-immersion, depending upon the band member) and we've all just pulled out of our morning haze for hot dogs (cheese sandwich for vegetarian Jason) at the last gas station. I've been checking out the CDs I bought yesterday at Got To Hurry Records in the old part of Stockholm. It was a pretty amazing store in that it didn't carry anything by anyone who began their career after 1972, as far as I could tell. You've never seen so many records by, for example, the Pretty Things or Caravan or Fairport Convention (Linda picked up a bunch of these) in one store. I bought a complete collection of Dillard and Clark as well as the reissue of Gene Clark's "No Other," a Sonics compilation and a 60's psychedelic pop collection called "Fading Yellow" (volume 7). It's limited to 1000 copies and was made in Sweden and I figured it's always a good idea to buy things that were made in the country of purchase, hence the hot dog and coffee that fueled this particular diary entry. On to Denmark
10.28.03: Still driving to Stockholm
Wow, this has been quite a trip. We left Berlin at 8am, drove for about four hours. And then we got onto a ferry to Sweden that lasted about four more hours, the time passed by reading, talking, snacks and finally sharing a few bottles of wine between the five of us (Thomas, who had more hours of driving ahead, abstained) and now the remnants of that mellow red wine buzz is providing the perfect mood for listening to the new Ryan Adams album that Jason picked up a few days ago. I must admit that I've never connected fully with his previous records but this one is blowing my mind on the first listen. It's a pretty rocking record and somehow combines the Replacements, Oasis, T-Rex, Nirvana, the Romantics and U2. And that may or may not really be a good way of explaining why I like it but it all sounds great, the hooks are strong and it's one of those cases where it's the right record to hear at the right moment (the dark, moody Swedish roadside vista helps as well). We'll see how it sounds on the second listen but right now it feels like the perfect record.
It's actually been one of my favorite years for music in a long time. I remember being asked to put together a Top 10 last year and I couldn't think of many records that really moved me (outside of Wilco's "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel"). This year there have been quite a few that have been in heavy rotation on my CD player and inside my mind.
YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD--Kings of Leon
KEEP ON YOUR MEAN SIDE--The Kills
FEAST OF WIRE--Calexico
NOCTURAMA--Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
RAINY DAY MUSIC--The Jayhawks
and I'm blanking right now on the titles but also the latest by:
BONNIE "PRINCE" BILLY
That's not bad, especially since I'm sure I'm forgetting a few AND there are still two months left in the year (and I still need to buy that new Outkast record). Oh, and I released an album as well this year and I was pretty happy with the results but I think I'll show some humility and leave it off the list.
10.27.03: The Road To Sweden
Okay, time for a little rock and roll demystification. What does a trashy, noisy, unkempt, world-traveling rock and roll band do in the hour before a gig in Berlin? Do they visit the local opium bar? Maybe trade shots of Jagermeister with longshoremen in the seedy part of town? Consult with a local gothic witch? Drop 50 G's on black jack at the casino? Well, at least in the case of last night, I would have to say "no" to all of these possibilities. Instead, John, Linda and I all ended up back at the hotel watching Sumo wrestling--man, it was amazing. I've got to watch more of this stuff. We still can't figure out what the deal was with the tossing of the talcum powder, the weird and spiky add-ons to the already bizarre thong outfits, how they got so BIG on a diet of Japanese food and especially what the deal was with Tamanoshima who is now my absolute favorite. Hey, we may never know the answers to these burning questions but the combination of sumo wrestling and the buzz of the Berlin audience led to one of the weirder shows of the tour. We opened with four Dream Syndicate songs (I dunno, why not?) including the first version of "50 In a 25 Zone" that I've played in about six years. And then it was a dizzying ride of dynamic shifts, flashes of frenzy alternating with soothing tones and even an impromptu version of Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" which I kinda find hard to sing at this point in my life, 25 years past that chronological milestone.
But, hey, we may not be 18 but we are indeed living the life. We didn't live the rock decadent life last night in what is often thought to be one of the most decadent cities but now that we're in the van we are deep into an orgy of Pringles, comic books and unsavory conversation. Adolescence isn't a number, it's a state of mind.
10.26.03: The road to Berlin
The rain comes down outside the window of our van as we move on to one of my favorite cities in the world. The van is silent with a combination of (1) sleepiness (2) dismay--well, in my case anyway--that the Yankees lost the World Series to the Marlins (3) anticipation for a day and night in Berlin and (4) music listening--Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Jason), the Bambi Molesters (me) and the new Belle and Sebastien (Linda). A few cups of coffee and a candy bar or two and we'll back into full manic, chatty mode and ready for another day outside of our big white bubble.
One nice thing about this tour has been that we've been expanding the set list each night and the last few shows have seen brand-spanking-new versions of "I Have Faith," "Medicine Show" and "If It Was Easy, Everybody Would Do It." Thomas told me of one band he worked with that played the same set (and had the same between-song patter) for every show on the tour and I don't think I could ever do that. Changing set lists, arrangements, tempos and moods from night to night is one of the joys of touring. You get to dig deeper and deeper into each song with each show and take chances that are erased the moment you walk off the stage with the possibility of redemption for any experiment that falls flat the second you walk into the next gig.
Some days you just don't know what to expect. Located in the former East part of Germany (though still somewhat East, I suppose, of other cities which we are visiting on this tour), this town is a first for me. It's Saturday at 3pm and we will be meeting in the lobby in two hours, the street outside the hotel seems pretty dead and there are no English-language channels on the TV (which has me worried about tonight's Game 6 coverage of the World Series). This leaves me with the possibility of a walk down the quiet road, a glance at "A Cook's Tour," a great book about culinary adventurism and travel that Chris Cacavas gave me a few weeks back or maybe just some sleep. Maybe the indecision itself will pass the time until 5pm. I know that Thomas is pretty excited about the Rostock-Berlin football match and the rest of the band are in search of an internet cafe. That's it. Downtown Magdeburg on a Saturday afternoon. Tonight could be another story altogether.
I usually type these things from the van. Given that hotel time is limited and driving time varies between never-ending and endless, it seems that it's best to sneak in some typing between reading, music listening, napping and slack-eyed staring. But this portion of the German tour is different--for a few days we'll be checking out of the hotels at noon and all drives are two hours or less. Hallelujah! This is incredible. John just went in search of the hotel sauna, Thomas is catching up on football (soccer) news and the others are most likely sleeping. Me, I'm in my room checking out my CD purchases from yesterday's lightning-blitz of the Saturn Record store in Cologne. If you've followed these pages for the last few tours you might remember that the Saturn store is the largest in Europe, filled with music of every genre and some pretty good discounts here and there. We had 30 minutes yesterday to unload our hard-saved per diems and I walked out with just enough change for a cup of coffee but also:
WILDWEED--Jeffrey Lee Pierce
FUNKY GOOD TIME: THE ANTHOLOGY--The J.B.'s (which is on the stereo right now)
IT'S THE NEW THING; THE STEP FORWARD YEARS--The FallS
ONIC BULLETS; 13 FROM THE HIP--The Bambi Molesters
The latter is a CD that floated through my autobahn dreams the other night while Hammi drove us back to his place after the Marburg show. It sounded like something between the Ventures, Morricone and Quicksilver but that may have been due to the high-speed, erratic slumber state. who knows? but I figured it was worth a chance even if I had to program it to play once I had already fallen asleep.
After our cool jazz, grownup folk show in Bonn (responding to the seated/sedate--I love anagrams!--atmosphere), we roared back with a scary punk show last night in Dortmund. the wildest of the rockers translated to a high-speed car-chase, rollercoaster, white-knuckled joy ride. Maybe it was due to the version of "Beat On the Brat" that we did in sound check.
10.23.03: The road to Dortmund
It always a pleasure and also somewhat disorienting to see friends from back home while you're out on the road. The context has changed and you're colliding in the midst of the hyper-paced supercharged lifestyle and the result is almost dreamlike, surreal in the post-encounter "Did That Really Happen?" mode. The last time we saw our friends Peter Buck and Scott McCoughey from REM was in Minneapolis last month when we were both there for gigs (they were great--and there was ample time after the show to catch up and trade stories) and then before that was in the Spring in Austin where we were all crisscrossing the town for the South By Southwest Convention (Peter and Scott were there for gigs with the Minus 5). And now it turned out that they were in Cologne for a TV show the morning after our gig in Bonn. We went up to their castle-like hotel outside of town along with Hammi, who is a good friend of theirs from his days in Seattle, and shared coffee, road stories, movie commentary, gossip and small, elegant cookies before they had to leave for their TV show and we had to hit the road for Dortmund. Approximately 30 minutes together which, in touring years, comes out to about 10 hours.
The show in Bonn was wonderful and our second sit-down gig of the tour. Usually I prefer shows where everyone (well, outside of Linda) is standing and I can see the swaying and dancing and kinetic energy from the audience as they get into the noise and rhythm and frenzy. But now and then it's nice to have the challenge of what always feels like a jazz-like setting. You know--people sitting and snapping their fingers and sipping martinis. Okay, none of that stuff was happening but the audience at my first ever show in Bonn seemed to enjoy themselves and we finished the show at the tour's second attempt at "John Coltrane Stereo Blues," a slower, more grinding affair this time around.
10.22.03: The road to Cologne
Sometimes you just have to break away from the pack and right now I'm sitting in the back seat of our friend Hammi's red Alfa Romeo as we drive to his swinging pad in Cologne. It's 1am and ZZ Top is blasting on Armed Forces Radio, soon to give way (we hope) to Game 3 of the World Series. Also in the car is Carsten and Linda and we're hoping to do some laundry, buy some new CDs and fix my ailing Fender VibroVerb amplifier. Some lofty goals for 18 hours away from the Big White Van but, hey, you have to set the bar high now and then.
Armed Forces Radio. It's always surreal to be driving down the autobahn and listening to a bubbleheaded DJ jabbering away in English. Hell, we could be crossing the border from Iowa to Nebraska for all I know and I just asked Hammi (who lived in Seattle for ten years) to keep his eye peeled for the next Taco Bell, knowing that the nearest Bell is about 3000 miles away. Once again, High Bar, Big Dreams, blah blah blah.....And it's easy to live a temporary fantasy of geographical displacement especially when ZZ Top has given way to Pink Floyd and I have expect to leave the car and find that I have been actually sitting inside the same Red AMC Gremlin that I drove while in High School.
Weird show tonight in Marburg. We were a little dazed from the nine-hour drive from Innsbruck and that combined with a weird stage sound got us off to a slow start. But we overcame the handicap with absolute freak factor culminating in a marathon version of "Smash Myself To Bits" that seemed to combine the Butterfield Blues Band with Black Flag. And there's nothing wrong with that. Black Flag. Paul Butterfield--all well and good but the AFM is playing the Doors now and that will do just fine.
10.21.03: Leaving Innsbruck
Jason has let it be known that his face has been severely underrepresented in this tour diary so here is the guitar wonder boy in all of his glory as he stands in front of a view of Innsbruck that almost looks like a tacky, fake backdrop from a cheap movie. But it's not. This is the real deal and we did indeed play Innsbruck last night--it was a very intimate gig in the smallest venue we've played on the entire tour and we had a great time seducing the locals and transforming ourselves into a slightly lower-key bar band. Well, slightly lower key--we weren't exactly Bob Seger or JImmy Buffet or anything like that. And I wouldn't describe any moment as "tasty," always the true description of a hot bar band. Tasty--I've never been in a band that was described as "tasty" and I'm fine with that. The dinner on the other hand, THAT was tasty--a spicy Thai chicken dish that was pushed into the taste bud-dulling stratosphere by some rarely seen Tabasco sauce. There's nothing tastier than a taste sensation that eventually dulls the taste buds. But I digress.....
10.20.03: The road to Innsbruck
As far as I can tell, Ferrara is the pastry capital of Italy. Naturally there is much more to this beautiful city, which boasts medieval streets, awe-inspiring castles, cathedral and cobblestone pathways. It's an amazing city and my first visit lived up to all of the hype that had been built up before my arrival. And an early-morning bout of insomnia gave me the excuse to wander the streets for hours before the rest of the band woke up today. I wandered and wandered and marveled at the mixture of the more ancient elements which contrasted with the modern, trendy clothing stores in a way that was somehow natural and elegant. But while my eyes were glazed with wonder at the history, my taste buds were telling my body to stop at every of the many pasticerias, each of which flaunted the most impossibly beautiful dessert items from the front window. Cannoli washed down with an espresso and then moments later a cookie of almond paste to be chased with a cappuccino began the steady trail of sugar and caffeine until I made it into the van to crash from the downside of the sugar/coffee rush, visions of sugarplums (and castles and cathedrals) dancing in my head.
Last night's show was a good, solid Sunday night's gentle rollercoaster of freakouts and off-speed pitches ("Cats and Dogs" was a highlight) but you should have been around for soundcheck where we played a credible version of the Eagles' "One of These Nights," which joined the list of unlikely pre-show covers on this tour which also includes:
"Psycho Killer"--Talking Heads
"20th Century Boy"--T-Rex
"A Quick One (While He's Away)"--The Who
Each of them were inspired and ragged and never to be heard again. Then again, we can always be bribed by just the right pastry
10.19.03: The road to Ferrara
Stayed up until 6am watching the Yankees lose to the Marlins in Game 1 of the World Series. I couldn't believe it--live coverage on Italian TV and even though I couldn't understand a word of the play-by-play, I was able to make my own internal commentary and stayed glued to the set until the very last out. Now we're on our way to what is said to be one of the more beautiful cities in Italy so my new plan is to be a tourist by day, play a wild show tonight and then get back to the hotel and watch Game 2 until the sun rises tomorrow morning. I figure two or three shots of espresso should do the trick.
10.18.03: The road to Ancona
In 1982, the Dream Syndicate played a live set on KPFK in the wee hours of the morning. We were playing mostly material that we would record a few weeks later for what became our first album, but that night I had a Television-inspired riff and decided it would be fun to use that as the launching point for a completely freeform (musically, lyrically, arrangement) jam song. Complete improvisation! And we called the song "Open Hour" and it became a staple of our live sets. When we went into the studio to make "Medicine Show" we felt we had to record the song even though there was no fixed arrangement and no lyrics--both came together after many attempts at the song and since that time it has been played about 1000 times in every possible arrangement, speed, mood and length. The performance depends entirely on the chemistry and instincts of the people playing the song and last night we played it for the first time with our new bass player John Munson. It was the second encore in San Dona and someone yelled out the song and I walked up to John and said "it's all in E" and that was it. He had never heard the song and had no idea about what lied ahead. But it was a really exciting version (maybe largely due to his lack of knowledge of the song and what would happen next) and Jason put it well today when he said it went from CCR to Spiritualized to Sonny Sharrock to the MC5 in the course of 10 minutes. Maybe we'll try it again tonight.
10.17.03: The road to San Dona
It's always kind of a gamble as to where we'll end up on our rare nights off. You have a certain amount of driving time to the next gig (about 12 hours, more or less, from Belgrade to San Dona) and we just go and go until (1) the mighty Thomas has run out of energy (2) the band gets a little cranky or (3) some town or roadside oasis looks inviting. Sometimes this all happens in the middle of nowhere, leaving us to kill time and track down snacks at a gas station down the road and at other times you get to discover a city or region that you would have otherwise never known. The latter was blessedly the case last night as we ended up in a beautiful lakeside village in Croatia called Kostrena. We arrived at 9pm so there wasn't much to see (outside of the delicious and very anticipated pizzas that were placed in front of us in the town's one restaurant that was open late enough for our needs and schedule) but this morning we were greeted by a stunning view of the Mediterranean and various boats, trees, fisherman and an endless coastline. I captured the scenery with my camera and John did the same with his travel paint-kit. I've included both renderings for your vicarious tourism.
After that it was on to Rijeka, the neighboring mid-size city.
10.16.03: The road to Belgrade
We're parked by the side of the road at the border of Croatia and Serbia and waiting for the promoter of tonight's show in Belgrade to pick us up and drive us to the gig. It all feels like the opening pages of a good spy novel, especially given as we were told by our van rental company that they would not insure our vehicle anywhere inside Serbia. This means that Thomas will be spending the night in a Croatian border motel while we are whisked away by some mystery man in some mystery vehicle to drive to our mystery destination. I've been told he'll be wearing a white carnation on his lapel but that might just be a rumor.
I do know these things:
--We just saw three pigs wildly and voraciously grazing by the side of the road. Like they owned the place. And, for all I know, they probably did
--there is no baseball coverage in this part of the world and I have been reduced to sitting online and running up obscene phone charges deep into the night to keep up with the Yankees/Red Sox playoff battle.
--last night's show in Zagreb was one of my favorite shows of the tour. After a great dinner (octopus salad!) we walked into a packed club with Sonic Youth's "Teenage Riot" blasting over the PA system. That is certainly a good first impression and the night did not disappoint. It was the first time I'd played in Croatia and people there certainly knew my music, singing along with songs and even reaching out to my guitar to play a mighty fine mass, mob-frenzy solo on "That's What You Always Say." We met some really nice people and I can't wait to come back.
But until I see the mystery vehicle I can't be sure if I'll ever truly be back. If you don't hear from me by next weekend, be sure to leave $100,000 in unmarked bills inside the hollow tree near the river. thanks....
10.16.03: Somewhere in Croatia
It was 3am, a few hours after the final song of the evening, and I was standing on a Belgrade street corner, finishing the last bite of a tasty egg, ham and cheese crepe concoction when a few fans who had been at the show came up and asked for autographs and, in exchange, gave me a home-burned copy of the new Warren Zevon album. It seemed a little wrong to be accepting an illegal version of the final statement by one of my heroes, someone who had passed away only a few weeks ago but I have also been dying to hear the record and gratefully took the CD. Now we're driving through the Croatian countryside as the sun fades away on this long drive to tomorrow's show in Italy and Warren's voice is providing a poignant, melancholy soundtrack, the mood heightened by the exhaustion from almost no sleep last night. I had held off on hearing this record as I feared (1) disappointment from the heightened expectation of a "final statement" and (2) sadness and depression from said "final statement" but it turns out that the album is a beautiful, stately, strong and even humorous record that ranks among his best. And then the final song "Keep Me In Your Heart" brings down the curtain with the aforementioned weepiness but by that time the sadness is balanced by the relief that such a talented songwriter went out in top form. RIP Warren Zevon.
I had played Belgrade in 1996 and was one of the few American performers (Grant Hart was the other) to play there in the 90's. I remember the audience being quite enthusiastic and stunningly knowledgeable about my music but also remember the city as being quite depressed, a once-glorioius downtown decimated by the ravages of war, political corruption and economic collapse. Now, seven years later, the audience was still incredible (our biggest crowd of the tour, singing along with almost every song) and the city had risen up and was bustling with various boutiques (Linda bought some new jeans this morning) and restaurants and bars. We ended up in one such local watering hole a few hours before the dawn, gulping down the local version of grappa while goth music played over the speakers and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" flickered silently on the TV screen. Our promoter Ivan--who had impressed and delighted me by cranking Joe South on the car stereo when he met us at the border-- was mortified by the goth-o-rama ("this is the first time I've ever come to this club and the last. Please don't put this in your diary") but we had a great time, buzzed by the novelty of the situation ("we're in a goth bar in Belgrade at 4am!"--not something that happens every day) and still giddy from the exciting show. There are some really wonderful comments/reviews from the Belgrade fans on the message board of this very site and I'm glad to know that we didn't let down the people who had waited so long for this show. I can't wait to come back again.
10.14.03: The road to Zagreb
We just spent 36 hours in Ljubljana (Slovenia) and used the rare extended stay to fall into full-on tourist mode. Cameras were liberated from suitcases (though mine was foolishly left in the van), longs walks and intensive historical study cram sessions were initiated and indigenous local snacks were pursued (by me, mostly--I fully recommend the lightly fried calamari at the seafood stand near the outdoor produce market). One of the joys of our chosen lifestyle is the chance to discover cities somewhat off the typical tourist pathway and we all agreed that Ljubljana was one of our favorite cities on the tour. A beautiful blend of the architecture and city planning of northern Italy and Austria with a hint of what I would imagine Russia to be like along with the young, hip, burgeoning bohemianism of Prague. We had a really nice show as well--I had played the city in 1994, only three years after Slovenia's independence from Yugoslavia and the audience has had the chance to see a lot of music since then but they were far from jaded and showered us with praise, volume, humor and requests and we turned on the Post-Day-Off juice pretty quickly (though it is never easy to ramp up to full speed after the Touring Body has come to a complete stop).
Now we are driving through the green countryside of Croatia. I've never been here before so I'm guessing it's time for me to finish this sentence that you are reading, put away the laptop and check out the scenery.
10.13.03: The road to Slovenia
Having grown frustrated with the inability to find coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs this week, I made the best 19-euro purchase of my life yesterday and picked up a portable AM/FM radio that will keep me glued to the progress of the New York Yankess and most likely reduce my sleeping hours considerably. Last night was Game 3 in the Yankees-Red Sox (Boston) league championship series and the first pitch happened sometime in the middle of our second set at Stuttgart's Laboratorium. We came off stage sometime around the third inning and enjoyed post-gig cocktails while we listened to the Yankees score what would be the winning runs in the midst of what sounded like some pretty intense and angry baseball action. After loading out the equipment, we returned to the hotel where John, Linda and I caught the final two innings and enjoyed the simple pleasures of listening to baseball on the radio at 2am in Germany. The Yankees won 4-3, by the way.
And the gig? Loads of fun--Jason and I played the Laboratorium in January on our acoustic tour and the intimate, all-seats atmosphere was perfect for the quieter show but it worked really well for the Miracle 3 as well. We played a few of the more reserved numbers in our set ("Blackout" "Morningside Heights") and also took a few requests including the first version of "50 in a 25 Zone" that I've played in many years. We hung out with some good pals including Edgar, Jens, Rainer and Severin (from Coffee in Duluth), Cristophe, Ingrid and Flavio (from the Go-Lucky's). A nice way to end the current stretch of German shows as we head into Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia which should make for an interesting week. Sightseeing in the daytime, music in the evening and baseball in the wee hours. Sleep? Maybe sometime in early November.
Last night was my third gig in Langenau in the last two years. Nothing unusual about that--I think we've played up to five or six shows in other cities during that period. But Langenau has a total population of about 10,000 which makes it somewhat unlikely for repeated visits. It's only ten miles from neighboring Ulm (pop: 100,000) which I've played once in ten years. That's the weird thing about music scenes--all it takes is one person who becomes the barometer of cool music taste for a community (in this case it's local promoter Hans-Peter) and you have a scene. And Langenau was most certainly a "scene" last night--lots of people, lots of dancing and post-gig beers and discussions in the local bar until the wee hours--the last thing I remember was debating the best live albums of all time with Thomas (pictured above)--I drew a blank after the Who's "Live at Leeds" and Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps" although Coltrane's "Live at the Village Vanguard" would be up there as well. Linda calls this the "High Fidelity" school of conversation (the five-best This and the ten-best That) but it's hard to resist after a spirited show and a few Weizenbiers.
10.10.03: The road to Langenau
The second disc of Todd Rundgren's "Something/Anything" is playing at full volume on my headphones, shredding the last bits of hearing that may have somehow survived after all of these years (no problem--imagination beats reality almost any day of the weeks). I'm particularly digging the faux-Philly Soul numbers now that our new bass player John Munson has taught me the secret to all of the wonderful piano playing that you hear on those records (you have to put the root note in the left hand and toss the 3rd, 5th and 7th on the right side--how did I NOT know that before). The lesson was given at sound check yesterday in Fulda on an out-of-tune, key-challenged upright at the side of the stage. Hey, you should learn something new everyday, especially when the days involve multiple cities, new faces and unexpected scenarios.
And new things are happening left and right. Linda picked up a travel paint kit and is recreating the scenery she saw from the hotel window this morning (no mean feat as the van travels along the bumpy autobahn). John and Jason are playing some card game in the middle row but asking exactly what they are playing would involve removing these headphones and that would mean missing "Couldn't I Just Tell You" so, once again, imagination will have to trump reality--sorry. Carsten is on his cell phone, hopefully working out tonight's dinner plans, and Thomas is driving. Thomas is always driving and the stamina and expertise constantly amazes me--he really does have the toughest job on the tour. This diary entry is dedicated to Thomas.
Have I neglected food in these diary entries? how can that be? Well, let me point out yesterday's Lunch of Supreme Decadence. Spaghetti. What's so decadent about spaghetti, you ask? Well, the spaghetti was made out of chocolate ice cream (how did they DO that?) and was served on a marshmallow base and covered with both chocolate and caramel sauce as well as raisins and nuts. yeah, I know, I know--this is not the way to long-term touring health but the picture in the menu looked like pin-up art and I just couldn't resist. Today I stuck to salad and left it to Carsten (see photo) to cavort with the Gods of Sugar.
10.09.03: The road to Fulda
There is a huge book convention in Frankfurt this week (it even made the front page of today's Herald Tribune) so we were forced to drive an hour outside of the city after last night's show to find our hotel. No problem--we made a post-show visit to a late-night snack stop near the club for some Turkish pizza, grabbed a few beers and settled into the van where I had high expectations for tuning in Game One of the American League baseball championship game between the Yankees and Red Sox. The timing was right--2am here in Germany which matches up with the 8pm first pitch in New York--and I figured we'd have some luck getting the game on the Armed Forces Network. But it wasn't meant to be and instead we were serenaded by classic rock ("Us and Them" by Pink Floyd sounded particularly good) and I didn't get the results (Yanks lost 5-2) until I woke up this morning.
Last night's show at the Sinkkasten seemed to be a unanimous favorite of the tour--the perfect balance of loose and tight, relaxed and intense. We even expanded our Warren Zevon tribute section to TWO songs in the encore ("Play It All Night Long" and "Lawyers Guns and Money.") Hey, he was one of my all-time favorite songwriters--even though some of his albums were inconsistent, I would place his 20 best songs up against anyone's. And we had surprise visits from good friends Hammi and Chris Cacavas, the latter who joined us for a version of the rarely played "Killing Time." It looks like Chris will be making a new album in mid-November with Jason on guitar which sounds like what will already be a cinch for my favorite album of 2004.
10.08.03: The road to Frankfurt
I've been listening to more music while traveling on this particular tour. Maybe it was the 11th Hour acquisition of the new Television reissues (which work quite well with jet lag--try it out!) or the inability to get online much this week (which, in turn, cuts down the time I spend typing in the van) but most likely it comes down to this being the most interesting year for music in quite a while. I found myself struggling to come up with four or five favorite albums in the last few years and this year there are easily 15 to 20 that have given me great pleasure. Some of my favorites have been the latest releases by Lucinda Williams, Calexico, the Kills, the KIngs of Leon, the Neptunes, Nick Cave, the White Stripes, the Court and Spark, the
Jayhawks and many more. These are the sounds that provide the soundtrack to the German countryside that I watch from the back seat of the van.
I listen to this music on my Discman. That's right--a Discman. One of those machines from the latter part of the 20th Century that would play the old-fashioned music storage system called "CD"s. Okay, I'm joking but it turns out that I am the only member of my band that hasn't made the switch over to MP3-playing machines. Jason has had his MP3 player for two tours now and can listen to tons and tons of albums and songs at the flip of a switch while John and Linda are pretty smitten with their stylish, groovy iPods. Me, I feel like I'm carting around a 78-rpm-playing Victrola as I switch from CD to CD, fumbling through my little anachronistic CD-wallet as I pick the next bit of music. Yes, I've got to get up to speed with this 21st Century--which I will do as soon as I stop playing my 1975 guitar through my 1964 amplifier.
10.07.03: The road to Ansbach
The leaves on the trees outside are turning from green to gold to red and back again from mile to mile and the rain is lightly dropping on our windshield. It's a beautiful and melancholy Fall setting here in Germany and what is my personal soundtrack for these evocative sights? Vivaldi? Nick Drake? Kenny G? No, no and no again--I'm cranking the new Iggy record and I've got to say it sounds pretty good. Not great by any means--but pretty rocking and it's good to hear him playing with the Stooges. Jason tells me I made a huge mistake by missing the Stooges reunion show in New York last summer and that it was the best show he ever saw. Ever! That's a long time, even in the life of the junior member of the Miracle 3 but it nonetheless reminds me once again that you've got to see these legends while you can--don't wait until the next tour. It may never happen.
But here we are on our very own "next tour," most likely the last one for a little while. I'll hit the 150 mark on shows played this year by the time we hit London for the last show of this tour and I think that will be the time to put away the suitcases and passports and get down to writing and recording some new material. but in the meantime we are emptying the fuel tank from night to night, finding new limits to push and then obliterate and that was the case in Amsterdam the other night. We were playing the Take Root festival--eight bands playing in the two rooms at the Paradiso (my good friend Robert Fisher and his Willard Grant Conspiracy were also on the bill) and we met the challenge of the one-hour limit by compressing our two-hour show into the compressed, bite-sized format. Robert said he was levitating and I'll take that as a major compliment--it was full steam, non-stop, frenzied fun and set the stage for various post-show adventures: helping a fan to find a missing tooth on the floor of the venue, chatting with good friends Jaap (both Bos and Boots), Corrie, Oscar, Robbie and Claudia and then heading out into the Amsterdam night where we were lucky enough to track down a bar that was broadcasting Game 4 of the playoff series between the Yankees and Twins. The Yankees were winning 7-1 and were well on their way to eliminating Minnesota from the series--much to the consternation of our Minnesotan rhythm section. For me it was good news (the Yankees move on to the next round) and bad news (time consuming, sleep-depriving late-night searching for bars or broadband internet access in hopes of glimpsing an inning or two).
And then it was a rare day off in Amsterdam which allowed us to scatter, regroup and scatter again in search of tourism (Linda and I checked out the Van Gogh museum) and consumerism (Carsten got a sharp new suit, Jason some stylish new shoes), internet access (Thomas had scouted a "coffee shop" with computers, local "produce" and slow, hazy funk and reggae music) and finally an Indian dinner where we joined John and some of his friends from the US who were on vacation in Holland in what was a nice turn of events for our new bass player.
Funny how 24 hours off in the midst of a tour can seem like a lengthy vacation--it's all relative I suppose and our extended downtime has me feeling refreshed and ready and excited for the music and adventures that lie ahead.
10.04.03: The road to Gent
Lights, cameras and most certainly action was the order of the evening yesterday in Tubingen as Blue Rose kingpin Edgar Heckman came down with an ad hoc camera crew to film our show at the Sudhaus for a possible DVD somewhere down the line. The crew included his wife Beate (who, once again, brought an incredible bag of candy--Halloween comes early!--for our long van rides), his brother Roland and our good friends Ullrich and Wolfgang. I think there were six cameras in all and I almost expected Howard Cosell (note to our European readers: Cosell was a famous sportscaster in the seventies) to wander on stage mid-set and stick a microphone in my face to ask me "Steve, what can you tell us about the game, uh, I mean GIG at this point? What do you expect in the second half?" But this wasn't football or baseball but rather our own challenge of endurance and strength and instinctive physicality as we overcame jet-lag, an early morning and long drive to play what will very likely be one of my favorite shows of this tour. We played a good, long set (about 25 songs) and we were joined by Chris Cacavas (who lives just down the road) for most of the show. And the evening ended with a down and dirty, fiery version of the great Warren Zevon (RIP) song "Play It All Night Long."
Now we're back in the van with our bags of chocolate, half-assembled Kinder-Egg toys, early morning discussions about computers, massage, music and food (among other things) and a long drive to Belgium. Let the sugar rush begin!
10.03.03: The road to Tubingen
That's right, compadres. It's another tour and that means it's time for another tour diary. These are the roads that we so often travel, these are the amplifiers and drums which have taken so much abuse and then turned out so much musical love and joy for so many tours. Some of the same clubs? why, of course! Meals and friends and hotels and roadside attractions you've heard about before? Yeah, that's a given. But with every tour and, in fact, every day/drive/gig/moment, there are new stories and if you want to know about the adventures of a traveling music extravaganza, well you've certainly come to the right place.
And there is a new member to this gypsy caravan--Dave DeCastro couldn't make it out this time and has been replaced by John Munson, one of Linda's oldest pals from Minneapolis. John is the bass player from Semisonic. He loves music, baseball, books, movies, food and can hold his own in any conversation so I know he'll fit in just fine--be sure to come up to him at the next show and welcome him aboard.
Last night we dropped in on Jaap Bos (and Corrie, Mark and Maaike as well) to get our equipment and were greeted with hugs, food and coffee before we dragged the whole circus down to a local bar for an unofficial, semi-announced public rehearsal. Jet lag and exhaustion quickly gave way to adrenaline, exhilaration, volume and ROCK and by the end of the night we had hit that magic level of road burn that should be easy to maintain from now until early November. Hey, it's like we never stopped! So, bookmark this page, set aside a few moments of your morning coffee time and get ready for another six weeks of TOUR DIARY MADNESS!
5.10.03: Leaving London
And today's Tales of the Fast Food Industry and the Hazards of Late Night Eating comes courtesy of our superstar bassman Dave DeCastro who left London's Borderline club with Chris Cacavas last night sometime after 2am and encountered a street hot dog vendor at the corner near the venue. Both Dave and Chris purchased one of the mouthwatering snacks and moved away a few feet to enjoy their purchase, watching as as two policemen approached the vendor and, after a stern lecture, took all of the man's hot dogs and put them into a box. Having shut down the man's operation for the evening, they moved across the street and threw the contents of the box into the nearest trash can and left to, presumably, protect the rest of the city from unlicensed snack vendors. The rebuked ad-hoc restaurateur waited until the cops had gone and then wandered over to the trash can, removed every last wiener from the receptacle and put them back into his cart where he resumed, fully prepared to sell the now-fortified dogs to unsuspecting patrons and our friends watched in horror. I don't think they'll be eating any street dogs again for a while.
Oh, and the show? It was a real rollercoaster ride--one of the most frenzied, intense, punk rock-style sets of the tour. Knowing that we had less time (about 70 minutes) than usual for the set, we just crammed all of the fire and intensity and thrills and payoff into the reduced minutes. Saw a bunch of old friends--there was club booker (and my longtime tour manager/agent/pal) Barry Everitt holding court, there was Blue Rose kingpin Edgar Heckmann, his wife Beate and our pal Steffen, fresh in from Germany to witness the evening's events before returning the next morning (What Jet-Setters!). Gerard from the Blue Aeroplanes spinning yarns and spreading joy, Static-T bio writer and future star novelist Stav Sherez, "Nothing But the Shell" video star John Moraitis and....well, the list goes on. Pretty much everyone except Blur and Madonna who were playing elsewhere in town. But I should have put them on the guest list.
5.09.03: Entering London
My jacket's just about had it. When the tour began nine weeks ago, it was a stylish black sports coat and the toll of 40+ gigs and a lack of time or opportunity for dry cleaning has left it rumpled, filthy and practically uninhabitable. When the band began calling me "F-Train" (for riders of the NYC subway whose aggressive scents allow them a car to themselves) last week, I finally retired the coat and began performing in whatever shirts had survived this far without too much damage. Ah, the ravages of a long, gig-packed tour. Thinking about dragging the fabled coat out for one last hurrah at the Borderline tonight but I also may just take it out behind the hotel and burn it. Poor thing--the former emblem of style and respectability has now reached it's final days, a victim of the live-fast-die-young-avoid-dry-cleaning ethos of rock and roll. My hat's off to my coat. And soon my coat will be off as well.
In other news....
Had a really great show in Manchester last night (Thomas said it was his favorite set of the tour) which made us happy as we're all fans of many of the bands that were spawned by the city (The Fall, Joy Division and The Hollies rank high in my book as do the Buzzcocks, Smiths and earliest records by Oasis). Exhausted by day, revitalized by night, we are approaching the last weekend of the tour. And it does appear that we will outlive the jacket. Hurrah indeed.
5.08.03: The road to Manchester
"We'll Fry ANYTHING!." or how about "YOU BUY IT, WE'LL FRY IT!." Heck, either one of these could be the proud slogan for Edinburgh's wondrous late-night junk-food emporium Rapido's (though, mysteriously, neither one appears on the front door of the shop). Situated in the same location as the barber shop that once provided haircuts for Sean Connery and various local Scottish pop legends, Rapido's serves pizzas and wraps and pasta salads but the main attraction is the overwhelming case of fried foods with everything from fish (of course) and vegetables to cheeseburgers and Mars Bars having made their way to the deep-fat fryer at some point during the day. Incredible! I'm sure people hesitate to bring their pets anywhere near the place for fear that they would soon end up in the case--did I mention the fried pizza? No, I don't think I mentioned the fried pizza. THERE, I've mentioned the fried pizza. They actually deep-fry PIZZA! Dave and I invented our local alter-ego Artie McLagan (get it? artery cloggin'?) to fully come to grips with the terrors and wonders of this place. And if sounds like I'm knocking Rapido's, guess again--at midnight after a hard-rocking show, this heavy, soaking, fabulously nasty food is more seductive than filet mignon or sushi or caviar. It's what you WANT and it's what we GOT, dragging the goods back to the home of our promoters David and Kathy where we indulged in the aforementioned food, unlimited email connection, chocolate cake and enjoyable conversation. Heaven in Edinburgh? It certainly was the case last night
5.07.03: Entering Scotland
I'm easy. Everybody knows it. My traveling companions are well aware that I will eventually buy any issue of MOJO or Uncut that is on the newsstand. Oh, and I may resist the temptation for a day or two but eventually I'm going to fork over a pocketful of Euros or Pounds or Kroner and drag the bundle of music obsessiveness into the van where it will eventually be pawed and ogled by everybody. So, it's a pretty safe bet that nobody ever has to buy a copy of these mags because, to paraphrase Spike Lee, I Gotta Have It. But maybe it's the onset of a week where we speak the native language or just cumulative van fatigue/boredom but today Dave picked up the new issue of Uncut and Chris (who is with us once again) ponied up for the debut issue of BANG (looks pretty good and has a free CD). Now I am wondering where my PD money will be heading? Coffee and candy bars? A shot of Makers Mark in the next bar? Most likely, I'll be emptying out my pockets in London's West End on Friday, falling prey to the rows and rows of record shops, particularly my favorite Sounds of the Universe, home to the incredible Soul Jazz Records. This is a very dangerous place for a music fanatic.
Anyway, it's nice to have Chris back in our ranks and last night's show at the cozy Ceol Castle was a warm and cuddly reunion of sorts as well as a celebration of Chris' birthday which was the day before. As the club was primarily a folk and roots venue we broke out some of our rarely-played gentler numbers like "What Comes After" and "Blackout" before tangling our guitars, limbs, sound waves and mental impulses into the expected and anticipated frenzy of sound. Slept upstairs from the club which made it easier to stay up, drink Tetney's/Guinness and trade stories as the tour began it's final week.
5.06.03: The Road To Birmingham
Thanks to Jens Jakob Sorensen for giving me this bootleg 3CD set of Neil Young's April 29 show in Hamburg as it has filled up most of my waking hours of this marathon drive from Hamburg to Birmingham. Interesting stuff--the first two CDs are new songs about a fictitious place called Greendale in which Neil weaves spoken stories and quaint, often-haunting songs about the city's residents. Some of it feels like a Garrison Keiller story or some other homespun National Public Radio collection and other tunes are dark and broken in the style of some of Neil's quirkier material from years past. All of the performances are acoustic but I've been told that the songs will be recorded with Crazy Horse for the next album. The third CD is the second set of his show and consists of various hits and oddities, the best being very moving versions of "On the Beach" and "Campaigner." I can only hope that our set in Hamburg last night ends up on a tape that provides equal solace to some other long-distance traveler somewhere down the line.
5.05.03: The road to Hamburg
What a difference ten hours can make in a small Danish town like Odense--Last night after the show we were on the hunt for a midnight snack and found that Sunday night in Odense doesn't leave many options for such things. Everything was closed and there was almost nobody on the streets and it wasn't until we had walked eight blocks that we found a 7/11 where we wolfed down hot dogs, spinach pies and various sweets before wandering back to the hotel. I mean, it was a ghost town! Nothing going on and it felt almost like we were on the set of a science fiction movie, the locals having been whisked into the skies by giant alien magnets. Or something like that. But the mission was accomplished, we were no long hungry and we all returned to our rooms. It was a completely different story when we woke up and went out into the bright, sunny Odense midmorning--the streets were packed with people, sitting in cafes, shopping, wandering the streets and a great many of them were staggering through the town with beers in their hands, drunk and looking for trouble. At 10am on a Monday morning. Dave commented that if this was how they begin the work week in Odense, he would have to consider moving from New Jersey. Was it a holiday? Or does the work day begin at noon? I guess we'll never find out as we had to get into the van and say good-bye to Odense/Denmark/Scandinavia and more on down the road to Hamburg for tonight's show. We are moving into the final week and timing/pacing our activities to ensure we make it all the way to our last gig in Leeds next Sunday.
Our fearless marathon driver Thomas came to me this morning and commented on last night's show in Copenhagen. "It was a wild audience and a great show," leaning in closer to whisper conspiratorially, "maybe we need more 17-hour drives." This from the man who drove nearly every one of those 17 hours and we both know that he was indeed kidding. But it seems to be the case that impossibly long overnight drives and serious lack of sleep often leads to the best shows. The knowledge that you could fall down at any second necessitates more intense concentration and more serious channeling of energy. Of course, it helps that we had a great and enthusiastic audience and that we played at a fantastic club called Stengade 30--great sound on stage, friendly staff and good, hot mustard in the dressing room. Well, okay--the mustard didn't have much to do with the good show but I was happy to see it, nonetheless. Whipped into a false sense of energy from the exciting show, we ended up staying at the club until 4am, dancing to an incredible DJ who mixed 60's and 70's classics (my favorite moment was the Beatles' "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey") with some great new songs. We jangled our tired limbs, nodded like zombies and with our grueling day, that was what constituted "dancing." Had a nice time hanging out with everyone's favorite website director, Thomas Mejer Hansen, who stayed late with us, grooving on the tunes as well. Can it be only three weeks ago that we were all together in Rome? Was it really the same tour? Seems like years ago in that curious way that touring constantly bends time and reality. Now, we're getting ready for our last show in Scandinavia and the beginning of the 9th and final week. And we have some long drives ahead which, in the logic of our Thomas, means some good shows as well
5.03.03: Driving through Sweden
Overnight drives! You gotta love 'em. Well, actually you really DON'T have to love them but sometimes they are unavoidable like right now as we travel the 15 hours from Stavanger to Copenhagen. 700 miles and two ferry trips from the time the last piece of gear was loaded last night until we arrive for sound check today and we're all pretty ragged right now, demonstrating all of the usual combinations of giddiness and crankiness. Every touring band knows this feeling and knows that the only way to get through it is through complete denial. Looking out the window, reading, sleeping--anything but actually talking about the trip or the miles remaining. Something like the "Emperor's New Clothes," once you actually say "My God, we've been in this same metal box since 1am and I'm about to go crazy," it's all over. Mass hysteria breaks out and you read about it in the newspaper the next day. I got lucky and fell asleep until 9am this morning and quickly downed two cups of coffee before diving into the laptop, letting my fingers move on autopilot as I answered letters and wrote this very diary entry. Which is where i am right now as I slowly look up.....and see that we are two hours from Copenhagen. No problem--it's the home stretch and a shower and change of clothes is just around the corner
5.02.03: The road to Stavanger
This is getting crazy. Last night in Bergen we ran into yet one more member of Linda's NYC Rolling Stones cover band (okay, okay, the band is called, uh, the Mike Hunt Band--the proverbial cat is out of its proverbial bag). This time our Guest From Back Home was Mark Spencer and it was a little less surprising as he was playing guitar with Jay Farrar at a blues festival that featured many US acts. Stretching over ten days, the festival had included Neil Young, Robert Plant, Alejandro Escovedo, Richard Buckner and many others. It turned out to be one of my favorite nights of the tour--an incredible dinner (with FOUR, count 'em, FOUR kinds of salmon), a top-notch hotel (complete with fax machine and plush robes--bringing to mind the MTV Becoming Limp Bizket special that had been on earlier in the evening) and finally one of the better shows of the tour. People up front were calling out for some unusual song choices ("Follow Me" "Mandy Breakdown" "Tuesday") and we tried to honor as many requests as possible. Unfortunately, one woman's emphatic plea for "Under the Weather" came moments before the end of the show and too late to be granted within the time remaining so instead I came out after the show and sat down at a table in the audience and played a mini set with that song as well as "Whatever You Please." Ended up being a good pretext for talking with some local music fans and hanging out well into the night.
5.01.03: The road to Bergen
And what a road it is! In most countries, the road between the two largest cities would involve large highways with constant road-stops, billboards, all bulldozed through whatever nature that may have once filled the landscape. Not here--this nine-hour drive is almost entirely on a two-lane highway that never runs in a straight line for more than 20 seconds, winding its way alongside fjords, lakes and high into mountains that are still (in May!) covered with snow and blindingly white as far as you can see. It's a little bit terrifying at times and a further testimony to the stamina and dedication of our tireless driver Thomas.
Some notes from Norway:
Great show at the Mono club in Oslo and another unexpected sighting of Linda's NYC keyboardist Bob Packwood who had previously attended our show in Bilbao (and left without a word). turns out that Bob is on tour with Oh Susanna and they, in fact, were slated to be our opening act in Oslo. Had more of a chance to hang out this time and hanging out was indeed the activity for the evening as we all stayed at the club until it closed sometime after 3am.
The next morning I passed up the opportunity to sleep until noon as I wanted to sample one of the amazing Norwegian breakfasts--herring, sardines and other mystery fish are all personal favorites and not exactly the typical morning fare in any other country so I swapped sleep for food tourism. Turned out to be a beautiful day in Oslo so I took the opportunity to take a stroll around the city. I made my first stop one block from the hotel at the local Free Record Shop, a European chain that caters mostly to mainstream tastes. Some good choices but mostly a limited selection for chart hits and budget items. Looked around, spotted a couple of interesting things and then wandered around the city--strolling down the Karl Johans Gate to the Palace and then back towards the train station and after about 30 minutes of walking found another Free Record Shop. I went inside and found that the store had the same items, stocked in much the same fashion and featuring the same records on display. No surprise, of course, as it is a large record chain and a few minutes later I decided to go back to the hotel, retracing my steps as to avoid getting lost. When I finally got back to the hotel I found the initial Free Record Shop and suddenly realized that there WAS no second record shop--that I had walked in a big circle and ended up back where I started only to make the circle once again. I had been in the same record store at a 30-minute interval and marveled at the uniform stock and layout of the "two" stores. Well, these are the things that come from sleep deprivation and overall disorientation. And I did get some exercise and a chance to see the city so no complaints--and feeling a little dumb is a small price for a good story to tell in the van.
Last night's show in Skien (pronounced "shane" to save you all the embarrassment should you ever include Skien in your travel plans) was a fun, relaxed love-fest. The promoters had wanted to bring me there for a long time and the local fans knew most of my stuff and were incredibly enthusiastic. Dancing, drinking, hugging and questions about my back catalogue was the order of the evening. I'm hoping we have a chance to come back someday--gotta check out all of the Henrik Ibsen related tourist spots (he was born there and held very dearly to the hearts of the city's inhabitants.)
But for now I think I"ll pack up the computer to check out the sights and avoid getting dizzy from the winding roads. Long, winding roads indeed.
4.29.03: Approaching Oslo
Man, that's what happens when you fall asleep in the van--you miss an entire country. I nodded off as we drove off the ferry into Gothenburg and the next thing I knew, we were crossing over the border from Sweden into Norway. My apologies to the fine people of Sweden and I promise to pay more attention when we return next Saturday.
The last two days were a bit of a haze as we slept off the post-Spanish exhaustion. Five days in Spain were followed by a Planes-and-Trains-and-Automobiles journey that led us to Arhus where we played the fantastic Voxhall Club. If you have to travel so hard and so far to get to a gig, it's a blessing to arrive at a club that is as friendly and professional as the Voxhall, which sits on the site of the former Huset where I played so many shows in the 90s. We gathered the last bits of our energy and wits and played a good mixture of oldies and new stuff to an appreciative audience.
And then it was 36 hours of sleep, food, laundry, sleep, shopping, sleep and more food. Carsten and Thomas had the tough task of driving the van and equipment from Barcelona to Arhus and arrived Monday night in time to meet us for dinner, where we were joined by Jason's dad Jack Victor--turns out that Jack is a member of the Society for Baseball Research and was the first (and probably only) person to notice that I quoted 19th Century Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler in "Underneath the Underground" from the new album. Very impressive.
But I think it's time I tear myself away from this computer--who knows what country we'll be in the next time I look out the window.
4.27.03: Spanair Flight 103
We've had a pretty consistent run of visits from US friends in the last week. First it was Jayhawks Mark Pearlman and Gary Louris on consecutive nights in Girona and Madrid. And then it was Bob Packwood, the keyboard player in Linda's Rolling Stones cover band (who shall be recommended but not named) in Bilbao and last night we were joined by our friend Larry Lapping (with his traveling companion Dana) in Barcelona. And now we're flying up to Arhus where we will meet none other than Jason's dad Jack Victor who is making one of his semi-regular tour visits ("Now that I'm retired," he says, "I want to travel around the world and see you play"--what a guy!). I think we need to go into a partnership with a major airline and work out some kind of package deal.
Had an early show in Barcelona--something that almost never happens and I think that a 9:30pm show in Spain could practically be called a matinee. One benefit of the early evening was the chance to hang out at an outdoor cafe called the Berlin Bar, sipping beers with Larry, Dana, Hammi and also Paco Loco and Muni who once again made the trip. It was a beautiful night and had it not been for the reality of the 10am flight, we probably would have hung out until dawn.
An interesting side note--on our drive to Barcelona yesterday, we pulled over to a rest stop for lunch and as we walked in, we heard some single by Avril Lavigne ("I actually like this song," said Dave) and as the song began to fade, the next song played was none other than "What Come After." Kind of surreal to hear yourself on the radio in a rest stop in Spain but not nearly as surreal as when we looked up to the TV screen and saw that it was not actually the radio but our video on Spain's national music channel Sol Musica. Some sidelong glances from the other patrons and kind attention from the people working at the restaurant and we got back on the road feeling pretty good about things. On to Denmark.
4.26.03: Approaching Barcelona
They say that if you can't say something nice about somebody, you shouldn't say anything at all. And I have nothing but nice things to say about my traveling companions even though I don't say enough about them in these daily missives. I don't know--I get bogged down in food description, set list commentary and long, winding rambles about whatever pops into my head. But I think it's time to catch up with the residents of the Big White Van and let you know something from the last 24 hours about each individual. Let's go....
THOMAS--Our marathon man. He has driven nearly every mile of Spanish roads this week (about 400 per day) and still has the energy to handle the madness of the merch booth. Yesterday he told me he was going to go to the hotel to get some rest before the doors opened but instead opted for a cafe around the corner from the club. I'm guessing he found a newspaper and caught up on football news.
CARSTEN--Sitting up front with his bird-watching book and has been spotting storks and eagles on a regular basis. He was pretty excited about the impressive arrays of cakes and pastries at today's breakfast buffet. Carsten likes his sweets. And trains. And birds. And vintage tube amplifiers.
LINDA--The thumb is healing nicely and she bought a nifty little first-aid kit in Madrid and she has fashioned a sporty two-toned bandage effect that will surely catch on amidst the trendiest people in this country by next week. She's writing postcards right now, something I haven't done in years. One more casualty of the internet era.
DAVE--Just got a little freaked out about a current discussion about pancakes. "Okay, that's enough talk about pancakes," he said. Guess he wasn't all that pleased with the pastries today. Dave had a long walk through Bilbao yesterday and it reminded me that I should get out of the club during sound check a little more often. Also drew an impressive caricature of Jason today. Don't think I'd ever seen his drawings before.
HAMMI--Our guest will remain in Barcelona tomorrow after we all leave for Denmark. He plans to see a football match, sit on the beach and celebrate long into each evening before returning to Cologne on Tuesday. He taught me a few words of Basque yesterday which came in handy during the show.
JASON--Our resident vegetarian had a little trouble at the roadstop yesterday when the waiter felt that a mixed salad with just a little bit of tuna would quality as proper for his dietary needs. Upon being corrected, he came back with a proper main course for our guitarist: a GIANT plate of peas. I've never seen such a big plate of peas in my life. Jason took two bites and then went in search of a cheese sandwich at the bar next door.
And me? I just finished the last book by Nick Hornby ("How To Be Good") which was an enjoyable, quick read--amusing, perceptive and the proverbial "page turner." And I was very pleased and inspired by the pre-show music selection of "Marquee Moon" last night. Stood backstage and listened to the title track and could not bring myself to go on stage until the incredible epic was finally over.
Okay, I believe we're all caught up now .
4.25.03: Somewhere in Galicia
Various members of our touring party have taken to quoting lines from my lyrics to illustrate a point or to spice up conversation or sometimes to (gasp!) be funny. Today Jason tossed out an "all the stores have long since shut" and Carsten the other day pointed out that "if it was easy, everybody would do it" not long after consoling me over a perceived flaw in a recent show by saying "nobody's perfect, you know that it's true." All this comes on the heels of a story, one of those Urban Myths that may or not be true but which become true in the constant telling of the myth itself, that Tom Petty once responded to a standoff with a band member by saying "and I WON'T-BACK-DOWN." Me, I would never resort to quoting my own lyrics but I do have to say that after three days on tour in Spain, I found myself thinking this morning "It's gonna be all right" almost like a mantra, repeating the lyric from "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" over and over until I finally believed it. And what's the problem? Not much--the< shows have been great, the cities beautiful, the food incredible (amazing pulpo, aka octopus, last night) and the fans quite nice and enthusiastic. No, the only problem with touring Spain is that the shows begin well after midnight, the post-show festivities are unavoidable (really! they are! I swear that they are!) and the drives are long which means that the 5am bedtime is quickly followed by the 8am wakeup call for the long drive ahead. Whining? Belly-aching? Never--it's not my style. But as we head to Bilbao for tonight's show I begin to wonder the lingering effects that intense sleep deprivation might have on tonight's show. I have a feeling it will be a very good influence (psychedelic, surreal) so I'm not too worried.
After the show in Santiago last night, a fan wondered what I would say in today's diary about the show. Well, it was an amazing night. Brand new club, very friendly people, the aforementioned octopus, crowded room, low ceiling (found myself palming the ceiling on more than one occasion), bartenders eager to fill glasses, good post-show tunes--what's not to love? And now as my mind begins to drift and wander and melt inside my head, it begins to make sense that Dali, the patron saint of surrealism was indeed from this part of the world. How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Fish, of course. Fish.
4.24.03: Approaching Galicia
We're here in Spain in the middle of Football Frenzy. The quarterfinals of the Champions League competition took place this week with Barcelona and Madrid both still in contention, the former playing the night we played in Girona (just outside of Barcelona) and the latter facing Manchester United last night just before our gig in--you guessed it--Madrid. This allowed us the opportunity to soak up the excitement amidst the most ardent fans but it also had the potential to wreak havoc on our gigs as many fans tend to choose watching the match and then getting drunk either in Misery of Defeat or the Ecstasy of Victory. Even our Spanish promoters pretty much told us that we would have to finish our sound check by 8:45 (the start of the match) and shouldn't expect to play before everything was wrapped up at 11:00. This gave us a chance for a leisurely dinner (at La Finca De Susanna--which you all should visit when you come to Madrid), although we were not joined by our two resident football fans--Thomas and also our good friend Hammi (see photo) who joined us from Cologne for the current week of music, food, celebration, football and pretty much everything except sleep. Hammi, by the way, designed the New Look of the very website where you are residing.
Anyway, Real Madrid lost to Manchester United but by a narrow enough margin to allow them to advance to the semifinals against Juventas (Turin). So, the locals were in a happy state and we played to a crowded, enthusiastic room once the match was over. Linda finally had the chance to wear her "Hola Madrid" shirt in the proper city and after the show we hung out with Fran and Paco (and his wife Muni) from Australian Blonde as well as Jayhawks singer Gary Louris who was in town for his gig later this week. Lots of other good friends as well and when we left the club at 3am, the party was still going strong. All smiles, raised glasses and not a single fight so we should be grateful that Real Madrid kept the match close and didn't let down the local fans.
4.23.03: The road to Madrid
I make it a point to never eat at McDonald's when I'm in Europe (maybe twice in 19 years, I'm guessing). Not that big a fan of the stuff and there are so many other options that are better and more interesting. But it's nearly impossible to get ice in Europe and Linda needs the stuff for the medication she keeps in her semi-functioning cooler so we eventually found out that the Golden Arches are the most reliable spot for this precious commodity. McIce! Frozen Water Royale! McCube! Take your pick but we gotta have it so Ronald McDonald gets a regular visit on this tour (see photo--apparently he's a big fan). But You Know You're in Spain When......the McDonald's doesn't even open until 1pm It's really no surprise with the late late nights that are pretty much mandatory here in Spain (we went on stage at midnight) and the laid back morning lifestyle. So we made our way across the parking lot to the more local Self Stop (gotta check out their website at www.stopself.com
--must be great) where we found ice, coffee (but not together, thank you) and sandwiches before hitting the road for the long drive to Madrid.
Wild show last night in San Feleu just north of Barcelona. We got caught in the undertow of the big Barcelona-Turin football (i.e. soccer) match, knowing there was no point to going on stage until the game had been over for at least an hour. Watched the last hour from the restaurant where we had dinner (appetizer: cold cut platter, main course: mixed grill. all meat, all the time!) and when Turin scored the winning goal in overtime, I was pretty sure I'd never heard a room become more silent. Big, big loss, I'm told and it's pretty apparent that the fans who came to the club weren't big sports fans as they seemed pretty happy. And then at the end of the show we had a nice surprise when our friend and Jayhawk's bass player Mark Pearlman surprised us and hung out with us until the end of the night. He was in Barcelona (one hour drive) having a vacation before his band begins their tour later this week. Looked for him at McDonald's this morning but I guess he doesn't like clowns.
And even with a 14-hour drive (from Holland to Spain) we still found time for indigenous food, tourism and star-sighting. How do we do it? Hey, we're professionals--please don't try this without adult supervision.
Seriously (and when am I not?), our star sighting moment came at a French road stop near Nimes where we grabbed some chow and then stopped dead in our tracks as an older man with an unruly afro and resembling an older version of Humpty from Digital Underground walked into the room. Not something you see every day in the South of France and Thomas did a little investigation, coming back to let us know that we had been dining next to none other than Maceo Parker, longtime sax player with James Brown (and, of course, a star in his own right). Drove past his very snazzy double-decker tour bus on the way out of the parking lot but decided not to ask for autographs.
Stopped off at a hotel at the French/Spanish border and we all watched a special on the making of Stevie Wonder's "Songs In the Key of Life," which reminded me that he had done his best work on the four previous albums (from "Music Of My Mind" to "Fulfillingness' First Finale") and that this "landmark" album was actually the first drop-off from the peak years. Nonetheless, we had all been primed by the fine article about Wonder in the last MOJO and were glued to the set.
And then it was time for a new day and a new country and we drove into Spain, choosing to make an immediate detour to Figueres the site of the Salvador Dali museum. Seemed like a great time for a bit of tourism but we were thwarted by the long, long lines and instead chose to prowl the city, look at some of the art around the building and settle into a cafe for some patatas bravas, tortilla de patata and manchego cheese. No celebrities today but we were certainly happy to efficiently combine food and tourism, once again.
4.21.03: Somewhere in France
"This will be the longest drive that isn't insane," Carsten said a few weeks ago before we began an eight hour trip from Vienna to Mantova. Well, today is one of those "insane" drives, a 700-mile journey that will take us from Heythuysen (finally learned the proper spelling) to somewhere near the French/Spanish border. On the other hand, there is no show tonight so we can lose ourselves in various forms of van activity, knowing that the only challenge that lies ahead is the ability to drag our weary, jostled bodies from the vehicle to our hotel room sometime around midnight. So, it's been a day of reading, talking, eating, Discman activity and strolling slack-jawed through various French roadstops, wondering if they really need to put corn in a tunafish sandwich. And as the sun begins to set over Lyon, I am thinking about the bottles of Chianti that we have stashed under the middle seat--the next stop will definitely involve some cheese, a baguette, some mustard and we will transform this Mercedes splitter van into a rolling French bistro. And that little party should take us right to the border.
People wonder how we handle the tedium of long van rides day after day. I guess it drives some people nuts but you learn to enjoy the chance to read all day, check out new tunes, happily lose yourself in conversation that ranges from philosophical to inane, blurring the borders on a regular basis. And then some hybrid of guardian angel and zookeeper tosses you a treat (yesterday in the form of the latest Uncut magazine--with "Amphetamine" as the leadoff track on the free CD) and suddenly you become monkeys, snatching the prized goodie from one another at any opportunity. Dave grabbed the aforementioned magazine (with all the dirt on Fleetwood Mac!) from me at the last rest stop and I'm plotting my recovery mission.
We had one of the tour's best gigs last night at the Tom Tom Club. The show was sold out before the doors opened and we entertained the packed, sweaty attendees with a long, long set complete with various oddities ("Smooth," "Halloween," "For All I Care," "Still Holding On To You," "Candy Machine" and "One By One" all getting their rare moment in the artificial sunlight) and a version of "Coltrane" that devolved into one large, loud roaring drone that sounded something like our last flight from Athens or maybe the construction in the hotel in Brussels. Lots of friends made the scene, proprietress Ine delighted us with pretty authentic Mexican food and her husband Fritz manned the DJ booth, blowing our minds all night with tunes by Radio Birdman, the Modern Lovers, War, Wilco and a song from Paul McCartney's "Ram." It was also our last night with Dave's girlfriend Carol who went back to New Jersey today. But we will raise a toast to her as soon as I put away this laptop and dig under the seat for a bottle of red. Au revoir.
I know I just screwed up the spelling of this town. I'm absolutely sure of it--and yet, I'm about to play my fourth gig at the Tom Tom Club here in, uh, Heythiesen. Or whatever. But here's the deal- I've never even seen the city on any map, the two-minute walk from the hotel to the club pretty much covers the length of the city and once I start typing those vowels, I get a Terets-like compulsion to just type more and more.
Let me try it again:
See? It's not easy. But many touring musicians know this city and the Tom Tom Club as well is its owners Fritz and Ine. A very cool club in Holland, this gig has been a regular stop on many tours and was a favorite for, among others, Townes Van Zandt. Fritz and Ine live in a house behind the bar that doubles as backstage and the dinner table for the hungry bands. Should be a fun gig and I have a feeling that we'll be seeing a lot of our Dutch friends before we head south to Spain tomorrow morning. Full reports coming in 24 hours.
In the meantime, we played a festival last night at the Velinx Club in Tongeren (Belgium). A very interesting and diverse array of bands from various countries. I really liked a band from Denmark called Superheroes (they mixed glam and early 80s new wave in a way that was more interesting than that description would indicate) and we also got to check out Admiral Freebie once again--lots of shifting moods, tempos and super-distorted guitar action that made them our Brothers In Freakdom. And we were treated extremely well by the promoters and organizers of the event--the backstage as filled with various Easter treats including a GIANT Kinder Egg complete with GIANT toy. Dave was given the honor of retrieving and assembling it and it turned out to be a small basketball game that he has mastered by now. And he just walked up to me as I sit typing in this hotel garden here in Hieueitheeeseiun and it seems it's time to go to sound check. Maybe I'll have to ask someone the proper spelling of the town. My fingers are getting tired from all of these vowels.
4.19.03: The road to Tongeren
-Found ourselves in the lobby of our Ostende hotel at noon with three hours before we had to leave for Tongeren and in Road Time this constitutes something akin to a Day Off. We celebrated with a walk through the town square and over to the seaside. A brief look at seagulls, bracing ourselves against the suddenly non Spring-like weather and then settled into a nearby pizzeria for a leisurely lunch and (for me) a Palm beer before dispersing for various last-minute snacks and caffeine before returning to the van. Both Linda and I had the same idea and returned with handfuls of waffles, much more than any one band could eat (though we managed to make them disappear pretty quickly) and now we're back on the road, silent in a mid-afternoon food coma.
The gig at De Zwerver in Leffinge last night was a definite tour highlight. The club is a large, very professional and relatively new and we were sharing the bill with one of the hottest new acts in Belgium--a very cool three-piece called Admiral Freebie. Nice guys, great band and my hunch that they are fans of my friend Howe Gelb was confirmed after the show during a conversation with the lead singer Tom. You gotta love a country that could a band that is so reminiscent of Giant Sand (among other things) at the top of the charts. Anyway, we met the challenge of following the band's performance with a wild set of our own--turning up the heat for Spirit of '77 punk rock versions of "Why" and "Then She Remembers." Hung out after the show with many friends including my pal Jan--a longtime fixture at our Belgium shows and a successful performer in his own right. He is a well-known standup comic who performs his entire show in a Flintstone-like caveman uniform. I have a feeling he's pretty funny and I'd like to see his show someday even though I probably wouldn't understand anything. But after a few of those fine Belgium beers I might find myself laughing along with the jokes anyway.
4.18.03: Another short drive in Belgium
-Dave, Jason and I pulled up three wooden chairs, formed a circle, plugged guitars into amplifiers and began a two-hour recording session for Radio Cucamonga (Belgium Radio One) in the luxurious National Radio recording studios. An incredible studio--larger, cleaner, more high-tech and filled with more topnotch gear than most studios in which any of had been before. We all agreed that it would have been nice to have camped out for, say, 36 consecutive hours, pounded many cups of coffee and blown out the next album by the time we had to move on to the next show. Why not, right? That is indeed the way records were made in the not-too-distant past--you squeezed in some studio time between gigs and then hit the road. Before my time, of course, but this is what I've read. Anyway, we only had two hours before we had to pick up Linda (getting further treatment for her thumb) and drove to the next gig in Ostende. So, we tuned up, got our sounds and proceeded to play a dozen songs, mostly from the last album and mostly in the semi-acoustic, semi-electric mode we had developed in Linda's absence last week. I particularly dug the reworked versions of "Down" and "California Style" as well as a ramshackle version of Bob Dylan's "Honest With Me" and I wouldn't be surprised to find some of these tunes on a b-side (of a CD? not technically possible, I thought) or compilation someday.
The night before we continued our Return To The Rock fully electric four-piece, eight-handed show that began this very tour. It was our second gig at The Botanique and a large, enthusiastic crowd was there to see us celebrate our good health with over two hours of songs including "Shelley's Blues, Part Two," "Still Holding On To You," and a very aggressive, edgy version of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues." And all of this was witnessed by Dave's girlfriend Carol who will be joining us for the next four days.
There's the story of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne asking his team to "win one for the gipper." And then there's Babe Ruth promising to hit a home run for a dying kid in the hospital and then hitting TWO. How about Grover Cleveland Alexander suffering the Mother of all Hangovers and then coming in to strike out the last batter in a world series game in 1926? Well, you can add to those Profiles In Courage the moment before sound check yesterday in Utrecht when Linda said "I'm ready to play" and beat all forecast and predictions by insisting on getting behind the drum kit for the entire show, five days ahead of schedule. And not only the one-handed novelty drumming act of the previous three shows but actual two-handed Never-Mind-the-Thumbsplint-Here's-the-Rocking-Drummer Linda Pitmon monster drumming of old. I had my doubts and worries and was ready for her to change her mind or bail on the comeback attempt at some point in the show but Our Drummer came through in fine style and brought us back to the same pounding rock form that began this tour a few weeks ago. She finally did bow out before the last song of the set, her bandages and splint coming apart but went backstage, taped everything up again and finished the show with a tough version of 'Days of Wine and Roses.' A heroic effort and I hear that several Hollywood movie studios are already bidding for the rights to the film version. I wonder which actor they'll get to play me.
4.16.03: The road to Utrecht
-Nobody's really going to complain about short drives, right? I mean, a short drive to the next gig/hotel means more time to sleep, wash clothes, play guitar, check out the town.....much better use of one's day than sitting inside the van and watching the miles roll by (though I am a big fan of checking out the rolling window landscape movie scenes). But there is one problem with short drives--not enough time to write tour diary entries (I try to limit my computer typing exercises to when I'm inside the van). Like this one. so I guess that with only one hour between Leiden and Utrecht I'll have to limit it to brief gig comments (short set but more drumming from Linda) and food (those crazy junk food dispensers that are all the rage in Holland--mystery meat! challenged cheese! deep fried something-or-other) and random observations (we sure are seeing a lot of ducks and geese on this tour). But that's it. Okay, I will express my excitement about the five-CD collection of 60's Dutch garage music that my local distributor Robbie gave to me before the show (thanks, Robbie). Lots of bands I know--Q65, Shocking Blue, Cuby and the Blizzards, George Baker Selection, the Tee Set, the Outsiders--but many that I've never heard as well. So, I figure I'm going to settle in to my hotel room, put on one of the discs, unwrap a Mystery Snack and have a serious Dutch afternoon. And then I'll send off this diary entry and put the computer away.
4.15.03: Leaving Brussels Airport
And now we're back in the van, digging into the candy bag and on our way to our show in Leiden (Holland)--just like we'd never left. But, of course, we did leave the van for three days and there are many things to recount since the last diary entry. Let's see.....
There was the Sesto Calende train station, where we waited late Friday afternoon for the arrival of Linda. She stepped off the train at 6:30pm, one hand holding a new German travel bag and the other hand bearing a bandaged thumb. The band was back to 100% but, sadly, our drummer won't be up to full capacity until sometime next week. Nonetheless, she joined us on percussion and backing vocals and even some stunning one-handed drumming (watch out Def Leppard) on a few of the songs. The evening ended with Peter Case (once again on the bill with us) reprising his 'Live At Raji's' role as guest harmonica player on "John Coltrane Stereo Blues." Man, he's a great harp player and he told me a played an F# harmonica on the E-major song to achieve actual Coltrane-like scales. Which seemed just about right though he also did a fine job of approximating the sounds of whales during mating season--and Lord knows, I mean that in a good way.
The next morning Thomas took us to the airport for our flight to Athens. We stepped onto the plane on a cold, rainy Italian morning and landed in a tropical, sunny Greek afternoon and Spring had finally begun for the Static Transmission tour. Checked out the new local venue, the Gagarin Club, which seems pretty incredible and could very well be the site of many of my future Athens show. Settled in for our first Greek meal, most of which consisted of many impossibly delicious plates of food laid across the table to be shared family style, a dream situation for food lovers and indecisive people alike. Back to the club to catch out our opening acts Yesterday's Thoughts (cool Greek garage band with Farfisa organ front and center) and The Nomads (classic Swedish garage band who had a minor hit with a version of my song "Smooth." great band, great guys). And then we had the task of following two bands of intense and loud garage music with our scaled down acoustic/electric/percussion/one-handed drumming revue and in front of our biggest audience of the tour, about 700 eager Saturday night revelers, all ready for action and excitement. It could have been akin to being thrown to the lions but the audience was silent, loving, generous and it ended up being one of the best shows of the tour. We played until about 2:30 in the morning and then returned to our hotel for an all-night party (soundtrack provided by the astounding local radio station Rock FM--check them out at www.rockfm.gr) with the aforementioned Nomads, the singer from Madrugada and our friends Emilios and Tassoula from our Greek label. Man, it's generally a big mistake to party with anybody from Scandinavia but we survived and somehow felt okay the next day.
Sunday began two days off in Athens and rather than sleeping or sightseeing or taking a boat to the nearest island, I ended up being booked as guest vocalist for two different recording sessions. The first was on Sunday with a band called Sigmatropic who is doing a record of the haikus of Nobel-prize winning Greek writer George Sefaris set to music. They've already had contributions from Robert Wyatt, Alejandro Escovedo, Howe Gelb, Latecia from Stereolab and Carla from the Walkabouts and they asked me contribute my interpretation of a haiku called "The Jasmine." Got it on the first take which, of course, gave everyone that much more time for dinner and more late-night conversation. The following day I was in the studio with Pyx Lax, the biggest band in Greek history. They're doing a record of international artists (including Eric Burdon and Gordon Gano, among others) singing English-language versions of their songs. I sang a beautiful, haunting song called "Sell Me" while the song's original writer (and one of the lead singers of the band) Manos Xydous (pictured above with me following the session) watched on approvingly. The session finished about 9pm and members of Pyx Lax joined me and my band as well as other local pals (hello to Nana, Costas, Nasos, Laura, Costas--again--and a few I may have missed) in Manos' favorite tavern for an one of the best meals I've ever had. About 25 of us sitting at one long table covered with plate after plate of incredible food, red wine and cheers being made and world problems being solved long into the night. As always, Greece was an incredible combination of relaxed, leisurely pace and debilitating marathon celebrations. So, it's somewhat of a blessing that we will be spending a week in Holland and Belgium where the drives are short and the nights are relatively early. This is a marathon, after all, and we're just at the midway point. Hang on tight.
4.11.03: The road to Sesto Calende
Carsten just recommended that I close my laptop and take in the view. And he's right--today's panorama of Italian coastline and castles and small villages and finally the hustle bustle jam-packed city of Genoa has provided one thrill after another. And I swear that I do indeed take mental snapshots between every other sentence, grateful that I took those typing classes when I was young and learned to click away at a keyboard while my eyes (and often thoughts) are elsewhere. So I look up. Like right now (green fields and tall trees). And I look up again (other cars! and Carsten is typing! I'll have to give him a hard time now). Linda joins us today, bandaged and ready for one-handed percussion duties as well as some fancy harmony singing. She still has another week to go before she can drum again so we'll continue our semi-acoustic/semi-electric shows for a little while longer.
4.10.03: Somewhere on the Austostrade
The legend and stories of my 13-year history with the Big Mama club has been documented many times during these series of tour diaries. I'll mention once again that I have played this intimate basement gig more times than any other club in the world. Some of the runners-up, for those of you who might be curious
MERCURY LOUNGE--New York City
TT THE BEAR'S--Cambridge, Mass
930 (old version)--Washington DC
I think I have played each of these clubs over ten times but my visits to Big Mama stretch at this point into the twenties (I've lost count). Never played any other club in Rome--wouldn't dream of it and I would love to do a week-long residency there sometime but for now it was one wild night on the Static-Transmission-Tour of 2003. The room was packed with enthusiastic fans, shouting out requests (most of them granted) and we played about 30 songs over the course of two sets and three hours.
And all of this was witnessed by none other than WynnWeb founder/curator Thomas Mejer Hansen and his wife Jannie who were kicking off their first visit to Italy with a visit to Big Mama along with a killer Italian dinner (at Da Paolo, right down the street from the club--check it out on your next trip to Rome). We all had breakfast together the following morning and then we continued on up the road to Sarzana. Right now, Thomas and Jannie are hopefully enjoying a great weekend in Rome and maybe he'll even give his own special Rome Report (how 'bout it Thomas?).
4.09.03: Approaching Rome
Days like yesterday are when everything becomes a little surreal. I remember being 19 years old and seeing an LA band called The Plimsouls play their first shows. Great band--their mixture of punk and new wave and Mersey Beat blew me away--and in the ensuing years I became friends with the band's lead singer Peter Case. There were many late nights at his Laurel Canyon apartment in the mid-eighties, Peter and his then-wife Victoria Williams and I cooking rice and beans, drinking tequila, writing (and usually forgetting) songs and telling stories long into the night. I had only seen him a few nights since I moved to New York in 1994 but our paths crossed again last night in Mantova, Italy where we shared a bill in a beautiful, 17th Century theater (in which, we were told, Mozart had once performed) and had a little bit of time to catch up, trade a few anecdotes and check out moments of each other's sets between trips to the local restaurant (food critic's note--if you're ever in Mantova, you've got to try the pumpkin ravioli--it's the local dish of choice) and our eventual return to the hotel. No time for rice, beans, tequila or co-writing as The Road has a way of cruelly compressing and expanding time in the most inconvenient of ways but it was good to see him and add yet one more memory to the collection. We're playing together again on Friday in Cesto Calende and I'm hoping we can get together for a song or two at the end of the night.
The show itself was fun and continued our ad-hoc discovery of the acoustic/electric trio format, the highlight of which was a blistering version of 'Days of Wine and Roses' which belied both the seemingly folk lineup (beware the electricity in the hands of Jason Victor) and the ghost of Mozart that hung in the air of the elegant surroundings. We all agreed that we would have felt guilty if we would have brought down the building with the rumble and burst of feedback and distortion but these are the chances you have to take, right?
4.08.03: Crossing into Italy
And the Linda-less phase of the tour goes into Day 2 with the news that she won't be joining us until Thursday or Friday and won't be able to drum until sometime next week (though percussion and vocals are in the card as soon as she returns). An absolute, 100%, No-Doubt-About-It drag but I'm glad to say that she's recuperating and doing fine. In the meantime, we quickly adapted to the reduced ranks, volume and backline last night at the B72 in Vienna and I fell into the "Look Ma, No Set List" mode of my acoustic shows, choosing spontaneity and crowd response as the antidote to the tour calamity. Worked pretty well and with Jason on electric guitar, Dave on bass and myself on acoustic guitar, we managed to run the gamut from spooky understatement to pretty frenzied, psychedelic rock. 18 strings and some pedals, man--you've got to do what you can do. Two hours and 23 songs (including an impromptu version of Richard Thompson's "The Wall of Death") later, we found our way back to the bar and felt satisfied that we had overcome a difficult situation with a show that made everybody happy.
And so, we have gone from tight rocking four-piece to the fleshed-out keyboard laden five-piece and now onto a semi-acoustic-yet-rocking trio in the course of three weeks and will shift over to a semi-acoustic-yet-rocking-with-percussion quartet later in the week only to shift back into revived and rocking four-piece sometime this week as we hit only the halfway mark of the journey. That's one of the things about touring that keeps everything interesting--whether it's a broken amp or van, a standstill traffic jam, bad weather or, far worse, the injury to one of our ranks--a member of our Road Family--we still have to keep on going and find our way to the next stage. Yes, it's a cliche but the show MUST go on.
4.07.03: The Road To Vienna
And our ranks have severely dropped. Chris played his last show (until the UK dates) with us and has returned home to Karlsruhe. This was planned and we are holding his keyboard, amplifier and discman speakers hostage until he returns in early May. Unexpected, however, was Linda developing a thumb infection and having to remain in Munich where she will have to receive further treatment and then meet up with us tomorrow in Mantova. Quite a shocker and, believe me, it takes a lot to sideline our drummer--in our seven years of playing together she has never missed a gig on any tour. So, we find ourselves in the van and thinking of ideas and plans and song lists and instrument choices for our gig tonight in Vienna.
And how will this all turn out? Well, unfortunately we'll have to hold you all in suspense for a few days as the keeper and curator of this very website, Thomas Mejer Hansen, will be meeting us in Rome on Wednesday for a few days of vacation and music and pasta. I'll keep typing up the daily news from the Big White Van but you'll have to wait until next week for the stories and updates.
4.06.03: 20 Kilometers From Munich
As we packed the last of the equipment into the van last night, Thomas looked at me and said "I know a great place where you can get an American-style breakfast. It's only one hour from here and on the way to Munich." Say no more, Thomas, we're there. Now you have to understand that when we're home we don't normally eat what would be known as the 'typical American breakfast.' You won't find three eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, biscuits, gravy, hash browns and toast on the Every Day Morristown Morning Platter at Dave DeCastro's house, for instance, but after a few weeks on the road there is something comforting about "What You Know" and we did indeed feel a minor rush of delight as we pulled into Lara's American Diner--seemed to be the real deal: red vinyl booths, counter with stools, jukebox, American sports memorabilia, Route 66 highway markers. Everyone settled into various forms of once-removed Americana edible delights--a burger here, sunny-side up eggs over there, actual Heinz ketchup and even free refills on the coffee. Now, if we can find a place that serves a 'typical MEXICAN breakfast' we'll be in hog (or chorizo) heaven.
A series of goodbyes began last night as we saw Blue Rose kingpin Edgar Heckmann and his wonderful wife Beate (more candy! more cookies! thanks, Beate) for the last time this tour. They made the trek from Heilbronn to our gig in Geislingen where we also got to hang out with other pals like Steffen, Severin (from Coffee in Duluth, a band that Chris recently produced) and our friends/promoters Fride and Rosaria who were joined by their twin sons Flavio and Fabrizio who perform with Barbara Manning as the Go-Luckys. One of those shows that seems more like a party at which we are the house band than an actual 'gig.' We played what I'm pretty sure was the best version of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" that I've played in years (the tapes will tell the tale and there were certainly several tape recorders rolling last night). Now, we're on our way to Munich, our last show with Chris until we finish the tour in the UK. I'm predicting a wild, frenzied night of rock, if for no other reason, to work off that Big American Breakfast.
4.05.03: The road to Gieslingen
Just spent a few days in Austin last month and had the chance to hang out with my hildhood pal Keith Sennikoff. We met when we were seven years old and spent the following seven years together, listening to music, joining the Creedence Clearwater Revival fan club, enthusing over John Lennon's "In His Own Write," seeking out freaky music--things that budding music junkies would have been doing as the sixties blended into the seventies. We lost track as we hit high school and didn't meet up again until I played a show in Austin in the early nineties and then lost touch again until I returned to South By Southwest this year. It was great--we caught up and it turns out that our lives have followed some parallel courses--he became a hotshot blues (and now jazz) guitarist and spent much of the last ten years touring around Europe. So, we most certainly had a lot in common and he gave me some interesting tips on guitar pedals, amps and gigs in France. Great kid back then, great guy now.
Anyway, I bring this up because he has become a regular reader of these tour diaries (Hi, Keith) and gave me a bit of a hard time over the (mostly) G-rated tone of the road tales--guess he and his bandmates had some wild times on the road (who hasn't?) and he was disappointed to find so little evidence of the same on this Miracle 3 tour diary. Hey, we most certainly get up to some mischief these days but I tend to leave most of the tabloid stuff to your imagination (which works to our advantage, I'd say and guarantees more sleep in the long run). But at the end of the night yesterday in Regensburg we were piling all of our unused drink tickets on the backstage table, bemoaning the lack of WATER. (Water! Water! My whiskey kingdom for a glass of water!) And then I began to think, "Hey, maybe these ARE kinder, gentler, more moderate days. Sometimes. There is after all a choice of ways to live at this point:
Think about it. And allow me the third choice, if you will. And I'll leave the rest of to your already-taxed imagination, thank you very much.
4.04.03: The road to Regensburgh
I'm sick. And I never ever get sick, especially on the road. Whenever I feel a sniffle or sore throat or cough begin to surface I just stare it down as though I were Clint Eastwood and wait for the germs to scamper into the hills. Usually works, too. And then there's the 'Unfit Host' syndrome where junk food, lack of sleep, shots of whiskey, two hours of sweaty, exhausting rock shows and bags of chocolate provide an environment that would kill even the strongest virus, leaving the body in a Nietzchian "What-Doesn't-Kill-Me-Makes-Me-Stronger" survival mode. Yeah, all of that usually does the trick but somehow one pesky, crafty little germ lodged itself inside me and I've been fighting a runny nose and sneezes for the last 48 hours. But adrenaline is a wondrous thing and even though I was burying my head in tissues until the moment I walked on stage last night in Heilbronn, I left any evidence of the cold backstage and managed to batter myself and my music for over two hours before returning to the backstage again and the sniffles and sneezes once again staking their claim. Yeah, not only did I manage to ditch the illness and its symptoms but we also rose to the occasion of playing a good gig that was being taped on a 24-track recorder for possible future release. Could very well be a very good live recording though you may want to wash your hands and take plenty of Vitamin C after listening.
Sitting here in this Nurnburg hotel room and waiting for our luxurious noon checkout (thanks to the EuroAgent Chris Jaeker for keeping the drives relatively short on this tour so far). Surrounded by various distractions--a book that is just a few chapters away from being finished, the latest CDs by the White Stripes and my old friends the Bangles, both of which I bought yesterday here in town, the crumpled remnants of yesterday's Herard Tribune and my Telecaster which is calling out to be strummed, promising to deliver some interesting new tune to be played in the next town. But, dear readers, I choose instead to grab this laptop and give the latest installment in the Traveling Tour Diary and Road Almanac. Had what very well may be the best show of our tour last night at the K4 Club in Nurnburg--the band finding that perfect blend of razor-sharp tightness and devil-may-care looseness, alternately pounding and caressing a very responsive audience. Here's what we played:
STRANGE NEW WORLD - CALIFORNIA STYLE - THE AMBASSADOR OF SOUL - SUSTAIN - BLACKOUT - MAYBE TOMORROW - ONE LESS SHINING STAR - DEATH VALLEY RAIN
BOSTON - BABY WE ALL GOTTA GO DOWN - MY OLD HAUNTS - IF IT WAS EASY (EVERYBODY WOULD DO IT) - ANTHEM - NOTHING BUT THE SHELL - GOOD AND BAD - THE SIDE I'LL NEVER SHOW - AMPHETAMINE
THEN SHE REMEMBERS- HONEST WITH ME - CAROLYN
THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES
JOHN COLTRANE STEREO BLUES
4.01.03: Leaving Salzburg
And oh how I hate to type those last two words. Salzburg is an absolutely beautiful city and we were lucky enough to have the first 50% of a day off to enjoy its charms. An actual tourist day is something very rare in the midst of a tour like this (48 shows in 56 days, I believe) and we all scattered to various directions of the city, finally meeting up in the graveyard where Mozart's wife is buried, comparing various stories of snacks, shopping, hiking and gawking while the dead listened on with vague interest. "Been there, done that," I'm sure they were saying though I don't think that Wolfgang or the missus ever imagined ragged, sweaty rock bands playing at the base of the mountain at a place called the Rock House though I bet he would have loved our version of Leonard Cohen's "Tower Of Song." Yes, I"m sure he would have dug it.
But we've left Austria, the hills are no longer aside with the sound of music, both Lady Mozart and the aural remnants of hyped up Cohen have been left behind and we're on our way to a night off in Nurnburg. The back seat contingent is discussing Styx for some reason that I can't fathom (Chris just belted out a few lines of "Mr Roboto"--things are getting interesting), the sun is settling over the valley and I ponder the collection of interesting cheeses that we picked up this morning for another night-off hotel room party tonight. We'll be bringing a little bit of Salzburg to Nurnburg, the kind of international relations that touring can achieve so easily. Diplomacy is best achieved through loud music, chocolate, potent beer and, uh, old Styx albums. I'm absolutely sure of it.
3.31.03: The road to Salzburg
Can't say I've ever been much of a Grateful Dead aficionado--I mean, I LOVE "American Beauty" (a great album from start to finish) and like enough other tunes to fill one mix-CD but that's not enough to place myself at even the entry level of Dead-fans. So, I'd have to say that the biggest influence I've taken on from the Dead is my encouragement for fans to tape the shows whenever they'd like. I would drive past tour managers crazy with this attitude as a blinking Record-light in the midst of a crowd usually provokes a knee-jerk reaction of instantaneous crowd-diving and tape-snatching. It's genetic, embedded in the genetic code for tour managers to nip bootleggers in the proverbial bud. Not on my tours, baby. Tape tape tape away--it's okay with me. And Frankfurt seems to be one of the key spots for Gig-Documentation fanatics. Chris said to me after the show "I think I saw somebody out there who wasn't taping the show" and that wasn't entirely a joke. Thankfully we played one of the best sets of the tour last night, full of punk rock frenzy, tightrope-walking improvisation and even a few just-for-the-tapers rarities--a semi-acoustic version of 'Charity' (by request of Helmut, who needed only this song to complete his various-gig sequenced LIVE version of 'Here Come the Miracles') and a first-ever attempt of Bob Dylan's "Honest With Me" which featured the acoustic guitar locomotion of our friend Duane Jarvis (brother of my old drummer Kevin) who was in town for a tour that was starting the next day. Very cool gig and I'm guessing you won't find it that hard to track down a copy of the show.
So-when do I write these tour diary entries, I hear all of you ask. Wait, you're not asking? Well, I'll tell you anyway. Usually I type these from the middle bench of our big white Ambassador of Soul, Love and Goodwill touring vehicle. Some drives are pretty long and some are mercifully short but there is usually time to tell some kind of Road Story amidst book reading, chatting, napping, headphone immersion and chocolate rummaging. Today is a different story as I race against the clock, the van heading rapidly into Frankfurt where we will play tonight's show at the Sinkasten. Don't know what happened--mostly I got lost in Richard Price's latest book 'Samaritan,' which I am digging mightily. He's a great writer and I had previously loved his 'Bloodbrothers' and 'The Wanderers' (though I was less crazy about his more famous 'Clockers.'). Completely engrossing and hard to put the book down and, my dear daily downloaders, you have been shortchanged by his wordy web (okay, okay, I'll stop the alliterations--a holdover from my sportswriting days). But really I place most of the blame on Daylight's Savings Time which began today here in Europe. At 2am last night, we just tossed 60 precious minutes out the window and chose to call it THREE AM! Just like that! Man, I wanted that hour. That hour was MINE. And now it's gone. And I can see the hotel rapidly approaching so I won't be able to tell you about last night's gig--a mixture of steam and seduction that ended with a freaky version of 'John Coltrane Stereo Blues,' Chris and Jason dueling on various digital-delayed animal sounds. How DO they do it? On the other hand, maybe I can dig into those fine digital delay boxes and find a way to hit some kind of anti-delay setting that just might give me that hour back.
3.29.03: Leaving Cologne
LEAVING COLOGNE--Our tour manager Carsten Eckermann is a throwback from another era. He loves trains. He enjoys taking apart old amplifiers, seeing what makes them tick and then putting them back together in better shape than they had been since they had been blasting out surf music in 1964 (my Vibroverb, for example, is once again in peak condition and I couldn't be happier). And yesterday we played a show in Cologne, the city that Carsten calls home and we were able to see two of his Carsten-esque modes of local transportation. First it was his 1968 motorcycle WITH sidecar that was the mode of travel for him and Chris after the show (see photo) and then this morning he picked me up on his tandem bicycle (built for two, as HAL would sing in 2001; A Space Odyssey) for some local errands. Had never been on the back of a tandem bicycle but I was told that the secret to riding in the back of such a contraption is to be passive, do nothing, to be, as Carsten said, "a sack of potatoes." Well, as unflattering as the instruction may have been, it also made sense and so I was given the back-of-the-bicycle tour of Cologne and suddenly it feels very space age to be in the back of a Big Modern White Van.
Last night's show was a frenzied, cathartic freaked-out rock show--the kind that makes you drenched, exhausted and dizzy but also feels great in that wonderful sensation of having broken through some kind of emotional and sonic wall. cleansed and trashed at the same time. Went back to the home of our good friend (and regular tour diary guest) Hammi who presented after-show libations and put us all into a deep sleep. So deep, in fact, that we slept late and missed our chance to go to the Saturn Record store, one of my favorite shops in the world. Oh well--more record stores (and adventures) lie ahead.
3.28.03: Approaching Cologne
Maturity. It can manifest itself in so many ways but I am going to point to a second consecutive day of eating lunch at the salad bar as the biggest display of self-preservation in my 20 years of touring. Okay, okay--a bit of an exaggeration but when faced with several varieties of Wurst (Bock! Brat! Curry!) along with schnitzel and fried potatoes and goulaschsuppe and.....well, you get the picture. Avoided the tasty assortment of fruit (shown above) since it was, well, decoration. Glad they pointed that out. Anyway, I felt so good about the restraint and discipline that I jumped back into the van and grabbed a Snickers bar from the never-ending bag of sweets. Hey, let's not go overboard with this health stuff, right?
Last night's show at the Tonenburg in Hoxter was one of the best of the tour so far. An old barn (maybe 16th Century?) set deep in the countryside, far from any major city and somehow a large group of fans found their way to the seemingly remote setting. An enthusiastic crowd makes for an enthusiastic show and that is precisely what happened--frenzied, rowdy versions of the rockers giving way to spooky, delicate treatments of the ballads all culminating in a freak-show rendition of 'Coltrane' that found me and Chris switching instruments, me ham-fisted pounding on the Korg, Chris laying into every overdrive pedal and attacking each of the six strings with a frenzy. Cocktails after the performance with our good friends (ah, that sounds so dignified--more of the aforementioned maturity? nah, just a euphemism for Beers with da locals) and then a good night's sleep with the silence and calm that is the antithesis to, for example, New York City. But barns give way to the van which gives way to the autobahn which gives way to Cologne and that's where we'll be as soon as we find our way out of this Friday-afternoon traffic jam.
3.27.03: The road to Hoxter
Changes in the van today? Well, we have one extra passenger and one big, filled-to-the-brim bag of candy. The former is, of course, our permanent 'special guest' Chris Cacavas who joined us last night in Neustadt and who will be holding down keyboard duties for the next ten days. The latter came courtesy of Beate, the wife of Mr Blue Rose, himself--Edgar Heckmann. She knows we like our sweets (Linda is particularly fond of gummi-esque candies) and presented a bag filled to the types of extremes I hadn't seen since parading around my neighborhood in a grotesque Richard Nixon mask, one Halloween night in 1972. We've all dug deep in the well of sugar delights and will likely dig and dig again before the drive was over.
It was indeed nice to have Chris in our ranks--his playing on 'Here Come the Miracles' and 'Static Transmission' is an essential key to what makes those albums tick and the machine was ticking happily last night. Played a rousing version of the Dream Syndicate's "The Side I'll Never Show" which brought me back to 1987 when the song was brand new and Chris was playing nearly every show with the Syndicate. I'm always amazed when musicians can remember a song they may not have played in over a decade--I can do that with my songs but not usually with other people's material .
Stopped off at an autobahn roadstop and faced with some incredible looking Bratwurst, opted instead for the salad bar, showing a never-seen-before discipline. What can be happening here? A lust for good health and clean living that cuts against the grain of past road experiences? Maybe, maybe not--either way it's a cause for celebration. Hey, pass that bag of chocolate to me!
3.26.03: The road to Neustadt
This is what happens when you combine six people, one van and bags and bags of chocolate. About sixty minutes of intense chatter (lots of re-creation of various 'Seinfeld' plots), wrappers strewn about and then finally a simultaneous, multiple Sugar Crash and now the van is eerily silent, various band members lost in sleep or haze or, in the case of Dave, immersion in a Roky Erikson CD which is certainly something and more dreamlike than any dream-state. Roky Erikson! There is a well-traded radio interview tape of Roky from KSAN in San Francisco that was recorded in 1977 and is one of my favorite bits of sonic pleasure ever. A little disturbing and voyeuristic as it gives a pretty stark glimpse into a troubled mind but he is also incredibly hilarious and gives enough non-sequiters and catch phrases to fuel months of inside jokes and spontaneous routines. Find it if you can.
Speaking of San Francisco, I've always liked the idea that the last Dream Syndicate show was in the same city as the last shows by The Beatles and The Sex Pistols. Such things appeal to the rock and roll fan in me and my strongest memory of that gig was ripping every string from my guitar on the last song. It's a strong image, an exciting feeling and a little tough on the fingers. But the downside is that you're left holding a piece of wood and pretty much unable to do much with it. I've repeated this little bit of Tantrum Showmanship a few times over the years and did it again last night in Halle. No particular reason--the show was great. the audience (in a new city for me) was attentive and appreciative. But sometimes in the midst of a long tour you just have those momentary meltdowns for no particular reason and this was the night for mine. Carsten seemed a little worried/frightened but I was all smiles after the show and told him he would have seen a LOT more of this kind of stuff had he been around the Dream Syndicate in the 80s. Enough stories THERE to fill one very frightening book and--you know what?--someday i just may do that.
Chris Cacavas joins us tonight and will stay on the road for the next ten shows. He lives in Germany these days and the combination of family life and his own solo career means that he sadly can't tour with me all the time but he will be around for about 25% of this tour and it will be fun to more accurately reproduce the last two albums (both of which strongly bear his mark). Also, he's a great friend, funny guy and one hell of a breakdancer. Hmmm.....maybe there will be enough stories for that book just in the next ten days. Stay tuned!
It's 5am here in Dresden and I am truly the last one standing--or at least slouching as the Academy Awards lead into the final hour. We all began at 1am, watching the German telecast of the pre-awards hype, Carsten giving us the interpreted play-by-play lowdown. Surrounded by cookies and chips and salsa and the Polish vodka brought by some of our favorite fans a few days ago (hope you guys got home safely), we came up with the idea to drink a shot every time that Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein's name was mentioned. That may indeed be the reason why the others have faded away. Me, I'll be around until the sun rises (the awards should end around 6am) as awards shows are pretty much my biggest fetish and this is the Mother of All Awards Shows.
some observations/highlights from room 108 of the Dresden Hotel Mercure:
--What's up with Sean Connery's accent? He gets closer to the Saturday Night Live parody each year. Could this guy have ever actually have been James Bond?
--When John Travolta's name was mentioned, Linda quickly asked for wagers if he would be fat or skinny. I bet 'fat' and she suggested 'thin' and she turned out to be correct though he eerily resembled Steven Segal.
--Jason was really excited by the award presented to Chris Cooper for Best Supporting Actor as our guitar whiz kid is a big fan of the movies of John Sayles
--We all dig Paul Simon without the rug.
and now that everyone is asleep and I'm left watching the cavalcade of glitz and hype I can say that I'm glad that Eminem won (and strangely impressed that he didn't show up), was left somewhat weepy by Adrian Brody's speech and feel that Michael Moore is a great American hero. Freedom of speech is something to be treasured and most certainly exercised whenever possible.
Even in tour diaries.....
3.23.03: Leaving Bramsche
Ah, but the birthday celebration got even better. Dave's week-long search for internet access finally came through at the Alte Webschule (club) where I also took the opportunity to check out the website for the first time in a few weeks--nice job, Thomas. It's looking great and nice to see some of you writing reports about the shows you've seen--even nicer to know that you've been digging the early stages of the tour. anyway, internet access gave way to a rousing sound check (though good sound checks often set the stage for a sub-par gig--one of those minor superstitions) and then, yes, more local food. Seems like potato pancakes are the big thing in this area though I opted for some carpaccio--thin, barely existent and good for the show which followed soon after we left the restaurant. The Good Soundcheck superstition proved to be untrue as we ripped through an almost-giddy set that included versions of "Shelley's Blues, Pt 2," "Fond Farewell," "Tuesday," and "Carolyn." Retired to our backstage area for several hours of billiards and foosball with our friends Rolf and Nicole (who gave Dave the little stuffed gift in the photo). Oh, and all of this was fueled by the inexplicable local taste sensation CAB. What is CAB, you ask? Seems that this local bottled delight is none other than a bizarre mix of COLA AND BEER (hence the acronym). Yeah, we had to try it but only Linda was able to make it through an entire bottle even though she accurately described it as tasting like a fine blend of cola and dirt. CAB! That is one of the great things about touring. There's something new to experience every day.
3.22.03: Somewhere in Germany
It's Dave's birthday and so far we've marked the event with a visit to what apparently is the biggest music store in Germany, a
GIANT emporium called Music Productiv. Huge, I tell you, HUGE. You walk into one room filled with sitars and then into another room filled with congas and then another room filled with.....well, you get the picture. One of those places that just throws you into a near-epileptic state and negates any possibility of being a good consumer--you never even get the chance to focus on one item and, instead, walk out the store muttering to yourself and dodging the men in the white suits and butterfly nets. More appealing for
our birthday bass boy was the stop at a quaint little local restaurant for a leisurely lunch and I think Dave was quite enamored with his potato pancakes and I shoveled a good portion of my onion-covered schnitzel onto his plate (hey, it's the guy's birthday, after all). Had time to swap road stories (which is what you do on the road, after all--"hey, remember that time on the road that we were remembering that time that we remembered that time on the road?), eat good home-cooked food and get to know the new member of our touring party, driver/merch superstar Thomas Lingstaedt. And what lies ahead today for Dave? Well, a gig in Bramsche and maybe MORE FOOD. Birthdays on the road--did I ever tell you about the time I had a birthday on the road? well......oh, maybe I'll tell you later.
3.19.03: The road to Groningen
And here we are again. Big white van, yellow ceramic giraffe on the dashboard, musicians in the back and crew up front--yep, it truly seems like we are back on tour. Can I set the stage? In the back row is the sleeping guitarist Jason Victor and to his right is the surprisingly peppy bassist Dave DeCastro. In the middle row to my left is drummer Linda Pitmon who is examining the latest tour itinerary and to her right is, well, ME. I'm typing. And the singer. Up front in the passenger seat is tour manager/sound engineer Carsten Eckermann and driving the whole entourage is Thomas Lingstaedt who will also be found behind the merch booth each night. The van is shockingly clean and may never be this tidy again and the equipment has taken on its Tetris-like jigsaw puzzle in the luggage department. Tonight we will play the fabled Vera club in Groningen and on May 11 we will play our final show in Leeds. In between there will be about 50 other shows and lots of stories, anecdotes, photos, jokes, lies and adventures right here on Tour Diary 2003!
Of course, the tour began last week in a bizarre bit of routing that took us from Newark to Houston to Austin and back again. We played five shows at the South By Southwest convention and amidst some pretty incendiary sets we found time to sample the local barbecue (check out the Salt Lick!) and Mexican food, see incredible sets by Tony Joe White and the Minus 5 (among many others), visit with old and new friends and begin each morning watching various birds and dogs in the country home of our friend Deborah Herczog (sister of old pal Mary Herczog--wife of 2001 guest roadie Steve Hochman-- who was in town as well).
As they used to say when I would go to LA Doger baseball games as a kid: "You can’t tell the players without a program." Or a Palm Pilot, I suppose. Either way, settle in and bookmark this page because the show is just getting started.
1.13.03: New Jersey Turnpike
Heading up the turnpike, having just stopped at the James Fenniman exit and picked up a little jolt of awake-time from a cappuccino at Starbucks. Say what you will about the monocaffeinalithic empire that is S-Bucks, I can tell you that it is as good life gets on the New Jersey Turnpike with its plethora of Roy Rogers (read: BAD BAD BAD) and ugly, burnt coffee that rips a hole in your gut and keeps you awake for months at a time.
But I digress.
I am returning from Richmond, Virginia and the first Gutterball show since 1996. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you and despite my regular insistence that the band was merely in hibernation, I was pretty much doubting that the five of us would ever find ourselves in the same place at the same time, let alone managing to play a show together. But all that changed a few months ago when drummer Johnny Hott wrote an email to me asking if I would come down to Richmond and join the rest of the band (all currently living in Richmond) for a gig benefitting muscular dystrophy. It was a good cause, I was free at the requested time and I am the #1 Gutterball fan in the world so I quickly said ‘yes.’
Despite having not played together or even played most of the Gutterball songs in many years, it didn’t take long to remember the songs. Was it the three solid years of touring, the many hours of van rides, all pickled and preserved by various libations in many countries? Maybe, or maybe it’s just the casual ease and familiarity of the songs, fitting like an old shoe (a bowling shoe, I guess, to keep the metaphor) and the other members had obviously found the same to be true since our first (and only) rehearsal went incredibly smoothly and could easily have been a fine gig on its own.
Not only did the songs come back easily and quickly but the friendship, band dynamics, old jokes and camaraderie was there as well. I hadn’t seen Bryan or Johnny or Armistead in three or four years and hadn’t seen Stephen since we played together in Spain (while he was on tour with the Jayhawks) in 2001. None of this ‘how have you been?’ or ‘what have you been doing?’ but instead the feeling was more as if we had gone home for a day or two off between gigs and were ready to hop back in the van.
The show was a club called ‘Have a Nice Day,’ a pretty goofy venue with 70s artifacts and disco lights but this made the unexpected event all the more surreal. The opening act was NRG Kryssus, the current project of Bryan and Armistead (and a bunch of their old friends and local luminaries), the entire set consisting of covers of 60s and 70s soul classics. I think they are my new favorite band and their versions of ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime,’ ‘Respect Yourself,’ ‘Thank You Falletime Be Mice Elf Agin’ and others were perfect. And Bryan sported some snazzy bell bottom pants (before the G-Ball costume change, of course).
The second band was Miracle Bra, a three-piece from Baltimore and then the five of us took the stage. We opted to go without a set list, choosing to open with ‘Transparency’ and letting the rest fall as it may. We ended the show with versions of ‘Falling From the Sky’ and ‘Mickey’s Big Mouth’ before an extended encore version of ‘The Days of Wine and Roses.’ In between was nearly every song we ever recorded (the show was 27 songs, 140 minutes by the accounts of those who logged such things--there were fans on hand who had driven from New Jersey, Washington DC, Baltimore and North Carolina). Bryan sang the House of Freaks’ "It’s a Fucked Up World" and Stephen sang "Angelene." We played "Blessing In Disguise" twice, both slow and fast versions. And the whole show was loose, spontaneous, funny, tight, sloppy, weird and goofy all at the same time. Just like old times.
The rest of the time Linda (who had augmented the Ball on percussion throughout the show) and I bounced from Bryan’s house to Johnny’s and over to Stephen’s, viewing the guys’ various kids (Stella, Ruby, Odessa and Jack respectively--and Armistead’s first child is due this Summer), getting reacquainted with the G-Ball wives (Kathy, Kristin, Liz and Carter, once again respectively) and eating some mighty fine food, culminating with a dizzying Italian spread at MamaZu’s, not only my favorite restaurant in Richmond but one of my favorites in the US.
and what’s next.