12.19.08: New York City
I've been to Madison Square Garden 10 times in my life. I was counting the number in my head as I waited for Oasis to take the stage after Ryan Adams' very rocking set with the Cardinals at the Garden last Wednesday. And every time I see a show at the legendary venue I think back to all the shows I saw as a kid at the Forum in LA during the '70s. Led Zeppelin (twice!), Queen, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and a few others. There is certainly something awe-inspiring about seeing such a large-scale show when you're a kid and don't yet know how it all comes together. And it's not that my eventual life path has made me immune to the wonders of the Big Show but I tend to view them on a slightly more academic level. You can't avoid it. I see Bob Dylan at the Garden and wonder if the sound was as bad for him up there as it was for us in the audience. I see Neil Young stage Greendale and wonder how long it took to set up the props and if his band was distracted by the dancers and actors. I see Prince (easily the best show I've seen at the Garden) and wonder HOW THE FUCK HE DID IT, turning the cavernous basketball arena into an intimate sweaty club. I see REM and….I'm playing guitar on stage! Well, that wouldn't have happened as a kid.
Anyway, seeing Oasis made me almost forget that I'm three times as old as I was when I saw Zep in '76. They are nothing if not an arena rock band. Big sounds, Big lights, Big gazes cast across the big crowd. Oh, and standing right next to Liam's wife, kids, mother and Kevin Shields added to the “Almost Famous”-vibe of the whole thing. I liked what Noel Gallagher said in an interview about a recent Oasis record: “It's not as good as the first two but it's better than the last two.” He was right. Oasis made a couple of amazing records in the mid-90s and they had good enough sense to play almost all of the hits off of both records, most likely because they liked to see and hear the audience sing all the words. I wasn't singing. I was too busy staring at the light show. And checking out their guitar amps. Man, they've got nice guitar amps.
And this wraps up a year of diaries, home and away. I hope you all have a happy holiday, stay healthy and we all meet up somewhere down the road in 2009.
I leave you with some recent faves:
- “Come Pick Me Up”-Ryan Adams (live at Madison Square Garden)
- Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder (movie)
- Smash Your Head Against The Wall-John Entwistle (CD)
- Hell's Kitchen (Mexican Restaurant in NYC)
- Exotic Creatures of the Deep-Sparks (CD)
- Milk (movie)
- Fried-egg wrapped hot dog at Krif Dogs (food)
- Funky Kingston-Toots and the Maytals (CD)
- A Hawkwind compilation my friend Scott made for me (CD)
12.17.08: New York City
My favorite CDs of 2008
STAY POSITIVE-HOLD STEADY
DIG! LAZARUS DIG!-NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
REAL EMOTIONAL TRASH--STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS
PILGRIM ROAD-WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY
LIE DOWN IN THE LIGHT-BONNIE PRINCE BILLY
YOU ARE ALL MY PEOPLE-I'M NOT JIM
EXOTIC CREATURES OF THE DEEP--SPARKS
12.10.08: New York City
I can hear the superintendent of my building and the plumber arguing next door through the medicine cabinet of my bathroom. I can't quite tell what they're saying but I wish the fidelity was better so that I could get it on tape, put a beat and some chords behind it and have a Manhattan mini-opera ready to put online sometime before the end of the day. It's what I've always said about this city (and why I've written many more songs since moving here than I had in Los Angeles). You can walk down the street, write down the first things you hear verbatim and you have a new song. Or a novel. Or a Martin Scorcese movie.
Ah, instant songwriting and instant recording and instant release. I remember being wide-eyed and filled with wonder at the very notion back in 2000 when I did the Emusic Single Of The Month series. I was excited about the possibility of being able to take in an event and then write a song, record it and have it online while the ink in the newspaper was still fresh (ink? Do they still use ink?) And now it is not a fantasy but rather everyday life. Ho hum. I think they call it blogging. But it still isn't done nearly enough with music. Why hasn't some young Chicago would-be Bob Dylan written a talking folk blues song about the fall of Rod Blagojevich and posted it already? Sounds like a hit to me.
I'll definitely be putting up some such instant writings/recordings in the new year so keep posted. It's a good way to loosen up the creative wheels (don't tighten that lug nut!) while working on songs for the next sessions with the Miracle 3 and The Baseball Project, both of which should happen sometime next Summer, more or less.
In the meantime, I'm catching up on listening, watching, reading and writing with my first two week stretch at home since sometime last Spring. Below are some of the recent favorite diversions.
Ah, they've stopped arguing next door. And the drilling has resumed. Time to get out and hit the streets. Maybe there's a song out there.
- ERIC DOLPHY WITH BOOKER LITTLE-Live At the Five Spot (CD)
- THE WIRE, SEASON 3 (TV series)
- MARRY ME-JOHN UPDIKE (book)
- CINCO DE MAYO (LA Mexican food, open 24 hours)
- DEEP CUTS-TONY JOE WHITE (CD)
- CC SABATHIA AGREES TO SIGN WITH THE YANKEES (baseball)
- CALIBRO 35 (Italian CD)
- YOU ARE ALL MY PEOPLE-I'M NOT JIM (CD)
- ELVIS COSTELLO INTERVIEWS ELTON JOHN-SPECTACLE (TV SHOW)
- WARREN ZEVON (CD reissue of debut album)
11.24.08: New York City
I've got to learn not to make Top 10 lists for any given year before that year has actually ended. What can I say? I like top 10 lists. I'm a sports fan. I'm a music fan. I have just enough ADD and OCD to be healthy and productive. I like just enough order to be productive. I put choruses after verses. Sometimes. I liked “High Fidelity” (the book a little more than the movie, although I also like the Elvis Costello song of the same name) and related to it as a guy who has worked in his share of record stores. Record stores. Where I often made Top 10 lists while sitting behind the counter and watching people choose between the Doobie Brothers and Christopher Cross as they approached the cash register. Anyway. Where was I? See? Top 10 lists keep you focused from exactly that type of digression and wandering. Which is both good and bad. Oops. There I go again. Digressing and wandering. Anyway, I was asked to put together a top 10 list by my buddy James over at Yep Roc Records (they did a knockout job on The Baseball Project-knockout! Note the mixed metaphor). And I came up with a list of 10 CDs that I really dug this year, typed it out, put it in an email and hit “send.” That simple. And then just the next day I heard a CD that will easily end up being one of my favorites of the year.
Walter Salas-Humara of The Silos has been a friend, co-writer and touring buddy for most of this century. And sometimes you end up taking your friends' musical talents for granted. That shouldn't happen but it does. In fact, when we shared a bill with Walter in Chicago last week I meant to check out his set but was deterred by needing to make a set list, the fact that I found myself chatting with people in the audience (a horrible distraction during a solo performer's quiet set) and the presence of my old pal Janet Bean backstage. So, I saw a few songs, missed the rest and knew I could catch him in NYC sometime soon. At the end of the night we swapped CDs-I gave him “Crossing Dragon Bridge” and he gave me “You Are All My People” by I'm Not Jim, his new side-project with novelist Jonathan Lethem. I put the CD aside and it took me a week to check it out. Lame, I know but I had to catch up on back episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour.
Well, I'm here to say that “You Are All My People” is amazing. One of the best things I've heard in a long time. It sounds like Walter but unlike anything he's ever done before. And reinvention is always to be applauded (hey, it's worked for me on many occasions). The lyrics are amazing, something that you would expect when you bring along such a highly regarded writer as your lyrical weapon. The vocals, the production-all familiar and all new, like a friend who bought a damn fine new suit that you wish you had seen first. If anything, the record reminds me of the lost classic (and one that needs to be found by EVERYONE-NOW!) “Invisible Jewel” by House of Freaks, one of my all-time favorites CDs. And that record was also a classic of reinvention by Bryan and Johnny. Which means that comparing anything to that record is high praise.
In other words, you should check it out. And I should most certainly hold back on that Top 10 list for another few weeks. Hang on. Just a few weeks
You know how it goes. The last few days of the tour are always frantic. The first of the last goodbyes, the unpacking and resorting and unpacking and resorting again of various suitcases, instruments cases, effects and cable bags followed by more goodbyes, repacking and remembering to not forget everything except, of course, the things that you're most likely forget-all part of the winding down process that happens whether a tour is two weeks or two months. I mean, who is going to get the 8 euro sandwich maker? Or the Bollywood DVD video clip collection? (answer to both: Erik) What will be the last song played at the last show ("Boston"-at the MTC in Koln).
And what was the best meal? (I'm voting for the Indonesian food in Amsterdam but am willing to be challenged and disputed by my bandmates-c'mon, troops, lay it on me.)
In the midst of all that was possibly my two favorite shows-at the MTC in Koln and the newly remodeled Posten in Odense-which gave the indication that the band was just reaching its peak and ready to vault into a new level. Or maybe it was just proof that we were so giddy with the prospect of finally getting a good night's sleep that we let loose with everything we had. Hmmm….no I think we did that every night of the tour.
So something's got to give and that something was, of course, the tour diary. But there were no flat tires, no witty anecdotes, no onstage hijinx. And you just gotta have hijinx for a good tour diary. Or maybe even the lojinx or two. Lojinx. Is that a word? Well, it should be.
And now everyone is gone. Chris E, Chris C, Rodrigo, Erik and Jan are back home in their homes in Slovenia, Germany, Italy, Holland and Holland, respectively while Linda and I have stayed on in Cologne for a few days before hightailing it (can you lowtail it?) down to Spain tomorrow. Ah, Spain-truly the country that never sleeps. But really-how many nights of sleep does a person need. I'm guessing no more than the amount of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (3, as it turns out). Cue: closing credits as another tour diary ends and gives way to some other form of dissertation and dissent and distant musings that will continue to crop up from other places than the inside of the van. Over and out.
10.11.08: The Road to Odense
We got a flat tire today. I don't think I've had a flat tire in 25 years of touring. Then again, there are so many things I don't remember from those first tours. But I definitely remember the flat tire that happened 2 hours ago. I was listening to "Red River Shore," a mighty fine tune from the new Bob Dylan bootleg series when the van began to shake along the rainy Swedish highway. A moment of panic ensued (especially by Chris C and Linda, both of whom were fast asleep) but our Jan calmly and deftly steered our big black ship to the side of the road. Hooray Jan! An hour by the side of the road followed with both me and Chris E taking turns wearing the groovy orange vest (sorry, no pictures) while guiding oncoming cars away from Jan and Erik who puzzled their way through a difficult tire change. See? We're not only a good team on stage but by the side of the highway as well.
And now things are back to normal albeit a little behind schedule. Jan is driving, Erik is reading an old Dutch newspaper, Rodrigo alternates between staring out the window and snoozing, Chris C is sleeping, Chris E is reading the Uncut that I hope to snag the second he's done and Linda is typing away on her phone. Me, I'm typing the exact words that you're reading right…now. No, I mean….NOW. and I'm listening to some of the 3.24GB of music I snagged from Erik's iPod yesterday. Right now it's a collection of Dutch Suriname music. But I might get tempted away from the 4 volume set of Old School hip hop. Or the endless supply of Scott Walker. Or maybe some Joni Mitchell. Or maybe the soundtrack from "Shaft." Wow, Erik's got some good stuff on his iPod. So much music and not a long enough drive! Hmm….maybe if we get another flat...
Four days in Norway including a few days off and you know what that means. It's time to sing the praises of regional food delights. Readers from this blog of tours past already know about the wonders and mysteries of the bacon-wrapped hot dog, something that ranks on the health-o-meter just below, oh I don't know, deep-fried batter coated French fries in a lard sauce. Wait. I think I had that in Scotland.
On the other hand, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the key to the strength and longevity and capacity for late nights and Viking-like drinking binges in this country had something to do with the volume and variety of herring at the breakfast table. Pickled herring with onions! Herring in mustard sauce! Herring in barbecue sauce. All laid out there right beside the muesli, scrambled eggs, tiny sausages, weird freaky brown cheese (don't do it, just don't do it!) and other varieties of sardines and tinned mackerel. I figure that if you toss back a plate full of herring with your first (or maybe second) cup of coffee your body can withstand anything that happens over the course of the rest of the day.
But enough about food. Really. (hey, you don't have to cheer so loudly). This is a MUSIC band on tour not a van full of food critics (although Chris is reading and often quoting from "Heat" by Bill Bruford, a fine book about-yes, food). The shows in Oslo and Halden were both exactly what we needed, a kickstart jumpstart of enthusiastic fans, singing along with "the oldies," seriously digging the new songs and engaging us in interesting conversation as the ringing from the last chords of the encore began to subside. "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" has become a regular feature and I wish we had been doing it from the start. Chris Eckman was particularly dismayed when I told him that our version felt more like the Grateful Dead than most versions I'd played of the song. Hmmm. Maybe he'll go home and check out "Europe '72."
And tourism! There was even time for tourism. Linda, Erik, Chris E and I walked up to the top of the castle that looms over this town. The Swedish king was shot and killed there in the 18th Century and to this day nobody knows who pulled the trigger. My good friend Tom Skjeklesaether is writing a whodunit screenplay about the event and says he will reveal the killer. We're having dinner with him and his family here in Halden tonight (note: his wife Tine is a member of Somebody's Darling, the band that took my "That's Why I Wear Black" to the top of the charts here). I wonder if he'll reveal the killer. For that matter I wonder if I can sneak into his refrigerator and grab some herring. I'm feeling a little tired right now.
10.08.08: The long road to Oslo
-I had vowed to never do another overnight drive. Leaving immediately after the gig and then driving through the night only to arrive in the next town in time for sound check is sometimes necessary but also can wipe you out for days. But just as Michael Corleone said in Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, they PULL me back in.” See what I'm talking about? That's what happens on an overnight drive. You begin quoting really bad movies.
But with Berlin in our rear-view mirror and a show in Oslo being dangled on a very long stick like a very distant carrot, we just had to do it. It certainly helped that the Berlin show was one of the best of the tour-great, enthusiastic audience and we were firing on all cylinders, ending with our first version of “John Coltrane Stereo Blues,” which suits this band perfectly. We left club Franz at 1am and hit the road, tossing in “The King of Comedy” to shave off the first 90 minutes of the drive. We had more than enough time to make it Rostock for our 6am ferry. Friends, we may cut dashing figures on stage in our fancy clothes but it was a different story as we stumbled around like zombies on the 2-hour sunrise journey across the waters to Denmark. Various band members shopped, hunted down coffee, giggled maniacally or just found remote corners for a deep sleep.
That last category would certainly belong to our fiddle king Rodrigo D'Erasmo. He was lying prone in some corner, overcoat bundled around him when he heard some voices passing by. Somewhere in the back of his dream-state he realized the voices were being spoken in his native Italian. He initially chose sleep over chatting with his native countrymen until he heard one of them say (in Italian), “shhhh, don't talk so loud. You'll wake up the poet.” I guess that Rodrigo at that moment had quite the bohemian look. Another voice replied, “hey, don't say that. He might know what we're saying. He could be from Milano or something.” At that point Rodrigo couldn't keep his silence any longer, replying “No, Roma.” Turns out the Italian voices belonged to a metal-core band from Italy and it turns out that they were on tour, playing Hamburg, Berlin and Oslo on the exact same nights as we were. And I think Rodrigo very well might be taking off after our show tonight to add his violin mastery to the cookie-monster like grunts and grinds of a late-night metal show.
And I'd love to check that out. And I very well might. But sleep might seem a better choice by that point. Who knows? That's the thing about not sleeping-just as Michael Corleone found out, once you begin it's hard to stop. Oh, and major props to Erik and Jan for doing ALL of the driving. Credit goes where credit is due.
Sorry I missed you all yesterday. It was Sunday. And the new laws in Tour Diary writing is that you have to take Sunday off. It's not me. Really, it's not me. Strictly union rules and regulations and I'd hate to lose my Tour Diary Union Card. TD Local 38 is very, very strict. I'm sure you understand
We didn't make it to London on this trip so London had to come to us last night in Hamburg. Our good pals Nick and Ella and Gurbhir and a few others made the trip from the UK to see a few gigs and also to enjoy the same wild city that taught The Beatles how to be both great musicians and post-juvenile delinquents. It's a city of revelry and celebration and inebriation and wandering and exploration and pain and pleasure. I've had some late nights here and seen the wrong end of a few sunrises a few times but not last night. I'm feeling the road burn that usually sets in around mid-tour and know that we have a gig tonight in Berlin followed by a LONG, overnight drive to Oslo. It's all about pacing.
But I'm sure I'll have some good stories from Mutter's, the bar down the road from the Knust (where we played) and the Hotel Pacific (where we dozed). I'll have to experience this one as a voyeur. I'm expecting some good stories and, believe me, I will tell them to you once the stories begin to resemble some coherency. I'm guessing around 3pm. You just learn these things.
A couple of good shows behind us. We played the Take Root festival in Groningen on Saturday and it was a very classy affair. Beautiful little theater, great acoustics and a very enthusiastic audience of old fans and curious newcomers (I'm always excited to play to the latter). And we had lots of good pals on hand including Yuko (Willard Grant Conspiracy and occasional member on the acoustic tour earlier this year) who filmed some of the show, documentation that will be up on YouTube soon. And we saw our old pal Carsten who is no stranger to this diary. He is on tour with Built To Spill and learning to love the Tour Bus Life. Also on hand that night: my agent Bas from Belmont Bookings who draws the map that we are following and also my Benelux label honcho Robbie from Sonic Rondezvous. Wow, I feel like I just won an academy award. And I haven't even begun to thank Harvey Weinstein. Sorry. Inside joke.
Speaking of which, I think you should all hear The Grammy Song by Loudon Wainwright. Great song. Just thought I'd throw that in there.
It's 11am here in the Hotel Pacific breakfast room and the band has yet to show for breakfast. That's either a very good sign (fun times last night) or a very bad sign (painful day ahead). I'm betting on Both.
10.06.08: The road to Berlin
I've always loved “The Concert For Bangla Desh,” the all-star gala recorded by George Harrison and his many superstar buddies at Madison Square Garden 35 years ago. I practically memorized it as a kid and one of my favorite moments was when he introduces the HUGE band and finally says, “have we forgotten anyone?”-long pause-“We've forgotten Billy Preston!” which is followed by huge cheers. Something about that would crack me up. How do you forget a member of your own band? Turns out I have done that myself on stage a few times (sorry, Dave) and now in the tour diary I have forgotten to mention some other good friends who were with us in Hamburg last night.
No, Billy Preston wasn't there (what a story THAT would be!) but we were joined by Thomas, our driver and merch salesman for most of this century. Thomas had been sick for the last few weeks but he looked great last night and came bearing gifts of chocolate and also CDs and a shirt from the tour he had just worked with Tony Joe White, one of my heroes. I'm wearing the shirt right now. And then there was Jens-Jakob who is currently working on archiving his collection of recordings of my live shows for a parallel site (gotta keep up on those internet terms) that will be up in a few months. And one can't forget Norbert, the booker of the Knust in Hamburg. I think I've talked about Norbert before but he is an old friend, a fine club booker and host, one of those people who follows his heart and love for music in all of his decisions. He's also is best describes as the unholy marriage of Bill Graham and Oscar Wilde. Ponder THAT.
Sounds like good times at Mutter's last night. Everyone appears a little ragged today. Chris even filmed some of the events on his phone/video camera so I can feel like I was actually there. Without the pain, of course. But the pain will come. We're just getting started on a 24-hour drive that will be neatly broken up by a gig in Berlin before we hit the road again for Oslo. Overnight drives! Where everything, anything and preferably nothing can happen. And you will hear it all right here on (cue: booming voice of James Earl Jones) The Tour Diary
Just had to add this bit of history and commerce on the German highway.
I remember touring Germany in the 80's, before the wall came down. We would drive from Hamburg to Berlin along “The Corridor,” a stretch of East German road that bridged the two Western cities. You had to make the journey in a fixed amount of time and were allowed (as I remember) only one stop along the way for gas and snacks. I used to check out the East Germans who worked at those road stops and wonder what they thought of the Westerners who would drop into their lives for a few moments before moving down the road and out of their world. It was my first and only glimpse of the Communist world.
How things have changed.
We just stopped off at a road stop on what was The Corridor. Now it's all Western Europe, the land of the euro. All the Pringles and CDs and souvenirs that you could want. And I don't know if you know about the phenomenon of “SaniFair” but it's a turnstile leading to the toilets at which you have to pay 50 cents to get through. Yes, that's right. The wall came down. Communism was defeated. And now you pay 50 cents to pee. Hooray. And time marches on.
10.04.08: The road to Groningen
We're heading north after a brief pit-stop at the home of our tour manager/soundman/driver/bartender/van DJ Jan Veltman. It's always nice to get a touch of “home living” during a period where you don't see much beyond hotels and clubs and Jan's place was very inviting. His wife Iris had made some chocolate chip cake for us (“delicious” says this food critic), coffee was poured, there was wifi (a commodity greater than gold, oil or pork bellies to touring bands) and we got to watch his son Mink play some Wii baseball. Kid's a natural, a real slugger. And here's something you don't see every day: the whole family-all three of them-are lefties. Southpaws! Hitting from the right side of the plate. I know that Dutch people are the tallest of all Europeans (Erik says it's because they drink so much milk) but maybe there's a leaning towards lefty over here. I'll have to check it out.
Speaking of lefties, Linda and I have been particularly happy to see that every episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is archived in its entirety every day up at www.thedailyshow.com Most of you American readers will understand our joy-The Daily Show is easily the best show on American TV, a “fake news” program that gives more insight into daily political activity than CNN or most newspapers. The only problem is that it has led to even later nights and more sleep deprivation. Ah, sleep. That's what the van is for (along with watching Bollywood clips, eating candy bars, writing blogs and watching cows and windmills in the distance).
I knew that some audience members last night in Venlo had seen other shows (hi Dietmar, hi Marion, hi Kjell) so I let a few songs make their tour debut last night. The little runts getting their first moment in the spotlight: “The Way You Punish Me,” “Follow Me,” “Believe In Yourself,” “Melting in the Dark” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Some were more ramshackle than others but I think that the threat of falling on your face is sometimes the best way to really get inside a song. Think of it as hazing, an initiation process for the little buggers (I mean the songs, not the band). If they can make it there, they'll make it anywhere. Ah, Venlo! Always getting confused with New York, New York (cue: Frank Sinatra as closing theme).
10.03.08: The road to Venlo
There's a road near the Sheraton Hotel in Brussels where you can pretty much buy anything you want for 2 euros or less. Sex shops, falafel stands, vendors of cheap clothing and liquor stores fill the street. I went looking for cufflinks. Yes, cufflinks. I have a new garish paisley shirt that I'm just dying to bust out but I forgot the cufflinks and it's been driving me nuts. Well, after an hour I still hadn't found any cufflinks but I did track down (1) a sandwich-pressing, panini machine for 8 euros-an absolute improvement to the standard bread-and-cheese-and-ham spreads we normally find backstage and (2) a handful of Bollywood DVDs. I've picked up some of these before in Jackson Heights, a mostly Indian neighborhood back home in Queens and they can be amazing. Sure, enough we are in the van right now and completely transfixed by “Decade Hits-1971 to 1980; A Collection From the Golden Era.” Incredible. The songs! The hair! The dances! The exotic electric guitars! Each of the 100 (yes, 100) video clips are filled with hypnotic, droning backing tracks washed in reverb and sweeping strings. I think our set might sound very different tonight. And I'll be wearing a headband.
We're back in Holland now after a really fun show at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. I think it might have been the best show of the tour; good timing, actually, since it was recorded and filmed for Radio 1 in Belgium and will be archived on the AB's website (www.abconcerts.be) in the next few days. I've said before that the AB is one of my favorite clubs in the world and that still holds true. The building itself is an amazing labyrinth of clubs, bars, offices, video and recording facilities and various production areas. I still can't find my way from one place to another without the helpful red and green lines of tape that line the floors and show where you need to go. And that's a good thing. One doesn't need to re-live This Is Spinal Tap every day on tour, now does one?
Anyway, being back in Holland means being greeted by Dutch fast food, which is unlike any other in the world. The gas stations have these coin-operated vending dispensers that turn out various objects that resemble meat, resemble, cheese, resemble egg rolls, or sometimes resemble absolutely nothing you've ever seen before. You look at the shape, the color and try to figure out what you're going to get. Of course, locals like Jan and Erik know exactly what they're going to get and know right where to drop the coins. I went for a Mystery Meat Roll (my name, not theirs-I believe it was a frikandel). It was very tasty and made even tastier with the help of mustard and curry ketchup.
So, there you have it. Everyone at Venlo tonight can expect Bollywood dance routines with Dutch snacks pressed razor thin by the sandwich maker as props for our dance routines. I mean, it's very important to keep adding new elements to the show.
I think the first time I had Indonesian food was at the Vera Club in Groningen sometime around 1986. I was an instant convert. The spices and ingredients and level of heat can remind you at various times of Thai, Indian and possibly Szechwan food but at the same time Indonesian food is its own beast. And it's surprisingly hard to find in the US (I think there are only 2 such restaurants in Manhattan) but very common in Holland so I try to get all I can when we're over here.
And lucky us-we found ourselves in Amsterdam yesterday with a decent chunk of time on our hands before sound check, a buy-out from the club (a token amount of money given to the bands when the club doesn't provide dinner) and a really great Indonesian restaurant we had all knew and loved and it was located directly between the hotel and the Paradiso. Ding Ding Ding-Jackpot!
Most of the band went for variations on the Nasi Rames, a dish that offers up a good sampling of the various items-you can't go wrong with this one. Variety is the spice of life especially when the spices are so good. And knowing that Linda had ordered that dish and that she was sitting directly to my left and that there is no line-of-demarcation for my roving fork, I took the risk or trying something I had never seen before: a whole mackerel wrapped in banana leaves and marinated with peanut sauce and various chiles. Incredible.
Oh, and strangely enough, music was involved in the evening as well. And good food makes for a happy band and a happy band makes for a good show. The crowd at the Paradiso was very warm, welcoming and enthusiastic-maybe they had some good Indonesian food as well? And we ended the evening at a bar just off the Leidesplan, drinking beers and watching a local band set Chicago Blues back about 100 years. But, hey, you can't have everything. Unless you order the Nasi Rames, of course.
Man, you ought to check out this hotel. We're at the Backstage Hotel in Amsterdam and this new (to me, anyway) place is keeping up the great traditions of rock hotels like the Tropicana Motel in LA, the Quinten in Amsterdam and, oh I dunno, the Hotel California inside the mind of Don Henley. We all were delighted by the downstairs bar that featured light fixtures placed inside drums, saxophones and guitars. But the rooms themselves seem to be the real payoff. Drum stools (or “thrones,” as actual drummers so mysteriously love to call them) double as chairs. The endtables and closets are road cases. The mirrors are backstage makeup mirrors so authentic that you expect Nigel Tufnel to be sitting beside it and complaining about the inadequacy of tiny pieces of bread in the art of sandwich-making. Your travel guide Steve gives it Two Enthusiastic Thumbs UP
We ended up playing a few songs in the audience again at the FZW club in Dortmund last night. It's become one of my favorite parts of the show. It's always amazing to see the stunned looks on the faces of audience members when you break that “fourth wall.” I mean, it's like one of those 3D television sets or something. There are 3D television sets, aren't there? Maybe I'm just making that up.
Anyway, it's time to primp and pose in front of the Actual Backstage Mirror in the hotel room and get ready for the show at the legendary Paradiso here in Amsterdam. I remember my first show in Amsterdam back in 1986 with the Dream Syndicate. I was so excited to be here for the first time and so associated the city with a 60's-esque hippie vibe that I wore a tie-dyed shirt on stage. Little did I know that the combination of hot lights and copious amounts of sweat would cause the shirt to tattoo itself onto my skin, leaving me tie-dyed for days after the show. I think the backstage looked just like this hotel room.
9.30.08: The road to Dortmund
Every now and then you have to forego post-show adventures in favor of catching up on sleep. I was still a little wiped out after a late night in Vienna and when I saw Chris C, Rodrigo and Erik leaving the lobby of our Nuremburg hotel for a beer at the Irish bar next door I figured I could take a pass on this particular adventure. I mean, I knew what to expect. A Guinness or two, some Pogues or Clancy Brothers on the PA, maybe a game of darts and most certainly a mild-to-moderate hangover the next day. Nothing wrong with any of that but sleep seemed more interesting. Well, it turns out I was negligent in my duties to give you the first-hand view of the best stories of this Dragon tour as the guys found out the Irish bar was closed and went searching for another place for that fabled “Last Beer Of The Evening.”
They ended up in a karaoke bar. I hear that Rodrigo turned out what I was told was a George Michael-esque rendition of “Come Together” before Chris kicked in a funky version of “Sexual Healing,” and then both of them combined on a very sexy duet of “Like A Virgin.” And to think! I was dozing off to CNN and news of stock market crashes. I should remember the cardinal rule of touring-the van is for sleeping, the nights are for adventure. Oh well-I'll certainly feel much better for missing out on the action when I hit the stage tonight. And maybe I can get Chris to sing some Marvin Gaye. Now, THAT will be a good story.
9.29.08: The road to Nuremberg
Spirits were down yesterday in Vienna. The national election results had been announced right about the time we arrived for sound check and the two parties on the right end of the political spectrum (one led by Joerg Haider who had been ostracized as a national calamity only to make an alarming comeback this year) had done well enough to establish a coalition that could darken the national political scene for years to come. Most (all?) of my audience, I believe, is on the side of things where this would certainly be bad news and I'm guessing that a lot of people that would normally be at one of my shows might have stayed home, a bottle of something strong by their side and eyes glued to the TV set. I mean, I might be in the same position on November 4 but I do hope I end that particular night in good spirits, rather than just drinking them.
But we were there to brighten the mood or at least to provide an environment to cathartically emphasize and thus counter the darkness before finding some shred of light on the stage of the fabulous Chelsea club in Vienna. I always have a good time at this club and last night was no exception. On only our second gig as a band I felt we became a band last night, finding the spots where we lay back, move forward, assert ourselves, hide in the sound-all the things that can be tricky with a six-piece band that hadn't played together before. Rodrigo's violin solos were both more wild and more integrated, Chrises Cacavas and Eckman locked in, locked horns and locked up the groove into a tight box that was guarded and pushed forward by the crack, crafty rhythm section of Linda and Erik. And it was all turned to delectable sonic waves by our soundman/tour manager/driver Jan Veltman. Can you tell I used to be a rock critic? Hmmm….maybe not. I just might have to renew my license.
And on a night of political uncertainty for the locals and, on the other hand, a stronger musical coalition established by the out-of-towners, what does that particular band do to celebrate at the end of the night? This time it wasn't schnapps or a folk rock jam session. No, tonight the celebration took the form of a run for the all-night kebab stand down the street from the club. Falafels and doners and tahini and pita and burning hot chili powder was the glue, the balm, the roux, the corn starch that put everything into place. Hey, am I speaking too highly about mere street food? Remember Steve's rule of What Tastes Good. There is a mathematical theorem that somehow factors the actual quality of the food, the lateness of the hour, the intensity of the performance and the need to temper what has been imbibed. And when all of those factors are aligned, a 2am falafel can be every bit as revelatory as any porterhouse steak at any five-star restaurant.
We're back in the van now. I had a record by Cesare Basile, a record that features our Rodrigo, on my headphones. Suddenly the guys up front put a CD on the van soundsystem and it was busting into my enjoyment of the music. I asked them to turn off the speakers in the back of the van (where I like to hang out). We just got out at a roadside stop and I asked what they had been listening to. Turns out they were playing the very same CD that I was checking out on my headphones. See what I'm saying? Tight. We're already that tight.
You pretty much know that when you get 6 musicians, a bunch of their friends and several acoustic guitars together in an Austrian bar after a show and then add several rounds of beers followed by more rounds of some kind of mysterious schnapps that trouble is bound to happen. And that trouble didn't manifest itself in the form of broken bones, costly damage or serious jail time but there might have been some kind of repercussion in some court somewhere over the dubious versions of songs by the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and the Tee Set that ensued. And then there was Chris Cacavas' morning greeting of “Will somebody please remove my head from this pain?” I think the boy has a new song title.
What can I say? We were in a good mood. We were in Hartberg and had just finished our first show of the tour as a complete band/orchestra, Chris Eckman having joined the party after a 3 hour drive up from his home in Ljubljana. And naturally everything sounded that much better-the rockers rocked harder, the softer songs were more lush and the post-concert acoustic jams were that much more ragged-I seem to remember a particularly good version of “Cortez the Killer” led by Herr Eckman as the hour was getting late.
Oh, and we all sang rousing refrains of “Celebration” by Kool And The Gang every 10 minutes or so. I definitely remember that.
I would tell you more but I can hear the idling of the van engine outside and I also know that anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law. Or at least at the bar in the next city. I think I'll pass on the next round of schnapps.
9.26.08: The road to Austria
If you’re going to climb a rope, you’d better have some calluses on your fingers. If you’re going to attempt a marathon you might want to get a few 10K runs under your belt. And if you’re going to embark on a tour in which you’re playing 15 shows in 7 countries over the course of 16 days you might want to burn yourself out properly right from the start so that you can reach the true point of zen where you’re so exhausted that nothing can truly faze you. And that’s why, I suppose, we started this tour with two full days of rehearsal, a gig and now a 15 hour drive. It’s the rock version of the Stockholm Syndrome. Look it up.
Actually, long days and late nights and endless drives are nothing new and are kind of comforting in their familiarity. What I don’t think I can truly handle is this new Kings of Leon record that’s playing in the van. I caught them on Saturday Night Live last weekend and was stunned. I really used to like them but they seemed to have morphed into a bad 80's band, never a good move in my book. I might have to put on my headphones in the next few minutes.
The show last night went really well. We had rehearsed for most of the 36 hours leading up to stage time at the Engelstede and the show found us already in mid-tour mode and I’m looking forward to adding Chris Eckman to the mix tomorrow night. We played a few songs I hadn’t played with a band for a while—“Tears Won’t Help,” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “405” in particular tested my memory. And “That’s What You Always Say” has shifted from “Nuggets” to the Left Banke, mostly due to the “orchestra” effect achieved by Rodrigo’s violin and Erik’s bowed upright bass, a deadly combo. You’ll see what I mean if you make it out to one of the shows in the coming weeks.
Erik has suggested that it might be haxe time. Have I talked about haxe before? It’s actually called schweinhaxe and it’s a deep-fried succulent hunk of pig the size of your head, especia lly if you have been taking steroids for 20 years It’s the size of Barry Bonds’ head, is what I’m trying to say. Anyway, I had it for the first time about five years ago. I was with my friend Christian in a restaurant in Berlin and it was recommended. Damn, it was good. But I could only eat about a third of it. It was just too huge. The waitress came to take the dishes, looked at my unfinished meal, looked at me and asked Christian something in German. A few minutes later I asked what she had said. Christian replied, “She asked if there was a haxe problem.” A haxe problem! The only problem with haxe is that if you eat it any more than 4 times in any given life it might kill you. I think I’ve had it twice now. So, I could have it today and still stay under my per-life limit. Hmmm….talk about breaking in the system!
I think the van is about to stop. One can only hope.
9.25.08: Westerbroek, Holland
I'm sitting here with Chris Cacavas. You all know Chris. I know Chris. Everyone should know Chris. When people ask me who I think is the greatest, most “unsung” artist I always say Chris Cacavas even though I have been singing his praises for years. And he has been singing his great songs for years. Hardly sounds unsung, does it? Sing sing sing, as Benny Goodman would say. He also made a big pot of coffee this morning at Jaap's house and the smell of that big pot of coffee greeted me as I came down the stairs. Which means I'm singing and singing those hardly unsung praises with a strong morning buzz and that means those praises are coming faster and with more fury. Sounds like a Greek choir in here. And, as you all know, Cacavas is a Greek name. His uncle did the music for Kojak, after all. And Telly Savales was Greek. Got that?
Chris and Erik Van Loo showed up yesterday with the musical equipment, some t-shirts, a few CDs and some guy I had never met before. Hmmm….this must be Rodrigo D'Erasmo, the violinist for the Dragon Bridge Orchestra. Yes, the man who will be the violinist, the featured soloist, the man who will channel entire string arrangements into one small violin is also a guy who I had never met face to face. Turns out he's a great guy, a great player and a hell of a billiards player. Kicked my ass, in fact, last night after 10 hours of rehearsal. I plead exhaustion and jet lag. I will get my revenge today. Anyway, Rodrigo lives in Milan, was born in Brazil and plays in one of Italy's biggest rock bands, After Hours. That's all I know so far. How he smells in a van first thing in the morning after a late gig is still a mystery. But not for long.
Chris Eckman isn't with us right now. His Ljubljana home is only a few hours drive from our first gig in Hartberg, Austria. So the band isn't entirely here but we imagine his parts and his contributions in some kind of reverse karaoke fashion. And we take that Music-Minus-One approach to the stage tonight, a public rehearsal to see how this all plays out when people are watching. I'll be wearing the Giant Bear Suit. And Chris? Well, I know he'll be singing. That's for sure.
9.24.08: Westerbroek, Holland
Something tells me that I'm not in New York anymore. Maybe it's the view of about a dozen or so cows outside my window. I'm here with our old pal Jaap Bos at his home in Westerbroek, Holland. We're sitting across the table from each other, both of our laptops open as we simulate a modern-day game of Battleship where everyone's a winner. He checks the local football (that's soccer to those of you across the Atlantic) scores and I take note that the Yankees have finally been put out of their misery.
Along with being the official King of the Tape Traders, Jaap has been a teacher and school principal for 28 years but those days are over. Jaap walked away from the school for the last time a year ago (cue: Alice Cooper) and took over a pub down the road. Months of renovation followed and now Jaap is the manager, booker, bartender and host of the Engelstede where we will begin rehearsing in about 3 hours before hosting a “public rehearsal” tomorrow night and then hitting the road on Friday morning. Drop by if you get a chance.
Linda and I are here ahead of the band and checked out the club last night. Great place. And when the bartender is your old pal you get to run the tap yourself. Danger danger danger. But I found myself more tempted by the shrimp croquettes, marinated chicken wings and especially an 8-CD collection of “Hits From The 70's.” Nothing like a chance of returning to my DJ roots (those roots were violently plucked from the ground in 1980) to delay my bedtime. But I'm beginning to think that a mixture of chicken, shrimp, Roxy Music, Wreckless Eric, Brand beer, Blondie, Mink Deville, chocolates and conversation about politics and baseball just might be the cure for jet lag. At least that's the way it feels today.
9.22.08: New York City
Sitting up here at the Broadway Bagel somewhere below Columbia University. They do an amazing thing here where they fry a couple of eggs and put them on a sliced roll. They call it “egg on a roll.” It will blow your mind. You bite into it and the first thing to great your taste buds is the taste of “roll” but before you know it you are stunned and surprised by the 180 degree turn, epicurean about-face that is the taste of “egg.” It's a marvel of science, an exotic encounter, a taste and souvenir of a region long-ignored by…..
Okay, okay-I'm reaching too high today. But I'm just getting in training. In 24 hours I'll be jumping on a flight out of JFK for Amsterdam and the beginning of the European tour that begins on Saturday with the Dragon Bridge Orchestra. And that means the “home diary” becomes a tour diary which means daily reports on music, road activity, band camaraderie, friends encountered, tourism and, of course, food. And I don't think I'll be ordering “egg on a roll” at any of the stops along the autobahn. That would be the wurst choice I could make. Sorry.
Man, they play bad music at this place. I can't even name a single song I've heard. And that's a good thing. But I like coming here because it's always pretty empty and you can take all the time you want to drink coffee, read the paper and type things like this home diary, my friends. It's a non-dairy diary, today, the coffee being black. Anyway, to paraphrase Yogi Berra “Everybody goes there. It's always empty.”
Ah, Yogi. He'll be making an appearance tonight at Yankee Stadium for the last game to be played at the House That Ruth Built. They'll be moving across the street next year to the House That Dow Jones Built. I've seen a preview of the new place. Five-star restaurants, martini bars, conference centers, plush luxury seats-oh, and I hear they'll be playing baseball there as well, something most likely viewed on TV by anyone in the lowest 99% tax brackets. I'm installing stadium seats in my living room.
But this is no time to gripe about the Steinbrenner family. Or the playlist at Broadway Bagel. Or even about the suspicion that the “egg on a roll” may have been reheated from yesterday's stash. No, this is the time to pack up the suitcase, buy some guitar strings, fill up the iPod and book the cab to the airport. This Home Diary is Hitting The Road.
9.09.08: New York City
I found myself in Minneapolis last week at the same time as the Republican National Convention. Purely coincidental. You did not see me on TV with red, white and blue hats shouting “U-S-A” and I never once took the stage at the XCEL Center to talk about “family values.” In fact Linda, our friend Brigid and I pretty much dodged St Paul after the moment we touched down at Lindbergh Airport. We were primarily there, after all, for the State Fair, an orgy of milking cows, snorting pigs, daredevil rides, amateur talent shows and especially endless food booths in which everything, I mean EVERYTHING is served up on a stick. Chocolate covered bacon? Deep fried cheese curds doused in lingonberries? Wheat-covered corn dogs (which, of course, means they weren't actually corn dogs)? Put 'em on a stick. Everything tastes better on a stick.
I could list everything that was ingested that day but I might be sued for second-hand intestinal disorder. We actually did fine due to 14 hours of walking and exploring. We took the “Cow Quiz” (Linda finished first with 6 right answers, earning her an “Intermediate” ribbon). We took in the very mediocre Freak Show (if it's not scary OR funny OR kitschy it's just not worth doing). Went to the “Miracle of Birth” tent which sounds like something that might have been happening at the XCEL center but instead was merely the chance to see 2-hour old piglets and other newborn animals up and running as though they were already on the job and looking for the next Piglet Paycheck. Damn, those industrious little piggies made me feel lazy.
But I did manage to sneak in a gig while I was there. What? You didn't hear about it? It wasn't on this website or any other? Nothing on YouTube, Archive.Org or the local crime blotter? Well, that's because it was unplanned. We ended up at the world famous Nye's Polonaise Lounge (ranked Best Bar in America by Esquire who, I suppose, should know) It was after a few cocktails and we found ourselves at the piano bar. There were about 7 people in the room and it turned out that the Piano Man (name: Andy, turns out he's also the organist for the minor league baseball franchise St. Paul Saints) recognized us and encouraged yours truly to come up for one of the standards. I ended up being The Thing That Wouldn't Leave and sang about a dozen songs including “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Rikki Don't Lose That Number,” “For The Good Times,” “Joy To the World,” “I Am…I Said,” “Mama Told Me Not To Come” and “Joy To The World.” I hear that some cameras were running so, who knows, one of those might end up on this very site. It might be enough to either get me a gig in Vegas or to put me on one of those aforementioned crime blotters-charged (and most likely convicted) for First Degree Murder of a Beloved Standard.
I wonder how those songs would look on a stick?
Special Edition Minnesota Faves:
- Quang (Vietnamese Food)
- Solid Gold (local band set at Uptown Bar)
- Murray's Steak House (home of the butter knife steak)
- Manny's Tortas (Mexican food)
- Mill City Museum (tourist spot)
- Hamlet 2 (movie)
- Psycho Suzie's Motor Lounge (Bar)
- Orange Mighty Trio (local band set at The Cedar)
- Nye's Polonaise Lounge (bar)
- KCMP (The Current) and Radio K (local radio stations)
8.29.08: New York City
Even after all these years there are still things that I just would not have imagined happening back when I was 9 years old and struggling to learn how to play Proud Mary on my nylon-string acoustic guitar. For example, I don't know if I would have imagined that I would be singing a song in Spanish about baseball in the middle of Greece backed by a nine-piece local band who had greeted me only hours earlier in their subterranean rehearsal room which was plastered with photos of the likes of Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Joe DiMaggio. See? You just can't make this stuff up.
I was booked to play a show in Ionnina in the midst of (and to help pay for) my honeymoon with Linda. We were staying in Kastrosykia (West Coast, not far below the Albanian border) with my new friends Yiorgos and Photini, the latter who arranged the gig. She asked if I was okay with a band called Silver and the Hidden Cash being my support act. I checked out their MySpace page and their hybrid of the Pogues and a Pete Seeger hootenanny seemed like fun and just the thing for a hot august night in the town square. Later I was told that they would be happy to learn some of my songs and back me up for part of my set. I chose some songs that were easy to learn-Carolyn, Kerosene Man and Manhattan Fault Line-and decided to give it a shot. When the band got a hold of The Baseball Project they asked to do a couple of songs off that as well so I tossed in Past Time and Fernando.
Well, the band learned every part and every note and every harmony from each of those songs. It was quite impressive. They even gave me and Linda Greek nicknames for the night to offset their own English nicknames (check out their website - www.shc.gr -- and you'll see what I'm talking about, although it might be all Greek to you-sorry, couldn't resist). It was a festive night. 1000 people in the Ionnina town square, a bright moon shining down and the show followed by an endless array of squid, tzatziki, grilled meats, wine, beer and other delights, a bacchanalian orgy that went until about 3:30am. And who knows? Maybe they're even baseball fans now.
Oh, this is also a good time to steer you to the new updated website (www.stevewnn.net) of you're reading this on MySpace. If you're reading this on the website, well….never mind. Kudos and thanks go out to Daneane Gallardo who set up all the new features, did the overhaul and dealt patiently with all of my endless questions and recommendations. And, of course, endless thanks continue to website majordomo Thomas Mejer Hansen who put all this in motion back in 1995, back when I had to ask him cool-what's a website. There will be a lot of fun things happening up there in the coming months including a download-only rarities compilation sometime early next year.
Time for me to look into bouzouki lessons.
Recent faves (all music this time-thanks to Yiorgos and his museum for the education)
- Matthew & Son-Cat Stevens (CD)
- The collected works of Dionisis Savvopoulos (CD)
- Fleet Foxes (CD)
- The Days of David McWilliams
- Music Is The Weapon Of The Future-Fela Kuti
- Cold Fact-Rodriguez
- The Ultimate Flairs
- Hands Across the Void-Tiny Vipers
- Ta Portreta Tis Minos-Sortiria Bellou
- A Journal of the Plague Year-Tom Rapp
7.25.08: New York City
Man, I just can't get enough of “Stay Positive,” the new album by the Hold Steady. Those of you who frequent these pages know that the band's previous album “Boys And Girls In America” was one of my favorites of a few years ago. But this one is even better. It's easy to play spot-the-influence with this band-toss “Born To Run,” “Give 'Em Enough Rope” and “New Day Rising” into a blender and see what happens-but they're more than just the music they so obviously love. Craig Finn is one of my favorite lyricists (along with Will Oldham and David Berman) these days and my buddy John Agnello did an amazing job behind the board-holy cow, he's Sandy Pearlman without the six-month incubation period.
But in a weird way they most remind of a band that they sound nothing like. I think the Hold Steady is this century's Mott The Hoople, a swaggering classic rock band fronted by a very literate frontman who's just a bit older than the decadent rock youth scene he so lovingly describes. It comes off as something between Tom Wolfe and William Burroughs-is he in the scene or watching from afar? Anyway, this is an album that I love so much I might even buy it on vinyl. Yes, that's right-taking the plunge and upgrading the mp3 version to full-on analog has become the way to show your love. Crazy, right? I can still remember not too long ago when CDs first came along and you would do a similar thing by ponying up the extra bucks to buy a CD-an actual high-tech CD!-to replace your vinyl version of a record. Full circle, baby. Funny century in which we're living.
But enough of that. Take a good look at my website (www.stevewynn.net if you're checking this out on MySpace) because it's going to change a lot in the next few weeks. A new design that will give more access to photos, videos, downloads and new ways to click and drag for hidden surprises. Huge kudos to Daneane Gallardo who is reinventing the wheel, configuring and rewiring and blowing my mind with her expertise and also to web founder CEO supreme Thomas Mejer Hansen who first came up with the site in 1995 (when I had never heard of a “website”) and who is integrating Daneane's update into his impressive work over the last 13 years. Stay tuned-drop out? Tune in-most certainly get ready to turn on around mid August.
DEATH PROOF (movie)
RAISING SAND-Robert Plant/Alison Krauss (CD)
BE HERE TO LOVE ME (movie)
PLANET TERROR (movie)
GRINDHOUSE (movie)-okay, I listed the same thing 3 times. But I dug it. What can I say?
TINY VIPERS-Hands Across the Void (CD)
THE TEMPEST (midtown bar)
7.14.08: The randomness of New York
Most of my favorite times in New York have come when I've allowed things to happen in random order. This is the beauty of the city, the thing that brought me here from LA. You can wander down the street, point at any door, wander inside and you're going to have some kind of adventure. Change your path from point A to point B, take a different street and you'll find new places to explore. It never ends (if you really could find a way to learn every street in New York that just means it's time to move on to Queens and the Bronx (Brooklyn is just so 2002).
There's a gym that we frequent on 34th Street, just one block from the Empire State Building. It's just one branch out of many in the New York Sports Club chain. (Yes, we go to a gym. Got a problem with that?) This particular outlet of a mostly functional but also mostly faceless chain of gyms stands out because it's on the 25th floor of a building and has an outdoor wraparound deck that overlooks the city. And then there is a floor above that has another deck with lounge chairs and an even slightly more elevated view. And nobody goes up there except the occasional staff member, sneaking a nap or a smoke (why work out if not to be able to smoke more!)
Now, please don't think that we've suddenly joined the ranks of the filthy rich. This gym is just an average level gym in the city. But this one fluke branch makes you feel like a high roller, a buddy of Donald Trump's or something. And Linda and I get out there with our friend Brigid now and then for a workout and then the reward of mixed drinks on the roof, snuck in the guise of orange juice bottles, doctored with a little something extra to make them that much more interesting. A tequila sunrise for a Manhattan sunset? That works just fine.
The other night's post-gym happy hour led to the inevitable post-gym, post-drink need for some chow. Brigid knew about a Mexican place on 38th Street that had gotten high marks in Time Out. The place was called Selena and the tacos were said to be very good and very large. That was good enough for us. But when we got there it seemed we had wandered into a private party. Some guy was wishing himself a very happy birthday through a cordless mic over the loudspeakers, battling for volume supremacy with some treble-heavy Norteno music. We figured we were out of luck but decided to ask if there was any chance to get some food. We were waved to the back of the room at which we found an extended buffet table and an open bar, neither lacking for anything that wouldn't quench a serious hunger or a serious thirst. Three plates of food (resembling Italian more than Mexican) and even more glasses of various cocktails and we were part of the family, grinning along with the karaoke-style singing of what must have been the current hits.
I'm not sure of my point here. Sometimes there just isn't a point. But I guess it was yet one more bit of proof that you have to get out the door and let the random nature of city streets, of the weather, of life, of sights and sounds take over your evening now and then. But watch out for those free cocktails. You might just not want to out the next day.
MUSIC IS THE WEAPON-Fela Kuti (music)
DANBURI-YA (Japanese food, 47th and Lexington)
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2nd SEASON (TV)
PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (reissue)-Dennis Wilson (music)
LIE DOWN IN THE LIGHT -Bonnie "Prince" Billy (music)
DARGERISM; COMTEMPORARY ARTISTS AND HENRY DARGER (museum exhibition)
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, LOOKOUT SEA-Silver Jews
6.23.08: New York City
The rumors are true. The set of the Late Show with David Letterman is kept at near arctic levels. Somebody told me it was 47 degrees which seemed just about right. And I had no complaints. With an 8am load-in (my earliest in 25 years, by the way) after a night of eating heavy dream-altering food with my bandmates in The Baseball Project, I enjoyed the bracing temperatures. And I guess that's why Dave (that's what I call him. Dave. It's how I addressed him during our 10-second on-air conversation) likes it that way. Nothing worse than a dozing guest, a sleepy audience, a somnambulist rock band.
I don't need to tell you about what we did when the cameras were rolling. You can see that at www.youtube.com/stevewynnsite
. I thought we did well and played the gig as though it was any other gig which was no mean feat since we hadn't actually played any other gig, save for a three-song set the night before a particular Virginia wedding last month. But after a weekend of non-stop rehearsing (not "practicing" as I was told by our very helpful guitar tech Bob Webber-thanks, Bob!) and jitters and outfit crises and nightmares where Dave (that's what I call him) turned into a giant fire-breathing lizard spouting Proust, well after all that the actual performance felt very natural and easy. That's what the roar of the guitars will do to you.
The things I did learn and can tell:
1) They love cookies on the Letterman show. Dozens of cookies in every backstage room. And we had about five backstage rooms (that's about four more than my usual gig average). With tons of cookies. Sometime around 3am Linda and I were lamenting that we hadn't loaded up our bags.
2) Paul Schaffer is a great guy. I'm not kidding. We asked him to play with us on "Past Time" and not only did he happily comply but he made it down to sound check (or is that rehearsal?) at 11am to go over the song with us five or six times. Later he told Linda she had a "nice pocket." She's still buzzing.
3) Peter Buck knows hair product. Even after 25 years of friendship and sharing bills and writing the odd song or two together, I had never shared a hair and makeup room with Peter. Damn, the guy knew exactly what he wanted from the hair stylist. The style ("dry"), the product (hmm, I forgot). And he looked great. I just went up to the hair guy and said "I'll have what he had."
4) New York City is really different when you have a full-time driver. Or so I had heard. The very helpful Letterman staff provided us with a car and driver from 7am to 9pm to bring us back and forth to our apartment/hotel/various home bases and even brought our friend Hammi back uptown to grab another guitar for me when I had a moment of guitar indecision. A guy could get used to this. But I won't. Really, I won't
5) You can get loud guitars on TV. I've always been disappointed to see great rock bands on TV reduced to anemic displays of tinny (and tiny) guitar levels, dry drums and vocals and pretty much everything that's guaranteed to neuter a rock band. Scott suggested at our rehearsal (not practice) the day before that we should just crank the guitars and that's what we did. Scott turned up the Vox AC-30 and I cranked the Fender Princeton and off we went. I was so happy to see the show and hear that the Letterman show sound mixer went along with our Maximum Mayhem Manifesto.
And I know there's a lot more. The theater is much smaller than you would think. The crew is all incredibly nice. The building is loaded up with incredible pictures of the Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, The Supremes and all the other acts that played there when it was the Ed Sullivan Theater (geek note: our show aired on the 60th anniversary of the first Ed Sullivan Show). And a lot of people seemed to see the show. Could bode well for a nice, little run for this particular side project.
Did I mention the cookies?
6.13.08: New York City
I remember sleeping on the couch for several months at my friend Tom Gracyk's house back in 1983. We would stay up, drink a few beers and watch this new talk show host called David Letterman. Man, we thought he was great. And crazy. It seemed like our own little private discovery, an almost in-joke between us and a handful of people who were digging him at the time. Well, that all changed and Letterman became a huge show, got moved up an hour earlier and is an American TV legend. I've seen a bunch of my friends (i.e. Chuck Prophet, Stephen McCarthy, Johnette Napolitano) on the show but have never been asked for any of my projects,
That will change next week when I get the chance to perform on the show with The Baseball Project (me, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon--check out the MySpace
page for more info). I don't ever get nervous about shows or recording or really anything where I hold a guitar in my hand. But there are some mild and persistent butterflies about this particular gig. I went and saw Chuck Prophet play last night at the Highline Ballroom and took him aside after the show to get his recollections and tips. He confirmed what I had already known--that the studio is arctic cold, around 53 degrees. That's good--I operate well at low temperature. And he told me that we should ask Paul Shaffer to play with us and it seems like that will happen.
I'll give a full report on the show next week (we tape on Monday but it airs on Friday, June 20). But, for now, I have to put some new strings on the Strat and pick out a jacket for the show. The TV adds 10 pounds, they say, so I gotta make sure my guitar doesn't eat too much this weekend.
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE SONY THEATER, TORONTO (concert)
LEDERHOSEN (West Village restaurant)
THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS (band and CD)
THE DOG WHISPERER (TV show)
HIDEKI MATSUI HITS GRAND SLAM ON HIS BIRTHDAY (baseball moment)
REM AT THE MOLSON CENTER, TORONTO (concert)
CHARLES' SOUTHERN KITCHEN (Harlem soul food restaurant)
IRON MAN (movie)
5.16.08: Richmond / New York
Well, it would seem that this is hardly the place to talk about the big wedding last weekend. Suffice to say that at 3pm last Sunday in Richmond, Virginia, Linda and I were married. It was a rainy day, Stephen McCarthy sang "Darling, Be Home Soon" and was joined by Robert Lloyd for "That's Amore" as Linda and her father walked down the aisle. And then the drinks flowed, the thunder rolled, the rain doubled, the food was served and finally the skies cleared and the evening evolved into a wild, raucous night of frenzied dancing to the fabulous soul sounds of NRG Krysus (featuring old bandmates Stephen McC and Armistead Wellford). I know, I know--you can't believe I haven't talked about the food. We'll save that for another time. I will only say that marzipan was involved.
But this space is usually saved for travel and touring talk and when a guitarist and drummer get married you know that it's enevitable that a tour date is going to break out and sure enough, the night before the wedding was a veritable This Is Your Life gig at the Capital Ale House before family, friends and various local pals. Here's what went down:
STEVE AND LINDA'S WEDDING REVIEW
May 10, 2008--Capital Ale House
DJ--Phast Phreddie Patterson
Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 (Steve, Linda, Dave, Jason)
There Will Come a Day
Danny & Dusty (Dan, Steve, Stephen, Bob Rupe, Johnny Hott, Robert Lloyd)
Let's Hide Away
Cast Iron Soul
Baby, We All Gotta Go Down
Gutterball (Steve, Stephen, Bob, Johnny)
When You Make Up Your Mind
Trial Separation Blues
Motorcycle Boy (with Armistead)
Transparency (with Armistead)
The Baseball Project (Steve, Linda, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck)
The Death of Big Ed Delehanty
Dennis Duck's Dream Syndicate (Steve, Dave, Dennis)
Medicine Show (with Peter)
Tell Me When It's Over (with Vicki Peterson)
That's What You Always Say (with Vicki)
Steve Wynn's Loose Change (Steve, Linda, Kirk Swan, Dave)
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Alter (with Bex and Barry Marshall-Everitt)
Nothing But the Shell (with Steve Espinola)
Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 (Steve, Dave, Linda, Jason)
The Deep End
No Tomorrow, Pt 1
The Days of Wine and Roses
Quite the variety show. And the good news is that it was all captured on video by Edgar Heckman so keep an eye out for sanctioned YouTube leaks.
3.26.08: Flight 105 to Newark
I didn't watch much TV on this trip and I'm not going to start now, despite the seemingly impossible 11-hour duration of this flight (Robert will fairly point out that he has another six hours ahead of him as he heads home to LA). I had a look at the in-flight magazine and found a bunch of movies I'd never heard of before and a bunch of shows I wouldn't watch at home. On the other hand, there are certain shows I only watch on airplanes. I've never seen an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" while on the ground but somehow it amuses me at high altitudes. Can somebody please explain this phenomenon?
We played our last show of the tour at Tiki in Athens and it turns out that it was indeed a tiki bar, the only one in Athens according to our host Dimitri. Now, if you're a native Los Angeleno of a certain age (me and Robert, for example), you grew up with Tiki bars and Polynesian early-60's kitsch. I have fond memories of flaming bowl drinks, sugarcane shrimp and wood-carved totems that took on increasingly threatening stares sometime after the third or fourth Mai Tai. This made our 35th and final show a nice way to ease back into our return to the US. I've been fortunate enough to have a strong and enthusiastic following in Greece for many years (I would wager that I've played more shows in the country than any touring American rock musician in history-go ahead and prove me wrong!) and the warmth I felt from the audience mixed with the warmth I felt from the rum-laden drink that Dimitri placed on stage for me made for a joyous lowering of the curtain.
I've enjoyed this tour and the chance to reunite with Robert (and Erik) and explore my inner folkie. Reinterpreting my back catalog for acoustic instruments on a nightly basis has given me the chance to climb inside the material and see how the parts connect and how and why various things work and don't work. And that's the kind of thing that makes touring fun and interesting after all these years (not to mention the abundance of calamari but that's another story). I'll be doing more of this kind of remaking and remodeling when I hit the road in the Fall to support "Crossing Dragon Bridge" with a seven-piece band featuring two violinists.
And there's more to tell but I see that "Alvin & the Chipmunks" is starting in 3 minutes. Oh, the things I'll watch on a plane. Glad to have you all along on this tour. See you on the next journey.
3.22.08: The road to Thessaloniki
You just never know what's going to happen. Robert's tired of hearing me say it. He's right. I say it all the time but that's the joy of touring especially when you veer from the beaten path. You just don't know. We woke up in Belgrade at 5:30am on Thursday, the exhilaration of a wild sold-out show still buzzing in our ears and caught an early flight to Athens. Gotta give credit to our promoter and good friend Ivan for getting us to the plane on time. He had to be more tired than us and had to get to his regular gig of writing sports just a few hours of sending us on our way. We tend to leave a trail of disorientation and exhaustion in our wake. And then we move on. "Who were those masked men?" "I don't know but they left us very tired."
We got our bags in Athens and had been instructed to look for a guy holding a sign with my name. Bingo. There he was. The guy didn't speak a word of English which more or less matches my conversational Greek. No problem. We got into his taxi and along with a mysterious older woman in the front seat (his mother? A bonus fare?) began a five-hour, 300 euro ride up to Preveza where we would be having a much-needed night off.
We stopped for coffee, we stopped for potato chips, we stopped for spanikopita. The roads bent, the roads narrowed, the sheep got fatter and fatter. We had no idea where we were going or when we would get there, GPS Jane long since retired to her Deventer home. Around 6pm we arrived at the home of our promoter Photini and her partner Yiorgos. Their apartment overlooked the sea, their entire basement had been converted to their own personal dream playhouse-a fully stocked bar and possibly the largest record collection and best stereo I'd ever seen. They met us with the magic words: "are you hungry?" Things were looking up.
And thus began 36 hours of tourism-both historical and edible. Ancient ruins and freshly caught cod and calamari blending together, uniting the old and new. The show in Arta was sold-out, packed, supposedly the "event of the season" which may have been true since as far as I could tell it was the only such event of the season. (I'm not sure if any other touring American artist had played Arta any time recently). Turns out that most of the locals had usually made the same five-hour drive to see us play in Athens and were quite grateful to not have to make the drive this time. Such gratitude spun itself into enthusiasm which we soaked up and gave back in the form of a lively and very long set.
Each evening ended with record-spinning, beer sipping, cheese-eating and tale-telling back at Yiorgos and Photini's. It was hard to leave today. But the Lone Ranger and Tonto are not permitted to stand still. It just wouldn't make sense.
I'm killing three hours here at the Belgrade's Nikola Tesla Airport in the middle of the afternoon while I wait for Robert to arrive and meet me from Rome where he has spent the last three days. I guess I could have caught a ride into town and told him to find his own way when he arrived but it's his first time here and I wanted to show some solidarity, an important commodity while on tour. Besides, I love hanging out in airports. I'm not kidding. I can read, listen to music, catch up on email, be alone with my thoughts and engage in some very interesting people-watching. Look! There's a guy in aviator shades and some kind of racing jacket. Maybe he's a Formula One racing star. There's a kid with a little stuffed animal that she's tossing left and right and smashing to the ground. Remind me not to come back as a stuffed animal in my next life.
Being at the airport with some time to kill also means a chance to catch up on this very road report. The last few days have been a hodgepodge of sorts, mixing purpose and modes of travel and musical company and, of course, food. In the space of 5 days I have gone from performing as a duo with Robert in Norway to returning to the Power Folk Trio format for two warm days in Italy before leaving Robert and turning into the Willard Wynn Conspiracy Syndicate in Dortmund where I played with Robert Fisher, Erik and Yuko, concluding with a fierce and fuzzy version of "All Along The Watchtower" (Mr Fisher releasing some serious demons as he channeled an afterlife Jimi to my tour-beaten Zimmy). And then it was off to Berlin where I turned into a hybrid of solo acoustic troubadour (at Berlin Guitars-the German counterpart to LA's McCabe's) and interview-spewing hype machine (interviews with Berlin's Radio Eins and the German edition of Rolling Stone).
Okay, if that last paragraph made you tired, imagine how I'm feeling right now. Tired? You imagine wrong. I'm into my third shot of espresso at this airport café and eyeing #4. I hope they don't cut me off.
3.16.08: The road to Dortmund
Impossible Travel Week continues today as we are in the midst of a 12-hour, 600 mile drive from Reggio Emilia to Dortmund where I'll be playing tonight at the Subrosa club. Robert has been left behind for three days of rest, recuperation and sightseeing and epicurean delights in Rome as this is primarily a promo trip for my new album. Erik and his sister Astrid have been handling all of the driving since we left at 7am. I keep volunteering to drive and they keep laughing. Really, guys, I used to drive. LA born and raised. Car culture, grew up on the Santa Monica Freeway-all that stuff. Buy, hey, I'm happy to play DJ (Them, Jayhawks, new Spiritualized record) and sit here and to be your very own GPS system from the back seat.
I could tell you about last night's show near Reggio Emilia. Big rock club packed with enthusiastic fans and the last show for our touring trio (Robert and I will be a duo for the last shows in Serbia and Greece). But I think it's time for….TOUR FOOD UPDATE.
Rajkot Indian Tapas (Bedford, UK)-our promoter Mike took us to this local joint promising us that it was the most authentic Indian restaurant in the city. We were not disappointed. Along with our guest violinist Josh Hillman we sat down and put together our order only to be seriously lectured and edited by the proprietor who plunked himself in a chair right next to me and told me why I shouldn't order Saag Aloo ("you can get that anywherer-it's not even Indian-it's Bengalese") or Garlic Nan ("it disguises the taste of what you're eating") and proceeded to pretty much order for us. I knew we were in good hands and that the Rajkot Daal was one of the best things I've had on this tour. (www.rajkot-tapas.co.uk)
Di Paolo (Rome)-This is a regular stop for us on tour as it's just around the corner from Big Mama where I am practically the house band. Another place where they pretty much tell you what you're going to eat. Maybe you get a choice of two pastas or two main dishes but that's about it. Very simple, very great. We were all pretty excited about the ravioli (with spinach) and the scalopine. Oh, and the proprietor is a bit of a joker. Erik ordered a grappa at the end of the dinner and the guy brought a shot glass of water just to see our reaction. Erik, of course, threw the shot glass in his face and a riot ensued. Just kidding! Really. I'm not serious. Can we bail Erik out of jail now?
The Place I Can't Remember Last Night in Tanneto Di Gattatico (near Reggio Emilia)-I have to remember to get a menu or business card when I leave these places. One of the best things I ever ate in my life was a Fileto di aceto di balsemico in Reggio Emilia years ago. It was a steak marinated for seemingly centuries in the best balsamic vinegar in the universe. I have tried to find that dish many times since then and it was right there on the menu last night. Okay, not the revelatory experience of the first time but pretty close. Add an antipasto of fresh seafood to the mix and you have one happy band. Ordered grappa and got….grappa! Will wonders never cease.
And that's it for now. There was a goulash at the truck stop today but I'd really rather not talk about it. Should have ordered what the other truckers were eating (schnitzel and beer). Always a good rule. Okay, let's check in with Jane the Queen of the GPS-how much longer Jane? Three hours? Wow. Is it still 2008?
3.15.08: The road to Reggio Emilia
Well, I was going to write more about food. And music. And Highways. And GPS systems. But then I realized that I am blessed to here with a Professional Writer, a legend of journalistic skills, the King of TV analysis (for the Los Angeles Times). Ladies and Gentlemen….ROBERT LLOYD! Robert, what are your thoughts as we leave Rome?
Leaving Rome. The Romans invented graffiti (I think) so it's not surprising that the city is heavily scribbled upon, but it's mostly American style tagging; trains that might have been rolling through Manhattan in 1980 back in the days of wild style, South Centralesque curlicue autographs, bored teenager stuff. Then there were people n horseback, and some sheep, and now we're in the country, where nothing is written upon. This is not on the American model. Big Mama, where we played last night, is on the American model, but an older version of it. They play the blues there. (We played some blues, too, but we are blues tourists as much as anyone.) There go some goats. Well, actually, the goats were standing still, we're moving. There are leaves on the trees here, and flowers in the fields, which is not the only thing that sets Southern Italy apart from, say, northern Germany, on the Ides of March, which it is today. We were in Rome on the Ides of March, though I didn't see anyone celebrating the day, not that we around long to see it. There is a marathon tomorrow, and of course, Marc Antony was in a race around the city on the day that the soothsayer told Caesar to beware the Ides of March, so maybe that's related somehow. Caesar was stabbed in the Forum and several other places. The mountains in the distance are a kind of pale blue. We are going to Reggio Emilia which is probably famous for something. Last night we played a good version of Merrtitville, which is not a name you'll find attached to anywhere here. It was the moment in the night where I thought okay we're playing some music now, where we were listening properly to one another and hit some interesting unsought for mood and groove. Sometimes you're just filling the air with what you hope will at least be appropriate noise, but you're not necessarily playing music in a way that's satisfying to you. That might be imperceptible to the audience, or shouldn't be if you're doing your job right. Anyway, that was a good moment. Tonight is the last show with Erik which makes me sad, because I have no obvious prospect of playing with him again after this. There are a lot of nice greens outside, with yellow in them. Erik and his sister Astrud (Astrid?) are speaking "Dutch in front. Nick Cave is on the car stereo. I like Nick Cave but I don't love him as much as some other people in this vehicle. I know he's good, but I never put him on for fun. We've got some nice altitude here now, over Italian valleys. The funny thing about the world is that it really looks like where you are. Italy looks exactly like Italy, there's no mistaking it. As far as Australians go, I'd be more likely to listen to Paul Kelly than Nick Cave. But that is just me. Today is a day I don't have to be on an airplane, which is good, that is no fun at all, but there still a lot of them to come before I get to go home. Oh look there are some cows, and some steers, or all they bulls, or is it all the same thing? Emily would know. She was flipped by a cow once. She was giving it a haircut. You wouldn't think a cow needed a haircut, but some cows get them, if they're, like, show cows. Those hillside fields we're passing feel exceptionally Italian, to my Southern California mind. Italians come to Southern California and find things exceptionally Southern Californian, I would think. Venice Beach (notwithstanding the Italian name), visitors quite like that. There goes a river. Again, the river was standing still, but we are all at the still point of the moving world. (Well, actually, the river is moving, but in its own riverly direction.) T.S,. Eiot wrote something like that. I mean, he used some of those words, possibly in a similiar order, I would need the poem in front of me to work out if we were making a similar point. Steve is punching his Blackberry, he suffers from that modern disease. There are some young folk playing soccer in a field. There are some unblooming grape vines. I hear Italy is known for its wine. That's what they say. There goes an SUV that says Let's Get Lost n the side, which is probably not meant as a reference to Chet Baker. There is a sign that says Firenze, which is Italian for Florence. Italy has its own names for cities, I don't why they just don't use ours. They're already copying our graffiti and playing our blues and wearing our jeans. Of course they look better in them than we do.
It's Steve. I'm back again. But what else is there to say? Yes, the Blackberry thing. I was typing out a response to a Greek interview request. An affliction? Nay, an obligation, Roberto. [Not everything is a response to a Greek interview request - the accusation stands - Robert.] Reggio Emilia is famous for the evening we're going to have tonight. At least that's the fame that it will have in our lives tonight. Someone told me last night to expect good wine and good food and a good audience. That's enough for me. And Robert, too, I assume.
All roads lead to Rome? Well, we are certainly proving that today. Robert and I woke up at 4am in our Bergen hotel (after finishing last night's gig just after midnight) and made our way to the airport for our 6am flight to Oslo, connecting to an 8:30am flight to Rome. Sometimes this touring stuff is a matter of will, riding the adrenaline of the night before to the anticipation of the night that will follow. In the meantime, Erik and his sister Astrid have driven down 1000 miles from Deventer to meet us with the van and the equipment. Not all days are this crazy or this challenging but these are certainly the days you remember and talk about when you are in some bar and boring all of your friends with hoary old road stories.
Not only is today a stretch of distance but also one of environment and culture as well. Last night Robert and I were walking through cold, rainy Bergen streets (38 degrees outside), holding our coats tightly to stay warm and ending up in a café near the club, eating monkfish that had been caught hours earlier off the Western Norwegian coast. Now it's 2pm and we're just coming back from lunch down the street from our Rome hotel. It's 70 degrees outside, I'm dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and fresh fish has given way to a plate of gnocchi with clams and mushrooms with only 18 hours separating the two experiences. Erik and Astrid are in the center of town checking out the sites (it is her first visit to Italy, after all) but I think I'll just explore the inside of my eyelids and get ready for tonight's show. It's been a long day.
3.13.08: Rica Travel Hotel, Bergen
A lot of people ask how I find the time to write these diary entries on the road. It's easy. Just put yourself in the back of a van for an average of six hours a day and you end having plenty of time for reading, listening to music, napping, staring out the window and, possibly, documenting your life outside of the van. But I haven't seen the inside of a van for the last week as we spent a few days in London and then began this Norwegian leg of the tour that has involved flying from town to town. Really, it's the best way to go. I've nearly had a few gigs cancelled by trying to navigate the windy, two-lane mountain roads from Bergen to Oslo.
So, it's the daily routine of taxis, shoes-on, shoes-off, laptop-out-of-bag, laptop-back-in-bag, buy water, drink water, hunt for newspaper, seek out local promoter after baggage retrieval. And look! I just shared a bulk of what has happened in the last 48 hours.
But that's not all.
We had really fun shows in both Oslo and Trondheim, fielding requests for songs both old and new with the deftness of a left-fielder taking caroms off the Green Monster in Fenway Park (ask your baseball fan friends). Fortunately, Robert knows many of my songs and, on a good day, so do I. We played many songs we hadn't played together before and the tightwire thrill of getting from the start to the finish without too many missteps added a nice adrenaline to the evening.
And did you think you were going to get off without some talk about food. Forget it, bub. The Credo club in Trondheim is a touring musicians dream. Upstairs is an intimate venue with great sound, a great bar and friendly people. The audience is close to the stage and it almost feels like a house concert-providing, of course, that your house has several beer taps and a full PA. But downstairs! Well, that's what makes this club unlike any other. The dive bar/rock club gives way to a five-star restaurant. No menu. You walk in and get a five-course, paired-wine, tasting meal that lasts 3 hours. Fortunately we had just about that amount of time and I won't bother cataloguing each and every dish but suffice to say that Robert and I were very happy. And happy musicians play good music (despite any rumors to the contrary). I recommend that all of you plan your next vacation for Trondheim merely to visit the Credo club and restaurant.
But that's all for now. Sound check beckons and then a gig here at the Garage before we catch a 6:30am flight to Rome. And then? Get in the van, as Henry Rollins would say.
3.11.08: Flight 669 to Oslo
Well, that was a rough takeoff. Robert and I are flying out of Heathrow one day after a storm that had been labeled a hurricane and had stopped most travel yesterday. Erik was meant to catch a ferry back to Holland with the van and our gear (he'll be joining us in Italy on Friday) and ended up stranded in London when all the ferries were canceled. His loss in more ways than one since he used the big-city reprieve as a chance to take the tube down to Sounds of the Universe in the West End where he bought a stack of soul, jazz and reggae CDs as well as a copy of the new Nick Cave as a belated birthday gift for me. What a guy!
So, now it's just me and Robert, the Dynamic Folk Duo for the next 3 days in Norway. I have a feeling that the sets will change quite a bit from the trio shows we've been performing. Then again, it couldn't be much more of a radical departure than our London show at the Borderline where we had a cavalcade of guest stars. Willard Grant Conspiracy violinist Josh Hillman joined us for a backwoods version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and "Punching Holes In the Sky." Chris Eckman was in town one day earlier to catch the Neil Young show and stuck around to revisit two songs he produced last Fall-"Love Me Anyway" and "Manhattan Fault Line," the latter which found us adding Yuko Murata once again to the mix on keyboards. Yep, the ensemble kept growing. I figured that eventually the whole audience would be on stage and I could just sneak out the back door for a curry down the road. The band ebbed and flowed for the rest of the evening until I called my old touring and recording partner Chris Brokaw (in town to work on a documentary on Storm Thorgeson) to the stage to add guitar to a very free-jazz version of "The Days of Wine and Roses." What a night! You certainly needed a scorecard for this one.
This is one of the many things I love about being on tour. You end up seeing old and new friends in all kinds of places. And the great things about having musicians for friends is that you can call them up on stage and catch up in the form of notes and grooves and dynamic shifts right on stage. Why ask questions about health and work and weather when a well-placed A-sharp minor will do?
But all of that seems like a distant memory now as I look at a packaged snack of a coronation chicken sandwich and a Breakaway candy bar. Why was the chicken coronated? My spell-check tells me that coronated isn't even a word. Does the chicken know that? Is a Breakaway candy bar different from a breakaway nation and can it be responsible for a Civil Snack War? Couldn't we just cut out the middleman and have a Breakaway Chicken and skip the coronation altogether? These are the things you wonder when you're high in the air, shaken by turbulence and heading north north north north. (MARCH 11)
3.07.08: The road to York
One man's heaven is another man's hell. Right now we are driving through the Northern England countryside and listening to a Grateful Dead board tape from 1972. Heaven? Hell? Please, don't all speak at once. Robert actually took me to my first and only Dead show in 1988 and was the one who made me appreciate a band that I had previously associated with the kinds of people that a punk rocker like me was trying to avoid during my college years. I wouldn't say that I'm anything approaching an actual Deadhead but I do like selected albums (American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, Jerry Garcia's first, bits and pieces of others) and also some of their live stuff. Robert's a bigger fan. Erik is gamely giving it all a chance. Let me see if he's digging it-pause-uh, he says "I'm digging it. I like it." Uh oh, watch out. Get ready for some long jams over the rest of the tour.
I have not been blessed by the Lords of Wifi recently and that's why this diary/blog/gonzo news reporting has slowed down to a crawl. But it's not for any shortage of activity. How shall I bring you up to speed? At length? No, my friends-you have things you have to do and my fingers are worn to the bone by a long show last night in Newcastle. So, instead, here are the highlights.
--Sharing a bill last night with Peter Case. He and I have been pals since the early 80's when I was a fan who became a friend. We meet up for gigs in the oddest places and it's always a chance to swap stories. He's quite the storyteller. And he taught me how to use my new DI (direct input box for acoustic guitars). And he's such a great guitarist and entertainer. I always try to learn a few tricks from the masters. This morning we traded horror stories of theft on the road over a big heart-clogging English Breakfast (do you really need sausage AND bacon?) I wish we were doing more shows with him.
--Sold out show in Antwerp and the longest show of the tour ("longest" being a relative term while listening to a Dead show. I think our longest set was still shorter than some versions of "Dark Star.") Great show, great meal and an interview with a journalist from the daily paper De Standaard who told me that he had interviewed Paul Weller a few weeks earlier and was told by the former Jam leader that he though I was "one of the most important American songwriters of the last 25 years" and that he used "…tick…tick…tick" to vibe himself up for shows each night. I'm not kidding. As someone who loved the Jam as a teenager, I was very touched and Erik and I celebrated all of the above with some fine Trappist Beer in the center of the old town at 1am while listening to blasting disco versions of the "Chattenooga Choo Choo." Really, you can't make this stuff up
--Playing "Lester Young" in Leicester. Get it? Clue: check the pronunciation of "Leicester." I will happily derail any set for a good pun
--Staring at the new Nick Cave in Sainsbury's and debating whether or not to buy it. Robert said I should. He's right. I'm a huge fan and his last solo album ("The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues") is one of my favorites of this young century). I just can't get over the weak dollar. The CD was 12 pounds and that works out to about 673 dollars right now. Still, I wish I would have bought it.
--Typing an email to my baseball co-conspirator Scott McCaughey in my hotel room after the show in Leicester and then turning on the TV and seeing him on the screen playing a show in Dublin with REM. The world keeps shrinking.
Well, I would tell you more but I have to check out this guitar solo. Go Captain Trips go!
3.05.08: The road to Leceister
Time warps in strange ways on a long travel day. Yesterday we spent 11 hours on the road traveling from Deventer to Calias (5 hours) where we waited for a ferry (2 1/2 hours) that took us to Dover (90 minutes) before we hit the UK and began our drive to London (2 hours). That would end up being four countries, several modes of transportation and finally an arrival in London at the home of Barry Everitt where we recorded a five-song session for his radio program (times and links soon to follow). Was it still March? Was it still the same tour? Hard to say after a while but I was grateful to gain the hour as we crossed to the UK. You save up those hours whenever you can even if you have to give them back eventually.
And now the tour of the UK begins. Our green van moves to the other side of the road but our GPS voice-of-reason-navigator Jane is on home turf, her calm British tones confidently instructing us through roads I must assume she knows and warns us of police cameras and other speed traps. Thank goodness. I don't know how people find their away around London. New York is much easier. How do you get from 96th Street to 110th Street? Drive 14 blocks, you fool!
And on we go. With a much shorter drive today.
3.02.08: The road to Antwerpen
Short drive today. Do you hear me complaining? Oh no no no (they tried to make me go to Antwerp I said 'no no no') you do not hear me complaining. Three straight days of 6 hour drives has made us all a little road weary-burnt, crispy, baked to a crackly crunch, much like the pita chips that have been in the van for the entire week and which will most likely survive the end of time along with cockroaches and Keith Richards.
Yesterday was only my second gig ever in Luxembourg and it was a really good one, much better than the first. That show was in 1999 on a bill with Rich Hopkins. It was a strong double bill and we were all stunned to find a really bad turnout. But last night was another story. We played at the new cultural center-a classy gig. A grown up gig. A theater with nice seats and great sounds and flashy lights and lots of people. I thought I was an 85-year old jazz legend or something. Or maybe Garrison Keiler. I'll think about it and let you know.
Oh, and there was a great meal after the show. I love eating after the show. You can sit and relax and eat all of the things that would make you sluggish or vocal-challenged. Me, I was all over the escargot. Hey, I love the little snails but am mostly in the game for the garlic butter. Tastes great, keeps the vampires away and I swear all that garlic will keep you healthy. That, and the cognac that ended the evening. Vampires hate cognac.
Speaking of healthy, Robert continues to fight his tour-long bout of fevers, sore throats, coughing and laryngitis. Poor guy. He plays great every night but he's playing in pain. He's like Sandy Koufax, he's like Willis Reed, he's like-well, you can insert your favorite sports star here. But after the show someone stole his antibiotics from the dressing room. No kidding. Somewhere in Luxembourg, some thief is really, really healthy. Street value of 20 euros. The black market thrives.
Is that it? Are we almost there? Looks that way and Erik is hunting for some Belgian fries in a big way. Over and out.
2.29.08: The road to Luxembourg
Now, there's a title I haven't typed often. Tonight will be my second-ever gig in the country of Luxembourg, a country that mystifies me. Been asking Erik a lot of questions about it but he doesn't seem to know much so it's a good night for research. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, "the people of Luxembourg-nobody knows who they were. Or what they were doing." I'm on a fact-finding mission.
In fact, today has been a good tourist day. We played the Panorama Museum last night in Bad Frankenhausen (a former East German city whose name almost combine the titles of two Andy Warhol films!) Really fun gig with lots of people in the foyer of the museum whose main feature is a 360-degree mural that is about 40 feet high and 350 feet around (13m by 130m for the European readers) and covers a 16th Century peasant uprising in the region, the invention of the printing press, the influence of Martin Luther, various other battles, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel. Sadly, we got to the venue too late to check it out last night but we made a beeline this morning to get there in time for the opening. Amazing. It looks a lot like a less lysergic version of Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" and 30 minutes of checking it out just began to scratch the surface (well, we didn't actually scratch the surface-the guard would not have liked that). You can check it out and find out more info (it was painted in the 1980s and completed a month before the wall came down) at www.panorama-museum.de
Okay, kids, stop looking at your watches. Class is almost dismissed. But first I wanted to give a shout-out to Dietmar, Marion and Johanna who invited us (along with our pals Jaap, Corrie and Yuko) into their home after the Essen show for a night of great food, cocktails, Lucinda Williams records, chatting and a good night's sleep. Hotels are wonderful but sometimes a few hours of actual Home Life can be a wonderful thing. Happy Leap Year.
2.28.08: The road to Essen
Nothing like a nice hotel. When I saw that we were staying at the Renaissance Hotel in Karlsruhe I thought, "wow, the hotel here has the same name as that swanky chain of hotels back home." Well, it was more than coincidence. This WAS the swanky joint back home. Now, let me tell you, dear readers, I'm not one of those rock stars who can only stay in 5-star hotels. We do our share of pensions, roadside convenience establishments and club accommodations. But every now and then on a six-week tour with days off few and far between, you give thanks to the heavens when you get a top-notch hotel rooms. The skies part and the angels sing when you see a full-size bed, a deep tub and a few channels in English. The breakfast was voted Breakfast Of The Tour by the Current Touring Combo (the CTC board being on par with the Michelin Guide) with highlights like smoked salmon, horseradish spread, baby Bonbel cheeses (I'm a freak for those) and both herring and sardines. Please please, don't you all cringe at once or I'll be forced to tell you about my love of ham/cheese/nutella sandwiches.
Did I say that there's nothing like a nice hotel? Well, there are some things just as good including a club with a friendly staff, great meal and impeccable full-bodied sound. And that's what we got last night at the Jubez in Karlsruhe. It was so much fun to play and Robert and I responded with some long psychedelic jams (Mr Lloyd morphing into Captain Trips) and the tour debuts of "Layer By Layer" and "She Came" (from "Crossing Dragon Bridge.") And the set got even more exciting when we were joined by "local musician" Chris Cacavas (he lives 20 minutes down the road) who added his excitement to the last 7 or 8 songs. We had fun hanging out with Rose Cacavas, Edgar Heckman, Peter Weber and other new friends as well.
Can you tell I'm in a good mood? I've only played Karlsruhe once before but I'm hoping this isn't the last time. Please keep room 207 made up for me.
2.26.08: The road to Halle
Erik asked a couple of days ago how I would like to get from Vienna to Halle. "We could either take the motorway all the way there and get there in six hours or drive the back roads through the Czech Republic and get there in eight." Hey, it's his van, he's the driver, I'm just hanging out in the backseat. "It's up to you, Erik," I said. "Great," he answered, "because I thought it would be more fun to take the longer route." Not the answer I expected. Knock yourself out, big guy
So, here we are looking at the Czech countryside, stopping off at road stops and searching for absinthe and goulash (don't combine 'em, kids!) The border of Austria and the Czech Republic looks like Tijuana as imagined by a Las Vegas developer. Or maybe it's the other way around. The buildings are a mix of old world Czech dilapidation and modern-world post-Communist disposability. I recently saw "Rock And Roll," Tom Stoppard's fantastic play about life in Prague under communist rule. I keep flashing back on the play and hearing Syd Barrett (a major touchstone of the play) in my head as I marvel over how things have changed.
Nothing but good times in Vienna. You want music stories? Packed show at the Chelsea club, our first actual punk rock club of the tour. No problem. Our gypsy renegade folk worked there just fine and it was one of the best shows yet. I hope someone was taping it. You want food? Let's talk about the marzipan cake at the Mozart Café or the apple srudel the night before. Let's not talk about the Wienerschnitzel (always eat local!) the night before. Oh well, You win some, you lose some.
Or maybe you just want to know why I'm so tired today (I really swear I heard someone ask). Well, it might have been that I stayed awake all night on Sunday, watching the Oscars in my room at the Hotel Furtenhof. The European broadcast lasted from 2 until 6 and I sipped shots of Johnny Walker Black (a gift from Edgar Heckmann) while taking advantage of a wifi connection to eavesdrop via Skype on a party in New York that my friend Brigid was throwing with Linda and others in attendance. I felt like Charlie (he, of the "Angels") talking to them via the tiny speakers on a computer while they frolicked and ate tapas back home. The world just gets better and weirder. Oh, and the European broadcast eschewed the lily-livered 7-second delay of the US so I was able to dazzle them with my clairvoyant ability to predict not only winners but also all of the best jokes.
Yes, life has changed since I began touring Europe in 1984. But one thing remains the same. We're in the van, bringing ourselves to another town to play some music. You've got to stick with the fundamental.
2.24.08: The road to Vienna
Wow, I closed my eyes for 10 seconds and the tour turned into a Woody Allen movie. I guess it's because DJ Robert has Django Reinhardt on the stereo and the pastoral German fields are reminding me of a scene from-oh, I don't know-"Sweet and Lowdown" or something. Or maybe it's because I'm just thinking about New York City where it's MUCH colder and the city is covered with snow. But not here. In Southern Germany it feels like springtime and the heavy coat and sweater has given way to a black t-shirt and sunglasses.
I could tell you about the last two shows in Wendelstein and Roding. Both were fun gigs in small towns with friendly promoters and many new additions to the ever-growing song pool ("Out of the Grey," "Something To Remember Me By," "If My Life Was An Open Book"_-all played for the first time in years. I even remembered most of the words). But I know why you're really here and what you've really been waiting for.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES!
This diary has been accused of being more a Food Diary than Tour Diary in the past and I plead guilty. There are many obvious reasons for touring but checking out interesting cuisine in different parts of the world ranks right up there. To paraphrase Ronnie Hawkins when he hired an embryonic version of The Band (and this is a VERY loose paraphrasing as some of you might know), I could easily hire my band members by saying "Boys, you won't make a ton of money but I guarantee that you'll get more (schnitzel) than Frank Sinatra." You catch my drift.
Two nights ago in Wendelstein I was faced with a dinner menu containing many German items I didn't know. I figured most of them were specific to the Franconia region where we were playing. Rather than search for one of the few familiar items I borrowed a tactic Linda's sister's husband (aka my future brother-in-law), the honorable Vermont judge Mark Keller and told the waiter that I eat everything and he should bring me something good and local. Mark usually doesn't even want to know what it is until it arrives but I chose to get the full lowdown ahead of time. It turns out that` the local specialty is something called Schaeufele (apply umlauts where you'd like. My laptop won't do it). It's a pork shoulder dish, nasty and good, covered in juice and accompanied by a giant potato ball. Okay, not the kind of thing you normally want to eat before you play but it was great and talking about it on stage endeared me to the locals So all was good.
Last night's dinner in Roding was more conventional but equally delicious. Erik and I went to an Italian restaurant (Robert has been sick for most of the tour and chose to sleep it off before the gig). I had a really good Spaghetti di Mare while Erik went for the Pizza Diavalo. A salad the side of Rhode Island and a Weizenbier only slightly smaller rounded out the meal. The end of the evening featured a nightcap at the club while we listened to the CD of a German entertainer named Mambo Kurt who plays cover versions of the likes of Nirvana and the Strokes on a Hammond Organ and drum machine, German accent intact. Hey, things get pretty surreal on a small-town German Saturday night.
Yeah, I'm willing to dive off the epicurean deep end but when I looked across the breakfast room of the hotel at 11am this morning and saw the locals already diving into more potato balls, slabs of meat and GIGANTIC beers, well, I quietly downed my coffee and bread and cheese. I had certainly met my match.
2.22.08: The road to Wendelstein
Things that happened on my 48th Birthday in Stuttgart
1) Erik Van Loo broke the only bow he'd had since 1988 while playing "Amphetamine"
2) Chris Cacavas drove in from Ludwigsberg where he's making his new record to join us for about a dozen songs and much merriment.
3) We shot a video for "Manhattan Fault Line" between the two sets, making use of the audience, the bar staff, Cacavas and the entire grounds of the Laboratorium for the shoot. Keep checking the website, myspace and youtube. It should be up soon
4) Robert wore dark glasses for the video shoot. He looked cool
5) Did two lip-synch versions of "MFL" and then the second fade-out morphed into a spontaneous live version that began the second set. It was unplanned and one of those magic moments. Chris had never heard the song but played it perfectly on piano
6) Edgar Heckman brought out his Heilbronn posse and filmed not only the video but much of the two sets. The Weizenbier on his table in front of me looked very appetizing and felt like a carrot at the end of the proverbial stick taking me to the celebratory moments after the show
7) I was given not one but TWO birthday cakes-one by Annette who runs the Laboratorium and the other by Edgar, presenting a fine cheesecake made by Sabine at Blue Rose. Thanks, Sabine.
8) Robert and Erik had Indian food for dinner. I had Schweinschnitzel. They came from the same restaurant (which also had Chinese, Italian and Thai food on the menu) Somehow it was all really good
9) We played "When We Talk About Forever," a song I wrote for my upcoming wedding to Linda Pitmon, for the first time. It felt regal. I felt like stepping on a wine glass.
10) All of this and somehow we were out of the club by 1am. At 48 years old I have learned to bend time. It was a fine birthday.
2.21.08: The road to Stuttgart
How many birthdays have I had on the road. Your trusty website founder and Managing Director Thomas Mejer Hansen tells me that it has been more than a few. Let's see. There was that first Dream Syndicate tour in 1983 where pizza and beer in a cheap motel outside of Boston felt like a luxurious 23rd birthday party. Since then I remember spending my 38th birthday crossing over to Sweden on a ferry from Denmark. Oh, there was my 34th birthday in Madrid where some fans from Mallorca gave me a cake in the shape of a fish (I'm a Pisces). In 2001 I spent my entire 41st birthday in airports on my own (you can stop crying now) as I traveled from Milan to Brussels to Copenhagen. It ended with a tasty Danish beer near the train station with a record label representative who I had never met before and haven't seen since but on that night he was my birthday buddy.
And that, Thomas, might be that. But you can add today to that list. I began my 48th birthday over a fine breakfast with Erik and Robert (who had hand-drawn a card for me-I'll have to take a picture for your viewing pleasure.). Now we're on the highway on our way to the Laboratorium in Stuttgart. Blue Rose majordomo Edgar Heckmann will be there. Chris Cacavas will be there. We'll be shooting a homemade video clip for "Manhattan Fault Line" with the involvement of the whole crowd. There will be beer. There will be music. There will be chocolate. Hopefully no blood.
I took over from Robert as DJ today (something I haven't had the inclination to do since he's been playing such great stuff in the van). And I handed off the DJ duties to my buddy Bob Dylan who is here with us today in the form of his Theme Time Radio Hour. So far we've listened to an hour of songs about the bible and another hour of songs about cars. Bob says he's busy tonight so he won't be joining us at the show. He didn't give me a gift but he once gave my cousin 5 eggs. Really. It's true. And I'd love to tell you the rest of the story but I've got some birthday cake that I need to eat-my first slice of birthday cake on the autobahn, at least as far as I know.
2.20.08: The road to Solingen
It was a little after midnight and Erik and I were in the van on our way to the Knust club in Hamburg with GPS Jane leading the way. We had just played two sets and then hung out with friends in Norderstedt and were on our way to the second phase of our evening. Our good friends Chris And Carla (aka Chris Eckman, who produced my latest, and Carla Torgensen) had just played 30 miles down the road at the Knust and it was just too nearby to not meet them for a few drinks and some swapping of stories.
Chris and I raised a toast to our excitement over the final results of Crossing Dragon Bridge and he told tales of his recent festival gig in the Mali desert with his band Dirt Music. He said it was a life-changing experience, jamming with local musicians (such as the incredible Tinariwen) from sunrise to sunset and then watching the same musicians perform on stage until the sun rose again. I've got to check it out someday. Carla's jet-lag was overshadowed by the dazzling blue highlights in her hair, Knust promoter Norbert was his usual loquacious self (I always think of him as the German Oscar Wilde) and we were back on the road by 2am.
All of this went down after two sets of madcap and adventure at the Music Star, which is essentially a basement rec room of sorts beneath a record store. It holds about 70 people, beers are in a fridge and you're on the honor system to drop some euros into a bucket. It's usually a fill-in gig to break up the mileage between shows but I've grown to really look forward to the shows (and judging by the high caliber of performers who have played there, I'm not alone).
We used the intimate and forgiving party setting as an excuse to bring in a lot of songs we hadn't played before (I think we're up to 60 songs performed in the first 7 shows, says your local statistician). Here's what went down last night:
First set (me and Robert)
WAIT UNTIL YOU GET TO KNOW ME
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LINE
WHATEVER YOU PLEASE
I'M JUST BEGINNING TO LIVE (a cover of a song I've never heard--request)
Second set (me, Robert and Erik)
TELL ME WHEN IT'S OVER
LOVE ME ANYWAY
PUNCHING HOLES IN THE SKY
MANHATTAN FAULT LINE
THIS TIME TOMORROW (Kinks song by request)
THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES
THE DEEP END
WHEN YOU SMILE
2.18.08: The road to Kiel
It's always strange to start a show before the sun goes down (unless you're playing in Norway in the summer in which case you have no choice). On the heels of a Saturday night gig and much post-show chatting with pals in Haarlem, we were up early for a drive to Ottersum for a noon arrival and 4pm show at the Roepan, one of my favorite and more unusual shows of the past few tours. The building is in a small Dutch town near the German border and houses a variety of cultural events. Upstairs in the chapel there was a classical performance, down the hall opera singers were practicing scales. And we were dusting off the cobwebs of an early morning in the club downstairs.
I've had the chance to see some really good shows on this tour since we've had more opening acts than usual. I usually avoid opening acts so that we can play longer sets but lifted that restriction on this tour which has allowed me to enjoy the bands I've mentioned on previous nights. And I was rewarded again with a spellbinding set by Tiny Vipers, a one-woman "band" from Seattle. I guess you could compare her to a mix of Judee Sill, early Sinead O'Connor and Catpower but that wouldn't really do her justice. I'm looking forward to checking out her CDs. And then it was old pal Jaap Boots (not to be confused with Jaap Bos) who sang a bunch of his catchy tunes in Dutch. Yes, they were catchy even though I didn't know what he was saying. I found myself singing along in my head to words that just felt like phonetics. But that's the way I hear a lot of my favorite music anyway. He did a fine translated version of "When You Smile." I may have to cover his version.
And then we had our set which I hear will be up on some of the live archived music websites later this week. It sure sounded good on stage as we bypassed the usual amplified and wired guitar and bass sounds, going instead for a more natural all-micing approach which fit perfectly in the room's fine acoustics (some of you may find your eyes glazing over right now. Sorry). We were joined for a few songs (as we were in Haarlem) by our pal Yuko Murata on keyboards (including an appropriately Sunday gospel version of "There Will Come a Day") and then by Jaap Boots for "500 Girl Mornings."
By 7:30 we were finishing dinner and getting ready to pack up the van. Hey, we could have still played another show last night, a true double-header. But an easy night in Deventer seemed to make more sense with much road to cover in the coming days. On to Germany.
2.16.08: The road to Haarlem
Or as Bobby Womack would say, we're on the road that will take us "across 110th Street." You see, I actually live about ten blocks from Harlem (New York) but tonight we'll be playing in Haarlem (Holland). That one "a" makes all the difference in the world. Fried chicken and waffles drowned in gravy give way to fries and mayonnaise. Either way your arteries are going to be yelling at you provided they can open their little artery mouths wide open enough to emit any kind of sound.
There was certainly a New York invasion in Diksmuide last night as our opening act was Trixie Whitley (daughter of Chris Whitley) who divides her time between Brooklyn and Belgium. And her guitarist Greg McMullen also lives in Brooklyn so there was lots of talk about clubs and studios and things like that. But there was no nostalgia for NYC last night as it seemed the Club 4AD was the place to be. Big crowd, attentive, appreciated and we played for a long, long time. Continued to drag out forgotten tunes like "Here On Earth As Well," "Under the Weather" and "One By One" while squeezing and taming the others into the sound of this tour which someone compared last night to "Twin Peaks." That's all right by me.
We finished the night with some members of the club staff, talking about the merits of manual vs automatic driving and comparing the best beers of Belgium. We even ended up tasting a few, the easy winner being something called Trappist Rochefort that tasted incredible and allowed me to sleep off the last bits of jet lag. Yes, there has been a lot of beer talk in the last few diary entries but, hey, that's one of the things you can't help doing when you're in Belgium.
It's really a pleasure to play with Robert again after all of these years. Not only have we been good friends for 25 years but he was also there for almost every acoustic show I played between 1986 and 1994 (and plenty of electric shows as well) so we find that we have a lot of songs that we know together and that lends itself to spontaneity and desire to perform "without a net." And without Annette for that matter. Oh, and he's a great van DJ-today's treat is a bootleg of a Neil Young show from around 1974 that he's got going in the front seat.
Oh, now he's playing Carla Bruni's first album. Wow, pretty good. Best album by a First Lady I've ever heard. I just handed up some waffles to Erik and Robert. They seem happy and ready to sink into a good sugar buzz enhanced by sweet French Pop music. Speaking of music-you know that aggravating thing where you hear a song everywhere and really dig it and never find out what it was? That's happened to me for the last few tours with this very groovy, dark, foreboding song that I kept hearing. Drove me nuts-no lyrical hook to Google, nothing. Well, I finally found out. It's a song by The Roots called "The Seed"-I've already ponied up my 99 cents on iTunes. If you live in Europe you probably have already heard it a million times. Otherwise, check it out.
Ah, Haarlem approaches. I can see bill Clinton's office from here.
2.15.08: The road to Diksmuide
Did I spell that right? The last few days have consisted mostly of Erik trying to teach me how to actually pronounce the name of the city we're playing tonight. It's sort of like Dicks-Moydah, I think which, to my ears, sounds like a guy from Brooklyn saying "it's murder!" or, more accurately "it's moidah." If you either live near Brooklyn or if you've ever watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon you can imagine what I'm saying.
(Erik, by the way, referred last night to a particular Dutch beer as "Hoe-Garden." I responded, "hey, that's not how you say it." "No," he answered, "that's how YOU say it." True. The actual pronunciation is more akin to saying those same words after eating a block of cheese and then saying "ccchhchchcoo-cccchchhcchaaaa-cchchcchchhheeehh," more or less)
This tour is mostly a circuit of smaller towns, places I don't usually play. It's a chance to play to new fans, see new places and save the usual bigger cities for the tour I'll be doing after "Crossing Dragon Bridge" comes out this Spring. It was tough to find Diksmuide on the map (or actually "it's MOYDAH to find it on a map) but it's actually near Leffinge where I often play.
It's always fun to play Belgium. The food is great, I've always had a lot of good fans and strong support for my music over here and the drives are short. So short, in fact, that I have to type a little faster as I can see our destination approaching on the GPS system. Who needs to look at the road? I just stare at the virtual map. Anyway, the obvious epicurean journey of this country must involve chocolate, mussels, "French fries" (they'll hate you here if you say that since they are of Belgian origin), waffles and beer. I've only had the latter as of yet-a pint each of Duvel and Leffe last night. I drink both of those at home but I swear they taste better over here.
We played a bunch of different songs in Liege last night-a few other choices from the new album, "Then She Remembers," "Nothing But the Shell," "Boston," "Whatever You Please" and a few others. I hope to have the song list up to 200 by the time we hit Athens. We'll play them all that night, I'm sure. And what can you say about a 200-song show? Why, of course: IT'S MOYDAH!
2.14.08: The road to Liege
The first show is in the books. It's a really short book right now. More like a pamphlet, a propaganda primer of reinvention and reconsideration. Old songs were rescued from the scrapheap of history, newer songs were massaged and prodded and forced into a Stockholm Syndrome remake/remodel of their very existence. That's right. My songs were given a machine gun and a beret and turned into Patty Hearst and learned to love their reinvention. They're such weak-willed things, God bless them.
Okay, this is all a little fuzzy but what can I say? The jet lag has kicked in, certainly not helped by drinking Belgian beer until 3am in a Utrecht bar with Robert, Erik and visiting pals Hammi, Yuko and Joanne. But there was cause for celebration after the unveiling of this acoustic trio. I was a little nervous before the show but no reason for worry. It all went well and took on its own character pretty quickly which bodes well for the next 30 shows. Here's the set list
TEARS WON'T HELP
CARRY A TORCH
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LINE
THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE
CAROLYN (above with Robert, Erik joins us on upright starting NOW)
TELL ME WHEN IT'S OVER
LOVE ME ANYWAY
MANHATTAN FAULT LINE
IS THERE SOMETHING I SHOULD KNOW
THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES
How did I remember that? Well, I was there for one thing. And that Belgian beer is a wondrous thing. It allows you to remember what you want to remember and forget the rest. Now we're on our way to Liege. Robert is playing a Little Feat bootleg up front and it sounds great. Erik is listening to the soothing tones of Jane, the voice in his new GPS system, as she tells us how to get where we're going and how to avoid getting a speeding ticket. She's our best friend in the world right now. Well, her and Lowell George. And if you give me weed, whites and wine……
2.11.08: The Road To Utrecht
Some things stay the same. Some things change. Welcome to tour diary 2008. Put on your warm coat. It’s brutal out here. Not as cold as what I left behind in New York. Much colder than what Robert Lloyd (mandolin, keyboards, guitar) left behind in Los Angeles. And exactly as cold as what Erik Van Loo (upright bass, driving, merch) left behind in Deventer since that happened about 10 minutes ago.
We’re in Erik’s new minivan which will be our home for the next four weeks as we move across Holland, Belgium, Germany and the UK. The stereo sounds good which is my gauge of a "good van" vs. a "bad van." Robert is up front playing a collection of mash-ups which fits my jet-lagged brain perfectly. Right now Diana Ross is singing "Love Child" to the backing of "Lust for Life." It makes perfect sense. Detroit is Detroit.
And Utrecht is Utrecht. That’s all we need to know today. It’s where we’re heading tonight for the first show at the Ekko, a great club where I’ve played many times before. They usually have a great DJ and dancing can last long into the night. I’m ready. My internal clock has been dipped in motor oil and molasses. And that means it runs just fine for touring conditions
Bob Dylan is singing "Blowing In the Wine" to the backing of the Pixies’ "Where Is My Mind." Perfect. I just looked out the window. My mind is certainly blowing in the wind.
1.30.08: New York City
Welcome to mixing a record in the modern world.
I had chosen Tucker Martine to mix "Crossing Dragon Bridge," my newest album that I had recorded in Slovenia with Chris Eckman. He and Chris had done several records together and the more I dug into Tucker's work on records by the Decemberists, Laura Veirs, the Walkabouts, the Transmissionary Six and other bands, the more I realized that his sound was just what I needed for this record.
The only barrier to using Tucker was that he lives and mixes at his studio in Portland, Oregon and I am in New York getting ready to leave on tour and unable to cross the country to oversee the process. Ironically, I had just been in Portland last month making the baseball record (and making an exhaustive study of the city's fine Mexican food) and as much as I was ready for more of the Rainy City, it just wasn't in the cards.
But that's no problem these days. You don't have to be anywhere and you can be everywhere. Tucker has been mixing at his home studio in Portland and I've been here in my pad waiting for each of them to arrive at about four hour intervals The only thing is that we are operating on a time crunch and he needs my input immediately so that he can move on. I have to be here, not at the movies or at the corner deli or swimming across the Hudson to New Jersey (well, I hadn't considered doing that but I like to keep my options open). In other words, I am under virtual house arrest for five days. And that's not a bad thing-I'm catching up on reading, music listening, internet research-whatever one does at home.
Last night we hit a point where it all seemed crazy and wondrous. Tucker was mixing "Love Me Anyway," a moody and spooky groove meditation on love and mystery that sounds like Squeeze collaborating with Giorgio Moroder on the remake of Sandinista. Anyway, it was midnight in Portland and Tucker was just hitting his stride, it was 3am in New York and I was starting to fade but in a perfect state to hear his latest mix and it was 9am in Slovenia and Chris was just settling for his first cup of coffee and ready to receive. Some changes, some debates, a few more mixes and we were all ready to move on. Well, I moved on to slumber land but it was very, very productive.
We'll be finished in a few days, the record gets mastered next week and then it's time to hit the road. The Home Diary becomes a Tour Diary and it will be time to move from House Arrest to Van Arrest. Van Arrest! Didn't he make some great soul records in the early 70s?
Some fine older records rediscovered and reconsidered recently:
LET US NOW PRAISE SLEEPY JOHN ESTES-Peter Case
THE UNSUNG COLONY-Norfolk and Western
STRANGE WEIRDOS-Loudon Wainwright III
HAPPY HOUR-Peter & The Sellers
WE BELONG TO THE STAGGERING EVENING-Ike Reilly Assassination
NOTHING IS STRAIGHT IN MY HOUSE-The Saints
THE SOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED-The Solution
1.16.08: New York City
Anybody who knows me knows that I don't have many regrets. I'm happy with my life, my career, the ups, the downs-I figure that every misstep and mistake was a chance to take an interesting road that led me to where I am right now. And I really like where I am right now so I guess all the choices were good ones.
But there is one significant exception to my No Regrets outlook. I really really really wish I hadn't sold each of the guitars that I sold between 1980 and 1984. Those are the years I moved from being a struggling college student/record store clerk to being the leader of the Dream Syndicate and signed to A&M Records. In those years I couldn't afford to have more than a couple of guitars at a time. If I saw something new that I wanted that meant something else had to go.
Oh, how I mourn the quick and undervalued sales of various Jazzmasters (the one with the pink metal flake finish haunts me to this day), Jaguars, Les Pauls, Mustangs, Dan Armstrongs, Epiphones and other fines guitars. I sold or traded them all for about $300 each and they're almost all worth ten times that amount today.
The good news is that I've just recently been turned on to the fine guitars being made by Eastwood Guitars up in Canada. I first got a chance to try out a beautiful green Sidejack DLX while recording with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck up in Portland and bought one exactly like it as well as a sassy red Twin Tone the moment I got home. And the beautiful thing about these guitars is that they each remind me of some of my favorite guitars that I ever let out of my site. Despite the Mosrite motif of the Sidejack, the sound often reminds me of everything I loved about my Jazzmasters. And the combustible aggressive roar of the Twin Tone gives me flashback of the black Les Paul that got away.
The guitars sound great, are solidly built and lots of fun to play. I tried them both out on stage here in New York last weekend and they stood up to the loud bandmates that flanked me on either side. They cut through, sparkled, had personality to burn and-best of all-drew oohs and aahs from audience members, friends and fellow musicians. They're not just guitars-they're conversation pieces.
And believe me-I won't be selling THESE guitars anytime soon.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (TV show)
SLICED PORK AND PRESERVED EGG CONGEE (Congee Village)
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (movie)
PLAYING WITH MY FRIENDS AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM (Danny & Dusty)
"BIG BIRD"-Eddie Floyd (song)
"FUNKY STREET"-Arthur Conley (song)
RIP Drew Glackin (1963-2008)