Monday, August 18, 2008

Europe Part Three: You Say It's Your Birthday...

Originally planned as a day off, we booked Utrecht just about a week before the show took place. While never having played DB's club before, it was good to have at least one Dutch show for the tour. Main man Jeroen took mighty good care of us during our time there. The gig itself was a smash, we made double our guarantee from the back-end (100% of all door gross after 80 paid customers, I believe) and with some B-52's they let their bodies rock. My plea from the stage for a copy of the Utreg Punx single has so far proven fruitless. The search continues…

(but there was a moment, me with the microphone, the crowd standing motionless, where I pleaded with them to move, saying "This is what you look like" and without any pre-planning, Ko, Troy and Mick stopped playing, turned around to flank me and stood there with arms crossed and blank expressions across their faces…anyway, it seemed to rile the crowd up a bit)

After show Coen from A Fistful of Records catches me up-to-date on his latest releases and it pleases me to no end. Folks came from all over the Netherlands to see the show and that's a testament to: 1) what die-hard fans we have, and 2) the fact that we should be playing a lot more than one show in-country. We walk a couple hundred meters to Jeroen's house and it feels like the old days…crashing on couches and floors of promoters, staying up late listening to records and watching videos…I honestly had a blast with the Spits US tour doc that Jeroen put on and an even bigger blast digging Mick's scene in World War Love.

Next morning was a day off, an assortment of bread and cheese and fruit and pastries and juices was the perfect breakfast preparation for our time spent at De Capo Records. Oh what a salty beast of a record store. At one point in time this establishment would buy one copy of every single available from its distributor. And a lot of those singles still sit there today.

Pantano so graciously alerted me to a copy of the Colors "Prophet of Profit" single that I gladly purchased, quite possibly making me the only person in the world to own the entire recorded output of Madison Heights' answer to the Who (Mick scored a copy of the "God Jamm" single, putting him not far behind myself). Repress of Gonn's "Blackout at Gretely" (one of my favorite song titles of late), a Pierre Henry EP with "Psyche Rock" on it, Almanack on the same label (Baron) as the 3rd Power single, R. Stevie Moore's "I Hate People" and I'm a happy camper at the best record store in all of Nederland.

Drive on to Brussels, once at hotel I get nervous about whether or not the Juke Box Shop will still be open, so I venture off to see what I can find. I get there to closed gates and no shop hours listed at all. It was a slight consolation to see that the store didn't even look like it had been open that day. Record stores in Europe have really odd hours anyway.

Hit another shop up the street, considered buying the White Stripes CD bootleg Alternate GBMS but realized it wasn't worth the euros they were asking. From the upstairs vinyl section, I grab a handful of 7"s from a box that I do not notice is precariously balanced on a ledge. The box tips slightly and it rains mid-Eighties Euro-pop picture sleeves on the CD racks 12 feet below me. How utterly embarrassing…only to be told by the shopkeep, "It has happened before…and it will happen again." Uh, thanks for the reassurance?

I pass by the Ancienne Belgique Club, or AB for short. I peruse the posters in their window to try and discern who's playing that night, but there's nothing listed with the day's date. I keep on walking.

With most of the shops closed (NOTHING stays open remotely late in this part of the world, except maybe kebab shops if you're lucky), I find myself back in front of the AB Club and this time go a step further, through the front doors, grabbing the flyers annoyingly thrust in front of my face, still trying to figure out who in the hell was playing.

A flat-screen TV in the distance listed three acts and their respective set times. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks were playing on my night off and I felt infinitely blessed. Just needed to find a way in.

Having played the club room at AB with Stoltz, I knew where the backdoor and loading dock was situated (it's curiously not in the most-obvious of spots either). My insider knowledge was already being put to use. As I got to the little alcove I sat on a urine-scented park bench and thought deeply about how to get into the show.

I texted Janet who plays drums for the Jicks, but my phone had been acting up severely (I would receive one single text message and no others, repeatedly, over fifty times in the span of 24 hours) so that was a dead end. I could just go and buy a ticket, but what's the fun in that? Someone left the loading bay door open and I was tempted to just walk in and act like I belonged, point to one of the old sticky passes on the inside of my jacket like it applied for that night and search out the backstage like some contract killer would his prey in one of the Bourne Ultimatum movies. But no.

I saw two fellas pulling a suitcase out of a hatchback and decided to approach them. I eloquently told them I was a friend of Janet's who just happened to be in town and was hoping to see the show that night. Without even questioning they instantly put me on the guest list. Turns out one of the men was the tour promoter (who'd even promoted the Dirtbombs triumphant appearance at the Pukkelpop festival years ago) and the other was the opening act. As much as I'd like to claim it was my superior profiling skills that lead me to single out these two individuals for my first and only attempt at wiggling into the show, I have to admit it really was just dumb luck.

Time watching openers was motionless…being at a club, not having to play and anticipating the headlining act all made me forget that I was actually on tour and that is a delight. First band General Mindy almost fooled me into believing they were American…but the actually spoke some Germanic language other than English. Jeffrey Lewis and the Jitters (Jeffrey being the one I'd met outside) were hard to stomach…first two songs were kinda anti-folk (which of course just means pale imitations of folk music) and I left to just go sit in the lobby. Came back in to a set-closing cover of Nirvana's "Sifting" accompanied by political illustrations being projected on a screen behind the stage. Lame.

But the Jicks did not disappoint. Granted I haven't been able to spend as much time with Real Emotional Trash as I'd have liked to since it came out, I did develop an affinity for that new material, especially "Dragonfly Pie."

But for a band like this, my jollies come from the classics…shit like "Vanessa From Queens" or "Water and a Seat" are my jams from way back "Jenny and the Ess-Dog" holds a place near and dear to my heart, if only because it's a perfect story-telling pop song.

I was surprised at how hard "Baby C'mon" hit me though…as a song I usually pay no mind to on disc, the female backing vocals shone through as particularly inspired live and gave the song a smooth uplift. I'd find myself singing/repeating those impassioned vox to myself as I walked alone through darkened Brussels later that night.

Met up with Janet after the show and was ecstatic to finally catch up with her. I was in Cannes when she came through Detroit with Bright Eyes last year, my hypothetical plan to see them in Kentucky on Easter was thwarted by sickness, she missed the Dirbombs in Portland for the same reason and even though the Jicks and Dirtbombs both played London the same night just a week prior, we failed to connect.

So with a leisurely walk to a British pub, confusion over whether Florence and the Machine's "Kissed with a Fist" was a White Stripes tune, discussion of what minimal luxury would let you tour forever (her: own room, me: not carrying equipment) and our overall good vibe conversation crossing over to the midnight hour would be the most fulfilling part of my 26th birthday.

Birthdays after you hit twenty-one can be rough (what's the REAL reason to celebrate here?) and being away from home doesn't always help the situation. Conversely, it's always a pure pleasure meeting up with friends I haven't talked to in ages, so to be able to do so, unexpectedly, in a foreign land AND have it be on June 12th, well, that made it all the more important and memorable.

I'd cap the eve with a solo kebab, a view of the breathtaking buildings in the city center square and the enlighteningly contemplative walk back to the hotel. A day off, a day well-spent.


Anonymous said...

we should be playing a lot more than one show in-country

it's the weed, right?

Leyland "Lee" DeVito said...

Love Sleater-Kinney... too bad I didn't get into them until their last tour.