We drove straight through the night, straight through Slovenia and Croatia into the bowels of Serbia. Belgrade looked exactly as I remembered it (there's an old tour diary at metrotimes.com if you care) and I thought it was cute as our promoter Aleks kept mentioning checking us into our "hostel" when he clearly meant hotel.
So as we lugged our bags up the stairs of the Chillton Hostel in Belgrade I didn't think it cute so more. Our previous trip to town found us in a decent hotel so our surprising appearance at the hostel perplexed me. Later Aleks would explain to Ko that our hotel last time was a "whore" hotel and that he no longer employed their services.
I was excited because there was an old Crypt Records print ad on the wall at the hostel that detailed the release of the Gories Outta Here as set for April 14, 1992. The ad copy curiously states that the CD version would include the A-sides to all the band's 7"s at the time (released by In the Red, Giant Claw, Estrus and Sub Pop).
This is interesting, as you already know, because the CD release includes only the A-side of the In the Red single. It includes the B-sides to the Estrus and Giant Claw singles ("Idol with the Golden Head" and "Ichiban" respectively) while featuring NOTHING from the Sub Pop single.
If Tim Warren is reading this, I'm curious as to how this came about. Mick has no recollection.
Dinner was had at Aleks' mom's house…a wonderful homemade affair of all things Serb. I even partook in a swig of his father's home-stilled plum brandy, stored in a plastic water bottle and vaguely virulent.
From mom's house to SKC club. Decent-sized room. There were openers I didn't watch as the club had free WiFi. Our show was admittedly stellar…while language barrier as present as ever, the crowd seemed like they wanted so much more just to BELIEVE what was happening on stage. There was a gigantic 9'x12' poster advertising the show, featuring a live photo of the band that was surprisingly flattering. We took photos in front of it after we played. We also all slept in the same room, bunk beds like summer camp without the ghost stories or panty raids. Do they still do panty raids?
I hid poems in the books at the hostel and purposefully left my copy of Hitmen there for some enterprising music biz student to find like some long-lost incunabula. Drive to Croatia would prove uneventful, rural and winding.
The Dirty Old Empire Fest was a booking mistake. We clearly should not have been there. We bore no resemblance to the other acts whether it audible, sartorial, dietary, or (probably) morally.
I did, however, devour a delicious cinnamon and honey crepe during soundcheck.
After the second band of breakneck, chucka-chucka super punk rock while eating dinner (menu choices were: sausage, a hamburger, or TWO sausages) I looked at my fellow band members and asked "So how do you feel about a 45 minute version of 'Kung Fu?'"
And so faced with yet another quandary…when playing a show that is obviously mismatched does the band do our standard 45-minute set, hope to maybe win some converts and make a mental note for extra gig selecting scrutiny in the future? Or do you hop onstage middle fingers a'blazing and do your best to try and make a "statement"…whatever that may be?
After a band he would describe as "dub-step" finished their set, Mick would prove a tad apprehensive at the "Kung Fu" proposition. But thankfully everyone's resolve proved steely, hell, we'd even written up setlists (written on paper hotdog trays) for the occasion, and we took the stage to a crowd of absolutely none of our fans with the tickling feeling of playing a prank.
It being the 4th of July AND our 100th show of the year, we deserved to celebrate a little.
So we'd bartered it out and decided not to do merely "Kung Fu" but to intersperse other songs throughout it. The setlist, as we wrote it, was:
(Mick singing some of Marley's "Exodus", not on my setlist, possibly on others')
Bela Lugosi's Dead
Dance This Mess Around
Start the Party
We'd even developed hand signals with Louisa to indicate how much time we'd have as it'd be clear to lose sense of time once wrapped in the enveloping groove. And we did the set exactly in that order…only the whole thing took approximately 30 minutes.
It seems in all the excitement we, as a whole, failed to draw-out the jam to a substantial enough length. So as we ended "Start the Party" (us trying to be ironic, ending with that one) we then just went in to the rest of the set as it would go from there…"Get it While You Can" then "Underdog" then "Ode to a Black Man" and finally ending with "I Can't Stop Thinking About It."
Someone from another band said that it took a lot of balls to come out there and start playing like Can, and it was enjoyable on our end, but I think we all hoped it would prove a little more controversial or at least a little more jammy, rambling and take-up a larger portion of our allotted time.
After we played we ate some local traditional soup/stew that'd been simmering over a fire most of the day. Everyone was in agreement that it may have been one of the best things they'd ever tasted. I believe there were at least four different types of meat in it. I do not know what it was called.
After us was a Canadian punk balled called the Real Mackenzies. They wore kilts and sang Scottish-centric songs about how the Loch Ness monster is real and things of that nature. They had a bag-piper. It was all very, very laughable to me.
After ingesting enough of their set, I offered Ko 100 Euros cash to go onstage and lift the lead singer's kilt. She was surprisingly accepting of this offer and as I started to worry, not only about my pocketbook but the resultant melee that was sure to ensue, I was relieved when she was unable to get onstage, the necessary stairway entrance blocked by their crew.
But the singe of the Mackenzies was one antagonizing motherfucker. Just giving shit to the audience left and right. About an hour into the set, someone threw a shoe and hit the singer in the face. I didn't see this and in any other situation I would consider this a very despicable thing to do. But with the unrelenting verbal abuse this guy was spitting a shoe to the face seemed strangely fitting.
This just seemed to push him over the edge. He had a remarkable cut on his face and there was some blood. His dogging of the crowd got more intense (he even called them "fascists) and he openly challenged whoever threw the shoe to get on stage and fight him one-on-one. I'll never forget him saying "When you fuck with a Mackenzie you're fucked for LIFE!"
This goes on for a handful of songs before the singer jumps into the crowd and (as it seems to me) just starts wailing on some dude indiscriminately. The security quickly peels the attack apart and the rest of the band as if to say "fuck it" walks off the stage.
The singer then says "The Real Mackenzies were prepared to play for another hour but because…" and trailed off into some since-forgotten criticism of the shoe-tosser and promise to come back and play a BETTER show sometime in the future, followed quickly by a Chris Rock-approved microphone drop and a provoking full lift of his kilt.
The whole thing left me feeling very awkward and all I could really say was "Jeeez" Some at the festival would claim that the Dirtbombs confrontational set that night merely stoked the crowd into furor that would eventually roil over during the Mackenzies set. I can neither confirm nor deny this, but am flattered if others truly believe so.
We managed to get the van up a muddy incline and to a cabin up the road that felt like the kind of place my parents would take us to during childhood summers, that peculiar half-lived-in feel of a seasonal cottage with it's underused dishware and thin mattresses all bringing to mind the memories of rural Michigan lakeside retreats in the late 1980's.
We barely had time to sleep, I spent most of mine condensing my pack for the impending flight.
Early to rise and arrive on-time to the Zagreb airport. It's a heartfelt goodbye to Louisa…she driving to van all alone back to London (some 18 hours away) but the probable end to her rock touring days as she'd enrolled in university in Manchester to become a teacher.
After sad goodbyes, we check-in for our flight on Hungarian Airlines. We'd been told by promoters that they'd pre-paid a few as we'd anticipated our baggage to be severely overweight (insert Karen Carpenter joke here). So as the wonderfully helpful ticket agent informed us that nothing had been prepaid and that their overage charges were ten euros PER KILO all of our stomachs sank dramatically.
Fevered phone calls and frantic weigh-ins ensued. It became clear there was no way the promoters could have pre-paid this charge as we had no idea how much over our baggage was. The counter lady did us a complete solid by printing up a bill that said we were collectively only 13 kilos over the limit (we were more likely three times that) and we were soon re-assured by our UK booking agent that the promoters would reimburse our baggage charge.
This is, quite possibly, where it all started to go wrong.
Our flight would be a brief hop over to Budapest. The 30-seat prop aircraft was charming in an Iron Curtain-leftover kind of way. The half-hour spent in the airport was spent hiding poems in the terminal bookstore and being thrilled at getting a Hungarian stamp on my passport.
Flight from Budapest to Malaga was filled with the most annoying sniveling little European shits I'd ever come across. Loud as all get-out, pounding on the back of my seat and not letting up one iota the entire two-hour journey. My vasectomy was scheduled immediately upon landing.
Baggage claim at Malaga was a bad scene…anything checked-in in non-EU countries was supposed to pop out of a secured baggage carousel (this would mean our luggage) even though the particular flight was from Hungary (a EU country) some of it ended up at the regular reclaim.
To confuse us even more, Mick's suitcase, Troy's bass and suitcase, Pat's suitcase and the cymbal case (with all of his cymbals and mine inside) all failed to pop out on either of the merry-go-rounds. So we sat around while Pat did his damnedest to try and communicate to airline rep (who understood little English) that the forwarding address was in Detroit, our time in Spain actually only amounting to a handful of hours.
Deflated, we poured into the van with what was left of our luggage and were chauffeured the frustratingly sunny route snaking through the craggy, coast-bluffing Spanish landscape. Through the two and a half-hour drive, no more than five total sentences were spoken.
The other problem thrust upon us was the topic of our set time. We were scheduled to take the stage at 2am. This would usually only be a mild inconvenience (the Spanish like late nights) of personal preference, but today would prove to be a logistical problem.
Our departing flight from the Malaga airport was scheduled for 7am. If we went onstage at 2am, played for the hour and a half they wanted us for, then hopped into the van immediately thereafter, chilled for the two and a half-hour ride and it puts us there at 6am at the EARLIEST. This simply would not work.
The promoters were told our flight details with ample time to prepare around them so it was all the more confusing. Being the night's headliners though was not without its perks. We politely but FIRMLY made it clear that we needed to be at the Malaga Airport no later than 5am. Our driver put the call through and we were swiftly moved to the midnight time slot. Nice.
We had approximately one hour to gather ourselves at some day rooms at the hotel. We all saw toreadors in the hallway. From there to the festival, taking place in an old monastery, designed to look like a prison, clearly a metaphorical device that struck us strongly after our month of riding relaxing/imprisoning see-saw.
Upon entry we happen upon Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave, good friends who'd stuck around after their early show to catch our late one. We hadn't anticipated seeing them, so this was a welcome surprise in the middle of a day that was pretty shit otherwise. We swiftly figured shit out on stage…Mick borrowed some cords, Troy a Fender P-bass, Pat and I cymbals, and once 'twas all in place, we barreled through the set.
I was particularly fun with the crowd when I took the mic…I got handed an old-style accordion fan, scolded a high girl who kept on sitting on the barrier (who then tried to dance with me) and dragged the ending of the set out for all it was worth. By the end, in an effort to rid my homecoming baggage of any excess weight, I took to throwing any of the drumsticks I had left. While atop the bass drum I was aiming for a window, no bigger than 36"x24", at the top of the building about one hundred feet away.
I probably threw about six sticks total (Pat threw one that failed to leave the stage) and lucky number five actually made it through. I was overjoyed. Off the stage and into the van, snoozing through the van ride back to the airport. We made it easily. With Mick headed to NYC as his final destination we said goodbye there. The four of us then made way to Paris.
At the gate in Spain we happened upon four guys who looked completely out of place, well, as much as someone from the Dirtbombs can judge someone as so. Intrigued, I mustered past the "don't annoy people" bell in my mind and made conversation. They too were musicians, and once I mentioned Detroit, the older, more-respectable looking one of the bunch perked up. Come to have it, he was from there. The man was Kenny Garrett, world-renowned jazz musician who's played with the liked of Miles Davis and Marcus Belgrave. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about jazz, even I was immensely impressed.
With a 50-minute lay-over we were set to kick and scream our way through De Gaulle to be certain to catch our flight. Luckily the airline was prepared for the situation and as soon as we exited the jet there was a representative holding a sign that read "Detroit" and we hopped into a minivan with a handful of others and were whisked through passport control and security and boarded our flight home with time to spare.
Arrival at DTW was alright. Pat and Troy, with no checked luggage, simply left the airport once they got through customs. Ko and I waited and waited and waited and after too long it was clear OUR bags were now lost. It would be a little over a day without our luggage but it turned up and besides a crack in my snare drum case it was no worse for the wear.
Mick, Pat and Troy's luggage, somehow routed through Germany, would take a few more days to arrive. Without enough time for them to deliver the baggage before we left for NYC, Pat trucked out to DTW to pick it up.
Troy's bass case curiously contained no bass. A classic Rickenbacker he's used for over twenty years had vanished, somewhere between Croatia, Hungary, Spain, Germany and Detroit. There's no way to place a monetary value on such an item and equally no way to track an object that was in your luggage. It was a somber note to end a tour that was, in almost every other way, triumphant.