Thursday, September 04, 2008

Europe Part Seven: Churching...

Bordeaux…I used to play baseball with a John Bordeau (I don't think there was an 'x' at the end of it) he lived down the street and I always had the best time hanging out with him. I think his mom had us pick boysenberries from their backyard.

The crew in B-d'oh always takes care of us and this night would be no exception. Dinner was some fancy duck and the ice cream dessert just put it all over the top. Openers were Bob and Lisa (of the Bellrays) doing their acoustic thing. I am completely unashamed to admit that I thought Lisa's plaintive voice accompanied solely by Bob's solemn acoustic guitar was way more my speed than anything done as the BellRays. I think there's a Myspace and even an EP dedicated solely to this side-project and I suggest y'all search it out with utmost speed.

Dirtbombs show summary as told by one compliment from a satisfied fan: "It is the first time a rock and roll show makes me cry. Thank you."

Afterwards we climb into the van and follow the Bellrays crew to a late-night kebab shop and we bond a little. Good times, not-so-good kebabs. It seemed our band was merely prolonging the inevitable.

Hotel Stars is as close to a bane of the Dirtbombs' existence as there is. Apparently a chain, we only ever stay at the Bordeaux franchise. First trip I seem to remember awkwardly watching hardcore pornography on regular television (as is available in France) with Mick making even more awkward comments.

Second lodging was a stellar experience…our van got broken into and all of Mick's guitar pedals stolen, along with a1/2 bottle of rum, ten "This American Life" cd-r's, a stash of Dirtbombs t-shirts and three matching track jackets as seen on the cover of the If You Don't Already... album.

Third time would be equally as charming. With the temperature hovering fairly close to hellfire levels and with no air conditioning available in the entire country (it is the French way) Pat and I are left to stew in our room and even with the window completely open, we sweat the night away, never really achieving a state that would resemble what we'd usually call sleep.

To top it all off, Hotel Stars has an absolutely stupefying nautical theme. Each room has rope lining the inside and it just might be the stupidest thing I've ever been witness to. I believe one comment on Trip Advisor says the place stinks of "sweat and vomit" and I could hardly disagree.

Lyon would prove much more fun. Meet up with the Stoltz crew after some time apart and it's a gas. Upon arrival at the club I had a nagging headache so I was sidelined for the impromptu stickball game they scared up outside, but I regained my composure in time for the meaty dinner and conversation catch-up. Someone produced a hacky-sack and I found myself partaking (out of sheer boredom) for the first time since freshman year of high school (stall!)

Stoltz band was solid. Decent middle set by local soul impresarios the Buttshakers. Dirtbombs weren't too shabby either.

Sleeping arrangements that night would be at an off-site location (Grrrnd Zero) that seemed to be one floor of an office building converted as the headquarters for this arts collective that puts on shows and puts up bands. Stoltz band had two rooms but also had to leave at 4am for flights. Dbombs had two rooms, I indulged in a late night cold shower (what a pleasant delight) and killed the night on free Wifi.

I woke early in the morning with my sights set on St. Jean Cathedral. I hand-scribed the pedestrian directions from Mappy and was excitedly off for the proposed 50 minute walk. Somehow, the first turn I'm supposed to make, I fuck up and go the wrong way. I get some help from some kind locals and while I'm close to being where I should, I never really do get back on track.

Instead, one in every three or four street names I'm supposed to be on appears at the precise moment I begin to doubt my sense of direction. I know I need to cross two rivers, I know the church is at the bottom of a hill, but all these superfluous streets start to bogue my high.

Luckily, my instincts prove well. While never feeling completely discombobulated, I followed my instincts and in no time the building was within striking distance. In spite of getting royally turned around, I still make it there 10 minutes earlier than Mappy had said I would. I walk fast, I rule.

A trip to a church is like a trip back to grade school. As a Catholic school student for 13 years, there's a strangely comforting feeling in finding a place, thousands of miles away from home, that almost instantly feels inviting and familiar.

Up until the age of 13 I went to mass two times a week. Like it or not, that stuff stays with you. And while there was no mass said on this day, merely being in the sanctuary was enough to put my mind at ease and let me forget about the grind.

Inside there's an amazing astronomical clock…one dial tells when the Holy Days fall not just for this year, but as far back as 1959 and all the way until 2019. On the same axis is a disk that lists every day of the year and names the relevant patron saints for each date. The regular 24-hour clock is mighty extraordinary as well. Based on the day of the week, certain figures on top of the structure (it is at least twenty feet tall) whether it be Christ or other Bible heroes, show their automaton selves and begin to move. My description completely fails to capture the grandiosity of it all, but it's very, very impressive.

The stained glass windows were all impeccable and finding out some had been blown out during World War II was sobering. Churches have been on that same plot of land since the 800's. Napoleon was received in this particular building.

I came away from the cathedral feeling humbled. When my mind starts to wonder about all the shit St. Jean has seen, it makes my petty problems like being tired on the road or missing home seem petty and insignificant. It left me feeling aligned, balanced, back on track. I only wish that my grandmother could have been there with me. She and churches go way back…she's basically God's biggest fan and to go to a church with her is a whole other humbling experience. She knows the name of EVERYTHING…shit like the sacristy and the narthex and all kinds of other fancy words that only ever get used in dusty books. She would have loved St. Jean and probably could've have been the tour guide.

Onward to Winterthur, a new town for us. Club Gaswerk was quite professional. We'd been told that because of the European Cup the club had passed on booking bands for the month of June…it would just be too much of a conflict and hassle. But apparently when the Dirtbombs name was offered, they wanted to see us so bad they said "fuck it" and booked us anyway. I like.

The food prepared for us was mouthwateringly brilliant. Shish-kebabs, amazing salad…I hate to say it, but one day in Switzerland trumped every meal we had in France. Opening act was big screen projection of the semi-final Euro match between Germany and Russia. We played well to a small crowd of about thirty or so, but when implored to clap or dance they merely stared at us like we had dicks on our foreheads.

Sleep would be at the venue that night. Upstairs from the backstage was a room with a fleet of bunkbeds. We would chill most of the night in the backstage area, swatting flies and stewing in our own personal juices and as the ladies in the party expressed concern about the impending snoring situation, Ko slept in the van outside, Troy curled up in the theater room of the Gaswerk complex, Mick, Pat and Louisa slept in the actual "artist apartments" and I konked on the backstage couch having promised Ko that I would let her inside in the morning with said couch abutting on said door making the job quite easy.

Bern and the Reitschule are like family to us Dirtbombs. Kat and Sabine have taken care of us since our first trip there in 2002 and it's always a delight to see them. With loads of time to kill after soundcheck I venture into city centre with Mick.

With another Euro semifinal match that night (Spain vs. Russia) the whole place was abuzz. There was a massive screen set up for people to watch and along with that came a substantial official merchandise tent, plenty of places to buy beer, and individual restaurants outdoor grills each accompanied by a flat screen TV to optimize the dining experience.

I strolled around looking for fancy Nikes and Adidas with no luck. I bought an ice cream cone (straciatelli) from a vendor on the street. Hid poems in paperbacks in what I would assume is the only bookstore in town with an entire floor dedicated to the English language. I found post card stamps within view of the Baby Eater statue. For lack of a better description, it's a goblin on top of a fountain platform with babies crawling all over him and him squarely pushing one into his mouth. You should look up the image when you're bored (if you're reading this, how can you not be already?)

Ko's fuzz pedal crapped out before we could even begin. She found a temporary fix and said she couldn't do "Sherlock Holmes" so we replaced it with "Sun Is Shining" (as we need at least, or lately, at most, one slow jam in the set) and going straight into "Motor City Baby" it was like a setlist of old.

We didn't want to do an encore and the crowd wasn't terribly demanding of one. I expressly said backstage "What is something we all WANT to do?" and no one had an immediate answer. We came up with some standard encore bullshit and all hobbled back on the stage.

Before we could play a note, Pat wisely calls "dub time" and we start with an unnamed, only-really-ever-done-before-at-soundcheck-that-day groove that ambulates into "Shake Shivaree" then back to dub, then to "Can't Stop Thinking About It" which settles back into the dub, which then finds its way to "Kung Fu" which naturally crests into "2+2=?" which again morphs into the dub cipher and then finishes strongly on the last verse of "Kung Fu."

We had a right-on blast doing it and it was probably the only right answer to the question I'd asked earlier. We were all very, very pleased.

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