Australia Part Nine: The Finale...
At a resale shop down the street I saw a reproduction of what I must assume is a fairly popular painting of two naked pubescent girls from behind warming themselves near the orange glow of what appears to be a fire place. This same image hung on the walls of my childhood home while I was growing up. I have no idea where that one ended up, but was suddenly hit with a pang of nostalgia. The shit was framed though and there was no way getting it back to the US. Oh well.
After soundcheck we went to the pizza place right behind the club and had a meal with some of the Datsuns and their crew. It was there when I commented that it seems so many New Zealand women have tattoos. Women that don't look like in a million years they'd ever get tattoos. I mentioned this with spite as I wholly disdain tattoos. Sonic Newth, the Datsuns sound soundguy then took it a step further by saying "Every girl in New Zealand has tattoos. Trust me. I've checked."
So when our waitress comes to take our order, I begin the proceedings by asking her if she has any tattoos. When she replies that she does not, the table erupts in jubilation as we've found the Last of the Mohicans. As she walked away, Newth made a very valid point when he said "She may not have any tattoos, but she did have her tongue pierced."
He's right. That's just as bad. What's the deal ladies of New Zealand?
The Transistors opened again. Them boys got vim.
I guess we played well. I was able to perform with the bulbous bandaging on my thumb. I don't remember much else other than the Datsuns were particularly solid.
Lobby call the next morning was freakishly early but I stayed behind. As I'd been told by NZ tour liaison John Baker, I would be able to ride to Dunedin with the Transistors and hopefully make a stop off at Peter King's in Ashburton.
So with the Dirtbombs already gone, I'm frantically trying to get ahold of Baker, being told by the front desk that I need to get out of my hotel room and the whole time wondering if maybe I should've just ridden with the band.
It doesn't help that I've got at least four different phone numbers from Baker…US cell phones of ages past mixed with his parents' home numbers and what could possibly even be shady Auckland pay phone digits. Geez.
When I finally get ahold of him, Baker informs me that I won't be able to meet with Peter King on this day. I told him that was fine but I still needed a ride to Dunedin. In a concerned voice he told me I should get ahold of the Transistors quickly as they'd probably already left.
Fucking great. All this was shit that Baker said he would hook up and take care of and now I'm sitting in Christchurch with the possibility of not getting to the night's gig. Ugh. If you want something done correctly, you always need to do it yourself and I would prove that in the next day or so. Needless to say, I had a vague fear that I might not make it to that night's show.
So I called the boys in the Transistors who were indeed already an hour outside of town and told them sheepishly that I needed a ride to the gig. They so very nicely turned around and came to pick me up.
What stand-up gentlemen.
So when they arrived it became an issue of how to fit me and my two bags of oversized luggage in the hatchback along with all their gear. I felt like a dick with my big-ass bag of clothes but they were so damn accommodating. I ended up in the front passenger's seat while one of the fellas drove and the other two cramped in the back with a bass drum in between them and a floor tom on one of their laps.
The drive to Dunedin was nice…we passed the world HQ of Cookie Time, a legendary company responsible for many a NZ high school lunch. They're a bit meal-y for me, but I'm told the secret is popping one in the microwave for ten seconds. Nonetheless, in an effort to assimilate, I would become a wholehearted Cookie Time enthusiast by the time I left NZ and urge everyone else to search them out if ever they get the opportunity.
I played DJ for the Transistors guys…pulling out my laptop/iPod and listening to shit like Death and the upcoming Mudhoney records, anything that I thought they would dig. And they seemed to genuinely appreciate it, so that was nice.
We got into town and found the club and I found the Dbombs and we drove to Baldwin Street, supposedly the steepest street in the world. Shit was pretty crazy, we were literally screaming as we inched our way to the top and waving our arms in the air alluding to the roller coaster action proving your balls on our descent. Urban legend has it that some crazy kids had attempted to ride all the way down in garbage cans with wheels and actually died while doing so. All I could do was feel sorry for whoever the letter carrier for that street is. My words do this street no justice, it truly just needs to be experienced.
From there we checked into our day room. Again, I feel the concept of day rooms is unneeded for a band of our ilk, but this particular room (across the street from a row of university houses, one of which, inexplicably, was labeled, I shit you not, the Pink Pussy) felt like the kind of places you stay on a summer vacation. Kind of cottage-y, fake wood paneling, old furniture that surprisingly not appropriately worn for it's age, a small television with rabbit ears…it's so very quaint and we enjoyed watching the episode of The Simpsons featuring recent inadvertent Dirtbombs collaborator Alan Moore. Good times.
Back at the club was a weird scene. The attic-style dressing room was crammed with random shit and for awhile there seemed to be a lack of someone in charge.
The Aesthetics were awesomely terrible in the best of ways. I believe the guitar player showed up around the second or third song, the lead singer seemed like he may be slightly retarded and it was all so shambling that I could not help but love it. Why didn't I think to talk to them? Dumb dumb dumb on my part.
The Transistors played quickly, hitting them hard and fast and off the stage before the crowd knew what happened. I'm a big supporter of that approach.
What we anticipated to be a grudge gig actually ended going pretty great. Paid attendance was 98 people and for a Sunday night in a sleepy college town with (as I'm told) no promotion, that's success. And the crowd dug it. Afterwards I gave away a couple of t-shirts to kids who were pooling money together in hopes of sharing one shirt in that Bart Simpson, Milhouse Van Houten and Martin Prince "Radioactive Man #1" sort of way.
Across the street from the club was the world's most depressing supermarket. No more description available, shit was just depressing. I bought a peanut slab and some microwavable noodles. I've recently become addicted to noodles that cook in the micro and there's a wide selection available in the Southern Hemisphere locales.
Ko bought paper party crowns from the supermarket and we all put them on in the van in celebration of a show well-done. Sometimes you just need to revel in stupidity, to just embrace some total geekdom. Our driver was hard-headed and would not budge in his refusal to put one on. We gave him immense shit for it and when someone fails to swallow their pride on petty little stuff like that, they just don't seem to be part of the team.
We stayed an hour or two outside of town at a huge cottage-like place where everyone got their own room, complete with pre-arranged stuffed animal on the bed. We woke up mega-early mainly for the flight we had to catch, but also for the remote possibility of a rendezvous with the legendary Peter King.
I'd already tried to get ahold of him by phone numerous times, so I wasn't expecting much from my last-ditch call as we were passing through Ashburton. As if the gods were watching o'er me, he answered and was primed for us to come visit.
I suppose now is the time I explain that Peter King is the premier lathe-cut vinyl technician in the world. For the uninitiated, a lathe-cut record is one that is created in real time (ie, however long the song is will be how long it takes to make the record) whereas 99.9% of the records in the world are created using a compression mold in a matter of seconds.
So lathe-cuts are particularly labor-intensive and lend themselves to limited runs. Also, they need to be on a material conducive to accepting grooves being cut into them. Because of that, lathe-cut records have only a fraction of the lifespan (ie, plays) that a regular "pressed" record will have. Nowadays lathe-cuts are mainly utilized by noise bands looking to do a small, collectable run of records, because really, who listens to a noise record more than once?
Getting to King's residence/studio was tricky to say the least. When I tried to get directions from him over the phone he wisely told me that I'd need to buy a map before we went any further. I did and from there he was still about 20-30 miles from where we were. That's 20-30 miles along the most desolate, vacant, literal middle-of-fucking-nowhere farmland in the world.
And even from there, he told me to get to the Mt. Somers general store and ask for directions from there. First off, I don't know if I've ever been to an actual general store in my life, let alone one that can tell you the directions to the residence of one of its customers.
Strangely enough, King was literally right around the corner from the general store, living in space-age plastic-looking domicile. He greeted us kindly then took us to the laboratory where my mind would be blown.
Inside he had four separate lathes piggybacked to the same stereo rack so as to be able to cut 4 records at the same time. Genius. He showed us how, using a grinder and microscope, he would bevel an old phonograph needle to to a 45 degree point so as to optimize his cutting process. I handed him a CD of something special and he ran a test cut at differing volume levels.
The mastering job on the CD was solid so he was able to cut the disc pretty loud without fear of distortion. Before actually cutting though he applies a thin layer of polish to the 1mm thick clear polycarbonate 7" blank made from a material that is intended for roofing purposes.
Did I mention Peter King is (or was at this point in time) blind in one eye?
The unfortunate circumstance was that we really were trying to catch a plane and we had just around a half-hour to take in the whole process. So we still missed out on some cool shit, like how he makes picture discs, prints labels, or does shaped records (triangle, square, hexagon).
I was happy with the two copies of the special lathe-cut 7" but felt like I'd taken the rest of the band on this unfruitful wild goose chase. So once we were back in the van I apologized to everyone, for the fact that we had to get up early, that the whole trip to King's was basically just on my vanity and just for the whole inconvenience of it all.
"Are you kidding?" they seemed to echo in unison, "that was probably the coolest thing we've ever done on tour!" That truly warmed my heart as did everyone plotting what THEY were gonna get done for their own lathe-cut records.
We got to the airport just in time and appreciated the fact that those manning the check-in counter have an unwritten policy of not charging us for a single overweight bag, rather they calculate the average weight of ALL our bags and if it's under the limit we're in the clear. Cool or what?
We would play that day, St. Patrick's Day, in Auckland. The show was alright, but nowhere near our other headlining show in town four years earlier. Apparently garage rock was all the rage then and we saw the benefits of that. Nowadays the Kiwis go for beard rock (Iron and Wine) or disco dance (Glass Candy) and we're on the outs.
Spent time before the show chilling at the then-closed-but-open-by-now Department of Conversation. It's a comfy bar in the tradition of your neighborhood watering hole, complete with built-in record collection and room for dancing. Good friends Amber and Henry (the geniuses behind "The Art of the Band T-shirt" book) are the proprietors and they even helped me re-dress the bandage on my thumb. That's true friendship, so hold on to it tight when you find it.
The Situations started the night with their affable UK Sixties thing and then later backed up the legendary Ray Columbus for his set. The Dirtbombs did two Columbus covers which were intended for a New Zealand tour single, but for some reason unexplained to us said 7" never materialized. Oh well, maybe it'll be there for our next New Zealand tour. Either way, Ray was a consummate performer, told a story behind every song and brought the house down with his classic "Kick Me."
The stage at the Whammy Bar had an odd pillar right in the middle of it. Kinda threw me off not being able to see Troy at times.
We went out for kebabs afterwards. We had most of the next day free, our flight not leaving til late. I walked around Karangahape Road, bought a t-shirt with an AK-47 on it from an Army surplus store and generally enjoyed a sunny day walking around by myself.
The band as a whole had a fantastic meal before making our way to the airport. Once we'd checked in and paid the pesky departure tax, Baker took us to the grocery store where I bought an entire case of Peanut Slabs. While I failed to find Peanut Slab ice cream or meet Flight of the Conchords, I did get to meet Wayne Anderson, watch Peter King cut a record just for me, tour with the Datsuns and fall in love with Cookie Time. I had the quintessential New Zealand experience.
For more info about Peter King, check out this link...
And for more about Cookie Time...