Friday, August 29, 2008

Europe Part Six: The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Trashmen...

Madrid was bueno. Club was El Sol and the Dirtbombs had played there before back in 2002, a tour that was booked without anyone knowing and found neither Pantano nor I on drums, as he had the Come-Ons and I had finals. Ah the days of being told about a tour two weeks beforehand…

Dinner at the hotel with Death Ray dudes and camaraderie was flowing like table wine. My dish was passable, but those who got the ox steak raved of its quality. The street of the hotel (and right around the corner from the club) had it's fair share of beat, ugly, skanky prostitutes to which all I could say was "It's nice to know a young girl can get a job in this town."

Club was packed, Death Ray rocked and we straight-up delivered. The crowd was so reactive, bouncing energy back at us, dancing and being the complete opposite of what we'd encountered in Barcelona. The band agreed (as did Death Ray) that our show was the best in quite some time. And it's ALWAYS great to follow up a particularly downer of a show with a total barnburner of one.

Add to that the sheer number of people from the crowd who explicitly came up to me to tell me how much they really enjoyed the show…I'd say it had to be at least thirty people, and there was probably no more than 200 there. For me, that's a good percentage.

Woke mega-early to get to our 2pm load-in in Carballo. I cannot begin to tell you how evil a time that is. But we were there on time, I used a house drum kit (something fancy-ish) and after brief chatting with some of the Trashmen, we went back to the hotel for much-needed rest.

Not much one for rest, I searched out the post office in need of post card stamps. Finding the office was easy, but getting across the concept of "post card" would prove quite difficult.

It seems that the post office in Spain isn't an establishment run with the same amount of federal oversight as its American counterpart. Instead, the woman working the counter appeared to be all of 18-years-old and entirely unfamiliar with even the vaguest understanding of postal rates.

Granted, I was speaking to her in English, a language she was wholly unfamiliar with. I sat there for a couple minutes, idiotically repeating the word "post card" hoping that by the ninth time she'd actually understand what I meant, clearly with no luck. I then tried to display the SHAPE of a post card and while I thought I'd made headway, all she could do was reach into a cabinet behind her and proffer up an envelope.

With the situation clearly going nowhere and her desire to please the customer ranking just below "getting a pap smear" on the list of things she loves to do, I had to improvise. I left the office, trudged up the street, found a souvenir shop and amidst two women arguing at high volumes about god-knows-what, purchased a post card with a photo from some time ago of young adults, wearing traditional clothes, standing up in what resembled a gondola, for the low, low price of .35 euros.

So back up the street to the post office, I display my newly-purchased card with pride and the clerk-woman STILL needs to ask someone else the rate for sending them to the United States. Makes me miss the hours spent waiting in line with an armful of packages back at home. I go back to the hotel and compose.

After a decent dinner, I head down to the festival we're playing. There's lots of carnival rides, games of chance, booths selling t-shirts with air-brushed depictions of American wrestlers, roasted almonds, cotton-candy and an overall mélange of midway attractions. I sit on a bench and catch a bit of the Neanderthals. After them, the Trashmen.

"Surfin' Bird" is one of the crowning achievements of Western Civilization. But the deranged surf nonsense dreamed up by a couple of teens in Minnesota is so ingrained into American culture that it has been castrated of its true demented leaning. From sporting events to television commercials to feature-length motion pictures, "Surfin' Bird" is that rare commodity that has permeated most all facets of American pop culture and thus finds itself in that exclusive canon of songs like "YMCA" or "Blitzkrieg Bop" or "Lust for Life" that has been co-opted for the masses and lost it's controversial meaning in the process.

Nevertheless, amidst the standards, "Surfin' Bird" rocks like nothing else in the Trashmen's set. When I'd heard that two of the guys in the band have been playing music together since 1957 I damn-near shit myself. That's over fifty years! I'm going on nine with the Dirtbombs and am about to lose my mind. Plus the fact that some of them are retired from their day jobs and just do this for fun now…travel Europe every once in awhile, bring their wives with them for a little bit…it seems like they've got it all figured out.

Our set was strong. The crowd was substantial (it was a free city fair, but there still seemed to be a lot of fans there) and the stage was big, but nothing too crazy or stray from the norm for us. Once we'd finished we went back to the hotel for approximately twenty minutes and then hit the road to make our 2pm load-in for our 1:40am show in Andoain. Yes, that is correct, our soundcheck would be 12 hours before our set time. No, this is not common. Yes, it fails to make any sense. No, I don't make these decisions...I just work here.

We made it alright, sun a'blazing as we banged away interminably as these outdoor public square sound checks seem to thrive on their mind-numbing lengths. To the hotel for some nap time, back toward the stage for dinner. We ended up eating with the Trashmen and I took true delight in being able to chat with them. How long they've been around, what they've seen, what they've accomplished…the only way I could describe my feelings toward them would be complete and utter deference.

It would get rainy as we walked back to the stage…the T-men in their matching all-black outfits trying to dodge raindrops while I just made a mad dash for shelter. Back to the hotel for a spell (as no one wanted to wait around in the rain) and we got back just in time to hear "Surfin' Bird", complete with a throaty "That hurt!" added after the baritone exclamation of the song title followed by finger-rubbing-lip gibberish. While the rest of their set was standard fare, "Surfin' Bird" was enough to light up even the most skeptical and in the end, it really is just a song about fun, isn't it?

The rains subsided for us and we put on a good rock show. I climbed on slippery metal barriers during "Kung Fu", someone kept asking me if I was from Texas while I was talking to the crowd, the lights blew out and thinking it was a conscious choice, I started screaming my lungs out for them to turn the lights back on. The crowd passed me around over their heads and (so I've been told) dropped Troy. Everyone seemed to have a good time though.

At some point in Carballo the ugliest plush animal I'd ever seen ended up onstage. Apparently a licensed product for the film Ice Age II this rodent doll looks like it has the mange, comes with creepy fangs and overall looks a little retarded. I can't imagine anyone buying such a monstrosity even out of pity…it truly is that hideous.

Somehow this stuffed animal made it into our van, but remained unnoticed by me until the next day. Lacking a mascot, we dubbed him Bingo (my original nickname for our GPS system) and prop him on our salon table and he would guide us wisely for the rest of the tour. Ko even gave him a name tag that read "J'mappelle Bing-O-possum" as we surmised anything that ugly must be an opossum. And Bingo was his name-o…

Back at the hotel and a group of teenage Christian travelers from the States get lectured in the lobby like so:

"Tomorrow, for the baptism, I'm gonna need all of your to bring a change of clothes. And gentleman (long pause, eye contact made with many) in respect to your Saviour (pause) and with respect to your future wives (LOOOOOOONG PAUSE HERE, maybe 20 seconds) don't let your eyes wander where they shouldn't be, ok?"

(I'm assuming this was referencing the wet clothes that would result from the baptism, right?)

All I can say is that if Jesus was truly meant to be human, than he most certainly snuck a peek from time to time. The choad giving the above-quoted lecture seemed way too self-important to be trusted in the care of our nation's youth. Part of me wanted to patrol the hallways of the hotel to see how many of these kids were slipping out of their rooms at night to ball surreptitiously. Probably most of them and probably because that douchebag just doesn't know how to do his job. For shame.

Spanish women walk around like they invented white pants while Spanish hotels act like they invented flies.

Sunday off…four star accommodations in San Sebastien on an overcast day. While we couldn't get the temp in the room below 24 centigrade, I did get to explore the beach, walk around some sort of manicured gardens overlooking said beach, get some tasty ice cream in my moustache and relax in the room with flat-screen TV and furniture that seemed too aerodynamic to actually sit in.

(I must've seen a dozen different people in wheelchairs throughout the duration of my walk…with no real explanation, I'm left to assume there's some sort of hospital nearby and Sunday is the day for patient perambulation)

Dinner was three courses for 26 euro and well-worth it. Dessert included a chocolate fountain. Upon finishing eating, we joined the mass watching the Italy vs. Spain European Cup match. It's nice to feel a bit of mob mentality, you know? The game went to penalties, Spain won, the crowd in the hotel common area rejoiced and dispersed and then back to the room for a much-needed shower.

The shower I took would be the greatest one I've ever had. Not only did it have the mobile handle control, good for focusing the water spray on specific trouble areas, but the stationary showerhead was oversized to the point where you felt like you were under a dense rain cloud. The coup de grace was those high-powered sideways jets, six of 'em in all, hitting you with the tender intensity you'd expect for a Lamborghini car wash. Spread your cheeks just a little bit, position yourself just right and PRESTO, a DIY colonic that will send magnificent shivers of pleasure up your spine.

I must've spent at least a half-hour in the shower with no less than twenty minutes of my time devoted to just standing still, trying my all to absorb the water (to BECOME the water) and lowly muttering "uhhhhhhhhhhhh" to myself. The temperature was slightly schizophrenic and that only made the pleasure stronger…while never veering too scalding or chilly, it would invariable and without explanation run the gamut of acceptable temps. This was surprisingly comfortable and relaxing…the slow and continued change of water temperature proving soothing and satisfying in only the truest sense of the words.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Europe Part Five: Warming to Seafood and the Rapture...

The overnight van ride was interminable. We awoke in front of the wholly breathtaking Auditorium I Palau (usually followed with a bunch of other Spanish words that are unnecessary to type here because it's not like you know the place). This was a right and proper high-end performance center accustomed to hosting the likes of traveling European symphonies and (apparently) now, garage bands.

Would be the first of our shows with Viva L'American Death Ray Music. I first saw them open for the Demolition Doll Rods at the Detroit Contemporary around 2002 and was completely blown away with their brain-bending performance for approximately 12 people. I got to be friendly with mainman Nick and consider myself privileged to have released their "Same Suit, Different Tie" 12-inch single.

So to meet-up with them at an ultra-luxe Spanish music hall was something I wouldn't have predicted upon our initial meeting. The room they had us in held about 200 people, but it was a proper theater setting with seats and such. Layout was so that there was no real space between the first row of seats and the vocal mics, but I guess that just added to the weirdness.

Death Ray played only one old song, instead dedicating most of the performance to their new double-LP. I was into it but would be lying if I didn't express how badly I wanted to hear some of the old songs…"Coconuts" especially.

Our set was alright…the room sounded a bit funny but I was able to make everyone watching us participate in a clapalong. So that was nice. But the highlight of Castellon was clearly the four-star hotel and the two meals we ate there. Was like rolling on a cloud.

Until we found ourselves in the completely unfriendly confines of Barcelona. While all accounts seem to suggest that we blew the city a new asshole at Primavera Sound in 2005 and spent three days at a posh oceanfront hotel replete with views of a topless beach, any evidence of said anus creation or bare mammaries remained to be seen.

Instead, two star hotel and a club SMALLER than we'd played the first time. How do you go from an 800 capacity room, then a couple thousand people in a tent at a festival, to a 300 capacity room? I guess I would complain had we actually filled those 300 spots.

Dinner at the outdoor café Cochitos was phenomenal. While not the most adventurous of eaters, I get the courage now and again and try something I'd normally gag at. While everyone else at the table was delighted with their seafood tapas selection, I wasn't feeling it and wanted something simple. When I saw "Black Noodles" on the English menu, that was all I needed to read.

So while I was expecting some simple noodles with some sort of flavoring/ingredient that rendered them black, what I got was a hot pan, while full of the aforementioned noodles, brimming with every possibly seafood ingredient one could imagine…calamari, shrimp, clams…the exact opposite of what I was planning on eating. Nevertheless hungry, I dove in and was astonished at how delicious it all actually was. I was readily and willingly eating this multi-species seafood spectacular and savoring every second of it. The pan seemed vaguely old too and there was definitely some parts where I could look through an actual hole in the metal…but I think the resultant burnt black flakes of pan peppered throughout my dish merely added a welcome piquancy to it all. I shared with the rest of the table (as they did with me and their tapas) and they agreed on the overall magnificence of the black noodles.

From there, walking alone through Barcelona…hoping to find the Nike Vintage I'd been searching for or, failing that, some orange/blue Adidas Rekords. No such luck. In my hour plus of ambling though, I did happen upon Corte Ingles. It's THE Spanish department store (their answer to Harrod's or Macy's) and this particular flagship store has frontage on a fairly prominent open space/arcade/square in the city.

It was at this point I realized I knew where I was. I oriented myself to La Rambla, the high-density pedestrian walkway overcrowded with tourists, unique/interesting street performers like human statues and (most likely) pick-pockets. Once on Rambla, I got myself to the particular street that branches off and has a handful of decent record shops, some shoe stores and even a vintage clothing shop.

Granted, my time of arrival made it possible for me to enter only one of these establishments (and even then, I bought nothing) but I was more overjoyed by the fact that while I'd merely stumbled upon Corte Ingles, that landmark guided me to the street that led me to the one vague area in town that I knew I wanted to be in. I'm always excited (yet never amazed) when my ability to recall city layouts comes through.

Back to the club and Viva opened with "Dub SS" a song I had released and would pulse through my brain the rest of the time we'd spend in Spain.

Our show kinda blew. The crowd was entirely deadpan, as if they were all collectively working on their Steven Wright impersonations in the middle of a rock and roll show. They pleaded for an encore and although they deserved it not, Troy really wanted to do one so we gave them the tease of "War Pigs" and called it a night. General consensus amongst the band was that it was the worst show in recent memory.

We were unceremoniously hurried out the door for what we were told was the disco, only to see the club locked and empty of any people (employees or otherwise) on our exit.

Back at the hotel (conveniently across the street…at least something good came of it) I pop on the TV and happen across the Rapture performing at some festival. I had a copy of Mirror on CD in 2001 and thought it was alright, first heard "Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks" in French class at Wayne State, remember hearing for almost two years how great the Echoes album was before it had ever been released and then receiving an as-yet still unexplained promo copy of said disc in the post that I then reviewd for Creem.

Not long afterward I saw them live and immediately gave away all their CD's. Something deep down in their performance, intrinsic almost, just completely turned me off. So it was with a peculiar fascination I watched their performance on TV. "House of Jealous Lovers" is still a complete jam (and I wisely never gave away the 12" version of that) but the way the dude played the cowbell just INFURIATED me, the attitude, self-importance and demeanor were all just like an AIDS-infested hypodermic thrust into my eye.

The same could be said about anything the bass player did…clapped his hands, grabbed a microphone, stood there…something just made me want to beat the shit out of this guy. I'm not a dude-bro in the least, but the brainwaves I was receiving told me this putz was long overdue for a beatdown. And is it just me, or does he totally look like Bababooey?

That being said, I still totally got into their groove. The Detroit-techno-vision of "Olio" was completely head-bobbable while "House of…" can still set ablaze the hypothetical dance floor that exists in the perfection of my mind.

So while I cannot stand having to look at those goons, I may have to humble myself and go back and buy their records.

About 3am, I look out the balcony and see a line for the club we'd earlier underwhelmed. There were at least 300 people OUTSIDE, waiting to get in. I'm in the wrong business.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Europe Part Four: Birthday Continued...

Woke up early for breakfast in Brussels on my birthday. Ko and Louisa saw me in the dining area and burst into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" that was surprisingly not embarrassing. They gave me a milk chocolate version of the famous Manikin Piss statue, Ko saying that it managed to group together two of my favorite things…chocolate and a penis. Good call Ko.

After breakfast Pat gave me a copy of Julian Cope's Head On and it seemed both appropriate and thoughtful.

Drive that day was rainy. We listened to the audiobook version of David Sedaris' Naked and something I can't remember made me want to cry, emotions all a mess when away from home on birthday.

Club in Orleans was the same room we visited the day George Harrison died back in 2001. We didn't play there then, but at the last minute changed our rest day plans to include a stay in Orleans because of some drama going down on our TM's homefront. That too was a rainy day, found me faithful lighting candles at the massive gothic cathedral in town, trying my first pain au chocolat, accidentally ordering head cheese at dinner and then watching the Amazing Asthmatic Avenger throw hot dogs at the crowd during his set. I even kept a flyer from that night.

Was thoroughly surprised when out of nowhere the Rockdentist popped in backstage. Louisa and the band had conspired to get him back for a couple days to help celebrate my birthday. What sweethearts.

We had a splendid meal at the club, topped off with some of the most exquisite birthday cake I've ever been privileged to taste, let alone blow out the candles on.

We did "If You Can Want' and "Sun Is Shining" as part of the encore, the crowd sang some hybrid of French/English "Happy Birthday" and the first time ever playing a show on my birthday was splendid.

Hotel didn't have our reservations, so at 3am the promoter was somehow able to get us rooms at another lodge across town. I got my own room as part of the special day, fell asleep unexpectedly and when I woke, was amazed at how well the shutters over the window blocked the sunlight from creeping into the room. Too well, in fact.

Rockdentist and I ventured out early to a record store we were able to get the owner to open early especially for us. But it also made me feel like I was in the awkward position of HAVING to buy something because of the convenience he gave us. I didn't need a copy of the Feelies Crazy Rhythms on LP, but it was unplayed and more of a gesture than anything.

Got to La Roche Sur Yon in good time, with Rockdentist as the harbinger found the vinyl record store in town and was duly unimpressed, while he and Pantano both found stuff to buy. Our backstage passes for the night would be custom-made pins of the We Have You Surrounded cover art, a quirky little move that lets the club stick out from all the others, even though backstage passes for the Dirtbombs are still wholly unnecessary.

Dinner with Stoltz band was at a restaurant across the street and beautifully French in its ability to stun me with its succulent qualities. Our set would end with both drum sets brought onto the dance floor, me shouting James Brown catchphrases as fast as I could think of them and with help from assorted Stoltzers, we quite possibly performed the best rock show to ever take place in that town.

Next day Perigueux, yet another city I'd never heard of before, let alone played a show in. The plus with most of these continental European shows is that the clubs run on some sort of government subsidy. With that, most every club can be counted on to take care of not only dinner, lodging and next morn's breakfast, but also an extremely professional crew and stage gear. And free wireless Internet too. The overwhelming feeling when in these clubs is one of "THIS is how a club should be run!" Supposedly with Sarkozy now in charge the subsidies in France will be quick to go and it's a shame. I was just starting to like the place.

Rockdentist and his unrelenting search for records was admirable, but I had to admit I was tiring by this day. Nevertheless, one of the club workers drove us up the road to the vinyl store in town and we were both duly impressed. I got two Johnny Hallyday 7"s, a US pressing of the self-titled Link Wray album where he gets all singer-songwriter and colored vinyl pressings of the first two Black Lips LP's, unsure whether or not they were original pressings but that uncertainty strong enough to make me not want to leave them there.

Stoltz in Perigueux was flawless…the conflux of perfect sound and perfect light elevated the show to another level…and when Kelley bopped into the Velvet's "I Can't Stand It" during the breakdown of "Mt. Fuji", well, everything could have just stopped right there and I would've been content with life. You know that feeling?

Our set was okay…Stoltz definitely put on the clinic that night. The crowd reaction wasn't blasting, just generally good-natured. We did do "Devil Inside" for the first time in what felt like ages though, so that was a treat.

Day off with French promoter Jean-Luc in Orleans. Drop-off Rockdentist at the train station, sad to see him go. J-Lu's pad is comfy and accommodating…everyone checks email and launders their sweat-soaked garments and soon the backyard clothesline is filled. While I love the idea of the clothesline, I don't like the end-result of one. Machine dried clothes don't feel so…stiff? It's tres difficile to describe, but instantly noticeable if you're wearing it. I was fine though…I brought enough clothes to get me through the tour (or 9/10ths of it) without needing to wash.

J-Lu pulled together an amazing homemade French meal that we ate outside and could not have been happier with. The hospitality of everyone we'd encounter in France is beyond reproach. Watched Turkey's amazing victory over the Czech Republic in the Euro Cup and then J-Lu DJ'd for us as we sat and relaxed. I took advantage of the ample time to write.

Next morn was a quick skip over to Paris and La Maroquinerie. We have a rich history with the club…the cover photo to If You Don't... was shot backstage there and that same night would be one of the more-memorable performances in Dirtbombs history. Being a hop away from Pere Lachaise isn't bad either.

Was surprised to see that Gnarls Barkley would be doing two nights at La Maroq starting the night after our show there. Called my friend Josh who plays with Gnarls immediately and made plans to make plans to meet-up.

With much time to kill after soundcheck, I farted around online without much purpose. Somewhere the recesses of my brain burped up the name Bimbo Tower, a Parisian record store I'd attempted to email a year prior with absolutely no success. I found the address, asked a club employee if it was nearby and got no response.

Said worker came back a half-hour later and said he pulled up directions online but couldn't get them to print, that it was a 10 minute cab ride from the club. He then disappeared again.

Another half-hour or so passes before I decide to just look up the directions myself. Using the invaluable pedestrian directions on the Mappy website, I found that the store was only 2km away. That was nothing. I dutifully copied down all 17 turns listed as the route from the club to Bimbo Tower, the projected 40 minute walk time nothing more than an empty challenge for me to beat.

It's good to know that Mappy follows in the MapQuest tradition of giving you enough directions to get just close enough to your destination that you can smell it. I was shorted one final turn on my quest, but with the goof-up ended up on a more ostentatious boulevard that was worth the time I spent walking up and down it.

So with some wonderful help in orientation from locals, I find what's essentially a back alley with no visible storefronts and only once right in front of it does Bimbo Tower become visible. I walk in, beaming with pride, and excitedly ask for the one item that was the impetus for my trip…Pulp Music.

The shopkeep looked confused for a second and upon my repetition lights up and grabs a 7" for me…brought to my attention as offered on the S-S Records distro list over a year ago but in a criminally low quantity to which they promised not to order any more. Instead, S-S pointed me in the direction of Bimbo Tower, emailed them and never got a response. And ever since then I'd been searching high-and-low for the record amidst the plethora of Jarvis Cocker-related items that'd turn up in Internet searches.

The record is a reissue of a single released in 1979 and although known as Pulp Music, that's actually the name of the label while the performers on the record are Anne Bean and Paul Burwell. Apparently the original issue came inauspiciously with the words "PULP MUSIC" and the signatures of the two artists on a plain white sleeve, so it's easy to see where the confusion comes from.

Feeling on a roll, I also picked up two Billy Bao CD's and an LP of his I'd never seen before. Everything in the store was appetizingly tempting…I grabbed three more random French 7"s with interesting packaging and while the lathe-cut section and small-press books were calling, I did not answer. I complemented the man on the shop, offered him a spot on the list (he declined, but did know we had two drummers) and found my way back to the club with self-satisfying ease.

Back at the club I proudly display my treasures to the band and when I pull the Pulp Music single out, Mick's eyes widen and then deflate in dismay. He asks to look at the single and then proceeds to tell me that he's been looking for the record for twenty years. I sheepishly tell him "I THOUGHT I should buy more than one."

Josh had reservations for dinner and wasn't looking like he'd make it to the show, but he said if we jammed really long to close the set that he might be able to catch that. I was a little bummed, but let the unparalleled chicken fillet in absolutely mouth-watering sauce cheer me up. The chocolate mousse for dessert was just, uh, icing on the cake?

Halfway through the middle band, Josh texts me saying he's blown off dinner and wants to know if he can roll to the show with some guests. I go to the box office, literally cross Charlotte Gainsbourg off the list and put him on plus infinity, completely buoyed by the thought of him showing up. I will not argue that this is bordering on unsafe man-crush territory, but I do tread lightly.

The room was packed and we sparkled. No subsequent verbiage necessary.

Aftershow celebration is downplayed for the fact that we have a 16-hour drive to get to Castellon for our show the next day. I'm able to chat with Josh while breaking down gear, he's beyond kind in helping us load out and although we had mere minutes to catch-up, as I said before, it is an unbelievable treat to unexpectedly run into friends in foreign locales and it seems those encounters merely amplify the friendship.

Conversely, the 16-hour drive started smoothly with a viewing of Borat and slowly descended into conditions that were just chilly enough to notice the temp and were only slightly uncomfortable. Nothing was distinct enough to totally prevent me from sleeping…lack of pillow, immovable table at my lap, window to my left, rain, car in constant motion…but all combined were just enough to give me those slight teases of deep, REM dreams…the kind where Automatic For the People is rightfully given the credit it deserves and Monster is given the generous pass it could so greatly benefit from.

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Europe Part Two: Pain to Show You're Alive...

Could not wake up early enough to get the hell out of Birmingham. Rockdentist and I made way to King Bee Records in Manchester, a delightful shop one can always count on for enticing sundries. RD laid a stack of UK punk on me, but I haven't been feeling that of late. Instead I bought a CD copy of the new Spiritualized Songs in A&E album and a 7" copy of Belle and Sebastian's "Dog on Wheels" that has been running through my head ever since I heard it spun after our show in Perth two months ago.

From there on to the shops on Oldham Street. A 12" copy of the Amps "Tipp City" hereby completes my collection to include everything that band ever released. Then to Picadilly Records where I filled some major blanks in my current UK 7" collection…the new jam from David Viner, the Black Acid single on Fitzrovian Phonographic, the latest Breeders single and the Black Lips "Bad Kids" release. Apparently I passed up some weird comp 7" with a Wolf People track on it and that's been frustrating me.

More walking around, Richard Goodall Gallery and their overpriced silk-screened posters, some vintage clothing shops without anything terribly intriguing. Hit another store and bought the A-Square Records compilation on Big Beat. The Prime Movers' version of "I'm a Man" complete with a pre-Stooge Jim Osterberg on snarling lead vocals makes this disc worth the price of purchase.

From there to the Ruby Lounge and I finally figure out one of my main problems with the UK. Because the country is just so damned old and they have some custodial laws about whether or not you can tear a building down once it hits a certain age, it seems that too few, if any, buildings in the country are actually purpose-built.

In most cases I don't view this as a bad thing and certainly my hometown has given good examples of how to turn old banks into Domino's Pizza, a bowling alley into a rock club or just about anything you could imagine into a storefront church. But in England, it never seems like anywhere we play was meant to have bands performing there…when a building has been around for two-hundred years and has been rehabbed and retrofit beyond recognition in that span, it begins to almost feel like a futile effort. Your backstage, if you're lucky enough to even get one, offers only the most basic of amenities like, uh, cubic space, the stage fronts on pillars that would make even the most vain Greek god blush and the ceiling is always approximately 5 feet above the floor.

So, in three words…fuck that shit.

We goofed around at soundcheck with "Fox Box" a song that this band hasn't played in ages. Felt good enough to lead me to believe we'll probably bring it back into the set sometime on this trip.

Four-band bill in Manchester was arduous…as the headliners we were certain to get screwed out of our complete set time. The Vipers and Bone-Box opened up and I stayed backstage. Hell, I ignored Stoltz too.

Our set was decent, the crowd reactive enough, but as soon as we'd finished the club started blasting exit music as they tried to shoo our patrons out the door to clear the way for metal burlesque night.

Now I question how apropos the term "metal burlesque" is, because as it seemed to me, it was just "ugly girls with too much self-esteem walk around in their underwear and making dudes feel awkward by trying to give them lap-dances" night. Luckily we were chilling in a corner that kept us naturally removed from the grossness and got out of there before things got too unbearable.

Woke up early next morn and drove down to Brighton with RockDentist and spent approximately 30 seconds in the examination chair at his office where here gingerly sanded down the rough bottoms of both of my incisors. Whereas his music knowledge is unparalleled, it's the fact that he can straighten out your grill on a Sunday morning that really makes him aces in my book.

Chillaxed on the Brighton boardwalk, ate some basic chicken bullshit, then to Ocean Rooms, a club more resembling someone's living room as opposed to the cavernous arenas we're used to rocking.

Upstairs was furnished with a 2001 Kubrickian flair and I found myself passed out on a platform cushioned spot that wasn't quite really a bed and not really a chair either.

Set cooked pretty damn well. Was able to stir up the crowd during the encore too. The fact that the small space was packed helped too.

Off early again to catch our Dover-to-Calais ferry. We've made this trip so many times in the past that what used to be foreign and exciting is now merely rote and a nuisance.

Oostende is a city we'd never played before, the club right on the water was clearly intended for more regal purposes on inception, but this day would garner nothing more than rock and roll.

Carved out a space on the floor of the sound equipment closet to catch a snooze during Stoltz. Our set started flat, but upon Mick's second guitar change, the volume solidified and so did the crowd response. During encore of "Need You Tonight" I pulled my drums from the stage and put them in the middle of the crowd, drumming up some fervor and excitement with a headstand and all-out radical drumming on my behalf.

Upon the conclusion of "I Can't Stop Thinking About It" I climbed atop my bass drum as is customary with Pantano and I after completing a show. The bracing legs on the drum had kicked inward, turning the cylindrical beast into a veritable rolling log. I never had a chance to stay on there and instead fell HARD onto the floor.

It seems that my training as a soccer goalie in 6th grade had stayed with me as it seems I took the brunt of the fall on my right hip, with subsequent force spread equally between my arm and the top of my foot. (when making diving saves in soccer, the presumed best way to do so is to land mostly on your hip with the rest of your upper body following in a motion resembling a 120-degree angle tilting/falling, completed with your hands on the ball slamming into the ground for emphasis.)

I'd managed to knock the wind out of myself and instantly felt like I was going to vomit. It also seemed possible that I had cracked a rib, but the instant shock of it all most clearly had clouded my nerve endings. I immediately made a b-line for backstage where I painfully absorbed the excruciating agony I had put myself in.

Of course, the crowd was going nuts and we came back for an encore. Dean from Stoltz's band had so kindly put my drums back onstage and we rolled through "Kung Fu" where I felt in a daze and during the breakdown stumbled into the Bob Seger System's "2+2=?" and after that and urging the audience to dance like no one was watching them, I collapsed on stage in feigned death.

At this point more theater than rock and roll, Mick and Troy performed mock CPR on my motionless body. They made a plea for mouth-to-mouth from the microphone and while the thought of either of those two attempting it seemed fine to me, I was repulsed at the idea of a lager-breathed Belgian trying the same.

The entire time I'm prostrate on the stage with my eyes closed. Mick grabs a girl from the crowd who then tries to Heimlich me back to health. At this point, I really just want to lay down on the stage and relax. She kneels over my head and as I hear the crowd roar loudly, I open my eyes to see her lifting her shirt to expose her breasts. Certainly not what I was expecting, to which I immediately ended the death ruse and returned back to my drum stool.

Post-show meal with both bands was quality bonding time. Walking through the streets of Oostende lost trying to find the hotel was also some appreciated time to connect with Whitmore especially. Once at the hotel I reveled in the slow, nagging pain in my foot, hip and arm…the sensation a gentle reminder that I was still alive.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Europe Part One: The Tale of the Invisible Mick...

My main luggage bag was 10 pounds overweight at check in, so for those keeping score at home, three pair of 36x32 Levis, the 1998 paperback edition of A Gentle Madness, a soft cover copy Hitmen and twenty-one pair of Vater Power 5A wood tip drumsticks just happen to weigh exactly 10 pounds.

You see, when this happened on a domestic New Zealand flight, they were just looking for a reason or loophole to NOT charge us that overweight fee. What they ended up doing (I shit you not) was adding the weights of EVERYONE's checked baggage and then calculating the average weight per bag so as to have a reason to let us slide.

But my question, and I'm sure it's been asked and answered a billion times before but could bear repeating, is: When they ask you if you can take some stuff out of one bag and put it in another, don't they realize this isn't changing the weight of the plane at all? I mean,it's not like I threw away my jeans and my drumsticks. No, I stashed them in my carry-on, in the cavity of my snare drum, etc and all that shit was still bound for London. I mean, does it REALLY matter if it's all in the same bag or not?

Mick spent his week off in NYC, so his flight plan was to hop on some wings at JFK and get on over to Detroit and be on the same flight as the rest of us to Gatwick.

He'd texted me earlier saying his flight had been delayed and that'd he'd be the one sprinting to make the last boarding call. When I looked at the arrivals board, it said his flight was to arrive at 9pm while ours was set to take off at 9:15. Damn.

So I was able to catch the first goal in the Red Wings Stanley Cup-winning performance that night, pensively waiting to see the tall swath Mick cuts chugging down the moving walkway, damned if he misses the flight.

But I see nothing. Once I'm in and settled in my seat on the aircraft, with one of the flight attendants trading nervous glances between the passenger list and his watch. More people filter through, giving me belief that there's still hope for him yet.

I send a pre-emptive text message to our tour manager saying it's quite possible Mick will miss the flight. I try calling him at least a dozen times with no answer. And finally, at about 9:10, they close the flight deck door and tell us to turn off our cell phones.

Fucking hell. It will all surely be a nightmare. Maybe Kelley Stoltz can sing the songs. Maybe we can just do a 45-minute version of "Riders on the Storm" or our exercise in noise karaoke. Hopefully the dude will have the smarts to figure out how to get to London in a reasonable amount of time though, as the flight we were booked on was set to arrive at 10:10am the day of our first performance. Not only is it a crapshoot playing a show on the days you fly, but it's also leaves you almost zero wiggle room for cancelled or delayed flights and the success of the tour (in terms of morale, performance and even financially) is left to hang in the balance.

Once we hit cruising altitude, Ko saunters over to my seat and I say "so I guess Mick missed the flight" with equal bits of melancholy and perturbation in my voice to which she replied "I saw him get on the plane."

Hmm…now although she is known to gobble copious amounts of barbiturates prior to take off, Ko sounded somewhat coherent with her claim. But there's no way…he certainly hadn't boarded the plane before me, and I sat watching with bated bitching waiting for his entrance.

Ko had probably just seen some other black guy get on the plane and just blindly thought it was Mick. Stuff like that happens all the time. There was absolutely no way he got on the plane without me seeing it.

So a little later in the flight I turn around and see the guy standing in the aisle and chatting with Pat.

Well damn. Problem averted, with the only consequence of it all being me looking like an absolute nut cheese.

Flight felt over in minutes. Skipped through customs with the greatest of ease, all of our luggage arrived safely and soon enough we were on our way to the wilds of Finchley.

After a quick munch on some fish and chips, we made our way to Viner's storage space, containing a cornucopia of assorted Dirtbombs ephemera and effluvia from tours long ago. Blackula t-shirts, shirts where we tried to reappropriate the Tamla label design, half a box of If You Don't... CD's (which it seems NO band members have a personal copy of), the green sparkle Premier kit I slowly destroyed over 5-week tour in 2004, the sweet Mapex snare I'd nonchalantly left after a trip in 2005…it was all there in a musty, dank storage space locking horns with spider webs, Sights CD's, Datsuns' amps, Soledad drums and all other specters of tours past.

We pulled together the necessary bits and bobs to put on a Dirtbombs show and then made way to ULU.

Club was alright, in the university, dressing room far too far away from the stage, had to walk past a swimming pool to get there, but the inclusion of a honest-to-goodness bed in the greenroom was a welcome surprise that I was more than glad to reward with my sleep.

Even though my bass drum had been stewing in some stagnant water inside it's case, the thing sounded fresh and fine. My snare drum (cracked and left with what at times appears to be an egg-shape) barely needed a tuning despite the fact it'd been susceptible to some extreme weather conditions and was never even a case! Makes me question on why I ever even left the thing in the UK, my new Gretsch replacement just never fully kicking my ass like it should.

After check spend quality time chatting with Kelley's drummer Dean. I reiterate my proposal for the Dirtbombs to record for the newly forming Sub Pop Singles Club and also offer up my unparalleled services to run the whole goddamned thing.

Ben Swank shows up not long after and it's just like old times. I miss that guy like a death row inmate misses his pornography. I venture out for vittles, Kelley suggesting some overpriced hippie place called Organic Planet that, besides some cookies, had absolutely nothing I wanted to eat. Instead, a walk up the street found me at a carryout Japanese place that left me very pleased with their chicken noodles. Tasty.

I completely missed openers the Kits and laid out on the bed and slept thru Stoltz.

As we rumbled into the ride of "Leopardman at C&A" I was chafing at the two bright as Katie Couric's disposition lights situated approximately one foot from me and aimed directly at my ass. Clearly this was some sort of mix-up, as none of these lights were present at soundcheck and of course a professionally run club such as the ULU wouldn't have the bush league ignorance to not even mention such an irritating lighting choice to the band before hitting the stage, right?

Wrong. I dealt with it for two songs, feeling the hair on my upper, outer thighs being singed with each whoop and whoosh of the lighting mixer. By the time we hit "Get It While You Can" I'd had enough and turned around to kick (with authority) the light on my left. That seemed to get the message across as the burning-core-of-the-sun-lamp usage dropped exponentially after that move.

While singing during the encore, the mic unexpectedly chipped one of my incisors. A small price to pay for an enthusiastic, dancing crowd (and even moreso by London standards) who were into what was, admittedly, a pretty solid show.

The Stoltz guys knew to take the stage when we started berserking during "Kung Fu" and even Swank got in on the action, monkeying around on the drums like he actually knew what he was doing. All of this, it should be noted, happening after someone on the show crew gave me the ever-foreboding fore-finger-point-to-outside-wrist indicating something regarding time.

We met up with Simon Keeler afterwards, him pissed and effusive with praise. Coming from someone who's seen us as many times as he has, through different line-ups and setlists and disasters, I will gladly take it.

Later onward to a true metal bar with drinks named after Zeppelin songs. Simon went on to claim himself the most metal person in the bar, having been to all 12 of Metallica's UK shows on the RIDE THE LIGHTNING tour. He even said he was more metal than Troy. And that's a mighty claim.

Woke up early next morning to hit the Diskery in Birmingham with my main UK record sleuth the Rockdentist. This man has not only an encyclopedic knowledge of the tiniest of record sellers on the isle, but also a resourceful memory for who still has what records in stock, what price they were asking and what condition it's in. Basically, he's the kind of guy I wish there was more of and am infinitely grateful to have him on my side.

Diskery was a place for digging and I haven't been much of a digger lately. I did find an original 7" copy of ELO's "10538 Overture" and that was enough for me, but as always, Rockdentist pulled a stack of stuff he thought I might like. The worst part is more often than not, he's right, he's got my taste nailed and I end up spending way more than I thought I would be.

Of the four times we've played Bham, three have been at the Bar Academy and one at the Carling Academy next door, so I have more than a working knowledge of the offending, surrounding areas. Hungry and not wanting to take any chances, I waltzed over to the exact spot I knew a Subway sandwich shop would be awaiting my standard order.

Subway on tour is a standby, the old reliable. When in doubt, Italian BMT that shit out. When they were still running the SubClub promtion I had, at one point, stamps from four separate countries on one card. Impressive, I know.

Before showtime Ko's fuzz pedal properly died. This would be a harbinger of things to come. The unnecessary barrier in front of the stage was more befitting of a Slayer gig and seemed to dull the crowd. We got absolutely NOTHING back from them and caused us as a band to offer up that much less. And it was hot on stage to the point of suffocation. I think Pat had a drumstick dramatically fly out of his hand on two separate occasions, on top of the fact that Ko's replacement fuzz tone was off, as was Mick's purple synth pedal for the second night (that's what soundcheck's are for, genius). We couldn't end the set fast enough.

Once at the hotel we all took joy in the prospect of post-show food. After scaring up a menu and writing down everyone's personal orders (a 15-minute process) my attempts to use the room phone for a local call was met with notification by the front desk that I would need to submit a credit card to facilitate telephone usage.

Fuck that.

I couldn't connect with Louisa's cell phone so Rockdentist went all the way back to his car to retrieve his. From there I'm greeted with the most surly telephonic reception since Johnny Rotten stopped taking calls for the BBC. Greeted with "Pick-up or delivery?" I answer "Delivery" and am immediately told "No delivery, too late" to which I then say, "Ok…uh, pick-up then." To which I'm told "No pick-up for phone orders, you need to come in." In trying to reason with the man, I said "Even if it's a big order?" and he says "Yes" and I reply (at this point, I'm PISSED in the American sense) and shoot back with "WELL THEN WHY DID YOU PICK UP THE PHONE?"

Rockdentist would step up as MVP, navigating the labyrinthine one-way road system of Birmingham to the offending pizza establishment and arrive an eternity later with our grub. The mediocre pepperoni pie I had coupled with fairly bland garlic cheese bread was easily the high-point of the day, and that's more a testament to an incalculably shitty day than the quality of the food.

I've never had a good time (fuck it, even a decent time) in Birmingham and don't feel I ever will.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Why I Love Being in the Dirtbombs -or- Why You Never Negotiate With Kidnappers' Demands...

This is an email sent, in two slightly different forms, to both our booking agent and our record label. Grammatical and spelling errors were left intact for full effect.

To whom it may concern,

I write to communicate my extreme disappointment and outright animosity concerning the Dirtbombs' live show the evening of July 30, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts.

I have been a longtime fan of the Dirtbombs, and have had the opportunity to see them on several occasions. Tonight they disappointed the audience with a mere 35 minute, 5 song set, which concluded with a 20+ minute, out of tune, jam of Kung Fu. Throughout their show, the band showed nothing but disdain for the audience, and apathy for their sound. Of particular note was the rendition of "Sun Is Shining." During this, Mick's guitar was out of tune, the band's timing was off, and a verse was skipped. They acknowledged this and laughed about it, as fans stood in awe.

As mentioned above, the show was concluded by a 20+ minute version of Kung Fu, which took up more than 50% of their time on stage. In addition to the inaudible lyrics from Mick, who, once again, skipped a verse, of particular note were the actions of Ben. He left his drum assignment and paraded through the audience with a microphone. During this time he grabbed a mic attempted to speak, but at no point during his incoherent rambling, did he come close to making anything resembling a clear thought. The only point that he was able to communicate, was that he would offer free Heinekens to any fans who purchased a t-shirt after their set. I did not pay to see Ben making a sad attempt to fraternize with the fans. I did, however, pay to see more than five songs, and I did pay to hear a band who played with instruments in tune, and who exhibited an attitude which was not insulting to the fans.

In light of the foregoing, a demand is hereby made for a full refund of my $25.00 ticket, and a formal apology from the band to their fans for this embarasment, posted on their website by 8/8. Additionally, the band should take steps to put on a free apology show at a venue in Boston.

If I am not contacted concerning this matter by FrIday, 8/8 and steps are not taken to accommodate the the aforementioned demands, I will contact the appropriate local union representatives and area venues to guarantee that neither The Dirtbombs, nor any other artist in your label, will not get another gig Northeast of Providence again.