Continuing on from last week…
You know what’s depressing? Cutting through a red light district in broad daylight with the prostitutes already hanging out in their windows while Adele’s “Someone Like You” plays over outdoor speakers.
Just down the street from the red light district is Hafenklang, one of my favorite venues in Germany. The people who work here are always a pleasure to work with, the size of the room is perfect, and the club is easy walking distance from the Reeperbahn. Tonight’s show is a drone festival. Two stages, six bands. And the ticket price is still less than half of the fest we played in Estonia. But ya know, as much as I enjoy listening to drone stuff when I’m at home, it’s not really the kind of music I want to spend an evening watching at a club. I watch a few of the acts before I start feeling narcoleptic. I’m not even bothering with beer tonight; I’ve switched to some sort of carbonated yerba mate drink in an effort to stay awake.
Tonight is Derek from Deafheaven’s birthday. There are plans to go out on the town after the show, but by the time we’re packed up and loaded out, it’s 3am. The other guys go for it, but Che and I opt to sit in our hotel room and eat Burger King before going to bed.
We’re almost three weeks into tour and finally hitting that stride where things generally go really smoothly. We know how the set goes. We’ve figured out the best way to pack the van and everyone knows the order of loading gear. And with just Deafheaven and us on the majority of the bills, there are few surprises, few variables to enter into play and complicate things.
But still, things can go wrong. Gear can break. The monitor mix can change between soundcheck and the show. The crowd can be obnoxious. Tonight’s show should be solid. The club is good. The turnout is good. But things still seem somehow out of order when we play. These things happen, I guess. And even though it’s a bad set, I have to acknowledge that “bad” is relative, and a lot of bands would kill to have a night like tonight as one of their “off” shows.
I wonder if Rolling Stones and U2 get off stage 25% of the time and grumble about their concert.
The show tonight is in an old parking garage converted into a venue. Fortunately, we have plenty of time between soundcheck and doors to go and explore the city. We also have time to tuck into a bar and order Belgian beers. Trappists, sour beers, and lambics are sampled. The club gives us drink tickets, which are good for another assortment of Belgian beers. We all roll with Chimay all night, which is a recipe for hangovers.
After the show we go out to a bear bar downtown to celebrate Che’s birthday. Che and I are stoked. The rest of the guys are initially intrigued by the prospect of seeing what a Belgian bear bar is like, and then they gradually migrate to a back corner outside of the line of sight of the regular crowd once they discover how small the bar is and how much they stand out. George from Deafheaven gets a fair amount attention from a couple of bears, and plays along in hopes of acquiring free drinks. His quote of the night: “ You know what I really miss on tour? Hanging out in crowded rooms full of nothing but dudes.”
The rest of the guys cab back to the hotel while Che and I stick around to close the bar down. They eventually shut the front door and close the metal shutters to the windows, but instead of kicking everyone out, the staff and patrons just take their shirts off and light up cigarettes. Now that the straights have left, the locals get a lot friendlier. The bartender hooks us up with a couple of rounds of shots and the couple seated next to us takes care of a couple rounds of Hoegaarten. It’s pretty packed and wild for a Sunday night/Monday morning at 3am, and realizing that the bar is in no rush to kick out any patrons anytime soon, we admit defeat and roll out on our own accord. You beat us, La Baroque Café.
Esch Alzette, Luxembourg
We had two options for today’s show. We could either take a show in Bristol, England or play Luxembourg. We have a day off tomorrow—our first day off in three weeks. I have never in my life been more excited for a day off. I generally subscribe to Mike Watt’s “if you’re not playing, you’re paying” philosophy, but three weeks without a break is pretty rough, particularly with some of the drives we pulled in the first week of tour. Tomas mentioned that his friend is driving the Canadian band Cancer Bats at the moment, and they have 67 shows in a row without a day off, including 6 shows in one day in London. That sounds miserable.
Anyway, it was either Luxembourg or Bristol. Our next show is in Glasgow, so we figured it made more sense to have the long drive and ferry ride on a day off instead of having to bust ass from Brussels to Bristol the next day. But we also knew that the Luxembourg offer was for a venue called Rokhall, which is an enormous venue with a massive stage, barricade, and over-the-top lighting set-up. We basically resigned ourselves to playing an awkward show tonight.
The plus side is that the venue and the staff are amazing and very accommodating. We get to do laundry, do some routine maintenance on gear, and catch up on email and other assorted tasks that tend to get neglected on the road.
The show is still pretty overblown for a band of our stature, but it’s nice to be pampered for a day.
It’s not actually much of a day off, considering we spend 13 hours driving and ferrying to northern England.
At the club, we realize we’ve left a small case containing extra speaker cables, power cables, and, most importantly, all our UK power cables and adaptors somewhere in Scandinavia. Considering all the gear between the two bands and all the shuffling around of stuff with the van switch and the Moscow flight, it’s not all that surprising that something as small and unessential as a lunchbox-sized black case with back-up supplies would get lost. But the big drag is that the UK, while on the same voltage as the European mainland, has different plugs. So we can’t plug in any of our gear until we pick up a bunch of extra converters. There’s a trick where you can stick a wooden match in the grounding socket and jam the two prongs of the European plugs into the UK sockets, but there’s something already sketchy about UK electricity that we don’t want to come up with a half-ass solution.
The last time we played Glasgow, we did an early all ages show and a late 21+ show. The soundcheck went fine, the first show went fine, but when we line-checked for the second show, Mike kept getting shocked every time he touched his guitar strings. We tried a variety of solutions: plugging in to different outlets, swapping out cables, nothing worked. But then the soundguy tried touching Mike’s strings while he was switching the ground lift on his amp and he didn’t get shocked. He handed the guitar back to Mike, thinking the problem was solved. No such luck; Mike immediately got shocked again. It then became apparent that only Mike was getting shocked when he touched his strings. I could touch his guitar and be all right, but if I touched Mike and his guitar at the same time, I’d get shocked. The only thing we could figure out was that Mike had a steel plate in his leg and it was conducting electricity through the floor. So he had to play the set standing on a folded-up foam speaker cabinet cover to avoid getting shocked. Electricity is weird.
The extent of today’s power issues is a blown fuse in one of Deafheaven’s amps during soundcheck. The show goes well, fortunately.
We stay in an old, maze-like hotel and we hang out in Deafheaven’s room drinking Scotch until 3am. The ceiling is so low you have to crouch down to fit in the bathroom
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Our manager, Cathy, is in town to meet up with a couple of Irish bands. Tonight she’s hanging out at the show with And So I Watch You From Afar, an excellent instrumental band from Belfast. I really enjoyed their LP from last year, Gangs. They wind up being really nice guys, and it also winds up that we’ve actually met before because we played with them the last time we were in Belfast back in 2008. My memory ain’t what it used to be, apparently. Though to be fair, my main memory of that show was hanging out backstage with Mike and Dave and These Arms Are Snakes (we were on tour together at the time) and taking swigs out of a bottle of vodka before we took the stage. We were all convinced that someone had watered down the booze, and we kept taking pulls off the bottle to try and assess if it truly was diluted. Later on stage, I look over at Dave mid-song. We’re both struggling. “It was definitely real vodka,” Dave yells at me over the din.
We’re playing at a college tonight. Last night we had the obligatory Scotch in Scotland, tonight it’s the obligatory pint of Guinness in Ireland. The show is much better attended than our last time in Belfast, presumably because it’s on a college campus and free to students. People are pleasantly loud during our set. But it’s also a very drunk crowd. It’s a Thursday night but everyone seems to be out and wasted. Getting the gear loaded out and walking to our hotel through throngs of wasted kids is an exercise in frustration.
The drive to Limerick takes twice as long as anticipated because the highway we’re supposed to take is closed off due to authorities discovering a car bomb parked on the side of the road.
We were warned to be careful in Limerick. People at last night’s show apologized for the Belfast crowd being too mellow, even though they were one of the rowdier audiences of tour. “They’ll be much more active and surly in Limerick, don’t worry.” I’m a little worried. One of the And So I Watch You From Afar guys tells Cathy to be careful in Limerick. Apparently the town has the nickname “ Stab City”. Not many bands tour to Ireland because it’s hard to make back the costs of the ferry to and from the island. Even fewer bands play Limerick, so tonight was a bit of a question mark. But it’s a crowded house. Mike and I decide to sneak out before our set and see if we can catch some traditional Irish music in a nearby bar. But as we exit the building through the adjoining pub, we realize there are a bunch of guys playing traditional music in a back corner of the room. The promoter finds us and buys us a few pints of Guinness while we hang out and listen to the musicians.
Sure enough, Limerick is rowdy. I keep thinking I see fights breaking out during our set, but it just winds up being people roughhousing. At one song break, I hear someone in the audience get smacked. I look across the stage and see some dude cradling the side of his face in the front row while a punk woman stands over him with clenched fists. And then everything seems okay again and everyone is in good spirits. It’s a pleasantly strange show. No one gets stabbed though.
Tonight we play in the Temple Bar section of town, which is the touristy, nightlife part of Dublin. Chris Common, the drummer for my old band These Arms Are Snakes, is in town producing a record for an Irish band in a studio literally across the street from the venue. As we pull up to the club he’s outside looking for lunch options. Small world.
The guys from Adebisi Shank are at the show to talk with Cathy. Their poor drummer’s hand is all bandaged up because he broke two of his knuckles when he tripped on a carpet inside a bank. Him and Mike console each other over their broken digits.
The show has to be over at 11pm to make way for the Saturday night dance party at the club. This kind of scheduling is usually a pretty big drag, but we have to leave to catch a ferry at 6:30am tomorrow, and Saturday nights in this neighborhood apparently get really sloppy, so it’s probably for the best that we get out of here as early as possible. Even with the curfew, we don’t get loaded out until nearly 1am.
We stay at a hotel where they shut off the heat from 10pm til 6am. Because, you know, why would you want to heat the building when there are actually people in it?
Aside from us flubbing on the very first note of the very first song, things go really well tonight. Actually, it’s the best sounding stage of tour. And consequently, I feel like we play with more confidence, energy, and synchronicity than we have at any other show of this tour. It’s a full house too.
But the crowd seems subdued. And it’s a low night for merch sales. And even though the place is packed, we don’t get any backend off the guarantee. For most of the dates on the European continent, we can anticipate making extra money on top of the guarantee because the attendance is strong enough to surpass the club’s break-even point. But for whatever reason, it’s pretty much impossible to make backend in the UK. The expenses for the show are so padded that having a percentage factored in on top of the guarantee is pretty much futile.
This is so common for England that it’s not really a big deal when we fail to make any extra cash off the door tonight. But then the accommodations the promoter is supposed to provide for the band winds up being a this bed-and-breakfast place that’s really just the basement of a punk house with a bunch of sleeping pads laid out on the floor. I’ve definitely slept in far more uncomfortable places in my time—there was the place in Bilbao where Botch had to keep the lights on to keep the rats away and there was no indoor plumbing, or the apartment in Lyon where These Arms Are Snakes had to sleep on couch cushions littered with hundreds of cigarette butts and when I asked the promoter for a glass of water he fished an old water bottle out of the trash and pointed at the sink, or any number of rest stops on the highway where we’ve all had to bunk down for the night on a bench seat or the floor of the van. But we’ve also worked our way up to a point where we don’t have to compromise our comfort like that anymore. So while the quality of tonight’s accommodations isn’t big of a deal, it definitely feels like a step down.
In summary, I feel like we just played our most solid set of the tour to a decently large crowd, and the reward is a benign audience, a low merch night, a low guarantee, and sleeping on the floor of someone’s basement. The thing is, playing a good set is always the most important thing. There’s no shortage of sets where we feel like we haven’t lived up to our own expectations, and the crowd still seems enthusiastic. It’s hard enough to be objective when criticizing one’s own work; it gets even harder when mediocrity gets rewarded and a good set seems unappreciated. Whatever… maybe it was just an off-night for Manchester.
We anticipated London being the biggest show of tour. And while the turnout is good, it doesn’t feel like a spectacular show. What can you do…
Day off. London, England
Got a haircut. Bought some records. Took pictures of my husband’s old apartment from when he worked abroad after college. Walked around Camden Town. Had a nice, fancy dinner. Got some decent sleep.
We’re not wild about France. It’s the whole rudeness thing. Yeah, I know it’s bad to bring up stereotypes, but it’s also hard to ignore it when it keeps smacking you in the face. Right when you cross the border, people at gas stations quit holding the door open for you. Drivers become more aggressive. People cut in front of you in line. Even at the club, the stage manager asks for merch after we load in. “ It is club policy for us to get one free t-shirt.” Tomas responds, “ that’s a stupid policy.” No free t-shirt for you, dude.
The show is oversold. I can barely squeeze in the front door to watch Deafheaven’s set. Some of the guys from Alcest are in attendance. Deafheaven just toured with them in the states, and plans are made to hang out with them after the show. But by the time we get packed up and loaded out, the thought of taxiing across town to go to a house party sounds more exhausting than fun. Korey, Kerry, and George wind up rolling with the Alcest guys. The rest of us head to our hotel.
The hotel last night was an Etap. Etaps are basically the European equivalents of Motel 6 or Super 8. They’re really cheap, but they’re always decently clean. They’re also kind of hilarious. They always have bunkbeds and they don’t have seats on their toilets. Instead of keys, each door has an electronic passcode.
We meet in the lobby. Korey and George are waiting downstairs, both looking haggard. Kerry rolls in a few minutes later with cuts and bruises on his face. Winds up Kerry and George got in an argument in the taxi on the way back to the hotel and it turned into them choking one another. Then when they tried to check in to the hotel, they didn’t know their room numbers. Korey was trying to figure it out with the guy at the front desk, but in the meanwhile Kerry and George continued to yell at each other. The argument got violent again when they were trying to get into their rooms, and eventually the three of them were kicked out by security. So they wound up walking around Paris until it was time for us to leave for Belgium. There’s a lot of tension in the lobby.
Tonight’s club, De Kreun, is one of my favorite venues in Europe. The club itself is really modern, well-maintained, and laid out perfectly. The hospitality is great too. Everyone at the club is super friendly, we’re able to do laundry, and we get fed lamb chops for dinner. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of tension in the Deafheaven camp. But the more information we get about the ordeal, the funnier it gets. Apparently at one point in the hotel scuffle, Kerry’s glasses got knocked off and landed in the elevator, which promptly closed and went to a different floor. And they apparently knocked over a big potted plant when they were beating each other in the lobby, and George frantically tried to scoop up all the pebbles while telling the staff that they had just accidentally bumped into it. And my favorite detail: at the peak of the violence, George asked Kerry “had enough yet, bitch?”
It’s all very entertaining for us, but it definitely seems very
serious for Deafheaven. It’s a pity, because the show is great but
the drama is hard to escape. After the show we meet up with my
friend Tim from the Belgian band
Maudlin. He’s brought an assortment of Belgian
beers for us to try out. Tomas and the Deafheaven van head to the
hotel while we hang out in the venue bar past closing time.