11/10: The Tour begins!
We leave for Paris around noon, find Shawn at the airport with little difficulty, then it's off to the studio Nini reserved. Then, DISASTER STRIKES!! A mere 2 km away from the studio, we get sucked into the WORST traffic jam I've ever seen since Los Angeles '94. A 5-way intersection, with cars actually turned sideways, no gendarmes to be found, and tempers flaring due to much bumper-touching. Shawn, in the 1st of many tour disappearances, decided to jump out of the car and stretch his legs out and stop at a nearby fruit stand. Of course, less than 5 minutes later, we make a breakthrough, but are forced to overshoot the street Shawn is on, and we can't pull over til we're 7-8 blocks down the road. And, of course, it begins to rain. Karl is sent to search for Shawn, and we're rapidly reaching the point where the studio plan is kaput. By the time Shawn is finally retrieved, we give up on the studio idea, despite Nini's frantic phone calls in search of a replacement studio. New tactic: find a place to eat, then head for Reims [home to the worst FTV gig experience last time we toured Europe] to spend the night at a hotel. For reasons known only to the French members of our expedition, we circle Paris aimlessly until the American contingent demands we stop at the next Chinese restaurant. Good food, and nice to actually unwind after the hassles of the previous 3 hours. We hit the road, and, after yet more aimless circling, find a budget hotel to spend the night. After checking in at the clerk-less desk, we notice the breakfast room deserted. Instruments are retrieved, stools are converted into drums, and we run thru the set list, to the amusement of the hotel guests. Around 11pm or so, we collapse into our respective hotel rooms [Americans in one, Frenchmen across the hall].
11/12: A pleasant, uneventful drive to Verviers, through beautiful, mostly farmland country. Arrived at the venue, Spirit of '66, around 2pm, and met the various staff people, who were all incredibly helpful. Unloaded gear, then set up merchandise at a small table next to some other prog vendors. Picked up the Beardfish cd, "Destined Solitaire", hoping it wouldn't contain yet more songs about being f***** over and going crazy [it did]. Spent some time chit-chatting with the Agents of Mercy; very nice fellows. Roine Stolt & I reminisce about our less-than-pleasant Cincinnati gig together the day after 9/11/01. Also run into a refugee from Louisville whom I haven't seen in 30+ years---Reed Billings, who currently resides in the Netherlands. Belated apologies to the RPWL fans whose enjoyment was marred by our inconsiderate blabbing. At the end of their set, Brian is nearly moved to tears by what appears to be RPWL's signature sing-a-long, "Roses". This song is later randomly belted out at quiet moments during the rest of our tour.
Finally time for FTV to hit the stage. After searching frantically, I can't find my little baggie with all my guitar picks. I find on the stage 2 kinds of picks: the standard plastic type, and a nylon type I normally don't use. The nylon feels slightly more comfy than the other, so I go with it. Big introduction by the MC; we launch into "Conversational Paradigms", and about 30 seconds in, I realize the nylon was an extremely stupid choice--with all the 16th-notes "CP" requires, the pick is flopping around as if I'm playing with a piece of soft carpet. I sub out the pick, and promptly blow a few measures. Let that be a lesson, kids!
Despite our overall sloppiness [Shawn is kind enough to point out to the audience how little rehearsal we had, so I'll helpfully point out how, after reviewing the recording, Shawn is roughly a measure or two ahead of us for much of the show], we put on a fun and energetic performance, and go over like ice cream--quite a relief for us, as we're a bit more "avant" than all the other bands at the festival. Afterwards, I sell lots of cds, which also comes as quite a relief.
We later go upstairs to the "green room", where we're treated to excellent Chinese food & wine from our hosts, and are also paid. Relief #3. We discuss what a pleasant revelation our stage antics were, and how this ought to set the tone for the rest of the tour. I realize I won't have to work as hard this time out--these guys are as hammy as I am!
More meeting & greeting with fans, and I also catch the rest of Agents of Mercy's set--quite a bunch of professionals, and their keyboardist Lasse Larsson in particular stands out. Great set, with lots of instrumental jammy-type sections where they stretched out.
Finally, after a couple of nightcaps at the bar and many goodbyes, we went to the hotel [after many futile attempts] and sacked out.
11/12: WURZBURG DAY 1:
I was up and about by 10am, and roamed . Last night, Roine mentioned that this was a combination hotel/tennis center, and seeing it this morning in all its glory was quite a sight, especially for accompanying the excellent breakfast buffet. The tennis area is indoors, and surrounded by the fairly- upscale hotel. I attempt to use Ludo's laptop, but give up in frustration due to the crazed hoops Gmail shove my way. Eventually, everyone packed up and headed to the parking lot, where we hung out with the Agents of Fortune for quite awhile, trading road stories and cds.
The trip to Wurzburg went okay, if a bit grueling-somehow, a 4-hour trip stretched into 7. Made a couple of stops at roadside diners-good food! Passing the airport in Frankfort was surreal--it seemed to go on for miles, and is pretty spectacular to see--didn't know there was that much glass paneling in the world!
Arrived in Wurzburg around 7pm; checked into the Babelfish hostel, spent what seemed like hours finding a secure parking garage, and went off in search of a place to eat--not an easy feat on a Monday evening, as we were rebuffed continually. Finally--you guessed it--we found a Chinese place--the streak continues!11/13: WURZBURG DAY 2:
We attempt a rendezvous with Charly Heiderich at The Immerhin [where we will be performing], but miss hooking up, as it takes an hour or so to get our van out of the garage! Despite our continual attempts at getting the automated reader to "see" our ticket, it refuses to open the exit. Afterwards, I kick myself for not walking over to the Immerhin myself to meet Charly [it's only a 10 minute walk from the Babelfish], as he could only stay for a short period before he had to leave for work and wouldn't be able to open the venue for us again until late afternoon. CRAP! After much discussion, we decide to go our separate ways and meet at the Immerhin at 3pm.
Spent the next 3 hours wandering around Wurzburg---bustling, mall-like downtown area, and I eventually stop for expresso and curiously tasteless pastry. Resume my exploration, and begin to suspect I am hopelessly lost. A helpful office worker on her break actually walks me to where I can find the hostel again. I decide I have more time to kill, and promptly get semi-lost again, but recover and wander over to the Immerhin with the others. Charly arrives to big hugs [I've often said how I wish there was a "Charly" in every city--it would make touring much easier and enjoyable!], and guides us to the actual Immerhin, which is housed in the deep basement of a large industrial building, which is also home to the local police station and a post office. We cart our gear to the club--decent size room with lots of couches, and a nice side room for the musicians. We set up, and decide to use our mixing board rather than the house set-up. Never learn why, but I think it was so the Mentats could use their laptop recording gear. We are able to relax and take our time as the gig isn't until tomorrow, so it takes a couple hours before we play a note. Once we do, I realize my bass amp isn't going to be very co-operative, as it keeps cutting out despite my helpful whacks. We finally begin practicing, and Shawn takes charge, ironing out all the rough spots, and honing the various unison bit he and Ludo, Karl, and Nini do. We also work out "The Secret Life of Walter Riddle", which we skipped in Verviers due to lack of preparation [we hadn't even rehearsed it as a group PRIOR to Shawn's arrival in Europe thanks to time constraints]. Once we get it down, we know it's going to be a show-stopper.
Charly returns around 10pm to lock up; I appraise him of the bass amp issue; and we head for someplace to eat. Except for Brian, who seems to be coming down with my cold and returns to the hostel. Somehow, the idea of wandering around Wurzburg once again searching for late-night food options doesn't appeal to anyone, so we do the obvious thing--the Chinese place next to the Babelfish! FOUR days of Chinese in a row! The food is great, but discover we're actually being CHARGED for the water---grrrr...11/14: WURZBURG DAY 3:
Day of the show; tour gig #2. Breakfast at the Babelfish; catch up with e-mail and the folks back home; meet up with Charly to unlock the Immerhin, and we spend the rest of the day prepping for the show. Charly also shows up with a better amp, thankfully. More rehearsal, some of which is recorded--this is the 1st trial run of the laptop interface, and it's a success--the Mentats are quite pleased. Later, the others have lunch at the Tibetan place we'd seen during our 1st wanderings while I stay behind to guard the equipment and await my carry-out. One of the sound guys for tonight shows up, and we chit chat about the gear. The others return; more rehearsal, and we call it quits around 5pm--there's such a thing as getting TOO good, I suppose...
Later, the other band, SVIN, who are from Denmark, arrive. Friendly bunch of fellows; one of those metal/jazz groups that seem to be everywhere these days. 2 horns, guitar, drums. They are kind enough to agree to let us open the show instead of closing, as we have an early start tomorrow for our journey to Montpellier. I then spend much of the rest of the day sacked out in the side room until gig time.
An hour or so before the gig, I set up our merchandise table, and talk up the various attendees--one of whom traveled 650 km to see us! Another guy had seen us at our previous gig here, so we must be doing something right. Speaking of which, I learn that Karl, Ludo, & Nini had visited the Omnibus last night after dinner, where French TV had played last time--wish I had gone! Later, Charly puts together a yummy soup for us, which we devour in the bar area, separate from the performance area. What a guy!
SHOWTIME! Roughly 25-30 people in the audience, but they're rowdy and want a show, and we deliver. We launch into "Conversational Paradigms", and THIS time we brought the finesse missing from Verviers--it was ultimately expensive, but I'm glad we had the 2 days off for rehearsal. To quote Brian--"It helped--it REALLLY did..." Tons of energy expended by all, and I'm tucked away in the back on a stool thinking how great it is to have such a dynamic, robust front line of Ludo, Shawn, and Karl, so I'm not the only active focal point. The rest of the show is a hit; we end with "Walter Riddle", and "THANK YOU- GOOD NIGHT!" The crowd is buzzing; I sell lots of cds again, and the fans are chatty, terrific and welcoming-great crowd!
We pack up [Shawn does his load-out disappearing act again], catch some of SVIN's show--loud, noisy, but still interesting--and Brian and I hit the kebab place at the bus station in front of the hostel. Later, the Mentats join us, and we're still quite juiced about our performance. Nothing succeeds like success! Hit the sack reasonable early in anticipation of the dreaded trip tomorrow.11/15, MONTPELLIER (When is a show NOT a show?):
Everyone up at 5:30am, and my comment "time to go fishing" seems to enliven the proceedings. Not much in the way of foot-dragging as I feared, and we're on the road reasonably quickly. I soon discover that I've left my Bob McChesney and John Nichols book "The Death and Life of American Journalism" behind-BAH! Fortunately, I snagged a copy of Oliver Twist at the hostel--hey, it was slim pickings for English books--and devour it greedily.
LOOOOONG, grueling trip--I think we were in the van for a good 14 hours, including various pit stops. Fortunately, everyone is still somewhat buzzed over last night's show, and there's lots of discussion [among the members still awake] on making future shows even better. We arrive in Montpellier around 8pm--quite beautiful, and Shawn remarks that it reminds him of Monte Carlo. GPS eventually guides us to an older area of town among steep hills and tall, faded yellow buildings, and, as the driver at this point, I'm alarmed at the narrow streets and lose track of the various cafe chairs I've knocked over. This seems to be where the university kids live, as I don't see ANYONE over 25. We finally discover the Up and Down, tonight's host venue. We walk in, and learn to our horror we're basically playing in a tiny pit in which we have to go down steep steps and cross a tiny 5-ft rope bridge to get to our tiny playing area. There's a sad-looking drum kit that appears to have fallen off a truck, and there's no bass or guitar amp as promised before the tour.
Some back-tracking: this was the only gig during the organizing phase in which contact with the venue was almost non-existent. My contact in Toulouse, Manu MurĂ©, gave me the name of a woman who booked the Montpellier show, then she handed me off to the club itself for further details which never arrive, despite all efforts on both my and the Mentats' part. Finally, the week before I left, someone involved e-mails about drum details, and that was the end of any contact. So, I was a little uneasy about this particular gig from the beginning.
So, as we're loading our equipment through this obstacle course, and as I notice the small crowd hanging about everywhere but the basement area, my "ALERT! BAD GIG AHEAD!" radar is going off, and I decide we ought to pull the plug on this gig and get a jump on our trip to Madrid [another 10+ hour grind]. I present this option to the rest of the band, and everyone except Ludo, who seems in favor of canceling, is non-committal but open to the idea. Complicating my thought processes is an attractive young woman who is very insistent that we ought to set up and at least give it a go. A handful of other cute girls and their dates begin to filter their way downstairs, and it was getting TOO surreal to me. This was a situation I'm not used to--pretty girls ASKING me to play for them??? We decide to have dinner at the Indian restaurant across the street [and break with our Chinese food tradition], and ponder all this, while keeping an eye out for my contact HĂ©loĂŻse, who arranged the gig and whom I was led to believe was bringing our amps. While waiting for our food, the character who had been eyeing us across the street at the Up and Down came over, asked if we were French TV, and introduced himself as the manager. He then politely suggested that we ought to be setting up soon. We explained that we were probably going to cancel the show, and listed the reasons. He replied that he could quickly find the amps we needed. I was expecting him to be angry about our potential decision, but, as near as I could tell, he seemed disappointed but OK with it [he mostly spoke French with Nini and Karl].
Throughout our meal, there still didn't seem to be any consensus on whether to do the gig our not. Even when it seemed the "no gig" votes won, there was still a lot of foot-dragging, which annoyed Shawn in particular, who began offering alternative ideas such as turning it into a duo Shawn/Ludo set. Rebuffed, he returned to the venue while we finished eating.
I finally managed to guide everyone back to the club to retrieve our gear. When we crept down the narrow steps and reached the bottom, we were greeted by the spectacle of a bug-eyed Shawn rocking out solo to a full room of happy and energetically dancing audience members, some of whom [including the insistent gal I met earlier] were banging away on the various drum pieces scattered across the tiny stage! We began to gather up our gear to occasional "BOOO's", and carried them back to the van. At some point, I slipped on the rope bridge, and landed face-first into a soft canvas case of ours--I'm sure this was a nice summation of our exit to the crowd.
During one of our trips to the van outside, a tall, heavily-tatooed audience member [whom I later learned was the guy who set up the show and provided the drums] blocked Nini and me and angrily announced "I think you are being very unfair about what you are doing!", and proceeded to list the reasons why. After seeing the crowd downstairs, I was beginning to weaken in our decision anyway, so I asked how long it would take to get the amps needed, but he waved me off and said it was too late - but not too late to make sure we knew about his displeasure at this turn of events. He then lapsed into French arguing with Nini, so I don't know where it went from there, but it wasn't pretty. By now, we were getting a little nervous, and began retrieving our stuff together as a group, but there were no further incidents--not that we didn't deserve it! We also retrieved Shawn, who seemed a little uncertain whether he'd done the right thing--I thought he took the PERFECT course of action, and told him so.
We finally pile into the van, which was parked about30 yards down the hill from the club, and Ludo backs it slowly up the hill while dodging various pedestrians and cafe furniture to get to a good turning-around point. We pass the Up and Down, and realize the transmission is smoking! There was a general feeling of "WELL, PERFECT! WE BREAK DOWN IN FRONT OF THE CLUB WE BAILED ON! WE'RE DOOMED!", but despite the smoke, it seems to be running alright. Once we get going, it seems impossible to find our way back through the too-narrow streets, so Shawn jumps out of the van and guides us to possible escape routes. We eventually find the highway, drive for another 2-3 hours, during which I reflect on how this wasn't exactly our finest hour, and whether I should be allowed to be in a decision-making position for the rest of the tour. We get a motel, and the regrets continue until I fall asleep.