Cartagena (Nov 12)
I think it’s just an unwritten rule of the European Road that the bus has to smell of piss at one point along the way. I’m not sure why that is…surely the Germans have developed the technology to efficiently hold piss in a tank without it smelling. Truth be told, there is no tank on this bus, it all goes straight to the road. Yes, we have been marking our trail across Europe with our pee. It’s an old Canadian trick, you wouldn’t understand. And yet, it still smells in here.
When it is Spain’s turn for the big bailout they should definitely put some money aside to fix the road from Madrid to Cartagena. The journey last night was like travelling 8 hours in a…in a…in a..bus with no suspension….try falling asleep with someone shaking you, with controlled violence, every sixty seconds. In between shakes your body vibrates at a high frequency while you wait for the next round. One begins to understand the power of torture by sleep deprivation. We had no expectations of Cartagena; we were told it was basically an industrial town. But most of us ended up liking it quite a lot. There is a crazy mish-mash of life on its’ streets, in its’ architecture and style. Untold armies of all the great and nasty civilizations have stomped this town. The list is staggering. It is a crazy quilt of Roman ruins and housing projects, Medieval castles and pedestrian walkways. Centuries of human habitation will do that to a place.
The gig tonight was a snoozer. We were exhausted and the audience was flat and didn’t seem to have any knowledge of our music, which can sometimes be a good thing, but tonight we needed a critical mass of energy to will us to be good. It didn’t happen so weren’t very good. But we made up for it by going out after the show with Jorge the promoter rep. He told us about his olive groves and about growing up in Germany and in Spain. He introduced us to a magic yellow elixir. We had fun.
Barcelona (Nov 13)
It turns out that Jorge’s magic yellow elixir is a lot more fun when you are drinking it than it is several hours later. We were dumped off the bus at our hotel at 10am and had to sit around and wait for our rooms to be cleaned…it was a blurry morning. Unfortunately it was a very rainy day in Barcelona. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, but not today, the rain barely let up all day. But we all made an attempt to wander and most of us found our way to the Sagrada Familia; Antoni Gaudi’s crowning glory to God. Most of you have probably at least seen images of this church, in person it is truly awe-inspiring, whether one likes the design is kind of irrelevant when faced with such a singular and massive vision. I definitely need a lot more time in this city. I think a week would do me fine….I just love the feel of this place.
We had a very good gig to end off this run of dates. It was in a very interesting theatre/club: an old and beat up room but it had a good feel and the people working it were great. An excellent audience tonight and we gave them what we had left. This has been a very fun couple of weeks for us. We are all exhausted and a little beat up but we had many excellent shows and went to a lot of cities and places that we have never visited. I think Spain has been a revelation to us all. It is such a big-hearted country with enough nooks and crannies to keep one exploring for years. We definitely need to get back soon…….Time to head home and finish up volume 4…stay tuned.
We were leaving Paris last night when the bus came to a very abrupt halt on the expressway and pulled, suddenly, to the shoulder. Before we could figure out what was happening we saw our back-up driver, outside, standing in traffic, futilely trying to stop oncoming vehicles. The tunnel that we were about to enter was too short for the bus so the only way out was in reverse, 50 yards back up the expressway on-ramp. It may have been midnight, but in Paris the traffic doesn’t stop, it was just car after car after car with the occasional truck blowing by. After spending about ten minutes watching our driver’s failing attempts to stop the flow of traffic, Farns couldn’t take it anymore and forced his way off the bus (yes, Sir John Farnsworth is back on the crew for this run, after the past several years spent in stasis at the Casino-Rama Nirvana). He quickly and forcefully organized the impatient Parisians, stopping and redirecting traffic with the confidence of a New York City cop. It was quite something to see. He actually diverted traffic on a very busy, very fast Parisian street. I think if they gave Farns a chance he could probably solve the Euro crisis…those Greeks wouldn’t stand a chance in the face of Farns’ determination, the Germans and French would become fast friends and move forward with a single purpose, the Italians and Spaniards would be humbled and would quickly get their houses in order…heck, he might even be able to get the English to come join the party. After that he could turn to the US and sort out that mess. What the world needs now is a little more Farns.
We were a little disappointed with San Sebastien. We broke the cardinal rule of touring, which is “No Expectations”. We had way too many expectations for this day off, in this town. We had visions of a small, quaint, seaside town, tucked away in Northern Spain between the Pyrenees and the Bay of Biscay. Well, it’s not that small, it’s not that quaint, and there is garbage tumbling in the surf. I get the feeling that one comes here on vacation to do a lot of drinking and to be seen by others. But it’s the off-season and it’s time for the locals to relax and perhaps let the town crumble for a couple of months. Aside from that, it’s a beautiful location, the weather is great and it’s hard to complain too much when you’re sitting on the patio of a seaside cafe sucking on a beer watching the local surfers take on the waves. No wonder the Spanish were so taken with California, this could be a Northern California coast. This sure is better than spending a day-off in a hotel on a highway somewhere in the middle of the US, but it ain’t no Bruge….man, we’re getting spoiled.
The audience tonight was close to spectacular. Their enthusiasm transformed this show. I think we were in danger of letting this one get away but the audience kept us focused and inspired. It’s very exciting when something like that happens. Chalk this one up as another very good show.
Madrid (Nov 11)
We got in to town at around noon and we all jumped off the bus and tried to take in as much of Madrid as possible in the few hours before soundcheck. Al and I went for a stroll along the magnificent Paseo Del Prado and ended up at the Prado Museum. I spent the day marvelling at the madness of Velazquez, Goya, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, El Greco and the absolute bats-flying-out-your-ass maddest of them all, Mr H. “pish-posh” Bosch. I have only had a few sniffs at Madrid in the past twenty five years. We’ve never had a day off here and we have only passed through town (mainly on PR runs) a couple of times. But I’ve always liked what I’ve seen and now I’m more keen than ever for a return visit. I would love to have a few days to explore these streets. This city has a terrific energy.
This was a very tough day for Jared and John (especially for John). Because of the location of the theatre we couldn’t get the bus close to it, so it meant loading the gear from the bus on to a van and then driving the van to the theatre and loading it into the theatre and then repeating the whole ordeal at the end of the night. Two load-ins and two load-outs make for a very tough day for the crew. It’s hard to describe tonight’s venue…a modern facility built underneath a public square, the whole facility was underground. The theater itself was very bunker-like, low ceilings and large comfortable leather chairs for the audience. It was an odd night on stage…it’s hard for me to judge our performance because I had a tough time with my sound and never really settled in (too many images of dying Christ’s and weeping Mary’s in my head). It definitely didn’t have the energy or excitement of some of the best gigs on this tour, but it had its moments. The highlight of the night for me was Pete heading off on some tangent, in search of Max Roach, during Working On A Building. We definitely need to get back here soon.
Bruges (Nov 6 and 7)
If you are looking to spend a vacation in the Europe of fairytales and children’s books then Bruge is about as good a place to start as any. A damsel in distress, a couple of white knights on horseback, even a fire breathing dragon wouldn’t look out of place in this town. Apparently it is the best preserved medieval city in Europe and who am I to argue, this place is spectacular. Cobblestones, hidden grottos, canals, excellent food, 1030 varieties of beer, gothic architecture, medieval architecture, churches, cathedrals, museums, monasteries, Beguinages, ancient bridges, haunted houses, works by Masters, vials of holy blood, this city has it all. The only place you could find a more authentic medieval-European experience would be at Epcot Center or at your local Medieval Times restaurant…but I recommend Bruges, because of the beer selection. We were fortunate enough to have a day off here and we took full advantage of it (I have a question for any of you beer connoisseurs’ out there: there is a very distinctive taste to most Belgium beer, it could be a spice, it almost tastes like cloves, does anyone know what it is?).
The venue was equally spectacular: a late 19th century circular theatre with a fully raked stage and tiered balconies: very beautiful and it actually sounded decent as well. The show was a strange one but a very good one. Because of the type of stage there was a large distance between us and the audience it was also a very formal theatre, which can sometimes be intimidating to audiences and also, Belgium audiences are relatively reserved. So the energy coming from the audience during the show was very low, but that allowed us to turn inward a little bit and explore some very quiet and detailed improvisations. Judging by the reaction of the audience at the end of the show, I figure that they were very pleased with the result. This has been a pretty fantastic couple of days spent in a very special town.
Paris (Nov 8)
Paris is not Bruge. It’s not quaint or charming or easy to get around in. Paris is Paris, enormous and sprawling and beautiful out one window and ugly out the other. Paris is work unless you are on vacation. We rolled in this morning and had to dump ourselves off the bus because it, of course, can’t sit outside the club. It was cold and damp and….Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I love this city under the right conditions, but a one-off at a pokey club in the Pigalle District (the famous red light district of Paris) is not one of those conditions. But we’re pros, so we hunkered down and made the club our home for the day. And then again, when you get right down to it, work in Paris is pretty much better than work anywhere else in the world. So I had an espresso and pain au chocolate at a nearby cafe; some of us trekked uphill to pay their respects to Sacre Coeur; and we ate dinner at a nearby Cafe that fed us some mediocre food at very expensive Montmartre prices and then, I think, we were subjected to some kind of scam being run by the wait staff on gullible English speaking tourists…hey man, it’s Paris and you’re welcome.
The gig was awesome…we were feeling old and gnarly so that’s what we gave them….old and gnarly, and they liked it. Paris and its residents, rock….a totally gnarly day.
Has it really already been a year? At the end of our European tour last November we decided to take a year off the road. Our most extended break in over a decade. There were a couple of one-offs that we couldn’t pass up like in Budapest and Beijing, but we haven’t seen the inside of a tour bus for twelve months: funny how it seems like only a month or so ago that we battled the bus from hell across Northern Europe.
It has certainly been a busy year. After we got home from Europe we finished off Demons, we recorded and released Sing In My Meadow and have made huge inroads into volume 4, The Wilderness. I also recorded and released a couple of albums for Latent: Ivy Mairi’s No Talker and Cootes Leland’s Trail Of Smoke, as well as working on a number of other smaller projects in our studio. Perhaps that is why this year has passed so quickly.
Hamburg (Nov 2 and 3)
It’s always hard to get going again. The disruption on the home front is always unsettling. My way to assuage the guilt of leaving is to go around the house changing all of the burnt out light bulbs. Once that is done I feel that I have left the family on a firm footing. The flight across the pond was thankfully uneventful (except for the $1700 excess baggage fee) and we arrived in Hamburg without the loss of a single bag or instrument case. On Day 1 the only struggle was to try and stay awake long enough to trick ones internal clock in to readjusting to the time change. Fat chance. The 3am wake-up is inevitable, you’d think we would have learnt by now.
Day 2 was gig day. It was a new venue for us, Fabrik, located in an old factory of some sort: a very beautiful old building (in an industrial kind-of-way) that has been intelligently reconfigured. When we walked in we weren’t quite sure of what it would sound like, but we were quickly won over at soundcheck. Tonight’s show was the type of gig that is responsible for keeping bands like us out on the road for 25 years. One of those magic gigs where the sound on stage is perfect and each player is reacting to what the other is doing, where the band moves as a single organism, growing, growling, collapsing and reacting as a unit. It’s the type of gig that when one comes off stage you think, “I never, ever want to stop doing this”. The audience was also in tune and was willing to come along for the ride as we dipped deeply into The Nomad Series and Sing In My Meadow in particular. The songs on volume 3 are particularly fun to play live and I have a feeling their intensity will grow over the coming years.
Hannover (November 4)
We were due for a bit of a letdown. All of the travel, a couple of days and nights of fighting jetlag and all of the energy spent on the first gig was bound to take its toll. We have never been to Hannover, but it was hard to do too much exploring, my body is confused and sometimes it’s best to just stay relatively still and let it orientate itself. It was a nice enough venue tonight, but it seemed set up for more of a rock band: a very high stage and a PA that was much too powerful for the room. Jared had trouble controlling the sound out front and consequently we had a tough time finding our sound on stage. It wasn’t a terrible night, but not nearly as good as last night. It was more like work tonight, but enjoyable work. Once again the audience was terrific. We have been, and where possible will continue, dividing the show into two hour long sets and reserving the entire first set for songs from The Nomad Series and then playing the “hits” and some obscurities in the second set. It seems to be working and, so far, the audiences seem to be reacting well to the concept.
Berlin (November 5)
Last night was our first night on the bus although we sat all night outside the gig and didn’t move until 7:30 this morning. A four hour trek along the autobahn isn’t the best way to start a day, but what can you do, this is Europe, you roll with the punches. Berlin is one of those cities that you can’t really get a feel for on just one visit. We have been coming here for over two decades (our first time was right before the wall came down) and I can’t say that I have figured this place out. All I know is that it’s got the energy and insanity of all the great cities of the world. It’s always a pleasure to come here. One nice feature about this bus is that all of the bunks have windows in them. This morning I lay in my bunk, watching Berlin roll by on this beautiful fall morning.
This is our fourth time playing this venue (Passionkirsche) and yet I’m still not exactly sure where it is located in Berlin. The neighbourhood surrounding it is very active and full of young families. The square across from the church was occupied by a flea market today and the food market just beyond was full of families out for a late breakfast. I spent some time wandering through the neighbourhood’s old graveyard which was especially spectacular in its fall colours. I even saw a few types of warbler-ish birds that I’ve never seen before. If I had a life list I’d have something to add to it.
The Passionkirsche is a beautiful and still active church that has a lot of musical events, although most of them are acoustic. It’s always a little tricky turning up the amplifiers in here. Fortunately we have some experience dealing with its sonic challenges. We had a magical gig tonight. It wasn’t as musically locked in as the Hamburg show but there was fantastic energy and there seemed to be a real communion between the band and audience: really fun night on both sides of the stage.
That wraps up the German leg of the tour….tonight it’s an overnight drive to Belgium and a day off In Bruges.