BackBlog: UK Tour 2005 (pt. 2)

Saturday, July 2 – Rock Wertcher, Belgium – we drive for what seems hours, meandering through a small Belgian town, then through a forest until we find our escort – three bicycles – to take us to the site. There are hundreds of thousands of people at this festival, drunk and eating sausages. This is the most organized, well produced festival I have ever been a part of…and the catering is fucking amazing. The backstage is like some fairytale hotel lounge, shared by all the bands and set among the trees covered by asymmetrical tents and low ambient lighting. Our room is between Bloc Party’s and a dude called Admiral Freebie (who later tries to befriend us but is actually too wasted to hang out). Kele remembers me from when we met in L.A. so we chat a bit. It is fun; I check out a few songs of Interpol whose live show I like a lot (I thought they would be a bit dull, but the drummer and guitarist are rock solid and I am impressed). Murray and I shuttle over to the main stage and watch Nine Inch Nails who are fantastic. I was never a big fan but the show is totally mind blowing. I don’t stick around for long because we are standing ten feet from the stage and it is insanely loud. There is Dears/Tears confusion all day. Someone asks me if I need a place to lie down and I have no idea what he’s talking about. He returns and says: “Oh, sorry that was the Tears.” I suggest the joke of switching our room labels while they are onstage. George and Spike are drunk enough to actually do it. They wait at a table outside the Tears’ change room for them to come off stage. The singer doesn’t notice but the rest of the band stop and comment, see those guys getting their “shits and giggles” and its all a big drinking party from there.

Sunday, July 3 – Metropolis Festival, Rotterdam – Wow. Day and night. We show up at a soccer field in which a couple circus tents have been pitched. The bus can barely fit down the tiny lane to get to the stage. Catering is literally a bagged lunch consisting of two rolls with a slice of cheese and a banana. Renaud yells out our longtime joke: “I can’t work like this!” We hook up with our friends Stars who are playing the same day on another stage. They are equally astounded, and Torq likens the meal to war prison rations, but without the cheese. We wonder what dinner will be like…most predictions are for potatoes with melted cheese and some kind of boiled meat. Actually turns out that dinner is really good. They serve veggie lasagna and scalloped potatoes, steamed fish with leeks, and other delights. The day does get better and the show is pretty cool. It’s a strange vibe because it’s a free festival…all kinds of people show, from families to sketchy dudes. Playing after us is a hillbilly hard rock cover band. They do ironic (without the irony) covers like “Highway to Hell” on mandolin, violin and banjo. What the frick? A pickup game of football (two-hand touch) starts behind the catering tent. It is members of Dears and Stars and I sit in the grass to watch; tomorrow I’m sure they will all be suffering from pulled muscles and tight shoulders.

We are invited to a jam session at the Nighttown after the festival ends. Murray, Rob (Stars’ soundguy), Chris (from Stars) and I go for Chinese food across the street. It seems risky but actually is quite good. We share a moment of all wanting to be together again in Montreal, but this moment is just as good. There is another pregnant woman at the restaurant and we give each other a knowing nod, as if we were both part of a secret society. We go back to the bus and watch the video from our show at Wertcher. I am excited to see it because I think it will look awesome. There were four cameras on stage, two in front of the stage, a boom crane and more cameras by the sound board. “That’s like eight cameras! It’s going to look awesome!” We turn it on and quickly realize that the tape is a direct feed from only one camera: the one that was on Murray. Patch calls is a security camera tape. It is still somewhat entertaining as we fast forward to the bits in between songs, where, in a ridiculous hommage à Audioslave joke we have going, Murray yells: “THANK YOU!” into the mic after each song. I soon set off to bed, but the next day get reports and photographic evidence of the aforementioned “jam session.” Tour manager Patch on drums, George on guitar, Jessie (from DFA ‘79) on bass, and Renaud on vocals doing “Machine Gun” or his heartfelt “Les quatre-cinq-zero blues.”

Monday, July 4 – A day off in Bruges, Belgium. A nice lunch, chocolates, a stroll around the picturesque, 600-year old city. Chimay for the boys at the pub, drinking all the Chimay at one pub and having to find another pub, a late dinner for Murray and me on the main square. Another drunken night for the gang: George complaining about there being too many “a”s in the street names, pants being pulled down, some barfing, and finally passing out on the bus.

Tuesday, July 5 – London Astoria. Back to the city but only for 9 hours because it’s impossible for the bus to stay parked anywhere. Backstage before we go on there is little tension, none of the stress that usually comes with the big city shows. Not sure if it’s the tiredness, the resign, or the hot stench of sewage in the backstage room, but we are all very calm before going on stage. It is a good show, a clean show and the crowd is bigger and more enthusiastic than I expected.

Wednesday, July 6 – drive day to Montreux. Did I mention that this whole time, like since May, we have been viewing and reviewing Trailer Park Boys? None of us had ever seen it before, and our manager Nadine lent us the first four seasons on DVD. We even got the Englishmen into it. I mean, they didn’t think Zoolander or Chapelle Show were funny at all, so we were nervous. I guess white trash humour has a universal quality about it. Wait a second. I think we just passed a solar powered gas station. Whose brilliant idea was that one?

Thursday, July 7 – The Montreux show feels like a studio session; the Miles Davis Hall is soft and anechoic, in the basement of the conference center. The local crew really have their shit together and everything runs very smoothly. The town is beautiful, nestled in the Alps on a lake, a rainbow with its arms around the sky. Welcome! The festival has put us up in a classy hotel with balconies over looking the water. We’re so comfortable we hardly know what to do with ourselves. Sadly we have to leave right after the show for our 22 hour drive to Ireland.

Friday, July 8 – Drive, drive drive. George finds a piece of Jazz in his pocket – a toke-like currency invented for Montreux that you have to use to buy consessions at the festival. They are annoying and useless and Patch threatens to sharpen their edges and throw them at people. What? Why? Hours later we are welcomed aboard “the largest, fastest ferry in the world.” It’s like a floating building that takes us from Holyhead to Dublin; it smoothly cuts through the water and we stand on the outside deck at the back watching the enormous wake spit out from the engines. I think two things: one, that my dad would love this; and two, that there must be some show called “Incredible Machines” or something about this boat. The next day I get an email from my mom saying her and my dad were watching a show about that very ferry called: “The Biggest Machines Ever” and were we taking that ferry? We need an exorcist in here and this time I mean it.

Saturday, July 9 – The bus pulls up backstage at Oxegen, and Murray I have to go immediately for a round of interviews. They all ask: “So how are you enjoying the festival?” and we have to answer, “Well, I don’t know we only got here five minutes ago.” One girl at a radio interview asked the classic: “So do you have an album?” Nothing has the capacity to frustrate an artist more than doing an interview with someone who has no idea what they are talking about. She took a look at us and probably thought we were some kind of acoustic world music act. At the other end of the spectrum is our MTV interview with Zane Lowe (who’s got to be pulled away from watching Queens of the Stone Age). He’s great and the interview goes well, though I fuck up the handshake at the end. He goes in for a brother-to-brother handshake and I go in for a white girl loser handshake. It’s awkward but I’m sure they’ll edit it out. Our half-hour set is fine, despite being scheduled in a dusty tent at sundown and at the same time as Bloc Party. There are a handful of hardcores there which makes it fun. George breaks a sweat, which is integral to making it through the short sets.

Sunday, July 10 – T in the Park, our last gig in Europe. It’s probably number two best organized festival and the backstage is lovely. We are greeted by one of our favorite promoters, John from King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. We call him Braveheart because: 1) he’s Scottish, and 2) he’s got long, blonde dready hair and looks like he could seriously kick your ass. The catering is probably the best of all the fests (yes, better than Wertcher) and everybody working is super nice. I always liked Scotland because the Scottish remind me of Canadians. The artist area is a communal vibe so even though we are playing a shitty stage, we still feel like part of something. It’s mostly the usual suspects; Brett catches our gig and hangs out with us backstage, we are star struck as Snoop Dogg walks by and waves at us after playing his gig, Kele and I philosophize about starting families, Murray shakes Billie Joe from Green Day’s hand while balancing a full pint of beer on his head (it’s a long story), I talk about crème brulée with the keyboardist from Interpol, Martin and Val get a photo with the Prodigy dude, George talks with Ian Brown (who is the nicest!). Our stage, as I mentioned, is another dusty tents, but that has been un-strategically placed about 20 meters away from the giant dance tent. All we heard was the insane thumping and crappy synths of shit techno between songs and during the quiet bits. It was almost comical, though the crowd doesn’t seem to notice. It’s another short set that we whiz through. Immediately after we have to pack and sort our gear for shipping to New York. Then its to the backstage, our glorious safe haven for the day. We roll out at sundown, they clouds glowing pink and orange and grey. On the bus ride, we get into a useless debate on English v. North American grammar. The moot point: should we say “math” or “maths” when referring to the study of mathematics? The band stays in Edinburgh where we fly out of the next day, while the bus heads back to London.

Monday, July 11 – The anticipation is almost unbearable. Its been nearly three months since we’ve been in Montreal…we left home April 24 and get back July 11. This will obviously be my last tour diary installment: its back to our lives, making a new album, going to the grocery store, being boring. Thanks for reading my thoughts and sharing yours; just remember that this is a tour diary, not the chronicles of a rockstar. I am still just a person who is living a life and sometimes life isn’t as romantic as we would like. I’ve had loads of fun amidst the ups and downs, and have myriad memories that are too many to share here (I didn’t even get into Maglite Racing). See you all at Pop Monty…I’ll be the one with the baby.

BackBlog: UK Tour 2005 (pt. 1)

Back to the UK and Europe

Tuesday, June 21 – We get in to Heathrow at 9:30AM local time; none of us have slept on the plane, and we are again completely ruined. American Airlines has outdone itself in cheaposity…breakfast is a sealed box filled with mini bagel chips, a foil-pack of un-refrigerated but never-to-go-rotten cream cheese, a Nutri-Grain bar, orange flavoured Craisins and a cheap peppermint. And if you happen to catch them as they rush by, you may land yourself a glass of orange juice form concentrate. It’s all rotten.

So it’s the usual schedule for us: a brief nightmare through immigration, get the bags, sweep through customs, stop in at the Marks & Sparks for a fruit smoothie. Wait for Splitter Patch in one of the three lanes of Heathrow pick-up-drop-off chaos. Drive around myriad roundabouts to the cargo company and pick up the gear that’s come from North America. Unload the luggage, put in the gear, reload the luggage. Pass out in the back as we rush off to the Bella Union office. Wake up! Go inside and pretend to be awake. Say hello to everyone and be nice for god’s sakes. Go order a sandwich and remember how shitty English food is. Now you are really, seriously destroyed. But there’s a show tonight, in some town a few hours outside London. Pass out for a quick hour nap as your already contorted body is jostled and jerked by the movement of the van. Get up. Wake up! Get over it. Set up. Sound check. Play the best show of your life.

Wednesday, June 22: Northampton – Is this a town of date rape, where lonely things happen at night, after the bars close, behind parked cars, the asphalt wet with runoff from a morning’s rain. This desperate feeling where nobody is happy. There is a sign posted in the toilets by the local police: “Make sure it’s only your bum that gets pinched tonight.” Yes, we girls understand, a quick anonymous grope in the dark is much better than losing your wallet. Nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to tell anyone about, when you finally discover the bad touch versus good touch. So how much goes down here at night? The Date Rape city travels around the world, like a gypsy caravan, to wherever it becomes most popular, the easiest to sweep under the rug. Now its here. I watch my drink.

Thursday, June 23: Hyde Park – The first festival date of several festival dates. It rains all afternoon; rains that we are told flooded out Glastonbury earlier that day. Muddy lakes formed at Glasto, with brave men, making several diving attempts to the mucky depths, only to arise to raucous cheers as he holds up the sunken treasure: a bottle of Red Stripe. Hyde Park gets a bit of muck but nothing extreme enough for diving. Luckily we are playing in a tent. And it was a crowded tent, though sadly our stage was running behind schedule and we lost some of our audience to New Order at the end. I was impressed, nonetheless.

We get a nicer room at the hotel near the park; last night was a shambles, sleeping in an inferno with a blasting fan that did nothing at all. The frustrating bit is that we know it’s colder outside our window, and even colder in the hallway, but the air in our room just would not move. Now we’re in a nicer room, a more comfortable place to deal with jetlag; only we have to wake up at 8AM to go to a BBC radio session. Another fucking radio session. Will they never cease?

Friday, June 25 – Murray and I wake up at some ungodly hour, 8:30AM or some-such. We travel to the BBC for our one-thousandth time. I joke in the cab that they should just give us permanent visitor passes. We go up and Murray is to play a song, no interview, during the Loose Ends talk show. They have a panel of British litteratti, authors, playwrights, thinkers, comedians, actors – you know, that crew – to discus tea and biscuits, Jaffa Cakes, Rich Tea. Seriously. It is so incredibly British I kind of space out, find it difficult to follow the conversation. I read uninformative newspaper headlines about the flooding at Glastonbury. Last night the bus traveled ahead to the festival. They arrived at (surprise) a mud pit and are freaking out. There is two feet of mud and they can’t even leave the bus and walk to pick up their festival passes. Apparently they are using canoes to get between stages. We get a dozen phone calls: “They’re out of boots here! Make sure you buy them in advance!”, “We’re out of water!”, “I can’t handle this!”, ”We’re miserable and dying!” We have to stop ahead for supplies: wellies in everybody’s sizes, beer, water. Murray texts a joke that they have run out of Wellingtons but not to worry, we’re bringing shitloads of plastic bags and a dinghy. We giggle, they freak out: “That’s not funny, man.” I guess we’re not out there, we’re not in the trenches, in the crossfire. It’s obviously a state of emergency. I mean, It’s probably really rough, but you’re on a bus at a frickin’ music festival, not living in a tin shed on the edge of the Red River. And so accordingly, I am to be dropped off at the hotel on Bath before even heading to the site. Fine, I think, though I’m a bit disappointed to be missing the legendary, anticipated carnage. I would have liked to have seen some of the bands, wanted to see Coldplay to see what all the hoo-haw is about. I’ll go tomorrow.

Oh. Just did a drive-by of Stonehenge. It is just sitting in the middle of a green field by the motorway. Twenty heavy, perfectly cut slabs just hanging there. Lovely, surreal, unreal.

Another thing that’s astounding, people go to these things knowing it will be a disaster, knowing it will be a deluge of vomit and garbage, swimming in silty rivers floating with outhouse fluids.

Sunday, June 26: Glastonbury – What a mess. I stay backstage and people mock my perfectly clean rubber boots. What can I say? I only really needed them to go to the loo. More retardedness: they’ve left my keyboard stand at Hyde Park. Apparently it didn’t make it into the splitter at load out. But they have a shitty replacement for me. Oh, great. I only spent days looking for the perfect keyboard stand, then got it shipped to the UK, adjusted it perfectly and placed Velcro to my liking. Oh but we’ve lost that one so go play the biggest festival show of your life with a wonky, ugly piece of shit. What the frick? Anyway, LuLu, the keyboard tech for Rufus Wainwright says I can use his and it is perfect. Eternal thanks to him for saving my sanity! Murray likens the show itself to a car crash: nobody is sure what happened because it happened so fast. We are all in shock but have to get through it. Everything that could go wrong did. The monitors were useless. The synths were in full sun and I couldn’t see any of the settings. It was jazzy but our performance I guess went well. No trashy press has come out yet…fingers crossed!

Sunday, June 30 – The man sitting next to me on the plane with a bum knee is killing me. Every time he exhales I am destroyed by the smell of death. Like he’s sucking on a handful of mothballs. Once he yawned and I thought I was going to die. He must have had about five rotten teeth and he wasn’t even really that old…like 70, max. Get a dentist, ‘sti! We land in Copenhagen at 11:20PM and the sun has just set. We circle over the glassy water of the bay, around to Copenhagen International. We walk through spotless ergonomic airport lounges with designated wireless areas. The taxi takes us through cobbled streets lined with bike paths. We pass a bus shelter that is shaped like a giant overturned shell, but is painted like a cartoon mushroom. I come to a cultural conclusion: The Scandinavians have a penchant for things being cute, things that make them feel like home or remind them of childhood. They are also insanely clean and efficient in their use of space and resources. In these ways they are remarkably similar to the Japanese. They are the Japanese of the West.

I am so homesick. In my head I make a list of things I’d like to cook when I get home. Roasted vegetables and garlic with goat cheese. Squash and apple soup. Brothy mushroom soup. Tapenade with the kalamata olives from the PA. Potatoes with fresh tarragon grown out back.

Monday, July 1: Train to Roskilde. Never has something more ruined my life in such a brief stretch of time. Murray and I make our way through the fliffen-floffen and onto the train to Roskilde. Yay, we made it, we are not idiots. Patch calls: “Where are you?” Murray answers: “We’re in Roskilde.” That was the deal. Patch meets us at the train station in Roskilde, so here we are, where is he? Well there’s another train, according to a group of young girls. Go under the tracks and you’ll find the festivalplanden-floffen train. Murray and I pay the 15 Kroners and board: it’s full of a rag tag team of backpackers and campers, potheads and proud drunks-to-be. They carry tents and crates of beer and oversized backpacks whose horizontal clearance they disregard. They’re boorish and smoking, rosy-cheeked, glazey-eyed, and rolling blunts. There are empty bottles of vodka and it is only just 1:20PM. We are misplaced with our Delsey rolling suitcases and laptop bags. I feel like a commuter on a train full of co-workers, suddenly realizing that I absolutely hate my job.

We go straight to the V2 media tent where Martin has started interviews. Murray is asked to stay to do interviews as well. Everybody starts getting on my case about how I don’t have to be there, how I should go chill out; but what I really want to know is what’s going on, what the plan is. “Just go to the bus,” but that’s not what I want to know. I am not sick or ailing, I just want information that nobody seems prepared to give me. I want to freak right out because this is retarded. “Can I know what is going on? How long are there interviews for? What is the schedule? Where is the bus? Is there a backstage, a hospitality tent, water?” Apparently getting oriented is selfish and insane and what I should be doing is drinking beer and partying. Isn’t that why we are all here? Later, Murray gets dad tips from Thurston Moore and I don’t feel so isolated any more.