We're now leaving Paris. At least I think it was Paris. It certainly didn't match the image I've had in my mind for the last twenty years or so. My fantasy Paris contains historical landmarks, museums, lights, exotic food and music. The one we allegedly just played in contained several overpopulated streets, a tiny hotel, and a venue called La Fleche d'Or.
Granted, it was possibly the nicest venue we've played on this tour so far. It was a train station up until twenty years ago or so. Two tracks run directly under the building, on their way to a large, dark tunnel that we tried to explore but got too scared to go much further than a hundred yards or so into the pitch blackness. The inside of the club had high ceilings and a good onstage sound setup. The food was excellent and the employees were very friendly, even to Americans who don't speak a word of their beautiful language...or who don't have the time to see any of their beautiful city.
Rock touring is no way to experience culture. Well, perhaps I should clarify, our level of "rock touring." I'm sure bigger bands plan their trips around the world with days off in between foreign cities, to allow proper time for absorbing the local climate (and curing hangovers). We don't have time for such luxuries. We have to get home to our day jobs and our spouses, not necessarily in that order.
We made a quick overnight stop in Luxembourg shortly before crossing the French border. It is a beautiful city, built around an expansive green valley. No buck-toothed girls, either, contrary to popular belief. We had a little bit of time to walk down to edge of a cliff that overlooked the main residential area, and it was exactly how I've always pictured Old Germany to look: Rows and rows of colorful-roofed houses, cobblestone streets, churches with high steeples pointing toward the starry night sky. There was a large archival building right on the edge of the drop that we walked past. Every few yards, a iron-shuttered window opened to reveal a giant sculpture hiding in the darkness beyond, with human features eroded into eerie contortions due to centuries of elemental exposure. It was amazing.
After playing Paris, we drove a couple hours northeast to the city of Evreaux. We had another festival date there, at an event called "le Rock Dans Tous Sas Etats." I believe that translates roughly, "Holy crap, this stage is gigantic." I could be wrong. Either way, I had my usual reservations about playing another festival, but did my best to suck it up and enjoy the experience.
Before our set, I met up with brothers in rock Lee and Tyler of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and we discussed our most notable recent show experiences. Theirs: Playing at the Louvre museum in Paris before thousands of screaming, supportive fans. Ours: playing poorly to about a hundred unimpressed festival-goers in Sweden. It was nice to talk to folks without worrying about causing some sort of international incident by severely under-(or over)-estimating the language barrier. Great guys, that band are.
After that, we had a bunch of press obligations to fulfill. After a slightly embarrassing radio interview (where the French-speaking DJ asked how we enjoyed our previous "night in Paris" and I failed miserably to translate a reference to a certain underground video starring an American hotel heiress), we each went our separate ways to various other interviews. I did one for a website that was five quick questions from a journalist who admitted beforehand that he had never heard of us. No problem, I said. Go ahead.
"Going to the bathroom."
"Changing my sweaty clothes"
"Um, that's not very rock and roll..."
"Okay then, Changing my sweaty clothes, then drinking some water."
"Uh, okay...most memorable thing that's ever happened to you during a concert?"
"Several years ago, I almost wrecked (Duran Duran bassist) John Taylor's gear onstage in Portland. He was playing in a band with a guy named James Angell at the time, and we were opening. I rocked myself our of my seat and onto his expensive instruments, which were placed behind me. Fortunately, nothing broke."
"Hmm...most horrible thing that's happened to you during a performance?"
I drew a blank. There most definitely have been many, many embarrassing moments in the career of live Menomena. But which specific moment outshines them all? I mumbled something about hitting my cranium in New York and then playing a set with blood running down my forehead. Not the best story ever, but I couldn't think of anything worse at the moment. If only I couple have predicted what was about to happen...
CYHSY played well, as did Frank Black after them on the mighty "A" stage. Then it was our turn, on the "B" stage of course. Our stage was still massive, and I got the heebie jeebies (is that a racial slur? I've always wondered...I hope not) just walking out there for the sound check. Frank was rocking out the hits across the field: "Los Angeles," and then several covers of Tom Waits, Roxy Music, and um, Fatboy Slim ("Check it out now! The funk soul brother! Right about now! The funk soul brother!"). I was trying to stomp my bass drum for Jonas's soundboard-twiddling needs, but every time I glanced up, the sea of people in front of stage "A" seemed to double. I've heard there were 10,000 people there, approximately 9,500 more than we're accustomed to playing for. Would they decide to stroll towards our humble neck of the woods after witnessing the esteemed Mr. Black? Or would they choose Peter, Bjorn, and John, who were playing on a smaller stage at the same time as us? More importantly, would I pass out from stage fright before even playing a note? I gulped down some water and headed off to perform my pre-show ritual.
We were huddled on the side of our stage, waiting for our cue from the stage manager. Soon, the last howled vocal note rang out across the fairgrounds. And then: "You're on!" Yikes. I went out first and stepped on Justin's sampler pedal to start the organ loop to our song called "Strongest Man in the World." We planned to let the obnoxious loop ring out for a while to let people know that yes, a band you probably have never heard before is starting a set that will hopefully hold you over until your beloved Kaiser Chiefs take the stage immediately afterwards. People started to wander over. I started drumming. The next four songs went remarkably well. I distinctly remember thinking, "this is going to be the best show of our lives! People actually sort of care about what we're doing! Holy Moses!" I triumphantly slammed my left foot down on the hi-hat pedal, and my world screeched to a halt. The pedal broke.
Most drummers far greater than I would kick the cymbal out of the way and keep right on rocking, unfazed. Keith Moon didn't even use a hi-hat (he did use heroin...maybe that's my problem). Not me though. I totally freaked out. A closed hi-hat was integral to our next song. Without it, I was useless. Added to the stress was the fact that I had been dealing with playing bad shows with cheap rented equipment for the past two weeks. Not now! This is the biggest show of our lives! We were doing so well, too! I wanted to cry, right there on my way-too-high stage riser, in front of a massive crowd that didn't understand a word of Justin and Brent's witty attempts to stall. The stage helper, bless his heart, couldn't understand me either. I was frantically yelling, "I need a new hi-hat stand! This one is broken! Help! Please!" He ran off with a solemn expression of purpose in his eye, only to return decades (or was it seconds?) later with a look of pride and large stack of clean towels. Agh!
I threw my useless broken stand across the enormous stage and ran back to our backstage tent. I found another one from a stack of rental gear and sprinted back onstage with it held victoriously over my head. The crowd roared. I could salvage this! We will rise from the ashes! But of course, the second I put the thing down next to me, it fell over, and both cymbals clattered off that impossibly high drum riser, onto to the stage. The crowd gasped, as if I was a tightrope walker with slippery feet. Now Justin was finally communicating with them, leading them in a "Danny... Danny... Danny" chant. Thanks, Justin. What a payoff this is going to be when I involuntarily projectile vomit into the front row...
Our tour manager Sascha came to my rescue. He righted the cymbals and we were finally playing again. I went through the motions for the second half of our set, but I never fully recovered. People were still nice afterwards, but I couldn't bring myself to believe their sincere-sounding praise. What would I say to someone who just had a complete meltdown before thousands? "Boy that really sucked, man...you definitely should have prepared more"? No. I would smile as big as possible and compliment him as well, mostly to avoid being kicked in the face. I moped over to the plush Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tour bus, where they kindly poured me whiskey and empathized with the awful performance (theirs evidentially came in the form of opening for rapper T.I. at Duke University last year. Yes, T.I.). I started to get over myself.
After slurring a fond farewell to those dudes, I stumbled out of the bus and over to the backstage area, where I found my faithful bandmate Brent deeply engrossed in a conversation with...is that Frank Black? I eyed the comfortably seated pair jealously and quickly plotted a way to rudely insert myself into the conversation like a true drunken American. Meanwhile, the Kaiser Chiefs blared out a derivative ode to someone named "Ruby." This night couldn't possibly get any more surreal. Thankfully, I opted to pass by without a word and head to our dressing room (which, I should also note, was a converted horse stall, complete with "MENOMENA" hand-written on a small chalkboard taped to the feed gate). I ate a slice of rubbery cantaloupe with the scent of manure clogging my nose and headed back out. Frank was gone now. Dammit. Wait, there he is! Heading out of the port-o-potty! Such bad timing. This is going to be awkward, I just know it...but, but, I must. Deep breath...
"Hi, I really enjoyed your set tonight!" (Are you looking for the mother lode?)
"Hi, thanks. What's your name?"
"Um, I'm Danny!" (Then Gahhhhd is seven! Then Gaaaahhhhhdd is seven!)
"Hi Danny, I'm Charles."
"Oh...Hi Charles! Yeah! I really liked that Roxy Music cover!" (All I'm saying, pretty bay-bee...)
"Thanks, we try to throw in a bunch of that stuff from time to time. Where are you from?"
"I'm from Portland! I think you were just talking to my bandma..." (Walked the sand with the crustacean-uh-huns!)
"Oh yeah, you're in Men. ah.. Men.... Mm... Forgive me, what's your band called?"
"Ha ha! Yeah, it's kind of a weird one! Ha ha ha! It's Menomena!" (We got ideas, to us that's dee-ar!)
"Ah yes. I love Portland, but I'm living in Eugene now."
"Wow, that's awesome! Small world, ha ha! Well, enjoy your time in France! A pleasure to meet you, Charles!" (He thought big, they called it phallic!)
"Yeah, you too Danny. Have a good night."
Firm handshake. Did I really just bow? Ugh. I made a conscious effort not to skip on my way back to the van.
The night was finally capped off back at the hotel, when Brent said in all earnestness, "Now that Charles guy...was that really the Pixies singer I was talking to the whole time? I think I only know two of their songs, but they were pretty influential, right?"
Photos by Lee Sargent of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Heebie Jeebies (not a racial slur!)