So we're driving on the wrong side of the road again. Above and behind me is Justin, sleeping in a queen-sized loft. Directly in the seat in front of me is Jared, wearing oversized headphones. He lifts them off his ears temporarily to readjust, giving me just enough time to register the beat of "Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson. Someone should make a movie about a eunuch with a penchant for thievery based on that song. Brent is sitting next to Jared (in case you missed where we last left off, Jared is definitely NOT a eunuch, at least in the facial hair department. His auburn waterfall of a beard has only become more breathtakingly cascading since our last tour), also with headphones on. Brent's are of the little earbud variety. Brent is reading a thick book, the title of which has something to do with dodo birds, I think. I'm jealous that he's able to read and listen to music simultaneously. Seated in the driver's seat directly in front of Brent is Sascha, our fearless German tour manager. He's wearing a sexy pair of sunglasses and a striped hoodie. Sascha spoils us on a daily basis over here, where it's the norm to drive on the wrong side of the road. Back in the States, we're still about 465,000 album sales shy of affording a van (or driver/tour manager) this comfy. Someday. Har har.
We've successfully completed the first week of our fall 2007 tour, European chapter, and I just saw a sheep casually grazing with a spray-painted blue butt. I don't know if that's a metaphor for anything. Possibly so, but I'm too tired to put it together right now. I'm going to climb up in the loft next to Justin for awhile.
Now I'm awake again, sitting below Justin. The same lush English scenery is flying by to my right, just beyond the oncoming traffic, which is flying by even faster. I don't mean to make the view sound monotonous though. It's very beautiful. There's greenery, sheep (most with regular-colored rears) and stone cottages as far as I can see. It reminds me of driving to my dad's house through the countryside of Cornelius, Oregon, to the little woodshed where we practiced for years and recorded our first album. Back then I'd never dare to dream that I'd be drawing a parallel between those windy, speed-limitless country roads and the foreign roads we're touring on now. But I've already spent way too much time writing about nostalgia and homesickness in these journals. From now on, if you just assumed those emotions were omnipresent, you'd be right most of the time. The Omnipresent. I like that. Well, I kind of like it, in the same way I used to "kind of like" crying while driving through said countryside listening to Jeremy Enigk's gravelly upper vocal register: Bittersweetly. Ok, moving on.
Johnny Cash is currently telling us that God is going to cut us down. Sascha really likes Johnny Cash and Motown music. One or the other is usually playing in his van's CD player. There are lots of things over here that remind me why I'm not always proud to be an American, but this music isn't one of them. It's funny to hear Johnny's deep baritone paired with Sascha's German-speaking GPS unit. A sterile-voiced woman is constantly speaking long words that I've never heard before. I wonder if her robotic pronunciation is as hit-or-miss as our English-speaking one back home.
It's now almost exactly 24 hours later. Once again, I've just finished sleeping with Justin in our mobile love nest. To be honest, he's kind of boring in bed. He just lies there, unconscious. Maybe that would make me the boring one. Anyway, Sascha's driving us south now, through the same sort of scenery we passed through a day ago. Yesterday we were in Scotland. I know, I'm a total ignoramus and I deserve to be shot, but I didn't realize Glasgow was in Scotland. Or, well, maybe I subconsciously realized it... Maybe I just thought Scotland was a remote island that you couldn't just drive to in a few hours from somewhere as British-sounding as London or even Manchester. Scotland and London have always seemed like two polar ends of the earth to me. Bagpipes or double-decker buses. Mike Meyers or Mr. Bean. Mogwai or um... Arctic Monkeys? Yeah, something like that. There we were last night, at a venue called Nice 'n Sleazy (more on this later). Then, in half the time it takes to drive from Portland to San Francisco, we were in a whole new world.
Now that the first week of this European tour is safely behind us, I shall flex my non-photographic memory muscle and offer a list-based recap, complete with bullet points:
• Sometime before Brent and I arrived, Justin (who left a week in advance) unsuccessfully tried to jump over a fence in a London park. Our hero caught the leg of his pants on the fence, and landed on his face (shoulder and right thumb, to be specific). Details are still sketchy. However, I do know that this accident resulted in him wearing a sexy combo of Ben-Gay and Ace Bandages on his wrist and shoulder during a few of our shows. Thankfully, this took some of the spotlight off of Brent's dual knee braces and my "just been neutered" neck lampshade. Hot sex.
• Brent and I arrived at the Portland airport, checked in, walked to the gate and were offered $800 apiece if we waited until the next day to fly. We said yes. The next day, we were offered another $800 if we took another day off. Unfortunately, we had a show in Hamburg, Germany that evening, or we would have experienced the most profitable 48 hours of our lives.
• On the flight over there was a kid seated directly next to us who christened both the takeoff and the landing by vomiting on his mother, noisily. Nothing compliments the smell of fear like the smell of someone else's digestive fluids. The same kid celebrated the nine-hour gap in between these dramatic bookends by screaming, only pausing to let his sister take over, tag-team style. Brent and I had requested the exit row, in order to have more precious legroom. Halfway through the flight, the mother of said children plopped herself down on the floor—our floor—her sweaty back rubbing against our shins while she tried to bounce her precious children to sleep in her bile-soaked lap. She was singing "Old MacDonald" (with a thick accent) so loudly that the rows around us joined in, in hopes of persuading the kid to sleep by joining forces. The result was the least soothing choir I've ever heard. Fortunately by that point I was too drugged to notice, let alone kick her "accidentally" (Thank you, Kaiser Permanente).
• London is really expensive. Brent did one load of laundry for $16. I paid $10 for an hour of Wi-Fi signal on three separate occasions. Justin is still holding a major grudge against the entire city for damages and personal suffering inflicted by those ridiculously hard-to-hurdle fences. All that aside though, our performance at Hoxton Bar went really well, I think. The personal highlight for me was watching the spastically jerking guitarist from Velofax, the excellent opening band. Every time he took things a little closer to the edge (lowercase), we were treated to a more generous view of his butt crack falling out of his pants. Incredible.
• Our MySpace page got hacked somewhere in Germany. This is much more of a tragedy than you are probably thinking. 17,601 unsuspecting "friends" were bombarded with comments and emails that said something along the lines of "you wont believe this PICS!" or "I got free Macy's gift card here!" We received 371 emails from concerned recipients letting us know that our privacy had been compromised. Some said we had gotten "phished" (lowercase "p"). Some said this was a common problem when traveling internationally between unprotected Wi-Fi connections. One helpful fan claimed the same thing happened to him when he clicked on a "vid with a hot chick" and a fake MySpace site asked him to log in again, thus stealing his info. This seemed like the most probable explanation. Regardless, I had to retire our beloved "lancebassrulez69" password for once and for all, exchanging it for something much harder to guess.
• There are lots of prostitutes in Hamburg. Strolling the streets at 2 am, Justin claims he had to use the word "nein" a lot (I'm assuming this means, "how much, just for conversation?") while the rest of us were sleeping in a less-than-luxurious youth hostel called the Rock & Roll Hotel.
• Justin, being the last to join the email-obsessed laptop convention that has become Menomena On Tour, has officially discovered the joy of YouTube on his shiny new MacBook Pro. This, of course, means more downloaded episodes of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, at every Wi-Fi connection along the way. Jared also wasn't lucky enough to experience the first 12 "chapters" in this extravagantly dramatic form of career suicide when they were first released, so Justin has been making sure he's up to date. Now all four of us wake up to the song permanently lodged in our subconscious: that annoyingly awesome water-drop percussion... A multi-tracked choir of the accused pedophile's voice singing "ohhh!" in two different keys... Memorable lyric snippets such as, "love, my ass!” "Bitch, say no more!" and of course the old standby, "I pull out my Beretta." To make matters even better (worse?), Justin has also discovered the "Weird Al" Yankovic parody, Trapped in the Drive-Thru, which is equally memorable, but only if you've memorized every minute detail of the original. We're getting there.
That should just about get us caught up.
Agh, no, that's not true.
There're still a lot of things I'm glossing over that deserve more attention. Our show in Berlin was a lot of fun. It was in celebration of the European CO-OP, which is basically us and a bunch of bands that I happen to like a lot (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Caribou, Beach House, Les Savy Fav, Arcade Fire, etc.), that are all on a few labels that get along really well (City Slang, Wichita, Bella Union, etc.) under the V2 distribution umbrella. Or something like that (I'm going to play my "ignorant American" card here for the umpteenth time this tour). Anyway, the show was more or less a festival showcasing a few of us co-operating bands. It took place in a giant airplane hanger of a venue called Postbanhoff. Fortunately there were bands that German people seem to like a lot (Stars, Architecture in Helsinki, Malajube) on the bill that brought a lot of people into that massive building. One of those people was none other than Jonas, our handsome former soundperson. It was great to reminisce with him about the glory days of our first European tour, a mere two months ago, before Jared swept all of us away on his magic crimson carpet ride.
Also along the way was the house and family of an amazingly kind woman named Bernie. Bernie took us in after our show in Manchester (at a venue called The Roadhouse). She cooked for us, did my laundry, and let us sleep in her comfy basement. She's possibly the most hip mother of three (ranging in ages 5-16) that I've ever met. She played us an Adrian Orange CD while we ate her Indian gourmet. She played us the new Animal Collective LP on her turntable after dinner. Best of all, she stayed up drinking wine with us until 3 am, while Justin relentlessly showed her the full first six episodes of Trapped in the Closet, followed by (naturally) the Weird Al version. It's worth noting that Bernie had never heard of Weird Al before sitting patiently through his 10-minute parody, laughing politely.
And then there was Munster! How could I forget Munster? Our dear friend Annette met us at the show and promised to guide us around her lovely city afterwards. Our tour pretty much consisted of us noticing a dumpy bar across the street called "Butt's," presumably named after the business end of a cigarette. Right on cue, the funny-only-to-sleep-deprived-Americans humor kicked in; "how big of a tip should you leave in Butt's?” "I don't know if I feel like eating Butt's tonight, after all," or "those old timers sure seem to like it in their Butt's," and so on. The highlight of the evening was when Justin started yelling, "You da man.... No YOU da man!!" at a Butt's regular who looked like he had been inhabiting his spot at the bar for the last 40 years, without pausing in between swigs of gin. The old fellow ate up the shared spotlight, and exchanged a few air guitar licks with Justin from across the room in time with the pumping speaker system. The guy probably couldn't introduce himself in English, but he knew every word to "Smoke on the Water."
We played in Glasgow, Scotland with a band who are going to be big stars someday. They were young enough to be authentically bored/uninterested instead of faking it like the rest of us old farts. They were also young enough for the drummer to triumphantly remove his shirt midway through their fourth song and reveal a large Led Zeppelin tattoo, without the crowd snickering or leaving. They were young enough to put their own stickers (which featured a crude pencil drawing of a naked girl's backside, which corresponded with their band name, which won't be mentioned here) all over their own guitars and drums, without a hint of irony. They were probably too young to understand irony and all the fermented bitter baggage that comes with it. I stood there in my faded neon pink "WHAM! CARELESS WHISPER TOUR '87" half-shirt, matching fanny pack, parachute pants, and Teva sandals, seething jealously:
I am now exactly three-quarters of the way to middle age. My relevance to anyone under 23 is waning by the nanosecond. My teeth are chipping and rotting because I never developed a flossing habit. My knees make weird cracking sounds when I run up stairs. My eyeglasses prescription gets worse every time I visit my optometrist, which is at Costco. I have a Costco membership. My hair is getting ready to desert me completely any day now, I can just feel it. There are little pieces of grey in my chin stubble, which I notice during those random months when I decide to neglect shaving, to see if I'll be able to pull off the bald/beard combo someday soon (answer: "No."). If the anatomical studies are true, my cursed male nose and ears will never completely stop growing. I should get a tattoo. Or maybe like 45 of them. Tattoo guys are agelessly cool. Then I'll buy a motorcycle. I'll launch a full-fledged surprise attack on this imminent midlife crisis before it strikes like a thief in the night. I've never even been to a strip club...
This band of toddlers is making me a nervous wreck. Oh, and did I mention they're signed to the same record label as U2, PJ Harvey, and Bob Marley? They'll never have to work a day job in their lives. Ugh. We took the tiny stage after their three roadies gathered, packed, and loaded all their instruments into their tour bus (while the band was casually chatting it up with the girls at the bar—evidentially the Scottish legal drinking age is 14). Surprisingly, most of the crowd stayed where they were for us (probably just for the freak show factor. Conscience, shut up). I guess we rocked it pretty well, considering I spent the set trying to pretend I couldn't smell Justin's Ben-Gay wafting through his shirt next to me like a sinister foreshadowing.
We crossed back over the English Channel aboard a P&O Ferry, from the white cliffs of Dover to the French seaport of Calais. It wasn't so smooth this time. Jared and I had the pleasure of sharing a cabin area with an entire team of teenage male athletes, specific sport unknown, though my money is on "rugby." With every gigantic lurch and roll against the swell of the choppy grey water, the boys tried to get William—evidentially one of their teammates—to vomit his lunch. "Think of the fish sandwich you just ate!" they yelled in pubescent cockney accents. "Oh no, here it comes! Here it comes!" Poor William. I came pretty close to avenging his shame by taking matters into my own stomach and projectile regurgitating all over the perpetrators. Fortunately, both Billy and I abstained. 73 uneasy minutes later, we were docking in France.
Our first show in France was in a small city called Tourcoing. My French is even worse than my non-existent German skills, but I believe you're supposed to pronounce the city's name like "terck-WAH," with that little throat-clearing noise inserted in the "ck" portion of "terck.” Watch out, ladies: French is the language of romance, you know. A band called White Circle Crime Club opened for us. They were excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I was reminded of our tour last year with 31Knots, where I spent every show feeling upstaged by the opening act. The venue was called Le Grand Mix, and it's one of the nicest places we've ever played. The highlight of the performance was when a giant stage light, hoisted high over my head by an elaborate stage scaffolding (fellow TV junkies: it was just like the scaffolding that could be seen inside Bret Michaels' house on VH1's Rock of Love this past glorious season. Non-fellow TV junkies: sorry, we have nothing in common) burst like a small grenade and showered colored glass to the floor directly behind me. Brent and I both jumped out of our skin onstage at the sound of the explosion, and then spent the rest of whichever song we were playing trying to pretend it was just another one of our new punk rock stage moves. Drumming barefoot has never been so treacherous.
Paris was the next night, which was a big show for us for a number of reasons. Most importantly, we were joined by the one-and-only Craig Thompson onstage for a truly artsy-fartsy extravaganza. Craig had just flown in from Portland via New York, and seeing (and hugging, multiple times) his wiry, chiseled frame made me feel overtaken by the Omnipresent again. Good ol' Craig. He's one of the purest examples of an artistic genius that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and knowing personally at that. Seeing him in Paris reminded me of sitting in a Barnes & Noble in Hillsboro, Oregon (an uncool Portland suburb) in 2001 or so, blandly flipping through a music magazine (possibly Metal Edge, probably SPIN) to pass the time between the end of my all-night Kinko's shift (which took place across the street, four nights a week, ten hours a shift) and the beginning of my History of Graphic Design class, set to begin in 45 minutes through an hours' worth of traffic in downtown Portland...
I was about to fall asleep in the free reading section of the magazine rack area, when I noticed some words popping out of an article (which I believe was sharing page space with an article about Linkin Park or Creed). The words were: Portland, John Askew, FILMguerrero, Craig Thompson, Blankets. I remember snapping awake, asking the clerk where the graphic novel section was, searching in vain for the book, driving to Powell's Books in Beaverton (an even more uncool Portland suburb) and then the "City of Books," Powell's, in downtown Portland, striking out at both locations. My last hope for Powell's was the branch on SE Hawthorne, but I never made it there (at this point, I had completely forgotten about going to class, partially out of sleep deprived delusion, mostly out of scholastic hatred). Instead, I found my numbly detached arms parking my car outside a little store called Excalibur Comics that I had been regularly driving past without stopping for the previous five years. There, on the front display shelf, was my very own Excalibur: a brand-new copy of Thompson's masterpiece, Blankets. I dropped a knee, shielded my eyes with my forearm, and made the purchase. I ended up missing the next three classes that day was well. I parked outside my school, but never even left the car. It was the first of many times that I've read that book through blurry eyes, from cover to cover in one sitting.
So yeah, all of that flashed through my mind when I saw Craig in Paris. I fortunately brought myself back to reality before I got to the part of the daydream where I shared that brilliant book with everyone I knew, or where my band happened to play a show where Craig was doing a signing, or where my band happened to start working with that very same record label (with that very same Askew guy) that was mentioned in the magazine article, or where I got to know Craig on a personal level, or where my band put out a CD featuring Craig's flawless illustrations, or, or, or... OR, I would have just stood there staring at him in awkward silence. No time for that though, we had a rock show to play. An artsy-fartsy one, at that. Four men, four hundred instruments and a sheet of butcher paper. Or, ahem, better yet (forgive me), "Three Men and a Craigy."
The performance went really well, I think. I hope the people at the venue (called "Nouveau Casino," for trivia's sake) enjoyed it. I wish I could have watched what Craig was doing behind us. I didn't want to look back for fear of beating myself in the crotch with a drumstick. The paper started our set as a blindingly white ten foot-long empty canvas. When I turned around after our last song, it was covered in unmistakably familiar, freshly inked little demented creatures. But I only saw it completed for a matter of seconds. Before I could properly absorb it all, Craig was tearing it off the wall (to the gasping and screaming of the audience), and then ripping it into shreds, throwing it like confetti into the area that would have been a mosh pit if we would had been Linkin Park or Creed. For the first time in my life, I was glad we weren't.
We have six shows left in Europe, including tonight's date in Nuremberg. I had to check our own MySpace page for that info just now. That's pretty sad. I'm going for a walk...
Ok, I'm safely back behind the glow of my computer screen. That journey was...interesting. For starters, that was possibly the longest walk I've ever been on, at least in a city famous for trying and executing Nazis. First of all, let me say this: If an all-night Kebab/Doner shop ever opens in Portland, I'm moving. They are in every city here. It's not so much that the food is bad... A Doner is kind of like a Gyro with a slightly higher gristle content. Every shop has a telltale slab of meat rotating vertically on a spit in the front window, or in the open air of the street (that can't be healthy). I originally thought these meat pillars were djembe drums. Every corner, a new percussion shop! Even after learning that they actually represented greasy sandwiches, I sort of liked them at first. But they're always the only option at 2 am, after we've finally loaded out of the venues and we're hungry as heck. Like Denny's here, but even worse. Anyway, I passed about 12 of those eateries on my epic foot voyage.
The other notable thing I passed was considerably more memorable, whether I want it to be or not.
After leaving just before dusk and walking about 30 minutes in one direction, I found myself in the Nuremberg city center. I didn't know it at first though. I thought I was just passing by yet another amazing 12th century brick fortress (ho, hum), with intimidating turrets pointing high over impenetrable walls. There were no lights or windows. Suddenly though, a busy street carved an entrance in the wall, and the fortified area opened wide to reveal its true identity as a large shopping area with brightly lit signs and people as far as I could see. I went in a few stores and managed to find a pair of pants that fit (this is no minor victory for me). I sort of lost track of time in that area, and it was dark as I tried to make my way back to the venue (which was called Muz, by the way). I picked up the pace.
I followed the lights of the buildings back to the major street that took me back the way I came. I could see it ahead on the horizon, cars flying by in both directions, people pushing strollers and carrying shopping bags. But here in the area immediately around me, the buildings really seemed to glow. A very calming, almost hypnotic shade of red. Neon red. Wait a minute... Is that a woman looking out of her bedroom window at me? Is she wearing a bikini? It's October! And now she's waving, even! I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see her Speedo-clad husband casually stepping off a Vespa and walking up the stairs to be welcomed home from work. But no one else was there, save for a few shadowy looking dudes in leather jackets leaning up against the corners of the buildings. One was even lighting a cigarette almost comically; leg bent at knee, foot against house, hand cupped in face to block wind. A quick tap of knuckles on glass brought my attention back to the friendly sunbather upstairs. Yes, she was definitely trying to get my attention. As I stumbled along the sidewalk, I noticed that she had an equally unabashed housemate who was now smiling at me from a downstairs room (perhaps the kitchen?). Both waved flirtatiously as I weakly tried to pretend I had a watch on my wrist that needed checking every two seconds.
I now realize this took entirely too long for me to process, but I honestly didn't put it all together until I saw a third bikini-clad happy housemate step into the scarlet glow of another large window downstairs. These ladies weren't just being cordial. They were prostitutes! Whores! Hookers! Harlots! Holy crap! I was knee-deep in what Ludacris so eloquently dubbed, "The Red Light District"! I started rapping the song silently to myself, unsure of what to do next. Should I throw out a little salute? A quick wave back? No, that might show too much interest... I'm not interested, am I? And, if I may ask myself, interested in what, exactly? A lighthearted chat comparing and contrasting the legacies of Syd Barret and Alexander "Skip" Spence? Perhaps a leisurely discussion about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's effect on the modern music industry? Why am I even pausing for reflection?! No, I'm not interested. Act casual! Maybe a quick two fingers across my neck combined with a "no" headshake? Good! This will surely let them know I'm a married American, all by myself, thousands of miles away from home... Agh, no, that's certainly not the proper mindset to be in right now. Self, calm down. It's just a naked person trying to seduce you through a window. No big deal...
As naturally as possible, I patted the seat of my pants to make sure my wallet was still intact, clutched my oh-so-very-masculine-looking H&M bag, and tried to look like my imaginary wristwatch had just signaled a distress call. The questionably attractive working girls weren't fooled for a second. I was trying so hard to straddle the line between strutting confidentially past them and just sprinting the hell out of there, that I ended up doing some sort of jerky skip dance along the sidewalk. Maybe solo skipping in public is a sign of male virility in Germany, I rationalized to myself... Especially after a preemptive butt pat. Sigh... I need counseling.
My favorite stop so far along this tour was Brussels, Belgium. We played at this incredible venue called Le Botanique, which is a massive botanical garden in the center of the city. The huge building was once an open-air arboretum that has since been converted into two performance spaces, an art gallery, theater, and restaurant. It was beautiful. The city surrounding the venue was amazing, too. We had a day off to explore the cobblestone alleys, bars, and historic buildings that seemed to pop out of every section of the city. Most memorable was the city's most (in)famous statue, "Manneken Pis." It's a little fat kid urinating into a fountain. Like a mannequin pissing. Get it? You've probably seen it in history books. What you probably haven't seen is the street leading up to the statue, which is lined with souvenir shops selling replicas with fully functional corkscrews in place of the little pervert's member. Charming!
It's late. It's Munich. The bartender at the club we played ("The Orange Room") just served us seven shots of Jagermeister. Each. I take that back, Jared and Justin each one-upped me with eight. Wow. Justin made an interesting observation tonight. Here goes: "self-deprecating humor onstage in Europe goes over in like a fart in church." Amen to that. Tonight we played in the same city on the same night as Oktoberfest AND a Feist concert. I tried to make a joke about "Oktoberfeist" and no one laughed. Not even a single cricket. I need to sleep now. My head is already pounding. Goodnight.
I think we're in Switzerland now. I have a Ricola cough drop in my mouth. The box says "lemonmint sans sucre." It's pretty good. Sascha is faithfully driving up front with his girlfriend Danielle. He calls her "Dani" which can be kind of confusing. Fortunately, hers is pronounced like the elder Wahlberg brother and mine is more of the Bonnaduce variety. Dani has been traveling with us for a few shows on this tour. They're really cute together. I usually hate it when people describe couples that way, but these two are an exception. Joe Haege and Corrina Repp are another exception. Portland! Now there's an Ikea out the window! They just opened an Ikea about five minutes from our house in Portland. On the opening weekend, Holly and I went there just to eat a meatball lunch. I love those meatballs. With fries, gravy, and the lingonberry sauce on the side. It all runs together on your plate and it's like the best thing ever. I can't say the same for their furniture, though I've still bought (and consequently donated to Goodwill) enough of it over the past five years to furnish a small city. Ah, the Omnipresent. Time to change subjects again.
Back to last night in Munich. Jared hurt his wrist on a half-pipe, Tony Hawk-style. Except in Jared's X-Games, there are no skateboards. No embarrassing corporate sponsors, either. There was a lot of Jagermeister present though, as well as a half-pipe. That's a dangerous combination, when grouped with a heavily bearded sound guy. We were walking from the venue to our sleeping quarters, which was in a separate apartment building out back. Jared was pulling his suitcase that has approximately $20,000.00 worth of microphones in it. Suddenly a little light went on (or off) in his intoxicated skull. He let out a war whoop and took off running towards a large ramp where we had watched skaters ripping it up earlier in the day. For the next few minutes he was like the Tasmanian Devil on that thing, cracking the whip of his suitcase across the steep transitions of the ramp, a blur of legs, arms, and that great backwards cape of a beard leading the way, his mouth screaming crazily from somewhere deep underneath it. I thought I was going to wet my pants. I actually had to look away so I wouldn't. Too much!
Only four shows left to go.
Well, shoot. We actually weren't in Switzerland a few hours ago. This is Austria. Vienna, to be specific. Wait, is Vienna in Austria or is Austria in Vienna? I'm obviously delirious, and there obviously isn't a Wi-Fi connection in this club (which, I can say with confidence, is called "Chelsea" because I'm sitting right underneath the sign on the wall) or I would have checked these fun geographical facts on the Internet before making a total arse out of myself. I'm sure we're not in Switzerland though. That's tomorrow. My Ricola reference was in vain. Today I found out we're signed to Universal Records here in Europe. Universal owns everything. Sure, we're still a happy member of the City Slang family, but apparently City Slang has ties to V2, who is owned by Universal. Fun stuff. Ok, Jared is calling to me through the PA system. Time to go sound check. I must conclude this brilliantly informative slice of literature for today.
Wow, Austria! What a nice experience! If last night's diary entry didn't make this fact clear enough, I was at a tour low upon our arrival at Club Chelsea. The interior of the place was strangely laid out. It was a long narrowish hallway divided into three rooms. The first room was where the stage was, along with a tiny space in the back for Jared to mix and about 100 other people, if they squeezed together. Beyond that was another similarly sized space with a few tables, chairs, and a bar. Last in line was another bar with a football (i.e. soccer) game playing loudly in the background. Each room had a set of speakers to broadcast whatever was happening on stage to the people in the respective rooms. Poor Jared had his work cut out for him. I halfheartedly plinked around to check the levels on my rented drum set and headed upstairs to the dressing room, which is where I promptly wrote some boring stuff about Ricola, Universal and geographical ignorance.
It wasn't long before Sascha came up to tell us that the place was packed. We'd have to reach the stage from outside the back door to the club, because it was too dense in there to plow our way through the middle. This came as a bit of a surprise. Really? Um... Okay! We did as we were told. We also were told that a group of 10 or so had traveled up to a dozen hours from Croatia to see us. Nothing like a little pressure to get the blood flowing in all the right places. We played as best we could, and the healthy crowd was surprisingly responsive, even when Justin filled every pause between songs with a dedication to the giant gay bar across the street. I lost my "passionate artist face" a few times throughout the set when I thought of Sasha Baron Cohen (as "Bruno") persuading those semi-endearing frat-boy idiots to flex their naked buttocks for "Austrian Gay TV."
Austria and its alleged homosexual media outlet are far away now. We just crossed the border from Switzerland into Italy. Switzerland contains some of the most beautiful landscape I've ever witnessed firsthand. I took a lot of pictures out of the window as we flew by, steep drops and cliffs on sometimes both sides of the vehicle. Italy is immediately different. I can't tell if this is smog or just an overcast day, but the sky looks, well, pretty gross right now. Gone are all the majestic Alps, replaced by distant construction cranes and cell towers. I can look directly at the sun without blinking... There're too many layers of brownish atmosphere between our two heavenly bodies for it to do much damage to my retinas (I hope). We're headed towards Milan (here it's pronounced with an "o" tacked onto the very end), and I'm trying to remember all of the Italian I've learned over the years from watching the Sopranos. I'm relatively confident in my ability to secure an evening with a whore here, and possibly have someone bludgeoned to death while I'm at it.
But back to Switzerland for a moment. We played at a beautiful club called The Palace in an equally beautiful city called St. Gallen. The building was a 1920s movie theater that had been renovated into a music venue sometime in the past decade or so. The dressing room was the former projector room, and you could look out the lens holes in the wall and see the stage far below. The people were really nice as well. One couple traveled three hours to see us as a first-year anniversary present to each other. It was very flattering. I haven't mentioned our performance yet for a reason: I'd rather focus on the positives of the night... Such as after the show, when we went out for (care to guess?) kabobs & doners! Woohoo! The two Middle Eastern men running the place greeted us with a "hello, bilattan!" We were confused by this mysterious "bilattan" salutation (a Swiss formality, perchance?) until we realized that they were referring to Jared as "Bin Laden" (this became obvious after the seventh or eighth time they addressed him as such). Strangely enough, they said it in a friendly, almost complimentary way, as if they were comparing his looks to Tom Cruise or maybe Heath Ledger. Thankfully, Jared does not hate freedom. Or there would have been hell to pay. I saw him on that skate ramp...
Italy, I take it all back. Sure, the border area of your fair country could use a little work, but which country's couldn't? The Milan show went very well after a delayed start courtesy of a few lifeless AA batteries in Justin's fancy foot bass thingy. Best of all was our reunion with Craig, who had spent the last several days with his publisher in Amsterdam. Wait, did I forget to mention our show in Amsterdam? That's odd. Man, a Snickers bar sounds good right now for some reason... Hmm. Anyhow, seeing Craig again put the wind back in our sails. After the show, he worked overtime, drawing Sharpie tattoos on anyone who asked. My favorite was seeing a gleeful little blue Jared on Justin's tree trunk of a forearm. There's going to be a lot of unwashed limbs in Milan for a while, I imagine. The next day's drive towards Spain along the Mediterranean coast of Italy and Southern France was just as breathtaking as the hills of Switzerland. I did my best to capture the scenery out the window but my cheap camera hardly did it justice at 80 km/h.
Ugh, stupid baguettes. What an annoying food. I just broke out half of my front tooth trying to eat a sandwich stuffed inside one of those worthless petrified hot dog buns. I guess it wasn't entirely the bread's fault (no offense, France). A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of hitting myself in the face with the claw end of a hammer (accidentally). Long story. I got my tooth fixed in Hawaii, which is another long story... In short, the dentist was an old friend of the family and he did the job in exchange for an autographed Menomena CD (his deal proposal, not mine). Who knows, maybe the CD broke in half months ago and we're even. Except I'm assuming his broken CD doesn't directly affect his chances of getting sex from his wife. Or maybe it does (I've always noticed an undeniable pre-pubescent Barry White quality to Brent's voice when he sings so seductively about a monkey spitting poisoned grape seeds into his face). My original front tooth lasted about 24 years longer than my fake tooth did, which seems a little fishy to me.
So I'm en route to Barcelona with a hillbilly front tooth to supplement my hillbilly beard experiment (for those taking notes, the verdict on the future bald/beard combo is still a resounding "No"). To make matters worse, my chipped new look has blessed me with a lisp. I have a distinct fear that Holly might take one look at this oversized dirty mess of a person waiting in the "arrivals" section at PDX, and decide to just gun the accelerator right past me, before I even get the chance to theduce her with my thnaggletooth or the thexy thee-D I'll be clutching, "But come on! You thould thee what thisth album did for my dentitht! No? Well, okay, but at leath give my Ithaac Brock imprethion a chanth!" I can already see her automatic window rolling up in my face.
Craig tried to improve my mood by telling a story about a beloved ruler many years ago in Barcelona. This man had a lisp as well, and had a hard time saying the name of his own city. The people ended up adopting the alternate pronunciation "Bar-thelone," and the true natives of the place can still be heard saying it this way. Craig says I'll fit right in. Thankth, ath-hole.
Last night was the crazy finale to this crazy tour. For some reason, the Barcelona venue (called "The Apollo") was double booked. The first set was a two-band bill that started at 7. Then, after clearing everything out, we would move all of our stuff in and start our set at 1:30. Yes, AM. I mean, yeah, yeah, rock and roll and all, but we had to be at the airport at 4 am to catch our flight at 6:20 am. We just ended up winging it, and it ended up working. Sort of.
After an early sound check at 1 pm, we had about five hours to kill before we were expected back for dinner. Jared and I took it upon ourselves to embark on a five-hour, self-guided walking tour of Barcelona's city center. Holy crap. It was so good that I almost couldn't enjoy it out of guilt for Holly not being there to see it with me. Every maze-like alley in the city contains some of the most amazing architecture and historical buildings and statues that I've ever seen. We briefly visited the Dali and Gaudi exhibits, both interesting in their own right, but the majority of our free time was spent gawking up at cathedrals like true tourists. Before we knew it, we had to be back at the venue.
The Apollo was very crowded with people who didn't stop talking to each other for the entire set. At this point in our career, it's still hard to say what's worse: a perfectly silent crowd of 40 who never break eye contact with you onstage, and clap conservatively after each song, or a decent-sized crowd of 300 who don't seem to care that you're up there testing the limits of consciousness and sweat dispersal. No, that's easy. I'd take the former in a heartbeat. However, having Craig up there performing with us again unquestionably made the show for us, and for the crowd. An encore was played, awkwardly. We weren't sure if they were roaring for us to come back out of the dressing room or just roaring in drunken conversation volume. Craig's giant pieces were ripped down and handed out to the people who cared. We packed as quickly as possible and I ran back to the hotel to take a shower, eyeing my comfy bed lustfully. No time for that though. We had 30 minutes to get to the airport. Bye Craig! Bye Justin! Bye Barcelona! Sascha and Dani rushed Brent, Jared, and I to the airport (Justin was finishing the tour as he started it: Alone in a foreign country for a week of nothing but fence hurdling). We made it, as usual, by the skin of our freshly broken teeth.
Folks, we are on a big ol' jet airliner. We are halfway to Portland. The tour is over. Every once in a while, a computerized map pops up onscreen between movies (right now it's the cinematic genius of Evan Almighty) to let us know our progress. Only nine hours left. Super. I'm fantasizing (hallucinating?) about an animated mushroom or lava lamp popping up onscreen to monitor my level of druggedness. It's hard to tell how far gone I am. At home it's easy; I can just watch a YouTube video by Reh Dogg. Here though, all I've got is my trusty little laptop and about two inches of elbowroom... Definitely not the optimal circumstances for plugging in the ol' headphones and letting the iTunes visualizer work its magic. I think I need a higher dosage of these anxiety pills. I mean, they've definitely helped. The fact that I'm sitting on top of my chair instead of wedged beneath it is a sure sign of progress. I'm still scared though. The doctor recommended taking a half a pill for long flights like this. I've taken three pills so far today. And like I said, we're only halfway there. Living on a prayer. Take my hand baby we'll make it I sw.........Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Nearly all of the photos are by Danny, except for the ones that are obviously not his, and the three photos of Craig drawing onstage in Paris are by Pierre-Yves Arnoux, the three photos of the guys in Nuremburg (playing on a nice red carpet) are by Alexander Puchta, and the photo of Tu Fawning is by Alicia J. Rose.