Saturday, November 13, 2010

NOVEMBER 4-NOVEMBER 7: LISBON, BARCELONA + BILBAO - Stress out west: The tale of the Ravenous Rooster and the Burping Bull

Ah, Portugal - a place I've never been before! It was so nice to get away from the cold and enjoy some tropical weather (well, at least by comparison). Palm trees and sunshine welcomed us into the fine city of Lisbon. Smiling and singing, we piled into our promoter's SUV, almost forgetting about that wretched 6AM lobby call. I say "almost" because the barrista at Dusseldorf was very rude to this coffee addict, serving cappuccinos to people behind me in line. I "almost" ripped my hair out.

The flight was pretty smooth, and upon check-in we were told the awful news that our rooms were not quite ready, so we killed time by grabbing lunch around the corner. Oh, drat.

I rested for a while in the hotel, then made plans to walk around the city with everyone later in the afternoon. Ade got some much needed shut-eye, so Marco, John and I were the sole tourists, exploring the funky streets and winding hills of this gorgeous old city. First we took the Elevador de Santa Justa to the top of the town, and simply stood in awe, watching over the busy streets and breathing in the fresh sea air.

Ah, finally some warmth; what a great place to have a day off!

We walked around for a few more hours, taking pictures and simply enjoying life before returning to our rooms at sunset... although not without getting lost for an hour - a lot of those squares look alike! For the record, I was right (teehee)... but really, I didn't mind the detour.

Our promoters, brothers Rui and Luis took us to a nice little Italian place on the water, where we enjoyed one too many carafes of wine (and limoncellos) before going to the old city for a post-meal hang. Rui then led us to a typical Fado bar, which was impossibly tiny and absolutely jam-packed with people. At first we laughed, because it seemed like we just could not find a place to be - we kept getting pushed around by a short, stout bald man in a suit, but each spot was deemed unacceptable by another older man, who was seated with a guitarra. All of a sudden, three people rose up from one of the tables, and we forced into the tiny stools. The lights went down and everyone in the bar started to "shhhhhhh."

Now let me tell you how much I hate that sound... it's like nails on a chalk board to my ears. Maybe there's an explanation for it - perhaps I was shh-ed one too many times in grade school, and it scarred me for life. I don't know, I honestly don't remember - but I do know that I can't stand to hear that noise. I looked up, trying not to gag, and I saw Marco still helplessly getting pushed around by his waste, his 6'5" frame unacceptable anywhere in the club. I could see the frustration in his face, and shaking his head, he somehow squeezed through the crowds and into the less-populated alley outside. Feeling incredibly uncomfortable and claustrophobic, I whispered to Adrian "I really don't like this." He nodded, and figuring he'd be right behind me, I led the way into the street. I made it through, and looked left and right for our tall German drummer, but I couldn't see him anywhere. I turned around to ask Ade what to do next, but he wasn't there either! I stood in shock for about 30 seconds, before unreasonably going into panic mode as the weepy Fado music began inside. I started walk up and down the block, furiously texting Marco to find out where he was. I just about gave up, when I saw him standing on the corner, looking at his Blackberry. "Hey!" I shouted, before he sent me another 25-cent message. We agreed that we were totally out of place there, and we walked around a bit, trying to figure out what to do next. I suggested we try and rescue Ade, and upon arrival at the tiny bar, we saw that the lights were back on - the set was already over! We soon met our band mate outside, where we struck up a conversation with two young English-speaking travelers, Dora and Brendan.

We asked Rui to take us to a bigger place, that'd be a bit more comfortable to lounge with a large group. He led us to the fabulous Pavilhão Chinês, an old bar that was decked out with impossibly pristine WWII memorabilia. Ade, being the history nut that he is, was in heaven:

The next day Marco agreed to walk with me to the old castle which is way, way high atop Lisbon, in attempt to detoxify our systems by sweating out the poisons:

We retired to our rooms for a quick break before heading over for sound check.

As it turned out, our gig was right next to the old castle - it even shared some of its large stone walls, which created an interestingly cavernous sound on stage... no reverb or low frequency boosting necessary! The other funny thing was that there was a miscommunication about our backline - see, Adrian's rig is now comprised of his laptop with an AxeFX unit (among other toys, of course), but it requires 2 powered monitors to run his regular sound as well as 2 additional speakers to trumpet his loops and VG-99. Well, the powered monitors were not rented in time, so Rui had to run back to his home studio, where he grabbed two 6" Genelecs...

The sound was great... but we wondered, would it be loud enough in that cave a room? We started to play our typical sound check song "Young Lions" and frowned - the guitar disappeared once the booming drums and bass joined in! We started to worry, but John got the idea to add some of the regular guitar sound into the loop monitors... it wasn't ideal, but it worked! Whew, disaster avoided! Marco celebrated at dinner by creating the rooster dance:

The next day was spent at the airport and on a plane to Spain - our flight was pretty late in the afternoon, so we arrived in Barcelona at sunset, just in time to quickly set up and soundcheck. Starving my face off (they only served beef sandwiches on the flight), I inhaled some marcona almonds and manchego, and ran to the stage - which had a bar on it - ha! I speedily plugged in my pedals while the promoter asked me questions about Tal Wilkenfeld and other female bassists, then insisted I was related to Grace Slick, even though I told him repeatedly "NO." Then we just had all sorts of problems, like getting Adrian's VG-99 volume even with the regular guitar sound, and then Marco had difficulty hearing the loops because his ears popped like crazy upon our descent into Barcelona... Ayayay! We finally compromised on an acceptable mix on stage, so Adrian and I quickly crossed the street and ate at an mediocre buffet before checking into our tiny saunas - I mean hotel rooms.

The gig itself went much better - the crowd was great and enthusiastic, despite being seated... but things quickly got weird again. Just as we exited the stage after playing "e" (the last song before our encore), the house lights were turned on, and music started to play... "Hey" we shouted to the monitor engineer, "we have two more!" We each held up two fingers as if to say "peace man, let us finish!" Not willing to go down without a fight, we stormed back on stage and picked up our guitars and sticks. The music was turned down, and we just started right into "Three of a Perfect Pair." As soon as we struck the last chord, the lights went up again, the music commenced and this time we surrendered and walked off for good. Later we were told that there had been an 11:30 curfew - gee, it would have been nice to tell the band that, before they wrote a set that would last until midnight - sheesh! We then were rudely hustled out of our dressing room by a cleaning crew... I was getting furious at this point - I just wanted to get the heck out of there! On the way out, I took the glass of crappy red wine that they gave me and slammed it onto the bar, with what I though I was just enough force to get their attention. Of course, the darn thing smashed everywhere, and well, I got their attention alright. I looked at my hand in horror as I apologized - it was covered in tiny specks of glass! I couldn't stand to be there any longer, so I rushed over to my sweatbox of a hotel room, and gently washed my hand. Whew - another disaster avoided!

Adrian, John and I agreed that we needed to grab a drink to relax after all of that, and we found a nice little Tapas bar around the corner (after getting laughed out of the first place we tried... argh). A nice Rioja brought me back to Planet Earth, and we laughed it off over a plate of garlicky mushrooms before returning to our rooms to rest up for the six hour drive to Bilbao.

The next day we piled into a van with our driver, Unai and promoter's assistant, Zhavi. The hotel breakfast was not that happening, so we stopped a few hours into the trip to have some lunch at a rest stop. I attempted to order healthy food, but instead I got a plate of fried calamari, over-cooked octopus and raw onions. Great. I started to really feel unwell, so Zhavi suggested I try a traditional Spanish digestivo called Ruavieja. "Sure," I whimpered, clenching my stomach, "anything to make this go away!" After one sip, I felt instantly better, as the thick, syrupy herbaceous liquid coated and soothed my tummy. I then instantaneously and involuntarily let out a rumbling belch. "Ah, sorry - but - much better!" Everyone at the table laughed, but followed suit, ordering more shots of the viscous green stuff and next thing you know, we were all burping and giggling like crazy. We're musicians - it's not possible to be mature, too!

We made it to Bilbao in good time, so we checked into a rather nice and new Novotel, and we met John at sound check a few hours later. I started setting up, with everything was going great, when all of a sudden, John looked disturbingly over at Adrian's rig, which had been lit up and functioning just seconds before. "Uhhhh - what happened to the power here?" The stagehands shrugged and shook their heads as they watched John furiously unplug everything in Adrian's rack. He smelled the power supplies in disarray "No no no... these are fried!" At this point I just walked away and hid, hoping a solution would be discovered somehow... shouting matches ensued as the hours passed, and Adrian, Marco and I just watched from afar in disbelief. We all thought that the show would have to be canceled... John was able to build 220v power supplies for most of the pedals (as was done for my Eventide a few days before), but there was still one adaptor that couldn't be rebuilt: oh, only the one Adrian plugs his guitar into... so essentiallu, the key to the system. We wondered, how could we play without his gear? His guitar only has a 13 pin output, so it wasn't like the performance at Zappanale a few years prior, when he was able to simply play through a Marshall stack. Just when we gave up all hope, Unai returned grinning, waving about a plastic bag, inside of which was the elusive 220v Line6 power supply... we held in our breaths as John plugged it in... SUCCESS - the show would go on! We did a 10 second sound check, and were rushed off stage so the club could open its doors (which of course was an hour later than they were hoping). Oh, and did I mention we had a curfew here too? We hugged each other, and smiled as we listened to seemingly HUGE crowd pouring in... the place was packed!

Once again, we had a curfew so the place could be flipped into a disco, so we ate dinner (finally) as obnoxious dancers and rappers took the stage. Marco celebrated the event by practicing the rooster dance, which he claimed he would try out on the dance floor.

Thankfully, he abstained.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The next day, we moved onward to Münster to play the familiar Hot Jazz Club, and had a lot of friends in the audience (Marco also lived there for ten years). It's always a struggle to fit on that tiny stage, but we made it work by having Marco set up a little bit behind Adrian, which was actually cool because we were so close that we could hear each other very well.

We had another easy drive to Hannover the next morning - we even had time to stop at a mall along the way to try and find more of the franken-adaptors (like the one that had been assembled for my Eventide in Amstelveen). While John looked around for the Saturn electronic shop, Marco and I were lured by the smell of sugar and fat, and decided to grab coffee and (of course) pastries. He went slightly overboard, picking out three oversized confections: a traditional berliner, a marzipan elephant ear, and a wedge of marble cheesecake. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, our coffees came with little sugar cookies (and Marco got a mocha as well). Diabetic coma, anyone? We laughed, because the cookies had crosses decorated on them, so they looked like miniature edible advertisements for his Normalizer CD - plus he was wearing his cookie monster shirt. Talk about a photo op:

We arrived in Hannover in the early afternoon, and met Marco's lovely parents in the lobby (he was born and raised there, but they traveled twelve hours to see their boy and meet up with friends). After checking into our rooms, I decided to go for a walk and snap some pictures, because on our drive in, we'd seen a funky little flea market on the water.

A few hours later, and we were at the erm... cozy Jazz Club, where I declared it opposite day, because the stage was so small that I had to set up on the other side. It was definitely a unique experience, but it was cool to play for the crammed-in audience on that little vermillion stage. I even received a bouquet of flowers after "e", so I put one behind my ear for the encore... might be a look I go for more often... Anyway, afterward we snapped a bunch of photos with Marco's parents, and did our usual signing. We had a quick drink at the Wolf Bar with some of Marco's dearest friends, and shortly retired to our rooms to get some rest before our trip to Verviers, Belgium.

The drive to Verviers is pretty far - about four hours, but luckily it was an off-day, so we were able to sleep in a bit, which is always nice (especially on tour). I'd never been to Belgium before, so I was excited to see what it would be like, and more importantly, what awesome food we'd eat for dinner. We started to really worry and we drove our ginormous Mercedes down the ancient, teeny streets, and saw nothing but residences and closed up shops surrounding our hotel. Oh, and let me tell you about this hotel. It has a tennis court in the lobby - I kid you not:

Upon checking in, we asked if there were any restaurants nearby. The owner furrowed his brow and frowned in a not-so-promising way, and explained "It's a holiday today, plus it's Sunday... hmmmm." I forgot that it was Halloween that night, and that the French celebrate it as a holy day... He didn't ever really come up with any suggestions for us, so we figured we'd have to drive to Maastricht, the closest major city at 17km away. Since we were in the car all day, we decided to first try and follow the signs for "city center." We drove around for about twenty minutes, just about giving up all hope, when we found a little place next to the town's movie theater. Marco immediately hopped out and asked if they served food. He returned shortly, smiling, with thumbs raised so we all tumbled out, and Felix drove on to (eek) try and find parking. We got inside, and started perusing the menus. A server came over and took our drink order and then warned us that the kitchen would be closed for another hour. Our stomachs grumbled in unison at this news. We discussed what we'd do, but being so hungry it was hard to make a decision. Luckily the waitress returned and suggested a few nice places - which, hey, happened to be a short drive away! (Apparently we had been driving on the outside of the city's center, d'oh!) A half an hour later, and we were enjoying a lovely meal at La Seigneurie, which is owned by a Greek man and his Italian wife, which the menu reflects rather clearly.

After dinner, Ade and John retired to their rooms, but Marco, Felix, and I decided to stroll the town to see if we could find any fun Halloween things to do, as we actually saw some costumed people roaming the streets. We walked all around, and just about gave up, when we started to see signs for a "Black and White", with arrows instructing us where to go.

We followed these mysterious pieces of paper up a winding, massive hill, keeping our ears open for music or cars. We got to the top, and we looked at each other, utterly confused. "I, uh, think, uh, it, uh, must be over..." we agreed between breaths. Oh well, at least we got some good exercise in...

The next evening was our gig, at a cool little club called "Spirit of 66."

The stage was the best sounding one of the tour so far - really tight and dry, so we could really hear each other and improvise well on songs like "Beat Box Guitar" and "A Little Madness."

We got back to the hotel, a little wired from a great show, and we found a tennis ball in our hallway (of course). We then began to kick it around, just acting completely silly and giggling away. We either had extremely easy-going neighbors, or more likely, they put the rock bands back in their own hallway, away from the other guests. Smart.

Marco and I had a day off next, as Ade had a clinic in Cologne. We wandered the city, took a tour of the famous Dome, and had a nice cheap little fish lunch at a Nordsee.

We grabbed some green tea and decided to check out the music store near our hotel. There we tested out and bought really expensive headphones, consequently racing back to our rooms to compose. Hours flew by, and my zombie-like concentration was broken when I got a text from Felix inviting us to go to a Kölsch brewery near the university, where he, Ade, John, and the promoters were having a big meaty, schnitzel-y dinner. Marco and I met them in the typical biergarten and he tore into this big old stinky pork shank, and I, of course, had a salad. Afterward we took the university engineer's recommendation went to Papa Joe's Jazzlokal, a really cool, funky club with a house band that has played bebop-style jazz every night there for the past forty years:

We ended up sitting right next to the stage, in this strange narrow little pew, and our drinks sat in this little flower box-like trough. We joked that the cocktail waitress should just pour alcohol right into it so we could lap it up:


We walked the engineer back to the train station, and subsequently fell right asleep, for the next day we had a 6AM lobby call so that we could make it to Dusseldorf in time for our flight to Lisbon.

Ouch - no one ever said that touring was all fun and games. And if someone has ever said that, I will personally punch them in the face. That's how I felt the next morning, anyway...