G.W. SOK on tour with ACTION BEAT, West Coast USA, August 2019
— and more, with SURPLUS 1980 COLLECTIV ENSEMBL
It’s Thursday, the 1st, and I got up at 4.30 AM. Somehow. Somewhere. In Sweden. The end of my vacation. Took a bike, a boat, a bus, a train, and two planes… and arrived about 22 hours later in Los Angeles. That’s 6 PM over here, and the sun is shining. Gareth arrived around the same time from London, the rest of the Action Beat got stuck in traffic. Tour Dogs, part 2 is on its way!
Tour poster by Lewis McLean –
A 01 • BEFORE THE BEGINNING In a way, the Action Beat tour started one week earlier. On Saturday 27th July. Four of us left New York City (where Don lives) with a 12-seater van and music gear to drive this beast from West to East. Maws, Luke and Carney had flown in on the evening of Friday 26th and dragged their jetlagged bodies straight from the plane into the van. Then a massive load out at the studio, then to the Opening Bell show, then loading out their equipment, then hit the road. Pure “no sleep in Brooklyn”. In Denver, Colorado they picked up Webb and The One That Came Along For The Ride at the airport, and carried on towards LA.
In 1991 I did a similar start of a tour, with The Ex. We had a tour scheduled with NoMeansNo, crossing the whole of Canada from West to East, so we decided to fly on New York, drive from East to West till San Francisco (where we had two shows booked) and then, via Seattle, up to Victoria Island, Canada. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible, now that we still had the time and the chance. In New York we knew the people of Arm, a four-piece from Hamburg, who had tried their luck in NYC but had decided to return to Germany and wished to sell their car, a big, fancy Buick, that could easily hold the five of us, rucksacks, guitars and drum-sticks.
In LA the Action Beat van picks up Gareth and me, and we head straightaway to National City near San Diego, where we have one B&B booked in advance for the whole gang. Plenty of beds and couches and carpets. And a shower, and towels, and a kitchen. But no breakfast. Unless you consider coffee a breakfast.
B 02 • SHORTLY AFTER BEFORE THE BEGINNING
First things first, when you wake up, and it’s Friday 2nd. Your automatic pilot guides you automatically to the 16th letter of the alphabet. Because. You. Really. Need. To. Pee. Then you realize that there is only one toilet, which is in the bathroom, together with the shower, and the shower is occupied. And it’s probably a fantastic shower, because it’s taking fucking ages before that clean, fresh, revived asshole using it fi-nal-ly has decided that he’s ready. And only then you realize you are almost the last in line. Without a garden or whatever in sight where you can drip some drops while unnoticed by curious neighbours. But luckily sometimes there’s coffee.
First things first, when you are on tour and it’s time for breakfast. Your automatic pilot guides you automatically to a proper diner for some tasty, healthy food. But this is the US, baby, so just automatically forget about it.
First things first, when you are Action Beat and the tour starts. Your automatic pilot guides you automatically to respectively a. the nearest-by weed dispenser (and not only when the tour starts, mind you); b. the nearest-by gas-station or off-license for supplies of Cheap Beer 12-packs (and yes, I can assure you there’s a lot of gas-stations over here), c. visit a music shop. Guitar-strings, effect-pedals, drum-sticks, more drum-sticks, even mo… oh just give us the whole box, okay?
(While they do their shoppings, and as I sit there waiting patiently, since I already have everything I need… a cup of free coffee that is, the music shop plays Abba’s Greatest Hits. Which amuses me, as all around me the walls are filled with massive posters of heavy metal heroes dressed in black leather and with hi-hi-hilarious hairdo’s… hairdon’t’s. Do their mothers know? Mamma mia.)
First things first, when you are on tour with Action Beat and you don’t smoke or really drink. Your automatic pilot guides… automatic pilot, what automatic pilot?
Let the horrors begin.
AND FINALLY, IT HAS BEGUN
So we went for no breakfast, straight to the music store. Correction, first to the weed-dispenser, then the store. And then we practice while we melt for two hours, in a rented space where we melt while we practice. Then off to the club. The first Action Beat show is in San Diego at The Whistle Stop. Decent crowd, no (time for) food, and the show is a killer, although I guess we were still kinda shaky… Two jetlags, five desert-crossing survivors and one practice did that.
Yes, of course, that night we sleep on floors (one of us on a table), at Frank’s, a most generous Swiss guy who makes us even breakfast and coffee.
C 03 • NOW IT’S A TOUR
It’s Saturday and we’re off to LA. We dip our dirty feet in the big ocean and see the waves coming. And we play at the Handbag Factory, which means carrying our equipment up up up the bloody stairs… Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps sounds like a bargain. We are way early, so we go out for a walk. Kind of a rundown area. Right next to a fancy, yuppie-like business district. But it’s a very happy hour: the beer is cheap, the tea costs six.
We play okay that night, it’s cool, we’re getting there, and as it is our second show in a row, we can now officially call it A Tour. (No we don’t need much to celebrate.) We hang out on the roof terrace, sleep on the venue floor. Wake up in its dust. Happy that we can drag all our shit down, into the van, and drive off to our next destination.
D 04 • DRIVE, IT SAYS
Next day is another sunny day, it’s Sunday, and guess what: no gig. What the fig? But since we gotta be in Grand Junction, Colorado tomorrow (where we’ll play at the Copeka) we drive through the burning (jeezzzz!!!) hot (no kidding!!!) desert of Nevada to the neon-shitting city of Las Vegas. A most unreal town. But we enjoy our only hotel stay of this tour, have a swim, and sleep, loooong.
E 05 • NO OUCHES: COUCHES
After our surreal neon pits stop yesterday in Lost Vegas, we continue our drive to Grand Junction. Straight through Arizona, that is, and so we visit an extra gas-station or two, three, four even, to let all weed go up in smoke before we cross the state border. Because Arizona and funny cigarettes… that’s a no-go, definitely.
Grand Junction is a college-town. We play in an alternative coffeehouse, lunchroom, diner, whatchamacallit with a very friendly, young, enthusiastic staff. Unfortunately it is still holiday time, so most students are still at their parents’. Doesn’t matter, as long as we deliver. And we do. Afterwards we stay in a house nearby. Floors. Couches. Carpets. The usual stuff. We are getting in the flow. Next morning breakfast in a pretty decent diner, though.
F 06 • COUNT, SLEEP, FULL OF SHEEP
This is Tuesday thus it’s Denver. We arrive in some sort of industrial area. A small art-center/venue with a studio/practice-room and a control-room. We are a bit early and nearby is a café that serves Mexican food. It’s cheap, they’re friendly, it’s okay. When we’re back at the venue the first band has started. Some lack of oxygen. That is not the band’s name. The second band is pretty good, and there is a nice crowd. We play well. Everybody is happy. I almost lose my passport, as it falls from my bag in a pool of empty beer-cans, which I didn’t notice, but Maws comes to the rescue.
We sleep in Corey’s house, out of the center of town. We don’t know him personally, but we know someone who knows him. In 2016 we stayed at Meredith’s in Denton, Texas, and when she read we were going West this year, she helped us find a place to crash in Denver. Very sweet. Corey has a dog, and a massive house. With I don’t know how many rooms. Lost count. Or fell asleep while doing so.
I find it always surprising, how generous, in general, people can be when it comes to accommodate bands on tour. It’s quite something, really, to have your house invaded by a tired yet adrenalin infected, friendly yet chaotic bunch of people. People that often you’ve just met, some hours earlier, and which you hope you can trust. But you never know for sure. And still you offer them that place to sleep. That is a wonderful gesture, everytime anew. And no matter how fucked, finished, wiped out, wrecked we wake up, again and again, we are grateful for that. Every. F******g. Time.
G 07 • DISHING DISHES
We have arrived in Billings, Montana this Wednesday evening, after a looooooong drive on our day-off today, on our way from Denver, Colorado to Missoula, Montana, for the show at the Flavortown tomorrow. On the 8th of the 8th. Apparently Missoula is the birthplace of both Steve Albini and David Lynch. But they’ve moved to Elsewhere, so let’s see if there’s some people left there.
The good thing of arriving late in a US town is that there’s always places open to eat, at any time. The bad thing is that those places are always Denny’s or Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Big Whoppers and such. Which is handy if you like fat, fast, meaty food, but otherwise… Soon enough, though, after a few days of driving through a massive, wild, amazingly beautiful scenery of ever changing landscapes (deserts, mountains, plains, prairies, woods) and stopping at gas-stations desperately trying to find eatable, enjoyable, kinda nutricious feed-without-meat, you’ll drop your standards like a hot pancake.
Usually I try to compensate the lack of decent sandwiches that do not include chicken, beef, turkey or dead piece of animal by any other name with buying peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, nuts, nuts, nuts and more nuts. That doesn’t always work, though.
DOES THE FISH HAVE CHIPS
So that’s why you could find me, a few days ago, at a Denny’s diner late at night in a neon-puking tourist-trap area of Las Vegas, after driving there all the way from LA, through the Nevada Desert cool as fuck as long as you stay in your airco-supplied van (but don’t step out, cos the hideous heat will hit you on the head like a, well, like a hot pancake-pan).
Reading the menus is always easy: skip all meat and there wil be two or three items left to choose from: a veggie burger which even lacks the burger (so you get extra onions on your bun) and something with fish. I took this something, but since the ocean is quite far away from this Denny’s, and the salmon presumably came by foot, my taste buds were rather challenged. On the menu it had said “55+”, but I couldn’t figure out if that meant a discount for me being older than that or that it was the age of the fish.
And just when I have written all this down, seated in the back of the 12-seater that holds us 10 (7 Action Beats, 2 Opening Bells, and The Permanent Hitchhiker), heading out of town, we pass a massive local supermarkt and decide to stop and shop, and stuff ourselves with fresh fruit, bread, juice, salad, cheese and yoghurt. Vitamins, the word seemed almost erased from our collective memory, but we managed to revive it for at least one more day.
Back in the back of the van, overlooking the passing-by landscape from my window and them bellies full in front of me, I can hear each and every one of them think for a few seconds, as so do I, of the title of our latest album: The world is fucked but I feel fine. But that is quite another story.
H 08 • DO I LOOK LIKE I WOULD CHEAT ON YOU
On Thursday we are in David Lynch country. So you might have missed some message or report, as it might have lifted off into a parallel universe.
Tonight’s venue is basically someone’s house, being used regularly for (mostly noisy) concerts. The park’s nearby, and so are all the characters that afternoon, straight out of a David Lynch movie. Now we know where he got his inspiration from: his hometown is full of the kinda weird and the wonderfully creepy. Vague dopeheady types hanging out near the playground, walking to and fro to a white car that stops by every 10, 20 minutes, one guy locks himself up in the public toilet and suddenly starts screaming I’m gonna kill you motherfuckers! stay away from me! I hate you! Webb asks the vaguest of them all to get him some weed, the guy says no problem bro and leaves with $30 and will be back in 10 minutes (sure!), promise no bullshit I’m an honest guy do I look like I would cheat on you. Ah, good old memories of a similar deal gone wrong in New Orleans three years earlier.
HEAVEN IS A PLACE
The organizer has brought us a late lunch plus some drinks. Which is quite unusual in the US, where there exists no such thing as a hospitality- and/or, for that matter, an accomodation-rider. You buy your own drinks (don’t forget to tip) and good luck finding places to crash afterwards. Most of the times we manage to do so, asking around during the concert, sometimes we manage to find something in advance through friends or through the promoters, Those who have ever been to Europe on tour know how different that situation is there. Most European alternative venues, and I might say even the smallest independent ones, take care of their guests and supply food and beds and drinks. Those who have experienced that, realize how swell it is for traveling bands to have that stuff taken care of. And so they try to return the favour at home.
This time in Missoula we have the luck that after the concert someone living in a big house close to the venue is so impressed by the music, that she, a young woman called Madeline, offers space in the house she shares with three others. Thick carpets, couches and even some mattresses. Heaven therefore.
It happens often that we sleep on concrete floors, in dog beds, on tables, on barstools-in-a-row, or in crammy chairs due to Lack of Anything Else. And if you think that’s not rough enough, then you’re right: most of Action Beat didn’t bring either sleeping bag or camping-mattress, some not even a towl. Would’ve taken too much space in their rucksacks. No complaints, though, they’re used to it, have been doing this for already fifteen years and don’t give a flying fish about comfort (although, with age, sometimes times seem to be a-changing slightly). They wanna play, travel, hang out and have a good time. Because, after all, whether they like it or not, they are what they are: tour dogs.
I 09 • GET IT, GOT IT
We’ve left Missoula, Montana and are on our way to Moscow now. Moscow, Idaho that is. Should I say more? We did a pretty good show last night. Since the Denver show we had found “it” again. “It” being that feeling which usually comes back after the first coupla shows of a tour. It had been over a year since we last played together, so one short going-through-all-the-songs-set in a sweaty rented rehearsal space in San Diego at the start of the tour had to do the trick. The trick is to play sharp and focused, no matter what the circumstances. And that’s it, basically: a kind of alertness towards each other, no sloppy playing and the full amount of energy. That takes some time to find back. But once it’s there…
We got up late, searched for a lost camera that in the end was not lost but found in someone else’s rucksack (that was a great half hour, not), took an even later breakfast in some sort of communal restaurant in a trailer-camp surroundings, which looks quite different from the city itself, and we decided to not take the highway this time but instead the Interstate through the mountains. Past the hot springs where we planned to go skinny dipping. But the hot springs are more like an ordinary swimming pool, boring, so we jump in the river further down the route. Back on the road there’s wet shorts and socks hanging out of the van windows to dry, and most of them get loose and fly away towards unexpected freedom.
J 10 • A CHAINSNORE MASSACRE
We’re going back to the coast. Seattle tonight. Woke up this Saturday morning in my sleeping bag on the kitchen-floor tiles. Luckily I’ve brought along my self-inflating mattress, which doesn’t take much space in my rucksack. Neither does the sleeping bag. It was a turbulent night with snoring symphonies a-plenty, a lack of oxygen, and countless restless bodies crammed into one living-room. We stay at Tristan’s, who helped us out last night, after the gig in Moscow at the Bitter Root Tattoo. Moscow seems like a friendly town, but there appear to be not too many places to play for our sort of band. A couple of people organize all kinds of concerts in their cellar, and sometimes at the tattoo parlour. So there we were. Tristan played in one of the two local support-acts, noisy experimental weird shit. He lives in Pullman, so that’s where we drove off to after the gig.
A MOW MOW HERE, A MOW MOW THERE
Pullman is smaller than Moscow but counts no less than 40,000 students. Plus the “right” amount of fastfood outlets that come with it. I picture Hell as its extended version. Luckily most students were still on holiday. Unfortunately the fastfood chains were still open. It was late, and we hadn’t had dinner, neither during nor after the whole day of driving. So, forgive me Father for I have sinned. The Taco Bell turned out to be closed after all, at 1 AM, despite the sign in the window, therefore, since I personally don’t like McDonalds, we went for Jack In The Box. Pleased to meat you. Not. We waited five minutes at the counter, but all the staff were so very busy in the kitchen that they didn’t notice us. A look at the menu and into the kitchen made us realize the staff probably didn’t want to see us, in order not to get accused later on of trying to poison us.
Off we went, and into McDonalds we stepped. Well, old McDonalds had a farm and on that farm he had a cow, as the story goes, ee ya ee ya ow, but I sure wished he had some veggie feed on his farm too. Because, come on Mac, it’s 2019 for crying out loud, take your head out off that meaty ass, and see the sign of the times… Nevertheless, Father, I admit it, I took something called egg muffin and those things that looked like fries, and yes, I ate it all. I had reached that point of temporarily no return: whatever it takes, whatever the taste, I have no shame left.
ABC BY NUMBERS
Emergency repair stop. since yesterday Luke’s amp blew up. But, today we’re lucky. because a. we find a repair-shop which b. is open on Saturday afternoon, while c. it’s in a city on our way to the next gig. Apparently there aren’t that many places over here that can help us solving this problem, but an online search has brought us to Ellensburg, WA. And opposite the music store is a second hand bookshop. Which is nice, so I take a look inside. But I forget that I planned to have some breakfast/brunch/lunch/whatever, as all I have eaten so far is a few handfuls of sunflower seeds and a finally ripe tropical fruit which I’d bought in Billings three, four days ago. Oh well, food is too often a little bite overrated anyway. I laugh a bit about the bite (misprint ha ha ha) and before I know it the repair of the amp is done, and we’re off again.
In Seattle we play in a real rock club, the kind of venue only open when there’s bands playing, unlike the clubs that are more like bars that also regularly put up shows. Most of our shows are usually at DIY spots: an atelier, a living room, an art-space, an independently run diner, a tattoo shop, any kinda shack, basically… The last venue this tour being a record-store. The main trouble touring like this is that finding the right audience isn’t always as easy as 1-2-3. Bands like Action Beat don’t have a booking-agent or manager or PR-agent or all that other shit, so how do you get people to the shows?
That depends largely on how active the venue in question itself is, and if that venue has some sort of network or fan-base, because out-of-town bands usually don’t have a clue about that, as it doesn’t know that particular city. And as for Action Beat’s fanbase in the US, well, that’s quite minimal. The band is definitely still unknown here, thus we can’t expect too much. This tour is most of all making a footprint, in order to make a bigger step next time. (Remember that first guy on the moon, Whatsisname, Louis, Lance, Neil Smallstepforman? Well, we would like that too: some giant leap for Youknowwho.)
But touring the way we do, in a country that big and with distances that long, and during periods where there’s less possibilities to play (touring the Summer holiday season, what a great idea! But, well, we simply have our limtiation since there’s three teachers in the band who can only tour during their vacations), we are quite aware that we don’t always take the easiest route, so to speak.
FINDERS KEEPERS SHOWERS REEFERS
First act is Dialing In, she performs solo with a record-player, looping and layering fragments of various vinyls into an impressive soundscapes collage. Tour partner Opening Bell follows with their best set so far, and Action Beat ends their own show with the track called Hey We’re Looking For A Place To Stay.
It works. A guy called Dean offers a space in his house, but he says he’ll need to get up early, and therefore that’s what we’ll need to do, too. Fat lot we care, any night not spent in the van is a luxury. He drives home while we pack up. Three of us decide to stay, they go to a bar nearby, for a drink with some Seattle people. They’ll try their luck with them or come to the guesthouse later on.
We drive out of town, into a smaller village, take an even smaller off-road and there we are. Dean, who works at SubPop, and his wife Gabby live in an amazingly beautiful house, stacked with books and books and books and even more records. They are collectors indeed, but nowadays even more so as they plan to open a records & books store in the very near future. They have prepared beds for us and blankets and towels, and reefers for our smokers, we are treated like kings. We drink, we talk, we listen to music. It means a short sleep that night, but the next morning we feel refreshed. (And yes, that shower at 9 AM helped, too, of course.)
K 11 • HALFWAY IN OLYMPIA
Sunday morning we pick up the three that stayed behind in Seattle. They had hoped to find a bed while hanging out in the bar with the Seattle-ites. But at the end of the night , no such luck. However, the woman closing the bar, then said they could stay at hers, as she lived nearby anyway. Lucky after all. And off to Olympia. A very short drive this time.
Sunday also means a late-night show, but since we got up so very early, we are also way too early in Olympia, Oregon. We park the van near a crossing close to the venue, and go out for a walk, a visit to a record-store nearby, and a lunch. After the lunch and a beer, we slowly head back to the van and hang around there for a while. Spending a bit more time at one specific place, we get more aware of where we are. And of the people there. And it seems that here, especially the crossing that we’re at, is a human magnet, attracting all kinds of oddly looking people. A lot of, let me put this mildly as I don’t intend to be judging, slightly confused looking men and women are passing by, some of them more than once, going back and forth on that street in long strides. A mix of homeless persons, carrying several bags of some kind, and the more scruffy-looking types… some really friendly, others less so.
Before we know it, right in front of us, there’s a massive scrummage with five, six, seven of them. Twenty meters further, the so-far apathetic beggar with two dogs sitting patiently on the side of the sidewalk suddenly jumps up and runs towards the melee and dives in. Shouting, screaming, fists punching, legs flailing, feet kicking. Then a guy across the street crosses that street and pulls them all apart. They shout and grumble at him, then leave in different directions. But some of them return shortly after, and start the chase of their escaped opponents. When they walk by someone mentions a knife. And as we stand there, next to our van, we start to attract their attention, so we decide to park elsewhere, near the lake nearby. Did we land in a sequel of The Night Of The Living Dead, where’s the candid camera?
MEMORIES OF AN URGH
So it is a very late concert, as there’s also one in the early evening hours. I miss the first act, sitting in the van waiting for the others, not realizing they were already inside. Looking out from the van I see all the people from earlier today several times passing by. We play third, the sound is rough, the vocals difficult to hear, lots of feedback, but the energy is great. Last is a solo-act, Haze, Moving Pictures. Some trouble with the amp, but still pretty good. I talk shortly with Calvin Johnson of K Records, who used to play with Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic System, the latter shared the Olympia bill with The Ex and Fugazi in 1999, at the Capitol Theater.
I remember that night. Someone of the first band had a very painful back, and could hardly do the gig. Well, that was him, I hear now, and I myself was sick as a brick, too. Food poisoning or something, dunno, and I couldn’t have done the gig if Corey of Touch And Go, our record label in the US, hadn’t gone out to find a pharmacy still open that late. He came back with a disgusting fluid, which I took. And then I sat quietly in the empty attic during the first band’s set, getting sliiiiightly less sick. I went down to play our Ex-set, and went up again when Fugazi played. Sitting quietly again, slightly less ill. Great musical night, I suppose, but it’s not what I remember.
We drive out of town and head for Tacoma to Jasmine and Dan’s, friends of Mike’s (half of Opening Bell and the one who booked the tour for both band). We choose our favourite spots on the floor, our drivers taking the mattresses, have a last drink, and go to sleep.
L 12 • THE MAN WHO JAMMED WITH TAJ MA WHO
We wake up on a Monday in a once again sunny Tacoma, Oregon. The last couple of days had been a bit less warm, kinda chilly sometimes even. But now it is the perfect weather again for positioning our towels, wet from the shower, away from the shadow and on the grass. In no time they’re dry again. Meanwhile a friendly old man, in his seventies, a former drummer who has once jammed for hours with Taj Mahal (most of us nod, uh-uh, yet have never heard of the guy), drops by. He’s doing some cleaning up job in the back of the garden, and tells enthusiastically about the hot springs in the area, some of which are kept hidden from the public/tourists, so when he goes there he brings a bucket with him, to drag out bucketfuls of gravel, which keeps being pushed to the surface of the spring, to make enough space in the water again to sit and bath and swim in it. He’s off to New Mexico pretty soon for another job and he thinks he won’t come back. Because the city is getting to full with poor people spilling in from Seattle, where they can’t afford living anymore due to the exaggerate housing prices over there.
We’re off to Portland where we meet with Nellie, the former drummer of Opening Bell. She was with us when they and Action Beat toured the US East Coast together three years ago (23 shows in 23 days, a rough 7 to 8,000 kilometers of driving). We play the Tonic Lounge, a cool, old venue. Turns out that this is its last month. They got to make way for new businesses and parking lots. Does that surprise me? Does the pope shit in the woods?
First time I played Portland was in 1999, when The Ex toured with Fugazi, masters of DIY. Fugazi organized just about everything themselves, without any booking-agents whatsoever. They rented the venues themselves in every town they played, decided on the (always kept low) door-prices, support-acts, and made sure the shows were all-ages. Very impressive. Very inspiring. Last time I played there was two years later, at the same venue, the Crystal Ballroom, a space that could hold an audience of about 500 in total, on the second floor of some kind of old warehouse with no elevator. A treat for every band with guitar amps and drum kits. Not sure if it’s still there. We played there a sold-out show with three other bands, among which Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, whose drummer Moe Staiano nowadays has a project called Surplus 1980, which I will join next week, after the Action Beat tour, for rehearsals and two shows, in Oakland and San Francisco, in its extended version. Last year, and 9,000 kilometers away from here, I did lyrics and vocals for Surplus 1980 Collectiv Ensembl’s album Forget All This, which was released in April this year. And since I would be in the neighbourhood this month, we suddenly got the opportunity to actually play this music live.
THE STATE OF THE STATES
The set at the Tonic Lounge is good, the support-acts loud, and my ears a little tired. This was show number 9, with another 5-in-a-row to go. So far all’s well, I have the impression that the tour travels are a bit less rough than with the previous US tour. Or maybe we are a bit more prepared for the circumstances. There is a lot of beer drinking and and weed smoking going on around me (and to my own surprise I stick to mainly drinking water), but when it comes to playing everybody is sharp and alert, and it shows in how we play. Beer is easy to find here. At every service station you can get plenty of cans. For weed it’s a different story, which differs from state to state.
Some states have no problem at all with soft drugs (California, Colorado, Washington), and others are being totally strict with no tolerance (Arizona, Idaho). I’m no smoker myself, and I don’t give a rat’s ass if others smoke or not, but I’d just wish that these strict states would be at least just as intolerant to, say, gun control. That would do a lot more good to people’s health than the hunt for funny cigarettes.
Anyway, we stay at Nellie’s that night, say hello to Cool Runnings the cat. We wake up on the 14th, there’s breakfast (yay, no burgers and no burrito’s this time!), and leave for Eugene, Oregon after a small hit and run visit to the Mississippi Records store, where I unexpectedly score a Lenny Bruce spoken word double-album.
M 13 • PLAYING THE GOAT
So, where are we? Oh yes, Tuesday, in Eugene, our last stop in Oregon. A quiet, sleepy town, which has a certain kind of hippy-like feel to it. Well, in my opinion, that is. And I’ve been there only 20 hours or so. So what do I know, right? Anyway, we play at the Wandering Goat, a neat little oasis of eco-friendly approach to food and drinks. They have their own bakery, and distribute coffee which they directly buy from a co-op of coffee-plantations. Taking care of fair prices for the farmers involved and the quality of the beans. It sells bread and coffee, but you can also just sit there as long as you want and have a snack or a drink or check your e-mail, read a book.
Every now and then one can hear the long, hoarse whistle of an even longer freight-train passing by on the railroad-tracks crossing the street just outside the Goat’s front-door and terrace. Long rows of cars are waiting for the train to pass, while the barriers carry on with their clingely-clangely cling-clang song. I sugggest to Chris, who works in the bakery and organizes our show, that they should get a portable coffee container to carry on your back, so when the next freight-train arrives one can go out and sell coffee to the awaiting cars. (Ten percent for me, okay?) And perhaps the coffee carrier could wear a goat’s head mask? That would r-e-a-l-l-y boost the sales, right? (I’ll settle for twenty percent. Deal!)
The Wandering Goat is one of the few spots in town for alternative music. Chris says the town is basically full of talent, but there is a sort of general apathy, people are not really easily ready to try going for it. It’s an early show tonight, we play well, and afterwards we sell some merch. I sell my last book. Well, the last one I brought with me. Unlike the previous US tour I didn’t bring along enough copies this time. Could have sold more, but the space in rucksacks is limited. Still have some CD copies available, though. I don’t really make a profit on either book or CD. All my own stuff sells slow and unsteady, yet in the end it usually crawls out of the red numbers. So it doesn’t really make money, but still it’s worth it, making people happy that like what I do. And for me, right now, it simply means cash which comes in handy, I can avoid visiting another ATM for another little while.
Action Beat has a tour t-shirt for sale, a cassette of one of their first instrumental albums, and the double 10” album from 2014, A Remarkable Machine. Unfortunately our latest effort, the album from 2017, The World Is Fucked But I Feel Fine, which is even better than the title suggests (if I may say so myself) ((and I may, as I say so myself)), was released in Europe only, and there’s hardly any copy left. And besides, they’d be pretty heavy to bring along on those planes and too expensive to send by mail.
We stay at Chris’s house, beautifully shaped and made of wood, where she lives with a couple of friends. But first we go to a bar for a drink as it is still quite early. The bar has a kitchen, praise to the skies, but is also an amusement arcade, with a lot of terrible shooting games and modern pinball machines that make you dizzy looking at the flashy visuals while trying to discover where the fuck that ball is. My favourite one is an oldy without any fancy bullshit (highest score 1,200 points, well done!). I buy my yin and yang of the day, a beer and a portion of fries, and wander round the place. Some of the games turn out to be free. Tempting. When my beer is almost finished I have to decide: the others will carry on drinking nevertheless, so what shall I do, also take another drink (which means later on even more gettings out of bed for a pee), or no more drink but hang around the drinking aimlessly, or: spill my time with the free game I am now standing in front of? And which happens to be for free?
Well silly me, I’m Dutch and stingy, so why do I even ask. It’s a sort of Pacman game, but without the Pacman, and the highest score so far is about 42,000 points. second best is about 26,000, and after two clumsy attempts I find myself already in the Top 15. I enter three initials, S.O.K., and try again. In no time i am outscoring most other highscores, and as nobody’s about to leave for home yet, I carry on beating scores. I reach the 44,000 (yeeeaaah!) and decide to get my name all over that topscore list. Almost there… almost done… But then I misspell one O for an N, now it reads S.N.K., fuxsake, in the 9th position, so I have to play at least 6 more games. (And I did. And I didn’t fail. And it’s all been filmed. And I apologize for that. Just you wait and watch. It’ll be all over the new Action Beat video-clip that’s coming up pretty soon.)
We head home at 2 AM. One more reefer and we’re off to bed. Sleepy sardines packed in the living room. Snoring in all familiar sounding sorts and sizes. Showers at ten in the morning. Chris making coffee. And people queueing up for the toilet, which is in the bathroom where the shower is. Oh well. I am a patient boy. (I wait I wait I wait I wait.) We give Chris a lift back to her work at the Goat, take a coffee and a donut, and get in the van. Next stop: Arcata.
N 14 • WHY DOES THE ELK CROSS THE ROAD
A beautiful Wednesday drive going South. Massive trees in the forest and at occasions great views on the coast and the ocean. How old are these trees. People come and go, live and die, governments fuck up and divide, landslides, earthquakes, but these trees are always there. The things they’ve seen. What if these trees could talk… Hm, well, maybe better not. The things that they would say…No less it’s a fantastic scenery but I’m happy that at least one person keeps his eyes on the road. And that the person in question is the driver. At totally unexpected moments some elk decides to cross the road, no matter whether there’s traffic or not.
TO PEE IS A VERB
We drive on but, as usual, move slow. Slower than the average vehicle, I guess. Once we sardines are out of our sleeping mode, we hop into vans and pop into travel mode. So far so good, but whenever that van stops at a service station, because it’s thirsty for diesel or does so just for the sake of it, the canned sardines turn into a swarm of bees heading for the restrooms in need of a pee. And since there’s usually only one while not on the highway, they queue up, and decently wait for their turn. Once that’s out of the way, they scatter all over the shop to collect water, coffee, snacks, beer, and suspect-looking sandwiches. With these handfuls they queue up again, in order to pay at the counter, where the friendly personnel asks how their day is and where they’re from and what they’re doing here in these parts oh you’re in a band traveling around making music how wonderful is that how exciting I make music too not the touring kind though just local stuff you know with friends would that be all thank you have a nice day… Back at the van, they roll a funny smelling ciggie and wait for The One That Is Always Last.
We arrive at 8 PM in Arcata, a small/big city/village (we don’t know, it’s already getting dark a little and we didn’t get any further than the outskirts) where Richard’s Goat is situated in a slightly rundown area. But it’s a cool spot. We play in the cinema room, the bar has a tap and we have a tab. So for a change at least our first drinks are for free. And it’s pint night, cheap drinks ensured.
BARN TO BE WILD
That night we’re offered a place to stay at Quade’s, who played in the first band and lives on a farm. He gives the address and leaves, and we pack up and load out. It’s 2 AM, and the GPS is confused, we get lost twice. But we manage.
The farm belongs to Quade’s grandparents which are in their eighties. It used to be a sheep farm, but most of the animals are gone now. Two sheep remaining and a couple of horses. In the past they also kept a couple of lamas, which were like guard-dogs keeping the wild animals away. Recently there are rumours of a bear in the area, killing the occasionnal sheep, but Quade think it’s a mountain lion instead. Quite reassuring, really.
We sleep in the barn, which is basically his band’s rehearsal space. The farm is almost in the middle of nowhere, together with a couple of other farms, there’s farmland as far as the eye can see (yeah, I know, in the daytime, right?), so I am not surprised that the band plays very loud music. No complaints from any cattle whatsoever.
Three of us sleep in the van, the barn’s floor doesn’t fit all, and in fact it’s rather chilly. During the night I stumble three times past the sleeping bodies out of the barn and into the field and take a leak, bravely unarmed but very aware of the Laws of Paws. I stand and stare in the widest open air toilet ever, and everything is fine. In the morning people tell they heard someone or something going through the garbage bins outside that night. It might have been the bear, but they reckon it probably was The One That Is Always Hungry.
THE END OF AN AREA?
We get up early, and most of us didn’t sleep well. No showers, no wash, no nothing, straight into the van. We drive off, through the endless woods, on the lookout for a diner. After an hour or two it’s bingo, and we have lunch, in Miranda, a mere 350 kilometers from today’s goal Oakland. A real lunch, yippie! Sort of… fish/meat/veggie burgers and fries and salad and coffee. Are we leaving Purgatory, advancing towards Heaven? No more Denny’s, McDonalds, Jack In The Bell Burger Whopper, no 7-11?
We’re on our way, nearing the Bay…
O 15 • CALIFORNIYEAH
The last three shows of our West Coast tour are near. All three in California. Sunday we will all be gone. Last couple of chances to say a. hello, b. goodbye, or c. whatever…
Apparently this Thursday is the hottest day of the year in the San Francisco Bay Area. And the traffic’s slow. But we’re nearly there. The home of friends of Don’s. Where a big pan of tasty spaghetti and an even bigger bowl of freshly made salad are awaiting us, together with Don’s wife Bianca and their daughter, who have flown over from New York for a visit. Bianca will join us on stage tonight. And then there were eight…
MAN WITH A PLASTIC BAG
We play the Elbo Room. Which means up the stairs, mister. 21 steps doesn’t seem really much, but with a bass amp the size of a coffin and the weight of two dead bodies inside it is still quite a climb. Add guitar amps and a bag of metalware for two drum kits. And look, there’s me, carrying my plastic bag with song-texts… Ever wondered why I became a vocalist? I mean, apart from the fact that my hands and limbs don’t do what I want them to do when I hold a musical instrument and try to play and sing at the same time? Apart from the fact that I have no clue about chords, tuning strings or working amp settings? Apart from the fact that without a driver’s license I would be totally lost for transport of me and my, say, guitar, drum kit, harp?
Anyway, the Elbo Room… It used to be located in San Francisco (also with a ground-floor bar and an upstairs venue), but the increasing rents forced them out of town, so they relocated in Oakland. Another problem for San Francisco venues is Live Nation, a company that tries to monopolize the music booking world. Live Nation recently bought up a whole series of smaller venues and fired all its bookers to replace them with their own. A sad development, making it more difficult once again for independent bands to get a decent gig organized.
HOUSE FOR ALE
We play a good set, do the load-out and stumble our way through the night towards a liquor store. The van and we end up in a rundown part of town, where in the dark, badly lit streets the Enlightened Beacon of Refreshments is surrounded by a swarm of beggars and drunks pestering the passers-by for money. At a certain moment it starts to looks a bit uncomfortable, but the shop-assistant storms out and we get away safely.
We stay at a friends of a friend’s house. They live a beautiful house, just outside Oakland. Bought the house 24 years ago, a bargain as nobody wanted to live there at the time. Nowadays the area is booming, with house-prices rocketing. San Francisco is even worse. No longer affordable for normal people. The city’s taken over by young professionals that earn so much money that it fucks up the whole economical and social infrastructure of the town. And the end of it is not yet in sight.
Tomorrow we’ll play in nearby Berkeley, so we can stay here for two nights, what a luxury. Our hosts prepared beds and blankets for us. We drink our drink, we talk, eat bananas and mini-donuts and go to sleep. Different from what we originally had planned, a free afternoon in the city, we’ll have an unexpected studio-session instead, for KFJC college-radio in Palo Alto. Rise and shine at nine.
P 16 • TRANSMISSION INTERMISSION
A short-notice message from a few days ago got confirmed yesterday: today, Friday, we’ll have an Action Beat live-session on KFJC Radio, at (update: more or less) 2 PM Westcoast time, 10 PM UK time, 11 PM Dutch time… Give or take an hour. (And it will, we’ll find out.) It is a short night, but I get up easily no less. Even catch a quick shower and a coffee with a croissant. We drive to Palo Alto, which takes longer than expected. Of course, as always there’s a lot of traffic in front of us. When we’re at the campus we’re not at the studio yet. We drive around, and around, till the destination is found: KFJC headquarters, with a college-radio history of 60 years and counting.
THE AGE OF AQUARIUMS
We’re melting. Outside the sun is blasting hot. Inside it’s even hotter. We’re in the studio, setting up our gear in The Pit, an optimistically measured 4 by 4 meters room, and apart from 2 drumkits and 6 guitar amps, there’s waaaaalls of vinyl records, one big glass window (the control-room’s), and a much smaller one, carved out in one of the vinyl walls, and which peeks into the actual DJ-booth. The Pit seems like some sort of fish bowl, and I assume, that, once the sweat of playing starts pouring out of our bodies into the room, we’ll be swimming from one song into the next. And all its transpiring audio will be aired live this same afternoon. Apparently there’s also cctv, as we have to hide the beer-cans from view.
I’ve been here before, in 1998 I think it was, during the tour of The Ex and Fugazi. We did five tracks then, with an audience of one being Moe Staiano (now of Surplus 1980, then of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), with whom I will join forces next week in his extended Surplus 1980 line-up called Collectiv Ensembl. And just as I am writing this, Brian steps in, the one who recorded that very 1998 session. Another hot day that was. Like now, like then. The office, desks full of notes and discs and records. Its windows show the red walls of the adminstration building and the library, which blocks the view at the campus nearby. The earth is red and dry, the palm trees suffer and sigh in the blistering sun. The air is hot, the air is not, it’s hard to breathe. The recording session’s hectic, with me almost passing out. Wonderful memories indeed.
This time, though, it’s slightly different. No sweat, the airco has been turned on after all. Forgot. Isla, the daughter of Don and Bianca, announces us on the radio. We play a short, sharp set. Running out of breath and oxygen, I accidentally skip a few lines in the second track, thinking uhm this song seems different today. Who cares. It’s wicked. Then we pack up. The show in Berkeley awaits. And a traffic-jam or two.
TO DO IT YOURSELF IS TO DO IT TOGETHER
We drop off Bianca and Isla at their friends’ house in Oakland, pick up the Opening Bell-ies at our own guesthouse, and we’re off to Gilman Street in Berkeley. I feel a bit knackered. Time flew by surely but slowly while doing a lot of driving and a lot of waiting while setting up the gear and a lot of hanging around waiting again for other things to finally happen. Then this one-off half-an-hourish burst of energy and back to the waiting and driving and waiting and driving. Meanwhile I try to reload. We’ll be on early and we’re running late. And there will be six bands in total. We decide on a shorter set, without the improvs, and here we go. The radio-session was a good rehearsal, we play tight as fuck, fueled by the large, enthusiastic crowd that didn’t know zilch about us before we hit the stage.
I meet up with Ramesh and his brother. Ramesh I know from Amsterdam, where he lived a couple of years in the late ninetees. Big fan of The Ex, I hadn’t seen him for about ten years. Now he lives in LA, finished his studies, got married, wrote a book, and is currently working to help Bernie Sanders get into the White House to drive out that idiot who fakes America great again. Ramesh grew up in this neighbourhood, 624 Gilman was his second home, went to see a lot of shows there.
I’m happy I finally got to visit and play Gilman’s. It’s been here since 1985, which is an amazing long time if you consider that since its start the whole thing was run by volunteers only. Non-profit, do-it-yourself, always all ages shows, no alcohol. It takes a lot of guts and energy and commitment to keep such a thing going for so very long.
The first time I heard about Gilman’s was way back in the mid eighties, when Luc and me of The Ex together with some friends began our own independent record distribution in Holland, called Konkurrent. At first we mainly distributed records by Dutch punk labels, but soon we got good contacts in the US, and became the European partner of San Francisco based label Mordam Records and others (Dischord Records from Washington DC, for example). Not only records, also fanzines. One of them being Maximum RocknRoll, a VERY thick mag, filled by volunteer writers only and put together by self-acclaimed shitworkers. Interviews, reviews, columns, scene-reports, you name it, from all over the world.
All independent stuff, wanting nothing to do with major record companies and all that slick sick corporate music biz bullshit. Every time the new issue of MRR landed on the desk of our Dutch office, I would go through the magazine, to get a sense of what whas going on in Punkland. Since MRR was based in SF, it focused a lot on the local scene. That’s how I got to read about Gilman’s, which was inspiring as its struggle to set up Things Of Our Own, By Ourselves was similar to ours in the Netherlands. It took me 34 years to get to play there, but now I did. And I’m happy, too, that the venue is still there, and still going strong.
TOWER OF PIZZA
No less than six bands tonight, and my ears are full after four. I like the idea of hardcore, but I am not necessarily always a fan of the music. It’s a bit too brutal often, well, to my taste anyway. Besides, we all are rather tired after this long day. And we’re hungry. Again. One hit-and-run late lunch bite of baguette doesn’t do the trick. We want some normal food this time. Like from a restaurant. But on our way home we can’t find any. Keith, one of our hosts, explains that recently the minimum wage in Califoria was upped to $15 per hour, which is much more then it was before (as wages were real low, as they depended on sufficient tip money…). So the shops and restaurants have increased their efficiency concerning working hours and thus close the restaurants much more early.
Luckily he knows a pizza place that’s open till midnight, a few blocks away. It’s a kind of takeaway with a few seats, the smell is good and there’s plenty of choice. We order and eat well-served and -deserved by the boat-load: each slice is like a prize.
Back home we sit on the porch, drink a drink, smoke a smoke, and listen to the KFJC session on the internet. Well, actually, they do. I am inside, my ears still full, my belly too, and I drink some water as I google around for places to stay in LA on Sunday night. Because by then all the others will have spread their wheels and wings in all kinds of directions but mine, heading home where’s there beds of their own, while I will catch a train on Monday morning going back up North to Oakland.
Q 17 • THE END IS NEAR
Saturday morning and it’s another, yet not too early, rise. No roadworks outside, this time, unlike yesterday, when the hammering started at 7.30 AM. Today it remains quiet, except for the sound of bare feet on the kitchen-floor, and the buzz of the coffee machine enthusiastically pulverizing bean by bean by bean. In the distance I hear the hoarse whistle of the freight-train nearing the crossroads. Through the window ajar I smell the neighbours’ trees, and I hear birds twittering like mad (less than TITUS, The Idiot of The United States, but still…), and then there’s sound of coffee being poured into a mug. Finally. Time to get up.
GOODBYE AND ALL THAT
We say goodbye to our generous hosts Keith and Kenny, thank them for their hospitality and praise their patience concerning the stranglehold in which their house was kept for two full days by a bunch of thirsty, smelly, sleepy, hungry, yet happy, friendly, blimey-limey Beat Brothers. (Though we didn’t break that much, did we?).
An approximately six hours drive to LA is scheduled, the last long drive together. After the show five of us will leave straigthaway, to bring the van and gear back to New York in four days or so, no sleep till Brooklyn (well, Queens, to be more exact), with a short stop-over in Denver, Colorado to drop off two of them at the airport. The other five will spend the night in LA, and four of those will leave by plane on Sunday, heading for either New York or London. Me, I’m gonna stay one more day, I won’t get up ridiculously early to catch a train. I’m expected in Oakland no sooner than Tuesday.
TOBY OR NOT TOBY
It’s another beautiful drive. Out of SF and Southbound to LA, and the scenery is literally breathtaking. Especially during the traffic jam in that part that looks like one more desert. We arrive on time in LA and park the van. First thing we see is a fallen man, lying face-down on the sidewalk. He doesn’t move. We leave the vehicle, to carefully approach him to see what’s going on. A couple passing-by looks worried and they call 911.
After only a few minutes a firetruck arrives, some medics step out. All the time the man hasn’t moved, not a finger. But as soon as one of the medics shakes him, firm but gently, he reacts as if stung by a bee, then sits up and yells don’t hit me, please don’t hit me. The medic replies don’t worry we’re no cops, we’re here to help. And he starts to ask the man some questions. What is your name?… Toby… How do you spell that, Toby?… Ef you see kay… Toby is simply drunk as fuck and he knows it, but no doesn’t want help. We go into the diner and order a beer and something to eat.
We play in the record-store next door, Timewarp Records. An early show, 7 till 12 PM, with four bands in total. At 8.30 we can finally load in. The store is small and deep, and carries a load of vintage vinyl. Second-hand stuff, bootlegs, and specially priced collectors’ items. On the wall a lot of vintage guitars, they come from across the street where they also had a shop, but that one is closing down.
THE STAGE OF THINGS TO COME
The stage is small, and the shop is pretty full, but some of the record “cabins” (the five bucks bargain bins) have wheels so they are put outside. Four bands means a load of amps and drum kits, so for the moment we leave parts of ours in the van. Maybe some equipment can be shared, too. There’s no proper soundchecks, we’re already used to that. Most venues only do some sort of short line-check just before the band plays, Saves the sound-men time, they pop up in the venues just before the doors open. I don’t like it very much. It sucks for the audience to witness these noisy, chaotic soundchecks in between acts, and it also sucks for the musicians, to be exposed like that while sorting out your shit. It kills some of the magic of That What Is To Come.
Unfortunately there’s not that much people tonight, due to a popular festival nearby and due to a Godspeed You Black Emperor concert elsewhere in LA. But that doesn’t mean that the bands here, right now, in this store, on this very stage, wanna take it easy. On the contrary, there ís an audience, and so all acts play their asses off. The first two bands are good, Opening bell is on third, suffering a bit from the sound this time, and then it’s our turn. The small stage fits only two drummers and one bass-player, the rest of us take place on the floor, almost ín the audience. It is the last show, we are a bit tired, but it’s 1-2-3-4 and there we go. “A noisy, chaotic, vital racket, rough, hypnotic, jagged…”
SEE YA MATE… (YEAH SEE YA MATE)
After the encore, during which two drum kits, with some help from the audience, get dismantled to the bone, we pack up, put the equipment back in the van, and dilly-dally a bit close to the fridge. The owner of the shop is very enthusiastic, and wants us to play here again, whenever we’re back in town. His partner digs up a bottle of wodka and she pours out some shots. Then we toast. It’s done, we did it, and now we fuck off. Five of us pluck their rucksacks and bags out of the back of the van and say goodbye to the other five. The handful that includes me will spend the night at Kevin’s, a friend of Opening Bell’s, after a farewell drink in a very British pub, which is on our way to bed. Not bad. And the others, they have decided not to hit the road straightaway. Instead they will sleep a short sleep in the house of the first band’s brothers, and then get up early and start the long drive back to New York.
R 18 • THE END’S NOT HERE
Since there’s only five of us left, the queue for the Sunday shower is small. In the meantime I try to book a room on the internet, for elsewhere in town, downtown, near the Union Station where I will have to catch a train on Monday, the 10 AM to Oakland. That turns out not as easy as I hoped it would be. Once I have found a room, I tiptoe correctly and patiently through all the instructions, but as soon as I am about to actually pay, I am asked to download “the app that makes things easy” and I’m stuck. For my phone doesn’t download apps that makes things easy, it simply doesn’t download.
Trying to pay without the app at first seems impossible, and when I finally manage to work my way around it, so that I’m back on the track towards paying, I get an interfering message: hello thank you for your reservation, this is your hostess Elaine, say hello to Elaine, is everything all right?… And before I can say to Elaine to be so kind to please fuck off and get out of the way because I am busy trying to goddamn pay and it’s already tough enough without being interrupted by unnecessary time-consuming messages (and mind you, I’m almost there, i’ve stepped all the required steps, and now I pay, click, bingo! I have paid, hurray, and now I wait for the confirmation), then suddenly there is a message that the room is no longer available. And where is Elaine now, now that I need her? (I know where she was when I didn’t…)
In the end I do find a room. But I feel slightly stressed. I thought this would be a day off, during which I could relax. Luckily we go out for lunch. A change of air will do me good. Even when that air comes out of a kitchen. Afterwards we go for a short walk on Venice Beach, then take a taxi back. Gareth and Carney pack their bags and leave with a taxi for the airport. About twenty minutes later Gareth storms in, grabs phone, yells bye, and is gone again. What. Was. That? Soon after I leave, too. Could have stayed here, for free, but then I would have to get up tomorrow way too early to my taste, as it would be a one hour drive with a taxi. Besides, I don’t mind having a bit of peace and quiet for at least one night.
I got a hotel room in the Japanese area, a fifteen minute walk from the train-station. In front of the hotel there’s a street-party going on. Japanese dance-groups do their routines, in turns, with colourful, sometimes traditional, sometimes more modern clothing. Enthusiastic announcements, singing… It’s cheerful and cosy, but I don’t stay long watching. I check in, drop off my stuff in room 21, go for a little walk, buy some food (sushi) and drinks (orange juice and an IPA), then return to my room and close the door.
S 19 • MY OWN PRIVATE IDUNNO
I wake up, alone. What a weird Monday morning. No roaring, snoring, grumbly-mumbly, eepy-creepy eating-noises-making sleepy AB people insight. No queues for the toilet, the bathroom, the fridge, no crawling over rucksacks, bodies, clothes, shoes, beercans, to get across the room. I’m missing it already. (Maybe I can ask them over to my house for a few weeks, so we can re-enact the tour, sitting in the parked van outside, where they drink beer, smoke weed, make jokes, talk about music, listen to the KFJC radio session, while I sit in the back and make notes or read a book, eat sunflower seeds, a banana, take a sip of water, look out the window… Sometimes we’ll unload the van, just for the sake of it, to remember how that feels, bring all the stuff up to the third floor and back, then put all the stuff in the van again… I don’t think they’ll teach you thát at the average Rock School, I’m sure…)
THE DAY OF THE DAY-OFF
It’s an early fifteen minutes walk to Union Station, crossing the viaduct over the expressway, it seems that even with my heavy rucksack I move faster than the cars below me.
I take my seat in the Amtrak train that goes all the way to Seattle, all along the coast. It’s a beautiful ride, especially when the train can almost touch the ocean, but: it is remarkably slow… A bus would bring me to Oakland in 5, 6 hours, with the train it takes no less than 11. But it’s my day-off, so to speak, and for once I have all the time in the world. Time to read, time to go through the songs and lyrics for the coming weekend, time to simply watch the scenery go by. Mountains, hills, acres, workers in the fields, shrubbery with the occasional hidden tent, the beach, the waves, rows of campers, a lone surfer, a family under a parasol sitting in the sand, three massive oil-platforms in the distance, some boats, palm trees, driftwood. Near LA the train-stops are at rather short intervals. The further away, the longer the intervals.
I feel the fatigue of the last two and a half weeks sinking in, luckily I have a comfy seat, and the train is not crowded and there’s no people making noisy talks on their phones, no yelling parents, no crying children. I make some notes on all this, but when I look back at them later on, in the Oakland appartment, I can’t read most of it. Lucky you. Not that important, anyway. Just a couple of notes to pass the time.
I disappear in a book for a while.
Eat some sushi (second day in a row).
Drink orange juice.
Disappear in a book, again.
At 9.30 PM the train, which is the “14 Coast Starlight” it says on my ticket, arrives in Oakland, Moe has come to pick me up. In his apartment we are greeted by Arco, a white cat with black spots, and Socks, a black cat with white spots. Socks is the shy one. Or he just very much likes the space under the couch. The apartment is packed with records and musical instruments. And things for cats to climb in. In the cupboard stands a big row of one of my favourite comic-strips, Krazy Kat. Moe likes pigeons too.
T 20 • PRACTICE MAKES PURRRFECT
Up at around ten on Tuesday, I take a shower, put on clean clothes, have a shave with a stump razor, it takes ages, and go for a coffee. Check my mail. Then I take my headphones and start to listen to the songs that we’re gonna rehearse today and tomorrow with Surplus 1980 Collectiv Ensembl. 1980 is not the amount of people in the band, but it’s close. We’ll be no less than 14 on stage on both Friday and Saturday. The music and lyrics have never before been performed live, trcorded last year, released this year, and we have only two rehearsals to get prepared. Also it’s quite different from the Action Beat stuff, so I have to turn a switch in my brain, and re-adjust my focus. Tonight we practice, rather disciplined, from 6.30 till 10 PM. We’re getting somewhere, but we’re definitely not there yet. I will go through all the stuff on my own once more, before we meet again tomorrow.
After the rehearsal Moe, Melne en me take a bite at a Mexican restaurant. It’s kinda funny to realize that, during the last three weeks, the best American food so far has been in fact Mexican. Maybe they can build a wall around all the Denny’s, McDonalds, Taco Bells and Burger Kings of the Unfit States of Appetite instead? In Las Vegas two weeks ago we stumbled upon a restaurant that proudly announced that anyone weighing over 300 pounds can eat there for free, as much as one can. Sick. Sic.
Our bellies are full, we go home (yes we’ve paid!), where Arco and Socks are awaiting us, meowfully happy, because they know they’ll be fed now, too. And this time they both seem relaxed with the presence of the Last Tour Dog Standing. (The one that crashes pretty soon afterwards onto a mattress to fall in a deeeep, deeeep sleeeep.
U 21 • ANOTHER ACTION, ANOTHER BEAT
Went to bed at two, and now I’m up, at nine already. That wasn’t the plan. But then again, sleep was good, and coffee awaits. Another day, a Wednesday this time, of practice at home and later on rehearsal with the whole gang.
BOOKERS? KEEPERS? LOSERS? WEEPERS?
Moe and I talk about booking shows. That’s not easy nowadays. First thing the booker in a club asks is how much people you draw. His middle-name is Keep, or what? Since when are bookers bookkeepers? Maybe they could try and listen to the music first? And if that’s good, give it a chance to play and grow, put some effort into promoting it? Put out flyers, posters, notify magazines, papers, local radio, let the potential audience know? Don’t just book, but program. Have some kind of creative vision, I suppose. For that’s how it was where I come from, the late seventees, the eighties.
I take it easy today. Hang around the house. Get another coffee. Listen to the songs that we later on will practice again. During the practice yesterday I made notes on what didn’t go well yet. Luckily I brought enough paper. It’s only four songs this time, but they are all bloody long, with lots of breaks and changes. And I recorded the words about a year ago, assuming we were never going to play this stuff live. So I have to refresh my memory big time and practice all the vocal lines. And practice them again. And again.
At about 5.30 we’re off to the practice room. Melne picks us up. A ten minutes drive, we carry a guitar and an amp and some small things with us up the stairs, walk through the old massive, renovated warehouse, basically through the whole building till almost the totally other side. there is a loading dock with several vans and trucks, their backs aimed at the wide platform. Behind the metal door in the 10, 11 meter high wall is in fact another building, it houses studios, and a lot of chairs, stage-props, music-gear, junk, younameit, theygotit.
We, the Collectiv Ensembl, are 14 people: 2 drums, 4 basses, 4 guitars, 1 oboe, 1 bassoon, 1 voice, 1 conductor, and go through the songs, take a short break, some snacks and water, and do one or two songs again. That’s it. They think we’re ready. They’re all pretty convinced it will work. I hope so too. But I made notes again. Different from yesterday. Will look at them tomorrow.
Melne, Moe and me eat takeaway pizza in the car, then drive home. Enough for today, we say. But once home, I work a bit on the computer, read my emails, send some replies, and drink a root beer. I am tired, but I can’t sleep.
V 22 • SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME
Apparently I could sleep after all. It is the Thursday morning already when I wake up, at 9 AM. Moe is off to work today. I have the house to myself. I’m gonna work on the notes, add cues to the lyrics. And get them printed again. I had the lyrics already printed out, of course, as I need them on stage since there was not enough time to learn them by heart. But I scribbled down so many handy instructions, clues and cues, that I eh, hm, well, the actual lyrics have kinda disappeared in there somehow. Great job, stupid.
First things first, though: G.W., mail home. Then coffee, bagel, orange-juice. I work out the notes, rearrange the lyrics on my computer, save them as PDF-files and put them on a USB-stick. When I walk to the copy-shop, it’s already past six. At the copy-shop they can’t read the USB-stick. They only work with that Microsoft shit. While I only work with that Apple shit. They send me to another shop. Same problem. I find a third shop. Closed. I give up. And decide I will use the original lyrics-sheets tomorrow. I’ll simply read around the notes. It’ll be okay. I’m sure. Am I…
Melne, Moe and me eat at an Ethiopian restaurant, then drive home. Enough for today, we say. But once home, I work a bit on the computer, read my emails, send some replies, and drink a root beer. I’m not tired, but I can sleep.
W 23 • SURPLUS VALUE 1980 AND COUNTING
It’s Friday, the day of another showtime. But first a shower, a hard-boiled egg, a banana, and an early lunch with Anjali, a friend who lived about five years or so in Amsterdam during the late eighties, who went back to San Francisco, then Montana, Syracuse, and now she’s back in San Francisco, teaching film. It has been a while since we last met. Fifteen years or so. Good to see her again. Apparently in the past she has lived for years in the same house as Kevin, a member of the Enablers whom I met for the first time about four years ago, when I was on tour with Filiamotsa, one of “my” French bands, and recently in Amsterdam, when the Enablers played the Occii. And he is on the same bill as us tonight, with his solo-project Hazel Atlas. Small world.
I listen one more time to the tracks on my laptop, and go once more through all the lyrics. Why didn’t I write shorter ones? Would make things some times so much easier. At half past four Moe and I leave for The Uptown. A nice venue, which can hold about 200-250 people. Good atmosphere, friendly staff. Around six all fourteen of us are gathered there, ready for soundcheck. We get ourselves a burrito from across the street, our idea of a warm meal. We play tonight with the aforementioned Hazel Atlas, and a local five-piece called Esses. Both are good. And there is a decent crowd, 50 to 60 persons. There’s a lot of competition going on tonight, many big names playing concerts nearby. Considering the circumstances I am therefore happy with those 60.
The Collectiv Ensembl, consisting of all kinds of members of Moe’s projects from the past, takes the stage. As usual I’m kinda nervous beforehand. Lots of text which I have never played before, and not enough time to learn it by heart. So I carry them with me printed out on paper. Basically I am always nervous before a concert, even after more than 2,000 shows so far. So that shouldn’t worry me. It’s all part of the process of getting focussed. (In fact, when I am nót nervous, thát would make me réally nervous…) So there I stand, text in hand, together with an enormous amount of rather restless music with plenty of changes, breaks and cues. Four long pieces, 45 minutes in total. But it goes pretty well and we get a good response, even the owners of the club are enthusiastic. We can come back whenever we want. The bartender gives me a free beer, too. Cool.
We drive home, it’s past one.
Tomorrow our second show, in San Francisco.
My last day in the US.
On Sunday I fly home.
X 24 • BACK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL BILL
All I do is wake up at ten, realize it’s Saturday, get coffee and a bagel, and read some news on my computer. Otherwise… Apart from that… In a different way…
This morning I don’t do a thing,
there’s nothing worth to mention.
I can’t see what is the point, it is
beyond my present comprehension.
But… of course… I could…
Not sure, though, if I should.
For what’s the use of wasting time:
when I’m speechless, should I mime?
Why bother you, dear reader
with my nothingness designs?
With this, my non-oral editorial leader?
I hope that you can read between the lines:
if so, then skip the last thirteen of those,
if you like. (Well, I mean fourteen, I suppose.)
Today, tonight, is the second and final show with the Collectiv Ensembl. Moe gets in, he got up early, went to a yard-sale, some kind of weekly routine. for a little while I go through the texts and cues again for tonight’s show. That’s always helpful, just reading the stuff, certain little details suddenly stick in one’s memory. I can use that.
In the early afternoon we go for a walk in the cementary nearby. It’s beautiful, and massive, all the graves widely spread all over the fields, with long winding roads going through it. Shrubberies, trees, ponds. I guess it is as big as my home-town, the village I grew up in. And just as lively. I guess, that’s why I decided to go live in Amsterdam, when I started to study there, in my early twenties. In the village we had a soccer-club, a swimming-pool, and eh… well, eh… there were shops. but no decent café, no cinema, no restaurant, no bookshop, no theatre. So where to live, eh? Very. Difficult. Choice. Not.
We pick up Melne, switch cars, load some gear and the box with merch. We cross the East Bay Bridge, which gives a magnificant view on the San Francisco Bay and an on Alcatraz, the former prison built on a rock sticking out in the rural water. We enter San Francisco, with its new tower, the Buttplug Building as people name it, due to its shape, and apparently it is the highest building on the North-American West Coast.
The Bottom Of The Hill, I’ve been there before, once. In 2001. Cool venue that fits about 250 people. Friendly staff. Again three bands tonight. We play second. Preening first. A trio with bass, drums, saxophone/vocals. Victims Family headlines. Another trio. We experience some little trouble with the soundcheck, it’s rather darkish on stage, and I can’t properly see the Moe’s conductor signals and cues. (And I have a vague memory that also in 2001 the stage was quite badly lit. But why on earth do I actually remember this? No idea.) Bryan the sound-man brings the solution by installing an extra stage lamp after all. There is a dressing room, and some beers and pop in the fridge for everybody, hurray. The venue even has a kitchen, so we order something that has memories of pasta, and that’s okay by me.
Thumbs up for Moe, by the way. Quite impressive how he, once heard earlier this year that i would be in the US in August, managed to organize two shows, and two rehearsals, and collect no less than 14 musicians in total, who were willing to join and support him on this crazy ride.
We play well, better than the day before, and so is the response of the audience. About a mere 200 or so. I feel relieved. The shows went well, so I can end this travel on a high.Time enough to land again, though, for Victims Family play a strong yet pretty long and loud set, as usual.
We head home again. Back to Oakland, where we arrive at half past two. I more or less pack my things, take a shower, and crash. The alarm is set for 8 AM. Ouch.
Y 25 • THE END IS A BEGINNING
It’s my last few hours in Oakland, and I didn’t catch much sleep last night. Out of bed at 8. Toilet, bathroom, clean clothes. Clean clothes… kind of. I pack my bag, and we’re off at 8.30. Moe drives me to the airport, it saves me the horrible hassle of sorting out public transport. And then it’s goodbye. In no time I’m through customs. Waaaaay to early, so now the waiting begins. What does one do on airports, apart from spending money on food-fodder that makes you pay through the nose (so you won’t smell the shit you’re about to eat) and drinking coffees that are drowning in milk? Not much. So I do exactly that: not much. I watch. People.
The first stop is Minneapolis, a boring flight of two, three hours. The fatigue of four weeks of traveling and performing finally sinks in. The plane is full, but I’m not there. I read a book. I’ve had my share of company. In Minneapolis awaits another wait, more than four hours this time. I eat some sushi. Read my book.
A bigger plane this time. A bigger glass of wine. Same book. And next stop Amsterdam. We fly through the night, chopping the hours away. This part of the travel, eastwards that is, I don’t like so much, because I never manage to sleep. So I watch a movie or two, three. Four? Can’t tell, ‘cause I didn’t count and I can’t remember.
Monday 26th, around 1.30 in the afternoon, the plane touches the ground, safe and sound. I stumble out of the plane, walk my way to the trains… One stop, and I head for the metro station. Two stops, and it’s up the see-you-later escalator: and there we are, almost home again. 300 more meters and another tour has come to an end. I’m gonna have a Long Deep Sleep. Because it was rough and tough and amazing and a-blazing and sometimes uneatable, but, then again, most of all, very very very repeatable. For this kind of surplus Action is unBeatable… I’m tired as fuck, but hey, okay. geez… Next!
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Z 26 • ZZ ZZZ ZZZZ ZZZZZ
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