US/Europe 2012 tour diary
Arrived in LA after 13.5 hour flight on a United 747-400. I was in 19C sitting next to a nice couple who were dressed goth / newage / hippy, introduced themselves as a musician couple. The lady was Wendy Rule from Melbourne. They were on the way to Reno where the boyfriend's family has a ranch. She was reading a book during the flight called "Finding Your Inner Light." They had veg meals ordered but the airline only brought one.
None of the movies seemed worth watching. I read Mojo, Word, Uncut front to back then half of an Iain Banks novel, along with 5 or 6 red wines, before taking a couple of triazolam pills and falling asleep. Recovering from a cold, I tried to hide coughing as much as possible, not wanting to be quarantined on arrival as a possible SARS case. Woke up 3 hours before landing. Sweet!
Art and Steve picked me up at the airport. Anne's flight arrived from New York shortly after, we picked her up and headed south to Long Beach on the 405. First stop was the Godoy warehouse, where we began to sort out our gear and merch. We got a new totally black Dodge Challenger from Enterprise. Of all the new cars it looks the most classic, like old Mopar stuff but a little too thick in the vertical. It looks like a car that guys would steal and go on a crime spree.
Danny came over on his bike and we went to Jalisco's for dinner. Typically great. Tacos pastor and asada. Camerones diabla. Pacifico beer. Art tells of the time when asked to change a large bill, the guy pulls out a gun and a bag of money from behind the counter, makes change, smiles, says "Thees ain't no Taco Bell" and laughs.
We practice the songs at Steve's warehouse / tattoo machine factory. Behind the factory is an alley and behind the alley is a little castle. It has parapets and towers, etc, very crudely made from what appears to be plywood. It looks like a child might have designed it. It is brightly lit with green and red light. It is …. the "Fantasy Castle" ! A low end strip joint where Art and Steve like to go for the chicken sandwiches, which apparently are the only quality items the place has to offer.
For the rest of the tour, "going out for chicken sandwiches" takes on a new meaning.
On the way home we went by a place called Porky's BBQ. Steve said he hadn't tried it but it must be pretty good because he'd seen a 300 pound black lady walking out of there with 4 bags of takeout.
APRIL 26 - COFFEE BEAN, AND OUR FAN
Anne and I got up, twins already out and busy. Looking for caffeine, we rode bikes down to Second Av where there are lots of shops. We found one called "The Coffee Bean and The Tea Leaf". It was a typical early 2000's coffee shop with fake old wood chairs, papers and magazines. They call out a cheery greeting when you enter. That can be a mistake since tired people, before they have had their coffee, tend to be unappreciative of perky people. The place had free wifi of course and a few people with bald heads and trim Lenin beards and glasses were sitting around, with the cold white light of the apple logo framed in silvery rectangles shining here and there. We got cappuccinos, but since they make everything too big here, even if you order the smallest, that generally means too much foamed milk. This throws off the espresso to milk ratio. So to compensate you have to get double shots of espresso. It turned out that it was plenty strong that way, to the point of slight nausea by the end of the cup. I left a half inch at the bottom and went out into the headache-bright sunshine.
One morning in Denver at the end of a 4 week tour across the USA, during which Rob Younger had bitched about the lousy coffee in America the whole time, I went with John to one of these coffee shops. He was sharing a hotel room with Rob, and was bringing him back a takeout coffee. He ordered a latte (called "flat white" in Australia) with 4 extra shots … yes, four extra. Rob commented later in the van on the way to the airport: "That was a bloody good coffee for a change!"
We pedaled the bikes to the beach and then went north along the trail ending up on a pier across from the decommissioned atlantic liner Queen Mary, parked there since 1967. We took photos of the Queen Mary. A seal popped up its head from the murky water, looked at us, disappeared. Did I really see that? Yes! I forgot sunscreen and got a mild dose of radiation.
Went home to Steve's house on Livingston St. and changed guitar strings. The guys showed up with bags of food from the Valu-Plus market. We fired up the grill for lunch of porterhouse steaks, sausages and asparagus.
At band practice we were at a rehearsal space called, knowingly, "The Backline". I plugged the Sovtek head into the backline quad box. The amp seemed excessively loud, and got louder as we went along. I started with it on 2, then went down to 1 and it was still too loud! I had a closer look at the volume control and counted the gradations, noting for the first time, this amp goes up to … 13! Those zany Russians! Maybe, in retrospect, I had mismatched the impedance into the borrowed quad.
All during the practice we were at first amused then a little concerned by the antics of a giant cockroach. He ran back and forth, visiting each band member. He tried to mount the equipment several times. When Art sang "Lets Go!" the big brown bug ran straight to him from across the studio and tried to get up his leg. He then climbed the wall behind me, leaning over as if wanting to jump. I've had some unpleasant experiences with these guys before, so I'm always a bit sketchy around them. I had one try desperately to get up my nose once, while I was sleeping. It all became a bit much. So, we get out to the car, and there he was, trying to get in the car! He must have rode out on the equipment or on a bag. We took off, leaving our fan in the parking area to find food, and hopefully avoid being food … by the crows watching from above.
APRIL 27 - FIRST SHOWS
We drove the Challenger to Hollywood, walked around on Hollywood Boulevard. It is a weird mixture of cool old stuff and modern sleaziness. It still seems local … not taken over by the big chain stores, at least on the east end of it. Headed down Sunset past the Ralph's, where John Needham has been known to amuse himself by watching psychotics wander in after 2am. Looked for the Hyatt (Riot ) House Hotel where the Stooges lived, and where Ron used to spend the early hours of the morning at the bar hanging out with Robert Mitchum. Couldn't find it … they either tore it down, or remade it into something else. Like the Stooges, and everything else, nothing lasts forever.
Headed out of Hollywood west on Sunset, through Beverly Hills and Century City to the 405, then the short climb up into the hills to the Getty Center. You park and then take a little train ride to the gallery, which sits on a high clifftop overlooking LA. It's all free to the public, the most beautiful place with a mind boggling art collection, all paid for and maintained privately by the Getty oil fortune. It's better than any publicly funded museum I've seen. Spent an hour looking at amazing paintings and soaking up the view and the marvelous architecture. Had to choose between paintings and eating … paintings won.
We headed over to TKO Records in Huntington. TKO was a label that had a small store. Now it's a small store that has a small independent record label. On Fridays they provide free pizza and people hang out. We did a short set. Much enthusiasm from a packed house. Some collectors brought shopping bags full of records and posters for me to sign. They bought a TON of merch. Merch flew off the merch table, like a flock of seagulls if someone at the beach drops a bag of chips... TKO had some great used vinyl in the $0.99 to 4.99 bins, but I only had time for a superficial look, and didn't buy anything. We have a long ride ahead. Gotta keep the bag light!
Came back to the Long Beach house, took a short nap on the couch.
Tonight's show was at the Blue Cafe …. a typical dive in downtown Long Beach. We walked in while the opening band was on. The Hitchhikers … pretty solid aggressive rock and roll. Anne set up the merch stand, and we sorted the gear. I came out after a while to see how Anne was doing, and saw Heather Harris the famous rock photographer was there with Jimmy Recca (ex-Stooges and New Order …. he filled in on bass with the Stooges for a short stint when both Ronny and James were on guitars.) Jimmy looked pretty well, considering. Much better than the last time I had seen him, and that is not saying much, but was cheery. Photos and drinks all around.
The set was fun … low stage volume, so could hear the vocals great. The few stoked fans yelled loud enough that we came back on and played Hand of Law and Aloha. They sang along! Heather took some good photos. After drying off and sorting gear, I made it to the bar which was closed, but the good bartender made me a very stiff vodka and soda water which I needed and appreciated. Hauled stuff up the stairs, to the van.
Out in the street after the show, got Philly Cheese steaks at a faux 50's diner called Johnny Rockets. The waitress asked "Cheddar, swiss or pepper jack?" I said "Cheez Whiz", which anyone should know is the correct answer for a proper philly cheese steak … she just looked confused so then I said "pepper jack". It was good anyway.
APRIL 28 - PUNK ROCK PIKNIK AND MY POMONA
We got in the white van and headed south to Irvine, made a wrong turn and ended up heading back into Orange before correcting our course. The van finally found its way out from civilization up into dry hills, covered in sparse scrub brush, tumbleweed and mesquite. The road skirted a lake, then, following signs, we ended up at a small empty field where there was a guy collecting $10 for parking. Ominously, there were very few cars parked there. Art rolled down the window, said "we're in one of the bands", and the guy pointed off to the left. A few hundred meters down the road found us at the place where the band vehicles park. It was crowded. Guys in skinny jeans and black T-shirts carrying amps and bits of drum kits aimlessly back and forth. There were ten times more band vehicles than audience cars. Behind fencing, we could see the back of the twin stages, and beyond that a few food, beer and merch stalls. There was a loud continuous noise from the stage area similar to chain saws, with a snappy polka beat on the drums. I have always found it amusing that these so-called hard core punk bands love to use the 2/4 polka beat which, to me, seems like one of the most lightweight and brainless things in the world. A couple of guys walked by in huge mohawks, with shiny lacquered spikes 4 inches across at the base and about 2 feet long, sporting 3 inch earlobe plugs, with the anomalous combination of board shorts, combat boots, and long droopy wallet chains. Where does this fashion sense come from? I ask myself. We wonder how they even got here because it would be impossible to ride in a vehicle with that apparatus on one's head.
We drove around, found nowhere near the stage to park. Drove back. Asked security guys, who said "Oh, you need to be at the other end of the festival" and directed us to a jeep trail which looped around the area. We drove there, found a small parking area, miles from the main stage. No, that couldn't be it. We drove back, found a gate behind the main stage which was locked and wired shut. Drove back to the main entrance, asked again. The security guys said, "call Steve Smith - the promoter". But no ones' phones got any reception. Finally after waiting around a while in the hot sun Steve Smith by chance wandered by. We told him we needed to get our gear to the stage. He says "Oh fer christ sakes", and personally began to remove the wires from the gate with a leatherman tool. Finally gets the gate open, we drive in. Justin, a friend, is here to help us with the gear.
We set up in a little tent canopy. There was no stage management, no direction, no schedule posted, no catering, not even water. We just found a spot and took it over. Tuned and retuned, the guitars heating up and warping in the sun, but the lucite Dan Armstrong, a clear plexiglass guitar was actually pretty good about that…heat and sunlight goes right through it. Finally we went on, directed to play 25 minutes. The sound was good. Anne took photos … It looked like there were about 12 people actually watching us at the front of the big stage. Others wandered around, looking confused by us. No polka beat, and vocals were more or less sung, not screamed. I guess they thought we, or they, were at the wrong festival. I said into the mike: "We played at a blues festival up in Canada once … we weren't blues, either". No one got the joke.
We couldn't leave right away, as we had to find Steve Smith to get paid. Steve Smith was nowhere to be found.
The band after us, The Mentors, wore black executioners masks and hoods. All their songs were about their genital or excretory organs, and about many exceedingly heinous things they wanted to do to women. It was tedious. Then a thing happened which I found truly amazing. After they finished, their singer came back onstage as the next band was already starting. He said, "You want this crap or do you want us to come back and play MORE! No discernible reaction from the audience. Then he bellows: WELL ALL RIGHT THEN! And they came back for an encore and started playing again at the same time as the next band had already started their first song. They played right over the top of them. In all the festivals I have played over 4 decades I've never seen this happen. It's a complete faux pas and the height of rudeness and disrespect. But, there was no stage director to prevent it, and no one in the crowd seemed to mind, or even notice, that there were two bands playing at the same time.
We're sitting in the sun, summer breeze, nice. It would be relaxing under other circumstances. Bugs flying around, oblivious to the noise. A lady bug landed on my face. Anne took a picture of it. Justin comes running up. "Dudes, there's free ice cream!" Off go Art and Steve with Justin. A few minutes later they arrived back at the tent. Anne took a picture of them with their multicolored ice cream bars.
We finally ran into Steve Smith. It was clear that the festival was going to be a financial disaster. He gave us $500 instead of the guarantee $700. We didn't care. We felt sorry for him.
We took off, electing not to stay for the headliners: Fear, and Jello Biafra. Jello is a nice fellow, I had met him before in San Francisco and we communicated by e-mail. But we had had enough of the Punk Rock Piknik.
We headed into Orange to eat at Jalisco's. Caldo Pollo, tacos al pastor and a Pacifico beer. Then home to Long Beach to rest up. I took a nap. We got up about 9pm and got ready. Headed out in the white van up the 605 to the 10, then east for about an hour. We got to Pomona and "Characters Sports Bar". The second of four bands was playing garage punk music, in a side lot open to the cool night air. Inside the bar itself was salsa disco. Anne set up the merch table. We hung out in the white van, there being no band room to change in. That band finished, and another band set up. It was the Hitchhikers, who we had seen the previous night. They were good again. We sat around outside, the most interesting thing being a taco stand set up on the sidewalk outside the venue. Some old Mexican guys were running it. Authentic. It smelled great. I was hoping they'd still be grilling when we finished playing and luckily they were!!
I asked "Gonzo" the promoter how long we could play. He said "play as long as you like". I said, "OK, how about an hour". He said "great". As we were setting up I was happy to see my old friend Kim Cooper there. She was with her partner, an attractive asian lady. I've known Kim since she was a 15 year old aspiring rock journalist in the mid 80's. She's written books, edited magazines, and started the famous "Black Dahlia Bus Tour" of crime and noir sites around LA, which she still runs. We played our set, and then because of lateness, got the plug pulled, so there was no encore. Gonzo gave us some cash, saying "Here's the $250 you made." We drove back to Long Beach at 3am, with traffic still piled up on the 10. When we got home, I counted the cash. $230.
APRIL 29 - Shook Down
This was Sunday. We got in the white van and headed south on the 405 to the 5. Past Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, San Onofre … Art and Steve used to surf there, just offshore by the outlet pipes from the nuclear power station there. They say the water was a degree warmer. It was cold and rainy, with gunmetal grey swells rolling in under dark overcast. There was a piteous looking group of 3 or 4 demonstrators outside the plant with signs: "No Fukushima Here!" Meanwhile about a dozen surfers were waiting for waves out past the break.
We headed south passing Camp Pendleton on our right, the ocean on our left, and took the Palomar Airport Road exit at Carlsbad. Passing a giant flower field and "Legoland", we pulled up at the DC Skate Ramp.
The ramp is private training ground to world famous champion skaters on the DC team, including Danny Way who jumped over the great wall of China on a skateboard. Danny wasn't there, but Australian X-Games champion Jake Brown was. We met Jake and watched him practice on the massive ramp … vertical drops of 2 or three stories, and catching huge air … often soaring 15 feet or more above the rail. Jake said he wanted to see our show, so we put him on the list and gave him some merch. We had Anne take a photo of Jake flying over me, Art and Steve.
Art and Steve skated a little, but not having helmets or knee protectors, did not take it to the vertical. There was a little kid there … he looked about 3 feet tall, doing sick verticals on the ramp … a child prodigy. Jake was giving him some pointers as we left.
We found the Shakedown Bar, in a pretty unpleasant part of San Diego between Mission Bay Park and the freeway. We parked at the back, walked in. The first band was already finished, and were tearing down their gear. The tiny bar was pretty high on the sleaze scale, the sort of place where you don't really want to touch anything. Just being in there makes you want to take a shower. There were about six people sitting at the bar, taking no notice of us.
The guy out the front had BBQ'd some undifferentiated pieces of meat on a grill which looked years overdue for cleaning. Art and Steve took a piece each, put it in a tortilla, and chowed down on it. Anne and I politely declined.
We waited around, walked to a Starbucks, got coffee. It was cold, so the twins went to a CVS and bought hoodies. We headed back to the place. The second band of three booked to play, did not show up. The booker thought we should wait a while for the crowd to show up. We waited, but by the time we were supposed to play there were only ten people there. The guy asked us to play anyway, was ready to give us the $500 guarantee, but we decided to cancel. It wouldn't be right to take his money, under these circumstances. He offered us $100 for petrol. We said "No, thats OK" and got in the white van, and headed north. Back in Long Beach, ate at the Gourmet Thai across the road. I had the lemon grass grilled chicken and prawn salad.
MAY 12 - Recording
We decided to take advantage of the band being in Billings, to record a couple of tracks at Bob Brown's. The idea is to have a new vinyl single ready for the next tour, since vinyl is the only recorded format that still sells.
We picked up the twins at their hotel. They are staying at the Holiday Inn "Montana Grand" which is off King Ave down by the I-90 overpass. They could have hung out at Bob Brown's, but they needed their own place where they could bring "chicken sandwiches" back to the room. The euphemism seems to have stuck and now all girls are known as chicken sandwiches.
We were ready for breakfast, realizing we needed to eat on the way to Bob's about 3 in the afternoon. We stopped for take-out at the Arby's on Grand, got the triple cheese and bacon Angus sandwich, fries, and what they call a "garden salad" which consisted of bits of shredded lettuce and orange coloured processed cheese shavings. After drowning that stuff in Ranch Dressing, you definitely do not need to eat for a whole other day, so that was breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in one sitting.
We rehearsed the new songs for the single, a Roky Erickson cover "Bermuda", and a new song of mine, "Calendar Girls". We went over the tunes about ten times each, then we were ready for Bob, who got off work about 5.30, came over, broke out a couple of bottles of Penfolds Bin 28, and hit the record button. Mort says: "95 % of recording is hitting "record"." Bermuda is pretty straightforward, we did it like Roky's single. The challenging part of that of course is the singing....I dont have the range for it. In Calendar Girl, we switched the beat around a few times, sort of got a Bo Diddley thing happening. It needed something for the middle 8 bars. Art suggested getting Anne to say something in French ... we made her leave her computer and get in front of the mike. She came up with some great lines on the spot which suited the song perfectly. It was fun, we were laughing and throwing hi-fives. I'm willing to try anything in recording, and sometimes something out of left field works so well it takes you by surprise ... that was one of those moments.
We were done tracking by 9.30. Dropped the guys off, stopped at Albertsons on the way home to pick up meat for tomorrow's BBQ, then back to the Little Trailer.