I finally have photos posted on the web of the Low Lows tour.
You can see them here.
Do the slideshow- then you get full captions and larger pictures.
Pictures I wish I had gotten but didn’t:
the “all-squid, all the time” meal in Cartagena. (surprisingly FANTASTIC.)
the Sacred Family Cathedral in Barcelona
the French Police driving away
one of the spanish hams from whence come all the sandwiches
any pictures at all of Camden Market
I dunno… a thousand others.
All of these photos were shot using one of these Casio Cameras, and boy do I want one now. They’re not THAT expensive. I will wait until after Xmas and see if I can pick one up cheap….
SteveAudio was kind enough to send a link this way talking about my recent jaunt in Europe with the Low Lows. Since hacking one’s way backwards through WordPress means that all entries display in reverse chronological order, I have compiled all of my blog entries from that trip into one page, which you can read here. It reads from top to bottom, so it’ll make more sense to read it that way.
and hanging with my dogs.
It’s good to be home. Yesterday’s flight was a breeze after flying over to the UK the same day I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. I even got a little sleep on the plane.
If you ever want to make a transatlantic flight go down nice and easy, grab a copy of the weekend Manchester Guardian. I didn’t have time to read the whole thing before wheels touched tarmac in Atlanta.
Customs was, as always, a pain in the ass and baffling at the same time. Walk through here, present your passport to this man, walk through there, get your luggage, walk through this checkpoint, present your passport again, walk past a bunch of bored and sleepy looking people who might want to search your luggage, but don’t really, then put your luggage back on a conveyor belt and walk through ANOTHER security checkpoint, removing shoes, glasses, belts, watches, wallet, cellphone, keys, and then proceed to baggage claim, to pick up your luggage a second time.
I am sure that if there was a better way to do this, someone would have suggested it by now, but lord GOD that’s annoying when I am tired.
Hurt my back a little bit hauling suitcases around, but other than that, I am not feeling any real effects of jetlag or all of the travel I have done. I could probably have slept all day today, but I am still on London time, mostly, so I was up at 7am.
My dogs are happy to see me, my wife doubly so. I have not seen the boys in Music Hates You yet, but that’s next on my list.
Thanks to Kim at Monotreme for an excellent tour. Thanks to Keef Duncan for driving us around. Thanks to the Hot Swinging Architects for making sure we had fun in London. Thanks to Vicky and David for being such excellent tour guides. Thanks to the Luminaire for being the best rock club on the east side of the Atlantic. Thanks to Parker and Daniel from the Low Lows for having me over, and Jeremy for graciously yielding his spot and teaching me all of the songs before I left.
Can’t wait to see you all again. We had such fun. Please stay in touch. I am going to go take a very hot bath and soak my old back.
Today was a classic touring day- we drove all day just to get home. We made it to Clermont-Ferrand in France. This is a Michelin town- they make a lot of the tires here. It wasn’t much to look at in the dark.
The high point of the day and the low point were just minutes apart- we drove across the highest bridge in the world. The thing was astonishingly tall. Even in the dark it was disconcerting to be up that high. We decided to drive down into the valley and have a meal in the town of Millau.
At the only bistro open at that hour, Keef and I had steak frites and Daniel had some sort of pasta thing. Afterwards, we went to drive to the foot of the massive bridge so we could look up and gape. This whole trip, Keef has been saying what a pain in the ass the police can be in South France. Sure enough, we got pulled over on the way to the bridge. I found it extremely disconcerting to be barked at in a language I speak badly under the best of circumstances. I did my best to handle them like I have handled US cops in the past- give them what they ask for, volunteer pertinent information and keep them engaged, all the while making good eye contact. They were plainclothes National Police.
The whole time, I had this impression that they weren’t real cops and that any second we were going to be shaken down for a bribe, but as we finally drove away Keef said that that’s just the way that the National Police in France present themselves- no visible badges, no guns, unmarked Renault. The only indication that I had that I wasn’t just dealing with some thug was that he had a maglight, a buddy who had the same maglight, a floppy patch that said “Police Nationale” in a wallet next to a photo ID that I could barely see in the dark, and he had shoes on that no Frenchman would ever wear unless he had to. French guys just don’t do clunky-black by choice.
The whole thing took about ten minutes, and I just kept talking to them in my nervous French and handing them documents and bags that they hadn’t asked for in order to keep them busy. I find that if I do these things with as angelic a look on my face as I can muster, all the while asking completely innocuous questions, hoping that the police would just get tired of taking things from me and answering insipid questions. Imagine spending an entire evening shaking down a guy who keeps looking you directly in the eye and saying “So, do you need my work permit as well? I have six copies- and the original is down at the bottom of this bag. Here- you can look through the bag… while I try to find that permit…. is this copy clear enough? Oh, look, here’s another…”
Actually, considering the state of my French when I am nervous, what I probably said was “So, sir, do you need my tractor certificate? I have sex. Down at the bottom of this bag is a pack of small birds. Hear that? You can see all sorts of things down there in these bags. I will fly to St. Tropez in the meantime… How’s the weather? Oh, look, your mom called.”
They probably let us go because they didn’t have the facilities to deal with a crazy person. Especially a chatty one.
French cops. What a pain.
As they drove away, Keef said “Right, next time, DON’T ‘bon soir!’ the police. They hate that.”
After that, we stood under the tallest bridge in the world, looking up at one of Man’s greatest engineering marvels, and all I could think was “God, what a pain in the ass that was. Fuckers.”
The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. Days like this are when glam metal bands write those godawful songs about how much touring sucks. Sure, driving is the worst part of traveling, and touring is 75% driving, but don’t ferfuckssake write songs about it…. you just sound like a whiner.
Tomorrow, we are going to Versailles. Keef corrected me. Today was just the day to close some of the gap between us and London.
As we drove, we had a long discussion about an unnamed band who stole a six foot inflatable banana from a venue where they had played, then got into a world of trouble about it. The venue had been incredibly shitty to them, so they took their revenge by stealing their banana. Then, apparently, there was a whole shitstorm of the club calling the band’s manager and demanding that the banana be returned (What wouldn’t you give to have a recording of THAT call?) and the band has been forced to deny any knowledge ever since.
I am only telling you this because I think that the band should put the banana on the cover of their next record. The title?
“Banana non grata”
I crack me up.
Tonight we are back in Barcelona. Originally we had a show here, but because of time constraints and travel issues for Parker, we handed it off to our friends in Barzin. I think we are going to try and get down to see their show, but we have to go uptown to pick up a load of amps and a Rhodes piano that The Low Lows left here before, so it might not be possible.
Last night in Cartagena was our last show in Spain, the last show of the tour and my last show with the Low Lows. Keef, Daniel and I are going to drive back to London at a human (read: not exhausting) pace, maybe go see the palace at Versailles tomorrow.
Cartagena is the consummate port town. It’s the gateway to much of the southern hemisphere for a good portion of Western Europe, so there are boats and piers and huge monuments to the shipping industry and sailors EVERYWHERE. I would have thought that a port town would have had a little bit wilder nightlife, but Stereo, the club where we played, was full of a handful of sleepily drunk guys in suits. They were real lumps, too. Not my favorite crowd for whom to play a show.
The drive today was through hundreds of miles of citrus orchards. It’s about to be time to pick all of the oranges. There were millions of them, and I got to craving oranges TERRIBLY after five hours of watching them roll by outside the window. There is some sort of labor issue with the citrus pickers here- I could see graffiti spray painted all around the town of Valencia, both pro-worker and anti-immigrant.
Tonight, we went out to eat at our Regular Spot here in Barcelona- a really nice Turkish Kebab shop. I have trouble believing that I have a “Regular Spot” in Barcelona. How insane is that? Daniel and I even have a favorite table.
I also have a bus that is “my bus” home from Soho in London. This has been the most remarkable experience.
I am on the roof of the Chinese Cat Hotel (Gat Xino in Catalan) enjoying someone else’s wireless network and looking at the mountains in the distance. I am in the middle of a forest of tv antennas, which are silhouetted against a purple sky. I can hear the odd “bah-dee-dah” of the Barcelona Ambulance Service sirens every now and then on far off streets, but other than that, it’s silent up here. It’s Sunday night, so the city is mostly asleep.
This is a nice last night in Spain. I love this country, and I have really enjoyed this tour, but I miss my friends and I miss my home. I most especially miss my wife and my dogs.
I still have a few days of travel left to get back to London. I will probably see some more amazing sights, even, but the work of this tour is over, and honestly, it’s the work that I love.
I will spend a few days in London, hopefully seeing Stonehenge and some of Vicky’s dad’s amazing old cars, but I can’t wait to get back to my lovely wife, my house, my dogs, Music Hates You and my job.
I am hoping to get Music Hates You over here some time in 2007. I think that they’ll enjoy getting their minds blown by Europe. I hope I can get a nice big chunk of leave time saved at work, so we can just do it and not have to worry about finagling my off time.
Right now, I just want to go to bed, get up and start driving back towards Blighty and Kim from Monotreme’s cozy little house, where I can pass a couple of days before I jet home to our little farmhouse and get to sleep in the same bed as my beautiful wife.
You’ve been a lovely audience. Thank you very much.
::Update:: It’s three am in Barcelona, and this is how I know- there are clock towers in every direction, and they are all striking at once. Amazing. Wish you were here.
This morning I woke up to the sound of children playing in the courtyard outside the window of the monastery. The building looked completely different in daylight. It must be 400 years old. The whole town up at the end where we slept is very old, and the buildings are made of white stone or concrete. It’s so gorgeous.
I took a quick shower and made my way downstairs. The street was lined with ten foot orange trees, all of which were thick with ripe oranges. I would have picked a couple, except that stretched for half a mile in front of me was the Benissa Saturday Market- there were stalls full of Valencia oranges, local grapefruits and clementinas. It would have been rude to just reach up and pick someone else’s fruit. Also in the market were stalls full of clothes, cheeses, sweets, bags of coffee, loaves of bread, even some hardware and cooking utensils. It was amazing.
We sat down to have breakfast at a café right on the town square. We were joined by some of the nice people from the night before, one of whom was the guy who showed me to the Monastery last night. We talked as much as we could make ourselves understood about the International Brigades and the Hospital. They call them “las Brigadistas,” and they feel a tremendous kinship with the Americans who came to fight for Spain’s freedom and against fascism. It’s such an amazing experience to talk about something about which I feel so strongly with someone whose grandfather lived it. As we were waiting for coffee, the bells in the town square began to ring to announce midday. They were gorgeous and tremendously loud. As they were ringing in the noon hour, my new friend leaned in to me and practically had to shout “It’s like the bell de Philadelphia.”
I didn’t know what he meant at first. Then I realized- “You mean the Liberty Bell!”
And he nodded vigorously “Yes! Libertad! America! Like the Liberty Bell… and the Brigadistas!”
Oh, it’s nothing… I must have just gotten something in my eye…
Minutes later there was a tremendous BANG in the town square and all of the Americans jumped a foot. La Banda de Pere Bigot (which is actually a first and last name… there’s more about them here) was cranking up to walk through the streets and play music in celebration of the Feast of St Cecilia (I think). Marching bands in Spain announce their approach by throwing around these fireworks that are louder than a shotgun going off. Once everyone is thoroughly startled, they march around playing. It was kind of cool, except that there were three sleepy and slightly sick Americans and one Englishman who kept jumping a foot and a half every time one of those bastards set off another M80.
After our little breakfast, we went walking in the oldest part of the city and saw the old city wall. I love the look of Benissa. Looking up from the narrow brick streets, there are hundreds of tall, white buildings framing a deep blue sky. Parker took lots of pictures. I will post them as soon as I can.
Oh, my…. all hail Benissa. This is my favorite town so far on the tour, and talk about a fountain of information on the Spanish Civil War. We staying in an old converted monastery which was also the official hospital of the International Brigades in Spain. Seriously. The whole town is very proud of it. You can imagine how excited I am about this.
This town is 500 years old. The people here are extremely proud of their history, in particular La Guerra Civil. This place is so amazing. I can’t wait to bring Lisa back here.
The Low Lows played at the local Cultural Arts Center. This building houses a bar and tapas restaurant, a theater that shows both Spanish and Catalan productions, and another half dozen or so rooms for hosting parties or live shows like the one we played tonight.
The promoters were a group called Cream Pop, and neither of them spoke much English at all. In fact, there was only one person fluent in English all night. The other band was called The Grave Yacht Club and they totally LOOKED like a bunch of southern boys and they played like the Flying Burrito Brothers. It was disconcerting when they started talking to us in broken English and heavily Catalan accented Spanish. (They were all maniacs, by the way. They drank like Spaniards and smoked like Turks- they were a rolling party.) We had such fun tonight.
Tonight all of the Low Lows are hanging out listening to George Jones and talking about our girlfriends and wives. I think we’re ready to go home….
A little sleep can make a huge difference. We stayed at the Madrid Pop Hostel, which was a standard Hostel- four bunk beds and a rudimentary shower. After the Hotel Formula One, it seemed like paradise. Of course, we got there at 3 am and they had given our room to someone else, so they went and kicked them out. The internet wasn’t working and the room was cold, but it was better than Hotel Formula One, and it was out of the weather. I got some sleep, and dawn broke bright and dry in Madrid.
I was able to get on the internet for a minute this morning before someone noticed that we were stupidly late, so we hustled out the door to the van. We were able to stop and eat a sandwich and I got directions from the waiter on how to work the strange protocol of Madrid banks- I had to check all of my metal objects into a small locker once I was inside the first bank door. When I closed the locker, I walked away with a small key. I then stood in front of a bullet proof revolving door and pressed a button. After an annoyingly long interval, the door opened and let me into the limbo lock before another bulletproof door opened. I was then able to enter the bank, It took me about fifteen minutes to change the band’s stash of pounds into euros.
Daniel is sicker than Parker got, and Parker got pretty sick. He was too miserable to eat breakfast, and has been asleep in the van ever since. Keef’s van is making good time today- much better than yesterday. It’s a shame that we had the worst day of the tour in the prettiest city on the tour so far. Touring life is like that, though. No matter how gorgeous a city is, how important the show is or how excited you SHOULD be to be in a city, when you’re tired, hungry, your clothes stink and you’re sick and exhausted, who cares? There are essential elements of human happiness that make it very difficult to enjoy much of anything in their absence.
I’ll come back to Madrid and it will be better. It really is a gorgeous city and the people were incredibly friendly. Ask any Spaniard about the Spanish Civil War and a fountain of new information springs forth. The promoter of last night’s show walked me out to the boulevard and pointed in the directions of the various neighborhoods that were destroyed by German and Italian bombs when Madrid was holding off the fascist assault. Franco had predicted that Madrid would fall in three months. The Madrillenos held out for three years. “¡No Pasarån!”
Today is bright, clear and cool and Keef is making some time on the way to Alicante. Our discussion of the fascist bombing of Madrid turned to the same fascists bombing London three years later. We considered how London endured a year or more of steady bombing and refused to capitulate to the Nazis. Contrast to the hysteria into which America collapsed after 9/11. Discuss….
I hope that I didn’t give anyone the impression yesterday that the tour was going miserably. It just sucked yesterday, but we prevailed. We were in good enough spirits as we were leaving Madrid to appreciate how lucky we are to be here. One bad show does not a bad tour make.
Spain is gorgeous. Parker is right about the plains and piedmont of Spain looking like West Texas and the Fronterra Region of Mexico. There are vistas where we can see for miles. It’s mostly flat, with some gentle rolling hills. I think I understand why it was so hard for the Fascists to take Madrid. Flat, scrubby and open country is hard country to march an army across, especially when there were a few freelance American pilots hanging out just to give the fascists some hell.
There are loads of olive orchards by the road here. I can’t believe this rocky soil would support much of anything, but there they are. Olive farmers prune the branches of the trees back and the trunks get massively thick. The really old trees sort of remind me of fat men with lunatic combovers. The younger trees are really gorgeous and sturdy looking. They remind me that I need to get home and prune my grape vines and peach trees.
All of this open space inspired me to put on some Marty Robbins. I am listening to “El Paso.” My dad really loves this song. He loves any song that tells a sad story. Must be genetic…
The Low Lows are two loads of laundry, a hot meal, some open wi-fi and eight hours of sleep away from pure bliss.
You may recall from my last entry a brief description of the Worst Hotel in the World™. I have some shocking news.
It’s a chain. And guess where we stayed when we stopped in Bilbao last night.
Yep. You betcha. It’s called the Hotel Formula One. I have no idea why, but I can speculate…
Formula One cars are stripped down to the bare essentials, mostly plastic, cramped, uncomfortable and only dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, however, not somewhere you’d want to spend more time than it takes to drive the Indy 500. Certainly not somewhere you’d want to lie down and sleep.
Ditto the hotel.
Same lavatory setup- separate closets down the hall from the room, but this one had an extra-special treat: No paper in any of the dumpers on the second floor. I’d rather not go into detail about how I discovered this. Really. I never want to think about it again.
Each room comes with one towel the perfect size for drying dishes, the same highway-ramp bed setup, and just enough room to open a suitcase and turn around.
Parker has taken ill and has a cough like someone banging two large PVC pipes together. Daniel is getting the same cold. The last two days have been spent entirely in the van and driving, except for the brief break to run around Paris and get filmed. This tour has been perfect so far- it’s been all fun, the right amount of time on and time off, but since we left the UK we have been driven like mules- we are all getting sick and very tired. I have been battling irritability and fatigue and trying to be a gentleman, but tonight when we got lost in Madrid I snapped at everyone. BUT we were SO LOST. God, it was agonizing. We drove around in circles for an hour and half in a town where the street signs are legible from four feet away, and the accent is almost impossible for me to understand. I finally worked out that we were supposed to turn left, not right where the directions told me to turn right… I mean, I understand- I get left and right mixed up in Spanish all the time, which is what I think happened to the guy who gave me the directions.
It poured rain on us all day after last night’s less-than-restful sleep in Hotel Formula Pain and we drove for seven hours in it. At one point coming down the moutnain from Burbos, Keith thought we were going to die. There were huge trucks everywhere, the rain was dumping on us and the wind was rocking the van from side to side. After that, we were stuck on the perimeter road around Madrid for an hour and a half, then we got into town and started driving around in circles, everyone sick, everyone tired, me being pissy because I was trying to read the map and the directions and oh, shit…. this was not the best day.
Then, we got to the club and Parker’s guitar amp caught on fire. No, really. Big could of smoke, fire, burning… We managed to put it out and fix the problem. Then the other amp burned a fuse and we had to search out a replacement fuse…. it’s been a shit day.
And, oh, yeah, five people showed up for the show.
Every tour has bad moments. We just happened to have all of ours in one day.
I am sitting in the dressing room, and this really nice guy named Alberto is here and he is telling Daniel how great our show was. It was good to finally play. That’s the ironclad law of touring, by the way- the quality of the band’s show is inversely proportionate to the number people in the club. (This ratio is compounded exponentially the further the band is from home.)
Now I just want to go the hotel here in Madrid (please god, let it be nice….) and get some sleep.