Now that I’m back from ‘yurp and had some time to get over the jet lag, let’s look back on my overseas sojourn in words, video, and crappy cell phone pictures! I spent a couple of weeks trekking across the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland with my Voodoo Rhythm Records labelmate Urban Junior. Since both of us have new albums on Voodoo Rhythm to promote, we did a package tour: me and Urban Junior every night.I’m dividing the whole sordid tale into two posts, so you can waste even more time reading about me having fun while you were stuck at home.
Our journey begins with… an exciting layover in the Atlanta airport! More thrills after the jump!
I arrive in Schiphol airport outside of Amsterdam, and the first thing I hear is that “All About That Bass” song. Culture is America’s #1 export! That’s why I’m here.Then I head to Groningen, the city in the Netherlands that is the home of Robert Stipje, my booking agent and the high-powered CEO of Kiss n’ Run booking. He has booked numerous tours for me over the years, but he has also booked POPULAR bands like The Black Lips and Nobunny. The “Stipje” comes from his days of being a rocker, himself, with Dutch punks The Stipjes, who had some records on Rip Off.
Today, Robert is smart enough to leave the actual touring to fools like me. He sits back and collects his HUGE booking fees just for sending a few emails, while I bust my hump sweating bullets every night on the road. Smart dude.
To help me adjust, Robert takes me out for a night of jet-lag drinking in Groningen, which quickly ends up looking like this: We stop by a local club and what do we see YET ANOTHER ONE MAN BAND JESUS CHRIST PLEASE SHOOT ME. But thankfully, this guy Robbing Banks ain’t too shabby. I’ll end up playing with him later in the tour, in Utrecht. The next morning I am hungover AND jet-lagged so I’m in a perfect mental condition to re-assemble my doubleneck guitar and go through Robert’s trove of band equipment to try to re-create my one man band apparatus. This is what I hate the most about touring overseas – if only my European fans could hear me with my own guitar amp and carefully assembled one man band setup. As it is, I just have to make do with what I can put together once I arrive. Luckily, Robert provides coffee in the form of this ancient Rube Goldberg-esque coffee maker. Then, it’s off to the first show in Antwerp. We leave in the morning, and rather than stopping for some terrible fast food for lunch, we pause in the middle of a sunlit meadow and Robert makes me a sandwich while horses frolic in the background. What a guy! The first show in Antwerp is with Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks, from Memphis. Me, Jack, and Robert go way back, as Robert was the merch man on my very first trip to Europe, the Revelators/Oblivians tour in 1997 back when I was just a wee lad. Jack is still rockin’, I’m still rockin’, Robert is still enabling our rockin’.
Luckily, ample refreshment is provided. This is why I like touring in Europe. Clubs don’t treat you like this in the states. Robert and I watch Jack Oblivian.Yeesh, we’re pale enough to pass as English gangsters: Jack O onstage in Antwerp! Jack and the Sheiks have already been out for over a month, so they are tight as hell. Me, this is my first show, using Urban Junior and Robert’s equipment that I cobbled together, so I am definitely not tight as hell.
What of this Urban Junior character, you ask? Well, he has his shit TOGETHER. Here’s some video of Urban at work, just so you get a taste of what I’m up against on this tour:
We will switch off, some nights I play first, some nights I follow Urban Junior. I will come to find that Urban plays pretty much the same set every night, and he has it down to a SCIENCE. Me, my sets can be a chaotic shambling mess by comparison. I play different songs, shuffle around the set, screw up repeatedly, fumble around with my equipment… But that’s part of the charm, right?
Going back to my first European tour with the Oblivians, I realized that they were a great band to tour with because their shows were always different. Sometimes they could be tight and amazing, and sometimes they could be a sloppy, chaotic shambling mess (sound familiar?). If you only saw the Oblivians once and it was on one of those nights, you might wonder what the big deal was. But touring with them, the fucked-up nights could sometimes be more entertaining than the nights when they were tight! I have a similar aesthetic.
So, my role on this tour was to bring an element of fucked-upness to the proceedings. To KEEP THINGS INTERESTING by injecting some good ol’ ROCK N’ ROLL CHAOS into the shows. Sure, people might remember Urban Junior’s flawless set, but they’ll be more likely to remember if I got loaded and made him jam with me on a 20 minute version of Never Change, in which I drunkenly unplug my guitar cable five times, drive everybody out of the room, and end the song laying in front of the stage having pulled all the mic stands down on top of me in a pile NOT THAT THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED, THIS WAS JUST A HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE.
Anyway, after the show in Antwerp we pile in Sheiks’ van to head to the sleeping place. It smells like a van that has been on tour for a month. The Sheiks blame Robert because he bought some stinky cheese at their show in France and made them keep it in the van to transport to Groningen. Am I making this European touring business sound glamorous enough for ya? We find out our sleeping place in Antwerp is some kind of former meat locker straight from a movie in the Saw franchise. This is only the first of many of the finest accommodations Europe has to offer: The next day we get to play tourist in Antwerp for a few hours: We enjoy a fine Belgian beer: The weather is unseasonably warm, and we have a great Italian meal on the city’s beautiful historic streets: Having had enough of fine European culture, we head next to one of my favorite bars, THE PITS. The Pits is famous in underground rock n’ roll circles because the Mummies and Supercharger recorded a live single there back in the day. But the club is equally famous for its urinals, right out in the open as soon as you walk in the door. So, as you can imagine, The Pits is a bit of a “dude” bar. I strike up a conversation with one lovely Belgian lass out by the urinals (there are women at the show!), and I find out this is the first time she’s ever been to The Pits. I ask her: “Why, does The Pits have a bad reputation or something?” She immediately responds, “Oh yeah!” She is also horrified to discover that I have been to Kortrijk, Belgium, numerous times but have only seen The Pits and its famous urinals, and nothing else of her city which she assures me is quite beautiful.
The Pits is celebrating 25 years of dudes pissing next to the merch table, and Dutch rockers The Anomalys (who I will later play with in Rotterdam at the end of the tour) recorded a song for a 25th anniversary Pits tribute EP, Drinkin’ At The Pits. It is a marvelously accurate documentary of what it is like to be drinkin’ at The Pits:
After The Pits, more shows, some good, some bad, but always with some weird Euro backstage snack options. Where else can you enjoy some delicious BBQ Cruspies? Mmmm-mmm! But sometimes we also get a fancy dinner, like this one from Gleis 22 in Muenster: More Urban Junior factoids: As an example of how totally together and well-oiled the Urban Junior machine is, he brings his own stage curtain!
As a one man band, often you end up setting up in front of another band, to cut down on the transition time between bands. An unfortunate consequence of that, is there are often piles of equipment behind you, and the stage doesn’t look professional. Well, Urban has this starred curtain that he sets up behind his equipment, and presto! Instant, personal stage! Not only is his set musically consistent, but so is his visual presentation. What a pro! He even brings his own stage lighting, to illuminate his massive kick drum. And his buddy Marcel, who is driving us on this first leg of the tour, also serves as stage manager and he knows Urban’s setup inside and out so the construction of all this takes way less time than you would suspect.
This is the kind of thing that never would have occurred to me in a million years. Now that he’s given me the idea, I’m still to lazy to actually do it, but I have to admit, it is a genius idea: As we press on with the tour, we hear a weird noise from the van. Robert has revealed to us that our dirt-cheap rental van is so dirt cheap because after our tour, the van rental company is taking it straight to the junkyard! We hear a strange noise, and after checking all over the dangerously bald tires and emissions-failing exhaust system, we find that one of the belts is disintegrating. This results in a lengthy wait for roadside assistance in a parking lot. Ah, the many joys of being a touring musician! On the way to Amsterdam, we’ve got a short drive, so there’s the possibility to see something other than the inside of a bar. But, all of us have been to Amsterdam numerous times, so we’re looking for some new experiences. I mean, Van Gogh museum? Rijksmuseum? *Yawn* Been there, done that.
Now, you may remember from my tour last year that Robert uses the excuse of “showing off Dutch culture to international visitors” to revisit scenes of possible childhood trauma in an attempt to tackle his inner demons. Last year it was an uncomfortable journey to the beach, this time he suggests – Madurodam! A miniature replica of the entire country of the Netherlands that you can walk around in, Godzilla-style.
Robert said we couldn’t tell anybody we went there, as it is basically a tourist trap for children and we would sacrifice all our rock n’ roll cred. Well, too bad Robert, here’s some scenes from Madurodam. Here, Robert is apparently dealing with a flood of childhood memories: I am clearly thrilled: I must admit though, they really went all out with the design of this roadside attraction: Just check out the attention to detail in this red light district scene: Well, on to Amsterdam. Look, I’m “arts and culture”! At the show in Amsterdam, I finally feel like I have it together, and I do my best set of the tour so far. People want an encore, so I play a tune I hadn’t played before, Bo Diddley’s Mumblin’ Guitar. Luckily, somebody in the audience has a camera and my performance is captured for posterity. After the set, two different guys came up and bought all of my records. All three of my Voodoo Rhythm LPs, AND my new acoustic album with Walter, Dead Mall Blues, which means they each spent like 70 bucks total and they had never even heard me before that show. I must have not sucked. And there is video evidence!
Next: Part the second, in which I play yet more shows, and try to sell more people my TWO NEW RECORDS.