Playing in my newly adopted city solo for the first time in 2 years, I was provided with an opportunity to measure the growth in my confidence as an artist and certainly, that I’ve gotten to know my songs pretty well! And I felt cool taking the Metro to my gigs; it was like being in the Ramones, taking the subway to CB’s. Except that I wasn’t afraid to use the bathroom at Glazart. First up was an instore at Gibert, a large CD/DVD emporium in the St. Michel area. The store itself is not unlike Tower Records, maybe a little cleaner. There’s an escalator inside, and lots of glass walls and such. Gibert is actually a series of stores on the same street—a bookstore, a stationery store, and there’s yet another bookstore up the street called Gibert Jeune that seems to be just for travel guides. This is a separate company from the others; evidently they split off in the 1920s. I was using Luis Francesco Arena’s guitar for this co-instore, so only had to bring a capo and a smile. I walked up to Bastille metro station and took line one to Chatelet, and then took another line just a couple of stops to St. Michel. I actually didn’t know the exact address of the store so I ducked into Gibert Jeune and consulted the Time Out guide to Paris! I was in there long enough to dodge a very short-lived summer rain. I walked up the avenue and found the store; I was early enough that the PA was still being set up. I met Xavier from the dept. that stocks my rec’s, and he was kind enough to show me to a nearby café for the interim. And then we got underway—Luis Francesco Arena (LFA) started things off with a brief set, which culminated in a cover version of ‘the Lover’s Hymn’ for which I took over singing for the second half! Like tag team wrestling…then I did 3-4 songs as well. Terry Lee Hale, former Seattleite, came by to check it out. As did Yves, the singer for a great band from Strasbourg called SuperDog. We had been communicating about working together in the future, so he and his manager Julien made time to get together on this visit to Paris so we could meet in style. And we did—LFA’s uncle has a tiny (and I mean tiny) restaurant in Montmartre called Le Part des Anges. And Uncle has a buddy around the corner who has a place called ‘Le Cave de JoJo’. Our crew—LFA; his buddy Jerome, who would be our driver for the next couple of days; Yves & Julien; myself & Dominique; and a few other friends of LFAs gathered at JoJo’s for the aperitif and in fact we each got up and did a few songs impromptu. Then we decamped to Uncle’s restaurant, and had a raucous dinner with many bottles of scrumptious wine, and musical talk galore.
The next day I changed my guitar strings, retrieved my merch from various cubbyholes in our flat, and hopped the metro to the far end of I believe Line 7, guitar in one hand, ridiculous pink shopping bag of essentials in the other. I picked the wrong exit to emerge from the metro—so I had to walk a minute or two to the venue, but if I had picked the right one, I would have been in the Glazart’s front yard. The Glazart is a tiny place, in a way, although in addition to the rec room vibe of the showroom, there’s also a terrace, a tiny movie theatre that holds about 20 people, a rehearsal space of some kind, plus offices and dressing room and the like. My soundcheck took all of 5 minutes, thanks to help from Jerome and also from the very able and friendly staff at Glazart. After which, I went to the dressing room and fell asleep in a chair—I had only come from Europe 2 days previously, so jet lag was still in effect, and my resistance reached its nadir typically in the early evening.
The highlights of the Paris show were, for me centered around two things—that, during ‘Cyclone Graves’ and later ‘Lover’s Hymn’, I was joined onstage by Aden—she hopped up during CG and availed herself of a conveniently placed xylophone, left over from LFA’s set. And she didn’t play too badly…the second highlight was taking the whole crowd and stuffing them in and around the jewel box theatre, wherein there are a few movie theatre seats, and a rickety old grand piano, and finishing the set therein. I was in good form, the audience was incredibly quiet and respectful, and the night was a success all around. The three of us cabbed back and I think I was in bed by one.
I met up with LFA at the Place D’Italie at 11 the next morning, and we drove 6 hours south to Clermont-Ferrand, a medium-sized city in a bowl surrounded by velvet green mountains and extinct volcanoes. The Posies played a great show here in 1994…anyway, we finally, drenched in sweat as it was a roaring 90F at least, so probably 110 in the car, for most of the drive, despite the periodic minute-long summer downpours. The venue, the Cooperative de Mai, is a big complex of venues and offices, obv. a not-for-profit cultural center, on Rue Serge Gainsbourg (odd that they would name a street in C-F after him; I would think it more apropos to name a gutter in Montmartre in his honor). There’s a large hall and a decent sized bar; the bar was our venue. Perfect layout and size, totally pro-production, and a friendly staff, once again, the place is a winner. The night was ostensibly a kind of showcase for artists on the tiny Kutu Folk label; not a label from New Guinea, Kutu is a play on the word ‘couture’—and in fact, the CDs are sheathed simply between two halves of a piece of folded paper that has been sewn shut on the sides. The label is basically a little collective of like-minded friends who tend to play quiet music, all from C-F. I shared the bill with: St. Augustine, who is in fact a solo artist playing excellent songs; Leopold Skin, who is in fact another brilliant solo artist again wielding an acoustic guitar. Daniel, as he is actually called, speaks softly and wears vests, scarves and corduroy a la Brian Jones et al, but is not a demonic alcoholic asshole; he’s just a kind and talented young man. He and his best friend Lisa (who sings with him and on her own, and is the one sewing the CD packages) were the ones putting me up –in a 4th floor walk up (hellish to get my suitcase up there, but a lovely view of C-Fs massive cathedral etc). And there was also Derek Delano I bought his CD from him the next morning when we all went to breakfast, but he didn’t have them with him of course. Derek is not his real name either—so it’s all a bit confusing. He played with a band, but still quite softly, and was excellent also. LFA had his crew as well. So it was a long night, but pleasantly so. And people were genuinely excited by my show—the Kutu Krew were really supportive of my efforts and as they were quite a large percentage of the folks gathered, they lit the fire that warmed the room to me. And so it was a great show—I had Bastien, “Derek” ‘s drummer, play with me on a few songs, and as he’s used to playing with severe volume restrictions, he was the perfect accompanist for me. I even whipped up a special cover of ‘Shapes’ by the Long Winters for the occasion. I had folks up on the stage, and did most of the set off-mic, even when I was on the piano. And it went on from there—after abortive attempts to enjoy ourselves at a couple of crummy bars, Leopold & Lisa, “Derek”, myself and friends planted ourselves in a square, the night cooled by earlier rain, but already dry enough to sit on the pavement, and we drank rose wine and passed a guitar around the circle for either sing-along or solo renditions of favorite songs. It was one of those tiny episodes that are too rare indeed. When we decided to go home it was about 4am, and the sky was turning lighter and lighter shades of blue, but was still rich and velvety with night.
We all gathered the next morning from our diverse accommodations to a table under a great tree in the terrace of a café that sits symbiotically adjacent to a wonderful bakery, and Leopold-Daniel treated us to croissants, pains aux chocolats, and cafes. We watched with wary amusement, two hapless punks and their one-eyed dogs begging for change, drinking ales, and dangling on the edge of being public nuisances on the steps of a church on the corner of the tiny square of the terrace. Really, they were punk only in their town-fool gesticulations; in reality their sartorial presentation was more Hare Krishna. One was truly thick and crude; his companion was in fact apologetic and betrayed his upbringing by his good manners. I wondered what kept this odd couple together—even for 10 minutes. Penance for the comfortable circumstances of his birth? Even more incredibly—after a while, during which the dogs were tied together to keep them from going after passing dogs, and passing dogs that got too close were chased off by the Fool; the old one eyed yellow dog unleashed a foul torrent of shit the color and texture of a thick curry—directly onto the backpack of the Fool. Red with anger, he came to the ancient public fountain, pumped the handle—and got nothing. Slapstick straight from a Mr. Bean film. Angrily gesturing at the dog, but incredibly not inflicting any direct cruelty, he went somewhere to wash his bag. It’s important to notice the well-bred punk did the majority of the dirty work cleaning up the mess. And did so happily, with zero gratitude shown by the Fool. It was then that I thought he might truly be some kind of monk.
It was another broiling 6-hour session in the minivan to get to Angouleme, where of course the Posies have played several times, including just last year. But this show was unique to my visits for being in a different venue, Le Mars Attack. Typically we play La Nef, an awesome cultural center out in the fields somewhere on the edge of town. Le Mars Attack is on a street in the center of town, more or less. It’s a small bar with a small punk venue at the back. Again, just perfectly sized for one of my shows. And again, the staff is friendly. Tonight was a kind of showcase for LFA and his friends—first up was Jerome, who in addition to doing all the driving these last few days, was also running the sound for all the other acts. He does a kind of emo-folk thing, and it’s very good. Next up was Laurent, the cellist playing with LFA; Laurent is also the bass player in Headcases, LFA’s band, who supported the Posies last year for 2 of our French shows. Laurent did a few songs on the ac. guitar that he more or less wrote for the occasion, and were well done. Then LFA did his set, and like we had done the previous nights I joined him at the end of his set to sing the second half of his cover of ‘the Lover’s Hymn’.
My set began with me on a chair singing to the table of, I believe, Jerome’s parents…I moved around the small room; employed the Headcases’ drummer (they all live near Angouleme so all were in effect that night), and by the third day LFA had learned several of my songs—we were adding one or two each night so by Angouleme we joined me for ‘Fall Song’, ‘Fireflies’, ‘Grant Hart’ and perhaps more…thank you for all LFA!
After the show the staff poured liberally…but I managed to get up at 8 to catch my train. The club has an apartment upstairs and believe it or not, when I woke up some of the musicians and staff and attendees were STILL partying in one of the adjacent apartments. And one of them insisted on driving me to the train station…scary but true. I was a little beat up myself, so I didn’t really mind. I got on the train, which was stopping at CDG at noon—more than 3.75 hours before I needed to check in for my flight to Vienna.
And at about 12.20 I woke up. Still on the train. Horrors! I found out that in twenty minutes we were terminating in Lille, almost in Belgium. Not good. I got off the train, still stunned at my self-inflicted misfortune, and went to the acceuil. The girl there was very nice and gave me a free ticket to CDG. The only catch is that the train wouldn’t get me there til 3.38—just one hour and 2 minutes before departure. So, as long as everything went smoothly, there were no delays, no obstacles—I would make it. And the TGVs are pretty accurate. But still—the train stops briefly at CDG, and that is a bit nerve-wracking, I have two arms and three things to move. OK. Got up, via a series of escalators and elevators, to the street level at the top of the Gare SNCF. Flagged the bus going to Terminal 3—after 4 stops. And of course, when you get off the bus at T3, you’re actually just kind of NEAR T3. You have to walk, thru a tunnel, over 100 yards. Then I ran around looking for the check-in for Niki/Air Berlin. I was the last person to check in…and then I ran to security…discovered that I had actually dropped my boarding pass, went and grabbed it off the floor, got thru security. There’s nothing inside the boarding area as far as services and I was incredibly thirsty. I put a 2 euro coin in the vending machine for a 1.60 euro bottle of water, and was told that exact change was necessary—but was not refunded the coin. And then…it was announced the flight would leave about an hour late. Well, actually it was just announced it would be late, so we sat (I stood) waiting for info that never came about when that would be. At last we boarded the bus to take us to the plane, and I boarded, and being first in line I had ample space to store my guitar and carryon. I got to Vienna and the driver that was supposed to be pick me up had long since given up on me—it should be noted here that getting luggage at VIE baggage claim is quite a chore. The airport was built for a much smaller volume of traffic and thus every carousel has at least 4 flights’ worth of luggage being claimed at once—it was several minutes before I could even see the carousel for all the crowd gathered around it. And our flight wasn’t offloaded for another half an hour. Eventually I got my bag, found that there was no driver; checked in with Eva, who put the show together, and she instructed me to get any cab. I went to a counter (you book cabs from counters at VIE) and told them I wanted to go to Hotel Das Triest (very trendy, 4 .5 star hotel, where REM stayed last year when we played Vienna), where I was booked. Of course they new it. They radioed a driver, who strolled in. They told him where I was going and we went out to the parking, got in his neat looking SEAT minivan…I took my bag cart back and got my coin deposit back. We set off, and hit a small traffic jam on the small hiway that takes you to town. The driver took the opportunity to ask me if I knew the address of the hotel. Uh oh. Didn’t he just get this? I called Eva and she told me but relaying it to him was not going so well. The phone reception was not good. As it turns out he had a GPS that had all the major hotels preprogrammed in it…well, why didn’t he…uh…he asked me the name (again, didn’t he already…??) typed it in, and the thing started pointing out the route. So, we drove into town, and went to where the GPS told us to go. No Das Triest. I know he just wanted to get rid of me, but couldn’t, and that the price was pre set, so he was under pressure to get me there ASAP. So we started driving around the neighborhood in a desperate fashion. He got on the phone and started to talk to his colleagues about where this place could be. At last, after making widening circles around the point described by his GPS, we found it. He smiled at last. I thought that I might at last get a shower—it should be mentioned that I had no time to accomplish that in Angouleme and that I had slept in the sweat-encrusted clothes I played the last 3 shows in. I needed a shower; I needed to use the bathroom at this point, and needed to drink as much water as could be provided to me.
Of course, Das Triest is fabulous. Hip but unpretentious, friendly, and has great service at every level. So as soon as I was in the door all was OK. I got cleaned up; listened to St. Augustine and Leopold Skin’s CD (both superb) on the stereo provided (why don’t all top hotels give you a CD player?), checked my mail on the free wifi (again, why…) showered, brushed my teeth, gave my clothes a sponge bath, and grabbed my merch bag and guitar and headed downstairs to meet up Justin, Andi and Connie from Innsbruck, who were helping with the show as well; we drove down to Flex Club, a little hole in the quayside of a canal. Very pleasant atmosphere there, actually. Cool air. Screens had been set up outside to show the world cup matches, one of which was on when we got there. People sat at picnic tables and had beers and smoked and watched the game or didn’t. Jon & I played an acoustic show at Flex in 2000, in the main room, which is basically a brick tunnel. There’s another room, kind of a beer hall, with picnic tables, a bar all along one side, and no stage; this was where my show was being held. The show was a kind of birthday party for Eva Umbauer, a DJ on the ‘Youth Radio’, FM4. This is non-commercial national radio, so free form playlist, etc. And Eva’s show is well loved and has been on since the early 1990s. She has been Austria’s biggest Posies supporter over the years, and has championed my solo work as well. Bless her! The show was a nice party, too. Bernhard from Siluh Records & Janis the wanna-be-Swedish girl DJ’d; a local band called Waitstill Baxter played and lent me their gear. Well, by the time the world cup match and the support band were done it must’ve been about midnight when I went on. It was also bloody hot inside the venue. So after working out the logistics, I opened up two of the huge metal doors on the side of the club facing the club, and brought about half the audience out on the quay, and arranged the rest near the doors, for most of the set. I was brought a mic after awhile, which was unnecessary—I belted out the tunes just fine without it. So we were gathered out under the moon, in the breeze, and it was beautiful. I was brought the champagne from my rider, and sipped it between songs. Eventually I moved back in the club to access the piano for a few songs. For Eva’s birthday I did ‘Please Return It’ but on the piano, and it worked out really well. I did a long monologue about my travels that day to open the show—so, all in all, I think I must have played no more than 14 songs but it took like 1.5 hours…so by the time I sold a few CDs and had a beer, it was almost 4am. Zut! Justin and co drove me back to the hotel and I got a couple of hours kip.
I was up for breakfast at 9.30 the next morning, and played 3 hours of blazing tennis with Christian and Thomas, the latter being a semi-pro type. It was at least 95 deg. in the midday sun, and I sort of overdid it. I was panting like a dog by the second set, and of course, I didn’t win the 2nd or 3rd sets. I did take the 3rd set to 12 games tho.
That night I co-hosted Eva’s show, and played a couple of acoustic songs on it; the next morning I was picked up by Eva and her friend Alex, who took me out to Alex’s dad’s place, which is just 10 minutes from the airport, and has a tennis court and a swimming pool! I took two sets off of Alex, too. Had a quick swim and showered and dressed and headed off to VIE. There were more shenanigans there involving a very Teutonic ‘play by the rules but switch to whatever rule is more applicable even if it conflicts with the rule you were just vehemently enforcing’ but I’m too exhausted to re-live that here. Suffice to say, I got on the plane with a feeling of both adventure and accomplishment—my life richer for the friends I made that week, having a good feeling about the shows, and some money in my pocket.
So, thank you to Luis Francesco Arena for arranging all the French shows, and to Eva for arranging the Vienna show. Thanks to Jerome; Leopold Skin & Lisa; Justin & Team Weekender; Carsten for photos; Christian, Thomas & Alex for tennis; and the many friends I made, drummers I borrowed, etc etc.
No shows til Japan…check out the photos on the photos page (I will have a whole bunch up the first week of July). Plus, the Posies have been added to the Bay Beats Festival in Singapore on July 16; I will still play a solo set that day as well…also check out the Minus 5 ‘Gun’ album…I contribute keyboards to ‘Hotel Senator’…