As D day — DiSCiPLiNES Day — approached, my punishing carb, sugar, alcohol…almost ANYTHING-free diet and morning exercise routine, walking everywhere, third-floor walkup positioning, etc, brought me down to 66kg, 145 lbs, a BMI of 20, which meant I had less body fat than 96% of Americans in my age group–30-44 (86% of men my age group worldwide). I looked fit. A few days on the road has fucked all that up of course, but damn, Wednesday I was in shape for reals.
I was working, too. Liisa was in the house. We not only went through all the songs and did mix touch ups (plus running them through my improved signal chain did a lot as well) but we recorded and mixed a whole new song, working on that til late afternoon on Tuesday, when she headed back to England with a fantastic new album under her belt. I was left with the unthinkable–not really anything to do, and I was in fact too tired to take on a new project that evening. I had to be up early the next day. Dom was at our summer place, so I had little to do…I went for a walk in the summer evening’s heat, went to my favorite wine bar for a glass, strolled around, went back home, got ready for my trip.
Wednesday morning, my first day of traveling since month started, my first day of international traveling since I came back from Amsterdam in mid June. I had forgotten how much fun it was to sweat bullets as the clock mounted feverishly towards the end of possible check in times, as we sat like a cinder block in awful Paris traffic, then after the bag drop run with my massive backpack to the gate, and make the flight as the last admitted passenger! Fun. Then, due to railwork on all the lines around Oslo, getting to Larvik involved a train a few minutes outside the airport, transfer to a bus to Oslo, transfer in the central station to another bus, then finally a two-hour train to Larvik. owwww. So, overall, three and a half hours from Gardermoen to Larvik, longer than the journey from my house to Gardermoen.
Some funny highlights of the trip– on the platform at Gardermoen (after spending some time with the train approaching trying to dig the ticket out of the kiosk, no matter who perfectly I entered Bjorn’s telephone number and the booking reference it would not agree I was doing it right, so had to get the guy at the ticket window to confirm that yes, I was entering it correctly, and no, it wasn’t working–here’s your ticket), a was staring into (grey, foggy) space and felt someone tap my knee, urgently-ish. A deaf man, evidently. Youthful, prob. thirty or under, an air of mischief about him. He gestured an inquiry as to which side the train was coming on, I gestured to the track in front of us. A few minutes later he tapped urgently on his suitcase and via gestures invited me to join him in his bottle of Bailey’s. Er, no thanks….then he went in search of, via gestures by way of explanation, a ciggie.
On one of my bus rides I sat across the aisle from a man, who at first seemed like an old, feeble minded man. Broad shoulders, big hands, but a tiny, skull-like head, with an immature, boyish haircut. Wearing a bulky sweater, he was obsessively weaving a piece of string into his belt loops, tongue out in concentration. As I observed him, at first taking him as a sixty-something locked in the childlike state of extreme simplemindedness, I realized that I was looking at probably a young man, who through heavy drug abuse had aged his face fifty years, and now was only able to robotically complete the demands of his addiction, and almost no other basic human functions. Who knows what skills, dreams, and IQ he started with or not, but now he was a burned out husk. In fact, in blatant disregard for the families around him, no fear of getting caught, he very unfurtively was preparing packets of some kind of drug, taking squares of plastic shopping bag, twisting them into packets, and sealing them by carefully burning the wrapped end with a lighter (amazingly, it didn’t stink or smoke enough to give him away).
Waiting on the platform in Lysaker, for the last stage of the journey, the platform was swarming with fat flying ants, who would occasionally land on your head, etc. It was hot as blazes too, honestly, this was unpleasant overall. Finally got to Larvik and checked in to my hotel, and walked down to the huge old brick factory that is now yet another cultural center (Larvik, population something like 40,000, has at least four cultural centers that I can think of, and probably more that I don’t know about). This one is a music school among other things, and we had use of a room there to work on new material. Which we did from about 18.30 when I got there, til about 21.30 when I couldn’t go on anymore, due to fatigue and hunger. I hadn’t eaten since I gulped down a tiny sandwich on the flight to Oslo. We went to a new restaurant on the waterfront, I had some salmon and by the time it was 22.30, it was all I could do to crawl into bed and crash. We did work on a really cool new song, however.
I got up for breakfast, stuffing my starved body with smoked salmon, and went *back* to bed. Ahhh. For a small fee you can take away food from the breakfast as lunch, so I prepared a liverwurst sandwich and some fruit and ate that in my room, while I did as little as possible, til about 14h when I walked down to the practice place, Bjorn finishing his doctoring shift to arrive at the same time. We worked on the new song, getting it ready to perform that night, and two others. We took a little break to grab coffee and sandwiches across the street at the waterfront mall that’s only sprung up since I’ve been coming to Larvik these last six years, did a set run through, and then packed up. I went back to the hotel to drop off my heavy backpack (computer and other gear for recording us while we worked on the new material) and get the merch suitcase. Bjorn picked me up and we drove down the road to Stavern, to the Tordenskiold Pub, where we had a blistering show in 2008 the week that our first album came out.
Stavern is a tidy little village with historical structures, a lovely church. Just a few shops, bars and restaurants and a gas station comprise the center. The pub is one of two buildings that are conspicuous in their lack of conformity to the town’s beautification standards–peeling paint, and the general vibe and clientele of a bar that shows horse racing on a screen. Gotta love it. At one point they served food there, and it seems they just gave up on that. Now, they dish out the spirits for the hardcores of Stavern, and provide them with rock and roll, blues etc. It’s a biker bar for sailing enthusiasts. There was one guy who asked us to sign a poster when we arrived, and who soon was asking me about my painted fingernails when I went up to the bar, like “what’s that all about?”. I was thinking…uh, come on dude, it’s almost two decades into a post-Marilyn Manson world, are you really able to be surprised by something this trivial? I mean, glad I’m holding up my end of the rock & roll rebellion bargain, but sheesh.
We did our soundcheck and went to a nearby eatery, I had a glass of wine, Baard & Ralla had enormous hamburgers. Bjorn went off to make a call. Now, when my glass of Chablis came, the girl serving lost control of her tray and the glass of wine went straight down to the patio stones, shattering. She came back soon with a glass, and then Bjorn went to make his call. A guy came up and put a folded up blanket (most terraces in Norway have blankets available to drape over your shoulders in the evening chill) down and knelt at our table. At first I thought he must be a friend of the guys’, Baard in particular seems to know the whole town. First thing I said was, hey, you realize you’re kneeling in broken glass? Helped himself to Bjorn’s empty seat and then I realized he was just a drunk asshole, thinking the world was just there to pay attention to his thoroughly uncharming, uninteresting, tiresome antics. He guessed from my accent that I was Australian, and deduced that we were all from Australia. Uncanny, I said. You’re amazing. He said I looked like some “freak from a horror movie” and I said his mother wears combat boots. Then he asked if we could guess where he came from and I said “from a bar, where they serve people who can’t hold their liquor”. And then he wanted another drink. We had our faithful fan from England, Alison, at the table, and he lunged over and started to try to drink her rum & coke. Kinda the last straw. “Got get your own drink inside, douche”. He asked us if we wanted to come to his boat and ‘party’ and I said ‘sure, head for the bottom of the sea and we’ll meet you there’.
He got on a bike, maybe not even his, and in his wobbly way rode off.
So, then we played the show. We had a decent crowd, and we played decently. Good way to kick off five months of not playing together. We ramped up the energy bit by bit. I had to keep it real, it’s a definite issue how my voice can pull of four shows in a row plus travel, so I rationed my energy–give enough to keep the show going, hold back enough to have something to give tomorrow. I still danced on tables and ran outside, and all that fun stuff. At one point I was standing on a table and lifted my leg over a guy’s head, but he was kinda drunk and not paying attention and inadvertently rammed his head into my moving thigh. After the set I found him at the bar and made sure he was fine (trust me, he’d taken far worse blows to the head that night with multiple shot glasses than I could ever deliver). He said, hey, you could have broken my nose and I’d still be happy, I’m your biggest fan! That, and the lovely gals who I recognized from our video, earned everyone another song, which we did, ‘No Vacancy’ by request.
Crowd disappeared, and I never made it to the merch table, and then we packed up and got very little sleep. I was at the hotel by 1.30, but up at 6.
6! Owww. At 7, I was at breakfast, and Bjorn arrived, I’d taken his guitar in for the night so he didn’t have to deal with carrying it home. We pulled our tickets out of the machine at Larvik’s station, and at 7.20 we were on the same arduous trajectory I’d taken a couple days before, in reverse. Train, bus, bus, train. Got to the airport, checked in, dropped the bags, security, lunch, delay of departure, flight to Bordeaux. Sleep. Landed, got the bags, and met our driver, Arnaud, outside. Return the bag trolley, get my Euro back, head to the club. Meanwhile, Dom had arrived to Bordeaux by train and was already heading to the venue. The venue is the iBoat, which has the same owner as the Batofar in Paris, where Dom is in charge of hosting large events. So, Dom knows the team here very well. The iBoat, for my money, is even more charming than the Batofar, I like the layout better. It’s a boat. Black with a yellow stripe, on a man made harbor, tucked away off the Gironde. Very nice team in place here, we were made to feel very welcome. Originally we were to support the Black Lips this nite but they canceled the date at some point and we were now the headliner. We arrived, the long drive with bad traffic was a chance to chat in French with Arnaud, about the perils of moody daughters, and about his life working for ELF in Gabon for twenty years.
Upon arrival, Dom came out and we were reunited– I hadn’t seen her in a few days now. We set up, soundchecked, and went on foot to the hotel, since it was, according to the crew, ‘ten minutes walk’. Remember–the further south you go, the more fantastical the dimensions of any directions you’re given. So, it was a twenty minute walk in the hot sun (as I’d calculated on Google Maps anyway). Which meant, check in, drop the bags, check a mail or two, immediately walk back to get dinner. Which was lovely, on the upper deck, with wine, nice food. The support band, Stop II, joined us. Nice dessert and delicious cafe. Soon the support band was on, and Dom & I had another glass of wine on the upper deck. Our biggest fan next to Alison, Raija from Finland, was there, as she would be for the whole weekend…we chatted a bit. Showtime soon.
Well, I wish I could say that Bordeaux in summer was the place to be, but most folks at this time decamp to their beach houses. So, we had a very small crowd, but the place and team were so nice, and I felt physically good, so we gave them a show, and had a great time. Afterwards we skedaddled back to the hotel for another too-short-nite. This is always how it goes, we have to travel all day so my voice never has a full night of sleep to recover.
Up at 6.45, hey, we improved the wake up time by 45 minutes at least–quick breakfast in the lobby and then the same driver who took us back to the hotel last nite at midnite was there in the lobby. There’s a big deal where companies can’t drive their own clients around, they are required by law to hire taxis, and this is controlled by the police, but there is a workaround that involves forming a club, and having some kind of membership, and you get a little card….it’s so French, and so hard to follow, don’t ask me. But this guy, who had been driving people all night, was our guy. Remember, at 7.45 when he picked us up, the club had been closed for less than two hours. He got us to the station, and pointed out places of interest along the way. We had time for another cafe on a terrace in front of the station, then Dom and I slept on each other til she got off at La Rochelle to go back to Ile de Re for the weekend. We traveled on for another ninety minutes, then got off at La Roche-sur-Yon, with enough time to have a sandwich, a cafe, buy some phone credit. Then we had a little short train to Sables D’Olonne, the end of the line. Here we were met by the folks from the Festival Rock N’ Beer, which has been going on for years in the little beachside town of Bretignolles-sur-Mer (the town also will be graced by a visit from “Johnny” this summer). The festival is always free, always brings a couple thousand people at least. They pay the bands by selling carloads of beer & snacks, & T shirts, plus they have sponsors. We had a generous fee to headline the thing. So, there was a van for the gear, and a car for us, and we drove the 30 minutes onward to Bretignolles, dropped the luggage and freshened up for a minute at our digs–a little cabin on a campsite–and then headed to the venue. The festival takes place in a natural sloping terrain, partially paved and grass on the outskirts. Grass skirts?
We were handed beers and then the gear was ready to be mounted. No drum carpet tho. OK, no panic. I went to sleep in the warmth of the sunlight filtered through the plastic tenting that formed the backstage. All were impressed by the big old fridge in the backstage area–the brand, which I’d never before seen in France, was “Norge”– “Norway” in Norwegian. I must have slept for 40 minutes, nothing like rock and roll, short nights, sunshine and beer to finish you off.
Soundcheck was short. My voice, scratchy. Uh oh. I knew I needed rest. Then lunch was served to the crew, and we ended up having a second lunch. No one was going for the rillette that was in the fridge, I had virtually unlimited access to it, and over the course of the day and nite did some serious damage to it and my by doing so, my arteries.
I knew the only thing that would help my voice recover would be proper rest so we went back to the cabin, and I pushed dinner back til 8. Slept for a couple of hours, drifting in and out of surreal interaction with Baard and Ralla’s conversation in the next room. Up at 8, and we were taken to a little restaurant/bar/tabac, you know, the typical little joint serving a vacation town. Very friendly, and I had a nice tartare, some wine, and we had cafes and armagnac for dessert. They guys went to the festival, but I went back to the cabin. I didn’t sleep but I took it easy, got prepped. Mostly, didn’t drink and didn’t talk, this helps. Then at eleven, the car came to fetch me. Band had just finished up and the B stage band was kicking in. These guys were garage warriors from the town whose dream it was to play this festival, for ten years they’ve been trying. Finally, their golden moment. A bizarre instrumental jam band from somewhere around 1974, but with a keyboard player who was prone to ‘Miami Vice’ -esque synth bends, when not doing his best to disturb the late John Lord’s eternal slumber. Wowza.
Showtime. We went on early, even. I was disappointed (and frankly, afraid, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist clambering over them) that there was now barricades set up in alternating pizza slices in between me and the audience. We brought the mojo *down*. Ripped it up. My voice, with rest and adrenaline, was fine. Better than fine…I could do my shtick–sing with no micro, shout, scream, tremulate. I was all over and beyond the barricades, in the crowd, on the barricade that surrounded the sound desk, on the video platforms. Great, energetic show with a great, energetic audience, truly of all ages. There were six-year-olds in front, and a mosh pit…the dads alternating being *in* the mosh pit, and taking turns to deflect it from the little kids in front. That’s surreal. It was great fun. The little kids were so into it, and so sweet. A 50-something guy at one point between songs, when I was down on the barricade said “je t’aime!”. We did an encore, had a blast. Great, great show. Prob. there were about 1500 people on the site, at anyone point I would say about half were clustering around the stage, so plenty of crowd to work with.
After the set, we had some wine, more rillette, and then got a lift back to the cabin. I had super weird dreams, and slept fitfully til the alarm went off at 8.45 (we’re gaining, and tomorrow, no alarm will be set at all!). Freshened up and had a clean shirt and skivvies for tonite’s Paris show. We had a lift to Sables D’Olonne to catch our TGV and on board have had cafe, and I chose a salad from the limited menu on board for lunch–walking back to my seat only to find the thing was mostly frozen, argh. I’m talking as little as possible, but some sound is coming out when I do so…I think we’ll be OK tonite.
Wish me luck!
Train to Paris