Friday, January 15, 2010

"Party at the Bread Factory": Magnolia Electric Co. Fall Tour Diary Chapter 8: Frankfurt, Germany


The word of the day today was the word that means “fear of the number 13.” If there was anything to be feared today it was the 700 km drive between Vienna and Frankfurt. I’m going to go on record again and say that I would rather do 700 km in a van during the day than 700 km in a bus overnight unable to sleep and covered in filth. I’ll probably say this a lot in my yet-to-be-written account of our last tour, but touring on a bus for a band our size without a crew is the equivalent (in my opinion) of spending hundreds of more dollars per day to be less comfortable, less clean, and more cramped all the time. Of course, the ideal is that sleep comes easy and you wake up and enjoy the city. For me this was impossible. I’m sure some of the other guys loved it. Not only was it annoying to me, but all that money we could have saved by traveling the way we are this tour would have been nice to come home with. And it’s a lot of money. A lot. This may not be true in America. My friends Cryptacize are currently on a bus with Sufjan Stevens and the band – that makes sense. Why use three vans and a trailer when you can use one bus? But what we did was a waste. All that said, I was looking forward to the drive, however long. I don’t think Jan was, since he had to do the driving and because we had to leave at 8:00 a.m. after going to sleep around 1:00 a.m.

The Furstenhof breakfast was in full swing when I made it downstairs at 7:20. I put together two hard-boiled egg, butter, and cheese sandwiches, wrapped them tightly in napkins, shoved them in my coat, and proceeded to drink glass after glass of juice, glass after glass of water, and coffee. When one tours on a bus one does not get free hotel breakfast. One can clear the dressing room the night before of the meat, cheese, and food that has been sitting around for hours and touched by multiple, grimy hands, and then put it in the bus fridge and hope that at no point does the bus power turn off. And then, in the morning, when it’s all you’ve been eating, you want nothing to do with it. As many have said, this is very much a first-world problem. But the point, again, is that for far less money we could have been afforded these luxurious comforts that come along with touring in a van. One just has to put up with sitting/sleeping/hanging out in a van for a few hours a day. I think the trade-off is an obvious one.

We got in the van and started a little after 8:00 a.m. I rode shotgun. The van’s a big white Mercedes sprinter, a nine-seater with a full sized loft. It has a DVD player in it. It’s straightforward and just fine, more comfortable, for sure, than our (my) van in the States. Problems, though – it has a weird transmission noise; it ran out of oil when Jan drove it from the rental place; it looks like a band trashed it before. Luckily those Germans know how to deep clean, so it’s absolutely fine.

Jan said we would have to wait and only take, maybe, one half hour break down the road. An hour in I felt like I was in high school again; ie, my stomach began cramping terribly and I realized that maybe the pizza right before bed, all that juice, and all that coffee was the wrong cocktail to take before a van ride that was not supposed to stop. But when I explained the urgency of the situation, Jan reluctantly stopped. The prison toilet was welcoming – stainless steel, with paper towel like toilet paper. No toilet seat. It didn’t matter. And then I was a new man and we were back on the road.

Castles? Check. Medieval bridges? Well, I don’t know, but they looked like it. Nuclear power plants? I think. Also, wonderful Austrian radio. We listened to the station Jason was supposed to have been interviewed on the day before and it was awesome. So much for that. At least we got to listen to it on the way out of the country. The playlist went from Jay-Z to Nina to Flaming Lips to Austrian and German acts we’ll never hear of in the States.

I spent most of the day filling out postcards, playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, hearing weird Eddie Rabbitt songs on German radio, eating those sandwiches, eating peanut butter flavored puffy snacks, and chocolate. I drank water and sour cherry nectar. The drive took a long time and we started to feel the “winter blast” the Weather Channel had been telling me about in Prague. All of the magazines at our rest stop had naked people in them. All of the strudel looked good. I could not find pre-mixed Campari and soda. We drove and drove and then we arrived at Brotfabrik almost two hours late.

In 2007, at an undisclosed German club, the promoter thought that our request for black socks was actually a request for hashish, and so that’s what was waiting for us at the club. When we told him we actually wanted socks he went out and got those, too. The socks and the hashish were split amongst some of the band members. I forgot about mine and, on the trip from wherever we were to Frankfurt, I realized I still had it and should probably get rid of it. In Spain a few years earlier a friend of mine told me he ate it to help with his stomach problems. I know that marijuana is used for such medicinal purposes, and, having been experiencing similar problems on that particular tour, I decided to injest the tiny bit that I had, thinking the most that would happen would be a slight euphoria not unlike that experienced with far-worse-for-you pharmaceuticals. For a couple of hours everything was fine. I played cards, I read, I listened to music… and then, all at once, it happened. I felt like I had entered that ride at old fashioned amusement parks where you’re in a cylinder against the wall which turns into a gyroscope and the floor drops out and you’re pressed against the wall and, fuck, you wish you hadn’t ridden that ride (and, in my case, your parents laugh at you for screaming bloody murder – fun!). Mark noticed the change and may have even caught some pictures of it. I was so out of my mind that I thought it was over for me, I was going to die, and I was going to die in a van, in traffic, in Germany. Of course I didn’t, but I have a very hard time remembering anything about that particular show. I do know we got yelled at for not playing long enough, which was probably valid. As we approached Brotfabrik my missing memory was filled in a little.

Brotfabrik means “bread factory,” so I assume that’s what it used to be. It’s a complex in a Frankfurt suburb which is far nicer than the weird, steel dance clubs we have played in Frankfurt in the past. The pre-show was somewhat unremarkable. We were late so we had to rush through soundcheck. Chris Brokaw played. We played. We played an encore. We ate a delicious creamy pasta dish after dinner that, somehow, tasted like Thai food. It must have had a little bit of chili sauce in it and it was full of basil. Mikey and I worked on booking a hotel room for a day off in Italy. Unremarkable, really. The show was pretty good, though.

Because of the “world’s largest book fair” or some shit there were no affordable hotel rooms in Frankfurt, so, despite already having driven all day, we had another hour and a half to drive to Wurzburg to an Etap. Etap, an Accor hotel (the owners of Motel 6 up through Sofitel), is a fully-automated, very plastic, and cheap place. They’re usually clean and the parking’s easy because they exist, it seems, only in and around car dealerships, Burger Kings, industrial parks, or nothing at all. We arrived around 1:30 a.m., found our rooms, and were pleasantly surprised that the Etap chain now features free wifi. A bunch of German music videos tucked us in and we slept.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Which way is North?": Magnolia Electric Co. Fall Tour Diary Chapter 7: Vienna, Austria


I woke up later than I wanted to but still before breakfast had ended. The plan was as follows: Light breakfast, quick jog down to the historical/museum area of Vienna, back for a shower, two hours of work, and then meet with the band to head to WUK, the club we were playing in Vienna that night, for soundcheck/gear check/etc.

Breakfast consisted of a roll with butter, hard-boiled egg, and cheese – a breakfast sandwich! Also, glasses of juice, water, and coffee. I made another sandwich and saved it for later. I got up to the room, changed into my running clothes, strapped on my iPod touch, enabled my Nike+iPod thing, set my goal as the burning of 400 calories, stepped outside, and started to run.

And I ran. When I reached the halfway point I had not even seen any of the museums – bonus! I would burn more calories this way. Ah, there they were – beautiful old buildings lining the streets, full of art, and natural history, and books. I might as well follow this line and see it all, right? I reached 400 calories and knew that I would at least double my goal. Ooh, parliamentary gardens! Parliament! Beautiful gothic cathedral! I might as well, go back on the parallel street. 800 calories! But where am I? And why have I already run five miles? Does that mean I have five miles to run to get back? Better keep running. Oh shit, it’s already been an hour, and where am I? There’s an animal-rights protest. And there’s the Corso Palace. Maybe this biker can tell me where I am, but if I stop running I’ll never make it back, and, oh shit, I don’t have any money with me. "Excuse me, sir, do you speak English? Can you tell me where I am? And which way North is?" Better keep running. Ah! There’s the National Library… and there’s the street I need! And here I am at the hotel. And here’s the iPod Touch telling me that I just ran 9.16 miles and burned 1,700 calories. I really didn’t mean to do that.

I gave myself time to stop sweating, told Mikey about my running error, started to feel the ache, and took a long shower – a shower I could have only dreamt about on the bus tour. It involved shampoo, conditioner, soap. It involved a full-size towel. It wasn’t in a bar or a truck stop. It involved shaving, moisturizing, taking time. It was excellent. Now it was time to work.

I went downstairs and attempted to connect to the internet. Success! I employed Microsoft Excel to help sort out some 2010 OAH Annual Meeting scheduling issues. Yes! Oh, it’s time to gather my suit and pedals and guitar because it’s time to go to the club! Awesome. This is going well today, surprise after surprise. Who is this gorgeous woman asking me if I’m Jason? Oh, she’s looking for Molina, and she’s from Vienna’s coolest radio station, Radio 4. He has an interview and live performance at 3:30 p.m. Great! She and I converse, tell jokes, talk about the weather in detail, and Jan arrives. He starts working out the details. Wait a minute, there’s something wrong – he seems concerned that she’s going to just put Jason in a cab and send him to the club. She explains that Vienna is small and cab drivers know everywhere. His concern, however, is something beyond the cab driver knowing. She explains that she will, well, explain very clearly the situation to the cab driver. No, he says, it’s more complicated than that.

I’ve already mentioned that one terrible show in Vienna. Well, once you’ve had one terrible show in the town, you never forget, and, surprisingly, it repeats. Athens, GA. Berlin. Montreal. These places scare me. Oh, here’s Jason! Oh shit. Yes, I see why they’re concerned. Traveling has gotten the best of him. I know that he’s been sick but I also know that he (and I) have, more than once, drank ourselves silly on international flights because of nervousness. And this poor, beautiful woman has to shuttle him to the radio station where he will do a live performance on the coolest radio station in Vienna. Uh oh. After minutes of trying to explain what’s happening Jan finally gets us all to move out and we leave Jason in the hands of Nina. He mumbles “I’m sad” while we walk out. I say, “don’t be sad, we’ll see you soon!” and we’re out of there. Poor, poor Nina.

Jan explains that Jason was in that state when he got off the plane. Visions of a ruined show dancing in my head, all I could do was laugh. Then he gets a call that Jason has canceled the interview (it really would not have been much of one, or, perhaps, it would have been the funniest YouTube moment ever for Magnolia). Poor, poor Nina. She wasn’t even supposed to do the interview, but her colleague got sick. Poor, poor Nina. But what about us? What were we going to do? An incapacitated singer was just left at the hotel. We hoped that he would sleep it off and that, in four hours, we could put on a good show. The odds, and the history of shows in Vienna, were against us.

We got to the club; we unloaded; we unpacked; we found out that multiple things were fucked up. The keyboard amp was without castors; my power transformer was outfitted with a tile case around the plugs, disallowing my pedals to be plugged into it, completely eradicating it’s necessity or usefulness; and, the worst, Sal’s bass cab, an Ampeg, which has fuses built into it, had burned out fuses. No problem. Wait, the fuses are siliconed in there. Oh shit. All this on top of the fact that, if we had to play right now, it would have to be all instrumental and would feature our singer laying on stage, asleep. Ok, time for some catering.

The catering was nice, and fairly standard, but definitely fresh and delicious. The water was there. Everything we needed except for equipment that works and a full band. Things started to work out; I discovered a duct tape solution; Sal would go direct and monitor through the sidefill; Mikey’s amp wasn’t a big deal, really, but it was still fucked up.

We went through merchandise, of which we have a ton… except for Josephine LPs, which keep getting lost by UPS and redirected improperly. No biggie. Now Jan leaves to pick up Jason. All of us are worried, I think, although none says anything. He shows up. He’s coherent, albeit still a little ... incapacitated. I don’t see him for twenty minutes and then, when I do again, he’s even more coherent and says his “medicine is wearing off.” He explains what he’s on and it sounds like nothing you should be taking along with alcohol, which he also smells like. Either way, the show is in a state of save.

Chris Brokaw, on tour with us, plays, and he’s great. We play and it’s clear that we haven’t practiced, but we cover it up by jamming wildly and taking chances. The show turns out well. People like it. And then we sell a lot of shit.

We pack up, clear the catering, clear the stage, load, meet people, drink an open bottle of wine in the van. Then, on the way to the hotel, we get stopped by police as a drunk driving checkpoint. Luckily, Jan has not been drinking. I still freak out about the open bottle of wine but he assures me that they only care about him. He passes and we get home. We take the guitars. I get some train station pizza and slather it with garlic oil and hot pepper flakes that are actually hot and it’s delicious. I call Nicole and she’s busy administering an exam so it’s off to bed… but not before I meet Dominic from Kilians, a band from near Cologne in Germany. We trade names and promise to check out each other’s bands on YouTube.

In the hotel room Mikey and I debrief and then I beat Bald Bull 2 in Mike Tyson’s punch out, then being leveled by Don Flamenco 2. Fuck Don Flamenco. The bed feels strangely like that horrible bus bed and I have trouble falling asleep. But, as always, it happens eventually.