Monday, April 28, 2008
Somewhere above Frankfurt airport, Germany
Thad and I had two things we absolutely had to do today. Get on a plane from Paris to Frankfurt (east) and then get on a second plane that would shoot us back from Frankfurt to NYC (west). I'm writing this from the seat of that second plane. This means we did what we were supposed to do. Good for us. It's going to continue to be a long day - our flight took off from Frankfurt at 5:00PM and lands in NYC only two clock (but 8 real) hours later. I hope this doesn't mess up my life expectancy or anything.
Yesterday was our final day in the vans. Nothing too spectacular on the drive from Lyon to Nancy - lotsa farmland and slight hills that don't spark much interest. The breathtaking mountains of the previous few days had spoiled us, so we spent time trading thoughts on important matters such as the following: if you were absolutely forced to make a choice, what non-human member of the animal kingdom would be the most preferable/least repellant partner in a one-time lovemaking adventure? The answers ranged from practical (cows being logistically straightforward) to sentimental (chimpanzees being genetically similar to humans) to aesthetic (dolphins providing a magical experience crashing in and out of the waves). One member suggested a jellyfish, but this was quickly vetoed - the matter at hand was a zoophilic thought experiment, distinct from using an animal or its carcass for aggressive frottage. Joris chose not to participate; he probably thought we considered Belgians non-human and, as fair game for consideration, excused himself due to potential conflict of interest.
Oh, and before I forget - remember how I told you that Isis was going to start exterminating my free-expression? Well, the jackbooted thugs have stormed into the pages of this journal and demanded that truth be replaced by sick propaganda. And so it begins: Aaron Turner (Isis: guitar/vox) has held a gun to my head and quietly informed me that a previous entry didn't give him sufficient credit for "turning you on" (his words, not mine) to Tuc crackers. Please let the record reflect that he should be given more credit for my enjoyment of the Tuc than, say, the brilliant taste-ician who first developed them, the steely executives whose decisions brought the cracker to marketing and distribution heights and the noble front line workers who leave their families every day to give their labor to the production of these treats. Don't thank them for Tuc, friends. Thank Isis "frontman" (again, his words) Turner for mentioning them to me in the back of a van and maybe sharing a couple.
The venue last night was another state-sponsored art complex and certainly the most stylish we've yet encountered. The interior designer must have dropped acid and ordered all of the red paint between Barcelona and Asia Minor because everything nailed down in the lobby was the color of a fire engine. This was a marked contrast to the room where we'd be playing. The actual stage was in a nearly totally black rectangle of a room. The giant coffin ambience was heightened by the sound treatment - almost totally dead. Clapping your hands produced a dull snap sound that died instantly. Weird stuff.
So we loaded in and did the sound check routine. Each band had its own dressing room stocked with gummi treats, not enough beer and plenty of fresh laundered towels. There was a badminton court outside and some of us quickly made right asses of themselves falling over the shuttlecock. Dinner was French and delicious, fresh air breezed through the club and we were all ready to play our last, best shows of the tour. Doors opened at 7 and people began drifting in.
And so Jakob began their set. Their music is instrumental and deceptively complex - the guitar is often a texture of delay and distortion while the bass and drums steadily move along, shifting slightly from one part to the next. I've mentioned that they've just gotten better night after night and this last one was the apex. The room's odd acoustics enhanced the deliberate space they build into their music and they took the room over. They left the stage grinning and victorious.
It was our turn. We had one glitch at the beginning - an obnoxious asshole was ruining the show for us and about 50 people in the crowd. But fortune intervened: Limey Peter escorted him out of the room to general applause and my undying gratitude. The English football hooligan may suffer an ignominious reputation in the popular press, but I could not asked for a better ally at that moment. Thank you Peter. The rest of the set was fluid and punishing for me - I began to lose track of the crowd, the stage, the space. Even my memory of it now is mostly an unfocused sensation. The lights and noise just took over and I fell headlong. Cliff again helped us end it, droning through a cacophony of cymbals and distortion. I snapped out of it in the moment of silence between the song's end and the crowd's applause. We were finished and I was spent.
Watching Isis was bittersweet. I had settled into seeing some of their set each night and would miss this part of the nightly routine. As with Jakob, the deadness of the room gave me a different perspective, heightening the abrupt parts of their attack. The crowd responded in full. Isis finished and we all got to work packing the circus up for the last time. I stuffed about 20 t-shirts into our guitar cases and drum machine box to have for a Sunday show back in the states, trying to figure a good lie for customs if they asked be about them. (Customs, if you are reading this: just kidding! I didn't really do that.) The 20 or so of us stopped back at the evening's hotel to drop off bags and then nearly all headed back out. Two fellas from the club had a bar they liked and we figured we'd go get drunk together once more.
And this will be a fond memory - a rowdy band of happy young men (and one woman) representing 7 different countries, singing, shouting and laughing through the dark streets of Nancy. We romped across one town plaza that was particularly magnificent - a huge cobblestone square with floodlights starkly illuminating the centuries-old buildings on the perimeter. We got kicked out of the bar after a round or two and giddily made our way back to the hotel. After exchanging rude and funny goodbyes with the rest of them, Thad and I retired to our hotel room.
So maybe it was the strong French beer we'd been served or just the euphoria of the evening, but our decision making faculties were perhaps a bit out of calibration. It was about 2:30 in the morning and the Austerity Program had to get to the Nancy train station to catch either the 7:30 or 8:30 train. "Hey," we reasoned (sic) to one another. "It's only a 1.5 mile walk. Why don't we get cleaned up, skip sleeping and just walk there? We've got 5 hours; what could go wrong?" And so, after steeling ourselves with showers and toothbrushings, we set out: Thad, myself, two packed full backpacks, a guitar, a bass and the boxes containing the drum machines and guitar pedals haphazardly lashed to Thad's luggage wheels.
Almost instantly we were lost. The streets were unmarked and there was no one around to tell us what we were doing wrong. After a pitiful hour or two of tracking and backtracking under heavy burden, we arrived at the only decent sanctuary available in the sleeping city - the hospital emergency room. I approached the desk with a backpack and two guitars. "No parlay francois. Taxi? Mon deiu, si vouple TAXI? For the love of christ can you get me a taxi?" The matriarch behind the desk rolled her eyes, pointed at a bench and began to dial something on the phone. Ten minutes later we were nestled into a taxi and heading to the station. What had we been thinking?
That's pretty much it. We took a couple of trains, drank coffee and lugged our crap up and down some steps before the moment of glory arrived - checking in the heavy stuff at the airport. Thad's currently suffering through a particularly gruesome game of airplane sandwich. The husband of the obese woman across the aisle from him is standing by her chair with his ass in Thad's face. The frost-haired post-teen on his right has his feet all up in Thad's underseat business. The fully reclined gentleman in front has been bouncing in his appreciation for the inflight movie (The Rock's heartwarming "Game Plan"). I am my brother's keeper and so got him a gin and tonic.
In other words, it's just the two of us here dealing with a long-ass plane ride.
PS - I almost forgot! After Joris's translation prank I vowed I'd get revenge on him. For days I plotted and last night put a wonderful plan into effect. Right before we began playing, I told the crowd in broken French that my 55 year old father was here for the night and it would mean so much to me if we could all wish him a happy birthday. John (Isis: sound) corralled him into the room under the pretext of a logistical emergency and I got him onstage so that us and about 400 concertgoers could sing "Joie Aniversar." Game, set and match, right? WRONG. Much later in the night I was reviewing our exit plan for the morning when a shadow crossed his face. "Justin, I don't know if you know this, but there may - MAY - be a train strike tomorrow."
It was perfect. Thad had been worried about exactly this as the only glitch in our plans when we began talking about this trip months ago. Between hitting a lucky target and a superb delivery ("I really don't think it's going to happen, but ...", "God I don't want to think about how much a cab to Paris will cost.") I was totally suckered in. Ten days of revenge planning, only to be effortlessly bested again in an hour or two. My only consolation was that I got to be a party in running the same gag on Thad with Joris later on.
Joris, you magnificent Antwerpian demon, this is not over! As long as there is breath in my lungs and my debt remains unsettled, I thirst for payback. And my thirst will be SLAAAAKED!
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