Friday, June 21, 2019
Heads up - more swearing than usual in today's dispatch. (Sorry to my Dad who just signed up for these.)
Second to last day in the middle of the van. Today you get your Very Important Touring Update from Switzerland, which I can report appears to consist mostly of the back of the bright yellow truck in front of us. There may also be mountains but I cannot confirm from my vantage point. I am able to verify that the truck is moving. More details as they emerge.
So. Yesterday in Milan. Here's what we knew ahead of time:
- We were playing as part of something called the Solo Macello Fest. This meant there would be other acts playing as well.
- The venue was another compound with most of the stages outdoors.
- Tomas and SUMAC all knew the promoter, Corrado, and rolled their eyes every time he came up as the subject of conversation.
- It was in Italy, and Italy has a reputation for not sweating the details.
We pulled into the place after suffering through hours of traffic. Before our feet had hit the ground, there were problems. First up was a biggie: there was an outside stage sound limit of 95db. Wikipedia tells me this is louder than a blow dryer but certainly south of a hand drill. The crew had prepped the stage for most of the scheduled acts to play there rather than the smaller indoor one.
Hmm, indoor stage. An option? Well, the room was a lot smaller than the outdoor stage-watching area but none of our crew were averse to packing folks in if it's going to be louder and more energetic. "But" said their production crew. "Everything already set up, really think you guys should outside." And the sound mixer inside was very bush league. Different groups began to break off. Lots of opinions. I had what I thought was very helpful insight that I began to share. Hein listened very politely and then appropriately ignored me. I thought "maybe I should go sit down."
Tomas called the promoter. No answer. Different members of the house crew would approach with lots of "I'm sorry, not my decision but kind of have to do that this way." After about five minutes Aaron shook his head and made the call - let's go ahead and do it outside. Hein would figure out how to make it work.
Over the next few hours there was more. Merch table over there, not here. Band order like that, not this. Wait, can we change X? "Not sure, need to talk to promoter." Still no answer from that guy. No sound check for Daniel. For me, the mood turned from simmering tension to low-absurdity. I mean, we were going to actually get to play some sort of set eventually so everything else was just something to observe and endure.
About 45 minutes before the doors opened, a round and rough dude sauntered past Tomas near the merch table. Tomas popped up. "And here's the fucking guy that doesn't answer his fucking phone!"
The guy leapt right into it. "Shut up, why do you want to change this shit that we've already agreed to?"
"I didn't agree to this shit! Do you know how to answer a goddam phone?"
"I've had a shitty day already, my phone fell in the wash, fuck off."
They stared at one another, seething. I wanted to get out of there but also really needed to see if this was going to scotch the whole affair.
"Corrado, you bastard!" These two really big men gave one another Kodiak bear-sized hug.
"Tomas, great to see you, friend." Ah, I get it - they are good pals. My worrying had been for nothing.
So the raggedy circus continued. We played somewhere in the middle of all the acts, outdoors (never done that before) while it was still light out. I gave the lighting person permission to just go silly because it was that kind of night. (Okay, that was not smart.) We had fun, it looked like Times Square was flashing all around us, we probably sounded like a muted radio version of ourselves for the 50 or so folks watching in the 95db limit zone. Daniel was quiet but solid, Hein figured out how to get SUMAC's volume at least not silly.
I met up with Daniel at the merch table somewhere around the time we sold one of the three or four things that anyone bought from us that night. (Jesus Christ people in these next cities better like sweatshirts.) I asked him if he could identify why the local band at the moment had zero appeal to him. He looked up at me, eyes a little baggy from being dragged across the continent in closer quarters and warmer temperatures than he was used to back home in Portland.
"Justin. What you guys are doing and what I'm doing and what SUMAC is doing - we are fighters for the imagination. We want to reach people who hear our music and give them a 'what the fuck' moment. This," - he gestured to the indoor stage where this act had set up - "presents people with nothing that's not already in their experience. I have no interest in that. None. I want to spark people's imagination, let them feel that there's something out there that could open them up. I've got to do that."
It was a subject to which he had given lots of thought. I'd never considered the idea of imagination specifically being a driving force but he made a lot of sense. Again, Daniel is a pile of opposing forces.
Got some pizzas from the venue that were better than lousy stuff you'd get at a show back home but the people of Naples probably don't even consider Milan to be the same country. "That is not pizza." We all retired to the same hotel. Thad and I paired up in a small double room and finished the two beers we snuck out of the venue. Watched some Looney Tunes, each took a shower and then passed out.
Switzerland tonight, then we say goodbye to Daniel. Those of us left will do an overnight run to Western France. That should be just about no fun at all. Then it's just Thad and I with no van and the stuff we need to haul with us.
Please god, let the Swiss need sweatshirts.
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