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Monday, June 29, 2009

Whiskey Daredevils Tour Diary — Day 8: Winterthur

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 9:00 AM


The Whiskey Daredevils just returned from a road trip in Europe. Frontman Greg Miller fills us in on what happened.

We wake up with plenty of time to kill before the short drive to Winterthur. We split up in the brilliant noon sunshine on the cobblestone streets of the old city. The town is even prettier today than in the cloudy murk of yesterday afternoon. Leo is especially hungover, and I leave him unattended at a small unfashionable coffee shop. The main street has become a farmer’s market where a packed crowd of all ages jostles for position to get the vendor’s attention. An amazing cheese cart fills a wide area with an earthy funky smell that spins me around like a hound on a scent. I consider buying a little bit of everything, but the communication gap will be very tricky. These old ladies running the cart don’t fuck around. Time is money, and the last thing they want to deal with is some jackass that can’t follow the system. I leave without any cheese, tail firmly between legs.

I take a quick walk down the street and grab a sausage from the Swiss version of Bob Hite from Canned Heat. At every outdoor café, women in their 50s are knocking back cold ones taking a break from their shopping. Wouldn’t American grocery stores be more fun if you could have a chilly micro brew every few aisles? I ignore the call of the cafes and walk into the cathedral located at the most prominent position in town. Built by the Sun King, I am knocked out by the clean white lines and lavish gold interior. There is also a monster pipe organ that I would love to hear “Green Onions” played on. This Swiss lifestyle is A-OK.

When I return to the van, I learn Christoph has sent Leo out for a beer to help bring his hangover under control. “I told him in Germany this is what we always do to make a hangover go away.” he says laughing. When I ask if he is worried Leo will get sick, he says, “Oh yes! I hope so! That would be PERFECT.” Certainly, this will propel the day in an interesting direction. Leo eventually returns to the van looking even worse than when he first left. He crawls onto the bench seat and falls into a deep sleep almost immediately while I look out the window wondering when I can sleep like that.

We head to Gaswerk, the club where we are scheduled to play first on some four band psychobilly festival. It’s a fairly large hall, so it’s a real drag to be first. We are usually head and shoulders better than most bands we play with here. The fear is we will play to nobody, and then have to watch a bunch of shitty psychobilly bands play zombie, monster, and vampire songs. I mean, I write plenty of stupid songs, but not that stupid. I find a song about Gary Kane blowing off Little Steven much more interesting than “Night of the Vampires”. But that’s just me… I appreciate the finer things in life.

The bill is actually more varied than the poster seems to convey. Brigitte Handley and the Shadows is an all girl band from Australia. They are very friendly, and their drummer “Ned” hangs out with us for a while. She is a woman of some Pacific Rim nation descent (I didn’t ask), and really throws you for a curve with her Australian accent. Think if Lucy Liu said, “Good day Mate! Crikey!” She’s studying Aboriginal genetics/medical history, AND plays drums in a pretty cool band. What a great combination! Also hanging out is Mars Attacks!, a Swiss/Austrian band playing straight up retro rockabilly. Their bass player is super friendly, and has the best retro thrift store clothes ever. In fact, he has already made two outfit changes before soundcheck, so I can’t wait to see what he wears on stage. By his request, I have posed for pictures with him at each outfit change including the one Christoph calls “Mr. Leisure”. It’s an amazing tan jumpsuit with high waisted belt line accented by blue and tan rope shoes. I think Jack Lalaine would have worn this very outfit in an early 1960s TV appearance.

“Frenzy” is the headliner, and are vets of the late 80s psychobilly movement. I don’t really know too much about them, but I think I have a couple songs of theirs on a compilation disc. They are traveling with (I guess) their European tour manager, “Lonesome”. Lonesome is a very tall German that is chain-smoking cigars with his promo company logo on the cigar band. He is very happy to be hanging out with the band, and you can tell he adores these guys. In fact, he has adopted some sort of faux English accent to help fold himself further into the clique. Steve, Frenzy’s bass player and de facto leader, is a very loquacious talker and dominates conversation. He tends to throw a little attention to Lonesome every few minutes, and Lonesome really eats it up. You can tell Lonesome loves being the “all access guy with laminate”, and is very attentive serving the needs of the band. Hell, how can I get Christoph to check if I need a beer every 15 minutes or so? Why isn’t Christoph telling me the food is ready? If I could get used to that cigar smoke, I’d try to get that Lonesome guy in the van.

We play at 830 pm and the half filled room mostly stares at us. Leo breaks the shared backline bass drum head about halfway through our set. We spend about ten minutes switching it out, various stage crew members jumping around while the crowd stares at us. It was like being in Spinal Tap without the comedy. Also of note is despite the fact we soundchecked for 25 minutes (as if we were Genesis), the onstage mix bears no resemblance whatsoever to the final soundcheck.

Gary, like all stops on tour, gets someone to shoot video of the band. This time it is Frenzy’s guitar player, who I can easily spot while we play shooting us a different angles. I got to hand it to that guy; he puts some effort into it. The real question will be if Gary will be able to tell what show is on what part of the video. As far as I can tell while standing to his immediate left every night, every show should look almost exactly the same. He stands there basically motionless without a facial expression while playing. If not for the occasional shirt change, every show is exactly the same from his side of the stage. It might be fun to see if you could edit several of the performances of one particular song into one seamless video. Then people watching it would say, “How did that dude change out of that one denim shirt into the other denim shirt while ripping that badass guitar solo?”

We finish, and you can tell this is a crowd that wants an upright bass, hollow body guitar and some songs they have heard before. They don’t hate us, but they’re not disappointed when we are finished either. We walk off the stage through the backstage kitchen area into the band dressing room. Steve from Frenzy and Ned from Brigitte Handley offer up some lip service about how “great” the show was. “Kinda fucked up” might have been a better description than “great”. Since I figure Steve hasn’t moved from the chair he was in when I left, I’m not real concerned about the accuracy of his critique. It is much more harmonious than if we actually tell each other honestly what we think about each other’s bands in our catty musician talk. “Hey guys, maybe it would be better if the singer stayed on key and the drummer didn’t break all the gear. Oh yeah, and swing a little bit more too.”

The Australian girl band sounds like a primitive Runaways, and every song sounds the same to me. I do like Ned’s drumming though. She’s spunky, and openly displays enthusiasm with lively expressions and eye contact with her band. They’re OK, and I’m sure they suffered through the same on stage sound issues we did. The crowd is starting to fill in the room, and responds politely. I catch about two thirds of their set, and return to the backstage dining room table where Frenzy are still anchored with Leo. My favorite part of the show is when Brigitte Handley and the Shadows finished. They come back to the backstage to an eruption of applause from the Frenzy guys. “Great! Just great! Fuckin’ great!!!” You would have thought they just knocked out a triumphant set at Woodstock. The girls really like the compliments and bashfully smile, unaware that the guitar player and drummer didn’t see a note.

Mars Attacks is a fun band. They have the retro thing down. They are decked out in their 1950s Euro leisurewear, and the crowd really responds. I think of them as a European “High Noon”. It’s really crowded now, and you can see that the mob is ready for what they came for, Frenzy’s Brit psychobilly. Young Swiss men in punky pomps take off their shirts and start to mosh. Beer is flying everywhere, and Frenzy delivers exactly what this crowd wants. There’s plenty of double bass slap and punky takes on rockabilly. They’re really good.

The show ends and the main room has been basically destroyed. So much beer has been thrown around everywhere that the floor makes a sticky sucking sound when you walk across it. Broken glass actually provides some traction. Whatever it cost to get in, this crowd got their money’s worth. Some decide to stay on for after hours in a smaller dance club attached to the Gaswerks complex, and a DJ spins more obscure Euro rockabilly and garage. I am d-o-n-e and need to escape to the backstage area for some sleep in our pre-arranged quarters.

Let me give you a quick rundown on the backstage area. There are three basic areas. The kitchen dining area has a long beer hall sized table with food service area. That has been completely overrun by “friends of the venue”, which translates to about ten Swiss 19 year olds drinking free beer and chain-smoking cigarettes. If you didn’t know any better, you would think something was on fire. Every single person in this room is really fucked up. I walk straight through to get to the “inner circle” dressing room area.

The bathroom/shower area serves as a buffer between the kitchen area and the band apartment/dressing room. Right above the dining room table in the dressing room is the band loft, where ourselves and the Australian girls + their driver will be sleeping. Frenzy has hotel accommodations, and Mars Attacks will drive home. The bad news is that Frenzy decides to hold court post show at the table directly under the loft, making sleep impossible. Normally, I’d hang out and have a few beers. This was not a normal situation though. All I wanted to do is sleep. Instead I crawled up the ladder to the loft to lie on my hard mattress, breathing in the cigarette smoke wafting up, listening to Steve from Frenzy flirt with the Australian girls. “You girls are great! Absolutely great! Next year? A Frenzy/Brigitte Handley Australian Tour!” The girls are clearly big fans and are smitten. Steve from Frenzy? Maybe not such a big fan of their music, but clearly a big fan of driving around Australia with three cute girls 15-20 years his junior. What’s the phrase? “Good work if you can get it”?

All I want to do is sleep. I crawl out of the bunk area and drink a beer with Christoph and the German driver of the Australians. I can’t even participate in conversation anymore. My eyes hurt. The back of my head has a dull ache. I take a leak in the bathroom and see some Swiss kid pitch a cigarette butt on the floor of the shower. I crawl back up to the loft to discover the German driver and Gary already sleeping. The driver is also snoring like a motherfucker. Fuck. How is that even possible that quickly? I lay there hoping my exhaustion will allow me to drift off to sleep. Below me I hear this screamed into a cell phone. “Hey Jerry! It’s Steve from Frenzy! Hey! Lonesome and I want to know if you played the Rockabilly Stomp in 04 or 06?” The girls are very impressed by Rock Guys calling other Rock Guys. I would have preferred they quietly written him a letter. It’s almost four in the morning at this point.

It was then I looked up and saw the German driver’s hand hanging off the side of the bunk above me. This was no regular hand, but a disfigured three prong hand that in this light looked like a monster crawling off the top bunk to come get me. It really fucking freaked me out. It’s four am, about ten people are drinking/smoking/screaming directly below me, and a scary monster hand is attached to the snoring creature sleeping above me. Where could I go? What could I do? Did I have options? Any options? I shuffled out to the van in the cold night air, and retrieved my ipod. Maybe I could drown out the noise and catch some sleep. When I returned, I then really noticed how horribly smoky the dressing room/loft had become. I cracked open the window by my bunk, and craned my head towards the sliver of fresh air while Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks” filled my ears. Sleep was still elusive.

The Brits left at 5 am, taking most of tomorrow’s breakfast with them. I slept for about an hour until Leo stumbled up the ladder into the bunks around 630 am. By 645 Leo was snoring in concert with the Scary Monster. I was done. It was now Sunday morning. I had now had slept for four hours since Thursday night. I felt it. I felt terrible. I wanted to kill Leo as he peacefully snored away effortlessly, as he had done for days while destroying my rest at every opportunity. Please…just a little sleep…please.


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