Friday, August 8, 2014

Tour Post 08: Tales from the Swiss Crypt (and Italy too!)

Yesterday, Thomas brought 200 copies of “The Other Side of Darkness” LP over the Swiss-German border.  Delays at the pressing plant meant that the band and Taken By Surprise impresario Michl didn’t have a full inventory at the beginning of tour, so this rendezvous was organized.  Little did Thomas know or anticipate the grilling he would receive at Swiss customs.  Bored boarder agents see a punk and pull his car out of line.  A few standard questions reveal that he has boxes of Night Birds vinyl in the trunk.  A simple internet search is all it takes to determine relative value per piece.  A 3% customs tax is placed on this value.  A 22% VAT is levied on the entire DIY freight.  And for his troubles, Thomas is forced to undergo a notoriously inaccurate drug test consisting of an analysis of his sweat.  Thankfully the results were negative.  If they had been positive, he would have been sent to a hospital where his blood would be drawn and analyzed and appropriate charges filed.  12 hours later we slink across the border into France and Michl negotiates with an overworked agent to get the 25% refunded back since nothing from the infamous cargo was sold in Switzerland.  Eyeing the line of cars rapidly building up, the agent just handed a wad of cash back to Michl.  Didn’t even bother to count the records.  We get our cash back.  Thomas is still owed his dignity.

Two days ago, Night Birds took the stage in Bologna, Italy.  “I’d like to thank all the opening bands tonight.  So I’d like to thank us.”  It was a one band show.  Joe pats himself on the back.  To make it worth the kids’ while, the band rolled in some surf instrumentals to start the show.  It made for an enormous building of tension, so that when Brian stepped on stage, the crowd roared.  Technically, they didn’t even play that day.  It was a day off.  They played after midnight.
Apparently the entire country of Italy takes August off.  For the record, the author loves this idea.  Conventional wisdom (and like, every fucking person we talked to) suggests that the show will be a poorly-attended bomb.  Everyone is on holiday.  This is actually the reason the promoter couldn’t pull together an opener.  Every local was short a drummer or a bass player or whatever.  What is not considered in these depressing predictions is that if everyone across the country is on holiday, they are free to travel across the region to attend the NBs one and only Italian gig.  So the show was well-attended, kids gave a damn, and it fuckin’ ruled.
 We killed time before the show checking out the town center, snacking, souvenirs, and snapping photos.  The author even sniffed out vegan gelato, much to his pleasure.  Back at the venue, Michl and I surveyed the surrounding properties and noted nothing of interest save for a few body-storage housing projects and a budget grocery store where Michl purchased some bargain undies.  They were a steal at 5 euros!  That evening we feasted on a vat of equal parts pasta, olives, and olive oil.  The guys did a sunset photo shoot with Salad Days fanzine on some busted-ass train tracks littered with used hypos. 
 A family crisis back home was managed from our pinch-hitter promoter, Gianluca’s flat.  He had the fastet wifi on tour.  That alone deserves a mention.  The walls were covered with poster art from shows he presumably was involved with.  The Vibrators skipped the middle man and just wrote directly on his wall.  Mattresses thrown to the floor.  We passed out for four hours before crawling back to the venue to load out and hit the road.  A waterfall in Switz awaits.  Several of us are dealing with chocolate waterfalls of our own. 
 This blog not being updated yesterday can be blamed squarely on yesterday’s drive.  Easily the most beautiful of the tour, we burned directly through the Alps gazing up at far too tall peaks and cautiously eyeing far too deep valleys that abruptly drop off from the edge of the road.  It was too much to take in.  It couldn’t be captured in photo or video and certainly not with the written word. Phil Spector’s “River Deep Mountain High” as adapted by The Saints plays. 
And speaking of not being able to capture and convey things appropriately, the Rheinfall is a perfect example.  I’ve got no stats to site, but imagine innumerable tons of crashing water exploding nonstop down a steep cliff as you perch at the bottom from the so-called safety of a slick concrete platform.  You are close enough to feel the water calling and dragging you forward.  That little voice echoes in your brain that just says lean in a little more and get sucked away. 
The massive summer festival and open-air concert in the idyllic Schaffhausen has absolutely nothing to do with the ‘Birds and the dank cellar they will be performing in that night.  This bunker/dungeon/crypt is the perfect spot for some subterranean rock n roll.  It’s about as unsafe as a New Brunswick, NJ basement show.  Slick stone steps take you deeper and deeper into the smokey coffin.  A high, curved ceiling reflecting red lighting from the floor completes the picture. 
 The last of a trio of shows with No Weather Talks and Irish Handcuffs means a brief reunion and farewell.  Groggy, grumpy and a bit claustrophobic, I hang in the back when Night Birds hit it.  Instantly moshers begin running back and forth and catapulting onto one another. I see Brian ready to kill the guy who threw beer in his face.  As wild kids stumble forward, he pushes back like King Hippo ala Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, protecting himself and the two with their hands on the fret boards.  I see my roadie-tour-guy job description is about to expand.  I move forward and crouch down in front of the band, banging my head and screaming the words, but catching errant moshers and crowd-surfers as they pitch forward in this concrete fire hazard.  I try to do this in the friendliest possible manner.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this chaos – it’s welcome, invited, expected – the musicians just need to be able to physically provide the sndtk. 
 Our generous hosts put us up in the same place we had dinner – a spacious flat around the corner from the venue where we could ogle a massive poster chronicling first gen Swiss punk.  Space is what I needed at that point.  A few hours underground sweating and breathing second-hand smoke pushed me to the precipice of a panic attack.  When we were offered floor space in a close, quiet apartment with wifi vs. beds and couches in a further afield punk house with multiple roomies, we jumped on the former with respect to the latter.  A wince-inducing drive Paris drive and stress-inducing border check awaits us. We need some zzzs to brave tomorrow.
 Paris tonight!  London tomorrow!

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