Tag Archives: europe

Pussy Riot

24 Aug

The Pussy Riot sentencing sent a chill up my spine and not just because of the echoes of both Stalinism and McCarthyism. It served as a very real reminder that free speech is in jeopardy wherever governments seek to control dissent.

As someone who speaks out against the US government, Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act could technically land me in much greater peril than even Pussy Riot. The characterization of Pussy Riot’s church performance as hate speech is flimsy to the point of being laughable. If pointing out an organization’s hypocrisy and history of exploitation means inciting hatred and is therefore illegal, then virtually any sort of substantive protest is effectively banned. The eerie similarities between the Russian charges and the provisions of the NDAA’s definition of “supporter of terrorism” should not escape anyone.

Let’s be clear though, Pussy Riot is an activist group using performance art as a means of protest. As they themselves admit, if they operated purely as a band and worked within established channels (playing clubs, releasing records), they would not have as great an impact or have become as great a target.

Euro Tour: Travel Day, Paris

4 Jul

Dropping off Sasha and Damir was emotional though Damir tried to power through it by giving us a South Park quote: “screw you guys, I’m going  home.” We showered and napped at Josip’s house before going to the airport for our flight to Paris. We hit a cash machine so that we could pay for our share of the tour losses, gave a hug to Josip who was stifling tears, and boarded our Air France flight.

We shelled out the exorbitant 60€ to store our guitars and merch over night at the airport. After an hour on the packed train into Paris we were glad we did. We found our hostel after a bit of confusion. We immediately headed out to be tourists and walked past the Bastille, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and eventually the Eiffel Tower. On the way we stopped to buy souvenirs for our families and then ate “typical French cuisine” in a heavily touristed area. We stopped at a little cafe on the way back to our hostel and, immersed as we had been during three weeks in the van, kept hearing Croatian words at the tables next to us. We were shocked when we got back to the hostel and looked at the time: it was 2:30am and we had to be up in four hours to catch our flight home.

Although our estimation of Paris had gone up since our last visit, our impressions of the airport veered into increasingly negative territories. As Bill put it after walking half a mile to find a luggage cart that we immediately had to abandon in order to get down a broken escalator to our terminal, “it is NOT a user-friendly airport.” Despite the fact that we had 6-8 hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours, we slept only fitfully on the flight to Chicago. Tour done. You’re welcome.

Euro Tour: Day 19, Novi Sad

3 Jul

The dance party we went to bed next to at 4am was still going on when we woke up at 11am. We loaded up the van and left the shit hole of Belgrade behind us. (I mean no disrespect, but the place is a decaying garbage dump…) We arrived at Route 66 in Novi Sad and were excited about the prospect of playing a proper club with great gear and clean everything. Sasha, Jason, and I took a walk down to the Danube and stuck our feet in the water. It was quite a relaxing couple of hours and by the time we walked back to the club we felt rested and refreshed. As the afternoon turned to evening, it became apparent that the club had done no promotion for the show and really didn’t give a shit about whether anyone showed up. A grand total of four people actually did show up. They came specifically to see our bands and asked questions that indicated that they were already familiar with our music. While we put on our best show for them, it was heart-breaking to play the final show of the tour to an empty room. We packed up the van as soon as we were done and drove straight through to Zagreb.

Euro Tour: Day 18, Belgrade

2 Jul

Shima, the promoter, and his wife Miki invited us over to their small apartment for lunch. Delicious sausages, fried cheese, and soup followed by coffee prepared us for the four-hour trip to Belgrade. As we entered Belgrade, we got stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam any of us had ever seen. Eventually we made it to Bigz, a huge crazy industrial building that used to be a publishing/printing company in the former Yugoslavia. Now it is a huge eight-story complex of rehearsal rooms, artist studios, dance clubs, venues, and speak-easies. We loaded into a tiny, almost-swank lounge with an adjoining bar and then took a walk along the river Sava to eat some pretty awesome pizza on a floating restaurant.

By the time we got back, the venue and hallway outside were packed. The opening band, The Schtrebers, were very cool. They were all-instrumental with some interesting post-punk/art/shoegaze material that I really dug. Joe 4 blew the preamp section on the bass amp four or five songs in and threw in the towel. A kid named Alexander talked to us before the show. Apparently, he had drive 500k just to see us. Given the fact that he sang along to every single song, I’d say that he wasn’t pulling our leg. Jason felt that it was his worst performance of the tour and while that may be true, it was still a pretty great show. We hung out and talked to a lot of people afterward, including Stefan from the Natures With No Plagues blog. We slept in a rehearsal room on the seventh floor right next door to an all-night dance party. It was going strong when we went to bed at 4am and was still going when we woke up at 11am. Apparently the spirit of the building got into Jason, Bill and Sasha because they were up until 7am at an impromptu jam session consisting of Beatles, Nirvana, and Pixies covers.

Euro Tour: Day 17, Donji Miholjac

1 Jul

Breakfast at Banana City was a bit lacking especially given that there was no coffee at all. But we met Mirza and Eldon and they took us to the old part of town for lunch. Most got some sort of sausage and clotted cream sandwich that was eaten with great gusto and much appreciative head shaking. Sasha and I had more potato burke which was every bit as good as the night before. Then we strolled over to an outdoor cafe to have the Bosnian version of Turkish coffee. The tiny little cups of oily, syrupy coffee are traditionally served with sugar cubes intended for  dipping and nibbling. A hunk of Turkish delight is served as a little dessert.

Most of us dozed in the van for the trip to the tiny village of Donji Miholjac, Croatia. For the first time at a border crossing, a customs agent demanded to see our gear. His inspection was extremely cursory though: he opened the back door of the van and then, confronted with a wall of guitar cases, shut it again.

We unloaded into Katakomba, dumped our bags in the band flat half a block away and settled down for a drink at a sidewalk cafe. After some pizza at the venue and a bit of a hang out back stage, the first band started. They were called Why? and were local kids doing the sort of pop-punk played the world-over by eager beginners. Joe 4 were brilliant as usual. The dazed state I had been in all day prevented me from my usual enthusiastic response, but it didn’t mean they didn’t deserve it. Bill and I did jump on stage for a few sing-alongs though. We played well enough, though like Joe 4 our bassist was pretty tipsy. Damir pointed out correctly that it made them more of showmen and cranked up the spectacle aspect of both performances up a notch. There were kids packed up front head banging ferociously and we were again called back for another song. I think I sweat more this show than any other show thus far. We hung out in the bar for a long time afterward talking to the kids swarming around. Apparently, we were the first American band ever to play to this town, so we were a bit exotic, I suppose.

 

Euro Tour: Day 16, Sarajevo

30 Jun

Josip picked us up at the hostel and then we collected Sasha and Damir (no Bruno for this last leg of the tour) and headed south to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The border crossing took forever. The customs declaration for our gear was in order, but they had no computerized system and had to write everything down. Our introduction to the country was sobering. Every third house was either bombed out and stood in ruins or was in some state of rebuilding in a process that seemed to be taking a very long time. The country was beautiful — heavily forested mountains and hills and winding rivers, but the depression, both economic and emotional was palpable. Driving through Sarajevo to find the venue was again sobering. Many buildings still bear bullet holes and the top floors of many of the taller buildings still appear to be empty and in ruins.

We arrived at the club and met the promoter, our friend Mirza. For dinner we were provided with a selection of bureks — phyllo pies filled with potato, cheese, spinach or meat. Absolutely delicious, especially the potato. It took a force of will to stop eating. Shortly before Joe 4 started, there had only been two paid entries. Coupled with Mirza’s apologies, we resigned ourselves to another tiny audience. However, by the time they finished their first song, the place was somehow packed. It remained that way for our set as well. Both Jason and I were pretty brain dead when it had come time to write a set list so we enlisted Steve Jobs. The iPod shuffle came up with an interesting list of songs in an interesting order and we didn’t argue. It was a rather ungainly set though that zig-zagged rather than flowed. The crowd dug it though and even called us back for one more. It was a great night and we were humbled even further by the fact that some people drove from Prague to Sarajevo to see us play. Mirza put us up in a hotel called Banana City. It was a bit scruffy around the edges but had a clean shower and relatively comfortable beds.

 

Euro Tour: Day 15, Vienna (Cancelled)

29 Jun

The Vienna show was sketchy from the very beginning. The promoter kept saying everything was fine, but we never got a response from the club to verify. Then we didn’t hear anything from the promoter for three or four weeks despite many messages. Finally we sent a final message saying that if he didn’t call us, we were going to skip the show. He never called. We got to Zagreb around 2pm and us Americans checked into a hostel. We showered, did laundry, and napped during the afternoon and then took a stroll around the neighborhood. We found a little local restaurant full of old men drinking beer and families eating pizza. We lounged for a long time on the outdoor patio eating pizza and enjoying a little American alone time. Exhausted, we all crashed before 11.

 

Euro Tour: Day 14, Leipzig

28 Jun

We had a nice breakfast in the sunny lounge at the hostel. We trekked back to pick up our van and headed toward Leipzig. We found the Zoro squat without too much difficulty but it was early, so we took a walk downtown towards the train station to change our Czech Krunas to Euros. Jason, who had been doing so well with our primarily vegan diet, was suddenly craving junk food and dragged us into McDonalds. The coffee menu was all in English but my perfect American pronunciation of “grande flat white” threw the girl for a loop. Bill bought a t-shirt because he couldn’t stand the smell of anything in his bag. (We still have not found a place to do laundry.) We strolled back to the club stopping for ice cream and sight seeing. Once there, we met Maria and Ralf at Zoro and they showed us around. We loaded in to the basement and then went upstairs to the third floor for yet another fantastic vegan meal.

Tuesdays at Zoro are a music/game nights. People come to play fooseball and ping-pong and check out a band. Ralf had assured us that though the show was donations only, it usually works out quite well. By the time Joe 4 played the music room was full and Ralf was working the crowd for donations. Joe 4 was really loud (and amazing) as usual but the crowd dug it and a huge drunken German guy danced like a hippy. Jason danced with him and then they took turns picking each other up. Later Bill did a waltz with the guy. We all grabbed the mic at various points and sang along to Johnny, Ilova, and Spartacus. Josip wrote our set list and we rocked a pretty tough set. The crowd had grown a bit and it was nice to see all the heads bobbing. One kid right up front had a shit-eating grin on his face the entire time and was really getting into it. We didn’t sell any merch, but ending up collecting 160 Euros in donations. All and all another excellent night.

Since Vienna appeared to be totally flaking out for the next day, we opted to get in the van after the show and drive to Zagreb. The drive started with the biggest Croatian blow-up/shouting match yet and we were a bit hesitant about getting in the van while WWIII was going on…

An hour or so into the trip, someone suddenly announced that he had to piss and couldn’t wait a second longer. He was going to piss out the van window but someone else convinced him that it would be a better idea to pee in a beer bottle instead. So an iPod was used for illumination of the process. Half asleep form the front seat, I kept hearing the admonition, “don’t overfill it!” Suddenly I heard bottles breaking as they were flung out the window. I heard desperate cries from the back seat: “What are you doing? Don’t do that!” Now, having used all the bottles, hanging it out the window was required anyhow to finish the call of nature.

 

Euro Tour: Day 13, Prague

27 Jun

I woke up with a sore throat and a runny nose but some juice and coffee went a long way to making me feel human again. The ride to Prague was a continuation of a conversation I had with Jason the night before. This morning Josip joined in the discussion about the tribulations of being in a band. This tour has been fun, but as far as a smart “business” decision goes, it’s been a disaster. We are losing money and show attendance is slim at best. No one knows who we are or gives a shit. How long do you go on paying your dues before you just say enough is enough? I mean, we feel like we have forward momentum with our music and our playing and our recordings, but there never really seems to be an upward curve to people knowing about us. Unsane played to 80 people in Zagreb recently. If a band of that notoriety and stature limps along like that, what chance in hell do we ever have to be heard? Despite what Bruno keeps saying from the back seat, life’s NOT all about bitches and money. I don’t want to be famous or to be rich. I just want to be able to be known and respected enough to roll into a town and know that some people are looking forward to it and will come to the show. You can’t become known if you don’t tour and it’s almost impossible to tour if you’re not known.

The show at 007 Strahov did a bit to restore some self confidence for both bands. There were probably 30-40 people there and they were there specifically for this show (advertised as “old-school noise-rock”). There were kids up front singing along to our songs. WTF?!?! There were a few mistakes during the show, but it didn’t matter. In fact, it almost seemed to add to the show — to increase the visceral impact. Having people right up to the lip of the stage, savagely banging their heads, fueled our performance and Bill and I hurtled across the stage at and away from each other, always in danger of banging our heads on the extremely low ceiling. Bruno was besieged at the merch table afterwards. Quoth he: ” they were attacking me.” The promoter, Petr was super cool. He gave us a great spinach and potato curry for dinner and was really enthusiastic about the show and our performances. He even arranged a secure parking spot for our van and an awesome clean hostel. All in all, a great night. Too bad the whole tour wasn’t this great.

Euro Tour: Day 12, Ansbach

26 Jun

We waited around forever, for Bruno to make his toilette. So long, in fact, that we had no time to go to Andy’s house for coffee, showers, laundry, and internet. I was most disappointed about missing out on laundry. It’s day 12 and I have one pair of clean socks and underwear and no shirts. My jeans are pretty much able to stand up by themselves at this point. It wasn’t to be. The traffic to Ansbach was continuously bunching up and we didn’t roll into the small town of Ansbach until around 7pm. We never asked, but it appeared as thought the club was some sort of Christian youth center. I kept cringing as the Croats kept tossing around the MFers, but our hosts didn’t seem to notice or mind (or just seethed indside?).

The bass amp started buzzing again during sound check, so we popped the back plate and discovered yet another connection had broken. It appeared as though it was an attenuator circuit that wasn’t being used, but Jason soldered it back together anyhow and it seemed to take care of the problem. The show was supposed to start at 9, but since no one had showed up, they kept pushing the start time back. Finally after ten, Joe 4 played to a ground of six or seven kids. They really dug it, banging their heads to brittle metallic fury of the Croats. What a great band. I still haven’t gotten tired of seeing them night after night. We played to the same group of kids. They also watched enthusiastically as we pounded through a pretty darn good set. I’m not sure the people that ran the place were so keen — the emocore before and between bands seemed to indicate that ours was not the genre of choice. The flat we stayed at was clean and comfortable. I climbed into a little loft in the living room, kicked off a couple of YouTube uploads and went to sleep.