Victor left again after the Glasgow show, he went out to spend a couple days on Islay to piss off his bosses so that they would appreciate him and offer him a better contract when he got home (it worked.) While there he looked up my couple of square feet of Islay that I own thanks to Laphroaigh!
So at the beginning of June, we landed in Dusseldorf and were picked up by Thomas, who is our tour manager and driver for this section of the tour. Thomas had worked with Cracker before, and I believe also with FSK (when David played with them in the 1990s, maybe?) He is an interesting dude, he grew up in Rostock in the DDR and somehow had a job where he could drive to other countries so he smuggled tapes and tape decks so he and his friends could listen to rock music in the 70s and 80s. He’s not super talkative, possibly because he only hears from one ear, I think, (so maybe he doesn’t even know you’re talking to him? Or he’s just not listening?) but also possibly simply because he has a looming resistance within him still, leftover from dealing with the idiocy of humanity within the soviet era so that he despises in the sheep of modern society as well.
Our first show was actually in Aachen that evening, in a former WWII bunker now converted to rehearsal spaces and a nightclub in the basement. They had just outlawed smoking in public places a month previous so the place still stunk. It was an immense concrete maze, with some bomb and mortar damage on the outside, but it was made of 2 meter thick concrete, so it wasn’t gonna fall down.
Victor being gone meant, though, that David Immerglück was back on bass. And he was into it. Immy really buckled down and became a bass player. (I’ve written an entry on bass playing, it is its own thing and most guitar players don’t actually play bass as bassists do.) This first show was small, as probably all of them were going to be, once again it was like starting over in a new territory. Not so many people, but they all seemed to dig it. The next day we were off to Frankfurt, not so far away, so we had a little time to secure Deutsch sim cards for phones and a usb modem so we could sometimes have internet in the van. Also I got to see my old friend Daniel Wolf, who has been living in Europe for years. He runs a music score publishing company called Material Press. They actually publish several of my chamber music scores (in the midst many other amazing composers’.) He came down at sound check and then back at the show with his wife, but not the kids. Daniel was my RA at the dorms at UCSC when I moved to Santa Cruz in 1981, he’s been a musical mentor to me ever since. My intention was to be a composer, that was my focus (still is) at the university. Daniel was one of maybe a handful of others who were self-proclaimed composers, studying to become composers. Daniel is responsible for turning my ears in the direction of so many composers and musics that I had not previously known that have really shaped my music and my musical experience. It’s a bit hard to calculate his impact on me, really. The first years I was at school there, I completely stopped listening to rock music in order to immerse myself into the music program, I absorbed so much and was exposed to so much new and mind-bending music and musical ideas (as well as inundating myself with the history of western art music… and Asian music, actually…) This reminiscence is making me think that I should try to write about this soon, but suffice to say that by the time I started playing rock music again, in 1983 with Camper Van Beethoven, my musical world had been altered permanently. So it was entirely fitting and beautiful to be able to play a good CVB show for Daniel Wolf 30 years later, to show him how we and how I had progressed in this milieu.
Anyway, we continued on our merry way south the next day, a new gig filled in here at a small arts space in Geislingen, outside Stuttgart. Again, a small crowd, (Frankfurt was pretty well attended, but we were really playing small clubs on this tour.) The next day’s drive was hellish, though, for a couple reasons. One was that we had to go all the way to Vienna, and two was that there had been major flooding in all the rivers in Southern Germany, so we got rerouted and then stuck in traffic jams (“stau”.) By the time we reached Vienna it was “throw-and-go”: load in, set up, sound check, perform. A nice crowd of Viennese art-punks. Vienna is a good city for us, always. We played at a club underneath the trains, a place we’d been to before. I think I played there with Chadbourne as well, maybe a dozen years ago. By the time we were done and loaded out we were starving, but luckily since we were staying at the Hotel Fürstenhof, (where we have stayed every time we’ve played in Vienna since 1987) and there is an imbiss nearby the Western Bahnhof there, so we all got sausage at 1am for dinner. Well, except Frank, who is a vegetarian. I used to be… but I’ve succumbed to the lure of cured meats. I had the Käsekreiner, a cheese-infused sausage. Yum! They just cut then end off a little loaf of bread, and then impale the bread on a spike, take it off and squirt in some mustard and fill the hole with a sausage. Awesome. And high quality, this place is famous for its food, only open at night.
The next day, off to Munich, where we played and stayed at the same spot, an arts center. They had built-in apartments for the performers. I think by this time we were really rocking the sets, Immy was playing some incredible bass (sounding a bit like Clive Bunker), David Lowery even started stretching out a bit in some of the more improv parts… We actually know how to play pretty well, after doing this stuff for so long, and it’s fun. It’s sort of incredible to consider that. As 50 year old guys, not making money, here we were in Munich playing rock music and enjoying it. And the audience is right there with us. It’s special. (like special olympics, maybe…) But I mean, it’s a good feeling to be part of… I mean, until you get home and you only bring home a couple hundred dollars. I really despair for the world sometimes, especially the state of the arts, in that most of the bands that have started in the past decade will probably never be able to tour or record by the time they are 50, (unless they pay for it themselves,) which means they will be working long hours and tiring themselves out and killing their very spirit for playing music to begin with. I know! We have all had to work this whole time, but we still get to go out and spend a couple weeks on tour now and again. And we play well because of it. I fear this will become rarer and rarer as time goes on.
The next show was in Switzerland, in St Gallen, near the Bodensee. This is a new one on me, I’ve never been to this part of Switzerland. It seems like a tourist destination, or maybe it is in the summer, there were a ton of kids hanging out in cafes around town, and there was a huge outdoor opera stage in front of a big church. They were staging Verdi’s “Atila”, the stage was a huge mound of bodies with a giant horse head backing it up. Our venue was a 1920s cinema theatre, beautiful place, and the backstage was the projection room. And they had amazing food for us backstage, many kinds of cheese and cured meats and such. People came from all over to this show, even up from Italy.
I forgot to mention that in Aachen the promoter had given us a small bag of pot, but Frank was too paranoid after Scotland to carry it, so we left it in the van and then he was so paranoid about crossing a border within Europe, so we ditched it at a truckstop in Germany, some motorcyclists were pulling in so I placed it on top of an oil display. I hope they found it. Anyway, there were actually border crossing things to deal with going in and out of Switzerland, but basically it was because of carrying merchandise to sell. When we went out, Thomas disclosed the entire amount of CDs and shirts we sold and the guards said “that’s peanuts!”
The next drive was up to a small town near Leipzig called Erfurt. I had friends that lived nearby who came to visit, that was cool. They have a 4 year old so I haven’t seen them much for a while! The club was a cellar, in fact the Museumkellar, which had flooded the week before (the Elbe, which we passed on the long slow drive up was still extremely flooded as well!) Super intimate setting, needless to say, the place must have held 50 people maximum! That, and the previous flooding, made it very humid and hot and sweaty. It did not feel much like a German show, more like a Mississippi show! (That said, Mississippi is one of two states in the US that I have actually never played in. The other is Delaware.) The roof was arched above us so I had to stand sideways to avoid hitting my bow on the ceiling. Very difficult, but a good show ultimately.
At every other German show we stayed at small Euro-style bed and breakfasts, but somehow in this tiny town had a huge Radisson or something where we stayed. And, to top this off, they had an amazing breakfast situation, very good quality everything.. too much to eat, in fact. Then off to Berlin, another drive with flooded rivers. But we got in in time to load in, but left without sound checking. The club was really new, we figured it would be ok! Actually, we had to go have dinner with Bertold Seliger, the booking agent for the tour. We went to a restaurant in some museum, nice modern German food. I had a really great spargel suppe, and a fish called the zander! (Apparently it’s the Gös in Swedish, and Walleye in the US? It looked to me like the product of an unholy secret union between a perch and a pike, but yummier.) We eventually made it back in time to play. It was a good show, many people in this tiny club. Weirdly we stayed at this sort of hostel in Berlin, where there were a ton of youth tourists. Very strange place, especially the bar/breakfast room. When we checked in, we went down there and kids were doing karaoke, and teens arguing about whether Canada was cooler than the US or what and trying to drink and pick up on each other and failing at both.
David had hit his knee on something and it started swelling up, but he though that maybe he had been bit by an insect, and when he took his clothes out of his bag in the room, an enormous spider fell out! I put it outside the door, but it sat there on the carpet and stood there staring back at us for a while. Even the second time the door was opened to look.
Since Thomas had been a DDR resident, he thought it would be cool to give us a little tour of East Berlin, so we spent an hour the next morning with a little guided tour drive. That was very interesting and entertaining, but then we had to continue on to Hamburg. In Hamburg, we stayed at the hotel that was famous because the Beatles stayed there, and they bought their Hofners at the music shop next door. The venue was a club on the top floor above a big theatre called Thalia where an opera was playing with modern setting. The bar was actually very cool, with a low wide stage. Very well attended. Every German show had two encores, this one maybe even had three. Also, this show was recorded!
Difficult load out, of course, with theatre elevators. But then back to the hotel and up the next day to to airport, everybody on different flights to Denver. Not sure why… I went to London, where my plane arrived late, and then the jetway broke on its way to the jet, so when I got to the transfer area, I ran and ran and made it to my flight right as they were closing the door. I pleaded with them not to abandon me there (happened to me on the way back through Amsterdam, they didn’t let me on the plane and I was stuck at Schiphol for 10 hours. I’m still fighting with KLM over that!) British Airways, however, was nice enough to write my name back in the passenger manifest in pen and let me on! The flight attendants were surprised that my seat wasn’t empty (seat in the very last row of the plane!)
Made it to Denver, arrived at about 7pm, it took several hours to get to our hotel in Aurora, and it was hot! And the skies were filling with smoke. I turned on the TV when I got to the hotel and saw that there was all this reporting about Black Forest Fires, which was confusing coming directly from Germany. We had a day off to adjust to the time zone, so I got to hang out with some friends who live there. Then, strangely, the last show of this tour happened at the Bluebird Theatre, Camper and Cracker, now with Victor on bass again, for both bands! Cracker went on to play a whittling festival up in the mountains, I left the next day.
My flight out was back through London the next evening, so I spent the day with my friends and then headed out to the airport to return the rental car and get to the flight. Made it home, took the train in from Arlanda airport, which is miles and miles away from the city. And this time I got to be home for almost a month!