US TOUR: WEEK FOUR
Houston, we have a problem! Its too fucking hot to think, let alone play a rock n roll show. Still in Texas (and it seems the 110 degree heat is state-wide and very common) making my way down the street is like walking into the blast of an extremely large Revlon hairdryer. Hot, humid and windy. The show tonight is at the Houston House Of Blues. Derek and I immediately go to the same place….”Catfish Nuggets!! Served in all the HOBs across the US, they come on a bed of sweet potato fries, a smorgasbord of southern goodness. It also happens to be Dereks birthday, and (not to start sounding like a culinary blog, or some kind of food addict) he has a huge iced carrot cake sitting in the dressing room. Fried everything and a slab of carbs for desert. Today’s calorific intake may be just slightly above the recommended daily allowance. Possibly the worst ever rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung to Derek and the cake is left until after the show. The crew have an awful load-in/load-out on this gig – upstairs in an elevator – so they work extra hard tonight. That’s a hard job and they do it every day. I love em. The actual gig is fine – I think Steve gets a bit of wireless drop out but I am lucky tonight – the signal is solid. I play a decent show and the voices in my head are minimal (always nice) and the crowd are up for it. We can see the balcony shaking with the people dancing and jumping up and down. No stage set (because the stage is a smaller one) but plenty of room to engage the front rows. Another good show down, and we split up – some of us stay in Houston, and some head off overnight to Biloxi, Mississippi. I take the bus and sleep like a baby. A baby who ate way too many fries and cake.
I wake up on the bus alone, in a dusty, sandy parking lot the size of a football field, surrounded by other trucks, big rigs and busses. I feel like a ‘Lot Lizard’ – the ladies of the night that prey on the long distance trucker!! I grab my luggage and drag it (and myself) across the huge expanse of nothing and make my way into the hotel. Once checked in, I consume copious amounts of coffee until I find my personality and ….. well, that’s it really! It’s a day off, so I rattle around on the web, updating, blogging, tweaking and searching. The whole day is pretty much that – except for a nice meal with Derek and Jeremy and a few hundred thrown away on the roulette table. The following day is a show day, so I get down to the venue dressing rooms early, having spent most of the day collecting laundry from the local place (oh yes indeed, the glamour of it all!) and watching ‘From Paris With Love’ – Travolta is immense in this, and it’s completely my type of entertainment. The gig itself is ok, but its hard sometimes to nail a performance when the venue is all seated. Rock n Roll needs bodies – lots of em, smashed together at the front of the stage, hot and sweaty, jumping around and singing the lyrics back at you. The ‘all-seated’ venues just don’t provide that experience. So we play well, have some fun between us all onstage and get them cheering. It’s fun.
Personally I like the smaller, intimate gigs – I guess its just the nights I spent as a formative youth, squashed beyond recognition at the front of the Lyceum in London, watching whoever tear it up. Bunking the train up to Victoria from Bromley South (bunking….. it means dodging the fare!) and stealing beer from the store. Getting someone to create a diversion outside the Marquee in Wardour Street so I could sneak into the show. Feeling scared (cos everyone else was way older than me) but excited at the same time. Getting my clothes ripped up in the madness at the front. Black eyes, bruises, trouble at home, suspended from school (again!!) – It’s a rite of passage as far as I’m concerned. Formative years spent drinking in the idea of a sub-culture that made a difference, learning stuff that they will never teach you in school. Hearing music live at a volume that would now be considered illegal, and having your ears ringing when you finally get home to bed. The Ants Invasion tour at Lewisham Odeon, The Clash at The Electric Ballroom, Even Generation X at The Lyceum (did The Fall open that show? The brain cells are missing from that year!). Find out what really moves you, flicks that invisible switch inside us all, makes us FEEL, and then embrace it. Ignore the haters and the doom-and-gloom brigade (for there are many of those!!) and simply follow your heart. Mind you – look how I turned out!!
More Mississippi and the next day is Robinsonville. Nice place, very green, not a lot to do. More movies (this time it’s the Wolfman….eeh! Ok but I guess I’m just on a Travolta kick at the moment) and wandering around my room staring at the cheaply reproduced art until its time to go down to the venue. I choose to tweak some of my delays and check things like my clean sound – making an effort to keep it all sounding as good and true as I can. I find it theraputic, and running over my gear and my instruments puts my head into work mode, ready to play as best as I can. The venue tonight is like a mini arena (which I like a lot) with seats up the sides as well. Two big video screens and a floor in front of us. The full stage set again feels comfortable and the mix in my ears is really dialed now – sounds like a live recording in there! New song, ‘Scarred For Life’ gets a noisy and appreciative reception and ‘Blue Highway’ and ‘White Wedding’ also get some extra special love tonight. Steve throws in more Zep and some ‘Dueling Banjo’s’ into his solo, and BFI gets the whole place jumping from the word go. Loads of fun doing this shit, and we jump on the bus after the gig in good spirits, headed for Atlanta and gig number three in a row.
The hotel is awesome here, and even though I don’t get much sleep on the bus ride, I relax nicely on possibly the worlds most comfortable mattress and finish a movie called ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ – a gritty police flick, set in, well – obviously its set in Brooklyn, Morrison!! – a good film with some killer acting and a thought-provoking story. We have an early call today because some of us are doing the long overnight drive to Virginia Beach after the show. These kinds of long drives suit me – the four hour, ‘get there at 3.00am, wake up, check in, try and go back to sleep’ vibe wrecks me. So tonight’s drive is a good 11 hour, 600 mile journey and that means some solid, rockabye baby bus sleep. The sound of the engine and the swaying of the bus – cold and dark in the bunk area….. no wonder the rock n roll pirate imagery is so prevalent. But first, the Atlanta show. An outdoor shed (Chastain) with Joan Jett. Another icon from the punk days that transcended the genre and made shit her own. She kills it, looking hot and playing her thick, heavy sound like she always does. The heat is intense and a couple of times she looks like she’s gonna be overcome with it, but she shakes it off and powers through. Its great to be sharing the stage with her and I watch from the side, enjoying it all. Idol and Jett, outdoors in Atlanta – makes for a pretty cool vibe.
Our show seems to be stepped up a notch tonight. The outdoor vibe, the nature of the audience, the Georgia outdoor heat, maybe because its three-in-a-row for us and we’re looking forward to the next two days off…..not sure, but we bring it all tonight. The guitars sound thick and full of tone, Jeremy on the kit just nails ‘em (that boy hits HARD!!), McG holding down the bottom end nice and solid, with Derek spreading his keys over the top and adding those themes, straight from the records. Billy and Steve are on top form. You may think that playing the same songs night after night would become wearing after a while. But something about this material just seems fresh every time. Even after all the years, it’s testament to the age-old idea that it’s the SONG that is important. THAT’S why all these tracks work every day, year after year. Because they are true songs, crafted and written with some real emotion, and performed with intensity. You can produce the sound of a snare for a week, trying every possible combination of mics, room, fx etc…. but if you ain’t got the song, you ain’t got shit. So endeth the sermon!!
And finally for this week, we close with two days off in Virginia Beach. The band is split – half stay in Atlanta and half take the bus ride to VA. I chose the latter and although the drive is long, once we are there, I set up my world in my hotel room (takes about 15 minutes and then I have everything I need at my fingertips! The laptop is online, the coffee making facilities are next to it…..6 waters in the fridge getting chilled, and a couple of power bars in case I get a carb craving!!) and I’m good for two days. A couple of nice dinners with Derek and Jeremy, a stroll down the boardwalk, and plenty of sleep. Just a couple of weeks left now, and my thoughts are turning to the rest of the year, and then into 2011. I know that more songs will be written and that’s exciting. There is nothing like crafting something from nothing. You begin with a blank page, a clean slate, and you work together to build something that (hopefully) speaks to you, moves you, says something…..and then maybe does the same for someone else. This I look forward to – and then who knows. Obviously we all hope to see everyone out there again soon. The Gods of the Music Business are strange and fantastic creatures who surprise us at every turn. So lets see what they bring us next. I gave up trying to control, manipulate or even predict what might be next. Because in my experience, it’s always something I least expected, and always something way more fun than I could have dreamt up by myself. Just take this year – I didn’t expect it, would never have thought it up….but I’m fucking glad that it worked out like it did. See ya next week.