Monday, March 2, 2009
EUROTRIP 6: HOLLAND
Where we last left off Titus Andronicus was riding the Chunnel on its way to France, en route to Amsterdam. Everybody was happily occupied in pursuits of the mind: Patrick was heard weaving lush tapestries of song on his guitar, Ian G charting a course through uncharted territories, Bo, with a deck of cards, wowing Eric with a sleight of hand. All was right with the world. It was thusly that I came to reflect that Fortune has looked kindly upon our first European tour. Anyone with so tenuous an existence is bound to be maleficiary of the fates; the question is the when and how of bad fortune’s doling. This tour’s misfortunes have assumed a different tone, with temperamental amplifiers, common colds, and—a brand new woe—a passenger side door that does not open. These problems are all similar in the sense that while they are annoyances, they are minor ones, and by virtue of the continuous basis with which they must be dealt, one may learn live with them just so and adapt. Also, solutions exist in the form of new fuses, orange juice, and asking the van rental place to fix the door, respectively. All this is to say that these daily problems spread ill fortune over a series of minor incidents, which, in turn, repeat ad infinitum act as fortune’s pressure valve, or the load bearers that shoulder the brunt of inevitable burdens.
All of this is in stark contrast to past experience. Historically, the ill-willing fates have placed insuperable obstacles between our band and happiness in the form of major catastrophes after periods of supreme calm. For example, after a string of great shows, it was time to go to the UK for a week-long stint, but, lacking the proper paperwork, we were detained for hours at the border and sent on the next flight to New York. Or after a serene and incident-free trip across America we learned the tour that would bring us back home was cancelled. No such misfortune this time. And so! Fortune, I salute you. I salute you for sparing us these moments of devastation, and in turn providing us with temperamental amplifiers, sore throats and headaches, a broken car door, parking problems, prohibitively expensive wireless Internet, nothing on the radio, good opportunities to lose things, situations where we cannot plug in our favorite electronics, bad skin, bad smells, water bottles full of urine that roll into my feet when the van turns, and, today, a hangnail that may be infected. For though we cannot choose for ourselves, the choice made for us is if we would prefer the hangnail, or a hangnail-free existence with the looming certainty that the finger will be severed at a particularly inopportune time.
(CLOTHO, ATROPOS & LACHESIS CHILLING IN NIJMEGEN, NL)
Holland is an earthly paradise. Amsterdam deserves a special respect because it refuses to be another European city embalmed for the benefit of tourists, like Venice, for example. There are tourists—in fact it is Europe’s fourth most popular tourist destination—but the city is bursting with things like bikes and flowers, canals and houseboats that point to a local honesty, people doing things as they would even if there were no visitors. The sheer amount of bikes and the casual recklessness with which they are operated puts America’s bike capital, Portland, to shame. Even the almighty pedestrian is subjugated to the whim of the Amsterdam cyclist. Lovers reach between bikes and rub each other’s backs, people hold hands between bikes, children sit in bicycle baskets. It is bonkers. The houseboats that line the unguarded canals run the gamut from dilapidated to grand, some with makeshift gardens arranged on the deck, the odd bicycle locked to the mast, or the outdoor couch draped in clear trash bags to keep out rain. It is all the quaintness and oldness that middle-aged Americans seek in Europe. Someone said that little was destroyed in WWII, unlike Groningen, which was razed. Passing through a market, one member of the band queried, lo, do we find ourselves once again in the days of yore?
Less quaint was our hotel, the Backstage Hotel, near the venue, whose rooms were rock club themed. The closets were made to resemble equipment flight cases, a snare drum on the ceiling encased the overhead lights, light fixtures on the wall were downsized approximations of stadium scaffolding. Diamond plated steel lined the bottoms of doors, there were flames on the pool table. It was all very funny. I should have brought my bowling shirt. The staff was nice, and the continental breakfast (bread, spreads, eggs, juice, coffee) really rocked! Down the road was the Paradiso, a church-cum-nightclub in the center of what must be the tourist district. Americans everywhere! It is hard not to hold a special resentment for American accents when you believe yourself to be far, far away. Ray LaMontagne packed the huge room downstairs full of respectable people while most of us napped at the hotel or in the greenroom. Later, the show was fine, and we were relieved to find that we could store our equipment for the night in the room where Gang Gang Dance’s equipment was destroyed in a fire not a month ago.
Onward and upward to Groningen and a club called Vera. Vera is an Elysium. This is what happens there: you pull the van into a historical alleyway, through some green doors and into a hidden garage, where the world’s nicest woman greets you with coffee. You drink your coffee and look at the walls, where you notice that your favorite bands have all played there, Sonic Youth, The Feelies, Pavement, or out the window, onto the beautiful alleyway. Then scruffy Dutchmen in black clothing help you unload the van and insist on handling the heaviest equipment. The nice woman shows you to your room above the club, in the built-in hotel, where you will spend the night for free in a private room. By the end of soundcheck a delicious Indian meal is chafing in pots upstairs, which you enjoy with as much beer as you want, choosing again between the views. A nap in the hotel brings you to a half hour before showtime. No more than thirty people show up, but they place enough space between themselves to make the room look full. They all enjoy the show and buy a ton of records after the show. Before bedtime, you drink free beer in the building’s basement, which is a candlelit pub that was built in the fourteenth century.
Before the show, it appeared that nobody whatsoever was going to watch us play. Patrick went into one of his favorite anecdotes from Our Band Could Be Your Life. Henry Rollins is down in the dumps because perhaps two or three people showed up to the Black Flag show. Chuck Dukowski senses that young Hank is so down it will affect the way he conducts himself onstage. To Chuck’s thinking this is unacceptable: X number of people paid (likely $5) to see a Black Flag show, and if that person came to see a Black Flag show, then by God, he or she is going to see the Best GD Black Flag Show Ever, regardless of how many people are there. In fact, if that is the only Black Flag fan in whatever town then he or she deserves even more effort than a roomful of people, many of whom were likely shepherded to the concert and could not care less about Black Flag. Luckily at Vera, plenty of people showed up by showtime for all this to be moot.
It turns out that Vera, and likely Paradiso, are publicly funded arts projects, which is nuts. It is a volunteer-run rock club, bar, hotel, makeshift lecture hall, printing studio, town center. Seldom does an American public arts fund sponsor anything on this scale to the benefit of our demographic. Something like Vera would take the form of a college football stadium in America. Any analogy that we can draw between Vera and our own lives are the DIY show spaces in New York, like Silent Barn, Market Hotel, ABC No Rio, which are the same thing (often volunteer-run, community-based arts organizations) without the resources. And most of them are illegal. Why?