Thursday, March 26, 2009

Somebody forwarded this fantastic fansite to us:

The webmaster here has a pretty comprehensive collection of our material. Maybe you are interested.

We are enjoying a day off in New Jersey after our show in Baltimore last night. But don't go on missing Titus Andronicus. We are going on tour with Lucero starting April 9th and hope to see all of you there. Also, don't miss us tomorrow night at Market Hotel. Come early or risk missing Dinowalrus and Real Estate, and be the only one of your friends who wasn't there for their explosive sets.

Serenity Now


Monday, March 23, 2009

I am writing from a Best Western outside of Austin, TX. We are in town for the annual South by Southwest festivities, where bands from all over the world, but mostly from New York, come to get noticed. It has always been a dream of ours to get noticed, and so here we are plugging & plucking away for some number of shows. (Seven, which pales in comparison to Vivian Girl’s astounding eighteen shows, or to the Mae Shi’s recordbreaking twenty-something shows last year.) If you are a very important industry rep or an A&R guy with one of the majors, please, please come introduce yourself after we rock your world because our bills don’t pay themselves, and we are committed to really making it by whatever means necessary. We are hellbent on making it. To all of you important people: we will wash your car if you let us buy you a very expensive lunch. We will give you a straight razor shave if you agree to let us look you in the eye meanwhile. We will wax your boots if you let us watch you crush our demo tape with them.


The whole thing was a clusterfuck. "South By." We played some good shows. There was not as much free beer and food as we were told there would be. Abe Vigoda is the best band in the world. Ponytail is also the best band in the world. I saw our buddies in Real Estate play very loud and very, very good show at the Peacock Lounge. The Tallest Man on Earth (who is in fact very tiny) played one of the greatest shows in modern history, just him and his guitar. We went to see one of this band’s greatest influences, The Proclaimers, “The Twins with Bins,” in concert. They covered a Kings of Leon song, “one of the lesser known ones.”
Click this link to see an amazing Proclaimers video. Embedding is disabled, but it’s worth your time.

Finally, Patrick, a few drinks deep, and in a dirty Paul McCartney shirt, met the mayor of Austin.

Since we arrived in Austin we have heard nothing but complaints from bands that had to carry their equipment for literal miles, like lowly packmules, between venues and vans. It is this band’s most recent logistical triumph over conventional wisdom that we have with us a Dahon Boardwalk folding bike to alleviate parking woes, spaces being both scarce and distant. The advantage of the Dahon Boardwalk single-speed folding bike is that, first and foremost, it folds and can be safely stashed along with any band’s equipment in the back of the van. Now we stash our van with great ease.

We played two shows en route to SXSW. The first of these shows was in Charlottesville, Va. Note that my notes on this show are skewed, for I was feeling jetlagged and overwhelmed, because I used to live there for three years. Playing a show for a group of people, all of whom you know at least peripherally but have not seen in a year, is a high-stress exercise in emotional management, and one that I failed. This show marked our return to mid-sized American venues with our own amplifiers, and that took serious adjustment. We were very, very loud but somehow did not clear the room. Many people did leave. This was the first of two dates with the good people over at the Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson team—or as we took to calling him, MBAR. Another band played, called St. God’s Hospital, featuring my favorite waiter Caleb L’Etoile, who used to serve me beer when I was still on college payroll.

Baton Rouge was a star-studded bill, with Marnie Stern and band, MBAR again, and our new buddies in a band called The Subjects. Jimmy of The Subjects set up my guitar and Ian’s bass guitar in exchange for only a couple of Oreos, and as it turned out later, free reign to touch our asses, in a buddy-buddy kind of way that was equal parts charming an off-putting. These guys are some of the nicest folks we’ve met. There was a nice sort of recess going on before the show, with the Subjects, MBAR and all of us doing bike tricks, playing wiffle ball and kicking a soccerball around. Then it was time to rock, and so we did. Marnie travels with a cute designer pup called Fig. It was one of those rodentine pygmy dogs that yelps always and forever, and the name of whose breed is impossible to remember. The name is a portmanteau of two breeds whose names you probably know, but once connected, are humorous. Like a golden doodle or cockapoo. I can’t remember this one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

European Tour Recap

View Larger Map

This was the first full-length tour without a CD player or an iPod that we could plug into the car stereo. So we were left to listen to the radio, which was unpleasant insofar as one likes to listen to music that one likes. Most discouraging was the seeming lack of regional music on the radio. Everything was American or British. One must travel far beyond Europe to escape that sound. We hardly even heard Lily Allen or Kate Nash in the UK. Similarly discouraging is the European predilection towards writing songs in English, which virtually every band we played with did. Why not sing some songs in French, so round and gummy, or German, so brutal, or Dutch, like silk boxers. Speak the language of your feelings! (Easy for me to say.)

Favorite Radio Songs
Andrew - "Viva La Vida," Coldplay
Eric - "Spaceman," Killers
Ian G - "Single Ladies," Beyoncé Knowles
Ian O - "If I Were a Boy," Beyoncé Knowles
Patrick - "Human," Killers

Best Band We Played With, By Far
Andrew — I Arkle
Eric — Stalin Vs Band
Ian G — Plug (Too hard to find their myspace)
Ian O — John and Jehn
Patrick — The Elvis Suicide

Best Venue
Andrew — Tsunami Club, Koln, Germany
Eric — Vera, Groningen, Holland
Ian G — Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
Ian O — Molotow, Frankfurt, Germany
Patrick — L’Abordage, Evreux, France



There are depths of misery on tour that will forever remain untold, never to be understood by another. There are those who have felt it themselves, in their own way, but everybody has their own way of feeling it. I have tried to explain this particular feeling to my friends in the band, but they claim to never feel it, but they surely do, because, I figure, everybody who shares this lifestyle must. What I will say is this: the feeling is a cumulative and very specific convergence of things that are, taken alone, only moderately unpleasant. They include a deep gastrointestinal discomfort generally caused by too much gas station food, stinking and stretched out clothes, loneliness, and most of all, an aural overstimulation so pervasive it resembles chronic boredom in its monotony. This feeling inevitably comes once a tour, but only if the tour is longer than twenty days in length, and arrives unannounced as each tour’s emotional nadir. I can write of Frankfurt now, almost wistfully, because it was the only time I truly found myself in the pits, and only for a very specific moment. I was sitting with my head in my hands at the bottom of a staircase, feeling very tired, sorry for myself, and tired of feeling sorry for myself, when a door shut behind me. I was tired of all of these things, tired of playing shows after playing something like fifty show in fifty-five days, and eating bad food, missing my amour and what have you...but when the door shut I instinctively looked behind me where the door was and saw that painted on it was a woman, a sexy cartoon woman, naked up from the waist. She was chugging a liter of milk and spilling it all over her face and bare breasts. The painting was so detailed that you could see little milk rivulets gathered around her nipple follicles. (Nothing of this nature has so aroused me since Jessica Rabbit.) There had been one paying customer at a show on the other side of the world.

It was like the aimless sadness of youth, when one allows oneself to cry more or less because one was in the mood to make a scene, and only moments later mother or father comes to tickle you or make a face, and one can do nothing but laugh at how ridiculous it is to be upset for the sake of being upset. And so I realized, here’s this painting of a woman with milk on her tits, and my life in particular is too stupid to justify this misery. And so we drove to Koln.


Somewhere between everywhere we had been and Koln we passed the metaphysical border between places where pizza isn’t the king of foods and into the land where pizza is. I bought tubed mustard for my parents at an Indian supermarket and then we played a show. All was right in the land where pizza is king. This was one of tour’s resounding successes, which culminated with the promoter passing out on the bar while the lovely unsupervised bartender gave everybody whatever they could drink. Her mother was from Detroit, we all sat alone in the bar having free drinks and listening to a Motor City compilation. The bartender’s name was Manu, short for Manuela, but Eric misheard her and thought she said, “Anu.” The humor may be obvious, but it was particularly funny for us: some time ago my brother developed a pronunciation for the word “anus,” specifically “anu,” that later became colloquial usage in Titus Andronicus when referring to that part of the anatomy. Tee-hee.


We played Tuesday in Brussels at a venue complex Botanique. The facility was built as a royal garden. This was not immediately apparent, as the whole place was concrete and plantless, save for a small hallway there some green plantlike things dangling. There was also a hedge maze and a fountain outside. Very European. Luc, the lighting engineer, told us that the room used to be a greenroom laboratory of sorts, and is in fact the very room in which the endive was “invented.” (Were they not warmed against playing God? These would not be the first peoples smote from existence for their hubristic chicory-smithery.) During the show I relayed this astonishing fact to the impressionables who watched us rocking and rolling, flailing with reckless abandon, and one of their ranks replied, “Neko Case said that on stage last week.” And so I came to realize that in Belgium, Neko Case’s word is alpha and omega on man-made root plants, and I am just a piece of shit.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez, former guitarist and principle songwriter of At The Drive-In, was playing in Botanique’s big room next door. He had a seven- or eight-piece band, who we encountered in the tiny hallways between green rooms. Ian O claims that he complimented Omar on his shoes, boutique Chucks, and Omar was “very friendly, seemed like a nice guy.” I felt bad for Omar & Co. because they took upon themselves the unenviable task of filling the facility with marijuana smoke. The ways in which they channeled those energy was apparent when I caught some of his set. Guitar pyrotechnics.


How ironic that we should play the same venue on each end of our maiden voyage? La Fleche D’Or was kind enough to have us back on their turf after some problem arose, likely from the fact that nobody had bought tickets to the show, with the venue we intended to play. I was too tired to do any of the things I promised myself I would do, like go to the Louvre and see La Joconde in the flesh (ie, in real life). The show itself was curated by a Parisian band called Sheraff. Everyone was very nice and sounded very much like Nirvana.

Be advised: it has been twenty years since Bleach came out, and nearly that long since Slanted and Enchanted. The people who bought first pressings of these records when they came are now married and their wives will soon force them to throw away or sell their favorite records, if they have not already. This means that we have reached the twenty- to twenty-five-year “vintage” cycle wherein things from that long ago will soon reach thrift stores and dollar bins, where the twenty-year old trash that forty-year olds bought the summer before they entered college will pass through thrift stores, into the hands of impressionable sixteen-year-olds, who will buy these treasures and make the next generation of important bands, most of which will be heavily indebted to the guitar rock of that period. And then, to them, your mid-eighties influenced electro-pop band will sound “like the Killers or something.”

All of the bands were quite good. Jack Graetzer brought the pain and we got to the Chunnel without incident for the last time. I woke up to deal with customs. We will be questioned each time we enter the country from now until eternity because of November’s customs mishap. Then full speed ahead to London, for a flight to Newark, home, and the next day to New York, for a show with the Wrens. Everything that happened there was normal and decidedly not-exotic, so I will not write about it. It was good. You have better things to read about. We are two days from SXSW.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Conversation over dinner in Brussels grew tense when talk veered towards the recently proposed and highly controversial ban on smoking cigarettes in the van, slated to take effect upon our return to America tomorrow. The pro-smoking side argues that the intervals between stops for defecation, refueling, and/or snacks in American travel, vastly longer than European intervals, pose an unreasonable obstacle for even the most iron-willed nic-head. It is unreasonable, they argue, that any smoker be asked to hold out for what often turns out to be three hours or more. Additionally, for those who do not know the joys of constant smoking, there is no way to comprehend the pleasure; thus any such ban would be solipsistic, and what’s more, selfish.

The no smoking team argues these points. In the van, smoke is subject to no barriers—even the most diligent window wafter is fated to smoke out the entire van. Van smoking is thus in violation of the Personal Spaces Act of 2008, wherein Graetzer, Cedermark et al., backed by band majority, ruled that anyone can do whatever they want within a reasonable personal space in the van, so long as it does not impinge upon the well-being, emotional or otherwise, of any other member of Titus Andronicus. Non-smokers thus posit that van smoking should have ceased with the passage of that Act, along with deep flatulence, very loud headphone volumes, and “close talking.”


The smokers retort that any prohibition on van smoking will be similarly in violation of the Personal Spaces Act for burden it places upon their personal space. A smoking ban limits activity of someone else in the Personal Space, which, for a person in his own space, is an ungovernable sector for he who honors the limits of his own boundaries. After all, it is the smoke and not the smoker that invades the personal space of another; the smoke and not the smoker.
Touché, I guess. And then the no-smokers argue that there are special circumstances.

One needs look no further than Eric Harm’s medical records to see that he is an asthmatic, and so has more to lose than your garden variety smoker has to gain from smoking whensoever he pleases. This dark reality is compounded by the fact that he is The Drummer. Keeping Eric healthy means playing better shows, which creates more money with which smokers may buy, and subsequently smoke, more cigarettes. (So long as they do not smoke them in the van.) His thoracic and cardiovascular healths are ipso facto the band’s backbone, or for those of you logged in south of the border, its cajones. But others in this camp argue that it is not entirely about Eric, the guy who likes to scratch his balls and in fact lies doing so beside me in a cheap motel as I write this, scratch scratch, but about manners that ought to be upheld pro forma. After all, non-smoking is normative.

Or is it? Now we find ourselves at a deep philosophical impasse. J. S. Mill does not mentions this. The demands of each group burden the others within their personal spaces. Yet both the smokers and the non-smokers believe themselves to be the normative group. For smokers, smoking was once a choice but now occupies the nebulous ground between want and need that is psychological addiction. Within their paradigm, addiction shifts the foundation of normativity to include smoking as a basic need. To their thinking, non-smokers must allow this fundamental, or now-fundamental, need at whatever cost. Whereas non-smokers argue not smoking is normative because, first, no nicotine addiction drawn upon the tabula rasa, and in this day and age more people don’t than do.


Should Titus Andronicus allow smoking in the van? Voting will take place tomorrow morning, Heathrow Airport, 11:00 a.m. Write your favorite band legislator.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


1. Jack Graetzer in the car outside Atlanta, brushing the last bit of yay from his nose. Jk. R ‘n’ R!
2. Andrew in a bar.
3. Jack at Pizza Hut outside Jacksonville, FL. We went to a Mexican restaurant instead.
4. Eric and our host Matt in Gainesville, FL engaged in a Rubik’s cube challenge. Eric later perseveres. Patrick films.



Getting to Dresden was a long, dark day in the van. Traffic woes doubled the length of the trip—not so bad, all things considered, since we’re nearly three weeks deep now and that was the first of it we’ve seen. We were greeted by sound guys who were by turn ornery and mum. Which was more our fault: we were three hours late for soundcheck and so had fucked the schedule. Their English was as good as our German, which is to say not very good at all. Beatpol is an enormous room that was doomed to look empty once the modest crowd rolled in. Again, there was a palatial greenroom and a veritable feast. We are again relieved to be in a place where we are blessed with support acts, for in Holland there are none. The other group in Dresden was a punk band called Stalin Vs Band. They were unhinged—what a fun band to watch.

We were very lucky to stay with new friends named Dani, Sebastian and their dachshund Marta, who are, in spite of the formidable language barrier, clearly some of the nicest people on the planet. Dani is in a band called Malory, and they’ve toured America at least once. Sebastian is a “pharmacy man.” (Language barrier blocked out many other details.) They like Sonic Youth. They referred to each other as husband and wife but when asked insisted, “No, we are not married!”
They were enthusiastic dog owners—Dani had a tattoo of a sausage dog in silhouette on her forearm. A feast for breakfast again, delicious mustard, bread and cheese, and we’re getting fat and looking forward to being fed nothing during the upcoming American tour.

On the way out the door, Patrick joked that Dani should send us some pictures of Marta the dog. Below are the pictures she actually did send.


We had been dreading the show in Leipzig, which was rumored to have sold a grand total of zero advance tickets. When it time to play the show there were some folks there, likely for the DJs after us. We sat backstage listening on repeat to track 8 on the Lou Bega album—I don’t have access to the names of the songs—getting psyched to play that would amount to practice with a soundman watching us. Lou Bega sounds at times like Tracy Morgan making fun of music, particularly here. The Lou Bega song has a key change, and it got me psyched to play the song “Titus Andronicus.”

A guy or two danced. I broke the toggle switch on my guitar doing a somersault and had to fart around while we played “Roadrunner.” Even the keyboard didn’t work when I wanted to play it. Everybody had fun. We are staying above a café in another artists’ loft. Home soon!


Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today is day four in Germany, and we’re on our way out of Dresden. Clips and vents in the rented van are starting to break, fruit is rotting on the floor and an oppressive drizzle has blocked out the sun for a week. But here we are, plugging away for our last five European shows. My impression is that Titus Andronicus is tired after a few long days here, yet morale remains high. This is probably because we loaded the Lou Bega album onto my computer, and now we’re going to Leipzig on a mambo and a prayer. Track eight, "Beauty on the TV Screen." is an excellent song. Patrick just mused, “It’s hard to imagine that in six days we’ll be playing with the Wrens at the Bowery Ballroom.”

An aside: I have spent the last few dreary days listening to Volume 8 of Mississippi Records’ tape compilations. Some time ago MR took it upon themselves to release a 12” of recordings by a guy called Washington Phillips, a mysterious Delta gospel singer from the earlier half of last century who accompanied himself an unknown instrument, perhaps something called a dolceola, but more likely an instrument he invented himself that resembles an autoharp in both sound and function. The music is amazing, and Washington Phillips has become important to all of us here at TA. Most songs on the MR tape, “Wrong Time to be Right,” share that ghostly Washington Phillips vibe. It’s all sparse, bizarre treats, some of which are more familiar than others. (Side B has what sounds like the original version of “Sloop John B,” made famous by the Beach Boys, which I knew was a traditional song but had never heard.) My understanding is that these are available only at the part-owner of MR’s record store in Portland, OR, but our friend Joe—the guy who put out our first 7” on Shake Appeal Records—has been making these lovely tapes available in digital form on the Internet. It may be worth checking out, if you like that stuff.



Berlin, three days ago now, was a big blast. We were there early enough to go out I went to a “pay what you want” restaurant where you serve yourself wine. The waitress knew our type, Americans, and went from blasé about the not-speaking-German thing to deeply impassioned about the pay arrangement when she warned in English, curling her lip and gesticulating for emphasis, “When finish you must pay with...respect. With respect.” We really didn’t belong there—the restaurant was unmarked, and my friend had only heard of the place through Twitter. We found it by the address, and not until after a lengthy search. This kind of thing seems like it’s a dime-a-dozen there, deliberate holes-in-the-wall where you are expected to know the rules, however bizarre they may be.

The next day we spent two hours trying to find a radio studio that was supposedly thirty minutes away, in the west called Motor FM. The entrance was a hidden recess behind a whitewashed city block. There was a radio spot on Motor FM 100.6 with a tall German called Max. A very nice guy, but what remained unclear when all was said and done was whether he liked the band. He spot translated our answers to his questions so dexterously that we could scarcely tell when he had lapsed back into English.

This is what Max looks like.

The show was at the Bang Bang Club. We were relaxing downstairs, which was set aside as our green room, where the only lights were red and spun around a disco globe. It must have been a sight to see, we slobs napping, eating bread, trying to write e-mails in such an atmosphere more becoming of a wild party. As has been the trend with most of continental Europe, we were been treated like absolute kings. (Perhaps the legacy of monarchy is not so far behind them.) We never hesitate to enjoy this. Green rooms, which are a rare luxury for us Stateside, are not only always provided but are also filled with platters of fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, beside a full fridge of drinks. We played with a band from New Zealand who had relocated to Berlin because, as one of them said, “Why not?” and the whole thing went off without a hitch. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.


Hamburg is a proper sleazy city. It boasts Europe’s largest Red Light District, which we did not have time to see. I purchased a postcard that is a picture of a naked woman framed in cityscapes. (Will this make it past our postal censors?) Next to it was another postcard, a picture of a penis with sunglasses and a cigarette—the phallus itself was a Gonzo’s nose sort of thing, and between it and the hanging testicles was a lit cigarette, which seemed equal parts funny and dangerous. It also did not look unlike the Camel Joe of my childhood. Next to the club, Molotow, I purchased a hat for one euro that says “WESTERN LIFE” at a cowboy clothes store, which Ian and Eric have been passing back and forth. The particularly bizarre souvenirs here seem like, fifteen years ago, they fell off a Chinese truck traveling to America via Germany—case in point are the peculiar bastardizations of American highway culture, the faux-metal cell-phone holders emblazoned, in the red sans-serif of a typographical future that never was, with words like “RACING” and “FASTER.” Dixie is appropriated onto license plate covers and mudflaps here as often as that ubiquitous silhouette of the reclining sexy woman. The Route 66 road sign is never missing from both these road stops, and from cities like Hamburg, where you are never more than a kilometer away from the Route 66 American B&G. Often these bizarre approximations of America feel even farther from home than a more “normal” foreign land feels.

The club felt more German. It was a cold, dark basement room with a deeply frazzled soundman, fanny-pack clad, who did not so much like our band. But we were happy. We were well cared for. Free pizza! It was another one of these places where all of our favorite bands all played at some time or another, and so now I wonder how long this coherent circuit has been around for. Have American bands been following this same exact route since the dawn of rock?

We made a friend called Mena, who brought her 3/4 scale western-themed Gretsch guitar, red with cartoons of cowboys and lassos, to the Molotow “artist’s loft.” The promoter gave us an indecipherable map, borderline hieroglyphic, that had been constructed in Word or Paint and instructed us to walk through HEILENGEISTFELD, or as Mena translated it, “The Park of the Holy Ghost.” But none of the natives could understand the map’s message, and so we found ourselves following Mena through Heilengeistfeld, a terrifying carnival site, past ghastly trailers with busted bulbs that read “FIRE BALL,” “WHIRL-WHIRL” and other oddities and to the door of the loft. Patrick wouldn’t stop yelling, half-jokingly, “Holy shit, this lady has no clue where we’re going, and, “this would be the perfect spot to murder five Americans.” Once there, I opened loft door with a—what?—skeleton key, a relic of the pre-Internet era. There was beer and a singalong there, but, feeling ill, I went right to sleep. It was all too weird. There were eleven beds, a shower and a full business office there. Everybody had fun, for it was all so odd.

Monday, March 2, 2009


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.


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?