Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Sound-check, St. Germain-en-Laye, 03/13/10
Somehow, I've got to get this thing somewhere closer to 'real time'. You know like a real blog with stuff like 'today I walked around the corner to the old 'Palace Cafe' (or the newer 'Brooklyn Standard' coffee house) and there was a hipster from Iowa named 'Chad' there which was remarkable because I don't think there's ever been anyone named Chad in Greenpoint in its 350 year-long history'. Then I could have 'blogged' about a lot of stuff that's been happening: The Fleshtones at the 'all-hands-on-deck' March 27th closing of Artie Fredette's Positively 4th Street in Troy, NY, March 27- perhaps better than any performance we turned in on our just-completed tour. Artie isn't just the life-spring of the Troy music scene, he's one of those people who keeps rock & roll live and alive in this country. We look forward to playing his 'new' old bar/venue The Judge's Inn -and remind me to do a proper write-up on Troy -Uncle Sam's (and Bill Milhizer's) hometown; Although he's long since ceased serving free pierogi, its always nice to chat with Northside pioneer-gallerist/artist Joe Amrhein (who Marilla has shown work with since the 80's) at his opening for artist Dawn Clements at The Boiler Room (www.pierogi2000.com) -it's a spectacular, derelict early industrial space, frighteningly too much like a half -dozen places I've worked in over the years (minus the swell opening night crowds and drinks); the rising anticipation as Easter approaches in Greenpoint, the streets filled with families taking their baskets to the church of St. Stanislaus to be blessed, then serial egg hunts on Easter morning when Sergei was joined by the children of Scott Shiffler and K.K.Kozik, then later with cousins Anna and Sara Palmer.
preparations for Easter, Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint
'Blogging', however, isn't just about being temporarily unemployed, it's a commitment. I have every intention of getting around to the conclusion of The Fleshtones tour, March 2010, as promised. Heaven forbid I garner a reputation for not seeing things through. After all, I never did finish posting about our Spanish odyssey. Like I've said, just too much happens. Let me get back on track. A half a century has past since I was an eager young viewer awaiting each installment of the continuing 'Adventures Of Spunky And Tadpole', so forgive if I don't recall this totally right (people are such sticklers about this stuff these days and I don't want to be flooded with emails) -I remember there was boy and a talking bear-like character thwarting a villain named Crabby Appleton who was deemed 'rotten to the core', spaceships and a submarine-like craft that could drill to the center of the earth (check this on You-tube -ah, instant memories for those with none). The curtains rise in a cartoon theatre, the snippet of bouncy theme music fades away as the narrator intones something like "the last time we left our heros..."
...they were sound-checking in the posh suburbs of Paris. We were certainly finishing off the French portion of our tour in style at La Clef (www.laclef.asso.fr) in St. Germain-en-Laye. The difficulty of a late-night commute back to the city (remember 'Le Dernier Metro') kept a lot of old Parisien friends and fans away, but the hall was still packed. It may sound corny, but it's moving to be able to tell the audience that it's good to be 'home' in Paris and get a wild but sincere ovation. Special thanks to Fabrice for one last big dose of true French hospitality.
Early the next morning we were off, head-long into a grab-bag of Euro-dates -a final trio of shows for a taste of what I used to call a 'Coins Of All Nations' tour because I would wind up coming home with little more than an incoherent pocketful of mutually incompatible (and now quite obsolete) change.
March 14, 2010: Ghent
Our GPS, which obviously doesn't understand Flemish, had trouble guiding us to Flandria (doubles from 50€; Barrestraat 3; www.flandria-centrum.be) an off-beat hotel in a connecting group of old row houses. Narrow halls and small rooms as you would expect in such an old city as Ghent, but a great in-town budget choice recommended by 'Les Routards'. The dense display of Flemish architecture of the city itself brought Barbara Tuchman's 'A Distant Mirror' to mind -a masterful if flawed book, but one that I find myself going back to time and time again.
Ghent: The old ...and the new
With only about an hour to spare before sound-check, Antoine, Justin, Stef and I formed a search party to find a promising 'frites' stand we spied on the drive into town. We were after all, in Belgium. Guided by instinct and years of experience, we took off into the narrow streets, stumbling across Sint-Baafs Cathedral (dating mostly from the 14th century and site of the christening of Emperor Charles V) -a quick stop to admire its satisfyingly macabre statuary, but missed van Eyck's masterpiece 'The Ghent Altarpiece'. More twisting streets and bingo, there was Frituur Bij Sint-Jacobs tucked into a small square as it says 'bij' St. Jacob's Church. "You know people come from all around the world to eat frites here" volunteered a young guy who sensed our obvious foreignness. " You must try the 'stoofvlees' with your frites, it's the speciality".
We labored to get our tongues around the Flemish name of the dish so we could order in style, but the best I could manage sounded more like 'snow flakes'. Being moderate in all things, I ordered a small portion (4.60€), the counterman ladled a glob of rundsstoofvlees (beef stew flesh) over my fries and we're off, eating on the run. Like a snake rattling its dire warning, each bite from the first hissed total indigestibility. I considered the consequences, until I finished the whole thing as we back tracked to a promising bar that we had passed on our convoluted route to the frites stand. Den Turk (Botermarkt 3, http://cafedenturk.be/) turned out to be Ghent's oldest pub, pouring suds since 1228. The crowd of rosy-faced patrons looked like they had been there since then, or at least since the night before. There's always time for a quick beer so we joined them. After all, beer is the wine (well beer really) of the Flemish. We ordered a round of light and refreshing draught Jupiler, (1.25€, 250ml) one of Belgium's excellent mass market brews. Then a dash back to the hotel to gather up the rest of the band(s) for sound-check.In Den Turk
At the show we were visited backstage by long-time Belgian agent/friend Peter Verstraelen who explained 'stoofvlees' was just the Flemish version of the Walloon 'carbonnade' -beef braised in beer, which made perfect sense in linguistically-split Belgium. He also said the show was 'fantastic' (I modestly agree) adding 'too bad there wasn't more people'. True, the turnout could have been better -perhaps because the venue was changed at the last moment (I'm still not sure if we played at Minnemeers or Democrazy) with many concert-goers (including us) showing up at the original hall only to find it closed. Having a ready stock of excuses has pre-disposed me to the business side of what we do.
The Early Beatles, Beatlemania Hamburg Exhibition
long drive across Northern Germany with threatening weather turning to snow...
We checked into Hotel Stadt Altona (doppelzimmers from 65€; www.hotel-stadt-altona.de) an oddly-appealing, 60's-modern place that makes a good base of operations for exploring this wonderful city if you don't mind the odd missing strip of carpet or wall fixture, which I don't. There's traditional (singer) entertainment in the bar and a stuffed monkey, perplexed by its demotion from some long-gone elaborate tropical tableaux, clings to a remnant of branch stuck into a flower pot in the lobby. Hamburg has a lot to offer: an anthropological museum with a great African and New Guinean collection from Germany's brief days as a colonial power, as well as cruises (summer, please) to Heligoland, a North Sea island almost (literally) bombed beneath the waves by the British (www.helgoline.de). But the real attraction is Hamburg itself -the quintessential seaport, its miles of docks bristling with derricks and loading cranes pulsating with activity around the clock. A constant parade of vessels, from harbor patrol boats to the most massive container ships, glided within yards of our large dressing room windows. You can almost picture pre-war matinee idol Hans Albers haunting its misty, wet streets (outside of Germany he's best remembered for 'Munchhausen', 1943 -obliviously not one of his 'Hamburg' films). A non-stop entrepôt for influences from around the world, Hamburg is just the environment to incubate a phenomena like The Beatles. They might have been from Liverpool, but The Beatles who took the world by storm were truly born In Hamburg, where The Fab Five became The Fab Four, absorbing the rough sounds, styles and most importantly -the mop-top haircuts of German youth in rebellion against their war-generation parents. Their formative years here has given rise to a modest industry with tours and exhibitions (www.beatlemania-hamburg.com) -give me a report if you go. We were once taken on our own Magical Mystery tour through Hamburg's funky Reppersbahn district, starting in the shadow of the massive St. Pauli Girl Brewery and visiting the Fab Four's old haunts, including what was the Star-Club (which had evolved into a disco, naturally enough) and standing on the Star-Club's original stage, which had been salvaged and brought to a new location after a fire. Appropriately for Hamburg, the stage was nothing more than a stack of shipping pallets (for an idea of the kind of energy Hamburg generated in rock & roll's early years check out Joe Bonomo's book 'Jerry Lee Lewis Lost & Found', inspired by the live album 'The Killer' recorded at the Star-Club on April 15, 1964; by the way, Joe is also author of 'Sweat' , the epic tome on yours truly The Fleshtones; www.continuumbooks.com). The spirit still permeates the salty old city -fueled by local 'Astra' beer and 'korn', the crowd and both bands at the appropriately funky Hafenklang (www.hafenklang.org) had a blast, despite it being a Monday night. I even got in a bit of audience surfing.
The Bellrays, Hamburg
The public goes wild for Blood Red Shoes at Eifenaar
We arrived in Eindhoven for the unthinkable -a sorely needed night off. I think I've been missing the boat on Dutch cooking on all my visits to The Netherlands, so I won't venture any opinions. We had a passable dinner at 'Wok Paradijs' -a huge all-you-can-eat-if you-dare Mongolian barbeque/wok/buffet type of joint. I also won't bother with an address or webpage, there are places like this all over The Netherlands. Then we went to next night's venue, Effenaar (www.effenaar.nl) to see the English duo Blood Red Shoes. Antoine noted that it was little more than a year ago when The Shoes opened (third on the bill) when he was road-managing for Andre Williams. Now they utterly packed the place, singing resentful lyrics about personal problems to simple 'Velvets-like' riffs. They were what I call 'new English' -no snotty chip on the shoulder routine, in fact, almost 'American' in their personability and appearance. Nice actually. Very little energy needed to emanate from the stage -that was provided by the audience, who went totally berserk for them. I was glad we would be playing the much smaller 'Effenaar Cafe' room the next night.
Effenaar: the long climb to the top, or at least the dressing room. I later discovered there was an elevator...
Being in The Netherlands, there was a lot of interest in the particularly Dutch phenomena of the 'coffee shop' -a euphemism for a place who's main line of business is legally selling marijuana products with 'brand names' like Super Silver Haze, not expresso. Interested parties were directed to The Grasshopper (www.coffeeshopgrasshopper.nl). My interest was strictly touristic -allergies cause marijuana to make my very skin crawl as if it was being rubbed with cats. I didn't notice the coffee but marijuana tea went for 1.50€ a glass.
When our turn came at Effenaar everything was wonderfully professional, which counts for a lot after two weeks of constant travel and playing. Once more performing with The Bellrays was a complete pleasure for all. The next day, past windmills, over drainage ditches and canals through the flat, very suburban Dutch countryside, Ken drove us up to Amsterdam's mega-airport at Schiphol for our flight back home.
The Bellrays had left early, heading off for appearances at SXSW. Although we were among the first bands to play Austin's increasingly unwieldy music event, we haven't bothered with South By Southwest in decades. There's just not much point in trying to squeeze in a 'showcase' amid the jostling multitude of groups and performers that descend on Austin each March (It's more fun to attend, you've got every band in the world falling over each other vying for your attention). We'll hit Texas this summer with our friends The Ugly Beats, when it's the way we like it -nice and hot, although I'll miss dipping down into Mexico. We've always been big border-town boosters, but sadly now is not the time for any such dipping.
Now The Fleshtones are out of action until mid-May. Keith and Bill, along with our old comrade-in-arms Paul Johnson (ex-Waxing Poetics for all you from Tidewater) and dictator of The Dictators Andy Shernoff, however, will be out playing as The Master Plan. Check the Fleshtones websites for dates and venues.
Easter morning, 2010