Friday, April 25 2008
Highway somewhere near Milan (I think), Italy
Ciao, bello! We're speeding out of Italy toward the dreaded Swiss border. When traveling with a band like this, it's worth going through your bags to make sure any souvineers from the trip are accounted for before making new friends at Swiss customs. Espcially if you've played the Roadburn Fesitval in the Netherlands. Just to be sure.
Yesterday afternoon's crossing from Germany into Italy demonstrated a pretty distinct transition. The southern face of the Alps is relatively lush and farms started popping up as we came out of the foot of the mountains. With the EU partnership, the actual border would have been invisible without a road marker declaring "Italia". But then the road signs were in a new language and the VWs were swapped out for Lancias. And then the final sign that Isis knows they've truly arrived in Italy - first stop at the Autogrill.
As noted yesterday, Autogrill is coffee and panini serving rest area where the fare is deeelicious. Although the paninis were off limits to the vegetarians in the group, I was able to take solace in a sublime cup of espresso, enjoying its rich smell and complex aftertaste while thumbing through the 46 copies of Michael Jackson records in the spinning display rack. Just like an interstate Mobil Mart but with the best coffee you've ever had.
Brescia, Italy may be beautiful but you'll have to ask someone who's actually seen it if you want to know for sure. All I can tell you is that their industrial parks pay no homage to the architecture heritage of ancient Rome, the Medici period or even Musollini era fascist design. But we're not here to appreciate building aesthetics and so were relegated to the club, directly between an auto parts distributor and a truck trailer parking area. As per Cliff's warning, it was a mild technological disaster inside. John (Isis: sound) went through about 4 different stages of exaperation trying to get their sound check sorted out. Thad and I used this time to eat sandwiches with the excellent tomatoes that the club had provided with the arrival snacks.
I'm sure by now you're getting the idea of how this all works. At some point we wake up and start driving. There's a rest stop or two along the way before arriving at the club in the early afternoon. Load in, then Isis sound checks (then us, then Jakob). It's usually about dinnertime at that point while the club opens the doors. People trickle in and either Thad or I goes over to the merchandise table to watch people buy Isis stuff. Then sets in reverse order of soundcheck. Once it's all over, we goof off while loading out and all end up wherever we're each spending the night. Somewhere in the middle you look at some countryside and maybe try to take a walk around the block that the club's on. But the performance is the most important part of the day and so it's better to practice a run through of the evening's set than to satisfy your curiousity about what's local. In other words, if you want to get to know a place, don't go there touring with a band. If you like looking at half-torn black and white stickers, though, then you will be just fine.
The only thing different about yesterday was our soundcheck. We've been relying on the house sound guy to run our mix. So far this has been fine. Brescia ... not so much. When Isis was done things were running late so they went to get dinner and bring something back. All that was left in the club were us, Jakob (with sound guy/driver Lou) and the house sound engineer. This guy didn't speak a word of English and had a look of medium grade panic on his face. He spent an uncomfortable amount of time staring at the back of the mixing board before dumping a confused pile of about 20 microphone cables on the stage. Thad and I shrugged and began plugging the microphones and cables in. Lou was shaking his head and jumped in to help straighten things out. This was the kind of sound check where I'd be standing on stage looking at the sound guy who was in turn staring intently at the rows of knobs, buttons and faders stretched wide in front of him. We were, say, listening for the drum machine. "No, nothing ... still nothing ... still noth-" WHAM WHAM WHAM "oh christ" WHAM WHAM "okay I think you found" WHAM WHAM "it you can turn that down". I'd gesture all over the place and finally he'd look up surprised and turn it down. Lou kept rolling his eyes and spoon-feeding help to our scared Italian friend.
A few hours and slices of pizza later and we were on stage. My friends tell me my Italian howdy speech was much more convincing than anything I'd tried in German and I was hooted at appropriately by those in the audience. It was pretty clear about 1/2 way through the first song that this would be a looser and more fun night than we'd had yet. I was pouring with sweat and casually screwing up a few moments here and there. But this didn't matter much - the crowd was having a very good time and we just fed off that energy. My shirt began to soak through as I jumped around; when it occured to me I would fling my drenched head towards a woman taking pictures of us from up against the stage. She would recoil in mild disgust and (unsuccessfully) try to protect her camera lens from a hot rain of Justin Juice. Ha ha. Some metal cretin was barking like a Quaalud-addicted tiger at the end of each song - more inventive than clapping I guess. By the end of the set, things had pretty well disintegrated: Thad's amp had died so I plugged his bass into the guitar amp and pounded on that for a minute or two. Less intense than Munich, to be sure, and we'll have to figure out what's up with that amp. But a funny thing happened: about five minutes after we were done and had been breaking our gear down, I was just about to pull the last of our stuff off stage when a chunk of the crowd began clapping and cheering for us again. I will tell you that I was surprisingly touched by this and my deep bow of thanks to them was as sincere as such a thing can be.
We stayed back at the merch table for the Isis set, drinking happily with Peter and saying "grazie" to anyone who even did so much as smile at us. All us band guys hung out in the alley behind the club after loading out - we got to drink and tell goofy stories in the darkness as Joris tried to straighten out the money situation with the club. Finally set, we headed back to the hotel/former convent where were all staying. We were the noisy ones keeping you up in the hotel that night, friend.
Most of us are a little fuzzy around the edges for this morning's drive. The traffic leaving Italy is no fun so we're just creeping along mostly in silence. Tonight's show should be the absolute opposite from last night's: very short sets, strict time limits and everyone must be out of the club at 11:30PM as measured by precision-calibrated Swiss timepieces. Hopefully this driving efficiency will trickle down to the club's hiring decisions for sound engineers. A word of advice to bands or others touring in the continent: Tuc crackers do pretty much rule, but you're not doing any favors getting the pizza flavored ones. Stick with a Tuc's classic and you'll enjoy their salty/buttery goodness with the satisfaction of knowing you made the right decision.
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