Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 15: The Neutral Zone

March 12, 2012 Pratteln, Switzerland After a fairly short drive, we woke up in Switzerland parked next to a big venue called Z7. This is the big sister venue to the one we played, Galery Z7. Here we stayed till 1 pm, so we went in to use the bathroom and then Tony, Mike and I went exploring. We wandered into a Swiss Costco and were promptly redirected to the local IKEA, which suited us fine. We had a delicious lunch and got back into the bus, which then rolled to the venue. Galery is on the top level of a shopping complex, with a Home Depot situation on the bottom, discount clothing and some other stuff. We put the gear on a lift and went up to the venue, which shared a foyer with a Swiss PetCo and a Swiss BestBuy. We started rolling in gear and were immediately berated by the club manager, that the food was getting cold and we must eat NOW. We tried to reason with her, but it wasn’t happening so we gave up and ate. The food and hospitality here were good, but they didn’t wash the plates all that well. No restaurant in the US would serve food on those plates. As we were setting up, we learned that we couldn’t soundcheck until after the aforementioned BestBuy and PetCo closed, which was 7 pm. Doors for the show were supposed to be 7 pm. We all just shrugged. After we set up, everybody just chilled for like 4 hours. I took a nap. Dinner was at 6 pm, and then I...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 14: The Italian Job

March 11, 2012 Mezzago, Italy We rolled into the little hamlet of Mezzago, about 45 km outside Milan, with a couple hours to spare. Rested from our long boat ride, we were greeted with a sunny day, pretty and friendly people, and an easy, flat load-in with plenty of help. While we were setting up, we had access to unlimited proper Italian espresso, sandwiches, and the works. They had a great Belgian beer on tap that I loved. So far, so good. Mezzago is a pretty little town of about 35,000. Bloom is a venue that seems to be part of a community centre. There’s an old movie theater and dance studio on top (where our dressing rooms were) and a little bookstore with cool Italian hipster-liberal selections and vegan snacks in the front downstairs corner of the venue. The vibe was great. Next door was some kind of gathering of senior citizens, lots of older folks standing around jawing it up and going in and out. After we got set, Aquiles and I spent some time repairing the hi-hat again, and then we had plenty of time to kill, as we had a late start to the show. I took a nap, then hung around in the sun chatting with Mike and Eric over espresso. Not bad. We all did a quick soundcheck and made way for the local band that was also on the bill. While they soundchecked, we tasted some of the brews they had on tap, and Tony’s and band played foosball loudly. I declined, as competing with Tony in any contest that involves hand-eye...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 13: Keep It Greece-y

March 9-11, 2012 Athens, Greece Adriatic Sea Venice, Italy We arrived in Athens with plenty of time to spare. After getting the last few blog entries together over coffee, we loaded into Kytarro Live with the help of the promoter and their stage crew, who were great guys. Not the worst load-in, but not the best either: flat streets, but about 200-300 m and around the corner to where the bus was parked. Kytarro Live is a nice venue: a big room, nice PA, competent engineers, decent backstage facilities. We got set up and fed and watered with a couple hours to spare, so Doug, Sean, Nili and I decided to try and see some of Athens. After a brief discussion on the street, we decided to walk to the Acropolis, about 2 km south. This proved to be educational, but clearly not advisable. We ended up walking straight through what appeared to be the worst parts of Athens for nearly an hour. We did see several showbills posted on the way, clear evidence that the promoter had done his job. After we’d reached the foot of the Acropolis park, we wandered around a bit, checking out Hadrian’s Library (from 152 AD) and the local shops and sights. I successfully haggled for the first time, and we saw many cats. We took a cab back to the venue and got set for soundcheck. I napped whilst Tony and band checked, and then AC got to it. We were nearly done when the hi-hat stand popped ANOTHER rivet, this time at the top of the chain. We stopped soundcheck, as...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 12: Greece Is The Word

March 8, 2012 Thessaloniki, Greece After the soul-crushing events at the Turkish-Bulgarian border, we roll into Thessaloniki two hours late, as per usual. It was raining. We dragged the gear through cobblestone streets (I now hate cobblestone streets) into the 8-Ball club. What can I say, but “hello, basement.” The club was cold and damp. Upstairs the catering was set out, which was ok, but we were being taken care of by this greek lady who was chain-smoking the entire time. We kept asking for them not to smoke, but they would just light one as soon as we left the room. Soundcheck was a debacle. Our FOH guy (again, Mark Strickland, also Tour Manager) is fine with a nice PA and an instrumental band, but put more than a couple mics, or a less than ideal situation, and you see the shortcomings. As bad as that went, the actual show was worse. Nobody but me could hear anything, and all I could hear was Eric venting his frustrations on his keyboard. His solo in Desolate Supreme was, shall we say, unique? In that song, his solo is followed by mine, and I was the only one who could hear him clearly. By the time we got to my solo, it was hard to hang on. We got through the rest of the set alright, and the crowd was fairly positive. Let me take a moment to give you a picture of Tony’s band. Aquiles is one of the finest double-bass players in the world right now, and I’ve seen his mind-blowing chops up close. There are no tricks...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 10: Everybody Loves Sofia

March 6, 2012 Sofia, Bulgaria We rolled into Sofia a little late as per usual. I woke up at 11 or so, and I was blogging when we met the promoter at the load-in point. Bad news: the load route was heartbreaking. Good news: we didn’t have to lift a thing. The day went by kind of slow and relaxed, which is a recipe for disaster for this group, I’ve learned. Aquiles had played here doing a clinic previously, and he’d said the crowd would be great and the club was nice. He was right on that score. As the mid-point of the tour, Aquiles wanted to change all the batter heads. He had a friend bringing some extra hardware pieces from the local music store, and a couple heads. I went to the trailer to find our extra snare heads to discovered they’d been left somewhere along the way. Not good. We got one snare batter from the local guy, and a 16” floor tom batter to replace the one that we’d changed earlier. So we now have the the beat up spares only. Hmmm. The upshot was the kit sounds great, and we added another crash, bringing the grand total to six. The Paistes sound fucking incredible, just wonderful instruments. The rack has been getting so cold and so shaken up during the night that the fittings are working loose. In Hungary nothing fit right. In Romania, it fit perfectly. In Bulgaria, it was back to tweaked. When we start setting the kit, Aquiles and I just look at each other and shrug. There seems to be...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 11: Anybody Wanna See A Turkey?

March 7, 2012 Turkish-Bulgarian Border We rolled into the border about two and a half hours behind. Apparently no one had any idea how bad the roads are in eastern Europe and our trailer rig just can’t take any more speed. We had to have some welders come and fix the hitch assembly in Bulgaria. We all had to get up and walk our passports through. Then we had to go through customs. Then we had to get our visas stamped. Blah, blah, blah. Net result after over six hours’ wrangling with the locals: ONE temporary work visa for a driver (we have two); 135 Euros for tourist visas for 9 of us; no signed and stamped carnet from the UK so we couldn’t get the gear cleared. By the time we’d gotten to this point, our driver had reached his legal limit for hours on the clock by union rules. So even if we’d been waved through, the gig was still four hours’ drive. The drivers are prevented from over-driving by a keycard system that cannot be negotiated with. SOMEBODY (Mark Strickland, Tour Manager) dropped the ball on the gear manifest and fronting the visas for the drivers. Our gig had to be cancelled (biggest pre-sales of the tour, of course) and we are currently sitting in front of a Burger King in the travel plaza, catching up on emails and such. Sheesh. So much for Istanbul. Next stop (hopefully): Thessaloniki, Greece. Update: This debacle finished with several more hours of sitting, followed by a customs/border check system that seemed designed to induce sleep deprivation. Once we were...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 9: The Longest Yard

March 5, 2012 Bucharest, Romania After our show in Hungary, I’d taken some NyQuil and gone to bed about midnight. After not sleeping for about six hours, I decided to get up and read as we drove through the Romanian countryside. As I sat at the little kitchen table on the bus, I was astonished to see the state of the roads: at one point we just appeared to be driving through a dirt field, with no discernible road anywhere. Progress was painfully slow. I sat up for a couple hours, watching the bleak countryside roll by, and decided to try and get some sleep, as we had a 1 pm load-in scheduled. I got up again at 12:30 and made a cup of coffee. I then learned that we were at least 200 km out from the gig. The countryside had changed a little, more mountainous, and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground. While drinking my coffee I also learned that the trailer had thrown three bolts somewhere along the way, and we’d just stopped in a tiny hamlet and gotten some locals to fix it for about 3 Euros and 10 beers. It was like Christmas for them apparently. The delays continued, and we showed up for our 1 pm load-in at 6 pm. Thank god it was a flat load, with no stairs. We got lots of help from the venue. The Silver Church was a surprise: a beautiful, silver-metal church decor (as you might expect), with steel and metal everywhere, and a first-class light show. The catering was laid out, and...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 8: Can’t Get Enough

March 4, 2012 Budapest, Hungary We’d rolled into the club with a couple hours to spare, so we had some time to kill. The roads in eastern europe are the WORST. The ride was so bumpy that few of us slept. I was in the throes of the bus funk that had been going around, but trying not to give in. Tony, Mike, and I decided to explore a little, to find a place for a cup of coffee and a clean bathroom. We found a place close by and settled down for a bit.  When it came time to pay up and go, it turned out the place wouldn’t take Euros, so Mike had to try and find some of the local currency, florents. If they had taken a 10-euro note from us, they would’ve made thrice what the bill was worth, but in the end Mike had to borrow 2,000 florents from the promoter, less than $10. The venue had crazy decor: wall-to-wall southwestern/cowboy vibe, and lots of it. The backstage area was roomy and well-stocked, and they gave us lots of great food and some decent soup! After we got set up, I had a shower and settled down to chill out a bit. Our show went well, but I wasn’t feeling great and had a few brain farts. We’ve really gotten pretty consistent, with the whole show varying less than 5% from night to night. We’re certainly a much different band than the one that played in the U.K. Tony and band played well and seemed to have a great time. The crowd was very...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 7: Give Up The Funk

March 3, 2012 Bratislava, Slovakia Today I overslept, which is unusual for me. I’d been sleeping so badly that I decided to roll over and go back to sleep at 8:30, and when I woke up folks were exiting the bus for load-in. It was 1 p.m. I made a cuppa joe and headed out into the fray, as my presence is required at the start of load-in and load-out or everything gets held up. This set of circumstances kinda jacked up the rest of my day. Cobra is a pretty cool venue. More stairs (of course) but at least we had a couple loaders to share our pain. The only bad thing was the bathrooms smelled like a port-o-potty on the last day of Mardi Gras. During load-in I learned that we’d loaded in an hour early, so when we were done (2:15 ish) we had some time to kill. We ventured out to take a look at sunny Bratislava, very quiet on a Saturday afternoon. After a block or two, Nili remembered she’d forgotten her medication on the bus, which was parked a couple blocks away. I walked back with her and we got a few things off the bus. The city was very clean, and the sunshine after the aforementioned long gray was a balm. By this point I could tell that the bus funk was beginning to get it’s fingers in me. Eric was in the throes, worse than yesterday, so I figured it was only a matter of time. After returning to the club, we stowed a few things and headed out to find...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 6: We Rock Poland

March 2, 2012 Krakow, Poland Seriously, the road to Poland from Praugue was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. Over 200 km of cobblestone roads or broken concrete. The bus couldn’t go faster than 30 mph, and most of Agent Cooper were unable to sleep due to the extremely rough ride. When we arrived in a chilly Krakow, the sky had returned to it’s familiar gray. The club we were playing was in the old part of town, so we had problems negotiating our passage into the city, as there are weight limits and narrow streets. In the end we arranged a truce with the local cops (who were all wearing Uzis) and got within a 100 m of the club. We dropped the gear in, got our personal gear, and then our driver backed that double-decker bus and trailer 800 yards straight out. We were impressed. The venue, The Lizard King, continued the epic of stairs, but it’s a very nice venue. The promoter took great care of us, and we had a day room at a nice hotel around the corner, so we all got proper showers. The food at the venue was tip top. Doug, Sean and I took a walk into the old square before soundcheck to get a coffee. It was cold, but beautiful and very clean. Like Prague but without the tourist traps. After soundcheck, we ate (best spread of the tour so far) and I headed to the room for a shower and some manscaping. I came back feeling great, to a line halfway down the block waiting to get in....