I wake up the worse for wear and feeling somewhat sheepish, not being able to remember just exactly how I’d railed against the punk scene of the good ol’ U.S. of A. Forgive me America: I still love you! Once again we’re spoiled with great food from Tobia for breakfast and I manage to hustle off a couple of reviews right on deadline before taking a shower and getting back in the van. There’s a lot of bikers on the California highways. Scary hairy blokes on huge hogs…awesome! I’m dying so I get into one of the beds in the back and drop off to sleep, which I manage to keep up for most of the journey. We stop at some little college town a couple of miles from Santa Barbara since there’s better food options there. It’s pure California: palm trees, kids skating, sun blazing, blonde tan cuties all over the place. The others go for Indian whilst myself, Penke and Granty need a beer, so we go to a halfway decent burger joint (where I get fucking IDed, again) and eat there. Before heading down to the show we go to a huge liquor store and pick up some decent beers; I go for six Stone’s IPA after Terri & Todd’s recommendation and it’s well decent but a little dangerous at almost 7% volume.
We head into SB and get a phone call en route; it looks like the show might be in jeopardy. We head down to the ‘venue’, actually in fact an Avis car rental garage where someone’s dad works. This guy’s band are allowed rehearse there, and they’ve had huge problems finding a venue, so the gig’s being held in a fucking Avis. Problem: no-one involved in the actual day-to-day running of the place is aware that there’s going to be a hardcore show there, and a mint condition Pontiac Firebird is right in the middle of where the crowd ought to be standing. It’s impossible to get the keys and move it as that will mean admitting that a band are playing rather than just rehearsing, and so maybe the show’s off.
Now, as irritating as it might be that the promoter’s made a fucking mess of the show, such irritation is of a slightly lesser degree than the smug pleasure I ascertain from such a wild vindication of my feelings on the U.S. punk scene. RIGHT AGAIN –HURRAH FOR ME!! The others admit to feelings which could reasonably be taken as a sort of “disenchantment”, and therefore basically confirm that I’m great and they’re stupid.
We hang around and get drunk and moan about the promoter, who’s trying to blame anything and everything on anyone but himself. He’s a neurotic cowardly mess and it pisses me off. Fess up you dick. We’re talking about just moving the car since it’s unlocked, but he‘s fucking terrified and won’t have it. His plan is to have all the gear and band against the car with loads of blankets over it and the audience opposite so it won’t be touched…I’m joking with Terri about wrecking the place and pretending to hit the car with a little wooden panel beating mallet, when suddenly the fucking top flies off and hits the car. Oh shit…the promoter comes in and notices and throws a fucking eppo, but I tell him to cool the jets and luckily he doesn’t notice the scratch so it’s alright. We go out and drink on and I’m getting in the mood and the first band start. They’re regrettable mid-90s Victory Records SxE style moshcore, the singer’s got this stupid Morrisey quiff and huge Xs tattooed on his hands that are going to look fucking great when he’s over 21 and actually allowed to drink. The set-up inside isn’t too bad though, with the crowd pinned in and nowhere to escape. A good-sized audience has turned up and there’s a very good chance that the cops will come to shut the show down, so as the band who’ve travelled furthest we’re going on next. We set up and it’s looking good…the sound is sketchy and hard to balance, but this one’s gonna be about a different atmosphere: total fucking chaos!
From the word go it’s vicious; I manage to crush a half dozen people into the corner and a number of people flee during the first song, replaced by others coming in to see what all the commotion’s about. Duder gets the old trusty accidental ‘headstock to the eye’ and someone gets a clout off a mic stand. It’s pure madness and I love it: a tiny space, blood sweat and beer, screaming distortion, bikini girls going mental, fucking great! It’s always so awesome when a show looks like it’s gonna suck and then turns out like this. Warcry set up and hit it and they’re fucking excellent; best I’ve seen from them so far. Raw, brutal and kinda sassy…there’s a certain burly impudence to their sound that takes them beyond the Discharge worship into a different space. Proper good. Great instrumentalists and a mad stage presence.
Afterwards it’s business as usual: beer and merch. This dickhead comes up pissed off that he had to pay a full $5 ‘donation’ to get in (it’s apparently illegal to charge entrance to unofficial premises) and wants a t-shirt for $7 instead of the exorbitant $10 we’re asking. Yeap completely ignores him until he goes away. Predictably, he returns two minutes later and pays the full cost. The promoter pays us surprisingly well and is forgiven his earlier douchebaggery. We hang out with various surfcrusty madsers and go back to their house, getting a crate of Corona and the makings of a pasta dinner en route. The Warcry massive cook up a feast of spag bol and it’s gorgeous, and we hang out and get pissed and mongo. Party time, excellent, pass out…not bad for a Monday.
I feel curiously fine in the morning, having somehow gotten a decentish sleep. Naturally, Penke is walking on me, as he so delights in doing come morning time. I wake up and have some coffee, a banana and a beer before we head back to the little town from last night for breakfast. It’s a gorgeous day and we get decent bagels from a fresh little place before taking a stroll down to the beach and, um, taking in the sights. It’s not a holiday without sunburn, so I take one for the team and get a bit red around the shoulders.
It’s not a particularly long drive, I’m still tired so I get my kip on and feel all the better for it. We drive to Keith’s sister’s house, where we have a beer and meet the family. His dad decides to come with us to the show, which is in this Mexican place called The Boulevard with Temple Of Dagon and Knifefight. Unfortunately Temple OD have cancelled due to injury so a band called Armistice play instead, which sucks (dude) since I’d wanted to see them. We go to the Mexican place next door and it’s seriously fucking shitty…disappointment. Worst torta ever. I try to find a phone to call my girl but it’s impossible…no such thing as callshops in this country and payphones seem non-existent too. We get a few beers in and set up the merch, I meet an old mate and we chat, and Armistice start. I’m not really into it and the place is totally empty…gonna be a quiet one. Some punks start showing up and LA girls look fucking mental…the get-ups they wear are straight out of a frickin Ratt video. We drink on and Knifefight play and they’re pretty decent, the crowd’s growing a bit and we set our gear up. I’m feeling particularly low on energy but once we start it’s there…loads more people have come in and there’s an aggressive air about…most everyone’s Latino and speaking Spanish, people are drunk as fuck and up for it. There’s this one annoying cunt on the stage who seems to think he’s helping. He knocks over the mic stand and then spends two songs getting right in my way trying to fix it. He grabs me in a bear hug in the middle of a song. He stomps all over my pedal board, somehow crushes the side of and pulls leads out. Finally he empties an entire can of beer over my head in the middle of a song so I hit him and he fucks off out of it. Meanwhile an awesome show seems to be going on but I’m distracted and out of tune. I finish a can and throw it down the back, so someone decides to throw a full one at me which misses my face by a couple of inches and wallops me on the shoulder. The sound is good and the gig is fun but after I’m just so exhausted. I smoke with some cholo punks before heading back in for Warcry, who fuckin kill it, followed by the dudes from Makabert Fynd jumping up and doing a couple of numbers. I go and hang out at the merch stand and we drink and be merry before it’s time to head back to Nick from Knifefight’s place. He’d been over in Australia with his band just before I moved there and Yeap had helped them out, so in returning the favour he was letting us & Warcry stay at his family home.
We get back there and Nick starts getting out his extensive gun collection. An AR-15 is the pick of the bunch, though the Remington and Kalashnikov are frickin awesome too. We were meant to go shooting them, but the plan’s been revised since we heard about Warcry’s mate getting wrestled to the ground by security at the airport and prevented flying because he’d been shooting the day before and had powder residue left on his clothes. Everyone gets extremely uncomfortable when Penke starts running around pointing the guns at people and making shooting noises. A couple of people leave the room and there’s some shocked faces around, except of course for Penke, who thinks it’s all a right jolly jape. We go out to the shed in full-on party mode and end up drinking a crazy amount. We’ve bought a bottle of Jaeger and have managed to keep filling the van up with half-empty crates since no-one’s interested in drinking warm beer. Now that we’ve got a freezer we’re able to burn through all the assorted refreshments we’ve hoarded. Nick and a couple of the lads go to In-And-Out Burger and get totally amazing burgers for everyone. We get monged, Todd plays us a rough mix of the new Tragedy LP (first impressions are good…minimal d-beat and a burgeoning Bathory influence) and for once Granty passes out before everyone else. Eventually all the beer’s gone and so are we…
Final show tonight…I’m feeling rough as fuck when I wake up, though I’m distracted from it all by Lynn Townsend, Nick’s hilarious granny. A feisty one, she used to be a schoolteacher and principal in the local high school, which by all accounts was a fairly bananas kind of establishment. Think Dangerous Minds with Dame Edna instead of Michelle Pfeifer. She compliments my underwear and gives everyone a hard time until we manage to get showered, shaved and shut back in the van to go into the city. First stop is the best Guitar Centre I’ve ever been in. Guitar Centre is basically like Playboy Mansion for musicians, and the one in LA is reputed to be the best of them. It’s like a huge superstore with thousands of guitars and accessories, all for incredibly good prices. My plan’s been to buy a Rickenbacker at the end of the tour and take it home, if the price is right and the feel and tone are good. But they don’t have any…ah tits… I get 20 packets of strings since the savings are incredible, and Nick says that maybe another place up the road will have a Rickenbacker or two in stock. We go to a vegan restaurant and get some excellent food (tofu scramble with surprisingly convincing bacon and maple syrup pancakes for me) before heading down to the other guitar shop. No fuckin Rickenbackers. They try to interest me in other basses but nah…keep saving till next time.
I can feel a potentially fatal hangover lurking so I get a nice big bottle of Ranger IPA, which does the trick. Kirky buys a full set of Zildjian cymbals for a criminally low price, getting the four of them plus a gig bag for more or less the price you’d spend on a single crash or ride in Australia. Nice one the Kirky boy! Next stop is the LA branch of Amoeba Records and things get filthy; since I’ve just ‘saved’ a large amount by not buying a Rickenbacker I feel justified in spending an offensively large amount of money on vinyl and books. We’re there for almost two hours before getting back in the van and driving an hour to Long Beach. It’s true what they say about LA traffic. It’s fucked. The whole city is just one big spaghetti junction going on for miles and miles. You literally couldn’t do anything here without a car. We get down to the LBC and do a blunt with Snoop Dogg before wandering around the streets near the venue trying to find food. We eventually settle on a shitty Mexican sports bar called Taco Beach. The waitress is on crack or something because she’s totally out of it and keeps forgetting our orders and getting things wrong. We drink shitty margaritas, switch to beers and eat dodgy tacos…at least it’s cheap and there’s a Liverpool/Everton match on the telly.
Smutty innnuendos rain down as we visit the sex shop next door between the venue and Shitty Taco, which in addition to all the usual fantastic adult-themed paraphernalia also has a five-minute time limit during which you have to buy something or leave. Unfortunately no-one asks us to leave, even though we spend a bit longer than five minutes there, so we leave of our own accord and hang around outside the venue. This city is grim; shiny beach town with nothing to do. Every kid going past seems to be a skater, which is probably sensible since the architecture here’s great for it and what the hell else are you going to do. I was hoping the show would be in the ghetto and there’d be some regulating going on, perhaps gin-and-juice supping or smokin’ a pound of bud or at least a drive-by. No such luck. People show up at the venue and we load in and drink a couple beers. The venue’s pretty cool, it’s the shabby basement of a ritzy bar and the staff are pretty alright. Mundo Muerto open and they’re awesome. Anthemic Spanish style punk with attitude and actual songs. I’d pissed off now that I missed them in NYC due to talking and drinking outside…excellent band. The Helpless follow and it’s decent raw noisepunk, but the sound mix is awful and the guitar tone ear-piercingly gross. I’m drinkin’ on, determined to have a good one for our final show, but the exhaustion has really caught up. Next are Raw Nerves and it’s modern hardcore; well executed but nothing I’m really interested in. There’s some confusion about who’s next and it’s decided that Warcry will be since that’s the billing on the poster. It feels a bit weird since they’re a much more established band than us, but whatever. They play a good show but seem to suffer a similar lack of energy that I’ve been feeling; it’s also kind of a weird vibe at the show. We set up and get a good sound and it’s time to fuckin smash it…last gig…let’s do it.
By this stage, Yeap looks like something out of a Hong Kong action movie…head covered in burberry mic patterns, a black eye, cuts down his neck and forehead. We thrash out and give him a few more war wounds, the crowd is full of maniacal Latino crusty punks going bonkers and it’s deadly…a good finale. It’s nice to play last and be able to leave the gear onstage for fifteen minutes whilst we calm down rather than hustle to remove it whilst dripping with sweat. Afterwards we hang out with various locals who’ve come down and eat some weed cookies Granty’s mate gives him. All the remaining merchandise gets devoured by the crowd, meaning we don’t have to carry it home: excellent! We get in the van and head back to Nick’s house for our final shindig, and the cookies are coming on nicely.
Buzzy buzz, we stop for more beers and get back to drink it up. I’m out of it and everything’s hilarious, and I’m gonna miss these guys. Mac & cheese is produced from somewhere and our munchy heads chomp it down. Everything’s hilarious and we’re falling around laughing our tits off. Nick and his bro Josh are fuckin sound and it sucks that we’re not gonna continue touring with Warcry, but there you go…I’ve not exactly paced myself, so I really wouldn’t have it in me to continue…not without a few days rest anyway. Eventually all the fun that can be squeezed out of the night is done and I crash out on the garage sofa.
I’m dragged kicking and screaming from an all-too-brief slumber to say goodbye to the Warcry lads and lassie and so we do…hopefully not long before we see them again. I get another forty winks before we go out to get some food at this chain taco place called Chipotle. It’s pretty awesome…I get a chicken “salad” and it’s hilarious: a bed of lettuce covered in chicken, beans, cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Salad, indeed! We go to a huge mall and get more clothes, electronics, presents and so on, taking advantage of the price difference and exchange rate. American malls are amazing: just as you’d imagine them to be. Before it’s time to take Kirky and Penke to the airport we get in a gorgeous swim in Nick’s pool…great stuff. We bring the gents to the airport, bid them adieu and make our way to a bar near Disneyland where Makabert Fynd and Trench Rot are playing. One of the support bands is possibly the worst neo-crust band I’ve ever seen. I calm my ailing stomach with a few pints of not-bad Guinness and dose of biftocracy. Trench Rot are amazing, their singer having to stand looking in the door with his mic stand while the others play inside because he’s under 21.
Ah, good ol’ America! You can drive, marry and die for us in a war, but you can’t have a beer! Or indeed, even be somewhere that people have beers. Makabert play the best I’ve seen them and we hang out for a bit before driving back to Nick’s. I get a brief sleep, dropping off sometime after 3am after being kept awake by Yeap’s inhuman snores ov dess. I’m woken by the dogs licking my bloody face around 7.30am…Penke must have been teaching them a thing or two. We shower, dress, get an awesome breakfast of steak and eggs on the way to the airport, and it’s time to say goodbye to Nick. Total legend, he’s taken good care of us the past few days. We get through the airport nonsense and now all that’s left between us and reunification with our other halves is about 30 hours in transit…
I’m exhausted, my ears hurt like hell, my muscles and joints are screaming and I’m hideously alcohol bloated, but the last month has been amazing. America was not what I expected; the positive surprises far outweigh the negative, and almost nothing turned out as predicted. The people, so different abroad, are amazing. So friendly, so up for it, just genuinely kind, gracious and interested. I fucking love America and Americans; there’s no pretence, there’s just the U.S. as it is. Mmmm hmmm. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that it’s the good ones who mostly stay at home…since 95% of the population have no passport and earn shit money, it’s mainly just the rich ones who go abroad. And it’s no surprise that rich people are all too often a horrible pack of smug bastards. Most Americans tend to love and hate the same things about their country that foreigners do, in wildly unpredictable ways. It’s extremely different to any other country I’ve ever travelled or toured in, and it’s patently a nation of individuals.
This is perhaps the most shocking thing; it’s every man for himself over there. As Infest put it, where’s the unity? I’ve never been one to agree for the sake of agreement, in fact I’d rather disagree for the sake of disagreement, but since I was a young teenager, underground music and the DIY ethic has been about communication, a network of friends, people doing it together ‘cos no-one else would do it for us. On both coasts, we ran into a lot of attitudes from promoters, bands and people in general that are totally alien to what you experience in Europe or Australia. Gear is very rarely shared, and often only begrudgingly: it’s mine, get your own. Promoters have little understanding of the expense involved in touring, and when it comes time to divide the door-takings, matters get decidedly bizarre. Bands who’ve driven a hundred miles or less getting the same as a band who’ve come halfway round the world. If it were not for two things our tour would have failed massively on a financial level: merch sales, and the fact that Warcry lent us their backline and gave us all the payment beyond van rental and petrol. We sold out of everything; we’re only bringing a couple of patches and badges home, with all three shirt designs and the entire first pressing of the LP sold out. This is a far cry from a European tour. Don’t get me wrong, Europe has just as high a percentage of sketchy promoters…but there’s a couple of strongholds where you can end up with €1,000+, and they’re the ones who pick up the slack for the failures. On this tour, it seemed that almost everyone dropped the fucking ball. The shows were good, people were there, but somehow we often ended up with embarrassingly inadequate payment. A few places did good by us, but something like half of the promoters seemed shockingly inexperienced and amateurish. It was interesting to go with a tour manager, but ultimately, an unnecessary expense; in the future, the old tried and trusted method of a self-booked DIY tour will be resumed. At least then if the money’s not there there’s no-one to blame but yourself…and if you’ve booked it yourself, you’ll know exactly where you stand when it’s time to extract extra money from the promoter.
Am I merely turning into a Sad Old Man like so many friends before me? Is this merely a feeling of having paid my dues, of deserving more, of thinking I’m something special after a dozen or so tours of varying success? I don’t think so. My top three shows in terms of performance and response were Richmond, Gilman and Boston, yet in terms of atmosphere and buzz, it was DC and Santa Barbara, both of which were badly organised in a shitty venue to crowds not particular to our genre. But it’s the chaos; it’s the madness, the threat, the feeling that everything could fall to bits at any second. That’s what punk is to me: chaos and energy, new friends and old connections strengthened. I feel we’ve laid a good basic foundation in the U.S. with this tour, and hopefully word of mouth, some good performances and another couple of releases will pay off when we return. I can’t wait to come back to the U.S.A. But until then…well, we’ve only to wait until September for Kromosom vs Japan: as they say in the local parlance, dude fuckin hells yeah!
NEXT: JAPAN TOUR DIARY?
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