Despite having toured Europe, Asia and Latin America over the past decade with various bands, this was my first time touring the USA. No matter how you happen to feel about the United States in terms of culture and society, as a touring musician only Japan can compete in terms of milestones. Coming to the US as a band is fucking awesome – all the more so with plenty of hype and our first 12” just out. It’s my first real trip to the country, discounting five days in Austin for Chaos In Tejas three years ago.
But let’s back up a second… Having moved to Melbourne at the beginning of the year, I only joined Kromosom four months ago. The first Australian band I’d seen tour Europe was Pisschrist, and they remain one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. When they broke up, Kromosom was the natural progression, albeit in a much noisier, more raw form. I mentioned joining to them last February as a joke, and next thing you know, that’s it –I’m in. We’d spent the last three months rehearsing, writing, recording and playing as many gigs as possible in preparation for the tour…but still with one more hurdle to jump: U.S. customs and immigration are notoriously suspicious of anyone they think may be entering to work without the proper visa. I suppose the logic is that they only want tourist money coming in rather than American money going out, but it’s meant that various friends from Japan and Sweden have previously been refused entry when attempting to tour here. The border cops are merciless…they’ll trick you into spilling the beans, look through your phone & email account, google your name etc, so you gotta prep all you can and then just hope that your luck holds long enough to get through, or it’s months of hard work down the drain. Our luck holds and it all goes fine, albeit with a lot of waiting…particularly hellish after a flight of over 24 hours.
Our tour manager is an old friend and legend of the U.S. punk scene, Greg Daly. Having toured everyone from Amebix to Baroness in the past, he’s well experienced and knows the easiest way around everything. He also doesn’t take any shit from dodgy promoters and finds the best parties: exactly what’s needed! We spend the first few days at his friends’ place near the beach in New Jersey attempting to recover from the atrocious jetlag and buying new guitars, cases, pedals, drum stuff etc. Except instead of rehydrating and getting some rest we just get drunk as hell and feel tired all the time. But we do at least have the time to go shopping. We’d left all our gear at home due to the attention it would attract from immigration, so we’re renting Disfear’s backline and buying new instruments. Kirk got his drum breakables off the internet, so myself and Penke go to a couple of shops and end up with a Gibson Explorer and Fender Jazz bass…very nice. We’ve got two nights in Philadelphia before the first show in Boston so we test out the gear and backline in Greg’s basement, run up the Rocky stairs, eat Mexican food…and get drunk as fuck.
It’s well over 30 degrees and hotter than Satan’s cock as we load up the van in the late morning to leave Philadelphia for the first show. Traffic is awful so the journey takes around six hours. Greg’s van is a good size, space for double the amount of people so plenty of room to stretch out and attempt to sleep off the rapidly worsening hangover courtesy of last night’s karaoke holocaust. A beer and a burger en route help somewhat, and we arrive in Boston at around 6pm. I’m ready to be good-naturedly belligerent at the stage-Irishness of everything, but none of the areas we’re around are actually decked out in Paddy garishness…disappointing. First stop is the new Armageddon Shop, the all-vinyl record store owned by the dudes from Dropdead. They’ve been running the shop in Providence for something like 20 years and just opened the Boston store six months ago…it’s excellent. I pick up the new Metalion: Slayer Diaries book I’d just seen reviewed plus a couple of other zines and records. We drive to the venue and load in; it’s a decent size and shape and has a cool stage area, so things are looking good. I find a hardware store and buy some velcro and glue to sort out my pedal board. We drink a beer or two and we’re told there won’t be time for a sound check so we go and get some food.
When we get back we’ve missed the first band…bugger. BloodKrow Butcher are next and they’re decent; a snotty young 3-piece playing aggro U.S. hardcore, fast and pissed-off. Sounds like Discharge without sounding anything like a Dis band. I start working on a few PBRs and meet some old mates and next up are Fuckheads. As expected, noisy distorted hardcore with a Japanese edge is the order of the day. It’s a short intense set and things are warming up nicely. That is, until the next band start. It’s some Spanish band who’ve jumped on the gig whose name I can’t remember…some kind of crossover thrash with hardcore influences is what they’re peddling. Five years too late guys. And if you really insist on finishing your set with a cover song, it certainly shouldn’t be Municipal Waste.
We set up and get our sound right and the place is pretty full. People seem up for it, with our merch table doing a good trade all night and seemingly high expectations due to the ex-Pisschrist connection and recent hype. There’s a slight amount of trepidation on our part, since both myself and Penke will be trying out our new gear live for the first time. No worries necessary: it sounds excellent, like a fucking war in hell. All the annoying hisses, squeals and white noise from using a daisy chain for the pedals is cut out due to the T-Rex fuel tank I picked up in New Jersey, so the overall sound retains that horrific blown-out element without the same level of migraine-inducing, teeth-grinding high-end. From the first note the gig is pandemonium; Yeap is living up to his Human Warhead nickname while Kirk plays incredibly fast and loud, myself and Penke creating a wall of noise and trying not to fall into the amps. Multiple crowd surfers and insane tattooed crusty kids smash their way through the stage but there’s no real fuck-ups and after the set people want more. Kirk’s destroyed, but eventually relents when the rest of us point and chant at him together with the crowd…two more songs. It seems that whenever chanting starts in the U.S. people have no choice but to capitulate…USA, USA, USA!! We finish up and Yeap disappears out the door puking. I’m totally soaked through and need to catch my breath for ten minutes, so I get another beer and cool off. This girl Kate we met in Japan on the NDT tour showed up so I go with her and partake in a little Bob Marley action. After that everything’s pretty funny; we hang out, drink, I pack down my gear and we load out. Greg’s picked us up a crate of beer so we furtively get a start on that, since people are massively paranoid about drinking on the street…if this was a punk gig anywhere in the UK, Ireland or Australia, there’d be a dozen drunken reprobates outside clutching cans of something cheap and nasty. Maybe the cops are extra shitty to people for street drinking here. Or maybe Boston punks are just…nah! We hang out for a bit and go with some people from the gig to a party in a warehouse rehearsal space where some bands are playing and people are drinking. It’s not that much fun, in fact it’s more of a practice session than a gig, so we head back to our friend Jill’s place, drink a few more beers, talk bollocks and go to sleep.
Less than six hours sleep and we’re up and off to NYC, stopping at what are called “traffic plazas” on the way to eat. It’s basically a miniature food mall of chains…excellent! I get a “Chicken Po’Boy” from “Popeyes”, and it’s amazing…basically a fried chicken sandwich. The others get cheap Mexican food. We arrive pretty early in Brooklyn, where we’re playing in the basement of a bar called The Charleston on Bedford. Brooklyn is exactly as I’d imagined: weirdoes, hipsters, crazy people, skateboarders, all that typical New York riff-raff. Not feeling the best so we have a few beers for a curer. Still feeling exhausted so I go for a coffee. It’s not doing the job –back to the beers. Fucking jetlag…I’m out of it. Feels like I’m coming down off acid for the past five days. We meet old friends and drink, I get a mindblowingly amazing slice of pizza and the gig starts. It’s a fucking TINY basement with room for maybe 200 people max. I miss the first band and next up is Perdition; they’re excellent. A bunch of punk-as-fuck dudes in their early 20s playing raw hard-hitting d-beat chaos, akin to a way noisier Doom. I miss the next guys aswell before seeing some of Mundo Muerto. They’re playing raw straightforward hardcore with Spanish vocals. Decent. We set up and play and it’s fun. Low ceilings and mad punks don’t mix well so I end up with a cut on my head. Afterwards takes a bit of recovery but people are forcing drinks and shots on me…I semi-willingly oblige but I’m getting nowhere; the accumulated hangover and jetlag have destroyed me. I go and get a slice of delicious chicken and avocado pizza. Yeap’s keen to party at some rooftop with the Perdition dudes but everyone else is wrecked; he opts to come back with us to where we’re staying. I get monged and zone out…American weed is uniformly hard-hitting. Or, in the local parlance, this shizzle’s the chronic, yo! We get a shitty sleep, plagued by badly behaved cats who enjoy knocking over waterglasses and trying to drink your wee while you piss. Dirty little bastards.
We leave early as we’ve got two gigs today; an afternoon all-ages show at The Barbary with Ceremony and some hardcore-hardcore type bands and a later show at some nightclub for Philly Punx Picnic with a load of punk bands. It’s not a long drive, maybe two hours, and we stop on the way at some rest stop place. There’s nothing I want to eat so I end up with a shitty hotdog. We get to Philly and go straight to an awesome breakfast diner called Honey’s, typical American style with great food. But I’m full of shitty hotdog so I can only handle a coffee and an orange juice. Typical crime of passion…what a waste. Then it’s straight to the Barbary. We hang out and I specifically don’t drink and feel bored. The place fills up with a big crowd of clean-cut hardcore kids before the first band start and they’re alright, common-or-garden American hardcore. The next band are some God-awful load of muck, crooning nonsense that sounds like Helmet crossed with Pearl Jam interspersed with occasional hardcorey breakdown parts. Is this what’s popular in this scene nowadays? We set-up and play and Yeap gives himself a few more injuries. It sounds great and it’s a decent set-up, circle pitting and madness on front of the stage but the majority of the crowd aren’t that up for it. No breakdowns so they rarely manage to have a go of that little karate dancing thing they ‘re so mad about. We do about 30 shirts and 30 LPs at the merch stand. Afterwards I feel shitty. Despite drinking literally about 5 litres of water since the night before I’ve hardly pissed at all, and the lingering cold from a few weeks ago plus the jetlag have obviously dehydrated me way more than I thought. I’ve never felt this bad after just a couple of days on tour before; I’m de-fucking-stroyed. I suffer behind the merch table for a while and watch Ceremony. They’re great. A full album would bore me but live it’s different; the band are obviously well road-tested and have an interesting mix of modern Bridge Nine hardcore, power violence breakdowns and ‘80s LA punk influences. The crowd is utter bedlam: people walking on each others’ heads, shoes flying everywhere, a dude dislocating his shoulder and a lot of histrionic moshing and singalongs. Very entertaining.
I continue to not drink or smoke and we leave for the other show, picking up some “hoagies” on the way back to Greg’s, since we’ve busted a cabinet and need to pick up another at his house. A hoagie is basically a sandwich roll. French bread etc. They’re good. We hang out for a bit and then head to the other gig, which is nearby at a fancy nightclub. There’s a lot of dirty punks hanging around outside drinking and it’s about half-full inside. Mercifully air-conditioned…the weather is crazy hot over here. I drink my first beer of the day and it goes down nicely. The local draft beer is Yard’s, a really good ale, and we’ve got plenty of drinks tickets: let the games begin! There’s quite a lot of bands, BloodKrow Butcher play again and are by far the best of them. The place gradually fills up. Ceremony play before us and they’re excellent again, the crowd not half as wild as earlier. The singer comes over to the bar beside me and whacks his own head off it with an audible THWACK, before staggering around clutching it and falling over. That’s the spirit! We get our gear onstage and set up and I’ve built a fairly good head of steam by now; it’s getting far easier to deal with the heat. Hopefully this is the end of my jetlag. It’s a good show, the best part being when Yeap somehow manages to cut a huge chunk of flesh out of his wrist leading to an endless stream of hilarious comments relating to his dirty gash and the possibilities of it becoming infected, smelly, etc. I feel guilty for a second after a brief sortie into the crowd during which a nice girl in a pretty dress gets a smack in the face off my guitar. The sound is great and it’s an enjoyable show to play.
Afterwards it’s shots again and endless pitchers of beer from our drinks tickets. We hang out and get rowdy before heading back to Greg’s house with a load of people. The liquor store’s closed so no more beer, but Greg’s got an emergency bottle of whiskey which he gives us…best fuckin tour manager, YEAH!! Turns out someone there’s got another bottle of whiskey and a case of beers. Things are all good and we party on until someone gets a stereo going and then all hell breaks loose. Appendix comes on and people start pogoing and dancing wildly in the kitchen. This awesome chick Courtney who lives with Greg runs into the kitchen and dives through the air, landing on the kitchen table which then slides across the floor. Everyone starts having a go until someone realises that the table is covered in broken glass and we’ve all been cutting ourselves. Rose Tattoo comes on and everyone just starts smashing shit. A number of people leave and a couple cower in the corner but shit keeps getting wilder. Anti-Cimex comes on and this dude Eric tackles Yeap and knocks him over, so I put Eric in the bin. Then Yeap jumps on my back and I get him off, pick him up and throw him against the wall. The mayhem migrates to the living room and I end up with a huge black bruise after unsuccessfully attempting a flying elbow drop on Penke. Things continue much in this fashion…
…until I wake up on the sofa and remember where I am. I get some water and see that it’s almost 1pm. I feel great. I feel the edges of a hangover scratching through the remnants of last nights drunk, but it’s an honest-to-god proper tour hangover and none of this jetlag bullshit that’s been plaguing me for the past week. Thank fuck I’m over that…never had such a tame time on tour before. We head out to find some diner or café or something for breakfast, but everywhere’s shut cos it’s the 4th July. We end up going back to the hoagie place and I get an obscenely huge sandwich. I can only finish half….three types of meat, two types of cheese and all sorts of filling. God bless this fine nation.
We sit around talking shit and smokin’ out with Courtney and the gang from last night. I look at this photo book called Punk Is Everything until it’s time to go. Amazing book…lots of flyers, old photos and record covers covering the history of punk up until roughly 2000. None of those annoying “back in the day” commentaries and a fascinating progressive lay-out that moves forward by linking style, influence and innovation rather than a simple chronology. I’ll have to pick up a copy. Uneventful drive and we arrive in DC shortly before dark. Tonight is a basement show at some dude’s house, with a BBQ and beers in the yard. There’s some right funny characters there, but the basement is frickin’ TINY. Smallest place I’ve ever seen have a gig. I’m disproportionately amused by the presence of Playboy magazines in the bathroom, an event which would have catastrophic potential in the European punk scene. Seriously…if word went around Germany about a punk house with porno in the bathroom, entire feminist separatist groups and male support enclaves would form over it. I amuse myself further by taking one of them and hiding it in the van, the plan being to blame it on whoever finds it.
First band up are like a really sloppy version of Born/Dead. Snotty U.S. styled hardcorepunk, energetic and political. It’s not bad but not really good either. The dude playing guitar starts giving out about America so we heckle him about how great it is and chant “USA, USA, USA!!”. About half the crowd joins in. He offers to fight anyone who loves America, so I say I’ll take him up on it. Love it or leave it, motherfucker –freedom ain’t free. He mumbles something about outside later and then there’s a long uncomfortable silence before they start another song. After them is No Tomorrow from North Carolina, a 4-piece crustcore unit in the style of State Of Fear with some ENT and later Disfear influence. There’s this hilarious local chap who seems to have randomly walked in who keeps shouting at them to play some Soul Jah Boy. They’re decent, but the room is a fucking furnace. We borrow all their gear because it’s just not worth dragging the backline in. Two Peavey heads from the ‘80s, VBR120s I think, and putting my pedals through their clean channels sounds awesome. We set up and start and it’s total madness. People bouncing off the walls, Yeap crushed against the ceiling doing the spider pig, the world’s tiniest circle pit and rivers of sweat. It’s one of the best sets ever, incredibly good fun, but we just can’t physically do any extra songs…every last drop wrung out.
I cool off outside and smoke with the No Tomorrow dudes. One of them is selling bootleg patches of another band I’m in so I give him a load of shit about it and tell him I’m going to have to confiscate them. He takes it way too seriously so I’ve a hard time convincing him I’m joking. We let off a load of fireworks and a beered-up Kirky starts launching them at people. A tree beside the van goes on fire, provoking a short-lived but intense panic from the guy whose house it is. The beer runs out and it’s time to go, since we’ve decided to drive to Richmond through the night so we’ll have the full day with no driving tomorrow. The dude who’d offered to fight sheepishly mumbles his goodbyes and takes off. Poor bugger. We stop en route at this fantastic 24-hour convenience store called Wawa’s that has a virtual reality sandwich making computer. It’s fricking amazing. You create a fantasy sandwich from touchscreen buttons, and then the computer tells a dude to make it! America –fuck yeah! We arrive in Richmond at Greg’s mate Matt’s house and drink a beer before crashing out.