Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dutch Tour Diary Part 3: Rockin in the Rokin

Amsterdam has always been one of those elusive cities for me. When I was a teenager it seemed other-worldly. It took me years to even realise there was actually anything to see or do in Amsterdam besides the obvious. If you’d told me then that my first trip there would be for a gig, I would have never believed it. I never thought I’d actually go there in the first place. It seemed like such a long ways to go to smoke a little dope and there was a time in my life that Europe didn’t seem to hold a lot for me. It’s almost a pity to go there, or to any new town really, on tour for your first trip because you don’t actually see much of the town. I saw a bit of Alkmaar and a bit over a few days in Groningen, but as for Amsterdam and later Hamburg, I saw almost nothing outside of the venues we played in.

We arrived in Amsterdam at dusk and from what I could see from the back of the van, it’s a lovely town. A bit big and foreboding compared to Utrecht and Groningen, but a bit more grand and important as well. The squat was right in the middle of town, on a big busy thoroughfare. It was quite built up and not much of what I had imagined, but compared to the desolation of the surroundings in the Utrecht squat, it was quite happening. The bar was a long skinny room with very high ceilings that lowered halfway down, where the floor went down a few steps. The venue was in the next room and was a mid-sized room with low ceilings. Great for sound and that slightly claustrophobic feel always gives gigs a bit of atmosphere. The squat was enormous. It was probably 5 stories tall with high ceilings on every floor. A multitude of doors led to halls and rooms and who knows where.

The urinal was again a sink barely hidden off a kind of library room with a toilet with no visible means of flushing. Tommy later informed me that there was a bucket that you fill and then pour into the toilet, miraculously flushing it. A bit of work and a bit embarrassing. I tried my hand at the procedure and as I tried to the leave the cubicle things took a turn. Two women had entered the bathroom and were grappling with each other in an attempt to do the ‘squat and hover’ wee manoeuvre above the urine splattered sink which was a good three feet off the ground. When I tried to leave I was met by a door to the face and lot of screaming and abuse, in Dutch I think, from the two very gregarious participants in the aforementioned fiascapade. I momentarily shrunk back to my shy suburban American roots and stayed quiet and docile in the increasingly warm cubicle. Thankfully the women were able to cantilever each other into position and relieve their obviously aching bladders before my brain melted along with my increasingly fragile psyche.

The building had been squatted by eastern Europeans, Poles and Czechs I think. Not a Dutch person in the house. They fixed us a lovely dinner with loads of bread and two kinds of salad. They had their shit together. The poster on the wall listed us as Mouth Piss, which is understandable when you hear Pier pronounce our name. We were listed as being from IRA, which we also found quite amusing. I wanted to go exploring, but it was already getting late. The gig was going to kick off shortly.

Donners arrived as I was about to leave and any plans to check out the town quickly got scrubbed. Donners was a bit manic. He was talking a bit fast and seemed a bit excited, asking all sorts of questions as to what was going on and where was this and where was that. I couldn’t really leave him right away, he didn’t know anybody else there except Tommy and Gary and Gaz was asleep. By the time I got ready to go again, Conor, Mickie, and Fiona showed up.

It was nice to see the Irish contingent. It was nice to have a few new people to talk to and it was great to have people I didn’t have to struggle to understand. All the people we met on tour were sound, but it gets so tiring to always be straining to understand what everyone is saying. Conor was in full party mode. He was jumping right into conversations and generally spreading a bit of Irish cheer around the place. It took Donners hours to get over how cheap the beer was. 50 cent for shit, 1 Euro for Grolsh. Standard squat prices.

The Impregnators played another smoking set. They’re solid. Dirk had been at another pub drinking liquor, so tensions were a bit high, but they pulled it off in storming fashion. I think it was the tension that made them so good. They were either gonna play a great show or kick ten shades of shite out of each other. Either way, the release would be something to witness.

We played the first truly great set of the tour. Everybody was on. We were hitting songs back to back, no gaps. The sound in the room was amazing and we were really well received. The crowd was going nuts.

We’d seen the other band skulking around the place all evening. It was quite warm, but they were all wearing big hoodies and long pants. They started off well, played a few songs and then descended into a wash of feedback. While this was going on, they all stripped off their clothes revealing very nice women’s dresses. The drummer stuck a sink plunger onto the top of his head and put on a pair of nerd glasses. The singer whipped out a trombone and they started to really smoke. They were amazing. The trombone was so loud it didn’t even need to be mic’ed. Gaz and I were cheering away having a great time. We watched them for about a half hour and then headed back to the bar for more beer and conversation.

An hour later in donned on us that they were still playing. Then they did a DJ set, mixing popular tunes with screeching and feedback. Unlistenable! A half hour later, they were all back on their instruments, playing a cover’s set. Conor had fallen asleep on a table in the middle of the room and everyone else had disappeared. I begged Gary to go to sleep, it was 5 in the morning and we had the biggest gig of the tour the next day. He promised me he’d get some sleep and I went off to bed. When I left him he was talking to anyone who’d listen.

I woke up a few hours later hoping to see Gary sleeping next to me on the free mattress. Aw Shit, I thought, he’s off at some other party and isn’t going to sleep all night. I tried to get back to sleep and not worry, nothing I could really do. I’m not his ma. A while later I woke up again, this time I could hear his unmistakable snore from the other side of the room. The one that sounds like a wild boar having sex with a drunken lawnmower. Thank God, he was asleep; everything was going to be alright for Groningen.

When we woke up the next morning the house was already buzzing. It didn’t have the somewhat austere feeling we’d had in Alkmaar, like we were just a bit too much for the place. Gary hadn’t been up all night either so maybe we actually hadn’t been too much for the place. I wanted to see a bit of Amsterdam and get something to eat. The food in the squat was looking a little old and I still had an almost unreasonable fear of food poisoning.

Tommy, Gaz and I set out for a bit of a wander in the warm sun of a stunning morning. The canals in Amsterdam are quite big, the streets quite wide, and the people quite numerous. It was a lovely walk, but it lacked the romanticism of Utrecht. It was a bit too manic, a bit too much of a big city. It was easy to get lost, but not in the relaxing kind of devil may care way we’d been experiencing. It was all a bit daunting especially with our shattered brains. We ended up getting kebabs for breakfast simply because we couldn’t find anything else and ate them along the canal on a busy road.