We started as many international trips start. Up at 4am, mercilessly tired from a short and anxious sleep yet giddy in anticipation for the coming journey. Actually, Aaron hadn't slept. Being the much more adept and potent "twenty something" in the band, he had just stayed up and partied all night, immediately evident from the aura of liquor fumes radiating from his persona. It was to be the Akimbo's third time touring Europe, Nat's fourth trip, and Aaron's first.
Our shuttle dropped us off at Sea-Tac and we had a long, boring wait through all the lines and security. Always a cruel bummer at such an early hour, but a fucking cake walk compared to our last European jaunt in which our drug addled guitar-player-at-the-time was on enough weed and muscle relaxers to sedate an entire audience at a Blood Brothers show and required 'baby sitting' in a manner that could probably have gotten Nat and I instantly hired at a job tending to mentally defficient cattle. If such a thing exists. Oh wait, yeah, it's called "Golf Caddie". One connection and 15 hours of pretending it's possible to sleep sitting inside a washing machine later, we were spat out at Schipol airport in Amsterdam around 8:15am local time. We were to meet up with the band Young Widows who would be sharing the tour with us, and wait for our driver Martin to pick us up. Evan (Young Widows' guitar player) was waiting for us just outside customs, gave me a warm welcome and we joined the rest of the dudes outside in the crisp morning air. Martin arrived 45 minutes late, we packed up, and headed to Utrecht which is a small college town 45 minutes away from Amsterdam and where we'd play the first show.
The venue is called ACU, we played there the year before with The Assailant, and it's a cool little punk bar with a show space in the back. Unlike last year, we didn't partake of the legal drugs that the Dutch have to offer after a particularly nasty encounter with "space cake" which left me vomiting in a corn field and stoned for 3 days. Literally. No, this time we chose "sleep deprivation" as our drug of choice and did our best to make it through the evening in an alert manner. The show wasn't particularly well attended, but we had fun, and upon returning to our hosts apartment for a rock solid evening of sleep, we were delighted to see the name plaque on his neighboring apartment read "J.J. Van Boom". Who is J.J. Van Boom? We don't know, and never will know. All we can ascertain is that he is totally awesome by virtue of his title alone.
Next day was a day off. We went to Frankfurt and met Sammy, the guy who runs Monkey Drive in Europe and screen printed all of the Akimbo and Young Widows merch for the tour. (Bands take note: Sammy did an incredible job and we highly recommend having your shirts printed with him for a European tour. Get in touch if you need contact information.) Sammy and his friend (totally going to burn in hell for forgetting his name already) took us under their wing for a hot night in Frankfurt. Most notable was the curry wurst we had to kick off the evening. Nat, Aaron and I ordered curry wurst at a "spicy" level of 3 (out of 7). The shit was a goddamn inferno of pain, like opening your mouth to the door way of hell, satan's bitches peeing all over your tongue. It was a conversation killer. We ate in silence after the first bite, the only noise the occasional snurf of liquified muccous being sucked back into our noses. Halfway through his meal, Aaron put down his fork. We looked up and he was sweating like a bratwurst on a
hot grill. "I'm done." he said. Game over. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping with our hosts. Jet lag was still ripe, and much to the shagrin of our party-hungry hosts our crew only lasted a few hours. As soon as we got back to the screen printing shop I found a spot on the hard-as-all-fuck-floor in the office and passed the fuck out, a pile of unsold Lords hoodies my pillow for the night.
Lucky us, next show would be in Belgium with our buddies Torche and Baroness, simultaneously touring Europe. Not much to say out of the ordinary. Great show, both bands tore it up and we had a great time hanging out with them. Torche had a substitute drummer, as Rick was at home with a belly button infection or some stupid shit like that. The new dude did a good job filling Rick's sizeable presence in that band, and while the songs were definitely solid it was a bit of a bummer not being able to see Rick leaping off his throne before all the big hits. The beer was wonderful, so wonderful it possessed Nat into thinking he was cool to pull the van up the driveway after about 14 of them. I walked outside and there's Nat trying to reverse a 20 foot long van around a tiny corner and up a slanted driveway, soppy hair hanging out the window, wondering why the van keeps stalling. Perhaps it was the keg of Belgian beer controlling his feet. Just spit-ballin'. There was only so much drinking we could take being early in the tour, and beds were inevitably fell upon.
Up in the morning and off to Paris. Martin informed us that our show was going to be on a boat. Clearly, we didn't really know what to expect. The only "show on a boat" I know about is when bands like Quiet Riot play the Emerald Queen Casino. We arrived and saw a decent sized, red boat docked in a river at the address for the show. It kinda looked like a cross between a tug boat and the vessel in the original King Kong, but painted red, and no 'Charlie' the Chinese chef anywhere in sight. We were blown away when we walked inside. It had been completely overhauled to act as a full on concert venue, including multiple bars, a stage, lights, good PA, the whole works. It was pretty surreal. I was a bit nervous about how the show would be. Our last show in Paris was in a tiny room/cellar underneath a bar downtown. Only 20 people were there, but the place went crazy and it was easily the most fun I've ever had in the band, arguably the best Akimbo show since we started playing. I wasn't sure if that energy and reception from the crowd was going to carry over to this bigger, nicer place, and I was also unsure about enough people being there to fill up the room. Once the doors opened people started pooring in. It was incredible. We were selling merch before, during, and after our set, and the crowd would roar with us between songs. It wasn't as chaotic and intimate as the first Paris show in the cellar, but it was one of the best shows of the tour and I couldn't get over how awesome it was to have over 100 people at a show in a town where we drew 20 a year earlier.
Me in front of the boat, totally amped.
Inside the boat.
After the show we went to a tiny apartment where all seven of us were to sleep. We partied in a manner fit for dudes in Paris, met some great locals, Aaron locked himself in the bathroom with a girl, and I slept on the kitchen floor. Finally it felt like we were on tour.
Montagu, France was our next destination. Montagu is a tiny French village, I think we were told it had a population of around 700 people. Luckily, it's in the middle of a whole bunch of other tiny French villages, and word on the street was that people were going to be driving to see the show since bands rarely came through the area, and we would be a break in their everyday lives of squishing grapes for wine, eating cheese, and walking cows in public streets (or whatever rural Frenchmen do when they're not clubbing the discos in Paris). We played a tiny pub just off the main street, which was maybe the length of two American city blocks. The promoter met us early at the club and took us to his freakin' mansion up the street, where we were shown to our rooms (yeah, plural, as in we each had our own room) and then fed a luxurious 4 course meal that would easily go for about $30 a plate at any American restaurant, only the cooks wouldn't be listening to Neurosis while they served us. We headed back to the pub and to our surprise it was packed with people. The show was very fun, merch flew, and the bar tender/owner kept the beer flowing like we were gods. We headed back to the mansion afterwards, a joint was passed around which is always the end of the night for me, and I slept like a wee babe, the only disturbance being a demon cat screaming like the dickens well after the party had subsided.
The next two days were in Spain, and while very fun, weren't the best shows of tour attendance wise. Aaron did his damnedest to communicate with the locals, and for his efforts received a hat. One of the shows was in a club that was trying to pull off an authentic Irish pub experience. They pretty much had it nailed down, from the swords on the wall, the Guinness signs everywhere, the giant rhino head on the wall, and the over-all decor of the place. "Ahh, lookee here laddy! We've left Spain and gone tchroo a mageec pahrtahl straight ta' Dooblin! Bahr tender, get me yer finest pint!" NO! There was one area where they failed, utterly and unforgiveably, and it totally blew the smoke screen from your eyes. Their version of pub food was a grilled cheese wonderbread sandwich with fries so undersalted and undercooked they were almost crunchy, "vegetarian" sandwiches stuffed with tuna fish, and not-nearly-greasy-enough burgers served on dry bread buns. "Ahhh sheet lad. Tarns out we aint in Ireland at all. We're in soddin' Spain. I'll have the octopus tapas."
The trip through Spain was entirely worth it though. Great people, lots of fun, and we got to see Portugal which was a treat. On the way back north we stopped at a bone chapel, which is basically a room in a church with walls made out of human bones. It was totally metal, and while we acted with the utmost respect for the dead whilst inside, I promise you dear readers that I was shredding scorching solos over double kick madness in my head the entire time. The best Spanish show was easily Zaragoza at a cool little place that Young Widows' old band Breather Resist had played on their last tour in Europe. Lots of people and big beers. Big beers, surprisingly, were somehwat rare on this tour.
First show back in France was in Lyon, on another boat called Sonic. Just like the last boat show, this one was a rager. We were starting learn that France is definitely a country where Akimbo is welcome. Again the place was pretty packed, and this time it got so hot in there we all sweat at least a pound or two. If you run over to our myspace, a kind French person posted a picture of Nat after the set on our comments page. It's the one where he' looks like he's just been plucked from a river and dropped in the corner. If you look at his pants, you will notice the only dry spots are the edges of the seams. Richard Simmons can suck a lemon.
Rouen was the next stop, triumphantly bringing us back to Le Brooklyn Cafe. I still can't pronounce "Rouen" the proper way, even after two tours of obsessing over it, it pretty much comes out like "wgghhhggoohhh". Much humor. The name of the bar cracks Martin up, and as a result he can't stop saying it with the thickest French accent possible. It sounds like "leay Brrgrhhggrghookleen Cafeh". Also hillarious. Our good pal Gildas set up the show again, and he made us a giant vat of his famous hummous, which the French pronounce "Ooh-Moos". Again, funny. Unfortunately, the bar was having problems with a neighbor calling the police during shows, and as our show was on a week night we had to keep the amps really low. Performing with quiet amps is always a huge bummer. It kind of feels like you're doing some boring mock puppet show of your normal set, sans hand jammed up your ass. Nevertheless, reception was as warm as the other French shows and we had a great time. Post rock, we were playing kicker in the back. This Frenchman came up to the table wearing a brand new Akimbo shirt, watches us play for a bit, and then affter a game looks at me and says "Your bass playing is very good, but your foot ball is shit." I'm like Marty McFly when it comes to kicker, if you call me chicken then we will start fighting, I can't control it. Naturally, I invited him to play, and was crushed with little effort.
After we drank all the band beer, I bought Akimbo a round from the bartender, who in his supreme awesomeness refused to charge me. Aaron was missing, as the lovely lady he had shacked up with in the bathroom in Paris had come to the show and they were most likely having a picnic in a park, holding hands, and talking about the pleasantries of poetry, finely roasted duck, and Mozart. The only other drinker in the group was Geof, drummer supreme of Young Widows, so he got Aaron's beer by default. We toasted and finished. I was feeling good, happy to be on tour with such awesome people and getting such a warm welcome back to a place so far from home. I thought whiskey shots would be appropriate. I asked the bartender for two shots, one for Geof and one for myself. Nat had been assimilated into a conversation of broken English with a Frenchman, a very common occurence as foreigners almost make it a mission to practice their English on you until you've exhausted every possible topic of conversation and are left awkwardly looking around, with no real graceful way to end it, hoping for someone to call you over to watch the merch table or help load gear, so he was out of action. The bartender pulled two tall, thin glasses down and before we could interject with "Sir?!?!? We just wanted a shot, not a thermos." he poured us two of the most massive "shots" of Jim Beam I've ever seen outside of a bottle. Fuck. Assuming it'd be rude to not take them (especially since again they had come free of charge (god bless the French)), we devised the plan of chasing sips with our second beer (technically our second tap beer, probably our 12th actual beer) until it was down to a normal shot size, and then commense in the manner we had originally set out. Needless to say, the rest of my night was spent stupefied, thoroughly stomping my plans to watch horror movies with Gildas all night. My only strong memory of the night was stumbling into Gildas's house and seeing their dog which we later dubbed "Splinter" after the rat in the Ninja Turtles movie, reaching down to pet the dog and being instantly repulsed by a massive (seriously, fucking massive) cancerous lump on it's side. Petting it was like carressing a blanket with a baseball sewn into the fabric. All I could say was "Gross... I'm going to bed."
We had a day off and drove to Caen, which is right on the western border of France. We met up with the benevolent Nico, who in addition to putting on our show and having a hot dinner ready for us on arrival also heads up Paranoid Records, the label that released City of the Stars on vinyl for the tour. He had the Band of Brothers DVD set which we immediately started watching. Half way through the second episode, Martin made it known we were right in the area where all that took place, and by "all that" I mean the allied forces storming the beaches of Normandy against the Nazi forces. Plans were quickly made to put on our tourist pants and go see the historical sights, since the following day we didn't have to be at the club until about 7:00.
There aren't many words available to truly describe the feeling of seeing those places. 'Heavy' is one. It's very introspective, and more often than not you find yourself walking alone and not speaking to anyone, just soaking in the reality of the events that happened where you stand, the events that caused those events and so on. It's different when it's not on TV or in a history book; when you're standing 100 yards away from the beach where hundreds of humans ran straight at a machine gun's trajectory on purpose; when you're alone in a sea of white crosses, many without names; when you sit on top of battery housing a cannon that shot up to 12 miles at boats that may have held your neighbor's or co-worker's grandfather; when you exist in a place where had thousands not met violent deaths the world could be a very different place. I left feeling stupid and insignificant, my prime concerns at the time being playing punk rock to pockets of people and whether or not our merch we needed was going to be delivered in the mail the following day.
Veterans memorial on Omaha Beach (left), and a machine gun bunker overlooking a beach (right).
The Caen show was fun, as was the foosball before and after. Nico treated us well and we attacked the food in his kitchen after then show. Next morning was spent waiting for records to be delivered to his house so we could take off
to the next show in France. There had been a huge ordeal in getting copies of the new album and it looked like we were finallly about to get our supplies. A package arrived, but it was only the CDs, the vinyl was still missing. Discouraged, we left. The next few shows were good, including a rendesvouz with more American touring bands by the names of Japanther and The Good Good in a small town called Esslingen. We played a poorly attended show in Austria, where I entertained myself by demanding strobe lights and a fog machine for the encore, and finishing by saying "Thanks, we're Breather Resist" which was only funny to three people.
After Austria it was the Czech Republic, which was the biggest surprise of the tour. The first show in Brno (I dare you to pronounce that correctly. "Brno" is actually Czech for "we don't give a fuck about phonetics.") was at a place called "The Yacht Club", a really cool punk club. Tons of people showed up, including our old friend Blair who used to live in Seattle and played in The November Group, and was now living and teaching English and politics in Brno. After the show a Czech man brought me a goblet of beer and I kissed him on the head.
The next day we went to Prague. On the way we stopped at another bone chapel. This one with actual decorations made of human bones, including a giant chandalier containing at least one of every bone in the human body and a twelve foot high coat of arms. Very metal, and I curse myself for not taking band photos there. Then it was off to Prague, one of the only major cities that was undamaged during World War II. I swear that place is fucking magic. It really made me feel like I was a kid again. It's just as beautiful as your average European city, your Paris's, your Barcelonas, but it's HUGE. All the buildings and statues are enormous, I felt like a young immigrant walking through Times Square for the first time. We walked for miles around the city, starting at the train station and heading all the way to the top of this huge hill to see the palace and cathedral that overlook the whole city. Then it was off to the venue, where even more people showed up than in Brno. The crowd was awesome, and we were overwhelmed at the turnout of both Czech shows as the band had never played in either place ever before.
Back to Germany, and not just Germany, Wurzberg! We played Immerhin, a super rad punk club where we had our last show of tour the year before with The Asssailant, and where the following morning the staff told us they had never had a band that drank as much as us. I don't care how they remember us, so long as we leave some kind of mark. This show wasn't quite as well attended as the last one, most likely due to it being a Monday, but it was still fun and as always, our host Marko was half the reason. We crashed at his place again, where he lives with two horrifying companions, a tarantula and a millipede (shudder), and after a quick puff of the green I was immediately out, as usual.
The rest of tour went by pretty quickly and was somthing of a blur. It seemed the best shows were behind us and we were just riding out the rest of the trip. The show in Berlin was the only one that really stood out as a good one. We interviewed with a guy who does an internet fan site type thing. It was pretty funny, as he had made a lot of assumptions about our band based on the music and lyrics, and for the most part was way off. First of all, he had supposed "Akimbo" was a reference to the shooting style in first person shooter videogames in which the player uses two guns at once, and was pretty bummed to hear that it was just a word that Nat happened upon while writing a paper and was the only thing we could agree on that nobody hated. He also thought our song "Ground Control to Major Bummer" was a reference to an obscure comic book character named Major Bummer, and was somewhat mortified to hear that no, it was just a half witted play on words stemming from boredom on tour. Reading this in type, it's not as funny as the interview, so perhaps I can convey the childlike disappointment we saw in his eyes with each let down (there was more than just the ones above). It was as if he had peeked at his Christmas presents a week early only to find out they were being donated to the poor kid down the street, until by the end he kind of just gave up and moped out of the room, utterly disappointed.
In the last stretch we also played a show in Copenhagen at this huge, dirty, punk squat that is somewhat established as a huge, dirty, punk squat. Martin informed us that a few years earlier they were having their annual crust fest thing, and some junkie crust punk girl OD'd in the band sleping room, passing out under one of the beds. The next morning everyone assumed she was sleeping and took off without checking on her. The body was up there for two weeks in the hot summer, and it was a performing band that found her as they were climbing the stairs to sleep after a show. I've seen some ridiculously gross shit staying in punk houses and squats over the years, but I can't imagine what it would be like to find a body. I would probably barf, and then cry, and then tell everyone I personally delivered the body to the morgue.
The last show was in Bonn, where Martin grew up. The show was great. A bunch of people crowded into a small bar, and a great last show after a string of less than exciting turn outs. We had a triumphant last meal at the burger joint next door (we told the cook she was a goddess), and after staying up until 3:30, Martin drove us back to the airport, one more notch in the tour belt. It was one of the best tours the band has done so far, and it was a treat to share it with all the guys in Young Widows, and of course Martin.