Tuesday, September 11, 2012
We'd made it into the States and now we could relax. At Houston we didn't even have to show our passports on the way out, we just picked up our luggage and walked right out the door. It did strike me as a little strange that the conveyor belts delivering the arriving passengers luggage was situated in the public hall next to the street exit. There seemed to be no security whatsoever. If you were so inclined you could literally walk in to the airport, pick up someone else's suitcase and fuck off with it. Weird. Especially when you consider how tight the security is surrounding the rest of the air travel industry in this country. I guess things are a little slacker in Texas...
Dutch was waiting for us right outside the airport. I spotted the RV straight away. You couldn't really miss it. Just four hours earlier I was sure we were being sent home and the whole tour was fucked, now we were heading off on a big American adventure in a camper van. Chicago already felt like a million miles away.
Dutch seemed like a friendly enough guy, pretty normal. We told him all about Chicago, all of us still buzzing from the experience. Dutch assured us he'd heard it all before though. Stepping into the RV felt like stepping into one of those great 80's films like National Lampoon's Vacation or The Great Outdoors. It had that vibe about it somehow, I felt like a kid going off on road trip with my buddies.
As normal as Dutch first appeared, the tell tale signs of tour driver weirdness soon started to appear. I'd been mailing back and forth with him before the tour about all the usual logistical stuff, and during that time I'd asked him if there was a dvd player on the bus. He'd told me that yes there was and that not only that, he had hundreds of dvd's, so there was “absolutely no need” for us to bring any with us. Cool, I thought. Bonus. And it's true, there was a dvd player and there were indeed hundreds of dvd's to go with it. The problem was that ALL of them were wrestling DVD's. All of them. Wrestlemania this, Royal Rumble that, “Jake the Snake, the True Story”, “Mick Foley, the Man Behind the Mask”... John was chuffed enough, but the rest of us were a little inquisitive. I asked Dutch if he really only had wrestling dvd's to which he happily replied, “Yeah dude!” Ok, a little weird that our forty five year old driver is fanatical about wrestling but what the fuck do I know? Horses for courses and all that..
There were a few other things about the bus that weren't quite as described by Dutch, like the bunks at the back of the van were actually thin strips of plywood, attached very loosely to the walls, holding an oblong piece of wood with a slither of yellow foam acting as a mattress. It was like sleeping on a table and literally every time Dutch took a sharp curve the bunks on the left side of the van would sway away from the wall. But all in all we were chuffed. There was a lounge area at the front with a table, bench seats and a sofa facing a tv. There was a small kitchen area with a stove and microwave. Between the lounge and bunk area there was even a toilet and a shower, although you had to stop the van and wait an hour for the water to heat up, and then you'd only get five minutes of warm water. Even so, to us it was absolute luxury.
We drove into Houston and parked the van in the large car park outside the venue where the tour would be starting the next day. Even though it was the middle of January it was still twenty five degrees and the sun was shining brightly in the early evening sky. It was fucking miserable at home so being able to walk the streets of downtown Houston in t-shirts was sheer joy.
We walked around for a while, in and out of shops and shopping malls, just killing time really. I remember there was this one crazy looking black guy in a shabby suit, who had a handmade billboard hanging around his neck, preaching something about Jesus and the end of the world. He was literally following people along the side walks and screaming that the end of the world is nigh in their ears. The people just carried on walking though, as if he wasn't even there.
We ended up spending the evening in a sports bar, drinking pints of weak American lager. All in all, it was an easy going first night though, I think we were all emotionally worn out from the journey and the drama that went with it. We retired early, going by Domino's to pick up some pizza to take back to the van. I'd heard about Houston being the fattest city in the USA but still couldn't quite believe my eyes when, as we were sat waiting for our “small” pizza's to bake, what has to be the largest human being I've ever seen walks in and orders two XL Meat Feast pizzas, along with an XL diet coke.
The next day Nile's tour bus turns up in the early afternoon, followed shortly after by another tour bus that houses Hypocrisy and Decapitated. Soilent Green and With Passion's splitter vans arrive a little while later. Nile soundcheck for about four hours, something I put down to at the time as first night niggle and jitters, but annoyingly it becomes the norm over the course of the tour. It's immediately obvious to everyone that amongst all these super technical bands, musically, we're outsiders here. Our closest allies in both sound and attitude are Soilent Green, who we'd previously met in Japan and had a great time with. The other people we quickly align ourselves with are the boys in With Passion, who are a bunch of young guys from California with short hair like us, and seem intent on taking the piss out of everyone they meet, like us..
It's safe to say we're about a million miles away from Nile in every aspect of life and music. I'd always quite liked their records to be honest, I still think Black Seeds of Vengeance is a great record when it comes to that style of music, but I was disappointed as soon as I saw them soundchecking since the entire drum kit is triggered and even worse, the vocals are really weak. I mean, on record it sounds brutal, that deep guttural growl done so well, but in reality they're just putting the microphone as close to their mouths as is possible without actually eating the fucking thing and growling with absolutely no effort whatsoever. There is no strain in their throats at all. It all feels a bit like cheating when you consider that John and Bloody Kev literally tear their throats to pieces every night.
We soon have new names for the Nile guys. One of the singer/guitarist guys is re-christened Ghost Tramp, since he looks like the tramp from that scene in the film Ghost, the one Swayze meets on the subway. The other guitarist is given the moniker Fat Jeff, since he looks like a fat Jeff Hanneman and the bassist is called Zanussi due to the fact he is doing the Jason Newstead swirling headbang thing, even during soundcheck, and looks like a fucking washing machine on spin. I can't remember what we call the drummer but then I can't really remember the drummer full stop, since you never see him. It turns out Zanussi is only nineteen years old and this is his first tour with Nile. I can't help feeling sorry for him although he seems to be living the dream.
The first show is not so bad, for a first show. We're not all that tight and we're still figuring out Soilent's backline that we're hiring, but as far as the crowd goes, we'll face much worse on this tour. There are about five hundred in the venue. Some of them are down the front and seem to be in to it and then there are a bunch of people behind that are either disinterested or totally confused. I mean, right before us you've got Decapitated who play solid death metal, very technical, very fast, very long hair, very static on stage. And then we come on. Short hair, regular clothes, not technical in the slightest and performing what looks more akin to a scrap on stage than a gig. Even most of the other bands look confused. I guess I can see why.
Afterwards I hang out with Lasse who is sat at our merch table looking bored, something that will become a regular feature, and we share a bottle of Captain Morgan that Lasse has snuck off and bought from a liquor store, another thing that will become a regular feature, and watch Nile on stage whilst listening to The Bear Quartet on Lasse's Iphone. He has these shit hot earphones that block out all other sound and it's quite a trip watching Nile and the crowd bang their heads to a soundtrack of northern Swedish folk/pop. It's like being in a David Lynch film.
The next night is in Fort Worth, about an eight hour drive from Dallas. The venue is this large, brightly lit hall, that is carpeted all over. It's kind of reminds me of the lounge at the Silver Band club in Corby, only way bigger. The gig is a bit of a non event, we play, get little to no reaction and fuck off again.
I meet a guy here who used to live in Corby and was friends with my good mate Kimmins. I think they worked together or something. Anyway, he's moved back to the States and is here on Kimmins' instruction. He's a really nice guy and he was one of the few people who really liked the gig. He insists on buying us drinks and paying for a t-shirt. We'd all been pretty hungover during the day, something else that will become a regular feature, but the adrenalin from the gig has us all restored and we're ready to go again. We hang out at the merch table with Lasse, who is already starting to make the odd comment or two about not wanting to sit at the merch the whole time. I get the feeling this is going to be a problem but try to ignore it for now. I tell everyone that they have to take turns hanging out with Lasse at the merch and help relieve the boredom of not selling anything.
The night rolls along and we all get pissed up. Kev meets two big, shady looking guys at the bar who he befriends and they buy him some shots. When I meet up with Kev he's pretty pissed and introduces me to his two new friends, Uni Bomber and Tit Cutter. They've just got out of prison apparently. So the story goes, Tit Cutter got into a fight with his girlfriend and then got sent to prison for cutting her tit off. I don't know what the fuck that's all about but they seem to be lapping Kev up, who is happily drinking anything they buy him, the whole while that big stupid grin spread across his face.
The next day we're in San Antonio at a really small club. It's another eight hour drive and we haven't even left Texas yet! It's a luxury having Dutch drive the van though since he likes to drive through the nights and sleep during the days, so we wake up at the venue. We're in San Antonio so obviously we have to take a look at the Alamo. There are hundreds of people swarming around but it's very little to see. Just a brick wall basically. Obviously it has huge historical importance but if you didn't know it you'd walk straight past the thing.
The venue had a record shop right beside it, which I spent a few hours in whilst Nile were soundchecking. The fun thing about tonight is that there is this young kid here with big hair that is really into Speedhorn. The venue is packed out with about two hundred people, our kind of gig, and this kid is down the front singing along to all the songs. The crowd in general is much better for us this night, which becomes a general rule on the tour, that being that the smaller cities are way better for us, since it's not just purely death metal kids in attendance, but punk and hardcore kids too, which gives us more of a chance.
We're only three days in but we notice Dutch is starting to get a little weird. He starts a hate campaign against Lasse, who up until now had been the person making the most effort with him, because Lasse had stupidly put a plastic cup of coffee in the microwave to warm it up. Whilst Lasse is in the toilet the coffee explodes and Dutch goes fucking crazy. Alright, it wasn't Lasse's finest hour but it's not the end of the fucking world, nothing is broken, and Lasse cleans up the mess. But Dutch has decided that's him and Lasse done with and from this point until the end of the tour addresses him with utter disdain. I can't help finding the whole incident hilarious, as does the rest of the band. Although, we don't let Dutch know that.
Tonight is Daz's birthday and we all get pissed with him. The Speedhorn fan joins us as well. It's a good night. Daz ends up steaming, stood at the bar with a grin on his face and his balls hanging out of his flies, Lasse ends up hitting it off with this cute emo girl and suddenly seems chuffed to be hanging out at the merch stall, Kev is drunk and furious since he seemed to like the girl Lasse has pulled and is a little jealous, “I don't get it Gaz! How the fuck did he manage to pull her? He's got weird eyes!”
This turns out to be the first big party where we really hang out with the Soilent guys. Their tour manager Chris, this big loud guy with a great sense of humour, has decided he loves our attitude. Ben, the Soilent singer, has decided he loves Gordon, “that weird kid on drums”. The night turns into a blur as the shots fly down the hatch. At one point Gords heads back to the van in search of something he's lost, and finds one of our guys (not saying who) who had been preaching about how they're in a solid relationship and who's days of fucking around are behind him, tied up to the ceiling of the lounge in the bus with his top off, with some girl whipping him with her belt. Gords stands there shocked at the scene as our boy casually greets him, “Alright mate, what's up?” Gords just pisses himself and comes running back to tell us all. The thing that makes me laugh is that Dutch is trying to sleep in his bunk above the driver's seat whilst this is going on!
The next day is a day off in El Paso and we're all understandably hungover. The Mexican border city is an ominous place at night, our fears no doubt aided by Dutch warning us not to go near the border bridge, which is apparently a simple wooden bridge that people go back and forth over to pick up drugs. We spend the day flaked out in the van but by night time we've picked ourselves up and decide to go bowling. Unfortunately I get talked into going with Lasse in search of some electronic super store that has a camera he wants to buy.
I kind of want to go with the guys but feel bad for Lasse and tag along with him. I find myself regretting it shortly afterwards as we end up completely lost, walking around dark, unlit streets on the outskirts of the city. We're walking about for an hour and after a while the side-walk diminishes and it's pitch fucking black. Lasse has a map on his phone and insists we're on course, but I feel like shit and want desperately to get back to the boys and go bowling, where there is light and it's safe.
As we're searching for this store, we see what we think is a UFO in the sky. It's really weird. We figure it's something from the military base nearby, but this being UFO territory our minds can't help but wonder. It's a really bright light over in the distant dark sky, that seems to be moving in a very strange manner. It goes from seemingly hovering in one place to suddenly shooting off at high speed in all kinds of directions. The two of us stand there mesmerised by it for what must be twenty minutes before it finally shoots off and disappears into the night. I don't know what it was but it was fucking weird and we decide to get the fuck out of there. As it happens we soon come across the store Lasse is looking for but they don't have his camera in stock. Great.
We end up waking all the way back, which must take an hour, and head to a Mexican restaurant. Lasse offers to buy me dinner, which I happily accept. The food is very welcome and the beer tastes like heaven. Satisfied, we head over to the bowling alley and meet up with the rest of the guys, excitedly telling them about our UFO experience. We end up having a relaxed night and hitting if off with the bartender there, who happily pours us pints of Amber Bock. I think we end the night watching a wrestling film with Dutch. We decide John should buy some dvd's when he gets the chance. Not really because he has great taste in film or anything, more that he loves spunking his money on dvd's.
Dutch pulls the van out about two am and we head to Arizona. Most of us are soon fast asleep but Kev ande I lie awake, chatting through the night whilst laid up in our bunks. Despite the bed being as hard a table and the bunk frame tilting with every bump in the road of which there are many, it's still pretty cosy somehow. As we're chatting away, Gordon shouts out in his sleep, “If you fuck my mum in the arse then I'll fuck you in the arse!”. We stare at each other for a brief second and then burst into laughter! I hear Lasse giggling from his bunk too.
A little while later we drift off to sleep as Dutch shunts through the night, across New Mexico and on towards Arizona.