Friday, November 9, 2012

Speedhorn in the USA: Chicago

Woke up bright and early in a neon lit, underground parking garage in Chicago. We were right underneath the venue for tonight, The House of Blues club, and we had about six hours to kill before load in. And for once, we were bang in the middle of the city. We all got up and changed as fast as we could and got the fuck out of there. Except John, who decided to hang out in the van for a while...

It was a beautiful winter's day. The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining harmoniously above as the fresh, crisp air gently breezed in from the lake. We had a great day walking around downtown Chicago, checking out some record stores and coffee shops, walking by the waterside, having a lengthy discussion in the lobby of the Sears Tower building about whether to pay for the lift up to the roof and eventually deciding against. My soul felt cleansed by an entire afternoon of walking, even if after five shower-less days, my body did not.

When load in beckoned we reluctantly headed back to the van that was still parked in the dull yellow abyss underneath the club. I was both saddened and amazed to find John laid out on the sofa watching a film we'd all seen together just a few days before. We were all buzzing from our excursion into the city, our new found enthusiasm for life washing over the van like a wave. I couldn't get a grip on the fact John had just hung out in the van all day, it almost made me angry.

I could barely believe the marvel before me as we loaded the gear in. The House of Blues is apparently no ordinary venue. I had no prior knowledge of the place, I'd only heard the name. I certainly had no idea that it was a chain company. The concert hall itself is like many other theatre venues the world over, it's not all that different from the old Astoria in London, although a brand spanking new, shiny, hi-tech version of it. Like the Astoria, it's a large room that probably holds about two thousand people with a full balcony. The stage is huge, it must be three times as big as anything else we've played on this tour. It's certainly a contrast from the venues we've played the last few days previous.

If the concert hall is impressive, it's nothing compared to the rest of the building. There are separate dressing rooms for each band, all of them decked out with cable tv and a monitor showing the stage. There is a telephone that connects straight to the promoter's runner in case there is anything you need ran after. And absolutely, most fantastically of all, each dressing room had it's own shower and bathroom. After five days without, it felt like the most luxurious shower I'd ever taken. I took one both before and after the gig just because I could. The grandeur wasn't limited to the backstage area either, even the sinks in the public toilets were decked out with gold chrome taps. The place even had it's own fucking souvenir shop! It felt more like a flashy hotel in Vegas than a venue for a death metal gig.

I told Kev about the public bogs and his face lit up. He took off straight away and was gone for some time. I went to check on him a while later. As I walked in to the long, empty room I heard Kev in a cubicle at the end, willing himself to shit, “Come on you little brown buggers!”. I don't know if he'd heard me come in or not, you never know with Kev, but I pissed myself laughing all the same.

This is one show when I really did feel bad for Lasse. The merch tables were set up in a long row against a wall in a foyer as you entered the building, completely disconnected from the concert hall and about a twenty minute walk from the luxury dressing room. I feel really bad about it now, but I kind of forgot about him sat there on his own. When I eventually went to check on him later in the evening, I found him right at the end of the line, forehead flat on the merch table, arms hanging by his side, pretty sauced up. He hadn't sold a thing, of course. The other merch guys seemed to be in a crazed selling frenzy, like a scene from a squabbling Egyptian market, all of them intent on out doing each other. Lasse was beyond caring by this point though. To be fair, so were we...

This was one show that was fucking doomed to failure before it even started. There was a good size crowd in, although not big enough to justify opening the balcony section of the venue, so there we sat with our feet perched over the edge, bottle of beer in hand, checking out With Passion and Decapitated. Jay, Gords and I had the entire balcony to ourselves, it was pretty cool to be honest. To be fair, the floor below was packed with metalheads which meant that the other bands on the bill were probably in for a good show. The reason I knew our show was fucked is that although With Passion came and went with a conservative yet relatively appreciative applause, Decapitated had the show of their lives. We'd gotten to know them a little by now, and although they obviously came from a completely different planet than ours, they were nice guys and I was happy for them.

The thing is, the stage had this big fucking theatre curtain that opened from the middle to the sides and of course they had it drawn between bands. Now for a start, I fucking hate this concept, I always feel like a right cunt being made to stand on stage, guitar strapped on, waiting for the curtain to draw. It was right up Decapitated's alley though. Indeed, as the curtain parted there are the band, waiting in silent, death metal pose, ready to slay. The singer is stood with fists clenched by his side, long hair hanging from bowed head, down over his face. The crowd erupted in elation at the same sight we fell off our seats laughing at. Decapitated were made for this tour, we most certainly were not.

It was if the rumours had been spreading through the death metal community on whatever geeky message boards these idiots languish on, culminating in a ravenous lava of hate that would greet our arrival on to this stage tonight. It's not paranoia if everyone is out to get you right?... I asked the stage hands to open the fucking curtain before we took to the stage, but they refused out right. Fuck you then, we put the amps on and placed our guitars feedbacking against them and then left the stage again. One of the stage hands starts panicking after a minute or so of this, and tells us to get on with our set so they can pull the curtain. We tell him that our performance has started. He's baffled, clearly. This goes on for about five minutes and the crowd has already started booing. We finally take to the stage but let the feedback continue. The curtain draws and we're stood facing a lot of pissed off looking metalheads. There is one, who has made his way down to the very front, right up against the head high stage, who is standing with his back to us, right arm lofted high in the air, giving us the middle finger. We feedback for about another thirty seconds and then start the set as usual with The Hate Song, John's opening line, “I hate you all”, fitting like a fucking glove on this particular occasion.

We blast through what is left of the twenty minute set, all of us putting more into this show than any other so far on this tour. We go fucking nuts on stage. Between every song we simply ring out and feedback, which seems to just piss the crowd off even more because we're drowning out their booing. Some of these idiots have veins that look ready to explode from their strained necks as they scream their disdain in our direction. It's pure fucking hate. The more violently we play on stage, the more it seems to anger them. And the tit down the front holds that finger aloft for the entire twenty minutes we're on stage. As we get near the end I look at him and actually feel a certain respect, I mean, it must have taken some effort to hold his arm in the air for that long. As the last song ends, we put the guitars back up against the amps, leaving them to feedback as we exit. Kev on the other hand, walks up behind Robo Arm, who of course is still flipping us off, and boots him in the back of the head. “Good gig!” laughs Kev as he walks towards the rest of us waiting for him in the wings as the curtain draws to a close.

I check on Lasse once I've dried off, he begs me to let him pack up the merch early. John is up for manning the station though, so we leave him to it. Good times. We watch Soilent's set but spend the rest of the time taking advantage of the dressing room and it's amenities and since the promoter has no problem with re-filling the fridge with beer, we have him do just that.

The hospitality we enjoy at the House of Blues unfortunately comes to an abrupt end as soon as the stage is cleared after Nile's set. The people working at the venue make it clear that they want us packed up and out of the dressing room pronto. It comes as a bit of mood zapper but at the same time I understand them, I've been there myself many a time. Of course, when you're on tour it's easy to forget that everyone else is leading a normal life whilst you're taking a break from yours.

No matter, it's a short enough drive to Cincinnati tomorrow that we don't have to leave immediately, the night is still young and we're all half pissed. Dutch has set a bus call time for two am and right now he's happily sleeping in his bunk in the van. We head to the nearest bar, intent on sampling a bit of Chicago's night life.

We end up in some Irish bar where there a few people from the show hanging out, drinking Guinness and shooting Jameson's. The whole of our crew is there, along with Chris and Brian and a couple of the other SG guys, as well as our friend John, Nile's stage manager. To our amazement, Ghost Tramp and Fat Jeff are sat at the bar too.

Stage Manager John has a couple of friends in tow with him, guys who live in the city. He's in high spirits and insists on buying a round of something called an Irish Car Bomb, which he supervises as we individually take turns to drink. As lethal as it sounds, it's actually a pint of Guinness with a shot glass of Bailey's dropped in it. The crack is you down it, obviously, although it's not that much of a challenge. John seems chuffed enough though. Of course, we all end up pretty fucking wasted a few rounds later. It's fun to see John taking some time off to relax, since most of the time he's running around stressed out, looking after Nile. When the booze starts to hit him he opens up and tells us that he really likes us guys, loves our attitude. He admits that he doesn't understand our music, but he loves the way we don't give much of a fuck about anything. The night starts to get blurry...

It's funny, because I was happy to see Ghost Tramp and Fat Jeff sat at the bar when we'd walked in but they've sat in the same position the whole time. I thought for a moment this might be the night when we do the drunken hang out thing with them, but it doesn't really happen. Daz and I make an effort an one point and we approach them at the bar. But we're both boats and obviously have a foolishly heightened sense of our diplomacy skills. We walk up behind them and start slobbering something in their sober ears, which they return with an awkward smirk that screams PISS OFF as they attend to the plate of nachos they've ordered in. Realising we're getting nowhere with the conversation our attention soon turns to their grub and before I know it I've got my paw in Ghost Tramp's food, helping myself to a free snack. Daz is attending to Fat Jeff's on the other side. They must have thought we were a right pair of wankers.

A little later on in the night, after another round or two of Irish Car Bombs, we fall in to some chat with a young mother and daughter team who were at the gig. The pair of them are done up in standard denim, hard rock attire. It's hard to tell who has what role in the team since they both look about the same age. They're flirting with the whole gang, telling us our accents are funny and that we're cute.  They must have been the only people in attendance tonight who didn't think we sucked.  Or maybe they did... Anyway, when the time comes to leave they want to hang out on the bus and come to the next show in Cincinnati with us. We tell them that's not possible, that Dutch simply wouldn't allow it. 

I'm not sure how Kev ends up involved in the middle of it, but the mother now has her sights set firmly on him. By the time we stumble back to the van, Dutch is up and making himself a coffee before we set off. Kev is the only person who's missing. We all crack up at the thought of Kev getting it on with Hard Rock Mom. We rush up and stick our heads out of the van door to see where he is and find him running towards us with the woman chasing him across the busy street, “Start the fucking van!”, he's shouting, panic spread across his face. Even Dutch, still brushing the dust from his sleepy eyes, pisses himself laughing at that one.

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