Sydney instrumental rock legends MENISCUS are in the midst of their debut European tour, hitting 9 countries across 3 weeks. I asked guitarist Dan Oreskovic to keep us a tour diary to give folks back home a glimpse of what life on the Euro-road is like for an underground band… So far, it’s been hijinx and misfortune mixed with raving successes. Here you go:
MENISCUS IN EUROPE – PART 1
Welcome to the first entry of our European tour diary. As this is our first trip to Europe as a band, we plan on sharing our experiences (both the good and bad), and it will be interesting to see how reality compares with our own expectations…so here we go….
PRE-TOUR (SYDNEY 22/06/12)
We have had our final rehearsal before the tour, and a brief meeting to discuss the last few details of the trip. We talked about potential set-lists and came up with a few different options, should the unthinkable happen (equipment failure, set cut short etc). The hardest part was choosing what not to play. We all have our favourites, and it became a delicate balance between newer and older material, while keeping it all coherent from a live performance point of view.
Marty dropped in to finalise the details about the T-shirts for the tour (we’re doing a brand new tee specifically for this tour, which will only be available at the shows), and discussing how we’re managing the merch for the tour.
After breezing through the rehearsal, mainly focusing on adapting our playing to the limited amount of gear we’ll be able to take with us, we double checked our gear and headed home.
The rest of the evening, I spent on my living room floor, with a mess of guitars, cables, pedals, cases and other bits and pieces, trying to figure out how I was going to shed 6kgs from my check in luggage to avoid the hefty excess baggage charges…. My clothes are already taken care of (we arranged some luggage to be sent in advance to Bordeaux, so that the only thing we’ll be taking on our flight is the music gear), so it was just a case of working out how I was going to take a setup that was both light, small in footprint, sturdy and could still fit all the essential pedals to be able to play our songs properly. Alison and I decided to go with Hiscox cases for our guitars and Diago Showman pedal boards
The backline that we’ve arranged will be pretty decent, so at least we have some good gear to play while we’re there. I’ve organised a Fender twin reverb and Hot Rod deville 2×12 (as backup), and Alison has an Ampeg rig comprising of an SVT classic Head and 4x10HLF cabinet. Cam’s scored a nice Gretch kit (EDIT, upon arrival, we had been informed the Gretch had been damaged, and we now have a Yamaha stage classic) and Marty’s projector screen was pre-purchased and will meet us in Le Havre, along with the rest of the backline…. So it looks like we’re all set.
LONDON – (25/06/12)
Not technically playing a show here, but that didn’t stop drama from unfolding. Upon picking up our guitars and luggage from the oversize baggage department, I discovered that my guitar’s neck had snapped. It was incredibly heartbreaking. At first glance, the case appeared unscathed, so I wasn’t immediately aware of the impending disaster I was about to face. Our other equipment seemed to have survived the flight.
I visited the information desk, and was told to call the airline to make a claim, only the number they gave goes straight to a pre-recorded answering machine, with no options or the facility to leave a message. Annoying.
What would have been a easy day seeing the sights in London, turned into a nightmare of having to seek out guitar stores across London. Luckily enough a friend of Marty’s, Peter, resides in London and was able to show us around and patiently wait while I combed through all the guitar stores in Soho. I would normally be excited if given the opportunity to shop for music gear while on holidays, but this was a case of needing something and fast. I checked out many Les Pauls, most of which were well out of my price range, and the ones that were, were poor. I had to give up on the idea that I could get a like-for-like replacement for my 18-year-old Les Paul. So I started looking for alternatives.
I managed to find a beaten-up black PRS, for a pretty reasonable price. I wasn’t too keen on the guitar initially, but it played well, sounded good, and was quite light.
The staff at Rockers (Denmark St, Soho) were incredibly helpful in getting a flightworthy case that would fit (with some minor adjustments, involving a hammer), and also fixing a new pickup screw, which had somehow disappeared. They also set up the instrument for my silly tuning, and did it all without a fuss, even though I was probably the most annoying customer they’ve had in a while.
The rest of the evening we caught up with friends and sampled some of London’s pubs before retiring for the night just after midnight.
British Airways are a funny bunch. They seemed to be very helpful and make things overly complicated at the same time. We arrived at Gatwick airport, and after passing a police officer who was armed to the teeth in a war video game kind of way, we proceeded to check-in. Now carrying an extra guitar, we incurred an additional baggage fee, yet the real problem started when the British Airways’ staff said they couldn’t allow us to fly to France without proof of our intention to depart the country, as we had purchased a one-way ticket, and that we would not be allowed through the border in France. After speaking with a manager-type, we purchased a refundable return fare at 300 pounds each, which we would then cancel once we entered Bordeaux. This whole process meant that we had very little time to board the plane, yet somehow we were able to make it just before the final doors were closed.
Arriving at Bordeaux airport, we found that the luggage (clothes, guitar strings and our merch) we arranged to be brought from Sydney had not arrived. The information desk were kind enough to point out the cargo area at the airport, which was a separate area, some 5 minutes drive away. Alison and Marty caught the shuttle bus to the farthest carpark and walked there, while Cam and I waited at the airport with all our gear.
We managed to hail a taxi just large enough to fit ourselves and our gear, and made our way to El Chicho, Bordeaux. After a parting warning from the driver about pickpockets, we stepped out and into a small, vibrant place, and were warmly greeted by Sebastian and Sylvano. It is essentially a Chilean Bar/Resturaunt, and after a short while, you start to forget you’re actually in France. A short trip down a rickety spiral staircase revealed a small, hot and dark room, with black greasy walls, and a leaky overhead pipe. The back walls were plastered in a mix of graffiti and set-lists of previous gigs there, and a large safe adorned the centre of the back room.
After meeting everyone and loading our gear downstairs, we met up with the boys from US band Prawn, who were a nice group of guys, mostly early twenties, and had a cool indie/post-punk vibe. They were at the tail end of a 5-week tour of Europe and were keen on letting their hair down. It was here that we were introduced to Yannick, the promoter of the show, who not only took really good care of us to make sure that we were fed and paid, but also let us crash at his house.
The show went pretty well. We played for about 40mins and got through the set absolutely drenched in sweat. The crowd seemed a little reserved at first, but warmed up more towards the end of the set. I was told beforehand that European audiences are much different to those back home, so I wasn’t too surprised by the response. Once we had finished our show, it was back upstairs to sample El Chicho’s speciality, empanada de queso, and wash it down with a much-needed drink.
The drive back to Yannick’s place was interesting. After cramming everything into his small sedan, we followed Prawn’s van, and after about 5 minutes, they were pulled over by the police for what appeared to be failing to keep right. We received a text message a few minutes later that the driver had been arrested for drink driving and taken to the police station. A friend of Yannicks’ was able to drive them back to his apartment.
LE HAVRE (27/06/12)
We taxied back to Bordeaux airport in the hope that our missing luggage had finally arrived. While Marty and Alison went to the France cargo office, Cam and I waited near the carpark, and took the time to air out some clothes from last night. We had already cancelled our train tickets to Le Havre and rebooked another train to Paris for 12:18pm, where Tibor and Nuno (tour manager and driver) would be meeting us with the van and backline. After running back and forth, we finally retrieved all our missing luggage and frantically made our way (again via taxi) to the train station.
…and we missed our train. We simply had way too much gear to attempt to load onto a train that was departing in 30 seconds. luckily we were able to purchase tickets for a train that was just under an hour away. After a tricky session of Tetris with our gear, we were onboard and underway to Paris…
I read in another band’s tour diary that you know you’re in Paris when people stop holding the door open for you, and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. While it’s a beautiful city, steeped in history, I found that the enchantment didn’t spread to the people there. Most people we encountered seemed annoyed all the time, and gave no thought to making way for people trying to carry hundreds of kgs of equipment. Thankfully, Tibor was there to meet us and guide us back to the van. We saw brief glimpses of the top 3rd of the Eiffel tower as we headed out onto the highway to Le Havre. It was a shame that we didn’t get to see more, but after the last 2 days of madness, we were all happy to just sit back in the van and relax.
The drive to Le Havre was a few hours, and we passed some interesting scenery along the way, which ranged from picturesque, rolling, open fields to industrial plants. We’ve heard from a few people that Le Havre is the drinking capital of France, because there simply isn’t anything else to do here. With that in the back of our minds, we arrived at McDaids, an Irish styled pub, with mostly wooden furnishings and appointments. The promoter, Matthieu, was there with a group of friends, and they helped us cart all the gear downstairs to the stage area.They were really accommodating, and frequently asked us whether we had everything we needed, and if they could help us out in any way. That was something we’ve noticed as the big difference between here and Australia: that the venues and promoters are generally very happy to have you there, and frequently go out of their way to accommodate your needs. In Australia, it’s almost the complete opposite.
Warming up the night were an excellent band called Deadmen, (who also made use of a video projection screen) a two-piece psychedelic rock outfit. They produced some incredible spacey sounds with just drums and guitar. After a rousing response from the crowd, we set our gear up and took the stage. Our set went really well, and the crowd were really enthusiastic, creating a really nice vibe in the room. I was having guitar issues yet again, the pickup screws falling out and causing them to move all over the place, but I nursed through it. After a few show drinks and some photos with fans, we packed up and headed back to the promoter’s house for a much-needed rest.
The Drive to Osnabruck was a pleasant experience. Not much traffic (except a little when we got into Germany), and the route took us through France, Belgium and Holland. We arrived with time to spare so there was no real rush.
Big Buttinsky was in the centre of town, and it was my favourite venue thus far. It was a great space, with lounges and tables everywhere, the kind of place I could see ourselves frequenting daily after work if we lived there. The booth for the sound engineer/DJs housed a massive collection of vinyl in milk crate-type boxes, and the walls and ceilings were adorned in all kinds of decorative posters, old vinyl records and used cymbals. The bar staff were friendly and were playing some excellent music over the sound system. The resident sound guy / promoter was Dirk, A true gentleman, both passionate about his craft, and accommodating at the same time. After we loaded in and setup our gear, we all sat down to a meal of gigantic pizzas and sampled some German brew.
We knew that the because the Euro cup semi final was on, and Germany were playing, we scheduled to start 30mins after the game was over. The streets were alive after full time, with cars adorning Italian flags beeping their horns in celebration of the result. We took to the stage to a small, but passionate crowd who seemed genuinely excited to have us there. We ripped through an hour set, the crowd really getting into it, and for the first time in Meniscus’ history, we played an encore, which I’m usually against. They just seem so contrived nowadays. We also had someone from the venue go around with a hat to accept donations from the crowd to help us on our way, as this was a free gig. So we received some additional (and much needed) cash.
After the show, we treated ourselves to some drinks and took a walk around the complex, where we found the basement for the cinema above. The room was full of unused cinema chairs, and also reels of tape for movies from 15+ years ago. It was quite surreal. Load out was funny too, with a very, very drunk dutch man attempting to speak to us in English (I couldn’t understand a word, so the trick is just to smile, nod, and laugh when they laugh). He also offered to help load our gear into the van, which we politely declined. He was harmless though, and the jolly man wandered off back inside to sit at the bar.
Dirk put us up for the night, and made sure we had everything we needed. His place was cool, complete with an outdoor balcony garden, where he grows all sorts of herbs and spices. I managed about 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which was pretty good.
In the morning, we treated ourselves to hot showers, good coffee and Nutella or homemade cream and chives dip on toast for breakfast. Germany’s version of Vegemite was also available, though I can’t stomach the stuff…
FUSION FESTIVAL – LARS (29/06/12)
It was hot. It felt like low to mid thirties. Though the European sun doesn’t have that instant bake effect like in Australia, I may actually turn a darker shade of pale here.
Fusion reminds me of the High and Dry festival back in Sydney, though about 50 times its size and scale. Think of the same amount of people at Big Day Out, spread across an old military airfield (complete with bunkers and runway strips), and with colourful tents and art installations scattered across the land. The vibe of the crowd is different to Sydney festivals. The majority of people are there because they want to experience something new, not just there for the big name bands (Fusion Festival do not announce the line-up, and the fifty-odd thousand tickets had sold out well in advance). You could almost call this a ‘Hippy’ festival, as the focus seems to be on organic, sustainable and environmentally conscious living. There was a real sense of community here.
Driving in, however, proved to be challenging. The entrance to the artist area seemed to be a maze of lines and crowds, with none of the officials (volunteers) really knowing how to direct us to the correct area, and in some cases, pointing in the wrong direction. We finally managed to find our way to “artist care” and received our passes and our stage area map.
We arrived at the tent and unloaded the gear. Setup was relatively easy because there is a full 1 hour DJ set between bands, so changeover was easy. We were almost ready, and the DJ had about 5 minutes left of his set. Then, it started raining. This was great for us because now everyone that was walking around outside scurried into our tent and it became instantly packed, and they were really getting vibed on the DJ set. The set finished and we sound-checked. Everything was going to plan…until huge gusts of wind came through, ripping the back of the tent open, and knocking over our projector screen. An announcement came over the PA, advising that a massive storm was on its way and that everyone had to evacuate the tents and return to their vehicles or campsites. We had to scramble our gear off quickly and back into the van. We sat there for about ten minutes, completely bewildered. I couldn’t believe our luck.
Tibor was trying to work out if we were still able to play, should the festival resume. Within a few minutes, the wind died down, the rain subsided, and we were clear to set up our gear again. We hurried everything back on stage, and set everything up in record time.
Our set started shaky. The mix was horrible, the samples being so loud through the monitors that it was a crackly, distorted mess. The guitar went from being too loud to too soft, and then the mic on the guitar amp fell off. The crowd at the start seemed a little confused too, from being told to evacuate, then come back in. The organisers were kind enough to still let us play our full set though, and we had every intention of doing so. After the 3rd song, we hit full stride and really started winning over the crowd. By the end of the set, the crowd were lively, and begging for more. After we received the nod from the stage manager, we played an encore track, a new work in progress that we’ve been jamming with lately, and it went down really well with the audience, who by this time had swelled to a much larger and hungrier crowd.
The close of our set created a frenzy of punters at our merch desk, and we had our best merch sales for this tour to date. A definite win I’d say…
TO BE CONTINUED…