Following on from their adventures last week (read here), Sydney instrumental rockers MENISCUS bring us Part 2 of their European tour diary.
Driving into the Czech Republic, we witnessed some of the most picturesque scenery on this tour to date. Arriving at Rybanaruby, we’re greeted by Alex, the promoter/sound guy, and his three dogs and cat. It was funny loading and setting up our gear while a cat walks all over your pedal board. Made me feel like I was at home for a minute.
We also had fans who drove 4 hours from Austria so they could be at the show. After a quick beer, we got up onstage and played probably the best set of the tour. The energy in the small room was infectious, and the more we got into it, the more the crowd did, which then fed us more again.
It was also one of the hottest rooms I’ve ever played in. By halfway through our set, I was already soaked right through, and the floor around me was a slippery mess.
As our show drew to a close, the fans held one of the longest applause I’ve ever experienced, which blew me away. Again, we sold a good amount of merch. We took some time out to meet and greet the fans, and sign some CDs.
We were treated to pizza and beers for dinner, and after we had our fill, we retired for the night, completely exhausted.
This was supposed to be our Berlin Show, but due to the Euro cup final, the promoter decided to cancel the show, so it became our first (and potentially only) day off. We all went our separate ways from here. Cam’s wife met us last night, and they went off sight seeing, while Alison, Marty and I checked into a hotel, to shower and catch up on some rest. We walked around a bit, and ate lunch at a riverside restaurant.
We all met up again around 7pm in a park that overlooks the city, and spent most of the night sampling Czech’s finest beers, until a thunderstorm came in and left us running through the streets trying to find shelter. We managed to find a Belgian beer cafe, and ate dinner there, before making the slow walk back to our hotel.
Once we reached Poland, the highways ended, and the small, narrow streets with many turns took over. It was almost like stepping back in time. The only thing reminding you of modern times were the new cars on the road. Klub Alive was situated in a unique location, a line of shops and bars housed underneath a train line. You were reminded of their presence because you would hear and feel the rumble every time a train went overhead.
We got to meet the support band, This Great End, who were all a really nice bunch of people. After a quick soundcheck, we headed to the outdoor section for a drink and dinner. We still had a few hours before doors opened, so we headed out into town to visit the shops and main square. Wroclaw is beautiful, in the sense that an old decaying painting is. It’s architecture and infrastructure has somehow frozen in time, and the thought of many years of war and depression is always in your mind as you walk around town. It’s a humbling feeling, knowing how easy we’ve had it back home.
The time for the show rolled around, and we just made it back in time to catch This Great End’s set. It was an energetic and confident performance. I particularly enjoyed the interplay of the guitar and basslines, where often the bass would assume the role of a more down-tuned guitar, allowing the guitarist to explore the upper reaches of the fretboard without their sound thinning out. Great band and great people too.
We quickly set up to capitalise on the momentum of the first band and got rolling. During the first few songs, we noticed the majority of people were chatting a fair bit between songs, but by the 3rd track, we had total command of the room. From that point on, we were flying. I’ve been having lower back problems since the start of the tour, and when you feel that kind of adoration from an audience, you can’t help but put the pain aside and really concentrate on delivering a great show for these people…
We ended the set with Infant, a typical closer for us, and after probably the longest applause we’ve ever received as a band, we played a new untitled track for an encore. I thought it went down really well, and at the end, we received a standing ovation. Again, something I’ve never experienced before in a band.
After the show, we spent a great deal of time, getting to know the fans, and the guys from This Great End. We signed some merch, and got photos taken with them. Seeing how happy this made them reminded me once again why I got into playing music in the first place. This was an experience I’ll never forget.
The Second show in Poland promised to be an interesting one. We were playing first in a three-band bill, comprising of Rosetta and King’s Destroy, both from USA. The venue was situated in a very grungy place. The walls we adorned in large works of graffiti art, old truck tyres were laid out for makeshift seating, and shoes with the laces tied together were hanging from the overhead power lines. The venue itself had air-conditioning, which was very welcome, however, it’s low ceilings meant that once the room filled with bodies, the air-conditioning became irrelevant. Still, we managed to have a few hours of relative comfort.
I restrung my guitar while the others went to check out their accommodation for the night: a hostel right next door. Here I met the guys from Rosetta, and I don’t think I’ve met a nicer bunch of people while on tour. They were all really genuine people, and being their third European tour, had many interesting stories to share. After Rosetta and King’s Destroy finished their soundcheck, we were clear to set up and soundcheck.
Before the show, we had a quick dinner, then took to the stage. We had a 40 min set to show what we’re about, and I think we played really well. The crowd filled about half the room, which I thought for the first band, was pretty decent. As has been the case so far this tour, the audience became more lively and were visibly enjoying the music as the set wore on. By the end of the set we had the crowd calling for an encore. Always a good sign. After the Show, Tibor informed me that we tripled last night’s merch sales.
King’s Destroy took the stage, and delivered their tight, big stoner-rock sounds with conviction. You could tell these guys have been playing for a long time. I unfortunately couldn’t watch all their set as I was ensuring that all our gear was being safely and securely stored backstage. I went up to our room and changed clothes, then made it back in time for the last 2 songs. I’m glad I did, because they were really enjoyable.
Rosetta defied categorisation for me. On one hand, a lazy person could call them metal, but the interesting aspect for me was the music. The guitar tended to lean towards the more melodic or “pretty” sounding lines while the bass and drums provided the rhythmic punch for the vocals to soar over. These guys were tight, and judging by the way the crowd behaved, they’re definitely welcome here.
After the show, we loaded the van, and spent some time hanging with the bands, swapping stories and drinking whatever we could get our hands on. I was completely exhausted, so at the first opportunity, I peeled away and retired for the night.
We had to leave early today as we wanted to detour and visit Auschwitz, the site of the biggest Nazi concentration camp. Hungover from last night, I managed to sleep most of the 6-hour trip there. I felt pretty off, not having a shower in two days, hungover, and sitting in nearly 40 degree heat. We arrived at Auschwitz, and immediately, the mood was different. I’ve never seen such a depressing place in all my life. Walking through an area where millions of people were brought to die, really humbles you, and puts a lot of things into perspective. Seeing the conditions that these people lived in made me feel like the hostels we’ve been staying in are 5-star hotels… Ultimately, I’m glad we came here, even though the heat was unbearable.
We piled back into the van and I almost immediately fell asleep, so I can’t really comment on the drive to Bratislava. I do, however, remember seeing some amazing countryside (we drove through a mountainous region to Slovakia) from time to time.
We pulled up at the venue, and loaded in. Batelier resembles more of a bar than a live venue, with the stage at the far left (or back, depending on your point of view) of the bar. It was a small stage, and once Cam’s drums were set up, there was very little room. Marty struggled to get room behind the kit to set his screen up, but after some creative placement of hardware, we managed to accommodate everything.
Pizza was on the menu for dinner yet again (I think next time, we need to specify no pizza on our rider) but it did the job. We left briefly to go to our hotel room to shower and change clothes, and at 10.30pm, we took the stage. The crowd seemed a little hesitant, mainly staying towards the back of the room. After a few tracks, they were really into the show, but still reluctant to venture forward. My mission for the rest of the show was to try to get the audience forward and participate. Finally during the last 2 songs, we got some people to the front, and they rocked out.
Tibor said we sold a fair bit of merch, and that we may sell out of CDs before the final show. I suppose that’s a good problem to have.
After the show, Marty, Tibor and Nuno we’re dragged out by a fan to a ‘fashion magazine launch’. Alison and I were way too tired, so we headed back to the hotel room and had a really good sleep.
I don’t recall the drive into Vienna. I must have slept most of the way there. It’s funny how while on tour, sometimes you wake up when we’ve stopped for fuel, and the only thing that lets you know you’re in another country, is the language that the staff there speak. I can comfortably say that I’ve seen more insides of petrol stations than anything else this trip. It’s something that you need to adjust to. If you’re expecting to tour and have time to sight-see and be a tourist, you’ll be disappointed.
Having said all that, we did have a couple of hours spare once we made it. So we split up and headed down the main street of the city, stopping in shops and just being tourists. Alison and I had lunch in a place that has the self-proclaimed “best felafels in Austria”, so we naturally made sure that they were on our order. Another thing I’ve noticed is how heavy food is over here. I almost always feel weighed down after a meal, and as a result, I’m generally not hungry most of the time.
Arriving at the venue, yet another room directly beneath railway lines, we were greeted to a choir of the local junkies. They were strewn across the outdoor garden area, some sleeping, others sitting in a circle and drinking booze. This was the first time I was genuinely concerned about our gear being stolen, so I reminded the guys to be extra diligent. We carefully loaded out, while one of the locals was stumbling about, trying to strike up a conversation about our Czech driving plates.
Today was the first day that I’ve been hit by proper fatigue. I keep thinking that sooner or later my back is just going to give up, but somehow each night, I manage to get through it okay. I think it’s just the pure adrenaline from the show, as when I’m not playing, I’m walking around half-crippled.
I quickly restrung the guitar and we set up and soundcheck with minimum fuss. The stage was small and cramped, so after some careful positioning of gear, we were able to have a decent amount of space each. The sound guy was easy to deal with, and spoke excellent English, which is always helpful. The other bands, Cinematique and Palindrome, were borrowing some of our gear. So the changeover wasn’t going to be a problem.
After soundcheck, we were taken out for our dinner, and to our surprise, to a nearby Kebab stand. I didn’t really trust the hygiene of the place, and that nothing was really refrigerated, so I passed on food. The others all ate and seemed to be okay. I wasn’t up to taking a chance.
By the time we started, the room was 3/4 full, and brimming with anticipation. We had a really good set, probably one of the best of the tour, and the audience were excellent. After the show we piled into the van (we were driving straight from the venue to Budapest, so most of us were anxious to get going) and head off to Budapest.
We arrived around 5am, and went straight to Tibor’s apartment to get some sleep. Marty and Cameron and his wife checked into a hotel, to be pampered for a couple of nights. I woke up around midday, and we spent the afternoon sightseeing. Budapest is probably the most beautiful city I’ve seen so far. I could easily spend the rest of the tour here.
We walked to the top of the hill where the Freedom Statue looks over the city. It’s an amazing place. Though with the temperature reaching above 42 degrees, it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could’ve been. I never thought European summer would rival that of Australia’s in terms of sheer heat, though I was told that today was one of the hottest days on record.
We slowly made our way back to the van and drove to the venue. Load-in was tough, we had to park around the corner from the venue, and carry our gear around to the front entrance, and then up a large set of stairs. Once we made it though, we were pleasantly surprised by the stage and the venue. It was a decent size, and we had plenty of room on stage. Dinner, provided by the venue, was served in a separate dining area to the stage. I managed to eat and restring my guitar just before the support band finished their set. We also had a local magazine take some photos for a cover story, and we gave him some signed merch for his troubles.
The show tonight was supposed to be with another local band, Grand Mexican Warlock, but the venue cancelled at the last minute, so Tibor worked some magic and got this venue booked instead. The guys from GMW weren’t able to play with us due to festival commitments, but they still came to watch our set, which I thought was pretty cool.
We had another decent sized crowd again, and they seemed in a party mood (good for Cam, because it’s his birthday today). It was a great vibe, as most of our shows have been. The crowd was really into the show, and were screaming for more by the end. Encore’s are pretty much a staple in Europe, and we had just enough time to play one last song (live music curfew was 11pm here) to which the crowd went nuts. I really feel these past couple of weeks have really tightened us up as a band, and our live shows are improving each day.
The only downside was the heat. I was lucky enough to have a fan pointed at me for the set. So while I still lost my usual 3 litres of sweat on stage, I didn’t feel like I was dying in the process. unfortunately the crowd were the ones suffering tonight. That room was hot, and you could tell some people were torn between going outside briefly to cool down, or staying to not miss a second of the show. I found their resilience a real compliment.
The stormy rain came just as we were packing up, so the load-out was a rain-soaked affair. After we packed up, we left the van there, and headed out to have a celebratory drink for Cam’s birthday. We all had shots of something (I can’t remember the name, but it tasted similar to tequila). Whatever it was, I didn’t like it. I quickly ordered a scotch, and then we sat down to be interviewed by Postrock.hu, which was quite candid and funny, as most of us by that stage had a few drinks in us. After the interview, we sat around, swapping stories about life in our respective countries. They all seemed fascinated by the whole dangerous animals thing we have going in Australia. Also, most people can’t believe that nobody in Australia drinks Fosters.
We left Budapest just after midday, and stopped at Lake Balaton, the 2nd largest lake in Europe. Watching people wade out nearly 100 metres and still seeing the water only waist deep, gave you an indication as to the sheer scale of the Lake. The water was warm like a bath, but we weren’t really interested in taking a dip.
We reached the Hungary/Croatian Border some 3 hours later, and for the first time, we were going to have our passports checked. I was wondering how 5 Australians, 1 Hungarian, and 1 Portuguese all packed into a van with Czech plates was going to look to the Officials. The first lot were Hungarian border control and customs, who took quite a while with our passports. They opened the back of the van, and seeing all the gear piled in there must have made them go “f@#$ that!”, then they closed the door and let us drive 10 metres to the next stop. The Croatian Official was a tall blonde woman, who seemed more interested in finishing her cigarette than talking to us. She asked if we had any cigarettes or alcohol, and then if we had any marijuana. We laughed because it seemed like such a casual thing, assuming that we were pot-smoking musicians. She even said “marijuana is good, no?”. We smiled and retrieved our passports, before having to drive another 5 metres, this time for Croatian customs. This Guy spoke no English at all, so Tibor was having a tough time explaining the music gear in the back. He called me out, and somehow, with the very little Croatian I understand, was able to fumble my way through a conversation with the guard. After he read my name and asked about my family, his attitude relaxed, and he became more conversational, I breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the van door and wished us well on our journey.
Driving into Zagreb had a similar feel to Warsaw. There were some poor-looking apartment buildings, nestled amongst newer office blocks, and billboards littered the sides of the road. The venue was essentially in a squat, an arts community of sorts. Most of the people were homeless, sitting around and drinking. One of the locals was a man in his 70s, who was known as Meow, simply because he’d make cat noises to everyone. These people seemed to give off a good vibe, however, and there was nothing malevolent here.
After we loaded in, I got to briefly speak to some of my relatives, who live in Zagreb, some I haven’t seen since I was 6. It was quite surreal, but I was glad to catch up with them after all these years…
Soundcheck was pretty simple, and straight after we left in search of a restaurant that served chevapi, a skinless sausage that’s popular in the Baltic countries. It was one of my favourite foods growing up, so I was keen to get a bellyful. After walking past a few cafes, one of the waiters was kind enough to point out a small, out-of-the-way place that served really good Cevapcici. After 10 or so minutes, we found the place, and proceeded to have one of the best meals of the tour.
Arriving back at the venue, it was now dark, and the place was packed. It definitely looks better at night. We made our way inside and took to the stage. An audience swelled in and to the front as we were preparing to start. I keep getting surprised. Every show I think if this is the one where nobody will turn up to watch us. Strangely enough, that day hasn’t come yet. This crowd was eager.
The set went really well, until the fourth song or so, where I broke a string on the guitar, pretty much at the start. I’ve never really practiced how to play if I break a string, but somehow instinctively, I was able to transpose the notes and get on with it. The crowd seemed more enthused by this point, and not wanting to break the momentum that we were building in this room, I proceeded to perform the fastest string change I’ve ever made, and within a minute or two we were back. The audience were right behind us for the rest of the show. During our final song, we even had a large contingent clapping along in time to the guitar riff.
All in all, this was one of the more successful shows on the tour. The only downside was that this show was the one where my body finally started to show signs of serious fatigue. I broke down with some kind of cold/flu, that was making things extremely difficult. During load-out, I felt like I was going to collapse. Everyone else had been sick at some stage during the tour, so I guess it was my turn… Unfortunately, we weren’t staying anywhere that night, we had to leave almost straight away for Geneva, so a warm bed was out of the question. Everything after load-out was a blur as I was practically asleep before the van door closed…
Watch Meniscus live in Warsaw here http://www.justin.tv/fromstage/b/323719230