On the one hundred and thirty fifth anniversary of the independence of the United States from our UK oppressors, Dan and I dusted off our sizable dongs and crept out of that 20th story penthouse with the intention of ending up in the most American place on earth: France. We bid our sweet farewells to Sam Russo and then settled into the realization that now that Sam was gone, we were gonna be dealing with our giant, obnoxious roller bags on the train every day, rather than just stashing them in Sam’s car and then dicking around while he brought them into the club each load-in.
This truth became even more evident as we boarded the tube headed for central London during morning rush hour. Dan and I each had a guitar, a large backpack and a huge roller. We were also on a train with people who, inch for inch, somehow took up more space than was available inside the train car. Nuts-to-butts doesn’t begin to describe it. Now, keep in mind that the night before I slept for about thirty minutes, and Dan slept on a tiny loveseat that was significantly shorter than his body. I developed a sheen of sweat almost immediately (a sheen that would never once dissipate until about the third day after I got home, by the way) which I’m sure was real nice for all the businessmen who were pressed up against me.
We got off the tube, which was amazingly liberating, but that feeling of freedom was shortlived as we had to navigate the insane crowds of the station and transfer to yet another tube (this one, somehow even MORE crowded) in order to get to St. Pancras station, which was the embarkation point of the Chunnel train and therefore, the gateway to the rest of the unwashed world that lay beyond the channel that sequesters the bleakest little island that ever was.
We took a series of moving walkways through the British part of the station to the international part, and boy, shit already done changed. Suddenly, everyone was speaking French and Italian and Spanish and there were hilarious dogs and people wearing shit that no self respecting person should ever wear. We got our tickets and everything in order and then sat down to a nice breakfast that I was in no shape to eat, thanks to my general feeling of exhausted grossness. I ordered a fruit yogurt parfait and Dan ordered 2 eggs and potatoes. We also both got iced americanos.
After breakfast, we went through security, which was exactly like airport security if no one really gave a fuck about what you were carrying, and then ascended a ramp in a 1984-esque massive column of slavelike drones where we stood over the giant number painted onto the platform that represented our train car. We boarded the train, and I did my best to sleep in my seat. The train started to move, and Dan said “I’m gonna go find that little martini” referring to the international symbol for bar-car that was on all Euro trains. I, for once, said something to the effect of “jesus Christ, man, it’s like 9am!”) before putting in my headphones and crashing out (let the record show that Dan did NOT go get wasted, but rather just went to check out the general spread and I did NOT pass out successfully due to the equilibrium themed grossness inherent in going 500 + miles an hour beneath a giant body of water).
We eventually got off the train in gay Parie, where we first got our taste of the very menacing chime that the French rail system plays before every public announcement. These days, in most public places, whenever someone says anything over a public address system, it’s proceeded by a small, upbeat or at the very least aggressively major little mini-jingle. France is no exception, however, their rail system has adopted an aggressively minor, mind bogglingly sinister little 4 note combo that sounds more like an interlude during the dark moments of a Bond movie than it does like a precursor to the announcement that “le Subway sandwiche shop is now open at track 7.”listen here
As we had just arrived in mainland Europe, the first thing Dan and I had to do was activate our Eurorail passes. We searched around and eventually encountered a snaking line full of stinky backpackers that was, while not technically super long, absolutely static. There was zero movement in this line. Several dudes wearing colorful vests came up to us, told us they could remotely activate our passes without us having to wait in the line, then looked at our passes and pointed to the windows at the end of the line – their poor English and our nonexistent French not able to communicate effectively exactly what was wrong with our passes.
We stood in this line, which only had about twelve people in front of us and emptied onto 4 potential service windows, for over an hour. It was one of the most uniquely horrific hours of the tour. When we FINALLY got to our window, a young man named Francois deftly defied every shitty French stereotype that we have in America by patiently and kindly explaining exactly how our pass worked, including the fact that we need to reserve seats on most of the trains we’re taking, made those reservations for us and then explained the giant sheaf of tickets that he handed us, one by one. We were at the window for about 40 minutes. No wonder that line was so slow. We walked away from Francois feeling knowledgeable and secure in the notion that the 2 hours spent in the line and at the window had been extremely productive.
We then boarded the train to Lille. The train was full of French people and the weirdness of their entire program can’t be overstated. By the time we got on this train, both Dan and I were feeling like a couple of hobos, high on battery acid and road tripping straight into the bowels of hell.
We arrived at the Lille station and got out to wait for our ride from the station to the venue. We called the guy who was picking us up and told him where we were. He said, “we are going to be upside, so go there” which was a bit confusing, but we eventually made it upside and found two Frenchmen packed into a tiny hatchback which was filled to the brim with shit. There was clearly no room for us in this car. The guy riding shotgun decided he’d just take the train, leaving us to ride for forty minutes through hellish traffic, in a hatchback, with our guitars in our laps and our bags poking into the backs of our heads with a dude (who turned out to be the best dude all night, by the way) whose English was heavily accented. He was nice and the whole thing wasn’t bad, but I wondered “if that guy can take a train to the venue, why can’t we? We have Eurorail passes.” This should have been my realization that something was amiss in the ways of the French folk, but instead, I foolishly hung on to the notion that shit was gonna be fine.
We showed up at the venue which was a small compound located just beside a river. In the compound was a practice space (backstage) a music store (very nice) and a cement walled banquet hall (where we were playing). The guy, Nico, who was doing the show was a nice young dude in a vampire haircut, Skiba shirt and Alkaline Trio tattoos. His girlfriend and all her friends were exceptionally pretty young girls and the whole vibe was instantly weird as shit. Nico was drinking scotch straight from the bottle (it was about 4 in the afternoon), no one really spoke all that much English and the soundguy…well, let’s get to him in a bit.
Dan and I quickly extracted ourselves from the situation and went around the corner to a bizarre Xbox themed bar. We each ordered a Jupiler (which I will only ever refer to as Jupiter, no matter how dumb it makes me look) and marveled at the fact that on the 4th of July, here in France – the closest thing to a ‘frenemy’ that America has, in a ‘bar’ that looks more like a sad bistro in a dinner theater production, was a slovenly girl in an American flag tank top casually making out with her mustachioed boyfriend. Dan tried to get a picture, but he was unable to do so. The bar was empty except for us and them, so it would have been conspicuous, to say the least.
We went back and soundchecked. The soundguy was about fifty or sixty, clean bald in the style of Kojak and wearing a blousy dress shirt and pleated pants. To say he looked like a molester would be an understatement on par with saying Bin Laden harbored a little anti American sentiment back in college. The room’s acoustics were so bouncy that the sound ricocheted off the back wall and came back to the stage as loudly as the monitors, making the whole soundcheck a complete electric kool aid acid test/pigfuck of an experience. Dan, disheartened, went to find a hotel room while I went to the bathroom and realized that the urinal was just in the corner of the lobby of the show, just out there with no sort of wall or curtain or anything, and the shitter (a lone shitter) was right next to it and unisex. I changed my strings and talked to some girl about her all-girl band, until Dan called me and gave me directions to the Valenciennes Grand, which was right by the train station and a 2 minute walk from the club. I walked over there, past all sorts of hilarious looking nightclubs to a very nice hotel with a fancy bar and people in tuxedoes milling about. Our room was a nice suite with one lone queen bed (yes!) and a spectacular view of the square and train station. We relaxed for a second and then headed back for dinner.
As we crossed the river, we noticed a boat that looked like it was at the very least a floating titty bar, if not a downright floating job-house. We swore we’d go back to examine what was up over there, but we never did. Instead, we went back to the practice space backstage and ate some of the best Lebanese food I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in. The spicy goat cheese was particularly awesome. We went into the room where the show was happening and though the capacity was about 300, the show was looking like it was gonna cap out at about 40 people. Nico’s astonishingly good looking girlfriend told Dan that the Alkaline Trio was her favorite band of all time and suddenly, I realized what was going on. Nico was clearly a super fan, and this ‘show’ was revealing itself to be this dude’s way of throwing a semi-private show for him and his friends. Nico’s entire family ended up showing up, in fact. The whole thing was VERY weird and not completely unlike playing a French bar-mitzvah.
First up was Nico’s band’s acoustic project. They had a pretty decent kids-doing-their-best-French-Alk3-impression thing going on, and get extra points for singing in heavily accented English, which is a weakness of mine. I went up next. I was tired and discombobulated and I played a competent set to a mostly indifferent crowd that definitely couldn’t understand most of what I was saying. I took that opportunity to let the whole crowd know that I was their father, as I’d banged all their moms, and then played One In A Million, the heavily xenophobic, homophobic, racist acoustic jam by GnR (now, I could go on and on about why I don’t think that song is, in fact, terribly racist, xenophobic or homophobic but rather a great portrait of the kinds of people that Axl grew up with in Indiana, or maybe even his own stunted ideas as he ‘stepped off the bus and out into the city streets’ so to speak, but that’s a whole other entry) in honor of 4th of July and America and France’s own xenophobic and racist traditions. Dan liked it. No one else cared. I left the stage pretty stoked, all things considered. It was the best of a pretty lame situation, I’d say.
Dan went up there and the reaction was just bizarre. The girl who had said her favorite band was Alkaline Trio was standing outside the entire time he played, along with a whole ton of other people who had been watching (but not particularly enjoying) me play. Some people got on stage while Dan was mid-song(!!!) to take pictures with him, prompting Dan to respond with a fairly pissed off (and completely justified) explanation about what just doesn’t fly at a goddamned show, folks, and generally the whole thing was real, real weird.
The show ended and this junkie (who reminds me of what I imagine Rorge from Game Of Thrones to be like) decided he loved me and wanted to go drinking. We told him we’d definitely, definitely meet him at the house party he was going to and then escaped to a bar with this couple who had come from Paris and were the proverbial “2 cool people [that] came…huddled by the door” from Jawbreaker’s Tour Song. These two were from Paris, they were both older, graphic designers. They looked exactly the same, which was bookwormy and cute and they had travelled by train to see Dan and me play. They were confused as to why we played Vellinciennes and not Paris. They were as baffled by the show as we were and they were generally nice and fun to be around and they were, hands down, the only two people who watched and gave a shit about both of our sets.
We arrived at an extremely bumpin’ meat market club right by our hotel with the intention of hanging out for a while. Dan and I each ordered one Belgian beer, drank it and became instantly so hammered that we staggered home and went to bed.
Weird day, but it was only gonna get weirder from there.