December 2006


oberageri.JPGNew Year’s Eve in Oberageri, a small town on a small lake nestled in the Swiss hills, not far from Zurich. Freddy’s friends, Gunther and Corrine own a beautiful pub there called the Limon Bistro. For a long time, Gunther and Corrine had lived on the Yucatan Peninsula, running a small hostel for travelers. Limon Bistro has a funky tropical vibe that they’ve managed to import to the chilly Alps. After sound-checking, we and a bunch of Oberageri friends were treated to a 5-course New Year’s meal that Gunther and Corrine had prepared themselves: word!

We had a great time: we saw that Gunther had Mezklah and Very Be Careful CDs in his collection — Cez started DJing with a mix of the CDs we had brought and the dope vinyl in Gunther’s collection. We rocked a righteous reggae roots romp. Gogo, a great punk rocker from way back, and a longtime friend of Gunther’s, really wanted to hear Police and Thieves. We had never played it, but we tore into it anyways, and made Gogo come up and sing it — he had a great lazy sneer of a delivery.

guntherhouse.JPGCez and I went back to Corrine and Gunther’s house to sleep, but Ed, Gogo, Gunther, and Freddy stayed up late into the night talking punk rock and drinking Boxer Beers. In the morning we discovered that someone had stolen our stack of CDs — whoever you are in Oberageri that took our music, watch your back! The Karma Police knows about what you did and is on the lookout for your music-thieving ass.

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churhotelChur is an amazing city. With a history of human settlement more than 5,000 years old, it is probably the oldest city in Switzerland. Nestled in a deep valley near the source of the Rhein, it’s surrounded on all sides by steep mountains. The club we were playing at had opened just the night before. We would be opening for Satanico, a cool bunch of dudes, mostly from Venezuela, based now in Amsterdam. They play a lot of churpath.JPGLatin Metal, but once a year they do a tour in Switzerland playing Santana covers. An explosion of languages erupted over dinner: Spanish, German, French — I was speaking Hebrew with Robbie, the half-Swiss, half-Israel promoter of the show, and with one of the Dutch-Israeli guys from Satanico too.

churlightI was feeling pretty sick, so after an unexceptional set I decided to make it an early night. In the morning I woke up to walk around and quickly found an alpine path up one of the mountainsides. One of the amazing things about Chur is that under the low-hanging winter sun, the city is perpetually in the shadow of the mountains that surround it. Around 11:30, when I had hiked pretty high up on the path, I saw the sun suddenly break through a narrow gap in the hills and shine its light on half the city below. It seemed like every church bell in the city was going off, as if to mark the appearance of the sun. By the time I had descended, the sun had disappeared once more, leaving the city in its accustomed shadow.

peak.JPGTo get from Switzerland to Italy there is only one thing to do: cross the Alps. Although we were passing through spectacular scenery, Cez-One kept himself covered up underneath a jacket, achieving maximum visual and sonic enhancement for his PlayStation Portable, refusing to acknowledge the outside world. We drove past Montreux, an impossible city that straddles the steep mountainside as it descends into Lake Geneva, then into the Rhone River valley, a deep glacial cut through the craggy snow-capped peaks. The van proved impressive, handily climbing up to the Great St. Bernard Pass at 8,000 feet , through a miles-long tunnel that spit us out into the Italian Alps, and down the steep slopes into the Po River Valley and Italy’s industrial heartland.

thedallop.JPGMadly Pub is special. Built out of a crumbling Italian villa on the side of the road — seemingly in the middle of nowhere — with Guinness on tap and the deeply side-burned Johnny (Gianni) to guide you through the throngs. We got there and learned that a local band was opening up. They are called The Dallop, and they had only been together a few months, this being their first or second show. A few years ago Italy passed a law requiring that all clubs and pubs have no-smoking areas — and it was a great relief to play in a smoke-free room. What with all the singing and jumping around we were doing on stage, and illness on our heels, it was hard to keep our throats and lungs from getting thrashed. I hope the other nations of Europe follow suit soon — it’s a matter of public health!

The Dallop fans, mostly from the nearby town of Borgonovo, started showing up in droves, excited to see their hom-town heroes playing. Many of them were wearing hand-painted Dallop shirts and hand-made band buttons… oh to be young and in your first band. The Dallop played some great punk rock, with everyone in the band singing great hooks. The lead guitarist broke a string on the first song. I ran up and gave him my guitar, then changed the string on his guitar while they finished out the song. He seemed a little shocked about this — but that’s how we do! How many times have the guys from Mezklah and Fitter done the same for me?

cityhall.JPGMany Dallop fans stayed to check out our set and although half of Madly Pub seemed to be ignoring us, there was a sizable group that was paying close attention. The dancing never really took off, but when we finished playing we managed to unload a grip of CDs! We hung out for a bit, and then were taking to out sleeping quarters: the town hall. piazza.JPGIts a beautiful medieval building whose top floor holds cots for visiting bands and other penniless passers-by. After a lovely morning cappuccino in the piazza with Johnny and his girlfriend, we were on the road back to Switzerland — this time over another impossibly jagged mountain pass.

frostytree.JPG We had hardly slept and the long drive south to Switzerland, through fairytale woods and villages, at least gave us a chance to rest. Although Ed and Cez slept, I refused to shut my eyes — the forests of Bavaria were covered with a layer of pure white frost — truly magical.

bavariaOutside of Zurich we picked up a hitchhiker. She was a middle-aged German woman with dark sunglasses and burgundy lipstick that over-ran her mouth. She said she was trying to get to the mountains because she was hoping to see some snow. Freddy agreed to take her as far as Bern — she could find her own way to the mountains. I offered her a clementine and she greedily accepted it. She sat next to Ed, who was mad that he couldn’t keep sleeping. She tried to talk to him but he wasn’t having it, convinced that she was some kind of witch. He seemed relieved when we dropped her off.

kerzers.JPGKerzers was half farm town and half bedroom community for Bern — with barns and yards of horse manure alternating with the pharmacies and restaurants. We were shown our hotel, a luxurious horse-themed establishment, and treated to a fancy Italian dinner of pear pizza and antipasto. We saw a bunch of local youths at a nearby table and invited them to come down to the show. They ended up coming, which was a good thing since there wasn’t a big crowd. Even though it was small, folks were receptive to the music, dancing and talking to us in between sets. We had the idea on the way to Kerzers to play Desconocido differently — more like a New Order-inspired jam than the usual African highlife style that we play it. We tried it out and it came out great — Ed and I pulled off some mind-reader shit and spontaneously came up with harmonizing bass and guitar lines, while Cez did his best to do the Kraftwerk. This new arrangement became an obsession during the tour and we continued to play it almost every night.

Why were we returning to Chemnitz? One of Freddy’s obsessions is making sure that the bands he takes on tour gig every single night, if possible. As he explained it to me, a day without a show is just a waste of money — you don’t get your room, you don’t get your board, you have to spend money without any money coming in. But as the tour progressed I came to see that at the heart of Freddy’s obsession was a nobler, more spiritual sentiment.

van.JPGFreddy has booked European tours for surf-music legend Dick Dale and for Mexican rockstars Panteon Rococo — and yet he also brings out little known acts like Fosforo. He knows that for a band like ours, tours are like rock n’ roll school: you have to learn how to get along in close quarters, be gracious towards fans and detractors alike, how to party late into the night without wearing yourself out — and most of all, you have to rock hard every single night. I could see Freddy’s pride that he was contributing to our musicianship, by making us play night after night, always trying to outdo ourselves and make it better. And so with nothing else booked on Wednesday we were returning to Chemnitz, where at the very least we would have delicious vegetarian food and a cold room to sleep in.

The second show at Subway was even less well-received than the first. Old-school punks sat right in front of us and hardly acknowledged our presence. We even tried to play an especially noisy, punky, aggressive set, but I guess that without mohawks and power chords, we didn’t have the right punk credentials. There was something ironic about it: I thought about how the original old-school punks had been complete outcasts and rebels. Here we were playing rebel music, feeling like outcasts ourselves, but completely misunderstood and unappreciated by people who had all the external forms of punk — but punk had calcified, become rigid and narrow-minded.

falkorock.JPGOne guy in the audience who was excited to see us was DJ Falko Rock — he said “like the song, you remember Amadeus?” Rock me, Amadeus! Falko Rock spins a lot of old garage rock and eighties rock, and his cheery enthusiasm helped to lift our spirits. He told us more about Chemnitz — about how people had stopped having children after the re-unification, uncertain about what the future would hold. In addition many people had left for other, more prosperous cities. Schools are constantly closing and the economy stagnates. A report had come out claiming that Chemnitz has the lowest birth rate in the world. Despite the lukewarm reception I was glad that we had played these shows in Chemnitz, a little Fosforo flame burning against the chill and gloom that seemed to blanket the city.

After we played the proprietor asked us if we wanted to try the house Schnapps. Why not? We were brought a shot each. Down the hatch and surprise — garlic! Yep, garlic Schnapps — very intense. Ed, who was already fairly sure that Chemnitz was haunted by the dead of WWII and the poltergeists born of years of repression under communist rule, was glad that we had been given this potion to guard us against the spirits of evil. And yet the garlic Schnapps could not prepare us for the living spectres of indifference and malice that roamed the streets of Karl-Marx-Stadt.

bombedout.JPGAs we walked the block down to our punk-rock pit-stop our path was blocked by a very drunk man and his unleashed German Shepherd. The dog snarled and barked at us unceasingly, but the man only laughed and gurgled at us in Russian, nursing what seemed like at least three cans of beer. The dog came dangerously close to biting Ed and Cez-One, we just didn’t know what he might be capable of. We ran towards the building and as I tried to go into the courtyard the Russian blocked my way. I insisted that we were rightful guests and pushed my way through, we ran in but the dog followed us and barked at us all the way to our door. I was so tired that I passed out, but Ed and Cez-One, completely spooked by the experience lay awake all night. In any case, it was hard to sleep once the Italian punk band that was also lodging at the pit-stop showed up in the wee hours. They were very drunk, and despite my best efforts to keep sleeping I would hear them farting and laughing.

diebarsign.JPGBack to Germany we drove and on this clean chilly night we pulled into the famous Die Bar in the small village of Schwalmstadt. Our predecessors Mezklah and VBC had raved about Die Bar: the kindness of the owners, the refrigerator of beer that sits next to the stage — it was all true. Although the bar didn’t get very full we had a great time playing. The house amp was a huge Marshall, and the excitement of being reunited with my guitar meant that I really rocked out and played some heavy guitar solos. It sounded great and musically, it was one of my favorite shows of the tour. We hung out a good while afterwards and made some friends. This one kid schooled me for real in foosball — Germans are crazy about foosball. I never knew the game could be played with such subtlety and skill. Steve, our host, kept plying us with shots of Jagermeister, which tasted a surprising lot better than I had remembered it. We learned and forgot many useful German phrases.

We were taken back to Steve’s house to sleep by a Cozy fireplace and in the morning were treated to a lavish German breakfast with Steve’s girlfriend and his niece. When Steve’s niece went out to play she put on a bonafide little red riding hood. When I remarked on this Steve’s girlfriend told me that we were in the heart of Grimm Brothers country and that the road into town is called Fairy Tale Road. We took this Fairy Tale Road back to the highway and headed to Chemnitz.

jk2470.JPGFor Christmas Day we returned to Freddy’s neck of the woods, Retie being Kasterlee’s neighboring town. The club was in the middle of the fields and woods, but hordes soon arrived on bicycles and in cars. The lineup was crazy diverse: a death metal band, a blues-rock trio, us, and a rockabilly band closing out the night. Although the place was packed we had a tough time, frustrated by equipment failures, and playing music that was perhaps too unfamiliar for the audience. Fortunately, when we got back to Freddy’s house we discovered that the airlines had finally managed to deliver Cez-One’s suitcase and my guitar. The bad news was that Ed’s bag and my synth were still missing. Fucked up! At least we had my precious guitar back…

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