The Whiskey Daredevils just returned from a road trip in Europe. Frontman Greg Miller fills us in on what happened.
Day 15: Bilbao, Spain
It’s a short drive to Bilbao, about 45 minutes. We open for some big shit Basque band called Berri Txarrak. The hall is a 1200 seater and allegedly sold out, so this will easily be our biggest show of the tour. Fittingly, it comes on the final gig. We’re not that fired up about it yet though. It hits us that in a few hours that this will be over, and we are completely disorganized to leave back to the USA. Our goal prior to the show is to get ourselves organized for the trip back home.
After a couple weeks on the road in the van, the van has become like a sailing vessel from the Days of Yore. There are tight quarters, so everyone claims their own areas and guards them jealously. Ken has ridden shotgun from the get-go, and he controls the front seat with Christoph. Leo and I have split the middle bench, and I have claimed the top storage shelf over the driver’s head to lay out my obscenely sweaty cowboy shirts, and various gas station snacks. Leo sits next to the far window, leaning into the cheap fold out plastic desk to better read his paperback copy of “Hammer of the Gods” like it is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Gary is in the very back where the squirrel’s bounty is spread around like a tornado has hit the area.
It’s unbelievable how much stuff Gary has collected back there. We were driving along in Spain, and out of nowhere Gary’s head popped up munching some cheese he clipped from a dressing room in France 3 days ago. At one point on the drive Leo jokingly says he could go for a Jagerbomb, and I’ll be damned if Gary doesn’t get one together for him. The Jager was from Switzerland. The Red Bull from Germany. The cup from a French gas station. Consequently, here we are with Leo knocking back a monster Jagerbomb in 85 degree heat on the Spanish tundra. The best part is if Leo had decided on something else, I think he would have been covered. I know for a fact there is red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, a 12 of beer, and maybe some leftover whiskey. The very back seat of this van is better stocked than a few of the clubs we have played!
The van is our ship. When you spend that much time on the road, things can get weird. For example, I get a feeling of disorientation if I stray too far away from the van for an extended period of time, or if my stuff isn’t in the van. If my mic bag is backstage after the show, I will immediately put it in the van after the gig or obsess about the bag’s location for the rest of the night. There is a feeling of calm that washes over me when I sit in “my” seat in the van, even if there is an entire empty club full of seats at a soundcheck. We are like some Godforsaken industrial age land sailors.
Now we have to try and get our shit together and get ready to go our separate ways tomorrow. It takes us two hours in the hot sun outside the club to collect our belongings, move merch around to travel bags, and do the math on expenses for the tour. After running the numbers a few times, it becomes evident that everyone made money on the tour but us. Rock and roll!
Ken and I check into the very civilized four star business hotel provided to us by the show promoters. The rooms are part of our guarantee that night, but Christoph, Gary, and Leo will not be using rooms as they will make the horrible drive back to Germany. If things go perfectly for them, they should make it in 17 hours. That’s if they get lucky. My day tomorrow should be much better as I was able to upgrade to first class airfare from Madrid to NYC. Is it fair? No, it’s not. Do I care right now? No sir, I do not.
We arrive at Santana 27 to soundcheck and find the headliner sounds like Silverchair singing in Basque. It is four hours before the doors are scheduled to open and 16 year old kids have gathered in front of the hall to try to sneak a listen through the doors. They eye us enviously as we walk with that confident indifference that only cynical over the hill rock guys with laminates swinging on their chests can truly have. Yes my little friends, we will walk inside without opposition to the unspeakable pleasures of backstage while you stand with your ear to the locked door. (In this case the “unspeakable pleasures” are cold sandwiches, omlettes, and salad but why ruin the illusion? Let’s pretend that it’s coked out models, private chefs, and inspired jam sessions.)
As the sound check continues, there is some concern that their audience might not like us. Let’s cut to the quick. EVERYONE in the venue thinks the crowd will hate us. The promoter nervously says to me several times, “You must rock” and “No slow ones”. Christoph makes a point to walk up to me while smiling and say, “The crowd will hate you forever.” It really seems like a bad idea that we are on this bill. Strangely, I am not really worried about it. It’s not that I think we won’t get booed off the stage. It’s more like I just don’t give a fuck. I mean, one of the guys working at the club was jamming out to “Eye of the Tiger” in his car while he drove up to the door. Do you think I care if he likes “Trucker Bomb”? Fuck him and fuck those kids if they don’t like it. We’re going to do what we do. If they like it, that’s great. If they don’t, we’ll be home in 24 hours with this a distant memory in our rearview mirrors.
I meet the guys in Berri Txarrak and they are really great guys. They’ve been together for 14 years, just recorded a record with Steve Albini, and share my view on the post apocalyptic shithole that is Detroit. They had made the drive there after finishing recording in Chicago. Sure, everyone in America said to them “Why do you want to go to Detroit? There’s nothing there!”, but they ignored the warnings. I think they thought it would be like Motown spilling out into the streets, Iggy Pop would high five them, and maybe a dance party would break out with the White Stripes. Instead they spent an hour in Motown, and tried not to get killed while driving into the projects by mistake. Quick note on the band… It’s surprising that they are 30+ years old and their audience appears to be exclusively 16-20 years old. They literally don’t appear to have a single paying fan their age. More power to them. It’s just cool to see that someone cares.
We are given very specific instructions to start at 8:50 on the mark and play until 930 sharp. This is a very professional rock show, with light crews, smoke pots and big time lighting effects. The hall is totally filled with 1200 people as we hit the stage and begin. I have butterflies for the first time in years.
The set is going really well, with young kids screaming at us enthusiastically. It’s weird to see them stretch out to try and touch me past the 5 foot barricade walls. When one of them can graze my boot tip, they are pumped up. I’m sweating well past a level I can remember as I am moving, moving, moving on the big stage. Gary is standing statue-like to my left as always. Ken is moving around a little bit, but he’s the bass player for God’s sake. He can’t carry the show. I feel a tremendous responsibility to give all these people something to look at so I break out all the circus tricks. The first 4 songs whirl by like a haze, and we get a really big ovation. Well beyond my wildest dreams of an ovation. Well, alright!
The set is a total blur. Sweat pours off my face, down my back, and off my arms. I discard the cowboy hat, and I can see sweat fly off my head in the dramatic concert lighting. We finish to a big roar and have to break down immediately. As I move my microphone, kids in the front plead with me “Senor! Senor! La pluma! La pluma! Por favor!”. They want me to sign their arms, hand them drum sticks, guitar picks, anything… It then hits me. It’s like when I was 15. I am their Krokus while they wait for their Def Leppard. Years from now, they’ll quiz each other at the bar.
“What was your first concert?”
“It was Berri Txarrak with…. Shit! What was the name of those old American guys with the really sweaty cowboy singer?”
I help carry Ken’s coffin sized cabinet off stage, and one of the guys from NoiseOnTour says, “Man…that was great!...Just….Great!” I playfully push him in the chest and say, “You didn’t think we could do it! Ha! Admit it!” He smiles self consciously and protects himself from my adrenalin charged shove. You can tell that the entire production crew is experiencing a combination of relief that we went over and are impressed that we were actually pretty good.
The other guys eager to get their long drive started, we make a quick getaway while Berri Txarrak do their encores. (They were really good by the way.) We get dropped off at the hotel, and Ken and I hit the bar. I drink some dry rioja and try to come down. At about midnight, I realize I haven’t eaten. I order a steak sandwich from room service. When it arrives, I tell the waiter in the tour voice, “Hey mon…I don’t have any money mon.” while closing the door on him. See you later.
I check the alarm clock about six times before trying to go to sleep. I worry about over sleeping and missing the first of my three flights tomorrow. I feel edgy, and can’t figure out why. Then I figure it out. I feel like I should be in the van with my stuff.