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From the Road
Hard Sell Tour Diary- Day 19 and Wrap-up (March 28 and April 4, 2008)
Lots of ground to cover, so let's get right into it.
Luxembourg- cool, decent show, generous crowd...was nice to play somewhere new. Didn't get to see much of the city, but such is life on the road. It's essentially airports, busses, hotels, and venues (with the odd, very welcome exception, which I'll get to in a moment).
After Luxembourg was Brussels, a vibrant, beautiful city with one of my favorite, most reliable venues: the Ancienne Belgique. Through the AB, Belgian audiences have had access to my entire musical evolution, and I'd like to think that there's a few that have attended all seven or eight performances I've given there since 1995...starting with a simple DJ set as part of a Mo' Wax tour, through to the more evolved 1999 set, the 2000 Quannum European show, etc etc...they even got the one-off in 2006 with Turf Talk, F.A.B., and Nump. So it was little surprise to me that Brussels turned out with enthusiasm and good humor for the Hard Sell.
And speaking of nice venues, I had heard good things about the Paradiso in Amsterdam; prior to the show last week, I had been strictly relegated to the smaller Melk Veg club nearby. Situated in a former church, the Paradiso boasts the perfect layout for a show of our type...the crowd is extremely close, and two balconies that connect immediately above the stage give performers a real "thunder-dome" vibe. You're literally surrounded by spectators, which makes for an intense experience. It was one of my favorite shows of the tour, and with an awesome sound system and crew...very much looking forward to playing there again. Oh, and as a bonus, got to connect again with Joost from the Solesides board...don't know how you do it day in and day out, Joost, but much respect and THANK YOU for all you've done to promote (and occasionally defend) the Quannum crew.
Had a couple of days off in snowy Amsterdam, and took the opportunity to take a train outside of town for a little record shopping. Ended up wasting most of the day in stations, but that's part of the fun; digging is merely a context for getting out and seeing things, meeting people. A Canadian friend of Koala's took Cut and I around, and it was a perfect way to waste away the hours before the next show.
Next stop: Spain, where we played Madrid and Barcelona. I have had fantastic experiences at Spanish festivals, particularly last year; it's rare that I've played smaller clubs. Nonetheless both shows were good, the crowd particularly getting into the Malaguena "bullfighting" routine.
(Cut and I had previously observed how versatile the Hard Sell set is, in that there is a unique piece of music for almost every city and country. Texan garage rock...Dutch electro...French new wave...Spanish folk rock...you name it, there's something for everywhere we've played. Perhaps that's one of the reasons the set has had such staying power.)
I mentioned a moment ago how stale the airport-hotel-venue routine is, and how rare it is to be able to garner a real sense of place in the cities we visit. Fortunately, Marseille offered a welcome respite from that routine. Besides being immediately charming and village-like in the way even the largest French cities can be, Marseille has the added feature of being a Mediterranean port. The promoters kindly took a detour on the way to sound check and drove us to the highest point in the city, where we drank in a panoramic view of the entire city, ocean and all. A fleeting moment, but one that was appreciated by all of us travel-weary souls. The weather was fine, the venue was packed, the show felt great.
Off then to the Swiss Alps, and a small resort town called Crans-Montana. Most of the crew grabbed the opportunity to take a celebratory snowboarding jaunt, but not I...there were press interviews to be done. I've been doing less and less press (a trend I don't see myself reversing any time soon), but these interviews weren't specifically about me, so it wasn't too painful.
We were part of a festival line-up at Crans-Montana, the only festival of the European run...naturally I was concerned that the crowd would either not get it, or be indifferent. But in the words of Cut, "they were as good an audience as a festival audience can be." (And believe me, that's a compliment. Hats off to those who attended.) It was also the last show we would do with Kid Koala, who bypassed Paris due to prior commitments...and with his family expanding this spring, it will likely be quite some time before he hits the road again. Koala, if you're reading this, I am a true believer in your vision and approach to our craft. Thanks for teaching me so much, and being such a genuine, humble presence on our tour!
Ok...Paris. Where to begin. One of my favorite cities in the whole world...in one of the most supportive countries to my career. The last show of the tour, and it sold out months prior. Beautiful, historic venue right in the center of town. But...we can't get there. It seems that in this democracy, they make frequent use of their right to parade and/ or strike. So on that saturday, mile after mile of disabled folk marched, rolled, and hobbled their way across town for recognition and respect. I couldn't help but think that in America, they'd have all been thrown in jail for violating some ordinance...how backward we've become.
Anyway, our gear couldn't get there because we couldn't get through the crowd. So we had to wait. No big deal...we'll push back the show time a little bit to accommodate sound check.
Eventually the parade ends, and our gear arrives. Sound check is going well. Cut is strolling around the venue, checking for dead areas in the sound. We're calibrating our turntable levels to make sure our records will play at a consistent volume. Sound check begins. We can almost taste how good this show is going to be...one more sold-out show to cap off an extremely successful European tour. I'm blending Arto over the top of the Telex loop. Suddenly, I glance at Cut, who has left his side of the stage and is striding toward me. He is gesturing to stop the music. And he says, "Yo, something fell on Ben. And something hit me in the foot." I stop the records and look at Ben, our visuals man and the third performer on stage with us. Blood is streaming down his head and neck, and he seems dazed. He slowly lowers to the ground and says, "Ow." Instinctively, I look up at the ceiling, some 40 feet above, and cover my head. "What the f**k," several of us shout simultaneously...everybody else seems stunned. Ben needs medical attention, that much is certain. Suddenly all of my college-course French vanishes, and I shout, "Movement! Action! Doctor!" to the local crew. The lighting man understands and runs out of the venue to get help.
Suffice it to say, the show would ultimately be cancelled. For reasons I don't quite understand, I'm prohibited from going into more detail, pending an insurance investigation. I'm hoping that at some point I will be allowed to elaborate. What's relevant, however, is that:
---Ben is okay. It could have been much, much worse.
---By canceling the show, no one else's safety was jeopardized.
---There are several thousand people, some of whom travelled quite far to see the show, who were let down. They rightfully expect some sort of explanation, and I hope what I've written goes part of the way to addressing that. I wish I could say for sure that the show will be rescheduled, but it's not clear yet. For my part, I too feel let down by what happened...it certainly wasn't the way I wanted the tour to end. Backstage, in talking with Cut, I realized that this was only the second time I had ever been involved with a same-day show cancellation...the first was in 1996, and then, like now, it had to do with the venue, not the performers. I hope that our Parisian fans understand the circumstances and do not hesitate to come to our future shows...for my part, I intend to make them a little extra special, just to address the inconvenience of March 29th.
Okay, that's enough to digest for now. Bottom line: it was a great tour. The audiences, without exception, were fantastic. Shame about Paris...but what's done is done. We're shaking ourselves off and getting ready for Australia, and it looks like a few other North American dates have come in for July. After that...who knows. This has been a fun and unexpectedly long-lived diversion, but there's other avenues to explore.
Thanks for reading this,