I was planning a “clear my head” American trip for the spring. I was going through some shit, and realized that I needed to get on the road, see some friends, and hopefully rock out a couple times – just get away for a bit. Well, I was minding my own business, wasting time on the internet one evening a few months ago, and I received an email from Bitty of DRESDEN. “We’re going on tour in May. Want to come along and watch the distro/merch? Haul a bit of gear?” I thought about it for a couple seconds, and replied in the affirmative. The tour would take place in late May, and would focus on the Midwest and the East Coast.
Originally, I was only supposed to do the first week, as they were going to be meeting up with DEVIATED INSTINCT in New York, and share the van for the rest of the tour. There probably wasn’t going to be any room in the van for me, which was fine. I had plans to go down South anyway. Well, it turned out that there was room for me for the whole tour after all, and my plans down south sort of fell through. Funny how things work out, isn’t it? Anyway, I ended up doing the whole tour, lending my salesman and gear-haulin’ expertise to a bunch of sweethearts for two weeks. Killer.
This here’s a tale of love, death, deception, theft, rock, roll, Rick-rollin’, cheese curds, and general bad-assiness.
May 18, 2012 – Appleton, WI
I’ve been in Minneapolis for the last week. Surprise, surprise. Well, there was a bit of a surprise yesterday, when I found out that a five hour drive translates into a nine hour bus ride. What the shit?! I had to be awake at 6 this morning in order to get on the bus for 8. And to make things even more awesome, the driver called in sick. The bus didn’t show up to the depot until 10… great. Is this some sort of harbinger of doom? Or merely an annoyance?
Well, I somehow arrived on time, despite the driver bullshit. I was met at the bus station by a skinny fellow in a WIPERS shirt. This was Hart, DRESDEN and WARTORN’s drummer. We met up with Bitty (I’ve been internet pen-pals with him for a while, but had never actually met the guy until today) and Ela, and drove to tonight’s venue. Tonight was a WARTORN gig, which would serve as a practice for their slot opening for TRAGEDY tomorrow in Chicago. The venue we were at tonight was the basement of an abandoned candy store, and it was fucking sweet. (Oh, pun!) We hung around and slowly loaded in for a while. Bitty seemed impressed that I was helping out. “You’re already the best roadie ever,” he said, “You’re actually doing shit!” Hey, that’s just how I roll.
We set up the merch and distro upstairs, which is where I stayed. I wasn’t too bummed about that though – Ela offered to kick around and watch the distro for a while, but I was still pretty tired and overwhelmed. My shyness was starting to kick in, and I didn’t want to throw myself into the pit with a bunch of strangers quite yet. I met a bunch of characters, including the notorious Danny Dew (local legend, the straight-edge Mountain Dew addict). I’ve never spent much time at small town punk shows, but I have to say I’m stoked on them! The kids who come out get super into it, and there’s little to no pretention. Just mad heads all around. It’s not necessarily the most “PC” environment all the time, but it seems like most people get along (and it’s certainly not the most homogenous scene I’ve ever seen either, by the way).
Near the end of WARTORN’s set, the cops showed up, thus fulfilling Hart’s prophecy. I’m told that the Appleton police force is notoriously over-equipped, power-mad (more than other police departments? Hmmm…), bored, and they really hate all-ages shows. They parked outside forever, and harassed the owner of the venue. Since this sort of thing is always a possibility, everyone was corralled inside, and no alcohol was allowed near the venue. As such, the only thing the cops were able to get anyone on was a pathetic parking violation, so they gave a ticket to the promoter and shut the show down. “Noise,” they said. Hilarious, because you couldn’t hear jack shit outside the venue. Fuck, whatever.
Tomorrow is Chicago with TRAGEDY. It’s a pretty short drive, but here’s the catch – this weekend is the NATO conference, and the anti-NATO protests. As we all know, these events are perfect times for police forces of all levels to show off their new toys and employ all sorts of horrific tactics against protesters. It seemed like a really good idea to head out tonight and sleep somewhere in Chicago. If they’re going to turn the city into a fucking prison camp, then it seems like a good idea to get in and at least try to play a show. So after picking up the rest of DRESDEN and friends, filling up on badass/bad-terrible American junk food (we Canadians only get like half of this shit up north) and gassing up (no pun), we began the drive down.
Moustachioed superhero roadie Greg grilled me on life in Canada (“is everything like the fuckin’ Trailer Park Boys?” “Do you have electricity?”), and told me some facts about Wisconsin (“fuckin’ cheese curds, dude”). For about 85% of the drive, Hart kept us awake and in stitches by screaming randomly for hours on end. Apparently he normally goes for fifteen or twenty minutes before passing out, but not this time. At least there was no danger of Bitty falling asleep at the wheel. Those two play off each other like seasoned actors. I think a lot of people would be freaked out, but I was totally into it. (Bitty would later tell me how impressed he was with how I wasn’t fazed by it.)
We arrived in Chicago around 4am, and crashed at a cool two-room punk house. Ten of us, plus the people who live here… plus the random punks crashing here. Found a spot in the living room next to the weight bench. Fuck it, goodnight!
May 19 – Chicago (Two shows: WARTORN at Reggie’s Bar w/TRAGEDY in the afternoon, DRESDEN in the basement of the punk house at night)
I woke up after a long, comfortable sleep of… two hours? Damn. I was surrounded by various members of the Disconsin crew, and a bunch of unidentified folks, all passed out and snoring. I grabbed the weight bench and pulled myself up, peered into the next room. Someone waved at me… but who? Where the hell are my glasses? I waved back, and lay back down for another twenty minutes or so. Ahh, to hell with this – I went and sat outside, where I was joined by the nicest cat ever, and eventually a small crew of kids from Detroit. The girl who lives in the house came out and joined us (sorry! I totally forgot your name!) after a while, and told us that she’s pretty worried about the house show tonight. In the lead-up to the anti-NATO showdown this weekend, two other punk houses in the same area had been raided by the cops, leading to their evictions. The pigs aren’t fucking around this weekend – I even heard rumors of fighter jets flying over the city for the last week. With that in mind, my new Detroit friends and I decided to walk to a local coffee shop for java and breakfast. I noticed that we were being tailed by a few cop cars, both marked and unmarked. We weren’t stopped, though.
After the walk and breakfast, we got back to the house and hung out for a bit while everyone else woke up. We slowly headed out to go load in to the club. Given the whole NATO thing, it seemed like a good idea to head down early, just in case the downtown core was a nightmare. Reggie’s Bar is really close to where all the action is supposed to happen, so I half expected multiple check points and clouds of tear gas to cover the area. Of course, the area was more like a ghost town on lockdown. We made it in record time, so we parked behind the venue and waited…
Eventually we got in and set up, ate, and then the show began.
The first band that played were fucking killer. Sadly enough, I forgot their name. They’re a local Chicano hardcore band featuring members who had done time in SIN ORDEN. If you’ve ever heard SIN ORDEN before, then you know what to expect – fast, super political Hispanic hardcore. They fucking rocked the house, although it seemed weird seeing them on a large stage in a huge club. They seemed like they would be more at home in a sweaty basement. No matter, they ruled. Total ‘90s Chicago hardcore sound. Fuck yeah.
Next up was another local Hispanic hardcore band called LA ARMADA. Again, they were super political and heavy. A little bit less thrashy, with cool song structures. They used samples of speeches and other political sound bites during their set, which actually added to the experience. I ended up getting their LP, because they blew me away so much. LA ARMADA – check ‘em out.
Third up to bat was BLACK SEPTEMBER, the Chicago death metal band. I’ve always been a bit of a fan, but had never seen them before. I dig them – they’re definitely a metal band, but firmly rooted in punk and hardcore. And unlike the vast majority of death metal bands, they’re not a total fucking dude-fest. I probably should have picked up a record, but… well, there’s always internet commerce now, I suppose. Anyway, their set was flawless – I prefer them live to their recorded works.
WARTORN was up next, and put on a hell of a set. While they played, I stayed behind the table and sold the shit out of the distro. So many classic 90s crust albums and 7”s flew off the shelves – damn, I wish I would have looked through them a bit more! D’oh! I didn’t get to take any photos of WARTORN during their set, so hopefully I can get some next time. The only sort of downside to the WARTORN set was when Bitty was talking about NATO on stage – he stumbled over a few words and ended up trailing off without a set end point. I didn’t really notice, but he was pretty bummed about it. The crowd also didn’t seem to notice or mind, which is really the most important thing – these things happen.
Okay, so now the moment we were all waiting for – TRAGEDY.
Well, what can one say about them, really? Obviously everybody there loved it – they put on one of the most powerful sets of any band I have ever seen. The set was simply amazing. Flawless. They did material from every album (even the unjustly underrated “Nerve Damage” album). Usually I prefer even my favorite bands to play shorter sets, but with TRAGEDY I wanted more, more, MORE! This was my first time ever seeing them, and they more than lived up to my expectations! I wish I could write more about them, but the words just won’t do them any justice. All I can say is that TRAGEDY is one of the best bands I have ever seen.
After the gig, a few of us popped to the bar next door and indulged in VIP-discount double gin-n-tonics. Hart told us that while the bands were playing – probably during LA ARMADA – the Chicago riot squad and SWAT teams went through the alley behind the club. Apparently they blocked off each end of the alley, went through every single dumpster and checked under every vehicle with their weapons drawn, etc. it turns out that the gig was only five blocks from where the “NATO Olympics” (as Bones called it) was happening. I had no idea, because again, there was no smoke or tear gas clouds coming from the site. I guess that’s all supposed to go down tomorrow.
After a couple more drinks, we drove back to the house we crashed at. The second show of the day is going down in the basement of the house. Second show of the day, and the first DRESDEN gig of the tour. The basement was super cramped, and there was no room for the distro/merch table, so I didn’t end up venturing in. I felt kind of claustrophobic, and besides – I wanted to chat with my new Detroit pals. I ended up drinking a lot of cheap beer and hanging with the DRESDEN/WARTORN crew, plus I got to play with the adorable house cat again, so I was pretty stoked.
After the partying sort of waned, we began the drive back to Appleton. Hart was in fine form again, but this time he burned out after 20 minutes. Despite the Chicago pre-NATO clampdown, we got the fuck out of dodge with no problems. The highways were completely abandoned, which I’ve never seen before. Somewhere around the state line is where I passed out…
May 20 – DRESDEN tour launch with TRAGEDY, Appleton Wisconsin
I woke up around 11am in the van in front of the Appleton punk house where we picked everyone up a couple nights ago. DRESDEN had to practice and write their set at some point today before the show tonight. Before that could happen though, Bitty had to pick up a new footswitch for Ela to use, because hers somehow got fucked up. We drove to the coffee shop first, because Bitty felt like he was losing his voice, and chamomile tea seems to really help with that. I just needed caffeine. Hot drinks taken care of, we headed to the Guitar Center in Osh Kosh. On the way, we discussed pro-wrestling (in case you didn’t know, Bitty used to be a wrestler by the name of Straight Edge Eric Hammers – he will rise again!), politics, and the internet. It’s good to hang out with someone who has their own set of ideals, and doesn’t toe the “political punk party line”. I don’t necessarily agree with every single thing Bitty had to say, but I gained a lot of respect for the guy through talking with him. If only more people could talk over minute differences of opinion instead of completely shutting each other out over something small and insignificant (in the scheme of things). Yeah, I’m guilty of that too, but it’s something I’m working on.
Anyway! We got to the Guitar Center and went to the footswitch/pedal area. There were some pedals and things in a big glass display case, which Bitty was leaning on for a few seconds before he almost leapt back. I looked at him cockeyed, and he told me “I have this overwhelming urge to smash the fuck out of that case. With my Tourette’s, I have to get as far away from it as possible, because when someone tells me not to do something, my mind wants to do it even more.” Shit, I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like to live with…
We went back to the house so the band could practice. Bitty’s worst fears were realized – he did indeed lose his voice at the house show last night. While the band was setting up for practice, I went around the corner for some veggie burgers. When I came back, they were practicing in the basement, and… wow. I have never heard Bitty’s voice sound so strained and…well, frankly – terrible. It was reduced from its usual shredding sound to a kind of muffled mumble. This doesn’t bode well…
We loaded up and went over to another local punk house for a pre-gig barbecue. Although there were only a couple of us vegan folk on board, they were still nice enough to cook a bunch of vegan-friendly shit along with all the other grub. All the bands and assorted stage-hands (i.e. – merch/roadie folk such as myself) hung out, had a few beers and joked around together. And then, of course time to head across the river to the house where the show was at. (Aside – how is it that Appleton, a small semi-conservative town in Wisconsin has more functioning punk houses than my hometown of over a million people? I’m fairly jealous here)
In a twist of fate, the house had many feline roommates, and the basement reeked of cat litter. I have no issue with that, but it turns out that Bitty is extremely allergic to cats. Add that to his voice issues tonight, this might be a gong show. We thought about setting the merch/distro tables up outside, but there was talk about a severe rainstorm – needless to say, we ditched that idea. The basement is extremely tiny, but we somehow fit both our distro and TRAGEDY’s merch table into a corner near the stairs. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I went and grabbed a sixer of some cheap corporate beer and settled in for the night behind (well, beside) the table. I don’t remember all the bands that played before DRESDEN – pretty sure CHOOSE YOUR POISON opened, and I do remember them killing it. I got to talking to TRAGEDY’s merch guy Berke about touring, our homelands, and mutual friends. As the night wore on, I discovered that the more beers I drink, the better I am at hustling merch onto unsuspecting punks. For example, “If you’re buying that LOST WORLD record, then you really oughta get the ENDROPHOBIA one as well. It’s easily the best 8 bucks you’ll spend tonight!” or, “that limited edition DRESDEN LP is fucking amazing – worth every penny and more!” or even, “you mean you don’t already own the Shit Split? That’s fucking horrifying – you call yourself punk? Get that shit, dude – it’s the best 10 dollars you’ll ever spend!” Both Ela and Berke were cracking up the whole time.
My worst fears about DRESDEN were realized when they started playing – Bitty’s voice was super fucked. They only played the four unrecorded tracks from the upcoming HELLBASTARD split, and I felt super bad for them. I had hyped the band to the TRAGEDY dudes, and it definitely didn’t turn out as we were hoping. Unfortunately, shit happens. The band rode it out the best they could, bunch of troupers they are. Despite the setback in their set, we sold a shitload of DRESDEN and WARTORN merch, so it could have been a lot worse.
Right – I saw TRAGEDY last night in a huge club in Chicago. How would this packed, sweaty basement compare? What a stupid question. They played an entirely different set this time around, the first four songs were from “Vengeance”, and every time they started a song from the new record, the power went out. Needless to say, this was a much more powerful set. Congratulations TRAGEDY, your set in Appleton Wisconsin is one of the best shows I have ever been to! Basement shows are amazing – basement shows featuring one of the world’s best DIY punk bands are ten times better – if you’ve never seen TRAGEDY in a basement… hurry up, you fool!
As it turned out, there was a second DRESDEN show almost immediately after this one at a bar in downtown Appleton. We showed up just as a ridiculous rainstorm started. Bitty’s voice was not doing much better, so the band stuck to a five-song set. Despite that, the band played really well. I got a couple more pints in, and snapped some really good photos. It was a free show in a sports bar, so I’m not sure how many patrons were truly stoked on the punk rock, but fuck it – it was a good time! Also: free popcorn and cheap drinks! The TRAGEDY lads popped by for a quick beer and to support DRESDEN, which was pretty sweet of them. I wish I could remember who else played… I do remember that there was a grind band, and that they bored me to tears. Sorry.
We left town immediately after the bar show, and weren’t on the interstate for more than ten minutes when we struck a deer. Oh, fuck. We were going about 70-75 mph, and for a split second I saw the glow of his eyes and his shadow. Next second, I heard a loud *THUMP* and we swerved a bit. I was really freaked out and upset, but I was able to hold it together. I shed a tear or two for the poor creature, and reminded myself that thankfully he more than likely died instantly without suffering too much. Somehow, that wasn’t much of a comfort.
The front end of the van was damaged pretty badly – the grill was pushed in, and we lost one of the lights. Bumper damage, too. In order to do a proper insurance claim, we had to call the highway patrol to look us over and verify stuff. So we waited. And waited. Eventually a cop came and took everybody’s ID while verifying the damage (making sure we’re not some runaway Jeffrey Dahmer devotees, I guess). He came back to the van and asked “Hey, which of you is Gregory?” Greg raised his hand. “Dude – is that mustache real?!” the cop asked, and the van filled with laughter. I can verify that Greg’s mustache is both real AND absolutely ridiculous. Nice one, Greg!
West Virginia tomorrow, driving through the night. Punk.
To be continued…