Nate Cavalieri plays keyboards in the Come Ons, local-hero soul-garageists currently on tour in Europe. This guy Cavalieri also plays drums, accordion, and guitar, among other things. He also happens to be Night & Day editor for Metro Times. We thought it’d be cool if he’d keep a road diary so us kids back home can know what’s going on with him and the Come Ons whilst riding the Euro train powered by Jack White and Co. Keep checking back in this space daily for posts. — Brian Smith, Metro Times music editor
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
It is amazing that the French are not the fattest people on earth. It is Wednesday and we have just suffered through a three-course feast provided by the club's cook, Dominique, that has more calories than a weekend binge at McDonalds. As of yet, the only French phrases that I have learned to command translate to "Thank you, but no more," and "Can I have a light?"
We arrived in London yesterday — near 3 a.m. Detroit time (9 in the morning in the UK) and scurried around town with our tour guide and savior — a man named Jean-Luc who makes his living carting around American bands — picking up equipment and CDs and eating fish and chips that were washed down with pints. If not for the years of training drinking at the Lager until 5 a.m., all would have been lost. Jean-Luc is one of the most quotable French men on earth (so far my favorite being "The French ... a country of assholes governed by assholes") and drives us through passages unfit for a bicycle in this huge white vanbus that vaguely resembles something out of Star Wars. Bleary from jet lag and the constant stream of alcohol on the plane (everything they promise about international flights is true) we took the ferry and rambled through Paris in the dark — spotting all the monuments from Pink Panther movies and Dexter Gordon records. After crashing in Orlean (south of Paris) we arrived in Angouleme in the afternoon — driving 110 km all the way listening to the Real Kids and the ever-lovable Soledad Brothers.
A message to American bands: forget the US and get to France on the quick. The club we are playing tonight is called La Nef — all the red wine, French bread and Gauloises one can consume with a great sound system and ridiculously cinematic atmosphere. After the sound check and meal we are left to play soccer with the owner's child and drink 1664 beer. Ah, France.
Thursday, April 25, 2002
Last night Angouleme was somewhat of a surprising success. By the time we took to playing about 10:30 we'd had a fair share of regional Cognac, Anisette and Pommereaux (this wonderfully nauseating liquor that is half sweet wine and half Cognac) and, despite little promotion, a good crowd had shown up. These two chubby Frenchmen with goatees in front made the night by immediately falling in love with Deanne and hooting at her for the vast majority of the set. As far as I could tell they only knew two bits of English: "Let's fuck at your place!" (directed at Deanne) and "Dance contest!" — both of which were yelled at the top of their lungs at one-minute intervals that were followed by much back-slapping and burping. In short they were very hard to dislike.
After the show we retired to one of the most romantic hotels in whatever hemisphere we are currently in — a tiny place with balconies, thickly striped wallpaper in rich red and pink and a big painting of a somewhat naughty looking seductress on the wall. On one of the most severe caloric highs of my life I immediately passed out after about five minutes of late-night French network television (read: porn with ultra-raunch that retained a degree of class because the heroine moaned "weeeeeeee, weeeeeeee" instead of "yes, yes"). The morning hangovers faded easily beside the fountain and we took our time writing postcards and drinking coffee before we left for Evreux, about five hours to the north, just west of Paris.
Evreux could probably be best likened to the Wyandotte of France. A day driving through the countryside was relaxing — sleeping and listening to alternating blasts of Francois Hardy and a Scandinavian rock group called the Flaming Sideburns who, with thier Scorpions circa "Once Bitten Twice Shy"-era production and hack English lyrics ("New York City is a motherfucking place to blow the mind...Teenage fire! Ooooooooooooh!") are just short of transcendent. Probably the only downer was the occasional bathroom stop where we unsuspecting American brats who have been spoiled by plumbing our whole lives would open up the stall to find a strange porcelain pit that seemed to be half torture device, half German-occupation vintage cess pit. Whew.
Evreux is beat up and cheap with lots of bars and kind of trashy looking teenagers. The Lanternjack would probably die for the place. There were big posters made for the show tonight that I'll try to remember to steal. The club tonight is very small — in some kind of community center or something. There is a swimming pool in the basement and when we got here I walked into to one room to find a three-year-old getting scolded by her piano teacher — David Lynch to a flaw.
I would write more but I still have no command of the stupid European keyboard.
Friday, April 26, 2002
To properly get to last night it's better to start with this morning.
A bad European morning in four easy steps:
1.) The first element is to wake up fully dressed in a stinky suit with the buzz of a wake-up call at 8 a.m. Make sure it is in French so that in addition to being annoying it will also be completely disorientating.
2.) Sleep for 10 more minutes to quiet the Anisette hangover (which feels more like an ax that has been driven about 7 inches into your skull) before Jean-Luc (driver, tour manager, soundman, recent father figure) starts pounding the door down and yelling "Hurry your ass! Hurry your ass!"
3.) Suck down a cup of cold coffee that tastes more like mud and a stale baguette which tastes more like French cardboard.
4.) Return to fetal position in the back of the vanbus (still in the suit) while it careens around those stupid circle thingys in the road at about 2000 km an hour.
To rewind: the show last night was a great — it was a small club and full and we played three encores. (Would have been more if we knew more songs...) After it was over myself, Patrick (the drummer) and Stephan (the chisel-cut French young Clint Eastwood lookalike who is selling merch for us) pile into one of the local's motorcycle/minicar and go to this club across town blasting this tape labeled "French Dub Fuck" ("It is supposed to say FUNK," the driver protests) and dance and drink until about 3 a.m.
The eight-hour drive to Belgium was bumpy and traffic heavy but given the fact that half our team had hangovers that can only be likened to slow torture, spirits were high. It was a long drive and I wrote some haiku poems to make the miles pass.
If you like French girls
France might be the place for you.
In bed they say "Oui!"
Cars here are too small
for driving big fat people.
Get a bike porky!
I feel like an oaf
For skipping French class in school.
The teacher had warts.
I am hung over
My artpits and feet stink too.
Time for a baguette.
I lost my French hat
But I still have a mustache.
Tom Selleck was hot.
Before these degenerate into little limericks about how I once knew a guy from France, I sign off.
Your faithful European correspondent.
Sunday, April 28
Among the band stickers and poorly scribbled depictions of the male and female anatomy, “Something in this room rhymes with Mubic Bear” was carved into one of the bunks in our room in Kontich, Belgium. Needless to say we looked for accommodations elsewhere. Elsewhere wound up being this small hotel across town with a very nervous night manager who wasn’t so sure about us when we stumbled in around 3 a.m. and stumbled out just after noon.
The stumbling juice for the night was a Belgium brew called Duval (translating appropriately to “Devil”) which was guzzled in copious quantities throughout the evening and lived up to its name with the digestive system. (Note to Belgium travelers who enjoy drinks: Never have two open at once…by the end of the night someone finally tipped me off to the fact that it is bar language for homosexual tendencies.) The opening act was a Canadian ska (yeah…those two words should never really exist together…ever) group, the Kingpins, who have been playing every squat, club and basement in Europe for about 5 weeks and were set to return in a couple more. Someone should really hit up Audiogalaxy for the band’s theme song “The Ten Commandments of Ska,” a tune to which I lost my status as last-ska-virgin on Earth.
The club itself had a couple fairly unsavory aspects of home – not the least of which was the lingering odor of the wash closet that (if for only a creatively placed, steaming manhole cover) could have easily been mistaken for Cass Avenue. After spending the afternoon bumming around the row houses of Kontich waiting for laundry to finish we drove/slept/read Mojo into Rotterdam, a city so beautiful that it could actually make a person forget about France for a minute. The Waterfront Club is right off a big river that is criss-crossed by huge art deco bridges and lined with tight rows of three-story homes that look more fake than real. The place scores high points as far as the clubs go thus far – comically stoned multi-lingual stoner sound guys (who kept fucking up during sound check, inspiring a “STOP THE GRASS!” out of Jean Luc).
We were more or less obligated to find a coffee shop, and when we did so it was like walking into the set of that movie Singles…Alice in Chains on the stereo and long-haired rockers and the whole bit. Stephane and I went and left scared.
On the walk I learned exclamatory statements in French and ran into some kids who were really excited about my Aloha button.
Patrick went to great pains to teach me how to properly smoke hash so I will pass along all I know to those who don’t.
1.) Take one Aloha pin (extended) and jam it through a Belgium waffle cookie.
2.) Ball up a wad of hash and stick it on the tip of the pin.
3.) Ignite with fire.
4.) Cover with a plastic cup, so that the cup fills with smoke.
5.) Lift up a side of the cup and inhale smoke.
6.) Repeat step 5 until you start to talk about this great idea for an invention you have, eat chips and little coconut candy bars, lose the Aloha button, take a bunch of stupid pictures of people you don’t really ever care to see again and get really fascinated by all the strange buildings and bridges on the ride home.
Mom and dad, I really don’t do drugs. I swear, but in Holland hash and hookers are both legal and…well it just seemed wrong to leave without the cultural experience that one of the two might provide. Sorry.
We ended up at the promoter's house for the evening – a guy named Neils who loved Buddyhead and had the biggest collection of post-rock records I have ever seen. Maybe he goes to the trade counter to buy right after Brian Smith goes there to sell. Tomorrow will be the Vera Club in Groningen.
Monday, April 29
I think I might live in Groningen. In addition to being the home of the best club on Earth (the Vera Club, which has been home to every single canonized musical hero of the last 20 years) and the home of the guy who does the Groningen Rocks Web site, the city is beautiful. We got to the Vera and it was all rainy like a Smiths song and the town couldn't have been more lovely. It was probably the biggest show we've played so far — someone actually tried to stage dive — and the club has little themed apartments. (Feeling guilty about the fact that my parents are going to read the last post and know I smoked a little hash I chose the religious room — complete with cable TV, slick Ikea furniture and a statue of the Virgin Mother.)
The show got out at about midnight and most of the crowd jammed into this little cave bar below the stage for shots of Jack Daniels and utter chaos. When things there got stale, me and a couple new Dutch friends got a bite to eat and drove through the red light district, which was honestly frightening — girls hanging out the doors of these little windowed rooms yelling "Suck and Fuck 100 Euros" at the cab and the whole bit. It might sound cool and everything, but ... honestly freaky. I'm a fan of getting to know a girl first...
Tonight we are back in Belgium (sorry can't remember, pronounce or spell the name of the town) — playing a place called the Pits. It is tiny as hell and should be great. Even though the Vera last night has seen performances by the Pixies and the Flaming Lips and about a million other greats, I was actually more excited about the fact that the Pits has a picture of our own Christopher Handyside upstairs from the days when he used to run with the Hentchmen. Could it be that I am on a pilgrimage — following the footsteps of the legendary former music editor of the Metro Times? One can hope.
Over and out:
Wednesday, May 1
Think of the Pits as the Gold Dollar of Belgium. Tinny, fairly horrible sound and a kind of grit that comes from their parade of amplifiers. The most amazing thing about the place was the shattered mic that they gave me to sing backup vocals, which seemed as if it had quite literally been to hell and back. The poor thing was dented and scarred and had wires sticking out — but when you actually spoke into it, it did this miraculous thing where it turned your English into what sounded like a cross between Dutch and Charlie Brown's teacher. I really should have snagged that thing and put it out of its misery.
Here's where the whole plan goes to shit though — the four-hour trip to London ended up clocking in at just over 10 hours. Blame it on the windy weather crossing into Dover, which came complete with huge whitecaps that left me huddled in the corner queasy, and had the men's room quite full with puke.
Blame it on the prick-faced patronizing idiot at British customs who between snide little witticisms and sneers gave us a good going over (Jean-Luc got into the van muttering "Roast beef. Fees de put.") Blame it on the traffic in London which was a hideous, backwards mess.
When we finally got to the garage, things went more or less as expected: a set of sweaty fingers slipping all over the keyboard, spilled pints.
But the highlight of the night came toward the end, when Shireen Liane (see her cover story and upcoming Letters for London columns), Janet Brown and her bandmate Tim took me home with them and we stayed up until 5 a.m. with completely self-indulgent music talk and fizzy water. Absolutely priceless. Among the many epiphanies of the night was this: 1966 is probably the most underrated year in history.
This morning we are set to go record shopping and then they are taking me over to BBC 1 for the John Peel thing. Thank god for London. This very might well be my last report, as I fly home in just over 24 hours. Not a moment too soon either — the panic e-mails have started to come from work and friends. Nice to be missed, I guess.
At the Waterloo Bridge,
NateWe're hoping Nate Cavalieri will eventually return to the States to resume his high-profile listings editor post. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org