Some of my fondest memories are from touring. It’s something I look forward to telling my children someday -- if I ever stop being a child myself.
As fun and exciting as touring can be, it is a grind. You’re waking up next to each other on floors, you’re shoulder to shoulder on crowded buses and trains with heavy equipment -- not to mention all of the emotions and egos. We’re kind of like a soap opera.
But when you're spending three weeks playing music in multiple countries with some of your closest friends, there's not much to complain about, and my 18-year-old self could only dream about any of this taking place.
The tour began in New York City at 5 a.m. after a few naps on a red-eye flight. We frolicked around the city all day before our first show at Friends & Lovers in Brooklyn. It was a mangy dive bar with a stage in the back room, which looked as if it had been used as a sweat shop for designer jeans. We were paid (very generously) in beer, tequila and tequila micheladas. Friends & Lovers’ form of liquid currency extended our day to 32 hours and had us waking up on the 20th floor of a strange apartment building in Fort Greene with a view of the city. It was awesome to wake up to.
After two shows in New York, some snow angels, lots of pizza and Brian’s NYU volleyball alumni game, we were off to the airport to catch our early Sunday morning flight to London. Unfortunately, a 10-hour delay for plane maintenance postponed our arrival in the UK until Monday morning.
With hours upon hours of a DIY tour along with months of prepping and anticipation, we didn’t think to check the regulations of playing music in a different country. Apparently, being musician does, in fact, count as a job -- I need a raise. Whether you are volunteering or working, you do need a visa as an artist in Europe. This was something we overlooked ...
Luckily, after 45 minutes of fearing the worst in customs when we were just 20 feet from the border, they decided to let us through wth the understanding that we wouldn’t be making money -- we think they looked at our tour poster and thought, “These clowns aren’t going to make any money.” At this point, we were willing to pay to play. If we weren’t allowed in, our tour would have been cut in half. This made us even more appreciative to be in Europe.
Relieved to have made it through, we had our first of three consecutive shows in London on the 17th at the Windmill. It was a dim dive bar nestled in a quiet neighborhood. Think of a smaller version of the Pour House up in Oceanside. We were joined by a group called Gay Girl, and they are well worth checking out. They have a darker Sonic Youth feel -- a full sound with heavy guitars and female vocals, held powerfully together by drums and bass.
The following night, we played a showcase at the Bedford in Balham. Not only does the Bedford have a killer backline (probably the best drumset I have ever played), but they also stream all of their shows live online so our friends and family back home were able to watch.
Our third consecutive show was an hour north in Hertfordshire at a little place called the Dog and Whistle. So we rented a car in London -- driving a stick-shift on the other side of the road felt like throwing a football with my left arm. Hertford is a fancy little suburb town, and the brew pub was the only one of its kind in the area. It was quite loud without an official stage, but the venue had a lot of foot traffic, so the place was packed. To top it off, we were set up with a hotel from the owner above the bar where I proceeded to try and flood the bathroom by taking a bath.
Brussels, Belgium was our next destination. So, we woke up early and took our backwards car through the Euro Tunnel to France, which felt like entering a Star Wars ride. You drive your car onto a train that takes you through an underwater tunnel, and then you’re in France within 35 minutes.
Not all of the shows had foot traffic, so we had to get crafty with bringing people to shows in cities where nobody had any idea who we were. Our Grizzly Business Tinder account was pretty hit or miss (yes, Grizzly Business has a Tinder profile, so swipe right), but we also set up Couchsurfing events in each city. Brussels was where the Couchsurfing events became most efficient.
Along with the Couchsurfers at that show, we teamed up with a pub crawl in Brussels. Our singer Walter played guitar and sang from bar to bar, rallying up the crowd all the way to a dive bar called Coaster City where we were set to play. Unlike the backline at the Bedford, we played on a tiny stage with a drum set that had a lot of personality and was held together by duct tape (probably the worst drum set I’ve ever played on, but I loved it). For a small and unknown band like us, these venues were ideal and had the best energy. Intimate and free, with a bunch of intoxicated travelers who were there to drink and see music. This was my personal favorite show of the trip.
After three nights of 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) Belgium beer, hostel beds and the presidential inauguration, we headed to the Las Vegas of Europe: Amsterdam.
By the time we hit Amsterdam, Walter had a fever and was hacking up a lung. We were all coughing and sneezing, but we still decided to stay up until 4 a.m. every night. Of course, our show in Amsterdam was our longest of the trip -- a 90-minute set. Poor Walter powered through the set, sounding like a dying frog, and he was lying on stage by the end of the show. Brian and I got more beer.
The two nights in Amsterdam were a blur. Maybe it was the claustrophobia of the Harry Potter closet in which we were staying. Or, maybe it was the air fresheners in the bathroom that smelled like cyanide rose petals. I convinced myself that I was developing pneumonia.
Paris was next.
Driving in Paris is fun. I felt like there was a chance I was going to die every five minutes. You have to become a selfish driver, which is kind of refreshing. Anyway, we drove straight to a six-story hotel in the city. There was only one room left at, you guessed it, the sixth floor. And there was no elevator. We lugged all of our guitars and cymbals up to the top. It felt as though we swam a few laps in a pool, hearts thumping and trying to process our diets of pizza and beer.
Our show the following night was at Le Truskel. Similar to the Casbah here in San Diego, the place has hosted bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay and Morrissey. Just like our show in Brooklyn, we were paid in beer. We handed out a grip of our CDs, stayed out until 4 a.m. again and called it a night ... or a morning, but no one was keeping track at that point anyway.
Three hours of sleep and a six-hour drive to London via the Euro Tunnel in order to make it to a birthday party for our London host Caitlin, and we were ready for our final show.
The U.K. has Independent Venue Week, which is similar to San Diego Music Thing, and we were lucky enough to be a part of it for our final show. We were on a four-band bill at the Good Ship in Northwest London. At this point, all of our voices were cracking as if we were going through puberty again, and we were running on fumes, but the excitement of the last night and a great crowd helped us give a proper farewell to our European tour.
Looking back, the whole trip seems like a dream, but pictures and bank statements suggest otherwise. All of the wonderful people we met along the way made the trip what it was and the sleepless nights, bickering and awful dieting just made the trip that much more interesting. After 21 days together, we managed to remain a band and best friends. Maybe next time we’ll remember to bring our visas.
Musician, people-pleaser, lover, fighter and writer Matthew Craig Burke has been spewing musical words of wisdom since never. He lives off of peanut butter sandwiches, beer and Beck Hansen. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.