Line Out: Brian Cook Chronicles Russian Circles Euro Tour Diary Pt. 2 w/ Deafheaven

7 May 2012 | from

Continuing on from last week…

Vilnius, Lithuania

It’s another early wake-up call. I feel better cold-wise, but I’m still exhausted. I feel like I’ve avoided the whole jet lag issue where I can’t sleep at night and can’t stay awake during the day, but I’m just not getting much opportunity to get more than three or four hours of sleep a night.

Sleep deprivation is making me extremely moody. One minute I’m listening to Jawbreaker in the van and getting misty-eyed from nostalgia, the next minute I’m in a Polish gas station laughing hysterically at a malfunctioning automatic espresso machine spewing hot milk all over the counter.

I’ve never been to the Baltic states. We’d received an email from a concerned fan about the venue we’re playing tonight because the club has a history of hosting National Socialist bands. We’d contacted our booking agent about the concern. Our booking agent said that he’d just booked the Japanese band Mono in the room and had had no issues. He contacted the promoter anyway, and the promoter confirmed that other outside promoters had rented the space and hosted some pretty politically dubious bands. But they’ve also booked Jewish klezmer bands, leftist punk bands, and hip hop artists. If you want to play in Lithuania and don’t want to play a club that has a history of hosting extreme right-wing bands, you’re apparently shit out of luck. It doesn’t bring a whole lot of peace of mind to roll up to a club with Nazi graffiti spray-painted by the entrance, though. Still, the people at the club are nice, though we get a lot of stares while we walk around town.

The venue is pretty big, but the turnout is solid. In an effort to stay warm, I avoid the frigid backstage room and hang out in the bar where an enormous jet engine-style heater blasts out flames to warm up the entire venue. The show feels really good. We get down to the last song when Mike announces that he can’t play anymore. It’s a weird moment because it was a good show and neither Dave nor I had any idea Mike was struggling or in pain. In the backstage, we talk with Mike to figure out what happened. Apparently he had shooting pains in his thumb to the point where he was having difficulty focusing on the songs. He seems pretty freaked out about the possibility of further injuring his thumb, whereas Dave and I (and the rest of the touring party, including Mike, I imagine) are pretty freaked out about the possibility of cancelling the tour. Mike talks about just cancelling the next few shows to see if he can mend a bit. It’s a tense conversation, particularly with post-performance volatility, exhaustion, and alcohol coming into play. Not helping the situation, people from the audience keep wandering backstage to get autographs while we’re in the midst of the conversation.

By the time we’ve reached the hotel, Mike is adamant about cancelling the Latvia and Estonia shows. It’s a stressful end to the night, and there isn’t much sleep to be had.

Riga, Latvia

We all meet up in the lobby in the morning and discuss our options. We’ve already put out phone calls and emails to our manager and booking agent about cancelling the next two shows. Mike is scheduled for a follow-up appointment with a doctor in Finland, but if we’re already cancelling these shows, we figure we might as well get the thumb inspected while we have the time off. So Mike gets information for an English-speaking doctor in town and takes off by taxi to get his thumb looked at. Meanwhile, Tomas calls the promoter for tonight to confirm the cancellation. The promoter is a little freaked out. There are 300 pre-sale tickets for the show and he doesn’t know how to refund the buyers. He’s also already paid for the venue, so the show still has to go on, even if it’s only with Deafheaven. He says people will kill him if he cancels the show. I assume he’s exaggerating, but this is a Baltic state, so who knows. We tell him we’ll call back when Mike gets to the venue.

Mike returns a little over an hour later. Apparently the taxi dropped him off on the outskirts of town, pointed at a building, and took off. The building was not the hospital. So Mike wandered around trying to find someone who spoke English and could point him in the direction of a hospital. When that failed, he tried to find a taxi. Eventually he had to walk through a bunch of fields before he was finally able to find a cab that would take him back to the hotel. The driver got him back safe and sound, but took off before without giving change for the fare. Despite the shittiness of the situation, Mike is so stoked to have made it back to the hotel that he seems in better spirits. After hearing about the situation with tonight’s show, Mike agrees we should try to play. We get the promoter in Riga to make an appointment for a doctor to see Mike after sound check and take off.

The venue is pretty awesome. It’s an old Communist cultural center tucked back in an alley. Mike sees the doctor and the diagnosis is positive. He gets some decent painkillers too. Winds up this ibuprofen with codeine he’s been taking (and that I took for my back) is actually just straight ibuprofen. The set goes really well, and Mike says there’s no pain at all. We’re back in business.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tonight’s show is a festival. Actually, it’s just a five-band bill because our tour was crossing paths with another tour, and apparently Tallinn isn’t big enough to host two shows on the same night. So it gets billed as a festival and tickets are 29 Euro. Bummer.

The clutch in our van fails on the outskirts of town, so Deafheaven has to unload their gear at the club and come back to pick us up. We wind up getting in at 3:30 instead of our load-in time of 3pm. The promoter is stressing out and insisting that we hurry, as if we had any control over our van breaking down. Meanwhile, the stage isn’t even set up. There’s no power, no monitors, no mic stands. So we get loaded in and set up, but there’s still 45 minutes of waiting around while the house sound engineer plugs everything in. Annoying.
Added sketchy bonus: there is a depot of old sea mines right outside the window of the green room.

We learn our van is going to be in the shop for four or five days, so the plan is to leave it in Estonia, and Tschepitz will send another van up to replace it. In the meantime, we’ll travel to Helsinki from Tallinn via ferry. We’re already sharing a bunch of gear with Deafheaven, but we’ll streamline things further so that all merch and equipment can fit in their van. Tomas will drive Deafheaven’s van. Deafheaven’s driver, Filip, will stay in Estonia with the remaining gear until Tschepitz arrives. Then Filip will take the ferry from Estonia to Stockholm to meet up with the tour. After our Finland show, we’re flying out to Moscow for a show while Deafheaven and Tomas have the day off to take the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm. And we fly from Moscow back into Stockholm. So, although it’s a clusterfuck, it’s actually fortunate timing in some ways. It would be impossible to fit two bands in one van, but this is the one stretch of tour where the travelling involves flights and ferries instead of driving.

My friend Barker from Birmingham, Alabama is on tour with one of the other bands on the bill. It’s good to see him, though apparently he’s completely hungover from last night’s show and apologizes for being under the weather. Apparently the other group of touring bands really likes to drink, and by the time we finish our set it seems that everyone involved with the show is completely hammered. Even the promoter is slumped over passed out in a booth. Barker winds up being one of the few sober people in the room.

We have to pack and load out so that we can do two trips to the hotel. The first load out will be all the stuff we leave in Estonia with Filip and will be loaded into the hotel’s storage closet. The second load is all the stuff that will continue on to Finland. So we have to pare everything down to essentials, then attempt to load out via one elevator, which is currently backed up with all the other bands’ gear. With everyone at the club being so drunk, everything takes forever, and we don’t wind up getting back to our hotel until almost 5am. And we have to be in the lobby at 9am. I feel like I’m never going to get a good night’s sleep ever again.

Helsinki, Finland

Booze is taxed heavily in Scandinavia, so people stock up on alcohol at the duty free stores on the ferries. It’s like Costco for booze here. Finns buy dozens of cases of beer at a time. I snag a bottle of Caol Ila scotch for a good price.

The club tonight is amazing. It’s right in the city center, the sound system is amazing, and the catering is easily the best meal I’ve had on tour. This is our first time in Finland and the audience is great. I’ve wanted to visit Finland for years, and it surpasses my expectations.

After the show we have to do another complicated pack. This time, it’s packing for a flight, which means paring things down even more, and packing everything very securely. It’s another late load-out with an early load out. I get two hours of sleep.

Moscow, Russia

We’re excited to play Moscow, though we also view this as the most difficult portion of the tour. This is our second time going to Russia, and our last trip here was exhausting. Here’s what I remember about Russia from last experience: water is hard to come by; vodka is plentiful; if you set your beer down, a stranger will come up and drink it; you can flag down random cars and pay them to drive you somewhere; don’t engage with people that try to talk to you on the street because they want to rob you; don’t bother to try and wait in a line because Russians don’t queue; and most importantly, all rock clubs are owned by the mafia. I’m too exhausted to be anxious about all of this, though. There’s a bit of a hold-up at immigration and part of me almost hopes we get turned around and sent back to Finland. I’m a little jealous of Deafheaven. They’re taking the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, which is often described as “the party ferry” because it’s a twelve hour trip, and folks tend to treat it like a booze cruise.

But things go smoothly. Our luggage arrives safe and sound. Our promoter friends are waiting outside of customs to meet us. The club is nice. Our rented backline is good. The only drag is that I’m so fucking exhausted. Fortunately, it’s an early show, and everything happens quickly. We set up, soundcheck, eat dinner, do an interview, and take the stage. It’s a packed house. There’s stagediving and crowd surfing. During our song “Geneva,” the crowd starts doing this chant during one of the builds. It feels like I’m at some sort of massive Soviet rally. After the set, we go backstage for our standard post-show powwow. When we try to leave the backstage, there’s a crowd of at least 100 people waiting for autographs, handshakes, photos, old picks and broken drumsticks. We try to accommodate, but we also want to get some sleep. Even as we try to pack up our gear we keep getting pulled off to the side to sign something or do a cellphone pic. In the midst of all these distractions, one of Mike’s effect pedals gets stolen.

After the show we go to Red Square and see the sights. As tired as we are, we can’t come all the way out to Moscow and not see Lenin’s tomb. I get four or five hours of sleep.

Stockholm, Sweden

A driver picks us up from our hostel at 7am. Drivers in Moscow are terrifying. Russian airports are a mess too. It’s an enormous relief to actually board the plane.

We get into Stockholm around noon. It’s a sunny day. We get to the club early enough to do laundry and walk around the city a bit. According to Deafheaven, the party ferry was a little disappointing. Apparently there was no shortage of partying, but it was mainly old people and Euro-trash.

I still feel completely exhausted, but fortunately the club is gracious with their espresso. The in-house restaurant provides dinner, which for me was a giant pot of mussels cooked in white wine, butter, and garlic. It was an amazing meal, but I feel like I’m going to fall asleep face first into my plate the whole time. I meet up with my friend Eric before the set at a Tex-Mex bar down the street. He tells me his ex-boyfriend once got thrown in jail after trying to enter Russia with a typo on his work visa. I’m really glad I didn’t know this yesterday while I was standing face to face with a grumpy Russian immigration officer.

I generally hate early shows. I don’t like being at concerts when the sun is still out. But I’m so thankful tonight’s show has to be over by 9:30. It’s crazy when six hours actually feels like a full night of sleep.

Oslo, Norway

Maybe I didn’t actually get enough sleep, because I get sleep paralysis on the loft during the drive.

Tonight’s club has a capacity of 175. It’s tiny, and we can’t even fit all the gear on stage. The restaurant above the club has nachos on their menu, which I gladly partake in. They’re pretty decent, except for the salsa. Europe cannot figure out how to make decent salsa. It always winds up tasting like tomato jelly. The promoter takes us around the corner from the club to see the government building that was bombed last summer. We were actually in Oslo a week before it happened and it was weird to think that such an affluent, utopian city still has to worry about right-wing extremists. Then again, this is the home of Burzum.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Tonight’s show is at a club called Truckstop Alaska. It’s located outside of the city center in an industrial area. In a way, it’s a bit of a drag being so far away from any site-seeing. Gothenburg is such a famous metal city, and the only thing near the club is a bunch of warehouses. The club, however, is run by incredibly hospitable and gracious people. And if there’s any letdown in not being able to take in the sights and sounds of the city, it’s more than compensated by the fact that Martin from At the Gates promotes the show and is one of the most down-to-earth and friendly promoters we’ve ever dealt with.

Added metal bonus to the evening: Mike meets a girl in the crowd who toured with Gorgoroth as one of the crucified women they had on stage. She says Gaahl was incredibly nice and Infernus’s real name is Roger.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a beautiful city. Copper-patina rooftops, elaborate church spires, quaint bridges, attractive people cruising around the city on old bikes.

The first time I ever played in Copenhagen, the band played a squat that was raided by police in middle of the night. The second time I played this city, the band played in Christiania. Christiania is an old army base close to the city center that was vacated after WWII and taken over by squatters. The city recognized Christiania’s sovereignty as a part of a government-sanctioned “social experiment”. The community of Christiania was allowed to come up with their own laws provided they were also able to perform the basic functions of an autonomous city. Essentially, they had to take care of their own sewer and sanitation issues, and in exchange they could openly deal marijuana and hash in the streets.

The club we’re playing tonight is in worse shape than either of those squats, though I think this venue is actually a legitimate club. The only furnishings are made from old wood pallets. Candles stuck in old liquor bottles provide lighting. For the first time on tour, I feel like the crowd tonight is more interested in hanging out and drinking than actually watching the bands. At the end of the night, Tomas abandons the merch table out of sheer frustration with dumb questions from the patrons. He goes up to Mike to complain, but the conversation is interrupted by someone asking Mike if our last song was a Mastodon cover (it wasn’t).

Better luck next time, Copenhagen.

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