Last night was the first show of my 17-city tour of Belgium with comedian (and my longtime friend) Piv Huvluv. And guess what? It worked. Really well, in fact. It's almost like we were somehow combining Vaudeville and the United Nations. He did his very funny comedy routine (click here to see clip--it's even funny if, like me, you don't understand a single word) and people laughed.
Since I'm essentially living here in Oostende for the next 3 weeks I decided to toss "Sexual Healing," the song Marvin Gaye wrote during his 18 month stay in this city back in 1980 and 1981, just before his big comeback. And it turns out that there is a Marvin Gaye Midnight Love Walking Tour of the city so naturally I had to check that out. I just came back from the walk, in fact, and it was a really good glimpse at a transitional period in the life of one of my favorite musicians. For him, it was a calm before AND after the storm and I can see why he loved it here. My apartment for the month is just around the corner where he lived and down the street from his favorite local pub. I'll have to drop by there later.
More stories to come but there's a waffle down the street that's calling my name.
Funny how these things work out. Early last summer, my friend Mikel Renteria asked me if I would return to play the second annual Walk On Project (WOP) charity festival that he was putting together in Bilbao. I had a great time there last summer and he raised a lot of money for his cause so I was definitely up for coming back. He asked if I could bring either the Miracle 3 or the Baseball Project but neither band was available the weekend of the festival.
So, I suggested The Dream Syndicate.
Now, we hadn't played a full show as a band since 1988 but we had thrown our name into the ring for Spain's heralded Primavera festival earlier this year. Had we been chosen for the festival, we were going to do the show as a quartet of myself, Dennis Duck, Mark Walton and Jason Victor. So the concept was already in place. All it took, like many such "big things", was the spark of spontaneity and the right moment. Mikel loved the idea and we were on for the WOP festival on September 30.
But when my Spanish agent David Jimenez at Heart of Gold heard we were doing the show he said "why not do more shows in Spain." He had a point. That was a long ways to go for one show and would hardly justify all of the rehearsal that would go into reviving the band, not to mention that it wouldn't give enough time for all of the food we wanted to try while we were there.
So, now it was a tour. Shows were added in Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca and Valencia. We decided to not take on any other shows for this tour or for the immediate future, choosing instead to see how everything went, how we felt about the music, the new lineup and how the audience reacted.
Well, from the first show in Barcelona to a packed Plaza Reial square of 4000 people at the BAM festival, we knew this was going to be good. It felt like all of my favorite things about both lineups of the Dream Syndicate in the '80's and at the same time felt new and vital. And that feeling just grew with each show. By the time we walked off the stage at the last show in Bilbao, we felt like a band. And the audience loved it. Fans had traveled from the US, Holland, England, Italy, Germany, Norway and more. And everybody left satisfied, the four of us included.
You can see what I mean by checking out our playlist of videos or by downloading the shows from Barcelona or Madrid. But I can say with absolute certainty and enthusiasm that there will be more shows in 2013. I hope that all of you have a chance to see this band in action.
Well, that's it. The Dig It Up festival is over. All of the bands have scattered in various directions. Some are still touring. The Hoodoo Gurus, Redd Kross and Fleshtones played in Perth last night. But Linda and I remain, like some stubborn settlers, holding firm on our new land like settlers here in times past. We've moved from touring rockers to locals. Or so we think. In our most humble and sincere attempt to be locals for a day, we have just come back from the Queen Victoria Market (one of the best open markets I've ever seen) with kangaroo meat, baby spinach, mushrooms, various cheeses and bread in hand to go with the wine we bought on our expedition with Dave Faulkner (they call him Uncle Faulkie and he indeed was an able patriarch for the day) last week. It's Sunday and time for a home cooked meal. See? "Home." We do indeed live here. At least until tomorrow morning.
Our wonderful promoters have put us up in this apartment on Flinders Street in Melbourne and we have a CD player (Husker Du playing right now) and a kitchen. We were joking with the Fleshtones that the rooms were larger than most NYC apartments. But we weren't joking. So, it's a good chance to hunker down before heading out for one last night of local style raging with our new pals at Ya-Ya's, the fantastic club where we played with the Fleshtones on Friday night. Both bands were in full force that night (I mean, we did have a day off on Thursday) and the party went well into the evening, bartender Lorena treating us to her concoction called Kick Out The Jams (cointreau, frangelica, amaretto, lime juice, some other stuff I've since forgotten). Weird drink. You keep drinking them and never get too buzzed. Just happy.
What can I say? I think that we made a good connection with the fans here who had either been waiting patiently for 25 years or who had joined the party since then long distance by CD or vinyl or YouTube clips. I had said that my main goal (besides meeting nice people and having a great time) was to make sure that I played well enough to come back soon. I think it will happen. I hope it will happen. I like it here.
Some of the highlights of recent days:
There's more. I'm sure there's more. But there's a rock festival called the Cherry Festival just outside our hotel door and I think it's time to move back into the mainstream of Melbourne life. We do live here after all.
It's good to take some time and look at the map of Australia. Everybody open your textbooks to page 32. Very good. Notice how a 2-city tour of this country (and both of my tours of this country have indeed been limited to the two biggest cities), firmly places you in a pretty small quadrant, name the Southeast. It's almost like if you came to the US and only played Miami and Myrtle Beach. Or if you placed the routing into a funhouse mirror, you could say that we've come to play New York City and Boston. Or you could say we came to the UK and only played Newcastle and Sunderland. Or, try this on for size--it's as though we flew into the solar system, booked gigs on Pluto and Neptune and then hightailed it back to where we came from.
What I'm trying to say is that we are in a big country and that our one day of travel was a relative breeze. We dusted ourselves off a little too early after a wildly satisfying, frenzied, unhinged, cathartic, freaky show with the Fleshtones at a club called Sando's and then got to the airport, boarding a one-hour flight to Melbourne on a plane filled with all of our festival bandmates. Roll up for the mystery tour. We landed here in Melbourne only hours before stage time at the festival. It's always best to just keep moving, ask very few questions and stay in the moment. And every moment down here has been great. The Australian music fans are enthusiastic and, gratifyingly, seem to know the music I've made since I was last here 25 years ago. I was afraid that I would have to wear the guise of Nostalgia Act and then surreptitiously sneak in the newer tunes, "Halloween" being a trojan horse for "Resolution," if you will. But it turns out the newer tunes are getting as strong or stronger a response as the old ones and that the system of importing and exporting my records is alive and well. All hail the postal system.
As is the case with multi-band adventures, it's been a great chance to make new friends (a Died Pretty here, a 5-6-7-8 there) and to get to reacquaint with old friends (the McDonald brothers of Redd Kross--who were stunning yesterday, the first time I had seen them since the early 90's) and even get to know good friends even better (some great conversations with my buddies in the Fleshtones in recent days). And then there are the days off, days that can be even more adventurous and potentially perilous than the "work" days themselves. And today is indeed a day off which means a lobby call for 10:30 at which time Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus, our hosts for this week, will be taking some of us on a wine tasting tour, some boot shopping and then over to a local theater to see Ron Peno from Died Pretty play with his new solo band on a bill with Mark Lanegan who may or may not have a few of my buddies from Giant Sand in his band. Pacing? Hardly necessary when the tour began last Saturday and will be done and in the books by this Saturday morning. Let the final stage of the Southern adventure begin.
I will say this for the Hoodoo Gurus. They really put together a festival of bands that know how to put on a live show. There are many bands who are great on record (and plenty more that aren't) who don't know what to do once they hit the stage. But it seems that every band on this Dig It Up festival explodes from the minute they hit the stage. I tried to see as much as I could yesterday but realities of 4 venues at different ends of a very crazy and lively block meant that I had to pick and choose depending upon our own schedule and demands of setting up for our 5pm show. I caught about 5 songs of the Tek/Younger band (veterans of Radio Birdman among many others) who blew my mind, especially with a souped-up version of the already souped-up "Don't Look Back" by The Remains. I had never seen Died Pretty and only had heard a few songs in passing over the years but I'll be damned if they didn't kick out the proverbial jams. And The Sonics? Man, I saw their comeback show in 2007 at the Warsaw club out in Brooklyn and was stunned by the energy of guys who had made their first records almost 50 years ago. But at this show, five years later, they left that last one in the dust. The band features 3 original members and they were as sinister, maniacal and explosive as a band could be. What's that expression? "We've been schooled." Yeah, that was it. Funny how it seems that each of the bands at the festival had been influenced by other ones there--Died Pretty and the Hoodoo Gurus had been fans of the Dream Syndicate and Fleshtones, I was a huge fan of the Fleshtones as well, etc--but ALL of us had cut our listening teeth (and I recommend that you never go and cut those listening teeth) on songs like "Psycho" and "The Witch" and "Strychnine" by the Sonics. Oh, and speaking of the Hoodoo Gurus, they closed out the evening in fine style, playing their entire first album and then coming out to play one of my favorite all-time songs "Bittersweet" for the encore. Do you see the size of this paragraph? When I write a paragraph this long without any kind of break, you can be sure that I'm mighty excited about what went down. And I could keep going but I think that this paragraph (and you all) might need a break.
Oh, and our set. Right! I was so happy to see a jam packed room when we hit the stage and our little Aussie ad hoc band was on fire, if I say so myself. Being flanked by Keith and Ken (putting Linda in the QB position) turned us into a kind of SW/Fleshtones hybrid. Those guys had their Fleshtones moves in fine form! Damn, made me want to do some leg kicks but I knew better. Not without proper stretching, my doctor might say. It was nice to expose a whole new audience to songs like "Amphetamine" and "Resolution" and "Cindy, It Was Always You" that I play so often but had never played on this continent. Very exciting indeed.
And another club show coming tomorrow night here in Sydney and two to follow in Melbourne. Good news since I need to see Redd Kross, the 5-6-7-8's and many other bands I missed on Sunday. Keep your eyes on those YouTube clips of the many band playing the festival. You might see me grooving right there on the side of the stage
And, really, there are many ways to adapt to a new environment and time zone. I've always chosen to just hit the ground running, spit in the face of chemistry and immediately bend to the new reality. We're staying in a neighborhood of Sydney called Surrey Hill on what my pal Robyn Hitchcock would call the "groover's strip," an area filled with cool restaurants, bars and shops. Most of the restaurants in the Top 10 Guide I brought with me seem to be within 3 or 4 blocks. I hope to try them all.
I spent most of the day yesterday walking--making my way over to Darlinghurst and then Central Sydney and doing all I could to stay awake until it was time to head over to Bondi Beach for a birthday party for Maxie, a woman we met in Brooklyn at the Hoodoo Guru's Dave Faulkner's 50th birthday party (ah, the trail of birthday parties), just a few years back. The soiree was at a place called the Iceberg and the Fleshtones had been slated for the evening's entertainment. And, really "Fleshtones" and "Evening's Entertainment" should be synonymous. Also, this gave Linda and I a chance to bum rush the stage for a quick warm up with our bandmates for the trip, Keith Streng and Ken Fox. It was great to play "Tell Me When It's Over," "Boston," "Resolution" and "The Days of Wine and Roses" while watching Peter Zaremba, Brad Shepherd and Dave F line the front row. Eventually, we all engaged in a round robin of Rocking-And-Watching as Linda I took over the front row to see the Hoodoo Gurus rock out the Beatles' "Birthday" before the Fleshtones took over to do what they have been doing for 35 years and better and better with each passing decade and year. What a band!
That's how you cure jet lag. Garage rock, party snacks (sliders stole the show), beer, dancing and hanging with old and new friends. It really works. Or at least it did work until the point when Linda and I both pretty much hit the wall and sadly had to seek refuge in a cab with the last echoes of Super Rock wafting out from the club over the midnight moon shining across the very active waves of Bondi Beach. A hard scene to leave but I think that many more such highlights lie ahead. Our big Sydney festival gig is just a few hours away and sometimes you just gotta close your eyes for a few hours.
The last time I toured Australia was back in 1986. I was in the Dream Syndicate and we had just finished a tour of Europe which meant our flight from London to Melbourne was a whopping 27 hours (with stops in Dubai and Malaysia). 27 hours! As at least a few members of our band found out, that was enough time to get wildly drunk, painfully hungover and sober again just in time for a few cocktails before landing.
This trip is easy by comparison, aside from the 25 years older part. Linda and I are on the second leg of a NYC to LA to Sydney journey that will take 24 hours in total. See? Three hours shorter. Piece of cake. And I'm pretty excited to be going back. I remember thinking during those previous shows that I was hoping we would kick some serious butt so that we could return as soon as possible. Butt was kicked but it took this long to get back. Reasons? Explanations? I've got none but I'll consider this adventure my Round 2 and try for more of the same.
We've been invited to be a part of the Hoodoo Gurus 30th Anniversary bash, a roving touring party called Dig It Up and/or the Hoodoo Gurus Invitational. The guys in the H-Gurus said online that they had heard that Linda and I had played often as a duo. Not true. I think we had done it 3 times--in Tokyo, Tilburg and Tucson (sounds like a Lowell George song!) And I was up for the challenge but when I saw that my pals (and childhood heroes) the Fleshtones were on the bill, I asked guitarist Keith Streng and bassist Ken Fox if they would round out our duo to a full quartet. They graciously accepted and the rehearsals back home sounded great.
So, get ready for tales and photos of the usual--music, tourism, food, tall tales, behind the scenes nonsense and more. My only food memories from the first go-round was a thing called Burger With The Lot, which means a burger with a fried egg on top. My main musical memories was discovering a new singer songwriter called Paul Kelly and the aboriginal rock of the Warumpi Band. This time we'll be traveling with not only the Hoodoo Gurus and Fleshtones but also The Sonics, Redd Kross, the 5-6-7-8's, Died Pretty and a lot more. I guess you could call it Rock Show With The Lot. But I'm not sure who will stand in for the fried egg. See? This is why you'll have to pay attention
Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 | New York City | Friday, December 2 - 9pm
Yes, I'm writing my own concert preview. It must be the retired rock critic in me (--granted, I haven't been a rock critic since I was 19, but you have to stay in shape). Nonetheless, the Miracle 3 and I don't play nearly enough, especially in our own town, so if you're in the neighborhood this Friday, you should drop by. We'll most definitely be revved up and bursting at the sonic seams. Also, it will be our first gig at the Bowery Electric, my favorite new club in town. It's just a stone's throw from where CBGB's once stood and is doing a good job of carrying on that club's tradition of delivering raw cathartic rock in a no-nonsense, great sounding room that's made for our brand of shenanigans. Hope to see you there. Bowery Electric—327 Bowery (at 2nd Street), New York, NY
And if you're NOT going to be in the neighborhood, you could do worse than to spend the first days of 2012 in the warm climes of Todos Santos, Mexico (right at the bottom tip of Baja California) with The Baseball Project as we kick off a 3 week festival that continues with Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 and then concludes with the Minus 5—yes, all bands that contain my band mates Scott and Peter. You can go here for more information. Swimsuit and suntan lotion not provided.
Yes, 2011 is wheezing to the finish line. And what a year it was. I released new albums with both the Miracle 3 (Northern Aggression) and the Baseball Project ("High and Inside" as well as the limited edition "Broadside Ballads") and toured most of the year, playing about 100 shows on either side of the Atlantic with both bands as well as various acoustic combos. What's in store for 2012? More of the above, for sure, but also some surprises both new and old. And it's the 30th Anniversary of the release of "The Days of Wine and Roses" so expect some nods to that occasion as well. In the meantime, may you have chestnuts roasting by an open fire and Jack Frost nipping not too hard at your nose. A very happy holiday to you and yours, thanks for all of the support this year and all the best for 2012.
It's easy to talk about The Baseball Project using metaphors from the game itself. We had a Spring Training tour last March, a regular season tour in May and now it's time to embark on--what else?--our Pennant Race tour. Yes, six months after the release of "High and Inside" and about 60 gigs into 2011 and we're still in the running, trying to take it all the way, giving 110%, stressing the fundamentals and...okay, sorry about that. The long-lapsed sportswriting in me was rising to the surface once again.
But we are a team and we do, in fact, have one of our players on the Disabled List. As you might know by now, Peter Buck injured his back a month ago and is going to be out for our summer touring season. We brought Miracle 3 bass guitarist Dave deCastro over to Europe for shows in Holland, Italy and Croatia (they just love baseball in Croatia!) and now we're in the van and on our way up to New London for a 10-city run with Sal Maida on bass. Sal has toured with Roxy Music (I actually saw him play at the Hollywood Palladium as a wide-eyed high schooler back in 1976) and Sparks and is a current member of Cracker. Oh, and he is a lifetime, hardcore Yankees fan.
Much like most of the East Coast (and this includes many baseball teams), we are being thrown a curveball by Hurricane Irene and tonight's show has been moved from it's original outdoors location to the indoor and much drier Crocker Music Hall. We are also crossing our fingers for Sunday's show on Cape Cod as that location and that day are set for a home plate weather collision. We'll just have to see what happens. My fingers are crossed since I never like losing a gig and also know that the Beachcomber is a blast and that the Spampinato brothers (with Joey from NRBQ) will be opening. Rain, rain go away, etc
But enough about that. If you live anywhere between Virginia and Maine, you'll have your chance to see us battle the elements and maybe even play a Roxy Music cover or two. Oh, and baseball songs. So, pack your poncho and come on out and join us for a night or two. We're taking it all the way to the post-season
There's nothing like celebrating a birthday on the road. The party is right there and waiting for you. You're with your pals, you're in a bar, you get to play some music and strangers will make a fuss over you. And that was the story on Wednesday for Linda as she rang in a new year in Ferndale, Michigan--just a few miles outside of Detroit--at the Magic Bag, a fine club that I was playing for the first time although Scott had been there a few times before with Robyn Hitchcock. Our man McCaughey raved about an old school Italian restaurant next door called Como's and it was the perfect place for a celebration--various items covered with red sauce, provolone cheese, garlic--all items guaranteed to be filling, comforting and celebratory. And how does one follow up such a celebration? Well, in Linda's case it was by throwing out the first pitch at a Quad City River Bandits (single A league for the St. Louis Cardinals) the following day. Just check out her form in the accompanying photo and video. This hurler just gets better and better.
And the birthdays just keep on coming--today we get to celebrate with our tour manager, buddy and superstar guitarist (Apples in Stereo, Dressy Betsy) John Hill. And his wife Tammy (singer in Dressy Betsy) is here with us. Les Bon Temps Roulet. I sure hope I spelled that right.
Last night was a full circle of sorts. In a literal sense, we have made a complete loop, starting in Wisconsin, moving through Detroit to the east coast and then back again. And in a musical sense, we were reunited with Kevin Dutcher who played keyboards with us at our first gig in Minneapolis two weeks ago. Ah, the rotating corps of excellent keyboard players in our band. Let's recap--our first guest was none other than Mike Mills who played with us at the very beginning of our 2011 tour back in Atlanta and Athens (before moving to the bass spot on this tour). And then there was Josh Kantor who joined us in Austin at South By Southwest as well as at three shows this week. We thank the Boston Red Sox (something I rarely do) for letting us borrow his services. And how about Robert Lloyd! He laid out the template, playing most of the keys on our new album and he worked his way up the West Coast with us. Love that Robert! And Andy Burton was there for the one night stint in Cooperstown. Not everyday you get to play with someone who has backed both Ian Hunter and Peter Noone. And then finally our buddy Kevin who zipped down to our show last night in Rock Island (a city made famous by both Leadbelly and the Blues Brothers, not to mention the groovy website DayTrotter) before returning to his day/night gig with the Minnesota Twins. Gentlemen, rise up from your piano benches and take a bow.
And now? It's the final stretch. A show tonight at a game in Madison (we are actually playing between each and every inning--a series of 2 minute gigs!) and then tomorrow in St. Louis at Twangfest where we'll be on the bill with Marah and some combo called Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3. What a way to wrap up the tour! Stick around and join us Monday for the post-game show.