GRAVELROAD News European Tour Blog #5

European Tour Blog #5

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Tuesday May 6- Bratislava, Slovakia

We leave Poland and drive about 4 hours through a portion of the Czech Republic to Slovakia.  The day is sunny & warm and everyone’s feeling good.  Tonight we will play at the “Museum” in Bratislava.  We’d met the owner of the club, Marcel, at our first show in Poland and he seemed like a great guy so we got the sense this venue would be something special.

The Museum is an actual museum of trade and industry during the day and a music venue at night.  There were a variety of unique items like the earliest cash registers, early print and poster advertisements and the like.  It was a two-story building, with the upper floor being turned into a music venue with stage riser and chairs set up in the central hallway.  My drums were set up next to glass displays of early “modernized” weight and measurement tools.

We really had to be attentive to our volume and the dynamics of playing in a venue where we are surrounded by glass displays. It was a rather fun challenge.

The music felt really good.  The set is exciting for us because we are playing some songs from our next album that we’ve recently recorded but not yet released.  Some of the songs had never been played live before.  Tonight, the song that had been giving us the hardest time on this tour, “Wolf On Down the Way,” really came together.  It seems rather simple from the initial listen of it, but there are some subtle touches where we push and pull on the rhythm and meter that is solidifying through playing it repeatedly.

For those that are reading this who do not play music, let me offer an insight about the nature of touring & live performance.  Early in a tour, bands will often be experimenting with songs that are still new to their live set.  All the practice in the world in the studio environment cannot replicate what happens when you play live.  If you really want to hear a band at their best, go see them about a week or so into a tour.  They will have worked out the rough spots of the live set while not yet being burned out from life on the road … or at least that’s the way it should be.

We had a great time playing tonight, we are just getting tighter and tighter with the new stuff and with integrating Joe in on bass and the crowd seemed to really enjoy the set.

I think one of the most interesting audience members for us was seeing a Catholic priest, in his official attire (white-collar and all) enthusiastically into the music.  We talked to him after the show and our hosts indicated that he comes to almost all the shows there at the Museum.  He’s a big Cedric Burnside fan.  Frank is his name.  We all became Facebook friends with him after the show.  I must say, he’s a very modern priest. Good for him.

After the show, the band and our hosts retreated to the Brew Pub in the detached building associated with the Museum. Marcel and his partners restored this two-room structure in the last five years. Their attention to detail would be a historian’s or designer’s delight.  In one room is where they have the cold storage for the brewing process and in the main room is where they have the brewing tanks and mash tubs and the tables for patrons to sit and enjoy the freshly made beer.

It was in this main room where the tables, chairs, lights, woodwork, and all of the other design elements were set to look like pre-1920’s style.  Here all the materials around us were consistent with themes in the Museum – like the late-19th century cash register – only more fully given utility and function. I only wish I had some Slovak language skills so I could’ve engaged in a deeper conversation about all that I was witnessing.  Basically, it was all very cool eye-candy … and great beer!


Wednesday May 7 – Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic

A good night’s sleep and a big breakfast help us leave Slovakia feeling strong.  We are playing the “Highway 61” club in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic tonight.

If you’re like me and cannot easily pronounce most of the names of where we are going, let me try and phonetically help with the latter word in this town’s name.

“Budejovice” is pronounced like “Bood-geo-veet-seh” … and this, my American friends, is where the real Budweiser is from … not that watered down stuff that we have marketed to us from St. Louis, Missouri (no offense to my St Louis friends). In fact we learned that the American Budweiser had to pay the original Czech company a settlement fee for stealing the name.

“Pilsener” is from this region.  I’m sure I’ll butcher the real Czech spelling, but Pilsen is the name of this region where the city sits.  This is the home of great beer.  And there was a lot of it consumed before, during, and after the set by those in attendance tonight.

This was also one of the evenings when I could feel that our music would go over great with this crowd.  Again, being in a club called Highway 61 partially prepared us and them for a form of blues music, but seeing the actual people filling up the club – the leather jackets, longer & scraggily haired folks, and people wearing rock-n-roll shirts – really had me trusting that we could just do our thing and they’d dig it.

Our live set is really solid at this point.  We are starting off with some of our most straight-ahead rocking blues songs (Furry, Devil Eyes, and Fireman are usually the first three in the set) and then switching to some very rocking, yet ass-shaking numbers.  Then we pull it back to more slow and swaying songs, heavy on feel and the ability to be spontaneous with going long and maintaining a trance if people are into it.

And people were into it.  Our Junior Kimbrough-influenced or cover tracks are exactly these types of tracks.  We are working 3 such songs into our set(s) currently: Lord Have Mercy, Leave Her Alone, and Lonely Nights. The longer we played, the more people got up to dance.

The venue wanted two 45 minute sets.  We had such nice momentum at the end of the first set we were hesitant to stop, but it worked out perfectly. We played our first Junior-inspired track towards the end of the first set and started the second set with Lonely Nights.

The second set had even more spontaneity as there was a give-and-take between us and the crowd.  We really attempt to direct the flow of our sets so that the listener can ease into our sound … namely ease into the weirdness of some of the stuff that we do.  3 songs into the second set we were playing “Med Pass,” our 70 second-long punk-blues track that tells the story of receiving antipsychotic medications against ones will at an involuntary psychiatric hospital (something Stefan and I know far too much about).  They loved this song.  We knew we had ‘em where we wanted ‘em.

We kept rocking pretty hard the rest of the night.  Lots of dancing and more bodies pushing forward.  Stefan and Kirby’s attempts at speaking Czech for the purposes of announcing our merchandise for sale were met with great applause and joy.

We got the call for the encore, as has been the case at every show on this tour.  One of the locals braved the stage, making her way to the green room and politely asked “You please make more music?” I love the receptions we are getting here in Europe. It’s so easy to just keep playing and playing when the music is well-received.

Oh, and one more thing about this show: another enthusiastic Frank was in attendance (this one was definitely not a priest … if he was, he was undercover and hiding it well with his frequent Jack Daniel purchases for us).  This Frank christened Joe with a nickname.  “Pepa” (pronounced like “Pep-pah”) is his new handle.  I think it’ll stick.

Not bad for our first-ever show in the Czech Republic.- MR