Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tapas, The Graves Brothers and Me - Travels In Spain, Part One

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, February 10, 2008)

In the summer of 2001, Stoo Odom called me and asked if I would want to go to Spain with his band, The Graves Brothers Deluxe (, that coming October. At the time, I had sworn off touring. The last tour I had done with Thin White Rope was miserable for me and one of these days I'll tell that story. I did several tours after that. One fast one of Europe with Poster Children. Another fast one of Europe with the Young Fresh Fellows and the Dharma Bums. And a really fast one of the South-Western USA with Australian band, The Underground Lovers. (One of these days, I'll also get to all those stories.) And while I had fun on all of those, I decided that I couldn't cope any more with life on the road. I loved the travel and meeting new people, but there were always big problems that took so much energy out of me that I would always arrive home sick and in need of too much rest and relaxation. Let me tell you, touring was the hardest work I've ever done in my life.

There were several things that attracted me to the Graves Brothers Deluxe tour though. The first thing was Spain itself. Thin White Rope never got to go to Spain for reasons I never understood. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying on my part. (They also never made it to France, Portugal or Ireland, again, not due to lack of trying on my part.) I had briefly been to Spain on the Young Fresh Fellows tour and that small taste had me chomping on the bit to actually spend some time there. Then there was the fact that Stoo was being kind of noncommittal as to how much work I'd actually be doing there. I had to pay my own airfare, which was easy since I always have a huge backlog of frequent flyer miles, but I would have lodging and meals with the band and I would be on the meager perdium that the band members would be on. It sounded to me like they wanted some experienced help, but I wouldn't be an "official" tour manager and I could relax a bit more than on most tours. Plus there was the fact that I had just recently lost my job with the Rhino Record store, partly on my own choosing, and I really had nothing to do at the time. Stoo was quite a character, but he was usually easy to get along with and the rest of the band seemed to be great guys as well. I said yes and plans began to be made.

Then in September, on the 11th of that month, Muslim terrorists crashed plans into the World Trade Center in New York City and all hell broke loose. Bands were cancelling tours of Europe in droves. Even most tourists were cancelling their vacation plans in fear of being blown up. Stoo and I talked on the phone and decided that the tour should go on. I wasn't that worried about another event of that magnitude happening again soon. And we decided that it would be a perfect time to tour as few bands would be there and the locals would be happy to see anyone touring at the time. Many of my friends thought we were crazy, but what's life without taking chances?

So it was that in early October of 2001, I found myself on an American Airlines flight to Madrid ( Since I had paid for my own flight away from the band, and since I lived in Los Angeles, while the band lived in San Francisco, I flew alone and arrived in Madrid several hours before the band did. I was picked up at the airport by a label representative and driven into downtown Madrid to the offices of Munster Records (, the band's European label. There, I met all the people running that amazing little label and then busied myself with searching through their catalog, begging for promos and basically resting up after my flight while I waited for the band to arrive. (According to Stoo, the band arrived a few hours before me, but I don't remember it that way. Whatever, it's not that important.)

The people who worked at Munster were great. There was Iñigo, the owner, and his employees Francisco, Nuria and Enano. All were friendly, helpful and loved to talk about music. The Munster offices were right in the middle of downtown, so there was plenty to do and see within walking distance of the place.

After a few hours, the band were picked up at the airport and brought to the offices as well. The Spanish booking agent, Unai, of Radiation Tours, showed up to fill us in on all the details of the tour. There were still a few open dates on the tour and they were hoping to fill them in with shows in Lisbon, Portugal, and Guadalajara. I was particularly excited about doing a show in Portugal, as I've never been there and that's where my family crawled out of the mud and evolved into the cynical Americans we are today. I was disappointed there was no show in Barcelona, but it was too far out of the way to fit into our schedule at the last moment.

But we still had a few days to fill before we headed out on the road. We were shown to our hotel, which was upstairs from the Munster offices, where we decided who was going to sleep with whom and in what rooms. The hotel was actually a hostel. We were there because Munster was getting a sweet deal due a leak from the hostel that had destroyed several of the label's computers. It was comfortable and centrally located, so we were fairly happy being there. We decided on a revolving room schedule, hoping to keep ourselves from getting tired of any one person by bunking with them too long. And for the next few days we spent the time picking out band equipment and a van, and generally seeing the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of that wonderful city that's the capitol of Spain. (Another aside: Munster was right next to the Atocha subway station and we used that station for much of our travels. It was one of the stations that were bombed by Muslim terrorists in 2004.)

There were two moments of temporary excitement around our hotel during these first few days. Pedro Almodovar was filming a movie just around the corner for a few days. At the same time, Bill Clinton decided to stay at the hotel right behind ours. He was in town for some event that I no longer remember. Both these events caused a bit of a media storm and made traffic difficult at times. I never did see either man though, which was slightly disappointing.

I quickly fell in love with Spanish food. At this time, Spanish food hadn't caught on here in the States yet. A few restaurants tried to open, but Americans persisted in lumping it in with Mexican food, which is in actuality a whole different animal. I love Mexican food, but Spanish is more subtly flavored and not as spicy hot. I went crazy over all the hams, sausages, cheeses, and seafood that were offered there. I found that I really loved white anchovies. This caught me by surprise as I've never really liked the little dark fish pieces available on pizzas and stuff here. But I couldn't stop eating those white ones and had a helping of them at least once a day. (I now like the dark versions you find here as well, although I still prefer the white ones.) I also remember a restaurant that served nothing but boiled shrimp. You would walk into the place and realize that the floor was crunching as you walked across it and it was then that you noticed that there was a good inch or two of shrimp shells covering everything. People would walk up to the bar and order shrimp, then they would peel and eat it, throwing the shells on the ground where they built up to a massive amount. At the end of the day, the restaurant would sweep them all up and it would all start over again the next day. And the shrimp were delicious as well!

We spent time in museums and parks and just wandering the city. At night we hung out at Iñigo's house with his family, drinking beer and wine and talking. I also discovered that Spanish wines were a wonderful thing as well and wanted to try as many as I could. My second disappointment after finding out that we didn't have a show in Barcelona was that it was off season for bull fighting. The one thing I really wanted to do in Spain was attend a bullfight. It may have been a horrifying thing to watch, but I felt I really needed to experience one to get the whole feel of Spain. But bullfighting wasn't set to start again until a month after we left. I was bummed, but the rest of what I was experiencing was so great that I quickly let that disappointment go.

After a couple of days, it was time to head out on the road, so we loaded our luggage, equipment and ourselves into the van and off we went North to our first show in San Sebastian.

I quickly realized that the band were in need of someone to lead and that I was going to be an "official" tour manager despite what I thought before the tour started. I already had the route mapped out for the whole tour and had even been in touch with some of the local promoters and club owners. But I had to express my dominance on all things non-musical and take over the tour. That's always a tricky thing to do when dealing with all the different personalities in a band. I had met the band before, seeing them play in Los Angeles a few times, but I didn't really know any of them very well except for Stoo. It was obvious that Willy (guitar and sax) and Marco (drums) were pretty easy going guys who I would get along with without problems. The guitar player, Drew Cook, was a whole different animal. He made it clear very quickly that he didn't like being told when to wake up or when to get in the van. There was never any big blow-ups between the two of us. I think both of us are too professional to let that happen. But there was always tension between us and in the end; I don't think either of us really liked each other.

(I've since run into Drew here in Los Angeles a couple of times and we get along fine. Drew was not the Graves Brothers regular guitar player. Drew's brother, Nolan, was actually the regular guy, but he was tied up on a tour with the Residents at the time and couldn't make this tour, so Drew was drafted to sit in. This was his first tour anywhere, so I should take into account that he really had no idea what to expect and to suddenly have this pushy big guy telling him what to do was probably a major adjustment for him. At the time though, I just found him a giant pain in the ass. Both brothers opted out of the band shortly after this tour ended and the band continued on as a three piece.)

So, we were on the road, heading to our first show in the city of San Sebastian in the northern Basque region of Spain. We actually had two shows that day. There was a free show in San Sebastian in the early afternoon. Then we had to drive deep into the Basque mountains to a small town called Tolosa for a show at a small club named Bonberenea.

(I'll make an aside here to state that I really don't remember much about any of the shows. Most of my memories are of events around the shows. Damn, I wish I would have kept journals while traveling on these tours!)

We arrived in San Sebastian ( and checked into the show venue. We had some time beforehand, so we decided to take a quick look around the town. I certainly wasn't as taken with it as I was Madrid. It was a beautiful port town, but the people there seemed to be of a higher class, or at least they thought they were. I left the city thinking the people were rather snobbish. I wasn't unhappy about leaving. (I've since found out that one of the greatest restaurants in the world, Mugaritz (, is located there, so eventually I have to make my way back for another visit.)

Tolosa (,_Spain) was a whole different matter though. The town was in a beautiful mountain setting and the people we met there were as friendly as they could be. The club was one of those clubs you only find in Europe. Just outside of town, it was run by a communal group of young people with government grants. It was the type of club I love, a bit seedy and punk-rockish. The perfect setting for an indie rock concert.

I recall that the show went well that night. Afterwards, the club had cots and mats set out for the band to sleep on, but some of the club people were hanging around to party a bit. I didn't want to deal with it, so I decided to go into town and find a hotel room. The club suggested a place that was reasonably priced and comfortable and I had a great night's sleep after wandering the streets for awhile seeing the sights. (Seeing a town after dark and late night is totally different than seeing it in the light of day while everyone is out on the streets.)

The next morning, I was up early and called the club to make sure the band was up and getting ready for our drive to the next gig. Stoo met me at the hotel and we walked down the street to a café to have some breakfast. There, we met some people who work for the Basque Separatist Party, a group that the Spanish government labels as a terrorists group. There is certainly a branch of it that does go in for bombings and terror to get their point across. There are also those who want to work peacefully to get the Basque region declared its own separate country. The people we met were of the latter and talking to them was extremely interesting. They gave me a lapel pin for the Separatist movement, which I treasure to this day. But after a short conversation, it was time to go pick up the band and get to our next show.

That wasn't far away. It was in Bilbao (, which is on the border of the Basque territory. I wanted to get there early though as we were anxious to have the time to visit the Guggenheim Museum there that was designed and built by architect Frank Gehry ( There is now a very similar building here in LA, the Walt Disney Concert Hall (, but that was still being built at the time and the Guggenheim was famous for its modern architecture within an ancient city.

We arrived in the city and checked into the club. Our hotel that night was quite a ways outside of the city, so we just loaded everything into the club and made our way out into the city. The club was only a few blocks from the museum, so after we grabbed a bite to eat, we headed down the main street towards our goal. It was an amazing view. On each side of us were these old Spanish buildings and then in front of us was this curving, silver, modern structure. But it didn't seem out of place. Gehry's genius was that he was able to design a modern building that seemed to grow from the older architecture around it. See the link above for more about it. It is spectacular.

I believe the show went rather well that night as well, although I do recall a bit of weirdness with the type of customer that frequented that particular club and if they actually understood the band that night. Afterwards, we headed about half-an-hour east to a suburb, where we found our hotel that night after stopping someone on the street and having them lead us to it. One of the good things about Spain is that it's a late-night place. People don't tend to eat until 10 or 11 and it's easy to find someone on the street if you need any help.

The next morning we were up and off again towards our next show in Gijon ( I don't remember much about this at all. I remember a great meal at a typical local restaurant and then after the show, some people, maybe the promoters, wanted to take us out on the town. We went to several different places drinking and finally ended up at a disco bar that was packed with stylish people. I have no problem with places like that and can even have fun in them. But I wasn't in the mood and wandered out by myself pretty quickly. I noticed another packed bar down the street, only this time there was wonderful Flamenco music pouring out of the open doors. So I wandered in and found myself surrounded by dancing, clapping people. For a good hour or so, I clapped and sang along and had a great time, feeling like I was actually experiencing Spain as it was supposed to be experienced. But in my drunken state, I eventually tired and left, only to find myself meeting up with several band members who were just leaving the disco at the same time. I think then we decided to call it a night as we had a long drive the next morning.

The next day we found ourselves on the road to Vigo (, which is a port town on the far West coast, located just above Portugal. Unfortunately, our show in Lisbon had fallen apart, but we left early enough, so the plan was to drive past Vigo and into Portugal a ways, so we could say that we had been there.

But that plan quickly derailed as we approached Vigo. We had had nothing but beautiful weather for the whole trip. But about an hour outside Vigo, the sky started clouding up and we quickly found ourselves in a downpour that seemed to never stop. Because of the heavy rain, we decided it would be best to just get into town and check in with the club owner.

I had not been given much information about this particular club though and had no idea where it was. So we drove into the center of town. I did have a phone number, so after finding a phone, I called the club owner. I recall there was some problem getting a hold of him at first, but we finally made contact and I told him where we were. He drove out to meet us and guide us to the club, the Hanoi Club. The club owner was a great guy and was a big fan of the band. We mentioned the rain to him and he told us that it was typical for that time of year. He said that it would probably rain continually for the next several months. It didn't stop raining the whole time we were there.

I remember the show that night as being sparsely attended, but that the people who did come out were a great bunch. The show was a strange one because the weather knocked out all the power in the club except one outlet on the stage. (Why this outlet had power was beyond me.) The band all plugged into this one outlet and played their set by candlelight. That's life on the road. You make it work when you can, anyway you can.

Afterwards, the club owner took us out to a great dinner and to our hotel. During dinner, I got to talking with him about Spanish wines and he promised to meet me early the next morning and take me to a local wine shop. And that he did. The wine shop was right across the street from our hotel. It was wonderful and a treasure trove for someone like me trying to find out about Spanish wine. Between the club owner and the wine shop owner, I bought a couple bottles of both red and white wines to take home with me. (Those wines were great, by the way.)

Then it was time to leave. I was sorry. Despite the rain, I really liked Vigo and I really liked the people we met there. We had a long drive back to Madrid that day, but there was no show that night, so we could take our time. The rain stopped about an hour outside Vigo and we found ourselves driving through a vast desert, not unlike the Mojave here in California. We arrived in Madrid in time to have dinner and hang out awhile at Iñigo's house before checking back into our hotel to get some sleep.


I'll continue the stories of this tour next weekend, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. You'll find out how the show in Madrid went; how we managed the Muslim stronghold of Granada; how much we loved fish in Castellon; and the punk rock extravaganza in Guadalajara. We also meet up with friends and go to a TV station. All this and more right here next Sunday.

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