October 14 – Rotterdam, Holland – Waterfront: Day one of the These Arms Are Snakes/Russian Circles European tour. Today we discover that there’s not enough room for two bands in one Sprinter van. More specifically, there’s not enough room for two bands’ gear, merch, and luggage. So when some Turkish man approaches us at the end of the night offering his bicycle in exchange for a ride out of the country, we have to decline.
October 15 – Tilburg, Holland – 013 Popcentrum: Don Caballero is headlining. Damon Che is remarkably nice to everyone. No joke.
October 17 – Braunschweig, Germany – Nexus: The venue has a ping-pong table. We stay in an apartment in the venue, so we stay up until 4am playing beerpong.
October 18 – Frankfurt, Germany – Elfer: Today winds up being the only day I use the running shoes I brought on tour. However, I should’ve picked a better day to jog, considering there is no sleep to be had tonight. After the show we repack our luggage and equipment for our early morning flight to Russia. We go to the promoter’s friend’s house to shower and head for the airport.
October 20 – St. Petersburg, Russia – Mod Club: A couple spends the last song rolling around on stage while making out. Steve gets punched in the eye. I play out of a Hartke amp with the volume knob bolted down at the half way mark. It’s running out of a 1x15 PA speaker. My keyboard stand is a barstool. Not surprisingly, we sound like shit. We finish playing by midnight, but we stay at the club until almost 6am drinking vodka. By 5am, roughly half of the bar patrons are asleep. I’m not sure why they won’t just go home.
October 22 – Moscow, Russia – Aktoviy Zal: The USSR may be a thing of the past, but the spirit of Communism lives on in Russian drinking habits. Don’t set your drink down in Moscow—someone will run up and snatch it. Similarly, invitations from strangers to buy you a drink will typically result in someone bringing you a half-consumed beverage.
October 24 – Berlin, Germany – Magnet: Strangers barging into our room frequently interrupted our nights in Russia. In St. Petersburg, our apartment in the arts center neighbored several public spaces, so we were occasionally met by startled non-English speaking visitors. In Moscow, we shared a hostel with two strangers. On our overnight train ride between cities, ticket collectors made a few unannounced visits into our sleeping car. So perhaps that explains Mike Sullivan’s outburst in Berlin. Steve, Chris, Mike, Dave, and I shared a room in the hostel. I retired first and promptly fell asleep. At some point in the night, I awoke to Mike yelling “NO! DON’T!”
Dave responded first, trying to figure out what was going on. I was thoroughly disoriented, trying to remember where I was. Steve just kept snoring. Mike was convinced that someone was trying to get into our room. He had heard the door open. There is a moment of mild panic at the implications of someone intruding into our space, until we realize Chris isn’t in the room. He walks through the door seconds later, having returned from the bathroom. Apparently Mike mistook Chris leaving the room for someone trying to get in. This turns out to be the first “night terror” of tour.
October 25 – Leipzig, Germany – Zoro: The show is in a four-story squat and it’s packed with punks from top to bottom. The fog from Russian Circles’ set manages to fill all four levels.
October 26 – Prague, Czech – Club 007: Part of the pre-show warm up includes a voluntary “safety meeting.” The safety meeting involves going to the van and taking a few pulls off whatever booze happens to be lying around. Liquor is so cheap in Czech that we wind up buying around 5 bottles of vodka. But tonight’s safety meeting involves Slivovice—Czech moonshine made from plums. It tastes like paint thinner, coolant, and heartburn all blended together. Safety comes with a price.
October 27 – Budapest, Hungary – Durer-Kert: We stay with a friend of the promoter. His favorite band is Murder City Devils. He’s also well versed in Seattle hardcore bands. But surprisingly, he’s never heard of Modest Mouse. I feel very far away from the Northwest.
October 28 – Vienna, Austria – Arena Vienna: We realize we’ve polished off a few of the bottles of vodka we bought in Prague, even though we also get a bottle on our rider every night. Beer is a little boring sometimes. On a side note, the show is great and the woman running sound is on top of her shit. I love awesome sound people.
October 29 – Zurich, Switzerland – Abart: We leave the show with big flakes of snow cascading down on the city while listening to the opening of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.” It’s a perfect moment
October 30- Bologna, Italy – Sotto Tetto: The show is in a big venue, but the turnout doesn’t fill up the space. It’s not a very inspired show. Steve baits the audience: “What do I have to do? Take off all my clothes?” Even that doesn’t really help. The promoter is a good dude. We’ve worked with him in the past. After the show we hang out in the parking lot and lament the state of live music in Italy with a handful of the attendees. On the plus side, Italy has some delicious salami.
October 31- Montpellier, France – Mojomatic: Apparently we are “rock stars” because it’s Chris’s birthday and our party of seven wants to find a place where we can all settle down for the night. The promoter had arranged for us to divide up and stay at a few different friends’ houses. We opt to get a motel instead so we can all hang together but this seems to offend a few people affiliated with the show. Meanwhile, the local opening band is chopping up lines of cocaine in the backstage room with one of Chris’s birthday cards.
November 1 –Barcelona, Spain - Apollo 2: A great show segues into a great dance party, which leads to a late night stumble back to the hostel. I make it back safe and sound, but our friend gets mugged on his train ride home.
November 3 – Madrid, Spain – RITMO Y COMPAS: The van is broken into in the wee hours of the morning. The transgressor made off with a few personal bags, our stereo, and our GPS system. The thief also peed in our vehicle. It’s a long and stressful day. After the show, we take turns swigging from a bottle of vodka while we load out. A concertgoer watches us drink with wide eyes and says, “it’s true.” That’s probably not a good sign.
November 4 – Lisbon, Portugal – Galeria Ze Des Bois: There’s a weird backlash that occasionally plagues the band. It works like this: we play a show in a new city. It’s our first time there and expectations are low. But then the show erupts into mayhem and it winds up being one of the more memorable shows of the tour. We return to the city with higher expectations, but it seems that the audience has higher expectations as well. Everyone is waiting for that explosive moment, and it never comes. This happened in Paris. Our first show there was so packed we could barely move. We got cut off after 4 songs. Then the next time we travelled through we played in a bigger club where it felt like the first two rows of people were more interested in taking photos and videos than actually participating and being a part of the show. We got a little of that vibe tonight. The show was still fun, but it felt like everyone was waiting for it to be like our first show in Lisbon. It’s kinda like Lewis Black’s diatribe on the anticipation of the moment being better than the moment itself.
November 5 – Porto, Portugal – Porto Rio: The show is on a boat. That kinda rules.
November 6 – Barakaldo, SPA – Edaska Rock Club: I try to shotgun a San Miguel before the show. It doesn’t work out too well. I switch to Calimucho, the Basque drink of choice. It’s equal parts wine and cola. Mike claims it tastes like cold vomit.
November 7 – Toulouse, France - Le Caravan Serail: Does anyone actually like blacklights? Does anyone actually think they’re flattering? Well, aside from being hypersensitive to my dandruff, protein-stained clothing, and lint-ridden jacket all night, the show was a good time.
November 8 – Lyon, France – Grrrnd Zero: We dreaded this show for weeks. We had a bad experience in Lyon on our first tour. But this show is amazing. We play with Sword Heaven and they’re pretty damn awesome. There’s a whole smorgasbord of quiches and curries for catering in the backstage room. The audience is strong and the venue is great. Lyon, you’ve restored our faith.
November 9 - Lausanne, Switzerland – Le Romandie: This is the best club of tour. Everyone that works here rules. The show is great, the venue is awesome, the food is amazing, and the crowd is enthusiastic.
November 10 – Paris, France – Mains D’oeuvre: France has a national decibel limit of 99 db. That’s about the volume of a solid snare drum hit. This means that loud guitars don’t fly in Paris. We play a very quiet set. Turning down my amplifier volume upsets all my pedal levels, meaning that most of the set involves trying to compensate and readjust my line boost, overdrive, and fuzz pedals.
How the hell does Sunn play here?
The crowd is also very quiet. The applause between songs is hearty, but dies quickly. Both bands’ sets end with the short burst of applause, followed by a long and awkward silence. No house music. No house lights. Just darkness and the sound of people breathing. It’s especially awkward for Russian Circles. The combination of darkness and fog made it virtually impossible to navigate off the stage. The crowd’s silence made every stumble, bump, expletive, and exclamation all the more prominent. This elicited a long round of giggling amongst the band while still trying to get off stage, followed by multiple unheeded requests for stage lights and/or house music. This lasted five or ten minutes, during which time no one in the audience moved or talked. So much for mystique.
November 11 – Esch-Alzette, Luxembourg – Rokhal: The venue is enormous and has the most elaborate lighting system of any club I’ve ever played. It’s past the point of intimidating and enters the realm of excitingly absurd. Everyone affiliated with the show is helpful and polite. The sound on stage is phenomenal. But the place is definitely not full, and it thins out a little more after the Russian Circles set. Still, I feel like I’m in Aerosmith and it’s a good night.
November 12 – Gent, Belgium – Charlatan: We’ve all become big fans of vodka on this trip. The owner of Charlatan learns of our new obsession and offers us free shots of his favorite type of vodka: Polish Zubrowka. Infused with buffalo grass, it has a mildly sweet taste with a clean finish. No burn. And indeed, he’s right. It’s absolutely delicious. He gives us the rest of the bottle. Flash forward to the end of the night: I’m puking on the lawn outside our hotel room; Steve is kissing our driver; Mike is too drunk to walk and refuses to leave the van; Ryan gets lost in the hotel and can’t remember his room number; and Dave wakes up in the middle of the night without his contacts in, thinks the room is full of smoke, and starts screaming that there’s a fire. This is the second “night terror” of tour.
Winds up that genuine Zubrowka is illegal in the U.S.
November 13 – Leuven, Belgium – Stuk: There was a bet between Mike and Steve. The specifics are best left unmentioned. But Steve lost the bet. As the loser, he had to deliver a tray of vodka shots to Russian Circles during their set. And this delivery was to be made while wearing a half shirt, neon blue Levis, running shoes, and a neon orange safety vest. Apologies to any attendees who were annoyed by the interruption.
November 14 - Brighton, UK - Engine Room: The club has a sewage leak. There are construction materials all over the club when we arrive. Perhaps they could’ve also fixed the stage. There’s barely enough room to fit the entire band. Even without moving my feet, I keep bumping into Chris’ cymbals. There’s also a sinkhole right in front of my pedal board, so every time I hit a pedal I sink an inch or two and lose my balance. Adding to the charm, one of club employees got jumped and beaten before the show, so he spends a good chunk of the evening with blood pouring from his nose. We’re promptly kicked out of the club after the set to make way for a dance party. There are about 20 people trying to help, though the 20 people take up a lot of room and make the loading out process even more difficult than it needs to be.
November 15 - Exeter, UK - Cavern Club: The show is packed. Exeter is a college town, so the entire audience is comprised of young drinkers. We catch several people trying to steal merch. It’s too crowded to load out after the show and there’s a dance party scheduled until closing time, so we pile our equipment on stage and cross our fingers that a bunch of drunk kids don’t steal our guitars or spill beer on our amps. I’m starting to hate the UK.
November 16 - Leeds, UK - Brudenell Social Club: My faith in the British is restored. Perhaps that’s because there’s no dance party after the show. We stay at a Bed and Breakfast with a power outage. The host provides us with candles. All the lights pop on at 6am, and then promptly burn out again.
November 17 - Glasgow, UK – Stereo: Once again, there’s no dance party after the show. We love you Scotland!
November 18 - Belfast, Ireland - Black Box: Against my better judgment, I get in a conversation with a local about politics and religion at the pub after the show. I don’t get my ass beat though. And the Guinness here really does taste better.
November 19 - Dublin, Ireland - Andrews Lane: Ireland is great. Everyone is incredibly polite and friendly. Apparently a lot of Brits pull the same lying-about-your-nationality-whilst-abroad trick that Americans do (“American? No, no. I’m Canadian”), except that they pretend to be Irish. That’s because everyone loves the Irish. The show is great too.
November 20 – Manchester, UK - Star And Garter: The show is sold out in advance, but it winds up being the worst show of tour for both TAAS and Russian Circles. There are three guitar amps between the two bands: a Laney, a Marshall JMP, and an Orange Thunderverb. At the beginning of the RC set, both the Laney and the JMP crap out. We pull out the Thunderverb. It sat in the back of the van for the last 5 weeks because it didn’t really sound right for some reason. It was relegated to back up status. But tonight it’s the only working amp. It still sounds terrible. It doesn’t sound like a proper Orange amp. Mike adds some extraneous guitar solos during the RC set out of sheer frustration. It doesn’t get any better during the TAAS set. It still sounds awful, but it also begins to cut out. The tonal problems and constant setbacks sap the life out of the night. Our apologies, Manchester. We promise to do better next time.
November 21 –Nottingham, UK - Rock City: We play a half hour set because the show runs late and we have to be out in time for… you guessed it… a dance party. Oh, and why do Brits like Carlsberg so much? Quite possibly the worst beer in the world. Less than 4% alcohol. It’s like Utah beer.
November 22 - London, UK - Islington Academy: Hey, guess what? There’s yet another dance party scheduled after the show. Our set has to be done by 10pm and we have to be loaded out by 10:30. What a great way to celebrate the end of tour: rushing to load out while a bunch of staff people yell at us to hurry the fuck up. I experience a strong sense of gratification when I sneak back into the club later in the night to grab my jacket and see the dance floor almost entirely empty.