November 9, 2017
"When it comes to pigment, I'm fresh out."
Live sex shows, kink shops, strip clubs, booze, drugs, thieves, thugs, hookers, crookers, homeless, shameless, buskers, beggars, and places that sell hotdogs. And across the street … a Christmas market?
Mister, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
They warned us about The Reeperbahn. It’s one of the most notorious streets in Europe, in one of its most vibrant cities. It’s officially recognized as an entertainment district, and legend says entertainment can mean just about anything you like on The Reeperbahn. Any whim or wonder. Any tawdry fantasy.
We were booked at a club called Cowboy und Indianer, right in the heart of the Devil’s Den. History buffs will recognize the term “Devil’s Den” as a reference to the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. It may seem like a strange connotation, but we went into the underbelly with vigilance. Well, except for Ken, who Zens his way through everything with my purest admiration. Deni wore a flak jacket under his cool t-shirt. Sarah never worries about anything. She smiles and the bullets melt away. Or she punches them in the face.
We arrived in Hamburg in the afternoon after a 4.5-hour drive from Leverkusen. Hamburg is a city of about two million people. It’s one of those mesmerizing European cities that is a compelling mix of old and new. Of past and future. There are old cathedrals and office towers. Historic buildings and modern architectural wonders. It is also home to the Elbphilharmonie concert hall – a spectacular glass-lined venue that sits high above the river Elbe. We’ve been here less than 24 hours, but Hamburg seems like an awesome city.
Anyway, we went to The Reeperbahn on arrival to set up for the show. We were met by yet another gracious host and compelling character: Sven. Sven is the latest in a growing list of giants who have helped us along the way. He’s somewhere around seven feet tall. He can stand behind the bar and reach all the way out the front door to shake your hand.
The bar is neat. The stage is basically set among the bar stools right inside the front door, so you almost play to the street while the audience sits at tables to the left and right. There are posters on the walls of legends like Johnny Cash and AC/DC and John Mellencamp. Perhaps one day a Sarah poster will hang there? Nah, someone would just steal it. They love Sarah in this part of the world.
We soundchecked and then went in search of our billet for what will be a two-night stay in Hamburg. We’re at a nice B&B a few minutes from The Reeperbahn itself. Not to worry, though. It’s a quiet neighbourhood miles away from the action. We had a few welcome hours to nap or shower or do whatever we needed to before we went back to the club to play. That sort of down time is always welcome, especially after a drive.
And then it was show time. Back to The Reeperbahn with flak jackets and smiles. The first challenge was to find parking. Not easy with the big van. We circled the neighbourhood repeatedly but didn’t find a space until we drove up and down The Reeperbahn and happened upon a suitable space just a few doors down from the club. Excellent.
Inside, Sven was waiting with drinks. Sarah tweaked the sound a bit and we were off. It was a good show, but in some ways a tough one. It’s a smoking bar, for starters. We’re not used to that in North America anymore. The smoke makes breathing tougher and can wreak havoc on a singer’s voice. It can also be tricky to get the sound and volume right in a small room like that. We powered through and played well, though. I’m going to single out Empty Void as a highlight of the show. I think we play everything well every night, but sometimes a song catches the right wave at the right moment and transcends. Empty Void felt that way last night.
I continue to be amazed by how Sarah can pull in a crowd. Big venue, small venue, acoustic, plugged in. It doesn’t matter. It’s part personality and part skill. She’s a pro at engaging her audience and bringing them along for the ride. Near the end of the show last night she had a middle aged German guy breakdancing in front of the stage. Other people sang their hearts out with her when we covered Creep by Radiohead and Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty. Sarah brings that kind of vibe to the gig. People want to play along.
The show ended and again Sarah was mobbed at the merch table. Deni made friends with a few
people who watched the show sitting practically on top of him on barstools beside the stage. He had to be careful not to hit them with his guitar. Twice someone stepped on his pedal board and messed up his sound. Just another night on tour.
But it was a fun show in a fun venue. Loading out we could feel the energy of The Reeperbahn and of Hamburg itself. We were reminded again of where we are and what we’re doing here. I’m smiling now thinking about it.
The road, man. The road.