• JH

Day 2: Kenny Three Strings tears up Topos in Leverkusen

AVT: 3h, 30 min (Tot: 8h)

ATD: 300 km (Tot: 660 km)


“You know what they say in the jungle: don’t poke the bear.”

“Do they have bears in the jungle?”

“They do in the Canadian jungle.”

- Ken, John, Ken


You know, I’ve been witness to Ken The Zen doing some pretty impressive things over the years.

I’ve seen him play The Beatles in a cat costume (and dressed as Hulk Hogan).

I’ve heard his dazzling Smeagol impression.

I’ve seen him open sliding doors with a mere wave of his translucent hand.

We all know Ken’s a great bass player, but last night he took things to a whole new level in my mind as Sarah Smith and band ascended the tiny, eclectic stage at the tiny, eclectic Topos night club in Leverkusen, Germany.

I’m mystified by guitar players, gentle reader. There have been lots of times when people have told me they’re bewildered by drummers and what we do. I suppose I can understand that from a non-drummer’s perspective, but it’s always been the string guys who amaze me. The way they can switch keys on the fly without missing a beat. The way they can compensate for somebody with or without a capo. The way they can drop a solo out of the blue that hits all the right notes.

My hat is off to them, because I sure can’t hang with all of that.

Anyway, last night Ken upped the ante. He decided to change the strings on his rented bass just before we went up to play. Fair enough. The problem was that one of the strings was wonky. It wouldn’t tune up and we couldn’t tell if there was an issue with the string or the bass or who knows what? Ken’s an experienced pro, but there was no obvious solution to the problem, and the crowd at Topos was waiting for us to get started.

But what do you do with a three-string bass?

If you’re Ken The Zen, you play the show with three strings. You alter the parts as you go, you put your hands in different positions on the instrument, and you do a whole lot of math in real time, performing a full show pretty much seamlessly while down 25%. Dude, seriously?! Yeah, he did it, and it was awesome.

The show must go on, friends. That’s the deal. You have to make it work somehow. Singer lost her voice? Alter the setlist and share the vocals. Someone poured a shot of Jager down your throat – or worse, onto your pedal board – as you were playing? Choke and hit the next chord. Kick pedal broke mid-song? Grab your mallet and hold down the groove. Wonky bass string and no time to fix it? Play the other three as best you can. That’s part of the adventure that is playing live music. I once saw a drummer playing a show and one of the floor tom legs broke. The drum tipped over and rolled across the stage as the band was playing.

You never quite know what may happen up there.

We had a great night at Topos. We played there on the first Euro tour two years ago. It’s a small, vibey club that reminds us vaguely of an amusement park. Something about the architecture and décor. It’s a cool little room and we were delighted to see it packed for our show on a Thursday night. Many of our German friends were there, along with some locals and a Sarah Smith Euro tour blog legend: Will Russ, Jr. himself.

Do you remember Will?

We met him here two years ago – a fabulous soul singer from Detroit who heard us speaking the King’s in an Italian restaurant and immediately came over to say hello. We made friends with Will that night and had him up to play with us. Two years later Sarah was walking to our van parked in a lot across from our hotel and heard someone call her name. There stood Will, just as sharp and cool as we remembered him.

Will’s been killing it since we last saw him. At the time, he was trying to get a band together to back him. Fast forward two years and the Force Of Will band is playing all over the place, and he’s getting involved in other exciting projects. Who says you can’t build the life you want? Here’s a guy from Motown snapping the pieces together in Germany and making it happen. It’s inspiring to see how much his career has grown. Amazing how that sort of thing happens when you put in the work ….

I think the show was really good, despite the bass string issue and the delicacies of playing on a small stage like the one at Topos. The club has ornery neighbours who aren’t super into music being played next door, so Topos has had to soundproof the stage pretty hard. It creates a weird situation where the stage sound is kind of dead and you’re not sure if your volumes are working. It sounds fine in the room, but can be tricky on-stage. Our sound man, Reiner (I hope I’m spelling that right) knows the room inside-out, though, and he made us sound great. The new songs are coming along and people still love the old favourites. Will came up and sang Proud Mary with us as a closer, which was a lot of fun. We might have obliged calls for an encore, but we didn’t want to pour gasoline on the fire between Topos and the folks next door.

I really like Leverkusen. In fact, I wrote one of my favourite passages in the November book here in 2017. Yesterday we had an hour or so to walk around in the city’s cool shopping district. There’s a team store dedicated to the local football club, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and I got a chance to eat my first currywurst of the tour, which was some of the best currywurst I’ve ever had. It’s the little things, people, that keep you going on these trips. A nice, hot currywurst. A nice, hot shower. A bit of nice, hot sunshine. A thousand Euros and a million-dollar yacht full of blackjack tables.

Must give another shout-out to Joost With The Moost, our gear guy, for going above and beyond once again. Seems when we loaded up in Oosterbeek we forgot to bring the acoustic guitar that Sarah rented.

That creates a bit of a problem when you’re about to play a song on the acoustic guitar. We’ve been scrambling since Wednesday to rectify that problem, but Joost saved us the trouble. Last night he appeared at Topos in full leathers, having ridden his motorcycle from The Netherlands with the guitar strapped to his back.

What a guy.

And so we dedicate today’s entry to Joost, along with Ingrid and Bridgette (I hope I'm spelling that right too) at Topos, and the beautiful people at the Fellini’s restaurant across the street, for another fun and memorable night.

Oh, and if you prefer your tour blogs more visual and less wordy, Ken The Zen is doing a super cool “plog” (picture blog – so clever) on his Facebook page. He takes a photo every 90 minutes throughout the day and posts them. Check it out here.

And get ready, veteran readers. Tonight we dine in Schermbeck with Blind Baby Squid!

*Thanks to Nicole Montpellier for today's live photos!

#SarahSmith #tour #Leverkusen #Topos