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  • Writer's pictureJH

Day 10: Back Flare-ups, Dark History, and Der Geist Returns in Hamburg, Germany

AVT: 4h (Tot. 33h, 45 min)

ADT: 328 km (Tot. 2,745 km)


“The road is the best learning canvas in my life. It forces you to be in the moment.”

- Sarah

“Hahahahaha! Oprah!”

- also Sarah (with headphones on).


Ich bin müde.

I’ve just spent the past hour or so crash coursing a bunch of Deutsch and now my brain is fried. Deutsch is nicht einfach, friends. You can pack your head full of stuff but at a certain point you get into diminishing returns. We’re doing well, though. Words are coming. Little phrases. Sometimes we fool the locals and our accents are convincing enough that they think we actually know how to speak the language.

They go off-script and we’re screwed.

It’s an unsettled day. I have two great fears on the road: gallbladder attacks and back trouble. The back thing is enough to make me actually consider not touring anymore. It happens sometimes that my back goes into spasms that are powerful enough to leave me on the floor for days. This can’t happen in Europe or anywhere else far from home and I think about it a lot. My back has been feeling good for the past little while but you start stringing together van rides and strange beds and lugging gear and you set yourself up sometimes for a problem. Yesterday I bent over to reach for something and felt a slight twinge.

You have no idea how much I fear that twinge.

My palms begin sweating immediately. My heart rate spikes. My stomach turns to water. Fortunately yesterday was just a shot across the bow but it could easily have been something much worse. If that twinge triggers real back spasms we have a major, major problem. As it was, I had to move extremely carefully from hotel to van to venue. I sometimes don’t know for a little while what I’m dealing with and there can be aftershocks that knock me down. I was walking on egg shells as we unloaded last night at the beautiful Freizeitzentrum Schnelsen in Hamburg. When my heart rate settled I could get a better sense of things. The back was okay but I still had to be so, so careful.

Playing drums can actually help in those circumstances. Something about the posture and movement can loosen things up sometimes. I was hoping for that last night as we sound checked and set up for the show. It’s a really neat room. It’s kind of a community centre with a nice stage and tables and lights and windows. A listening room, as we say in the business. It was pretty much packed by show time, with many of our friends in attendance. Deni went on and played great, then the Sarah band got up to do our thing. The band is beginning to gel now. A couple of the early shows were a bit dodgy in terms of the new songs, but we’re getting comfortable playing them now. We’re finding the groove and I think it shows. I also added Der Geist (my floor tom) back to the set-up with excellent results.

That said, probably the highlight of the night was Sarah singing her new song The Hider. It’s a very emotional song and she does it solo – just her and her guitar. She hasn’t done it a lot on the tour but I suspect she’ll start playing it more. In any case, it was mesmerizing last night. People were hanging on every word. I was proud of her. The band killed it, too. I think we’re doing good shows these days. Playing every night for 20 or so in a row will certainly bring up your chops. We’re having fun on stage.

After the show ….

After the show.

After the show.

We hung out with the fans. Sarah had a lot of traffic at the merch table, which is always a good thing, and the lads went to work tearing down the stage. I was moving like some sort of geriatric robot, but the back didn’t get worse. Later the gang lined up to help us load out as they always do. I don’t know if they know how much we appreciate their help with that stuff. The gear gets heavy after a while. Loading out after playing our butts off is just another energy expenditure and while we know it’s part of the job, it’s always nice to have extra hands (because hey, viele hande schnelles ende). So thanks once again, friends. Mucho appreciado.

Later we returned to the hotel and, if you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you know that the lads produced our first video and I don’t mind telling you it’s a masterpiece. It’s a one-minute Bildungsroman about finding help in unexpected places and I think it gets to the heart of the human condition. You’ll have to look at Deni’s, Ken’s, or Sarah’s page to see it. Based on the response so far, we’ll probably need to start crowd-funding for the full-length sequel.

It’s funny to watch the comments on some of the posts we’re making. People are acknowledging how much fun we’re having on this tour and they’re right. We really are having a good time, my wonky back notwithstanding. The shows have been good and are getting better. The venues have been really good too. We have a peculiar but powerful chemistry on the stage and off the stage that makes these tours more pleasure than grind. People marvel that we’re on … day 11 I think of however many it is in a row but it doesn’t feel like that to us. To us today is just another day on the road. We’re fine. We’re laughing. We’re playing well.

Last night in the room we listened to The Beatles and then The Beach Boys. No, the debate was not renewed, but Denis insisted that Pet Sounds is better than The White Album or Abbey Road or any of the other Beatles stuff we heard. And yeah, Deni’s tap dancing on a landmine there, but I’m not going to charge up that hill. Yesterday in the van I had a chance to listen to the War On Drugs album that we’re all freaking out about on my headphones. Crikey. What an amazing record. This morning it was Sarah MacDougall in the hotel room. Crikey. What an amazing record.

And now it’s Eckhart Tolle in the van as I type and we inch our way through a bumper-to-bumper traffic stau on the highway. An hour or so ago I was made aware of the fact that we were about 10 kilometres from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and I shivered. There are words in history that chill you. The names of those camps are among them. Sometimes walking through history is the coolest and most amazing thing I can imagine (allegedly we’re playing in a legit castle tonight). Strolling through Versailles is like that. Westminster Abbey. The streets of Vienna. The Louvre.

Other times history makes you quiet. You stand for a few minutes in the preserved trenches at Beaumont-Hamel in France, where the Newfoundland Regiment attacked and was decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and you don’t really speak. You stand in the fields where Pickett’s doomed charge was made at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and, again, you don’t speak. Even the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, where we saw all of those bones two years ago. It makes you quiet. You drive past Bergen-Belsen and a kind of silence prevails, inside if not outside.

And you know, I’d like to lighten this with a joke, but that would be to disrespect history, and I respect history too much.

How about a song instead?

Here’s a selection from the magnificent War On Drugs album A Deeper Understanding:

* Cover photo by Dani Smile. Live photo by Conny Kiefer.

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