Day 29: Zen and The Art of Theatre Gigs in Herborn, Germany
AVT: 4.5h (Tot. 84h)
ADT: 320 km (Tot. 6,213 km)
“You parallel park a Sprinter van like a boss.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t get me tour quotes.”
Some days writing is an act of discipline.
Today is a day like that.
A short, restless sleep. A cozy nook in the van. Nearly five weeks of touring. You add those things up and you get a mind that would rather zone out to some music than put words onto digital paper. On mornings like this, those words don’t come easily.
But here we are: another day, another entry.
Sister Amy, are you out there? Imagine a major highway under construction. Three temporary lanes on either side, marked by a zig-zag of broken white and yellow lines. The sides are separated by a narrow metal divider that is grey and maybe a foot and a half high. The right side of the road is torn up. The left side is a long line of emergency poles standing like red and white striped toy soldiers. Traffic is heavy. The sky is grey.
We drive under a concrete overpass that is bright with graffiti. Cartoonish tags. Bold statements of allegiance to one football team or another. An occasional obscenity in English. These sights blur past us like memories of the shows we’ve played and then suddenly they’re gone. The landscape becomes rural again, dotted with trees fading yellow and clear-cuts left by fire or construction among thick patches of evergreens.
More colours now. Oranges and reds and resilient greens. Beyond my headphones I hear the laboured rush of a transport truck climbing one of these endless German hills that rise and fall like breath. There is a break in the trees and you can see them rolling on for miles, these ancient giants sleeping in the mist. Now there are wind turbines. Now those dozy villages in the foothills. Now brake lights. Now a factory. Now a field full of cows. These are the views outside the van window today.
But you want an account of yesterday, not these half-assed lyrical musings about wind turbines.
We had a long drive from Nürtingen to Herborn. I don’t remember much about it, to be honest. I know that Ken, Deni, and I had sausages at a truck stop and I did some podcast editing in the van. We arrived in Herborn and were delighted to find out that our hotel was right next door to the venue. There was also a great restaurant on-site, so there was a convenience factor that was most welcome.
We were booked at a wonderful little theatre called KulturScheune Herborn. It’s more of a performing arts centre, really, with live theatre productions and touring acts of all kinds – music, comedy, magic. Big stage. Red-cushioned chairs lined up in rows. We have played a lot of different kinds of venues on this tour. Raucous pubs, rock clubs, tiny restaurants, theatres, even a chocolate shop. You have to be versatile to pull it off in these different rooms. Volume is so important. Fitting into small spaces. Connecting with audiences that are singing and dancing or hollering over the music or sitting politely in their seats.
It’s an adventure, man.
We set up and did a sound check, trying to figure out how we were going to play this one. The night before we were in a rock club, playing hard and loud. Last night was a listening theatre, which meant the total opposite – playing soft and quiet. It’s so hard to get that balance right, but with our collective expertise and help from our sound man, Steffan, we more or less nailed it. I had monitor issues on one or two songs that caused a few personal headaches, but that’s life on the road.
Before the show we were treated to an awesome dinner at the restaurant I mentioned and I want to thank everyone at KulturScheune Herborn for their generosity.
When you play a room like that you want to make the show special. Now, we want all of our shows to be special, but it’s a different approach in that kind of venue. It’s a show. I won’t get into my opinions on shows vs. gigs here, but I think when people come to a theatre they expect a production and a bit of drama. Sarah had the idea to introduce the band in stages, so she started solo with a powerful performance of The Hider from her new album. Then Ken joined her for Undertow. Then I joined them for Twin Flame. Then Deni came on and the full band played.
I think it was a neat way to start the show, even if I was somewhat unsettled behind the kit.
Crowds respond differently in different environments. When you’re used to playing clubs or pubs that are packed and loud, it can feel weird to play a listening room where the audience doesn’t interact in the same way. You can feel sometimes like they’re not really into the show if they aren’t cheering and whistling and yelling after each song. But polite applause is a theatre reaction. Listening quietly during the song is a listening room thing. It’s great, but again, a bit unsettling when you’re not used to it.
So I struggled a bit with the stage volume and the crowd reaction, though I know we played well and the audience really liked the show. In the second set I think we were more comfortable. Ken certainly was. At one point he was comfortable enough to sit down on the stage in his meditation pose while the crowd chanted, “Ken the Zen! Ken the Zen!” We also had our friend Ann come up to sing Tom Petty with us, which was fun.
Sarah did a masterful job as always of pulling people into the show. This is a learned skill, by the way. It takes experience to command a stage like that where the feedback isn’t as obvious as it is in a club. You have to project so much confidence in that situation. So much poise. She has enormous charisma on stage and she’s learned to channel it in different ways to connect with the audience. She did it again last night and in the end the show was really good.
After the show it was the usual scramble of tearing down the stage and loading out. Thanks is owed once again to our German friends for helping us carry the gear and pack the van. They really are so sweet and generous to us. I hope they know how much we appreciate it.
Later the lads enjoyed a nightcap and got into what would have been a terrific podcast roadisode debate about Guns ‘N’ Roses and Def Leppard and what makes a great rock band.
And now we drive on. Ken’s stoked because yesterday he scored awesome seats for an Alice Cooper show in April. I’m feeling a slight pang because Ghost played in Hamilton last night (the sacrifices we make for European tours!). The three of us are considering a December run to Toronto to see Steel Panther. Makes you think we’re into music around here.
Okay, that’s enough for today. Funny thing about discipline: if you exercise it, you usually get stuff done.
I’d tell you where we are but I have no idea. We just passed a yellow porta-potty in the latest construction zone, so what does that mean? Dortmund?
Just a little joke for all of you Bundesliga fans.
Until tomorrow ….
*Photos by the fabulous Conny Kiefer.