Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1

Written by Zach Zins of Chooglin'
Arriving in Paris

Tours begin in a haze. There are the stresses of planning, packing, and leaving work; there's the sadness of leaving your spouses, lovers, friends, and family behind; and all is cut with the excitement of seeing new places and playing for new faces. Sometimes the haze takes a more literal form, like a blizzard: 15 inches of snow that took longer to fall than forecasted was the haze that delayed our departure to Paris first from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. last Monday afternoon, then another hour, then another hour, then yet another hour.

With nothing to do but read, wait, and visit the airport bar, the haze even took on a bit of a third, self-administered form by the time our flight was officially cancelled. We lugged our instruments and bags back to the light rail before dispersing to our homes and reconvening at the airport the following afternoon.

By then, every form of the haze had lifted, and we were just eager to get there.  Fortunately, our first show wasn't until Thursday evening in Paris, so it was only our tourist time that was affected by the one-day delay.  Despite the nearly 13 hours we spent in airports and in flight, the tumultuous form of non-sleep that happens on airplanes, and the seven-hour time change, we did our best to stave off fatigue and see the city.  We were aided in that regard by our hotel furnishings, which could be politely described as spartan.

We took a stroll around the neighborhood, which was actually in a suburb just beyond the Paris city limits called Bagnolet.  Insufficiently impressed, some of the seven of us went back to the hotel to sleep, but Hal, his beard, and I shuffled off into the bowels of the Metro to emerge minutes later at Pére Lachaise cemetery.  It's a sprawling repository for the dead, but the above-ground graves, tombs, and sepulchers are crammed next to one another very tightly.  The fog and the lack of any avian life outside of some loud, stern crows lent gravitas to the place.  

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Pére Lachaise Cemetery

From there, we rode the Metro a few more stops, walked several miles through the third arrondissement to the Notre Dame cathedral, watched a priest conduct mass and swing a mean censer to the accompaniment of medieval choral music, and took our pictures.  

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Notre Dame Cathedral
Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Priest conducting mass at Notre Dame Cathedral

The fog had turned to increasingly heavy drizzle, so were pretty soaked by the time we got back to the hotel.

Buoyed by a long, good sleep, Hal, his beard, and I hit the Eiffel Tower the next morning.  Despite the tourist hordes and despite seeing it in photos too many times, it is still astounding in size and engineering.  We walked back along the north side of the Seine for a while, but had to hop the Metro again to get back to the hotel in time to pack up for sound check.  Upon our arrival, we ran into our van driver, Josef, a reserved guy from Prague, in the elevator.  He must've sniffed out our 'Mericanness, because he asked straight away if we were from Chooglin'.  We nodded, and everyone introduced themselves before heading to our first gig.

Point Ephemére was the club, though it could've been called 7th St. Entry East.  It was a little bigger and had much taller ceilings, but had the same layout and grimy, black box interior.  As we pulled up, three or four guys emerged and helped us haul in our gear.  With seven guys in the band and plenty of practice, we're pretty efficient at unloading, but it was still nice to have help.  After sound check, the band, the sound guys and sound lady, the promoter, and a few other people working at the club all went upstairs to a loft and had dinner.  This is a pleasant difference from touring in the States where, if you're fed anything at all, it's often just a Totino's Party Pizza or something else equally as mediocre.  In France, everyone who has anything to do with the show sits down at long tables and eats family style, starting with salad, charcuterie cuts, a cheese plate, sometimes a tuna salad or pasta salad, and red wine.  Those alone would suffice, but since the French do not screw around with meals, it's followed by at least two hot courses and then dessert.  And, of course, it's all prepared very well.  This night's hot course was pork cutlets in a tomato-based sauce.  We're eating like kings.

The show went well enough, though I suppose we had hoped for more attendees.  It's tough to draw in the huge cities that have so many other things going on.  We hung around for sometime afterwards with Juliette, who works for our booking agent; Louis and Celine, who did promotion for the show; and Justin, a fan from southern California who now lives in Paris.  Louis eventually took us to another club, Le Plastique, where we drank beer, talked music, and swapped stories about Sweet Dog.  Sweet Dog is the former drummer for our friends The Dexateens, a wild character, and a man who has achieved minor worldwide fame via his antics and relentless self-promotion.  Everyone knows Sweet Dog; you probably do, too.  
We are off to Lyon today.

Lyon and Evreux

The four-hour drive to Lyon didn't leave a lot of time for sightseeing, but we did manage to scramble to the main square before our next gig at Ninkasi Café.  No city has the glamor of Paris, but Lyon was absolutely beautiful. 

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Fountain in Lyon

We also found a great record store with excellent R&B and garage rock collections.  We were happy to find one of our records there, a record by our friends Wheels on Fire, and, best of all, an old copy of a Mighty Mofos record!  Back at the club we again had help hauling our stuff and a post-sound check meal with all the courses.  Veal in gravy was it tonight.  Unlike the first show, there was an opening band this night, a good two-piece from Paris called Yeah Baby Yeah.  They tore down, and we set up and began our set.  This venue was decent sized--roughly akin to the Triple Rock--and it was packed to the gills, so the energy from the crowd smoothed over a couple of rough spots in our set that night.  Great crowd! 

Merchandise sales went well that night, but not as well as the beer, Jameson, and dancing to the DJ that followed.  Watching Chooglin' shake their booties is hilarious and frightening.  We're not terribly adroit.

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Shawn Walker prepares for the demolition

The next morning, we had a five-hour drive back north to Evreux, a smaller city about an hour west of Paris.  We had just enough time to walk from our hotel to the omnipresent Gothic cathedral.  These places are amazing, and they are in every single town.  The Catholics were packing fat stacks of cash from the Dark Ages right on through the Rennaissance, boy.  We headed off to the club, l'Abordage.  This place was tiny!  But, like the first two venues we played, it was part of a multi-purpose space.  The first two were combinations of restaurant, bar, and performance area (the first also had an art installation room, and the second actually had a microbrewery in it), but this building was more of a community center.  Once again, a couple people came out to help us unload and set up for soundcheck.  To fit us all on the stage required some creativity, but we managed, and then everyone went upstairs for a meal. 

This one might have been the best yet.  The first course was a spinach and greens salad with fava beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots, a mustard dressing, and a delicious garlic garnish that probably made my breath three feet long.  My poor trombone later buckled in olfactory horror, I'm sure.  The charcuterie and cheese plate followed, and the main course was creamy bits of ham over rice.  Perhaps that doesn't sound appetizing, but it tasted great.  The crowd was small, but we played our best set so far, and the attendees were really into it.  Just like the Paris show, there were little kids in the audience with their parents, which is something you don't see in the States too often.  It was pretty awesome to see the little urchins dancing around and headbanging--or, in the case of the little girl right up front, putting her fingers in her ears for the whole show despite wearing ear plugs.  Ha!  Lesson in humility.

Our next gig was in Lille, a good-sized city on the Belgian border, but we had to take the opportunity to stop in Versailles along the way and take a gander at the chateau.  I had no comprehension of what I was about to see, but there are only three words to describe it: Ho. Lee. Shit!  This is grandeur and opulence on an unimaginable scale.  The chateau is unfathomably immense, and is surrounded by gardens on three sides that stretch literally to the horizon.  I could go on for pages about the history of the place and the things we saw therein, but I'll spare you at least a bit of my logorrhea.  If you ever get the chance, just go see it for yourself.

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
The Basilica at Versailles
Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
A small part of the gardens at Versailles
Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
The organ of the Cathedral of Saint Louis in Versailles

Lille and Bordeaux

The venue in Lille was called Cave a Musique.  It was just a simple rectangular room, but the stage was big and the sound in the room was excellent.  The crowd was decent sized and energetic once again.  We shot the bull with some fans right after the set, including a little girl who was there with her parents and attending her first concert.  She bought a Chooglin' shirt and made us sign it, which was about the cutest thing ever.  We opened up for Citizen Fish, a ska punk group from Bath, England, that's been around for over twenty years and features a couple of the dudes from the Subhumans.  Despite being a trombonist, ska is not my thing, but I gotta say these guys put on a hell of a show.  A lot of corny Brit-skanking going on, but, man, they were energetic and had serious chops, especially the trombonist and bassist.  Before and after our sets, they regaled us with many tales, including those of past shows they'd played at the Speedboat Gallery and the Triple Rock.  Typical of Brits I've met, they had wit, turns of phrases, and crafty wordplay that had us slapping knees at a brisk clip.  Funny dudes.

Instead of a hotel, we spent the night as guests of Candy, a punk rock gal who owns a piercing parlor, and her boyfriend, Nico, who plays standup bass in a psychobilly band called the Hellsonics.  Their house is actually on the Belgian side of the border a couple miles from Lille.  It's out in the sticks a bit, so that left plenty of time for jawing with Candy, Nico, and Schnaps (the promoter of our show), and playing with Candy's rescued dogs and cats.  Schnaps told a story of a woman who years ago attempted to seduce him by speaking in Flemish.  His imitation of Flemish made us laugh so hard that we never even found out whether the seduction was successful.  Nico and Candy showed great hospitality: After Schnaps left, we were given free run of the TV and stereo system and supplied with a copy of the new Lemmy documentary, which we got some good laughs out of.  Candy even made us bacon and eggs in the morning.  Nice folks.

We didn't have a show the next day, but Schnaps wanted to interview us for the university radio station that evening.  Our commotion loading into the van to go back into town for the interview must've pissed off the neighbor's monstrous goose, because this feathered lizard went apeshit, all charging and hissing at us.  Good thing there was a fence between it and us, or else we might've been lining a goose nest somewhere in the next yard.  It gave us a scare and a laugh.  We wandered the center of Lille and the requisite Gothic cathedral beforehand, and found a brasserie that made a delicious but incredibly strong café au lait that damn near rendered me foaming at the mouth.  We did the interview, and afterwards headed back to Candy's and Nico's for a second night.  We watched some shitty German horror movie, some outtakes from the Lemmy documentary, and then hit the sack. 

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Clockwise from left: Jesse, Shawn, Schnaps, and Brian conduct an interview

We're off to Bordeaux this morning.  Our van rides are, I would suspect, typical of most bands on tour: A lot of nodding off, a lot of noses in books and laptops, and surprisingly long periods of peace and quiet considering there are seven voluble mouths in the van.  But there's plenty of conversing and joking around, too: Topics run the gamut from public policy to sports to women to bodily functions to music to literature and probably back to bodily functions again.  Josef's iPod has been the van soundtrack so far.  Fortunately, he's got pretty good taste in music.  As I said earlier, he's reserved, but he packs a good verbal punch when he does talk.  He's funny, his English is excellent, and he was a good sport in the green room in Lille when we put him under the Chooglin' inquisition lamp about life under communism in the old Czechoslovakia.  Hal likes to sit up front with him and navigate, and with their long hair, mutual vegetarianism, and formidable beards, they've become fast comrades.  At the merch table after our show in Lille, a French guy asked me who "those ZZ Top-looking motherfuckers" were.  Well, monsieur, here 's who they are:

Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 1
Josef, our driver, is on the left. On the right is Chooglin's bass trombonist, Hal "l'Oliphant Rouge" Longley

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