Chooglin' tour diary, Vol. 2
Written by Zach Zins of Chooglin'
Previously: Volume One
Bordeaux turned out to be the best town and best show yet. We rolled in early evening, got our hotel rooms, and wandered off into the city. The Garonne river splits Bordeaux in two, and the government buildings, museums, cathedrals, and other edifices along the banks are a stunning sight. And amongst all the monuments and fountains and alligator statues is the visual non sequitir of a carnival, complete with rides, games, gaudy lighting, and the suspect visages of the employees. Brian and I, with our keen eyes, steady hands, and superior American firearms knowledge, shot the hell out of some balloons and won ourselves two piggy banks. Flush with conquering Gaul via pellet guns, we retired to a pub for some pints and a shitty open mic night.
Alligator statue near our hotel in Bordeaux
Two days in a row without shows left us pretty eager to play the next night. But first, we had to do laundry. With nothing else clean to wear, I donned some baggy rainpants, so I looked like a white MC Hammer as we dragged our bags to a laundromat. Two hours later, we were back wandering the streets with clean clothes. We went to the CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain and were considerably more impressed by the architecture of the building then the temporary exhibition of the photos and drawings housed within.
Jesse, Brian, and Paul enjoy the CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain
The arches of the CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain
After a precarious load-in down a spiral staircase at the club, Saint Ex, the mood quickly turned to familial and convivial. First off, the club was in an amazing space. It was a medium-sized room and stage, but it was in an ancient, arched, stone cellar.
Paul and Jesse soundcheck at Saint Ex in Bordeaux
We've got a couple guys well over six feet in the band, so we had to be careful not to bash our guitars, bells, slides, or skulls on the stone arch framing the stage. Upstairs in the bar area, we met a few fans from our show in Paris that had taken the bullet train down to Bordeaux to see us. Juliette, our promoter's assistant, whom we had already met in Paris but lives in Bordeaux, came in with her friend Stephanie. A number of other folks, including Lionél of the Red Boots and Spanish Carlos, said how excited they were about the show, and everyone sat down for a meal of pork in caramel sauce over rice. Spanish Carlos showed us his 3D camera and said he planned to film the show with it.
The show ripped. Well, we didn't play particularly well, but the crowd went nuts dancing and screaming. A fight nearly broke out when some dude crazy-dancing right at the front of the stage kept jostling Spanish Carlos during his filming. Juliette's placid diplomacy eventually formed a détente, and we avoided an Altamont du Bordeaux. People were incredibly complimentary after the show, and the festive feeling continued for several hours afterwards. Juliette and Frances, the owner of the club, who looked like Roy Orbison crossed with Lou Reed in '60s coke shades, were gracious enough to put the whole band up for the night.
This morning we went to the Musée de beaux-arts de Bordeaux, an art museum that housed a small but excellent collection of art chronologically arranged from the 1400s through the 2000s, including works by Titian, Rubens, Delacroix, Renoir, and Matisse. And now we are off to Lorient. We made a pit stop in Saintes, a very old town even by French standards, and wandered by--shockingly--a Gothic cathedral from the 1300s via some medieval, walled, cobblestone streets. I had to make a pit stop myself at a local restaurant, and I got the most furious, jut-jawed glare from the hostess when I exited the bathroom without buying something. Oops, I learned there is a no-pay, no-poop policy in some places, but the alternative remains still more dire.
Paul and Bob dodge the walls in Saintes
We arrived at Le Galion in Lorient after dark and late for sound check, so we hauled ass setting things up, did a quick sound check, and sat down to some quick e-mailing and then supper. We had salad, cheese, charcuterie, braised beef, mashed potatoes, and pasta salad--all excellent, of course. There was an antique foosball table in back, so we played a few games of that before the show.
Antique foosball table at Le Galion in Lorient
The doors opened at 9:00 p.m. and filled quickly. French audiences are very attentive during the show. Perhaps it's the lack of distraction from video games, pool tables, dart boards, and TVs (the foosball table here was a rarity and went unused except by us); perhaps it's that bills are usually only one or two bands instead of four; or perhaps they just like rock 'n' roll a little more than American audiences do. It's probably a bit of all three, but, man, they are great audiences. Another difference is that they wait forever to get around to the merch table. Almost every show, I'd be thinking, "We aren't selling anything tonight. Wonder how we're gonna pay for gas tomorrow." Then twenty minutes after the show someone would buy a CD and ten minutes after that there'd be a rush and we'd end selling enough to pay for gas and the outrageous highway tolls. The trip from Paris to Bordeaux, for example, cost us over 50 euros at one toll stop alone! If you ever tour France via motor vehicle, don't neglect to factor that in to your budget.
The Bar at Le Galion in Lorient
We sat around the bar with the employees for a bit after the show drinking a local bitter by the name of Couilles de Loup, which translates into Balls of the Wolf. Turned out to be one of only two good French beers I had the entire time in the country. It's definitely not the land of good microbrews. But with all that good, cheap wine, I realize there's not much demand. Afterwards, the owner/booker, Jean-Baptiste, took us; Fred, the soundguy; and Fred's girlfriend back to his flat. More so than in the States, most of the French club owners have a place for bands to crash, be it their own flat or the flat of someone employed or otherwise associated with the club. Nice hospitality.
In the morning, Jean-Baptiste took us on a quick walk through the town harbor and told us of the demise of the fishing industry in Lorient. We hit a record store and some sandwiches before we headed back south to Cognac.
Cognac was another gorgeous French village. A lot of the buildings are made of a grayish stone, giving the town a grimy hue even though it's actually in excellent repair. The Hennessy and Rémy Martin distilleries are prominent buildings in town, and several people told us before and afterwards that Cognac is a town flush in cash. Their community center, West Rock, is right on the riverfront, and it looks like they definitely spent some money on it during its recent renovation. It's a beautiful building with exposed oak joists, a nice wooden bar, a big stage, and outstanding sound equipment. It was also probably the biggest venue we played. We did soundcheck before the venue members took all the musicians and soundguys to a nearby pub for supper.
The green room at West Rock in Cognac: Big enough to play toro in
Another great French feast at a pub in Cognac
This was to be the first show since the renovation, so perhaps that's why there were three bands on the bill. The headlining band, Inspector Cluzo, was a two-piece French band that mixed garage and soul. They brought along a soccer ball, and gave the Americans a lesson in toro, which is basically a soccer version of keepaway. Needless to say, the frenchies and their ambipedaltry schooled us, but we had a good time nonetheless. The first band was a family band. Dad was on the rhythm guitar, and his two sons played lead guitar and drums. The kid on drums couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 years old. This probably gave Shawn, our drummer, flashbacks, as he started in his family's band when he was 8 or 9 years old. But the kid held his own. During our set, the kid went right up and stood directly in front of Shawn's kit. He was staring wide-eyed at Shawn the entire time--which isn't much different than the trombonist standing behind Shawn during most shows.
The crowd was good-sized, though not as raucous as most we had seen. There seemed to be a wider range of ages at this crowd than most; maybe that kept things a bit more under control. At the merch table afterwards, I chatted with a couple guys from England, one from the States, many French people, and another guy from Australia. I don't know if that's common for Cognac--perhaps the cognac industry attracts a lot of foreigners--but it lent a nice international bent to the show that we hadn't seen since Paris. The bar also had XO beer on tap, which is a local red amber made with cognac. It was decent, though it was no Wolf Balls. We all went down to a local discotheque afterwards, but the prices weren't much to our liking. Besides, we're a disheveled bunch not getting by on our looks, so we felt a little out of place compared to the well-groomed French. We headed back to the hotel before long.
A short drive to Maramande the next day for our last gig of the tour let us get to our accommodations early and relax. We stayed at, well, I'm not sure what it was, but we think it was a family's house. It was simple but pristine, and the rooms we stayed in looked like kids' or teenagers' rooms. We lounged around and napped a bit before heading to the club, Le Buffet de la Gare, to do sound check. The club was a bar right outside the train station. And these trains were MOVING. You'd be running around setting things up, and WHOOSH!, one of these monsters would roar by at maximum speed. It was both cool and unnerving. We headed back to the house for some internet time, and I worked on this blog in between me and my bandmates laughing uncontrollably at the George Brett-shitting-his-pants video on YouTube. Look it up. We went back to the club and had yet another boffo meal of couscous, tomato salad, greens with an astoundingly good mustard-and-thyme dijonnaise dressing, pork cutlets, cheese, charcuterie, macaroni and cheese, and tiramisu. I was glad that we still had a few hours before playing, because my gut was now officially distended to an uncomfortable and unsightly degree.
The first band was described as noise rock. To me, noise rock has always been the vaguest of musical subgenres--I don't have any idea what it means--but I still don't think the description fit this band. There were Berliners called The Somnambulist, and they had a great, tight, jazzy drummer; a violinist that filled the traditional rhythm guitar spot; and a guitarist who added sound effects and the occasional lead lick. They were too jazzy and melodic for "noise rock," but whatever. They had excellent dynamics and were a very good band.
Next up were the Lambig Butter Explosion. The press I saw described them as Captain Beefheart meets Mr. Bungle. Dokay. They had a top-notch trombonist playing with them; always good to see the finest instrument in brassdom represented. The lyrics--or at least the English ones--were picaresque without being silly, and the operatic qualities of the music balanced out the picaresque with real emotion. I thought they were just great. These two bands were probably the two best bands we played with all tour. Certainly the most original and interesting.
We played a ripping set that night. The crowd was one of the smaller ones we had this tour, but they were just as nutty as the inmates at the Bordeaux cavern show. They chanted for some time for an encore, and we obliged. We gave them one last song, "Royale Vengeance", and, I gotta say, we've never played that song or any song better. The power, tightness, and energy of the band was incredible--our best nod to the real-deal, iron-and-diesel mastodons stampeding by outside. It was one of those moments where your hair stands up, you're not aware of anything around you, and you're certain the notes you're playing are coming from somewhere else. It's a rare moment, and it's tough to comprehend how much fun it is. Man, what a high. I couldn't have designed a better end to the tour. I'm lucky to have such great musicians for bandmates. And, by god, they're even borderline decent human beings.
Chooglin' (sans me and Shawn) and Buzz after the show in Maramande
We went back to the house, hung out with Buzz, our promoter, for a bit before hitting the sack. We were up at 7:30 for the long drive back to Paris. We bid a sad farewell to Josef, who still had to drive all the way to Prague that night. We also sent Shawn off. His girlfriend had flown into Paris the day before, and they were planning on enjoying another week there. Lucky devils! The six of us remaining took the train to the center of town so the rest of the guys could see Notre Dame, and then we wandered the Left Bank for a while until we hit a crêperie. It was a pleasant evening, but imbued with the melancholy of the end of the tour. You could tell everybody was a bit hollowed out. We wound down back at the barracks with two last bottles of wine, some reading and TV, and an early sleep. The metro ride the next morning was so busy that it was borderline dangerous, but the flight out was long and nondescript. Back at the MSP airport, we slapped each other on the back and said goodbye, and I crawled into the car with my sweet wife and nine-month old daughter. She stared and smiled at me the whole ride home, and I did the same.
Thanks, France. You were a beautiful, charming, generous, and delicious place. I can't wait to come back, but I'm glad to be home.
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