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Alexei has been posting daily tour journal updates from our current tour through the Balkans! You can read them on tumblr or through the Tour Journal section of this site!
Also if you want to see all the photos we've taken so far, check out the Photo section of this site. We'll be updating things as the tour goes on!
Continuing with last night’s good fortune we are granted a sunny day off and we rise early to make the most of it. Though we are sad to part ways with the No Age crew, who are heading on to Thessaloniki as we are readying ourselves for Cosovo, we know we will all do this together again – as soon as we possibly can in fact. It is too perfect a pairing to pass up. We love these gentlemen so much and respect their kindred mentalities: play any where for any one. And play hard. Just like us. Like you mean it. Like you know you are lucky. Like you were put on this earth to try. To try as hard as you can to do something good. The small impact you might have is the hugest feeling there is. Goodbye Dean and Randy and Fakundo and Scott and Bram: we had a ball. Good luck out there.
With Tanja and Biljana and Jana, we drive west of Skopje for roughly an hour to Matka. Families are sprawled on colourful blankets on the shores of a rapidly traveling river, full of Springtime energy; fluorescent green mountains lining the banks. It is how I would paint a holiday postcard. Wish you were here. Having the time of my life. I hope one day you too will know this type of joy.
We clamber up a mountain path complaining about our wearied bones and whiplash from last night’s dance party. Our voices raw from singing but our bodies still abuzz from all the adrenaline.
We rent a little boat at roughly five euros a head that speeds us through glimmering waters and cliffs made purple from all the new flowers. In this little boat I feel like I am being cradled by some better god, rocked gently, my soul is calmed. Finally we arrive at the entrance to the caves, the temperature dropping with every descended step. It becomes cool and damp the lower we go. The bats notice our arrival and dash about overhead and form a hidden collective. When we have finally reached the last step and scurried through an entranceway, the rock opens into a capacious and palatial series of caves so high and vast I can barely fathom them. “Only in Skopje…” I think and take a deep breath in. It is absurdly beautiful. I have never been so stupefied. I pause and gulp and feel undeserving of all this recent beauty and goodness. When something so arresting and beguilingly exquisite is given to you, it makes you feel you must have done something right in a previous life. So: thank you former me for making current me so damn lucky.
Back in the boat, we are all a little quieter. It always takes a moment to take stock of such jouissance. As if you have to figure out where to fit such triumph into the rest of your strange brain.
Returned to shore, we sit on the mountain pass, pulling at strips of lamb and egg rice and tiramisu with our hands. Speechlessly delightful.
We drive back to Skopje, rest for an hour at our sweet little abode, then top off the perfect day with a perfect meal with friends, under the stars. With Grga, Biliana, Tanja and Jana, we drink wine and swap our best insights on the porn industry, on misconceptions of women and sex and resulting difficulties for both sexes, on the treatment of minorities in Canada vs Macedonia, on Roma politics vs Quebecois politics vs native politics, on cuisine in general and cuisine in specifics, on what it means to be alive, how we are driven and why.
Skopje, you have my heart.
If I don’t return your deep kindness fully in this life, I promise to continue to make it up to you in all my future lives.
You deserve it.
I owe you.
It is perfect Spring weather and we sit outside to eat our pastries and ivar and eggs and meat rolls. Tanja arrives, ready to take us across the river on yet another trip through the city centre. Bram and Scott from the No Age crew join us and we act as their unofficial tour guides while Tanja plays a more official role. On the predominantly Albanian side of town, she ushers us into Salome Church of Holy Saviour, despite the doors having been shut to the public. Her sweet smile gains us entry from a lovely old doorman. Inside, she explains the wood carvings of the entire altar and the stories told by the artists and their signature left in the last panel. It is spookily quiet and we all feel lucky to be let into this secret basement sanctuary. We stare up at the painted ceilings and feel rather quivery with awe.
At the souvenir shop, a huge map of Macedonia uses lighted bulbs to show geographic/ethnic borders of the region. We are in hysterics. All tourists should know that Greece is, of course, inside Macedonia. Tanja can’t help herself from making terribly inappropriate local jokes.
Back outside on a narrow cobblestone street corner, we order sweet Turkish teas from one neighbourhood shop and scrumptious baklava from another. We sit in the dead centre between the two establishments amidst tables of men playing cards and feeding dogs. Scott and Bram are surprised by the call to prayer and I feel lucky to see women in full garb shaking out their coloured rugs and readying themselves for the evening’s cooking. It all feels tremendously special and cool.
We take them through the market and, though it is mostly closed for the day, we manage to find a few vendors to haggle with – over pens and adaptors and small electronic gadgets and neon stools.
Back across the bridge, Tanja points out the newly built statues she most hates and the other buildings in progress that have the city residents in an uproar at the architects. We walk across the main square, while Vasco’s music bleeds from the main speakers, and we take turns imitating the positions and hand gestures of all the marble men on their horses.
We take Scott and Bram to the Mother Theresa monument, which looks as if it were designed by MC Escher on acid with a low budget. Inside, kids have shoddily created gooey gifts for Easter.
We see the old train station in the distance, bearing the clock face that forever records the time of the earthquake when much of the city was made to collapse. Making room for all the new gaudy architecture.
Tanja walks us through “rape alley” where cute little cats play tag with each other.
We drop the gentlemen back at MKC and taxi our luggage to a friend’s apartment to stay for the next few nights.
Then we lug our gear to the basement of Menada to soundcheck for a very very secret and very very bad ass show.
The kids begin swarming around the street. Randy and Dean give some Roma kids the chance to be kids again briefly by letting them practice unplugged with their guitars. They jam out to a Ramones song singing “Now I wanna sniff some glue, now I wanna have something to do….” before the kids return to actually huffing glue.
By eleven o’clock we take stage on our makeshift basement stage and begin our heart pummeling set. We have never played a more punk show and the kids are the most beautiful fans. They dance wildly and hard and shout out for our songs and we feel like the luckiest people in the world to play this tiny exclusive show in a club in the old town of Skopje where no one has ever played before.
No Age are riotous. They are made for shows like these. With our new friends we dance and sweat out all our rage and joy mixed together. Their set turns into punk rock karaoke, with audience members taking turns stealing the mics to yell out their favourite hard core anthems. It is the sweatiest mess. Full of more heart than possible. We are absolutely burst.
Hours after our show has ended and we have been milling around the cobblestone passageway expressing the momentous feelings of the night to all involved in making it happen, we hear a bleeding buzz come from the basement. Some weird ugly screeching something. And we all return to the scene of the crime to pick up where it was all left off. An impromptu cover band. Every one takes turns on drums, guitar and vocals, badly singing our hearts out to any songs any of us know the tunes to. California Girls, Knocking on Heaven’s Door (the GnR version), Bad Moon Rising, Blitzkrieg Bop, Maggie May. Badly out of tune, direct input guitars and no amplifiers and life has never sounded better. Don’t tell the internet but two North American bands just had their best shows in some shitty club in Macedonia on a basement floor with no sound system and barely any light and certainly no press passes or guestlists or promotion. So good in fact that we started saying, “Only in Skopje….” every time a thing of spontaneous glory came about.
Really truly maybe possibly the best show ever in the history of music.
We will remember this night for the rest of our lives.
The rest of our lives.
Thank you to those who came.
We will come again
Junked car bodies are used for many things in the Bulgarian countryside. They are used as shelter from shade for sleepy pups. They are used to prop up falling trees in small fields. They are used for signage. They are used as laundry poles. They are used as children’s playgrounds. They are used as storage. They are used as potters for seedlings that appreciate a less direct sun. One is used as a bridge over a narrow creek. One is filled with buckets to collect rainwater in its bucket seats. No part is spare. Not even the spare parts.
Despite the spring fever blooming on every tree and bush, the mountains on our drive to Macedonia are capped with snow. And goats shamble up and down them blending in with the white patches on the peaks.
Before we reach the Macedonian border, we exchange our monies, buy a green card for the car and fill our bellies with the grilled meats our driver-for-the-day thinks best the grilled meats south of the border.
When we reach Border Control, we recognize familiar faces in too-familiar situations of bad luck: the boys in No Age have been pulled aside and told they do not have the right papers to enter the country. Things seem grim and the border police seem increasingly less inclined to let them pass. We have Svetan have a private chat with them about the upcoming concert and then we get Grga in Skopje on the phone. A long while passes with little hope. No one seems willing to budge. And just as the No Age gents are trying to re-route their gear back through Bulgaria to Greece for their next shows and arrange other transport for just themselves to Skopje for the night, Grga comes through like a knight in shining armour. A friend of a friend of a friend has a connection to someone in the government who is connected to just the right person at Passport Control. Strings are pulled and, after much humming and hawing by the tightly suited guards whose inspection eventually turns them to our side through the sheer power of Rock n Roll, we are all back on our way. High fives and head nods.
I begin reading a book on the introduction of the Yugo to America called The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History. Considering the beaters I’ve seen today in their positions of all things of purpose except driving itself, I think a number of these vehicles could make a run for the title. I have a feeling a new Yugo in these parts would be a rather coveted thing. It wouldn’t be so quickly discarded by these rabid entrepeneurs that’s for sure.
It gets sunnier and sunnier as we drive south and everything in me feels ambitious about tonight’s show and our return to the lovely Macedonians we met on our last Balkan tour. I realize I’m grinning to myself as we “speed” along the “motorway” passed donkeys and vineyards and laundry piles and kids playing soccer and Moms readying eggs for Easter and bleached umbrellas and strewn barrels and piled tires and crocuses and tulips and fruit & coffee shacks and always more and more cars and cars and cars and car parts.
We arrive to MKC and Tanja runs out grinning to greet us. (My warm sister) Followed quickly by Grga with big hugs. And then we do a festival “meet n greet” with the other bands playing – the No Age boyz, Vasco, the Croats, a never ending line of handshakes. Over coffees, we catch up with our close friends and watch the dogs roll in the parking lot.
We soundcheck in a huge concrete room, the once black walls having recently been painted with only one coat of white. It looks rather punk. The sound guy has worked as the sound engineer for Manu Chau and he seamlessly makes us loud and perfect feeling.
The evening runs swiftly and after the Zagreb band performs we speedily drink vodka tonics on the band green room balcony.
We rip it up on stage – tons of smoke and lights – and I feel honoured to be back in Skopje. Our most beloved crowd. The city I’d like to live in. We feel touched to be so loved here.
We watch Vasco’s band Ha Ha Ha perform in front of skate punks that scream the lyrics to their just released record, pumping fists and moshing heads.
No Age take stage and Tanja and I dance our asses off.
We spend the rest of the night on bean bag chairs on the balcony talking about metal and metal fans and funny accents and cellulite with friends. We watch as Easter church goers walk in the wee early hours to the sound of broadcast orthodox chanting.
We eat crazy burgers with every kind of meet and drooling cheese as the sun comes up.
Macedonia, you are truly amazing.
The last time we arrived to Sofia, we thought there was a power outage. We drove into Bulgaria’s capital and wondered why the lights weren’t on. It had been a long drive on minor highways made longer by horse and carriages and stray dog posses. This time, after nearly twenty four hours of traveling from the United States of America via Roma, we flew in over a shining city. Perhaps because it was day light, we were less skeptical of the supply of electricity. Everything looked like it must work and, if didn’t, who needed it. We arrived to a perfectly glittering Spring city.
At the airport we were warmly received by the same folks who brought us just a few months ago and assured immediately of good meals to come. They remember our favourite dishes from last time and know the cures of jet lag and “barely food” airplane fare. After checking into the grand and schwank Metropolitan, we are whisked into a buzzing city that seems on fire from the good weather. As if everyone is out to watch it blaze. In a festive way. High spirits. In an open air courtyard, we eat garlicy grilled pork and shopska salad and try to remember a few Bulgarian phrases with the wait staff. We are kindly rewarded for our best efforts with a little jug of home-made booze distilled by the owner’s mother.
We feel very ready to slumber away all the weariness of travel.
And we do. We sleep past noon. And by the time we’re slipping out of bed to meet Svetan and Svetoslav and the rest, we feel wholly returned to normalcy. Cured by the kindest folks and the best meal possible.
For a number of hours we hang out, chatting about politics and music and the politics of music. Then we soundcheck painlessly at a rad punk club and then taxi to the home of a pal. We drink vodka juices on her balcony as the sun lowers itself after a day of hard work on a perfectly beautiful Sofia. It feels actually heavenly.
Our super close pals and label mates No Age arrive and we all feel such immediate joy to finally be in the Balkans together. It’s been a long time that I’d been convincing them of the utter perfect insanity we’ve experienced touring here.
And the show that we share with them is so mindblowingly crazy I feel they will be convinced forever.
I sneak in some underage girls and we hang out with fans at a nearby street food vendor, taking turns feeding the owner’s pooch.
By the time we take stage the place is packed and ready to dance. We throw ourselves into it. And by the time No Age take stage, we are the first in the circle pit. Dan and I dance and mosh with our pals and fans, screaming at the top of our lungs. We love you No Age and we love you Bulgaria.
We top the night off at a little restaurant, swapping emails with new folks and toasting with heavy glasses of red wine.
Thank you for every delicious minute.
We hadn’t noticed last night but the Jameson Hotel smells a lot like mould and there are cigarette burns in the sheets so we’re rather happy to leave it behind rather early. Jameson is a delicious whiskey but not a nice place to stay.
For the majority of the car ride I continue – as I have been daily – working on the album art and then I finish JP’s book and feel blown away by his ordeals with deaths and fights and love troubles and determination to pursue his art. So there you have it: his shitty haircut really got him somewhere good.
Outside of Kung Fu Necktie, Dan and I try to determine which neighbourhood Moms are responsible for which growing hooligans and feel love for the whole community. Their dusty pink sweat pants and their bleached ball caps all look good to me. Philly is definitely one of my all time favourite cities in the US. It always seems to be a city made up exclusively of eccentric characters and each one is a thing to watch. I love it here. I love it.
And we are rewarded by the crowd with the best show of the tour. I can see them throbbing all the way to the back of the immensely packed and sold out venue. I feel their rush and chaos. It rushes us on stage. And we feel chaotic. It is sloppy and loud and boisterous and I don’t want to leave. After the show, we hang out with Hyden and his pals and Jesse Feutz (who has flown in from Seattle for just the night of our show!) and the Icelandic journalist Haukkur who wrote our last bio. Upstairs in our little oasis above the venue we bid our adieus to the Cinnamon Band boys and eventually get kindly told to leave by the metal head owner who wants to go home to his kids. We respect that, happily.
We end the night with Philly cheese steaks bought from a New Jersey Wawa.
Philly, you are lovely to me.
I love you more every time.
Next stop: Sofia Bulgaria.
Because we are in a college town, we sleep in and sleep off our delivery pizza hangovers. And we finally wake up to a day so shiny I’m squinting under my shades. High noon in the American South feels like the right time to corral our troops towards Raleigh. Flooding in the states forces us to take back road highways into North Carolina and boredom forces the cops here to ticket us for speeding. We sit in the sun while State Trooper D.S. Payne decides to draw up a court summons. Fuck. We’ll be in Sarejevo on that date Sir…. We plead. Not my problem, he nods to himself. I start reading Justin Pearson’s From the Graveyard of the Arousal Industry and notice that much of it has to do with him being called a faggot for having spiky hair. But eventually, I’m sure, his character will benefit from such beatings. I do love the man’s music. Sweet leaf Ice Teas make the drive sweeter. Raleigh roads are blocked from all the damage from the tornadoes – most of the power is down in the city and tree branches are strewn about everywhere. Once you know about a local disaster, it feels like driving into a horror movie. Just enough is skewed to make you worry, and bite lips in hesitation. It feels like Night of the Living Dead to us. After a re-routing around the city, we arrive at King’s Barcade – one of the only places in the city that still has its power. We see generator lines running from vans to many nearby establishments. We talk about the power of wind and the lives taken. And the promoter gently foretells that many people might not be able to make it to the show tonight. But by the time we have returned from our stroll through the debris filled blocks and filled our bellies with mac n cheese and fish tacos and pork belly from a restaurant called Restaurant and watched the sky pinken from the sun’s departure, there are kids milling about on the sidewalk. We talk to everyone about their personal experiences with the tornado, from watching it on tv to abandoning their vehicles in the middle of the street to calling their Moms for the first time in too long. And there is a rather neighbourly feeling amongst everyone in attendance. When odds are pitted against us, we tend to stick together. Outside we meet a homeless couple who try to hook us up with an open mic night “to get [our] legs in the door” because we “all look like real rock stars” and Southern hospitality is not lost on us. It is truly warm. Because we feel so lucky to have people come to the show, we end up talking a lot between songs in utter gratitude – we make some bad weather jokes (too soon?) and talk about our speeding ticket from Mister Pain-in-the-Ass and ruminate on college, in general, after having witnessed it full-force at yesterday’s Springfest. But between the comedy routine, we also play a powerful set and there are some true and tender fans that are excited by all the new songs and I feel so unbelievably made happy by them. And our friend Justin Stapleton comes backstage with his rad mom and we talk about Palestine and Kosovo and making movies together. This isn’t enough but thank you Raleigh for coming out. For giving us power while you were in short supply.
Up at 6am has us a little bleary-eyed. We lurch toward the closest Starbucks, an evil but necessary staple of American touring life. We are worried by tornado warnings that are spreading havoc through the region and our car – despite its muscle (Dodge Charger. Ha!) – struggles to remain in the lanes with all that wind. We pray that the praying of all these mega-churches will keep up safe. We start noticing that Fatz is a chain while McDonalds is less common. Signage becomes increasingly hilarious in general and Maria and Dan take turns swapping jokes at various barber salon and pawnshop titles. Record Store day lands us at Ear Shot records in Greenville and we ogle all the goods, hoarding our potential stashes for purchase after our instore gig. I immediately buy a pastel purple AC/DC tee because it is too pretty to pass on. At Liberty Café, there is a peculiar mix of pastas, bbq, moussaka, “Chinese corner” and deli fare that leaves our stomachs feeling a little peculiarly mixed. We play a short sweet set to fellow vinyl shoppers and make shout outs to Rush for the raddest couple who can both play every Rush song in the catalogue. By the time we reach the park at Clemson’s University outdoor Springfest, our future presidents are blindly drunk and hippy dancing in shark costumes and headdresses and literally oozing everything I’ve learned about college life from Hollywood. We are deliriously happy about all that. Maybe we’re just delirious. But hell, I’ll take it. After some comical stage rigging and yet more technical problems, we take stage a little late but presumably make up for it with Dan’s awesome stage banter. One example: “Look to the left. Now look to the right. Some one’s getting pregnant tonight.” But we are upstaged afterwards with some fan commentary. Examples of which include these statements: “Seriously, dudes, we have mushrooms and cocaine and we could get you, like, five sorority girls each….” (We can’t holdback laughter) but it’s followed with: “Seriously, we’re seniors.” Go Tigers. We had a fucking rad time dudes. Seriously.
We pass the Pentagon and the Washington Monument and nod in unison to the synchronicities in our lives having hung out with Fugazi’s Guy last night with this same monument bearing it’s place on their album cover for In on the Kill taker. I finish Reinaldo Areana’s The Assault and start Ivo Andric’s Bridge On the Drina by the time we’re crossing Baltimore’s city limits. It feels like spring with ballers blaring speaker-ripping beats in beat up cars beside us. It feels less like Spring when we’ve been stuck under the sun in hours of thick traffic. Feels more like Hell. The traffic persists the entirety of the drive and we lose any Richmond sight-seeing hours. At the nonprofit Gallery 5 they are less equipped for electronic bands than we’d hoped but after a number of hours, subs and d.i. boxes are rented and we can physically make the show happen in the end. We scarf through take out pulled pork barbeque (When in the South….) and dance and laugh through the Cinnamon Band’s set who merrily connect with their fellow Virginian folks. And, despite our technical difficulties, our show goes off without too many hitches and people feel let loose. Like they’ve been waiting for a few more bands to gig through their turf. By the end of it, we all feel like pals, standing on the side walk eating leftovers, swigging a shot of whiskey from the soundman’s flask, and running through our favourite nineties hardcore bands. We drive into the night but the kids remain on the sidewalk for long after we’re gone I’m sure.
My first thoughts when I wake up with the sun stroking the thin beige sun-bleached hotel curtains with Dan’s tousled head still sweating out last night’s stage sweat against mine is: I love tour. I am home on tour. Coffees to go and overcooked breakfast sandwiches start us on our way to New York City. But Skinny Puppy readies us out. And I write and read with my sunglasses on during the light-drenched ride. It’s still important to pretend to be cool when headed to the big apple and sunglasses are a staple in this American dream where my future’s too bright and I always have to wear shades. At the Tribeca Grand we pretend we’re famous – living on borrowed luxury having been comped a schwank room for the night in exchange for doing press in their lobby. Vodka tonics for lunch and chatter blather. The sun has escalated its presence and we’re all happy. Soundcheck at the high-eaved chandeliered Bell House in a soon-to-be-gentrified area of Brooklyn goes beautifully smoothly and the prettily tattooed staff are warm and very very good to us. The show turns itself into a shiny mess and I feel like heroes of anti-heroes: All in this together. New York give us one of our most diverse and receptive crowds – fans from Korea, the author of a book I read about the destruction of Beijing’s hutongs, HBO blokes and video game industry types, at least three Colombian lesbians, our booking agent and our lawyer, a photographer from Iceland and, well, Guy Picciotto from Fugazi. Matana Roberts, our friend from Harlem, beautifully destroys No Feelings with her sax playing. And after the show I hug Guy for so long I think I’m whole. He is my hero of the anti heroes. Fugazi’s album In on the Killtaker is the first compact disc I ever bought. And though he is a friend through friends, he remains my hero. The party goes long because none of us want to leave each other. It is an immense night. I love you, New York.