Saturday, July 28, 2007

Homeward Bound, Again

I'm typing this at 10:15 a.m. at the Sacramento airport, waiting for my flight to Nashville via Chicago to board. The airport has free WiFi, which is pretty uncommon in the airports we frequent. I think it's a great idea, and I wish more airports would offer it. It's great to be able to contact your friends, family, work, travel agent...and blog... via email. I spend a lot of time waiting in airports , and hours of potentially productive time gets lost to the prohibitively high price of an hourly internet hookup.

The tour ended on a good note, the band rocked hard and the crowd was very into the show. They seemed to know all of the old stuff and all of the new stuff. Nashville looks hot and humid for the next few weeks, but I'm glad to be heading to the house for a while. I'd rather not travel any further than the next room for a few days. Yee Haw.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Broad Side of the Sarnia

Canada, our neighbor to the North. While they may not loan us a cup of sugar like they used to, or watch our house while we're away, they do like their Rock and Roll music. Just got back from the gig at Bayfest, Sarnia, Ontario. It almost turned into an actual bay after torrential rain hit the gig and caused havoc with the stage gear. I had opted to return to the hotel, so my fellow backline guys weathered it for me. And I thank them for that.

The band rocked hard tonight, good set, including "Come Together", which is that rarest of Beatles cover songs - one that does the original justice. We have a pretty crazy schedule the next few days. It's 1:20 a.m. right now, the bus leaves in 40 minutes and we ride three hours to Toronto, hop on a plane and fly to Prince Edward Island. They may not have Prince Edward in a Can, but my can will be there, tired and weary by 10:00 a.m.

Not much else to report, no photos to post, no stories to tell. Maybe the excitement lies ahead. Good Night, see ya tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Will He Moscow...? Nay. Random Ramblings From The Cyber Pool Hall

A little grab bag of mental flotsam today:

For those of you looking for any Moscow pictures, I'm sorry to say I did not take any. I was pretty much over the trip by the time we hit Moscow, so my trusty Sony stayed sheathed. We flew in from St. Petersburg on what must have been an early '60's (it was old) jet that had tin tray tables and zero legroom. Doug Short, seated directly behind me, asked me how his knees felt in my back, and I replied that they went well with my knees in my chin. It was a short hop to Moscow, thankfully. Beats driving, I'd bet.

First order of business was food. We headed for MacDonald's (aka The Embassy), but were seduced by the sight of a TGIF. Of course in Russian it was a Bb3PATPH. Or something like that. It's easy to type Russian - just randomly tap your keyboard and be sure to hit a few number keys.

Happily, the food was very good, though it arrived at room temperature. Luckily, the room temperature was about 85 degrees, and if the many large air conditioning units hanging from the ceiling were functional, I couldn't prove it. Maybe they decorate their TGIFs with non-working appliances instead of pop culture artifacts. Tasty burger, though.

The venue was much improved over St. Petersburg, the upstairs where catering was set up housed a boxing ring that doubled as a lesbian night club. Talk about yer Sweet Science. I caught the early van back to the hotel, but later that night when the regular clientèle began to arrive, all reports indicate that the Soviet Sapphonistas were mostly of the lipstick variety. No Raging Bulls in that ring.

The flight home was rather painless, considering it is a 10-hour trip from Moscow to Atlanta. I had no Delta miles, so upgrading was not an option. I scored a window seat in coach and was quite comfortable and the in-flight food surpassed edible and was headed toward decent. Watched a couple of movies while I listened to my iPod (well, actually the wife has an iPod , I have the more Soviet-inspired Dell DJ. It works.).

I listened to a lot of Thin Lizzy. I have been re-visiting them, having shared a bill or two on this tour. Great songs, great guitar playing - everything I remembered that I liked about them still holds true.

Also checked out the new Wayne Hancock record, 'Tulsa", which swings and twangs in all the right ways. Steel guitar master Eddie Rivers plays on it. I worked with him live a few times, and he is on the super-scarce "Montana Blue and the Big Sky Cowboys" album that I was a part of way back in the day.

Still digging the Neko Case record "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" and a couple of her earlier records.

A brief bit of news on the wife's record. USA Today had it in their Top Ten picks a week or so ago, singling out the Psychedelic Furs cover "Love My Way". You can Google "Donna Beasley" to hear some of the cuts on her MySpace page or her website. You can also purchase it as a download from DigStation, and I really think you should or I will be forced to allow ads on this blog. Well, you might just like it.

I had a few days off, spent them re-connecting with friends and family. I was a little disappointed that after six weeks I only had three voice mail messages on my phone. I usually get that many "wrong numbers" in a week, but maybe everyone knew where I was.

Which leads us to tonight's hotel room, in the beautiful By The Airport neighborhood of Detroit. We head to Canada tomorrow. I have left my camera at home, so it will have to be sent to me once we are back in the USA. Or maybe I'll just do some pure, diary-like blogging until we finish up on the 27th.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tech in the U.S.S.R.

Well, Russian Federation, actually. You can still see Lenin and Stalin in the public square, but they are on T-shirts and tchotkes, including a McDonald's send-up featuring the "McLenin". There was also one of the "Russian Big Mac - two all beluga patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun"...and I'd imagine a listening device included with all Gloomy Meals.

The cult of personality seems to be less pervasive here,though I did see some Putin Russian doll sets. Apparently the old adage is still true - you can't tell the players without a pogrom.

We flew from Helsinki into St. Petersburg, formerly known as Petrograd, and formerly formerly known as...St. Petersburg... on FinnAir. Thankfully we did not vanish into FinnAir, but landed just 40 minutes later into beautiful St. Pete.

Monument To A Struggle/Victory

A short bus ride (the ride, not the bus) past endless large gray buildings and large monuments to some struggle or other, and we arrived at the Angleterre hotel. We are directly across from St. Issac's cathedral. This is a popular hotel for tourists, since tour buses are constantly parked outside. They serve vodka shots during check-in and keep your passport for "registration" purposes. Hmmm.

The Angleterre is the building that is not gray

Not to be confused with the patron saint of cruise ship bartenders, St. Issac's was constructed in the 1840's and has one hell of a spiral staircase leading to the observation deck. It's only wide enough for one person, and with 200 steps to go - in a circle - it's quite a workout when a line of people are counting on you not to have a coronary. I gasped my way to the top and took some nice photos of the St. Petersburg skyline. I paid $10 dollars for the privilege, and another $5 for a photo permit. Never miss a chance to make a ruble, I guess.

St. Petersburg from St. Issac's roof

Another view from Ike's Peak.

We went inside (another $10 + $5) to see the interior. Mosaics abound, gilt and gold everywhere, and naturally my camera battery ran out. I did manage a couple of snaps before the bunny died.

St. Peter mosaic, maybe a painting, I can't really tell

Angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity

Afterwards, having had our cardio workout for the day week, a boat ride up the river to see the sights sounded like a good idea. It was , in fact, not a good idea, since the narration was in Russian, the boat smelled of diesel and god-awful armpit odor from a fellow tourist I dubbed "Ivan Gagovich", both of which made the river view of endless large gray buildings and struggle monuments not much of a diversion. I have all of that excitement on video, waiting for a moment of desperate boredom to be edited.

The highlight of the trip was a battleship cruiser from the Russian-Japanese war, which happened I don't know when and was won by I have no idea. Actually, it wasn't all that bad, I do like boat rides, so I enjoyed it for the opportunity to get my heart rate back to triple digits.

We tried to eat at McDonald's on the way home, but I counted 46 people in line ahead of us, and the woman taking remote orders from the queue did not look like she would appreciate me pointing to the items I wanted on the big menu board, some 30 feet away, so we bailed. Wish I had not slept through Cyrillic class in high school.

A different McDonald's that we also did not eat at, but of which I have a blurry photo

Back at the hotel, we took a 20-minute respite, I charged my camera battery to a hefty "8-minutes remaining" and we hooked up with Jim, Blair and Bobby De Luna for a long walk to the Red Army surplus store, to see if we could score some oh-so-chic Cold War relics. We had a map and directions to this surplus "store" which we did not find. We did discover some military items at a few kiosks within a larger flea market selling everything Russian, and preferring American dollars.

Tourist Trapski

It was here I saw the Stalin/Lenin swag. I bought a bunch of things as presents, the details of which would spoil their surprise for the folks in Nashville, so I'm left having the dashing Brad Johnson modeling my new hat. Perfect for the next Halloween, if I go as one of the Potemkin Village People.

Fueled by hatred, anger and frothy cappuccinos

That was two days off in St. Petersburg. Lots of fun, a few vodkas, lots of sleeping and walking and a few more gift items scratched off my list. Russia has been great so far. Tomorrow is gig day, which may be an entirely other matter indeed. Stay tuned, comrades.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Having a Baltic

Riga and Tallinn, in Latvia and Estonia respectively. I've never been to either country, and it's my first time in a former Soviet Bloc nation, not counting Germany. Riga is part medieval Old Town, part soulless gray housing for the ex-comrades, and part modern.

This was the view walking across a bridge from the hotel to the Old Town district.


The town square had a lot of shops for souvenirs and the usual restaurants and cafes.

Town Square

Town Square in Riga, Latvia

I went out on my own, but soon ran into Jim, Casey, Doug, Ben, Joe, Todd, Chuck and Andreas. We decided to get some sun and have a pint of the local beer, Zenta, a light lager.

Sun and Suds with Jim and Casey

I like to sample the local beer, as it is usually better than anything we can get in the States. Belgian beer is my favorite, and this Latvian beer was very good. Prices are typically around $5.00 US for a pint. Since I don't drink anything but water, coffee and Diet Coke on show days, the occasional beer on a day off is not a problem, despite the preponderance of beer glasses on this blog!

In Tallinn's Old Town

Tallinn is similar to Riga, in it's combination of old, Soviet and modern blend of architecture and culture. Tallinn seems to push the Medieval aspect of it's heritage, at least for the tourists.

Tallinn Town Square

The one constant remark about both cities/countries is how beautiful the women are. Apparently, modeling agencies have raided the Baltics, but left quite a few behind. I suspect it's the Finnish/Russian/Whatever genetics that creates blond/blue-eyed and brunette/dark skinned people, but I have to agree, the locals are healthy and good-looking. I stood out, obviously!

Girls in Medieval costume, a happy Bobby Schneck

Tallinn Girl in Costume

The Radisson SAS hotel where we stayed had a rooftop louge where some of us went to see the city from above and have a cocktail.

Rooftop view of Tallinn

While I was taking pictures of the crew on the roof, I snapped this photo, originally of John Lammy and Jim Ebdon, but now edited and cropped to show only John and some other un-related tourist behind him. I did not even see her as I took a quick picture of the guys. I like the expressions on their faces, and imagine them to be a couple at the end of their relationship, with the symbolic church in the background. Or not.

The Breakup

Monday, July 02, 2007

Music, Music, Music

One of the nice things about going on tour is the variety of bands and music that you hear, both on stage and from your fellow traveler's iPods. My British co-workers have hipped me to Muse, a mighty trio of U.K. musos, and I in turn introduced them to Porcupine Tree and The Damnwells.

We have been sharing the bill with some interesting and diverse bands such as D.A.D., Edguy, Rosehill Drive and others. The bigger festivals, where there are multiple stages, are great places to hear some amazing musicians. Joe Satriani was on a couple of our dates, and Steve Vai was at the last gig, in Holland.

Our stage in Holland hosted INXS, Riders on the Storm, The Scorpions, and Toto. Aiden Mullen, my former co-worker with Hall and Oates has been out with INXS this year, and it was great to see him.

Toto had L.A. session greats Greg Phillinganes on keys, Simon Phillips on drums and the legendary Leland Sklar on bass. They played a superb set, with guitar genius Steve Lukather working his magic and vocalist Bobby Kimball singing like he was 25 years younger than he is. I remember hearing the first Toto record on 8-track, riding around Mauston, Wisconsin in Ted Arens' blue Chevy. Kimball sounded exactly the same.

Riders on the Storm is Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger's latest incarnation of The Doors. Bass master Phil Chen (Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart) played with them.

Bobby Schneck (Brad's guitar tech) and Phil Chen

Bob Bradshaw is teching for Luke, and I grabbed a couple of shots of Luke's rig.

Signature Ernie Ball guitars

The Rack of Doom

Some of the guys in our band came out to watch Toto's set, and afterwards Lukather, Sklar and Vai (among many more of the day's musicians) watched the Aerosmith set, right through the encore. Mutual admiration all around, and a great vibe to be a part of.

Steve Vai, Steve Lukather and Leland Sklar watching the show

The band rose to the occasion (how would you like your band to follow Toto?) by doing what they do best - playing great Rock and Roll music. At this level, it's gratifying to see that Brad Whitford can get off on what Lukather is doing, and Lukather in turn was jumping around like a kid during Aerosmith's set. It seems like there is no competitive spirit between legendary bands like that, just appreciation for the different styles. I doubt that either guitarist would be comfortable in the other's band, and that's what makes them both so special. Nobody plays a shuffle like Sklar/Phillips, and nobody plays it like Hamilton/Kramer. Hearing it all live is a rare treat, and everyone is still blown away by ST's front-man skills. And as someone commented, there may not be anyone better at it than he is, Jagger included.