Friday, November 09, 2007

US Tour Diary

The Steal - US Tour August 2007

It's been two months since we returned home to the loving shores of Britain. It's safe to say that the trip I'm jut about to tell you about had a profound affect on me personally and I'm sure the same can be said on behalf of Mark, Lindsay & Rich too. The Steal has always been about acting on ideas, not just dreaming about things you're never going to do, if you want to do something just make it happen. Six months after we decided to "Go to America" we found ourselves packed up and ready to leave...

I wrote parts of this at home and parts of it on the road so excuse the bad English, I also received the grades E & F for English GCSE so thet'd do it aswell!

The tour really started in England, playing two shows with our old friends Set Your Goals. Kingston & Brighton are where The Steal feel at home so it felt totally natural to yet again grace the stage of The Peel & The Engine Rooms. It's been an odd year for us, I can count on one hand how many times we've practiced so it was a real stroke of luck we were able to get back in to the swing of things just before we left for the US.

After the Brighton show we headed back to Rich's house and after a few games of Wi bowling we hit the sack. Alarms ringing all at once we awake as a group and put the operation into practice. Yes, we have plane tickets, yes we have passports, no we don't have an adequate amount of clothes or supplies but that doesn't matter (I'd like to point out that even by 'tour' standards we didn't have alot of clothes, I think Rich and Lindsay had 2 t-shirts and a pair of jeans) . We did however had to make ourselves look really smart for the plane journey, I won't go into details but i'll just say that America doesn't really want punk bands in their country and as we didn't want any reason to be questioned we all wore our "Generic Male" outfit and I'll tell you it worked a treat.

After many delays at Gatwick we headed out on Zoom 101 to JFK. It was one of the first budget trips to the US and this was a pretty big factor in the tour happening at all so thanks ZOOM! We had a pretty good flight watching Shrek 3 and Simpsons...oh and a comptely clear view of Greenland which was amazing and like nothing I'd ever seen. The plane flew along the east coast of Canada down to our first destination NYC.

It took a few hours to get along with the NYC subway but eventually we made it to Brooklyn where we met up with our buddy Andreas. He's been working in New York for a couple of years as a photographer the jammy cunt. We went to his sweet warehouse conversion (exactly like you'd imagine a New York warehouse flat to be) and sat up on the roof having a bbq for a few hours with our new friends (this strangely included the dude from Masterdon that was in town that night too...weird but fun). We walked down to the edge of Brooklyn and got on to another roof of an apartment building that pretty much gave us the best view of the skyline possible and the fact that we'd finally arrived sank in. This is already the best holiday i've been on in my life.

We all slept in Andreas' room with pretty much no need for covers, this place is HOT HOT HOT. Our driver Jimmy Doyle, who we had never previously met swung by the warehouse about 10am and after a little introduction we headed into Manhatten to pick up a drum kit & bass guitar from another NY resident that once frequented the UK punk scene, Pete from the Bombjacks. Baring in mind none of us really knew Pete all that well apart from Rich and even then it'd been a good few years we were amazed at the kindness of him and his girlfriend Lindsay for lending us the majority of the gear we needed for the tour, they saved us ALOT of money and time and we owe them!

Driving down to Philadelphia was next on the the days agenda for us which was a great way to start the gigging aspect of the tour. The Church ruled, it was like a gathering of all the Philadelphia hardcore scene under one roof so we hung out with all those guys all night at the most insane Kareoke bar ever...that place went off. Went to a couple of partys around the city, ate some Philly soft pretsels straight out the oven and headed back to Josh from Paint It Black's house (with Jared too) where he lived with the bass players from Hot Cross & Dillinger Escape Plan. It was at this point I realised that the US punk / hardcore scene is quite alot like the UK one, the bands are more established and well known on a worldwide scale but they all know each other and share houses and go to each others shows just like we do.

We hung in Philly for a few hours, went for a vegan philly cheesesteak which actually didn't live up to it's rep however if we hadn't have gone to Giana's cafe we wouldn't have met up with Team Yes! A few of us had me them at the kareoke bar but the night before as they were in town to see Armalite but we didn't know how much of a big part they would play in our lives for the next 36 hours. After going to the Rocky steps, Love park, FDR skatepark we headed to Richmond, Virginia where they lived.

We rolled into town ate some chips and gave them a call. We had a few places to go when we arrived, a kinda college party which was exactly how it is in the movies...I spent most of the time discussing UK / US politics with a student guy while the others played beer pong in the garden. We left pretty swift and met up with the Richmond girls and they took us to a bar. People still smoke in bars here as it's the tobacco capital of the states, but it was cool hanging out with everyone and talking about their area and the local music scene. We hung out all night and got up really early and went round town. The girls took us in to their group and showed us some great places to get food, let us into their houses and lives entirely. It was the coolest thing ever. We went down to the river James in Richmond and went swimming. This was amazing, I couldn't ever imagine just hanging out in a river like this back home, I had a real great time and Andreas was contantly taking photos of our sunburnt bodies.

After swimming we met up with everyone we'd met in Richmond and went out for dinner. I can't express how cool this was, it'd like we'd known them for years, the girls of Team YES!!! literally made us feel at home in the most literal sense. If we were to go home now i'd think it was already worth the money. As we were leaving things took a small turn for the worse when Rich realised his bag (containing his passport, the small amount of clothes he had, phone etc) was missing. We looked around everyones house and couldn't find it. At that point there was nothing we could do about it so we set off on the massive journey South without it.

We drove all night on our way to South Carolina, the journey was pretty horrible, more so for Jimmy as we arrived at about 10 am having driven all night and been questioned by the cops about our travelling intentions. It seemed over the top but I think they are just really concerned with drugs getting distributed around states, I think they realised that wasn't really our bag and sent us on our way.. It was now mine and Rich's birthday and we were in the furthest southern point of the trip. I went out for a bike ride around greenwood on a borrowed bike on my own. It was a great feeling to be totally relaxed and distracted from the everyday stuff that would normally cloud my life with worry. I didn't have my phone or any money with me and it didn't even matter, It was such a nice feeling to just be in a position where I only had to make short term decisions. I needed this holiday.

Ken & Ryan who were putting on that night's show took us down to another river with really strong rapids where we hung out for a good few hours. I could really do this every day, just playing around in an entirely natural surrounding without a care in the world. Amazing. I got totally sunburnt again and beat up on the rocks but that just added to the evenings performance at the local skateboard / bike shop. We're still pretty tired and not 100% on form but for us this is more about seeing the country for us, which has so far been pretty unreal!

Everyone we've met here so far has been so amazing to us, I think over here the punk scene is actually properly alternative just because of the way the country is. People have taken days out of their lives just to show us the best parts of their towns & cities and we were intergrated into things that we would have never found otherwise. Amazing! Ken & Ryan's friend Melissa made us some awesome Vegan food and made me and Rich some special birthday cake...oh yeah have a look


We left South Carolina and drove for a good few hours before we stopped for our first Taco Bell and eventually a little trip to a Mexican themed service / tourist area called "South Of The Border" that was full of huge animal sculptures and shops like "Hats of The World". We decided to buy some really short shorts and put them on straight away for an intense photo session.

We pulled up to the show in Greenville, North Carolina about 9:30 pm, we've discovered it's pretty much impossible to get to any of the shows early even with driving all day but luckily this was a late show anyway. The line up was pretty varied but we had a great show, the place went off! Alot of the local kids told us they haven't had any punk bands or anything with "that much energy" in a long time so we were pretty stoked on that. What could have been an awful show turned out to be pretty damn cool.

We had to drive all night again to get to a place called Brunswick, Maryland where we were staying. It was a really nice proper American house, similar to the Dischord house you see in all the old Minor Threat photos with a basement and everything. It was a a shame we didn't get to hang here more as the people that put us up were yet again super nice and waited up until we arrived at 7:30 am just to make sure we had everything we needed.

After a very very short sleep we got back in the van and headed to the next show. It was at Asbury Lanes, a bowling alley in Asbury Park, New Jersey. We arrived too late to really have a look around the surrounding area but the alley itself was a 50's styled rock n' roll hang out situated right near the Jersey shore. We played a few games and drank soda until the bands started. One Win Choice were kind enough to lend us their gear and were so supportive of our efforts to come to the US off our own back they actually gave us all their pay...amazing! Also on the bill was long time friend of The Bouncing Souls, Pedro who did a couple of spoken word sets and our new favorite band Dirty Tactics. We went back to Kate (Is Great)'s house with Dirty Tactics and while the others were hanging out and inventing another fictional band my tiredness got the better of me and I went to sleep in the Chunksaah label room because it reminded me most of my bedroom with all the CD boxes around!

I got up first and sat out on the porch area for an hour or so, it was really relaxing and I had another one of those "America" moments watching the world go by. We stopped off in Redbank, NJ and popped into Kevin Smith's comic shop "Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash". It was pretty cool and all the staff that work in the shop are people you'd recognise as extras in all the films. We grabbed a coffee and a panini in a nice little cafe, it turned out the guy that worked there had been at the show the night before and he sorted us right out. Again, another instance of strangers going above and beyond the call of duty. The debate rages on in my mind, is it that people are just nicer here or is the punk scene just alot more "alternative" than in the UK and the people within that group are just really supportive of everyone in it.

An unfortunate moment of realisation came as we left for the show in Washington DC. We had simply left too late to get there in time to play, that's something that doesn't happen too often at home!

Hanging our heads in shame we went north to Long Island, NY where Jimmy lived. We had some much needed food and a swim in his pool before getting the train into Manhatten. I'd never seen anything like it, a double decker train! We went to meet Andreas at his place of work, the studio was pretty unreal decorated by shots of some of the worlds best known actors & world leaders. With our bands mutual interest in design we were all pretty keen to see some photo retouching techniques in action however the majority rule was to go to a bar. I don't drink myself so after an hour or so I got a bit bored of sitting around so when the others moved on I decided to go on a little wonder of my own. I walked from the lower east side about 50 blocks north to the Empire State / Times Square area and just walked around until about 8am. This was very cool up to the point where my bare feet in old school vans decided to give in and the blisters on my feet developed at lightning speed. I hobbled around for a bit longer, every step an absolute killer but eventually got on to the subway to Brooklyn where I caught up with the others and was able to sleep for a couple of hours.

We caught the subway into town to try and sort out Rich's passport problems at the British embassy. Everything seemed to be going well and they told him to "come back at 3" and it shouldn't take more than 30 mins...bonus! The reality however was that the embassy shut at 1pm, did the other guy even work there? who knows! So the embassy was shut and wouldn't be open again until monday which was 3 days away when we're supposed to be 200 or so miles north in Buffalo. Everybody is super tired and frustrated when we board the train to Hicksville, Long Island but Jimmy picks us up and after his family fed us up super well we're all feeling much more with it. The show was at the bar Jimmy works at, a small bar called Mr Beerys. My feet were killing but somehow as soon as we started playing the adrenalin / a shot of red bull syrup kicked in and i was able to break through the pain barrier for a solid 25 mins and we played super fast with every song back to was rad!

We fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow and awoke to find a much needed NY breakfast waiting for us on the table.

We left pretty sharpish as todays show was in the afternoon, or so we thought. We arrived at the hall in Windsor, CT which appeared to be in the centre of nowhere. It turned out we didn't play until second to last but it was a good fun show fueled by Jimmy's BBQ mushrooms / A1 sauce. We also got to see Jimmy's band "The Fad" who totally rule, they sound like a more hardcore version of Big D & The Kids Table.

My feet and legs still fucking kill but I find getting through the shows pretty easy...the other 23.5 hours are painful though. We stayed at Chris from Aspestos record's house with some of the other bands including Rick Johnson Rock n' Roll Machine which is a Mustard Plug solo project with Jeff BTMI playing guitar and some other cool guys. Had a chat about Billy Bragg with him and pretty much went straight to sleep.

We were in no major rush to get to Windsor, CT as it was only an hours drive at most so we stopped off at a retail park and mall complex somewhere on the way. After another quality bagel we split up and bought the necessary items like boxer shorts, socks and New Era baseball caps before heading into the cinema to watch "Superbad" which was a lot funnier than I expected so check that out when it's around in the UK. We arrived at the venue around the same time as all the other bands who all turned out to be super nice and super good. I forget the name of the first band but they were exactly the kinda hardcore that hardcore should be...these were real kids singing proper youth crew anthems about getting shit and wanting to skate. They sounded a lot like the first Bold band Crippled Youth. The singer is blatantly gonna be in a huge hardcore band in 5 / 10 years. A post hardcore / "real" screamo band called Lautrec from Chicago were next up and they ruled. Those guys were an example of what you can do in the US, they formed their band and instead of playing a first show they booked themselves an entire tour and just went on the road. Awesome, look them up. A metallic crust / hardcore band called Black Ships from Canada and a tech thrash / grind band whose name escapes me also played the veteran run community centre and were both as intense as a good village stoning. Immense!

We drove back to Long Island, NY that night and stayed with Fad guitarist Ricky. Ricky is safe as fuck and introduced us to the US version of the Mighty Boosh - "Flight Of The Concordes" and his 5 week old kitten that he found abandoned in a park. I really like Long Island, I guess for me it's like home...far enough out from the city that you don't have the bullshit attached to it but close enough that you can just get a train in anytime you want. He drove us to the train station while Jimmy was still passed out on his floor.

Today's the day we were supposed to be playing in Buffalo however as a group we decided that it was more important for Rich to sort out his passport than drive 12 hours and just worry about it. We separated in NYC for the afternoon and went about on our own little missions. I personally had about $10 left in the world so I just had another bagel and sat down for a couple of hours in Time Square, just chilling out and trying to find an internet cafe. After we all met up we realised we had nowhere to go so we gave the Brooklyn show promoter a call and even though we were 2 days early she met up with us, took us out in Williamsburg and let us stay in her warehouse apartment. Me and Pavey could see the direction the evening was taking when the others needed to get more booze at 5am so we went and huddled up on Stella's sofa and prayed to the god of social standards to make Lindsay & Rich shut up so we could go to sleep. Needless to say I was pretty tired the next day but nothing another bagel and a cup of "Good Morning America" couldn't sort out.

We had another day roaming the streets of NYC, we went all around the lower east side, a brief trip into Queens to go to an art gallery that was shut...the usual. Rich noticed a tattoo shop that one of his friends from back home worked in for a while so we popped in and 15 mins later Rich was getting a light bulb tattooed on the inside of his right arm by supposedly one of the best artists in the game!

Andreas was back from a shoot later that night so we went to another bar and waited for his arrival. We stayed in his warehouse again, that place is rad, I can't even express how much of a good space it is. Everyone was ready for bed pretty sharpish so much sleep was had by all, until Pavey's "Alarm that you can't turn off" was on an endless cycle for long enough that we all went insane, except Pavey who managed to sleep through it.

So, our last real day in the USA was here. Pavey really wanted to go and see an exhibition in Manhatten, at this point I was actually down to about $4 plus $6 on my Metrocard so I declined and Rich suggested that we go down on the Staton Island ferry so I could see the Statue Of Liberty. It was a rainy day and to be honest it didn't look all that impressive but the experience is to be had. We met up back at the apartment to do some photos with Andreas, Jimmy and other Fad guitarist Cody met us there too all set to take us to the final venue, The Charleston, Williamsburg. This was the perfect way to end the tour, some of the friends we made had come out, Pete and his wife Lindsay were there, Al Paxton from Stapleton was there aswell as other randoms from back home. It was indeed the perfect way to end the tour and one of the best shows we had on the trip. Here's the final song...


Unfortunatly the last day was mainly spent stressing out about getting to the airport, filling our bags with remaining merch, eating bad food and standing in ques. We flew out of JFK at 17:30 hrs and arrived back in miserable Gatwick at 6:40am red eyed, depressed and longing for a bagel.

Thank You: Jimmy + family & all of the Fad, Charles Get Outta Town, Andreas Konrath, Pete & Lindsey, Ken & Ryan, Emily, Tiffani, Michelle, Laura from Team Yes, Dan, Andy, Josh & Jared from Paint It Black, Kate (is great), Dirty Tactics & anyone who let us be a part of their lives while we were in town. AMAZING!