Episode II: Return of the Fabulous Metal Bozo Clones
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The Making of "Great White North II" - the untold story
Okay, so... To pick up where we left off...
After CIM, we were headed to Milwaukee, which would be our first night with all four bands on the tour. We had been freshly re-loaded with merch and had even had a day off, so we were presumably bathed and groomed (for us anyway) when we arrived. The drive from Urbana to Milwaukee really wasn't too bad at all, which makes things a little easier.
Milwaukee has never been a particularly great market for us, and even the show we did there with Cannibal Corpse in '04 wasn't that awesome, I mean it would have been AMAZING for us, but for Cannibal it was a bit of an underwhelming turnout. The fact that all of the bands had just played 100 miles away the night before wasn't great either, and it was a Monday night. However, it was cool to be back at the Eagles' Ballroom, where I had seen Venom at Milwaukee Metalfest '97 and Sodom the following year. We were playing the Rave bar, which I remembered from Metalfests past as “The Relapse Stage”, haha! The backstage was a bit weird, really dark and lit by lava lamps with wall hangings everywhere. Wes was having a hell of a time changing our guitar strings, just with the lack of light and usable space back there, despite it being really big and sort of maze-like.
One thing about the way we do things, we tend to be pretty laid back and give everyone we're on tour with a lot of free rein, we never really keep people out of our dressing room, hoard our food and drinks or make people set up their drums in front of our kit or anything like that. Just because we've been there, and it's kind of a bummer. There are rarely any issues with this philosophy, but this was one of those nights when it kind of backfired on us. The local bands and their friends were backstage, eating all our food, and more importantly, drinking our beer and whiskey. I actually had to take our bottle of Seagram's out of a dude's hand. Also there were like three chicks who were cooks (the food was delicious, I have to say) and some of the people backstage were with them, or something... I really have no idea. Especially since it was our first night with Macabre and Withered on the tour, we weren't sure who was supposed to be there and who wasn't, as Macabre and Cephalic also had a lot of their friends who were local backstage, so I couldn't tell what the fuck was going on. So it was a bit of a bummer vibe backstage. Overall, the promoter was a really nice guy, and he actually hooked us up with a place to stay later that night, but that aspect of the show wasn't particularly organized, and it turned into a bit of a clusterfuck.
Embarrassingly enough, I have to be honest and say that before this tour I wasn't familiar with Withered, except by reputation. I was definitely looking forward to catching them live for the first time so at the very least, I wouldn't feel like such a dumb-ass any time someone asked me about them. All I really knew at that point was that they were supposed to be a doom / black metal hybrid. Anyone that knows my musical tastes knows that, although I enjoy some doom and black metal, those styles aren't my bread and butter. Within the band's first song, Withered really floored me with their smothering, pissed-off brand of blackened doom. The thing that doesn't interest me about most “troo black metal” is that it just isn't particularly heavy – it's all treble. If there's on thing you can say about Withered, it's that they are incredibly heavy. After speaking to the guys I immediately knew that we were going to get along great and I was super psyched to have them on the tour. The Mikes, Dylan, and Beau were all super down-to-earth, hardworking, hard-partying dudes that were a great addition to the bill. I loved the fact that all four bands sounded nothing like one another, but were all super intense and heavy in their own way. I think that helps make it a win for the kids that pay their hard-earned shekels to come out and support, as well as more interesting for me, because I don't want to hear four hours of brutal death metal a night for three weeks straight.
Having Macabre on the tour was great, and really kind of a mind-fuck for me. I remember listening to the “Sinister Slaughter” tape so many times hanging out with Matt Widener and Dan (now Marissa) Martinez of Cretin way back when Matt W. was playing bass in Exhumed in '94. Having a band that influenced you supporting you on tour is really a trip and, I know this word gets tossed around pretty casually, but it really was an honor. They were great, and although they didn't do too many songs from my personal favorite album, “Gloom” (I still want to hear “Dr. Holmes”, damn it!), the set was a killer mix of old and new stuff, including a bunch of my faves from “Sinister Slaughter” and “Dahmer”. The guys were really cool, and made me feel a little bit younger, which is always flattering, haha! Their tour manager Eric was cool as well and gave us a hand changing over which was appreciated, and their effervescent merchandiser, Doug was a total sweetheart from the word go.
The Milwaukee show itself was a bit sparse, but the people that were there were fully into it, so that made it a lot easier to give a good performance. It's really less about the number of people attending and more about the intensity of the vibe. The room was small and sounded good, so all in all, it ended up being a pretty fun show. Our crew and Withered stayed with some really nice friends of the promoter on the outskirts of town, grabbed some grub at a place that was sort of vaguely Waffle House-esque, and had fun playing with our hosts' dangerously affectionate pit bull puppy. The next day, we got up pretty early to head out to the land of 10,000 lakes- Minnesota.
I always enjoy doing shows in the Twin Cities. We've traditionally had good turnouts there, and this night would prove to be no exception. It was still a bit of a mess getting used to setting up our drum kit before Cephalic (we shared backline on this tour) and then taking it down during Macabre's set, having Mike tweak it, and then setting it back up on stage when we went on, but luckily for your humble narrator, that was a problem that didn't really affect me too much. After load-in at Station 4 in St. Paul, I hopped in the van and high-tailed it to FedEx office to print out all of our paperwork for our crossing at the Canadian border the next day, and catch up on some emails and other office-type work my archaic phone didn't allow me to do. When I got back, Mike, Rob, our driver Dylan and I took a walk from the venue to find something to eat. We managed to find a pretty nice bar / grill that had a great beer selection, so I had to grab a Duvel with lunch / dinner. Full and content we headed back to the venue, which was already filling up nicely.
At any rate, the show was pretty damn full, way more so than the last time we had played the same venue, many, many years ago. We got some PBR going at the bar, and shit was basically pretty damn good. Even though we had just gotten more merch, we were already starting to run low on a couple of sizes, which was awesome, but a little scary because we wouldn't be able to get anything else from any of our vendors until we got done with the Canadian dates the following week. Canadian shipping rates are ridiculous. At any rate, I digress... Macabre are great because they're so cynical and sarcastic, they make Wes Caley, our resident pessimist, look like a ray of sunshine. But give 'em a few beers and a good crowd, like they had that night, and you'll see a great band having a great time. I really got to watch a bit more of their set, which put a huge smile on my face.
"In The Name Of Gore" live from the land where people still remember Kirby Puckett.
Another highlight of the night for me was getting to catch up with old friends Steve and Allison from Bodies Lay Broken, my all-time favorite Midwestern Grind band (although Wasteoid and Black Market Fetus are close behind!). I remember my first time in Minneapolis- staying at Micha Garber of Bodies... apartment and eating at Perkins for the first time – good times! Micah has since relocated to Japan, and it was a bit weird without him being there to regale us with tales of his prodigious push-up marathons. On a bittersweet note about being back in the Twin Cities after so many years, I had always enjoyed meeting up with Don Decker of Anal Blast (who our old drummer Col had lovingly nicknamed “The Flesh Avalanche”, a name Decker thought was hilarious) and Earl Root of Root of All Evil Records, both of whom had sadly passed away since the last time Exhumed had played in town. At any rate, I tried to honor them with a quick shout-out on stage. The show went over killer and was one of the high points of the whole tour, to be honest. Even though our performance wasn't totally perfect, we had reached the point of being on the road where everything had become second nature to us, and we didn't have to think about what we were playing, we could just lock in and go on instinct. That's when I honestly enjoy playing live the most, when you've “found your legs” and you go onstage every night feeling totally confident and ready to kill. At any rate, after the show, we met some of the kids and loaded out to head for North Dakota, and on to Winnipeg the next night.
We needed to stop in Grand Forks, North Dakota to pick up a very specific and important piece of freight from the UPS store there – a new severed head prop, aka Son Of Ted. After getting the original Ted stolen in Denver, we had notified our de facto prop-master, the very awesome Caleb Schneider of Murder Construct and Bad Acid Trip and he had set to work getting a new one up and running at maximum speed. That Wednesday, it was to arrive in Grand Forks so we could grab it before heading into the Great White North. While waiting for our putrid parcel to make its appearance, we availed ourselves of a truckstop on the edge of town and showered and did laundry. I hit the shower last while the rest of the crew headed to a nearby Wal-Mart (as much as I try to avoid shopping there, when you're on tour, it's just too damn convenient and cheap to have principles – especially in North Dakota where there aren't a lot of other options) to get new merch tubs to get things more organized. We met up and grabbed some lunch and then organized all of our merch, and cleaned the van inside and out, which was long overdue. By this time, the package had finally arrived and we were ready to hit Canada.
Anyone who keeps up with what goes on with underground bands will probably have heard myriad horror stories of Canadian border crossings gone awry, with band / crew members getting turned away at the border, bands getting taxed exorbitant fees, etc. etc. If you want to hear some gnarly shit, just ask Mike Hamilton about what happened to Deeds Of Flesh years ago. That said... I always approach the border with a bit of trepidation. We had all of our paperwork in order, and due to a change in the laws, we wouldn't actually need work permits on this trip as we had in the past, which may have helped get us through more smoothly. Every tour, at least one person in our touring party has a DUI on their records. That means that you have to pay $200 or so for each person with a DUI, just to get them into Canada. You also occasionally get a lecture from the border folks if they're dicks. This time wasn't too bad, we paid our money, didn't get inspected or taxed, and were more or less on our way after about 45 minutes of waiting. When we got to the customs office, the Withered guys were just leaving after getting waved through very quickly, and Cephalic also were admitted fairly smoothly. Our delay ended up being pretty minor, all things considered. Macabre weren't so lucky. Their tour manager, Eric was denied entry because of a misdemeanor charge that was over 15 years old on his record, and the whole band was hassled for quite some time. On top of that, they had to go through US customs to take Eric back to Grand Forks, where he would have to ride a Greyhound to Seattle and meet us there, and then they had to go through Canadian customs again to get to Winnipeg and do the show that night. Oh yeah, and Slayer was playing in Winnipeg that night, too. Like I said last time, I love a challenge.
The promoter, Corey, was also the drummer of our old friends in the awesome Grind band Putrescence that was playing with us that night, and as soon as we got to the venue, he gave us a ride to the beer store to grab some of that sweet, sweet nectar. Wes' predictions came true immediately as we were warned by our Canadian friends to be careful drinking their beer, as it is a whole 1% higher alcohol by volume than American beer. Don't worry, my northern friends, we do this all the time, I think we can handle ourselves. Anyway, Putrescence sounded great, and it was awesome to hang out with my old friend Mike Alexander again. The show was actually pretty well attended, especially considering the other band playing in town that night, and there was definitely a contingent of late arrivals that took the opportunity to create their own metal double-feature. We were looking for a place to stay and were referred to a local kid who was having a party at his place after the show. He assured us he had tons of beer and that all was good. We got to the house pretty late, and there was no beer. I was at that stage of drunkenness where I was ready to seriously party, and having the wind knocked out of my sails like that, I have to admit, made me get a bit pissy. I was being kind of rude, changing the stereo and talking shit about the music playing, etc. so I apologize for being kind of a dick. The guy did buy us all McDonalds and had a huge pad that we crashed at, so I really can't complain. We did have a bit of cheap whiskey that we managed to dig up from somewhere that eased the pain of the night a bit. The next morning, we were up pretty early and headed west to Saskatoon after grabbing some fresh guitar strings.
The only town in the hilarious-sounding province of Saskatchewan with a more ridiculous name than Saskatoon is Regina - pronounced "Rah-jine-ah". So yes, when you say "Regina, Saskatchewan" it sounds exactly like you're saying "Vagina, Sasnatchewan". And no, that joke totally never gets old to the people that live there. They LOVE it.
We had played in Saskatoon years ago, at the same venue even, with Behemoth, which was actually on our last tour before splitting up, so it was cool to come back on our own with a great bill supporting us. In fact, the promoter, a very sweet gal named Zandra, told me that our gig in '05 was her first show booking international acts! I remembered her being really nice and letting us stay at her sister's place, which was killer because they had a hot tub- nothing like drinking a beer in a hot tub while it's gently snowing! Anyway, enough reminiscence. Zandra was just as nice as I remembered her, and we were greeted with a huge catering spread and a cooler full of ice cold beer, soda and energy drinks. And that was before dinner! Rob and I actually went out for a jog around the neighborhood, Wes got all the guitars re-strung, and life was good. The show was killer, and everyone was happy. I love it when there's a night like that. Of course, I suppose that's not the most interesting read, but the show was a lot of fun. We ended up drinking outside the club and hanging out with some of the staff while watching some of the guys from the other bands unsuccessfully hit on chicks, which is always good for a laugh.
The next day, we arrived early in Edmonton, and we were stoked to see that the venue was smack dab in the middle of downtown – always a good sign. We kicked around town for a while as it rained on and off, and found an amazing vintage guitar shop that was totally mind-blowing and way out of my price range, as sweet as it would have been to come home with a new Les Paul. I was kind of burnt that day, just not really feeling it, so after doors opened at the club and everything was situated, I left and promptly ran into Rob, Dylan and some random Canadians. We hit the bar next door, had some food and drink, and I began to feel better. I also met Mike Brown, arguably the biggest Exhumed fan out there – at least the biggest Exhumed collector. He has more of our shirts, EPs and other shit than I do! Despite the fact that he is obviously a huge nerd with terrible taste in music, he was actually a pretty cool, normal well-adjusted dude to have a beer with. I was feeling even better when we got back and the place was packed front to back. The show went over awesome, and we stayed after the bar closed and got really unnecessarily drunk, doing shots and all manner of other foolish things. We headed to the other side of town to crash out at someone's pad, had a couple of beers, and passed out drunk and sloppy to end what turned out to be a really fun night. The next morning we had to run around town for a while, which took way longer than we thought it would have – the other side of town felt a lot further hung over in daylight than it had the previous night, drunk and rowdy in the dark. We also saw a lot of signs that read "Fatality" marking the spot where a fatal car crash had taken place. Apparently, that's a "thing" there. Thankfully, we don't have those signs in California, because there would be so many, it would just be too depressing / frightening to drive anywhere.
At the bar across the street from the venue in Edmonton, whatever the hell it was called- Rob and I with Mike Brown and the crazy Canadian guy who was hilarious. Their humus gave me atrocious farts. Atrocious. No, seriously. Atrocious.
At any rate, after some Burger King to start the day, we were feeling good about everything and we hit the road out to Calgary. By the way, everyone in Edmonton had talked shit on Calgary the way that Bay Area residents trash L.A. This was to be another night where Slayer, Rob Zombie, and Exodus were also playing in town. Deedee and I were both friends with the Exodus guys, and she managed to sweet-talk Gary into getting us passes, which was awesome. A bunch of guys from the tour knew the Exodus tour manager, so all the bands were well-represented at the show. Exodus was great, as always. After getting lost for a bit (it was a hockey arena, in our defense), we made our way backstage to drink some of Exodus' beer. I met the super nice Lee and Rob for the first time and got to catch up with Tom, Jack, and Gary. Before grabbing a taxi back to the venue, we caught a couple of Slayer songs, and Gary sounded great playing with them, and visa versa.
Cool shit I got in Calgary. The herpes I got there: not that cool.
Meanwhile back at the venue... The promoter of the show was actually Eric Grief, who metal nerds will know was the former manager of Death. I had a great talk with him about Death, one of a select handful bands that I know way too much about, and he was a really nice, articulate guy. He even hooked me up with “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” patches, which was cool. Our show was billed as a sort of “un-official Slayer after party” event, which meant that it was designed to start and run late, but... It ran really late. Wes and I took advantage of the delay to nip out for a bit of dinner and a drink or two downtown. The most remarkable thing about the place we went wasn't the beer selection, or the food: It was the ridiculous amount of beautiful women that were literally everywhere on the streets of downtown Calgary. Better than LA. Better than New York. Better than Prague. Holy shit, I had never seen such a copious amount of super hot chicks all over the place. It was fucking nuts. After picking my jaw up off the floor about a hundred times, we headed back to the venue where I met up with Dr. Gore from Extreme Metal TV for a quick video interview you can watch below.
If you think reading what I have to say is boring, wait until you try watching it!
If, after reading all the things that we did that night, it seems like we had waaaaaaaay too much time before we actually played that night, we did. We weren't even onstage until after 1am, which is a bit ridiculous. The owner of the bar also got smashed in the face with a bottle and it was very messy. I didn't see what happened, but I did see him bleeding profusely in the kitchen. Anyway, even considering the time we finally played, the show was pretty decent, it being a Saturday night. Not awesome, but far from shitty. We all had a good time, and after load out and dinner at Denny's it was literally after 5am as we headed into beautiful British Colombia to the small, quaint resort town of Kelowna.
But that pulse-pounding suspense-saturated story will have to wait for another day – a day when the world is finally ready for the truth about six morons in a foul-smelling van playing loud, obnoxious music for any audiences foolhardy enough to pay to see and hear it and tasteless enough to endure it.
Until next time, true believers -
- Harvey and the usual gang of idiots