Goldblade Tour Diary Pt 2
Tonight’s gig is in Pamona, a small town ten miles from LA. Tom Waits grew up here, and I walk around town thinking of the youthful Waits walking the streets. There is an air of a Waits song about the place with the big railroad cutting through the middle of town and it’s eerie blaring horn cutting through the dusk air. There are Mexican car clubs with these brilliant polished old cars jammed fill of sharp dressed dudes cruising round the town centre. Add to that the art deco high street, the art galleries and the faded grandeur of fifties hope now covered in the dust if the downturn ringed by the swinging palms and you can almost hear the off kilter piano and clanking percussion of a Waits song.
In the centre of this is the extraordinary Fox Theatre, a 2500 capacity building that has been well scrubbed and frankly doesn’t look like the venue for a show by Steve Ignorant’s Crass who we are playing with.
The venue fills up fast for the show. The band before us are the extraordinary Atzlan Underground who combine thrash hardcore with traditional pre Spanish Mexican flours. I chat to them before the gig about Commandant Marcos the native Mexican revolutionary leader who they are inspired by and who is a really interesting character running a neo -Che Guevara style freedom movement for the indigenous people’s of Mexico.
Our show is a blast. The crowd really get it and the pit is fierce. The stage is high and there is a barrier at the front that is asking for some audience interaction. I get down and make loads of friends. A very excited girl bites me on the stomach. I think it was affectionate. It’s always hard to tell in the heat of the moment. There’s lots of people going crazy and loads of singing along to the choruses – the perfect Goldblade show.
We wanted to get another new song, ‘My Mind Is Like An Atom Bomb’, into the set. It’s a hundred second blast of near-hardcore. The song would be perfect for a gig like this but we don’t get enough time in the soundcheck to rehearse it, so save it for another gig.
The next night we play Pamona again. A residency in the LA suburbs. How quaint. In the afternoon, before going to the gig, we hang out in town. We only have a couple of hours so we head towards Melrose Avenue so that Andy, our guitarist can get a Goldblade tattoo on his arm. He opts for the flaming skull logo and it looks great with the flames screaming round his skinny arm.
The only thing of interest on Melrose these days is the punk rock record shop, Headline Records. It’s cool place run by Jean Frenchman who knows his punk. I buy a Rudimentary Peni T shirt in there simply because I’ve run out of clothes and I love the band and you can’t get their shirt in the UK.
Infact everywhere I go in LA I see people wearing Rudimenary Peni T shirts. The band seem to be enormous out here. Possibly bigger even than Crass. The punk scene in LA is something else. Whilst these bands have been glossed over in the UK they are legends over here, legends in the way that old bluesmen were loved in the UK in the sixties, legends in the way that we love loads of underground American music in the UK. Everywhere I go in they city I see punk kids dressed in the 81/82 leather and studs British style which is also quite curious as in the UK the young punks tend to dress in the American style. The LA temperature maybe over 90 degrees but the punx hang out look cool as fuck in their heavy leather and immaculate hair.
I try to get an understanding of why these old British punk bands are so loved out here. The music that was made in the monochromatic rainy day UK of the early eighties when there was nothing to do and everyone was on the dole, somehow this music has hit a nerve three decades later in LA. I guess Crass had the politics and the lifestyle to appeal to oppressed youth worldwide, after all they were about the only band that ever offered a solution to the problem. But Rudimentary Peni? A genius band, utterly genius but their dark and strange songs of Psychosis, illness and anti religion and dark flavoured themes somehow connect with kids as young as 12 over here – it’s fascinating. I get into earnest conversations with punk youth about their love of the Peni and they give me a blow by blow breakdown of the bands career with a real love in their eyes. They seem resigned to never seeing them, afterall this is the band that only ever played about eleven shows in thirty years and exists in some sort of strange limbo. It’s fair to say that if they ever played in LA they would get thousands of people turning up at their shows.
I give it everything whilst we play and feel like a zombie at the end of the set. The level of intensity and the sheer effort of moving non stop and singing full on for 45 minutes is draining.
Post gig we head back to our great friend Noel Gonzales who is putting us up in her house in Monterey Park. We have known Noel for years and she is an amazing hostess. Noel is a Mexican in love with british culture and even has a child called London. Her bathroom is full of union Jack’s and big bens and posters of Generation X are on her walls. Noel is in love with Britain so much that she is the first person I’ve ever met who is interested in the royal wedding and is fascinated by Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. We just look blank.
The next morning we pile into the van with driver John Fletcher and hit the road, driving to Scottsdale which is part of Phoenix Arizona. It’s a long drive. A good eight hours of landscape that looks like Mars with the occasional shack stuck in the middle of it. Cacti stand tall like sentries guarding the American dream with their stiff spiky backs. The endless sky is the most beautiful backdrop. It’s pure Americana and since we are probably the last people who grew up with westerns it’s a fascinating landscape to travel through. To be in band and get to play the States is one thing but to be able to drive across scenery this stunning is a dream come true.
Phoenix is an endless series of concrete buildings gripping tight onto this huge landscape. No building looks older than ten years and it’s a strange place. It resembles an enormous moon base sweltering in the dry desert heat. As a city it’s hard to get a grip of. People talk of an out of control gang culture and a notorious police chief.
We arrive at the venue which is a bar in a shopping manual and hang out waiting for the support bands to turn up so we can borrow some back line. It’s the curse of being the support band touring in the USA. Many bands get this stuff called tour support. We don’t. We are independent. We are DIY. We fund our own touring and since the visas cost nearly three grand to sort out and the flights costs about the same we are running pretty skint. We obviously can’t afford to hire a full back line or even a big enough van to put it it on so every night we are having to hope the support bands will kindly help us out by lending us equipment and so far they have been really kind.
After the gear is secured we drive to the neighboring town of Tempe to get something to eat and dive in to an Ethiopian restaurant. Now I’ve been a fan of Ethiopian music for years ever since going to an Ethiopian restaurant in Washinton DC on a Membranes tour tour in 1987. In the UK there about five Ethioian restaurants in the whole country, in the USA they are everywhere. In Seattle there seems to be one on each corner. There are less in Phoenix so it’s cool to find one. Its called the Blue Nile and the food is great, we got things to eat that I’ve never had before and there is a big range of food even for a vegan like my bad self.
The gig in Phoenix is a Sunday night affair, people seem initially, jaded from Saturday night action but ten minutes before the gig I’m chatting to people and they say they are excited that we are in their town. A few people saw us in Pamona and got down early for the show tonight and have been spreading the word that makes the deadweight of exhaustion lifted from the shoulders and when we start playing the curious layout of the club in which the non drinking area is penned off in front of the stage and the drinkers are nearly fifty feet away is no problem. The all ages section fils up and the audience are great, there is a real atmosphere and a total pit with the security guards struggling to stop the security fence from falling over.
Post gig we stand on the merch stall that has weirdly been set up behind the club in parking lot and chat to people who are really into what we are doing. I meet a great couple who have had the toughest of lives with child abuse, drugs and cold hearted parents disowning them for religious reasons but who have come through drug abuse and lots of difficulties to become really cool people whose only high now is the music and each other. They are amazing people and really inspiring in their beating of the odds. If they are reading this blog keep me touch and good luck. I also talk to some Mexican punks who explain that the raw passion of punk rock is what connects with them as they are ‘very passionate people’.
We then pack up the merch and drive on into the desert night aiming at nowhere in particular. The next gig is in Austin which is about 16 to 20 hours drive away so we have to do it in stages. At four in the morning we bail into a remote motel and then four hours later get up again and start all over again.
The scenery is now awe inspiring. An endless nothingness, the remnants of an ancient ocean all dried up with strange mountains, cacti and miles of scrubland stretching into the distance. Every twenty miles there is a small hut and every fifty a garage. It’s a massive emptiness and underlines the hugeness of America- not just densely populated cites but this beautiful emptiness where all possibilities exist, an open page that is so much part of the American psyche.
We snap some pictures in the blistering heat and drive, and drive, and drive and finally give up an hour from Austin where this blog currently ends.