I’m not one for year-end recaps and lists of bests and worsts, but it’s always nice to spend a bit of time reflecting on a tour once it’s over, and by coincidence, it’s the year-end. So…
This tour was a great one in many objectively measurable ways—full houses, good cheer, limited instances of the usual road-woes. Our bass player Nick Ferrio (who will be taking 2017 off from his Burning Hell duties to focus on his new dad-ness) opened most of the gigs and it was great to hear his songs every night. Brandon Munro joined us on the drums on this outing and he brought some amazing energy and ideas to the songs. Captain Al Harle was patient and wizardlike as ever behind the desk. Darren Boobie Browne braved eating a bowl of olives just to be allowed to share his passion for the prog-rock anthems of Rush with the rest of the band. And Ariel Sharratt taught audiences everywhere about the true meaning of Christmas.
A personal highlight for me came early on in the tour in Düsseldorf, when I met R. and V., one and a half lawyers who approached me before the show to ask me some questions about songwriting and lyrics. I chatted with them for most of the night when I wasn’t on stage, and though they continually apologized for bothering me, I tried to persuade them that they weren’t. It means so much when people are curious about some aspect of what I / we do, and even though the moments before and after a gig can be a stressful and overwhelming time, I really appreciate actually getting to talk to people. Getting on and off stages and playing music every night, it’s unfortunately somewhat easy to start to feel like a circus monkey at times…why am I doing this? Why do I have to ride this tiny bicycle? Do I even like bananas? Talking to R. and V. was a wonderful reminder of how fortunate I am to get to open my mouth and sing words that my dumb brain made up for real live human beings, some of whom even listen and respond to and think about them. It’s a crazy feeling, actually, and one I don’t ever want to take for granted. So thanks, one and a half lawyers, you made my night and set my head on right for the rest of the tour.
London, as usual, was a blur, but this time we carved out an extra hour after sound check and Al took Ariel and I to see one of the last Allo Darlin’ shows, which was a sweaty and beautiful treat. That night the people in our London audience almost knocked me over with their kindness and enthusiasm, and I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a set more. In Glasgow, the people of O Street threw us a party before our gig, complete with Burning Hell song-themed paintings on the wall and a special “Grown-Up Beer” brewed for the occasion. We were fortunate to share the stage with the incredible band The Wave Pictures in both Ramsgate and Cologne, and at our first Berlin show my mind was blown by the songs of Milan-based Any Other.
Actually, that first night in Berlin nearly rivalled London for its awesomeness, which only added to the strangeness of our second Berlin show. We added it because the first one sold out pretty quickly, and we had one free night before flying home. Why not play one last gig? Everything was going fine, and a nice crowd had assembled to see us off at the end of our tour. Three minutes before stage time, someone told me the news that a truck had just driven into a crowd of people at a Christmas market across town. I assumed we would cancel the show, but the promoter told me it would be best to just play and not say anything about it, because there were a lot of people in the audience not glued to smartphones who clearly still hadn’t heard the news. A few others agreed: it would be best to just play the set. And so we did, and it was hard. Probably the hardest gig I’ve ever played. I felt weird, and the audience felt weird, and it was impossible not to think about the people a few kilometres away who did not have the luxury of temporarily feigning ignorance. After every song I wanted to acknowledge the situation—both the attack and the fact that it was so strange to be part of a room full of people, all collectively pretending that for this one hour at least, the events of the world outside didn’t exist. But I kept mum and tried to stay focused on the songs. Though my mouth somehow continued singing the words, robot-like, my mind was turning over and over the simultaneous absurdity and necessity of music: it may be fundamentally silly to jump around with a guitar and sing on a raised platform under coloured lights, or to be excited by someone else doing that. But it is also a vital part of life, and it is imperative for us as musicians and music fans to not allow the madness of extremism and hatred to stop us from singing and singing along. The moment we become too afraid—of each other, of public spaces, of making ourselves heard—is the moment we lose ourselves irreparably.
I got off stage that night feeling the worst I’ve ever felt after a gig. Most of the audience were quietly getting their jackets from the coat-check and slipping out the door, and despite the music coming through the speakers there was a noticeable hush in the room. A few people came over and thanked us for playing the show despite the situation. We packed up and drove through a deserted Berlin on our way to the airport and home.
It was a strange end to a wonderful tour. And I hope there will be many more shows and albums and tours to come in 2017, despite the ominous social, political, and economic clouds on most horizons. Maybe, somehow, making music can make some kind of difference. According to an oft-paraphrased bit of wisdom usually misattributed to Einstein, the definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviour over and over and expecting different results. But we will go on living and playing and singing, insane or not. I hope you’ll join us.