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Tour Blog Part 32 : Teatro Metropolitan, Mexico City

Fans in Mexico

Somehow a group of fans found out which hotel we were in and from the time we arrived they were outside waiting for autographs and photos. Some particularly enthusiastic ones seemed to camp out there for 2 whole days! We did meet a lot of them and sign CDs and pose for photos. Clearly the band coming to Mexico was very important to them and they were serious fans. 

Before the gig itself a group of us from the band were going to walk to the venue as it was not far from the hotel, but the throng was so big, if we had gone out the front door we would not have made it in time for the gig, so we sneaked out the back door of the hotel - proper rock star style. This is very different from 'jazz world', and Chad, Adam and I joked about this on our way out. 

The venue is the Teatro Metropolitan, the same theatre where the 'Get all you deserve' DVD was filmed in 2012. It seats 3000 people and was completely sold out. There is a huge and very high balcony as well as the stalls seats. As we had not brought our own amplifiers and equipment eg. Chad's drums, or Steven' s keyboard, these were all rented and so we had a longer soundcheck to check everything was working OK. It was fine, but things did need a bit of tweaking. 

When we walked onstage the roar of the crowd was deafening. Everyone stood up (downstairs at least) immediately and stayed standing up for the rest of the gig. The gig went well and was very well received. Steven even learnt some Spanish phrases to welcome the crowd. That went down well. Playing to a full venue of this size definitely felt different to our usual theatres and rock venues. This felt more like an arena or stadium crowd. Huge and loud. They were clearly listening carefully though as they clapped solos and were totally silent for the very quiet parts of songs (like the beginning of Raider 2). The monitor sound was not the easiest and that combined with not having the usual guitar amps (Marshalls instead of Bad Cats) meant there were some additional challenges. However I don't think the audience would have noticed any of this, and the show was good. I have already received messages from people in the audience from Facebook and my own website saying how much they loved the gig. Next stop....Santiago, Chile.

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Tour Blog Part 31 : LA - Mexico City

Mexico City

The day off in Downtown LA was relaxing. I had planned to meet up with a friend who I last saw in September when we were in L.A recording 'the Raven...' album at East West studios on Sunset Boulevard. However she had to cancel so I just chilled most of the day and was not very sociable. I did get concerned however when from my hotel room I heard some screeching tyres then a very loud bang. It sounded like a nasty traffic accident. I was even more surprised when about 30 mins later I heard another screech of tyres and an equally loud bang. I thought maybe the first accident had been in a hidden spot so someone else had driven straight into them. Ouch! An hour later I heard yet another screech and bang. This was getting weird. I decided to get out of my room and go for a walk to see what downtown LA is like as I have never been here. On the next block was a whole film crew and movie cameras and lots of people milling about with megaphones. It seems that a movie for Universal was being shot right there. Some cops and robbers type thing featuring Ice T and they were filming a scene with screeching cars and an explosion. Well I guess Hollywood is just down the road, so fair enough I thought. 

I took a long walk down 7th Street, past the Jewellery district and the Fashion district. On Broadway I saw some historic movie houses that have been renovated, some as performance spaces. Some of the buildings and shops looked pretty run down, and others just old. There has been a lot of renovation however including lots of new Loft space apartments. I chanced upon an interesting alley called St Vincent's Court (photo right), which has a slightly surreal feel to it and doesn't seem to fit with neighbouring 7th St. A cobbled street mainly full of Mediterranean and European small eateries it has a quaintness unlike any of the surrounding area and feels a little like a slice of Victorian London or Paris. I did find an amazing 'Juice Crafters' bar nearby and bought what is called an 'Oh yes', which was quite delicious. I later bought a light Mexican dinner which was a) not great but OK, and b) pretty dumb considering I was flying to Mexico the next day. Seemed like the right thing at the time, though... The following morning our lobby call was 6.45 am. This is a bit of a change from getting up on the tour bus at around 10.30 am. As we were flying, we had to take all the stage equipment with us, so all the guitars, basses, pedal boards, effects, lights, microphones, stage backdrop etc had to be checked in as baggage. We needed to allow some extra time for this as it can get complicated, especially if the airport staff at check-in happen to have got out of bed on the wrong side and decide to take it out on you. So we got to LAX airport and checked in etc and thankfully it was not too bad. The flight was completely full, so although I took my tenor sax as hand luggage, there was no room for it in the overhead lockers, and the air stewardess took it from me to put it somewhere - I assumed a cupboard or something. The flight itself was 3.5 hours and was OK. When we landed that was when the fun started. First of all, I was told my tenor sax was not in a cupboard but had been put in the hold. I have heard several stories of a saxophone going into the hold of an aircraft and coming out trashed, or flattened, or separate from its case. So I was indeed concerned. Then when we got out of the plane, it took 75 minutes to get through passport control. Argh! Luckily my sax was OK, but when we reached customs they decided to ask for every case to be opened, all the equipment to be explained and listed - every pedal and lead and instrument and light, and relevant forms to be filled in. This took an extra hour. Ian our front of house sound man stepped up as acting tour manager and dealt with it all very well without visibly showing the annoyance I am sure he was feeling! 

Finally we arrived at our hotel and after briefly freshening up, a few of us went out to dinner, before strolling round the square across the road, where there was a buzzing market place. Tacos stands, jewellery, dodgy DVDs, trinkets, food and three big dance floors full of people salsa dancing the night away. Very cool. Welcome to Mexico!

St Vincent's
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Tour Blog Part 30 : San Francisco - Club Nokia, Los Angeles, California

Adam and Theo
Club Nokia
The gig at the Fillmore is the last one with Marco (at least for a while), so it gave it an extra poignancy. Plus of course it is such a classic venue. You cannot but be humbled walking around the backstage area, seeing posters of Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Sly Stone, the Mahavishnu Orchestra etc etc. So it was going to be a special gig. When we hit the stage it was interesting to see all the familiar faces of the fans we had met and spoken to at the Amoeba Records performance and signing. I felt like I knew half the audience! And there was the girl with the Steven Wilson tattoo on her arm in the middle of the front row. Maybe I should not be surprised because it was San Francisco but I do believe I could smell dope wafting across the stage during the show.

The gig felt good and relaxed. The advantage of doing 70 plus shows with the same band is that you become very comfortable with the material, even when it is complicated music. So you can relax more and feel less and less tense about forgetting something or not being able to play a certain part correctly. And for the improvised solo sections, you dig deep to find different things to play each night, because I generally want to repeat myself as little as possible. I can only remember one time in my life when I played the exact same solo each night, and it was when I filled in to help out a Pink Floyd tribute band called 'In the Flesh' for about 8 gigs in 2010. The job there was to play Dick Parry's solos on 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and 'Money' note for note and to be honest I was more than happy to do so as I had known those iconic sax solos since childhood and always loved them. In fact when I first started out, I am sure I stood in my bedroom and played the 'Shine on..' sax solo along with the record 'Wish You Were Here' pretending I was in Pink Floyd. My version of the solo is on youtube actually. I think it is not bad (even if I do say so myself)... see video:

The coach home


However, I digress... After the SF gig I went out with Nick to sign CDs and programmes and meet and greet. It was good to meet fans and get feedback on everything. Then there was a backstage 'hang' with various friends of the band. I had the pleasure of meeting the third member of Marco and Guthrie's band the Aristocrats - Bryan Beller who is an excellent bass player and a very nice chap to boot. Also there was the very talented Mike Keneally who is playing with Marco and Bryan in the Joe Satriani Band. Innerviews writer Anil Prasad and his wife and a friend were there too. 

This was to be our last night on the tour bus as from LA on, it is to be all planes and hotels. After the LA gig we fly to Mexico, then to Chile, then to Brazil. I have got used to the bus and sleep fine on it. It is also nice being able to sleep in in the mornings and have your little travelling house (photo right) with you on the road and backstage too . So we drove overnight to LA and in the morning left the bus for our hotel which we are in for 2 nights. After checking in and relaxing for a bit, it was off to the Nokia Theatre for soundcheck and gig. Chad Wackerman was back with us now, so we had an extra long soundcheck for him to run through some of the songs. After all, this is complicated music and he has not played with us for nearly a month. Amazingly he has now learnt all the music off by heart and was to play without any reminder notes to refer to. The soundcheck was fine although I was not sure how it was going to be without Marco. There was then hours of waiting around until the gig. This was a little dull as the gig was a late one and we were not going on till after 9pm. 

The gig itself was surprisingly good. We wondered if the audience would be a bit "LA" and laid back, but they were very responsive. Steven talked a lot on the microphone and was very funny. He mentioned before we went on that this is the last English speaking audience for this part tour, so he thought he would go that extra mile with the chat and anecdotes. He is very good at all of that. Chad was absolutely superb. Not only had he learnt all the parts perfectly, he played with a lot of fire and added his own personal sound and groove to the songs. Very impressive and we all commented afterwards what enjoyable gig it had been.

In the VIP lounge it was good to see Rob Trujillo again. He is the bass player with the band Metallica, knows Nick and is a big fan of this band. He was raving about our gig when he came to the show last year at the House of Blues, LA and he thought tonight had taken it up a level. When a member of Metallica, who are one of the heaviest bands on the planet, thinks your band really rocks, that is one heck of an endorsement! Alan Parsons and his band also came along too, though by the time I got to the party, they had already left. Oh well. So day off now, then off to Mexico. Hola amigos!

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Tour Blog Part 29 : The Fillmore, San Francisco

So we left the strange world of the Nevada desert hotel/casino with the endless corridors in which it was very hard to find lifts and when you did, most of them only took you to the casino on floor 3 and not the ground floor reception and exit, with its thousands of fruit machines and neon lights. Strange to see people smoking indoors again as they seem to be allowed to there, and why was no one smiling anywhere? Curious place. 

We drove over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, passing the small island on the way in where the famous Alcatraz prison had been. The weather was like your average grey day in London in March. We were staying in a part of San Francisco called Little Saigon in a funky hotel with rooms around a pool and bar area. My room has a radio alarm and with a nature sounds option which I put on out of curiosity. Wind chimes, birds, and some sea sounds. Ahh. Very relaxing while I read the hotel manual:

 "California is prone to earthquakes. If one should occur, hotel guests should crawl under a solid table or piece of furniture, or stand under an open doorway, or get on your knees and bend down, cover yourself with blankets and wait for the earthquake to end." .....OK..! 

The whole band was performing a short set in Amoeba records, a wonderful and huge independent record store on legendary Haight St. We arrived early to set up and it was a very stripped down affair with just our basic equipment. I personally find it a lot of fun performing in this way. A kind of back to basics type gig. There was quite a bit of free time and the store very kindly gave us each a $40 to spend on whatever we liked. I met my friend the writer Anil Prasad who made some suggestions and I eventually decided on Pharoah Sanders - Thembi, Terye Rypdal - Crime Scene, XTC - Skylarking, and Oregon - Beyond Words. Have now given them a spin at the hotel and so far enjoying them a lot - particularly Thembi. The band performance was fun and I thought went well. We then spent over an hour signing people's albums in the store. Steven certainly has a lot of dedicated fans. One had a tattoo of Steven' s face on her arm. 

Eventually we got back to the hotel and after freshening up, Adam, Nick, Steven, Anil and I went out for an excellent meal at a nearby vegetarian Thai restaurant. Good food and some most interesting stories and talk. Then a late hang in the groovy hotel bar where the walls were lined with shelves stacked full of vinyl albums and more good talk. 

In the morning I took a stroll up to Mel's diner which is a classic 1950s style American diner, the sort featured in the film 'American Graffiti'. Lots of 1950s style artwork and Americana. Happy smiling all American families and shiny pink Buicks and Cadillacs. I ate some pretty average eggs and toast and strolled back passing the Great American Music Hall. I remember well playing there with Gong on the ill-fated US tour of 2000. Actually that gig was pretty good for us, but I do remember the support act which was Kevin Ayers and band. Back in the 1960s he was in the original Soft Machine with Daevid Allen and he had a rich baritone voice and some strong songs. However that night, he had to be helped onto the stage and after his set practically carried off the stage because he had taken some horse tranquillisers (ketamine) which he said was..err...accidental. Needless to say, it was not his finest performance. 

So I am sitting backstage at the Fillmore, San Francisco waiting for soundcheck. This is a classic venue and the walls are lined with posters of all the great bands that have played here over the years.

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Tour Blog Part 28 : Minneapolis - Boulder

Group photo by Diana Nitschke

The gig in Minneapolis was at Fine Line Music Cafe - a smaller venue than usual for this band. The upside was that there was an intimate atmosphere and it was like an atmospheric pub. The downside was that the stage was small, and being at the back and at the side, I had quite a lot less space than usual. The gig went well. I noticed someone on the front row wearing a 'The World is Everything' David Sylvian 2007 tour T-shirt. That was the tour I played on, though only the first couple of weeks as I was a last minute addition to the line up and I had a Soft Machine Legacy tour I was already committed to that clashed with David's dates. The gigs I did do were fabulous and a real treat. Also in the front row were four of Steven's biggest fans who I subsequently discovered had been to the gigs in Boston, Albany, Chicago and now Minneapolis. That is some travelling! I also heard that some people travelled a very long way to this particular gig, because it was such a small venue. I did wonder if Prince might wander in to the gig, as I had heard that that was exactly the sort of thing he would do if in town - just turn up and check out bands. But he did not.

Fine Line Music Cafe
Boulder Theatre

After the gig, DJ Wilson played some great tracks in the dressing room, including some by Pete Townsend, the Carpenters and a very interesting album by the guitarist from the Swedish metal band Meshuggah, Fredrik Thordendal called 'Sol Niger Within'.

Once back on the bus, I stayed up quite late chatting to Adrian who had asked for my recommendations for great jazz albums that might interest him, given his general musical taste (which includes lots of progressive rock) and the albums he already has (which include various by Weather Report and Pat Metheny). A list was duly discussed and compiled.

Then went to sleep somewhere just outside Minneapolis and woke up in Omaha, Nebraska, once called the 'Gateway to the West', where we had day rooms in a hotel whilst the driver had his 14 hour break. An interesting place, it was once vital for transportation routes across the US and meatpacking plants and had huge stockyards and a big railroad industry. It was where the Enola Gay plane was built and it is one of the fastest regenerating cities in America. I went for a wander and a coffee with Guthrie which was most pleasant. There was an 'OK Corral' feel to the tourist section where we were, and a lovely riverfront too, on the banks of the Missouri. Notable people from Omaha - Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Warren Buffet and Elliot Smith. Had a good day off and at midnight we rolled out of town for Boulder, Colorado.

The gig was in a lovely theatre called the Boulder Theatre (photo right). It has a very nice layout and reminded me of the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, near Philadelphia. The town itself is beautiful and the whole pedestrian central part in downtown Boulder has a wonderful feel to it. Lots of Arts and Crafts shops, jewellery shops, vintage clothing places, funky cafes and eateries and very clean. Interestingly we saw no McDonalds or other fast food chains, a couple of hiking shops and very few overweight people! The weather was good, but I was subsequently informed there had been 5 inches of snow only a few days before. I noticed the air being thin and indeed we were 5400 feet above sea level. So after a coffee with Nick sitting out in the main drag, and mooching around in the dressing room and backstage, I had a shower and then went for a walk, looking in some of the crafts shops and got back for soundcheck at 4.30pm. Despite it being a soundcheck after a day off which is usually a recipe for fun for all and having a cool jam, we did not today, and it felt a bit flat (as soundchecks go). No idea why. After that Steven, Adam, Guthrie and I went to find a restaurant for dinner and we found a great vegetarian restaurant called Aji at 1601 Pearl St where we had a delicious meal, possibly the best dinner of the US tour so far. Two of us had a Pad Thai and Steven had something called 'forbidden black rice' that sounded so intriguing he felt compelled to order it.

The gig itself felt really good. Despite some of the guys in the band not feeling 100% (though you would not have known from their performances), I think we all played well and the audience was really fantastic.

Back on the bus, we left about 1 am and I woke up somewhere in the desert in Utah. The driver was having his break and so we had day rooms in a massive hotel and casino in the middle of nowhere. I think we were not too far from Wendover, near Salt Lake City. Thousands of fruit machines by the hotel reception, thousands of rooms, hotel corridors a mile long and nothing but wide open desert outside the windows. Roll on San Francisco....

Utah
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