Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Asher Goes On Tour

I guess having a scrapbook such as this and going on tour is just asking for it. But I did ask for it and, well, it delivered.

It, in case you're wondering, was the 2014 Guitar Gods tour featuring Bumblefoot (who you may remember as the guitarist in the most recent Guns n Roses lineup), Gary Hoey (who you may remember from the early 90s, when instrumental hard rock guitar was kind of a thing) and Yngwie Malmsteen (who you may remember, and are now trying to forget).

I was initially asked to join this 5 week tour, 10 days before it began, by a fellow bassist who had signed on and ultimately decided he had too much work locally to go on the road. I could've argued similarly, and I certainly didn't make any friends by bailing on 12 gigs on a pretty last minute basis; but hey, I hadn't been on the road in awhile and it would certainly be nice to get out of NYC for 5 weeks during the summer. Did I say 5? I meant 3 and a half - the remainder was cancelled. 

The first rehearsal was 18 hours after I got the call. 20 mp3s and almost that many charts came my way - obviously in the biggest possible file sizes in order to drive another nail into the coffin of my 2006 Macbook Pro. The rehearsal went about as well as it could go - people could at least tell I wasn't a total hack and should be able to get up to speed in a few days. But the music was the least of my worries. 

Some of the dates involved playing in Canada, and not having had any international travel plans in the near future, I let my passport expire. Do NOT let your passport expire. Having to have one expedited is not pretty, and not cheap. But I did it, and I got a shiny, brand new passport for about 3 times the cost of what it should have been. And right on cue, the Canada dates were removed from our itinerary. 

In order to make it work for me to do the tour, the outgoing bassist agreed to do the first week of shows, all local except for the last one in Buffalo, NY - about a 7 hour trip. There was a little back and forth about which one of us would play the show, as it wasn't really feasible for either one of us until I ended up clearing my schedule. It was for the better, I needed a day or two to get things together, memorize the music, make sure my car was parked in a good spot, my house plants wouldn't die, you know, those things you think about the night before you leave. But it didn't matter - that show was cancelled. So now my first show would be in Jersey, en route to Cleveland. And, well - you probably know where this is going; we had a rehearsal instead. Actually you probably didn't see that coming. 

So, hello Cleveland! Yngwie has apparently lost some of his rust belt fan base, and about 17 tickets were purchased. Goodbye Cleveland! Oh, but the rock n roll hall of fame is pretty cool. Needless to say, Yngwie is not in it.

Now for shows that actually happened. In short, they really shouldn't have. At least not for us. Not to say that our band wasn't good, but the music really had nothing to do with the metal guitar-shredding theme of the rest of the evening for which we were the opening act. We were also allotted about 30 minutes to set up our own gear, play, and break down our own gear. None of the other management on the tour responded to requests from us to share gear, even offers to the other earlier acts to use our gear. So began the process of setting up like we were playing some shitty club in NYC, to play about 4 or 5 short songs. Seems appropriate that after the first gig, one of the wheels on my speaker cabinet broke off, so I removed the rest and put them in a bag which I forgot out on the street. 

Our first couple of sets went quite well if I do say so myself. But of course it didn't quite align with the 4 hours of nonstop guitar shredding that followed. Oh, and we were also instructed to cut our set because the main acts had to start. Technically we still had a few minutes left, which was forcefully communicated to the tour manager. The solution? We would now no longer open the show, we would CLOSE the show. Yngwie complained that there was too much music on before him, causing him to lose part of his audience by the time he played. That's right, after Sir Malmsteen pleasured himself with his guitar for 90 straight minutes, we would play a set to whoever was left. I think there was one show since that decision was made where our audience outnumbered those of us on stage. 
    Our band didn't have much interaction with the Malmsteen camp, other than his guitar tech threatening to punch the face in of anyone who dared step over the white tape that surrounded Mr. Malmsteen's wall of amplifiers, claiming that a previous step over the white tape caused one of his amps to "go to shit". Since we became the closing act, we actually played in front of Malmsteen's entire setup; I freely admit now that my feet did cross the white tape on several occasions, but I'm happy to report that my face is still intact, if a bit stubbly and unshaven. I'm sad to report however that Yngwie's rig from hell is still intact. 
    Worth noting; the rest of the headliners and their bands (and even Yngwie's band) were very sympathetic and understanding of our situation, and were very friendly to us. Gary Hoey and Bumblefoot even hung out to watch our set one night which they certainly didn't have to do. In a sense, Yngwie united the rest of us with his 5 hour soundchecks, 20 4x12 Marshall guitar cabinets (a bit much even for the type of stadium that he hasn't seen in at least 20 years), and maybe also the fact that it didn't end up being so much a triple bill as it was the Malmsteen show and whoever decided to stick it out for the whole tour. That did not include us; we lasted about 2 weeks, instead opting to take advantage of Southern California to enjoy some downtime, perhaps a bit too much, and to do some recording which went far better than any of the shows of course. 

The part of the tour that we did stick around for was business as usual. Our bus broke down twice, once in the middle of Montana at 2am leaking out all of its oil, and once in a particularly hot area of central California where it leaked out all of its coolant. When the rest of the tour was called (for us that is), it came at the end of stretch of 4 days off, one of which was supposed to be spent in Canada. Remember Canada? So flights home were booked, a recording session was then scheduled, and flights were booked again.
   People were let go - half of the band and crew did not make it to see the very end of the tour (although technically some did, just not on paper if you catch my drift). The bus ended up at a strip club on several occasions, without anyone in the band on said bus. Of course someone ended up in the emergency room as well, but as I said - business as usual. 

So, was it a total failure? I have to say no. The tour itself one could argue was - we played music for a total of 3 hours in 18 days, probably the least amount of playing I've done since I started in high school - but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't kinda fun. It was a bit like summer camp, with bunk beds and a tight knit group of fairly immature people (obviously not excluding myself), but also with whiskey, a tour bus, plenty of questionable behavior, and some more whiskey. I will not miss having to use the restroom on a moving bus, "sleeping" with air conditioning relentlessly blowing on my head in a small enclosed bunk, not having my own room except for a couple of nights in what was a pretty foul smelling smoking room, and hauling gear around to play for 20 minutes - but the endless yucks were priceless.

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