Posted May 4, 2004
3 ASSASSINS AND A CLOUD OF DUST:
DENIZ TEK AND SCOTT MORGAN
ON THE ROAD IN EUROPE
It was April 2000 when southern France and Italy experienced a tour that fans of Real Rock Action would give away vital organs to see. Radio Birdman mainman Deniz Tek and former Rationals and Sonic's Rendezvous band member Scott Morgan hit the road, with a band comprising members of Italy's turbocharged A-10. The locals were re-badged "3 Assassins" for the tour, and rarely has a band name fitted so well.
It was a whirlwind tour that brought together like-minded elements in a surprisingly short space of time and burned a trail through some of the most beautiful and culturally intriguing parts of Europe. It also marked a coming together of a mutual admiration society: Although they'd worked together in Dodge Main and occasionally in Sonic's Rendezvous Band, the Scott Morgan-led Rationals were the first band a young Deniz Tek experienced live in his days as a high school student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Needless to say, the 3 Assassins were fans of both their bandmates' careers.
It was a three-guitar lineup that laid waste to venues from Niort to Rome with a fiery assault based on the considerable back catalogues of the two frontmen, with the odd MC5 and Stooges cover tossed in along the way. If you weren't lucky enough to be there in the flesh, worry not. The best of two shows was captured on tape in stunning quality. You may have heard many of the songs but arguably not with this sort of brutal power behind them.
The resulting album "3 Assassins" is out on Career and rates as one of the best chunks of guitar riffage, of this or any year.( It'll be gracing racks in Europe any day and in Australia in June, but if you can't wait you can grab it via the label website here.)
DENIZ TEK wrote a diary as the tour progressed, and the I-94 Bar is privileged to host it. Read on!
DETROIT METRO SONIC RENDEZVOUS
I'm sitting in the Cheers bar at Detroit Metro, having flown through a line of thunderstorms over Wisconsin and Lake Michigan. I ordered an iced tea.
Waiting. Another tea, finally asked the waiter for a hot corned beef sandwich, rather than the grilled chicken Caesar. Last American meal should be something substantial.
Finally about an hour before flight time, Scott walks in, with dyed blond curls ... actually more of a toxic shade of yellow...spilling out the back of a Chicago Bulls ball cap. I wave my boarding pass at him, he comes over and orders. We talk too long, among other things, about planes we have missed. Our final boarding announcement is called, we head for the gate. It's at the end of the F gates...a pretty fair walk.
We get there. The waiting area at the gate is empty...an ominous sign. Scott makes a head call, and the girl at the gate says if we're going to Paris we had better get on. They are closing the door. Scott's still in the can (prostate trouble? I'm thinking). Anyway here he comes, his trademark '67 faded Sunburst Telecaster in a gig bag, and we get on the Northwest DC10 at the last minute.
The '10 taxis to the end of the runway, turns just in front of I-94 to face south, and we roar off into the Michigan night. A slow left turn takes us over the downriver area and then over into Canada, where we'll head northeast along the coast of Labrador.
The drink cart comes around. We settle in. I take an aspirin and sleep a couple of hours; Scott does not.
HEY DUDE, WHERE'S MY EPI CRESTWOOD?
Descent through pellucid layers of overcast interspersed with haze...breaking through, we see outer northwest suburbs of Paris...straight in approach. The light here is somehow bright and dull at the same time. I have a mild hangover but I'm awake and ready for the day.
We get off, head straight through passport control with no conversation, over to the baggage claim. At DeGaulle it's in a circular building with the bags coming up through a central conduit and then radially spewing out onto their predestined carousels, arranged like the petals of some giant concrete fleur de mal. I wonder if the system works. It doesn't. An hour and a half later I am filling out a lost bag claim form for my missing guitar while waiting in a queue at the service desk.
Then Scott calls out. My guitar was mislaid but now has been carried up by an attendant, on a cart with a pile of other bereft looking pieces of luggage. My compadre was fortunately alert enough to spot it. I get it and we go. The problem is, this has taken up all the time we were supposed to have in reserve to get from the airport over to Gare de Lyon to get the train. We have reserved first class seats on the TGV to Montpellier (only $30 more and we might be able to sleep). But the train will leave at 1:30 and it's 12:20 now.
We get down to the street level really fast, and find the AirFrance bus which is about to leave. The timing seems perfect but when we board, I ask the driver if we can make our train. He looks amused, says: "Just." We consider getting off the bus and taking a cab, but there are none in sight and instinct tells me we should stay put. The trust in gut feelings is sorely tested when the bus circles the airport for what seems like forever picking up more people. Finally we are travelling into the city. It is surreal...the strange yellow gray light suffusing everything, images of the crashed Concorde...it must've gone down around here somewhere. All filtered through the distortion of sleep deprivation and hangover.
Miraculously we arrive at Gare de Lyon 10 minutes before departure. The trouble now is hauling all of our equipment and bags up flights of steps. It's more than we can really carry, and we get a cart which keeps tipping over. It's rough going and then we find out we are at the wrong tracks. So we have to go another 200 meters to the other side of the gare.
Scott looks like he's about to have a heart attack. We end up on the train within a minute of doors closed, exhausted, totally sweat soaked and muscles aching like the first day of football practice in junior high. We sink back in the first class seats as the train picks up speed. We find the restaurant car.
TGV ride..this is my second bullet train ride and I really love it. Rocketing along at 300 km/hr is the closest thing yet to low jet flight. It would be even better up front, maybe with an espresso con grappa, feet propped up on the dash, enjoying the fluid motion.
On a previous European tour I heard an amusing story from Jim Dickson. Apparently, a group of environmentalists were making a TV documentary protesting fast train service in England. They went to France with film crews to get the "man on the street" reaction to the French bullet trains already in service. They had assumed that the farmers and villagers interviewed would provide powerfully negative media images that could be used to give impact to their arguments. To their dismay the French people unanimously expressed deep pride in their fast trains. Nary a negative comment could
be got from them...doh!
Montpellier. The train pulls in and Rauky is there on the platform waiting for us. Having lost his right arm at the shoulder in a high speed motorcycle wreck, I grab his left hand and hug him. The right is a prosthesis wearing a menacing black glove at all times. He wears a black sweater, Black leather jacket, black jeans, and black converse sneakers. He has wavy black hair cut short, and a heavy jowl. He is an archetype of the swarthy visage of a true southern Frenchman. No one will mess with this guy...he's fearsome and I'm sure he can and does deal with bad guys easily. He is always ready with a smile and a laugh, he sees the basic good in life, lives it to the full, and doesn't worry about the sometimes unfortunate details. He is a true man.
We get the next commuter train to Sete, a 20 minute ride, and there is Romano, Pippo, Stefano and a van full of gear. The madness has started. We drive through the most beautiful fishing town on the French Mediterranean coast. Boats of every description line the canal, and the place seems timeless like a great painting. It reminds me of the town in Hemingways' Garden of Eden story. It could have been written here, although I am told it was another, similar town. From this scene of beauty we descend into the depths of the Practice Room.
One of a few rehearsal spaces run by the town council, it is situated in a concrete and stone cavern built underneath the city park where the old men play bowls and talk about the bad things the Germans did. In fact it may have served as a bomb shelter in the second war. This is a prototypical band practice room. In it there is no fresh air or ventilation. The mold and damp is intense. There is no room to move around without banging your guitar headstock against something or someone. The amps and drums are deafeningly loud in here, all pointed inward towards the small central space where we stand. Someone has attempted decoration with some paint and old band posters...a semi-festive atmosphere.
Despite this, we are embarking on a long journey together. A positive tone and good spirit must be set in place from the start. This is even more important than the songs. We've never played as a group before, but have only exchanged tapes...we have this evening and tomorrow to get it together before the first show. The songs won't really gel until the first week is over anyway. The objective is to become a band, meanwhile. We resolve the leadership issues early on, and roles are established to the satisfaction of all. This is not spoken of directly but allowed to just happen. Each finds his space.
The first practice is a wild card, because of three guitars. With some bands and individuals this could be a disaster, but here we fall easily into ensemble playing, and amazingly everyone can be heard. The biggest issues behind us, what remains are the details to be filled in: arrangements, starts and stops, tempos.
We finish at 10 pm and head over to Rauky's for roast duck and wine. It gets late. We are unbelievably tired, beyond exhaustion now, after the long journey of the past two days. We go to the house of la Mouche, a friend of Rauky's who has generously offered his flat while he is away. It's a bare place, doesn't look lived in. It hasn't been cleaned in a while but there is fresh white paint on the walls. There is mold. But at least we have separate rooms. Scott's loud snoring can't keep me awake through a closed door and a set of earplugs.
KNIVES AT CLOSE QUARTERS (AND THE TOUR HASN'T EVEN STARTED YET)
The bright morning sun streamed in through the windows. The light is surreal here, outlining the white plaster of the houses and the lush underwater green of the almond trees along the road with hyperclarity. I left the house, careful not to wake Scott, and went for a run up the mountain to the top where there is a tourist lookout. From here, you can see all the the Etange de Thau, the mountains to the east, a hundred kilometers of peninsula and strip of beach, and the dark blue Mediterranean, as well as most of the town of Sete. The air up there is seriously invigorating. If I lived here I would try to make this run each morning.
There is a memorial to Setois war dead, and a large aluminum cross.
With a good endorphin buzz, I made my way back down the hill and walked to Rauky's house on rue Martial Perret for coffee. There is no more jet lag, I feel fantastic, and I am ready for this beautiful day.
Rehearsals went well. We dropped the song Outside ... couldn't hit the groove, and there is no more time. We added the slow ballad Give It Up, because the set needed more variation in pace. I'm still sure we don't know all the starts and stops, and the tempos are a worry. But we are ready to play the first show tomorrow.
Michael O'Leary is an expatriate Australian from Geelong who lives in Sete and is married to a lovely French girl named Francoise. When not working as an editor of children's schoolbooks, he spends most of his time fishing, and today he has caught a trophy sized Dorade. Dorade are the gold striped sea bream that migrate between the etange and the sea, running a narrow gauntlet of dedicated Setois fishermen. It is most unusual to have got one this big, so Michael has invited us all over for dinner.
The one fish is big enough to feed the entire band, Rauky, Clarisse, and our hosts. The fish is delicious, with firm white flesh cooked perfectly. Apparently the fish's liver is a delicacy, and a small piece of it ends up on my plate. I'll try anything, but the taste of the liver is just too much....rather than gag the rest of it down, I discreetly replace it on the big platter for someone else more appreciative than I.
Dinner conversation began to get rowdy. The volume levels increased as Pippo and Romano engaged Rauky regarding the history of southern Europe, followed by a discussion of the relative merits of French and Italian cuisine and wine...Pippo gets up and aggressively confronts Rauky. Rauky holds a knife to Pippo's throat. There is a brief hard edge to the conversation. Later, they say it's all friendly but Scott and I have a moment of doubt and concern. No one gets killed, and we go back to La Mouche.
I can't sleep and stay up all night, reading.
SUPPORT BANDS ALWAYS PLAY FOR PEANUTS
We leave Sete in the Transit van. The drive carries us past Carcassonne to Toulouse, a trip of only about three hours. Show B is a tiny bar and we wonder because the area of the stage exceeds the area of the floor.
Stephan from Bordeaux is there, (the man who greeted the New Christs, when they arrived at Jimmy after a long drive with words of praise of the Deniz Tek Group. This apparently did not go over very well), and a few other fans. The load-in and soundcheck are uneventful. Then we wait. And wait.
Food is provided: roast pork/frites/haricots vert and a drinkable Bordeaux wine...there is no dressing room, but we can change clothes in the back of the kitchen area. Time drags on. The first band starts.
Meanwhile we spend a lot of time outside on the footpath in front of the venue talking to the sound guy who is an expatriate Brit, and an American who is in a decade-long custody battle with his French ex-wife, within the local court system. After a while I am sitting watching a group of dogs running around in front of the club. It's loud inside, I am saving my ears. A local youth comes and sits by me, offers a cigarette. As soon as he knows that my French is poor, he asks: "American?" I say yes. He immediately turns cold, tells me to get lost. He hates all Americans. He doesn't know I am in the band, and I don't say anything about it. He'll find out later, and be made to feel uncomfortable.
We finally go on. For a first gig it's pretty good. Most of the songs are played too fast. But Pippo's energy is exceptional. For some reason the previous band threw peanuts at the crowd and the stage is slick with thousands of crushed peanut shells. Our endings are rough, but no one cares. The crowd is going off. It's brutally hot and we are completely soaked in sweat. We end with a couple of encores. There is a surprise ending of TV Eye. It was totally free form and no one knew where it would go until it got there.
We are done.
Somebody tell Scott the song is over.
We go to the kitchen to dry off and sign a few things. Laurent the photo man from Bordeaux is there and we take a few shots. Now, bone tired, packed up the amps and got out of there around 2am.
I am elated to be in this band. All are great guys. I have known Romano best, since he has taken DTG and Deep Reduction around Italy numerous times. I knew Pippo and Stefano from our tour with A10, and know Scott from Ann Arbor all the way back to Rendezvous days. Rauky has been a pal since the first DTG trip to Europe in '95. All are my good friends, but this is the first time we have all been together on the same road.
We are staying at the house of a guy named Yves, who is in a local band. When we arrive there tired and ready to sleep there is of course a party going on in full blast. I end up hanging out in the kitchen, where you usually meet the best people at parties. After a couple of hours I manage to get away and sleep. Three hours later it's time to go. I get up, face the painful sun and get coffee.
"THAT IS ZE REAL ROCK AND ROLL"
I get up at 0930, according to the prearranged plan...Romano and the van finally arrives at 1230. We start the long drive to Thiers. It's all secondary roads with many villages along the way. It's slow: first, Stefano drives following Rauky and Clarisse in their van ahead.
We stop at a village for bread and chevre. Political discussions. On and on, endless driving. We listen to a tape and critique the Toulouse show. I sleep only the last 15 minutes of the drive. Around 7pm we arrive in Thiers, pulling up in front of Balthazar. The other bands are waiting for us to load in.
We set up fast and soundcheck with the Balthazar regular sound man Danny. He's the guy who was there during the DTG show in '99, when Tony Horton, our drummer, vomited a steaming pile on the brand new stage carpet during the song Outside. He also whacked a crash cymbal so hard it turned inside out in the same song.
When we were loading out, Danny was just standing there, looking at the vomit. I apologized to him, saying we would clean it up. He said " No, no! You must leave it. That is ze real rock and roll!" For that comment I will always love this guy.
The previous manager, Bertrand, is no longer there. Choum is managing. Ellen, a magically beautiful girl, is there. All are good people, loyal and true.
When you play at Balthazar, the bands go down the mountainside to a private dining hall where a wonderful woman cooks dinner...she takes no crap from anyone, she's a tough one who reminds me of Hemingway's Pilar...it's always great. Tonight it's beef stew, with roasted rosemary potatoes and aubergines. We are there with the TV Men from Bretagne, and Puffball from Sweden. There is good wine, a warm convivial spirit develops. I talk with the Puffballs about vintage muscle cars. It is strange to find young people interested in the same thing I was into as a teenager 30 years ago. It promises to be a good night.
TV Men played a good, hard set of rock, and then Puffball hit the stage with their Mopar-driven version of the strangely popular Sweden - Detroit connection sound. We have to thank the Hellacopters for it I guess. It's all punk-influenced, but with the right amount of retro rock.
They all complained about the stage sound, but the front of house sounded all right to me. It is, or should have been, a red flag.
The support bands are ready to relax and watch us. They want to see what we've got. It's always a challenge, but never stressful to me. The better the support, the better I play. Even with Wayne Kramer opening, in Australia during the '96 reunion tour of Radio Birdman, it was never a problem, only a solution.
We go down the spiral steps to the club floor, and wind our way through the crowd to the stage. The set starts well. It's loud. I can hear everything. The playing is good, and as we warm up it gets better. There are people down the front obviously into it, and that always makes for a better gig. You find one or two dancers to play to. The energy flows.
One great thing about Scott is that his vocals never waver. He is a true singer...one of the best ever. I think he could sing great even if he was dead. It's a joy to work with him, it gives me the chance to lay back and play the hell out of the guitar. My good feelings can't be denied.
Pippo's breakfast...anybody got a light?
RUNAWAY SLAVES AND THE ROAD THAT GOES ON FOREVER
At breakfast, we're in good spirits. The drive to Niort is a brute. About three-quarters of the way there it started to rain and it rained hard. We arrived in Niort late, and unloaded the van with rain streaming off everything. As we go into the club, it's like a palace. Beautiful new place in an old stone building, high ceilings, great lights. Equinox is on the PA. Charlie is there from CDRama, and Bernard Masanes from Jukebox Magazine, is there too. Bernard is an old and close friend of mine, and it's always good to see him. Greg Bowen, who runs the Birdman fan website, has driven down with a friend from Morlaix.
It's like a class reunion of mates.
Soundcheck is a bit rough, and Scott has a problem with one of the sound guys who apparently copped an attitude. We sort it out. The dressing room is great, but the door to the toilet is locked and we are forced to go outside and around the building to another area. It's always something.
We eat, get interviewed by a woman who knows nothing about our background or even about what we call "rock music". There's no time for showers, we have to start. There's no support band tonight, just us. The band is at its best, but I don't really get comfortable until the 4th or 5th song. Love and Learn rocks really hard. Heaven peaks. City Slang finds the right tempo and grooves out for the first time...Scott lights his guitar on fire, and I douse it with beer.
Encore ... we invite Greg Bowen up to sing New Race which he does a splendid job of. TV Eye finishes the night .... another free jam version.
We try to follow a car to Stephan Cybart's chateau, but get behind the wrong car, get lost and wander around in Greg's car for what seems hours to find our way back to the hotel, where we are confronted by Charly et al who insist we go back. Finally at Stephans' there are rounds of toasts followed by jamming in his studio upstairs. Just before dawn's first light, Greg heads back towards Morlaix and we crash for a couple of hours at our hotel. Up at 10, we start the long drive back to Sete where we will spend a night.
AU REVIOR FRANCE, ITALY BECKONS
We head off to Italy on the road for an all night drive, in a dangerous thunderstorm, with visibility down to a few meters in blinding rain, down to zero when passing trucks. The French part of this tour is over. Only three gigs, but it seems like forever. We are now a band, created in France, ready now for the Italian road.
ON TO PART TWO