Thursday, November 16, 2006

SINGING IN THE RAIN – a weekend in Seattle’s record deluge

A soggy arrival after 3000 miles of tour bus, somewhat enlivened by not one but two blowouts en route – neither of them life-threatening, fortunately, but a bit frightening nevertheless, especially the one in the middle of the night in the Arizona desert. Doesn’t do wonders for sleep when you suddenly hear ‘BANG - whap-whap-whap’ from below your bunk, followed immediately by a cloud of burning-rubber gas engulfing our quarters. All that was missing were the klaxons, and the shouts of “Dive, Dive” as in bad submarine movie (that’s what our sleeping berths are like aboard the night coach). Still, we did see some amazing stars out there in desert night, but nothing left of our tyre; it seemed to have vapourised entirely, and was probably going to wreak havoc (in bits all over the highway) on some unfortunate bike or Honda Civic later that night.

Still, a kind tow-trucker fixed us up and saw us on our way at 5am in Flagstaff, after some most enlightening conversations about the temperature of boiling water at high elevations (Flagstaff is about 4000 feet above sea level), Onnie & I having absconded for a half hour for some truly tepid tea at the Transport Cafe across the highway.
The second tyre aberration occurred after our show in Portland, Oregon, this time in rainy downtown, so no danger there, but nevertheless it turned our drive to Seattle next day into a six-hour rainy marathon when the drive would normally be about two.

However, a rare night off was not to be denied us, and a sprint through the puddles immediately after arrival took us to our favourite Seattle food trough, Assaggio, where we were given the usual warmest greeting by host extraordinaire, Mauro Golmarvi. It turned out to be a provident weekend to have made the visit, as they celebrated their thirteenth anniversary on Monday (13th), our next night off, and we were delighted to join his guests and to enjoy some of Italy’s very finest wines along with Mauro’s simple, elegant and personal menu – and some really great company - in one of our favourite cities anywhere…RAIN or shine. Mille grazie, Mauro!

Now if all this background stuff seems to be a case of cart-before-horse in terms of “what about the gigs, Alan?” then forgive me blocking in the canvas with some broad brush strokes and extra colour before going into the details of showtime and adding in the bright lights of venues, clubs, casinos etc. that brought us on this long journey in the first place. I suppose I have to jump back another month and mention that it all started in Japan back in September, at the Blue Note(s) in Osaka and Nagoya (Nissan, and Toyota towns respectively) before going on to a new stage for us in Tokyo, at Duo Music Exchange, a club part owned by Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, and with a great young musical audience who just love to funk! That was special. As always, it’s a helluva flight both ways and a few days rest were in order before setting off again for sunny California, where we did half a dozen varied gigs – some by ourselves, and some with our pals Tower Of Power, and even one with War as well. We had fun with both bands and one of own gigs, a new venue in Bakersfield, saw Sal and Marcos from War surprise us by jumping onstage at the end of the set and playing impromptu percussion, prior to an impromptu late-night drinking session which led to much further merriment. Not to be outdone, both Larry Braggs and Roger Smith of Tower sat in with us on our final gig with T.O.P. in Albuquerque. Then it was farewell to these guys until next spring.

So it was on the bus again for a marathon 1200-mile ride to Petaluma, California – a delightful little town in the north end of Marin Co. which we had never visited before. A really great little theatre – The MYSTIC – which dates back to early last century, and an enthusiastic crowd to boot, who dated back to…? They were totally into it, as were the gang the next night in Portland, at a very similar setting, The Aladdin Theatre. We had some laughs there, firstly at the meet & greet for radio station ticket winners in the green room where one couple had either been taken by some ‘acid’ rain or had had a previous date with some heady elixir, and then being regaled with anecdotes from Cliff Castle of Audix Microphones who are HQ-ed in Portland, and who keep our sweet voices heard above the general din of the AWB fife & drum brigade.

And the rain fell, and fell again, then staggered to its feet, and then fell again in more torrents as we rumbled on into Seattle, which brings this little dissertation full-circle and somewhat legitimizes the dread-panned title of this piece; I should mention the stalwartness of the ‘Seattle-ites’ in their defiance of weather that would keep most Americans I have seen over the years firmly indoors. We Scots have a similar climate most of the year – wet, windswept and interesting – and so I appreciate a species which carries a brolly at all times and strides out into the night undaunted and unable to resist good music (they also seem to like AWB). They were a welcoming bunch as usual and we saw seven quite different houses over the four nights we played Jazz Alley, each as interesting and vocal as the last, but each as demographically and age-group-ically varied as the last, also. Forgive me, but I couldn’t find an adjective for ‘age-group’ so I made one up; not that forgiveness is something I seek very often, since I tend to think that one man’s forgiveness is another man’s lunch waiting to be stolen.

Of course it all comes back to food and drink, doesn’t it? From the dietetically perfect foods of the Orient in Japan, back to the hearty Northeast grub of New York, then on to the Southern Californian nightmare of Denny’s (Chez Denois, as we daub it), Wendys, Pizza hut, China Buffets (all full of Mexican patrons), Big Boys, Bigger Boys, Bad Burgers, Super-Subs, and Taco Bells (all full of Asian patrons) – what a variety of absolute shite, but all within walking distance of your BestWesternHolidayHampton. Since tour buses do NOT do a local limo service once parked for the day, that tends to be the main menu in the StripMallville of much of So.Cal. nowadays. But by good fortune, things picked up after that, on a good curry night with old pals Steve Ferrone & ‘Granny’ Grange in LA, to some fine finds in unlikely places like Mesa, AZ (GREAT Mexican), a Casino steakhouse in Alpine, CA, an Indian buffet in Petaluma, then to finding our hotel was around the corner from Corey Shriver’s ‘Wildwood’ in Portland (yes, guys, I’ll send you my haggis recipe – I haven’t forgotten), and finally back to the start of this epicurean journal that is now finally all but over here in Minneapolis.

And where do you think we’re playing…..Rossi’s, which only has one of Minneapolis’ best steakhouses on the premises and a matching wine list!

I’m off to have a couple of new holes put in my belts, and then prepare to be rolled onstage for the remainder of the week. It isn’t raining here, but I’ll sing anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers and may you have a high (and dry) one up in Seattle!