Sunday 26 February 2017

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - US and Canada tour 2016, part 3: Toronto and Vancouver

The last leg!  This is a bit short, really; I think I must have been suffering from 'need-lag' by this point on the tour, and my notes became a little bit thin (which I most certainly didn't...!).

Thursday 10 November (Day off, Toronto, ON)

I like big things. 

Pecks went to the gym.  Sully took me up the CN Tower (ooh err).  It was amazing.  Atherton checked out the nearby Steam Whistle brewery.  We met up with Pecks and went looking for poutine, which we found in the form of Smoke’s on Queen Street.  Hair metal on the radio, carbs in the cardboard.   Beautiful.

Carpet of city.

We checked out Steve’s music store, which had been very kind and helpful to Sully on a previous trip when he had a mid-tour effects-pedal malfunction.  I found a nice Tele which I briefly considered buying, but thought better of it.

Here marks a gap when we went out with Siavash (!).  There was some beer.  There was an open-mic rap session.  There was some beer!

Friday 11 November (Mod Club, Toronto, ON)

I woke up to the news that Leonard Cohen had passed away.  Everyone but me slept in, so I had a quiet pot of coffee to myself in the kitchen overlooking the beautiful garden with its carpet of red-brown-yellow leaf.  Sully was the first to surface, and promptly went out for a wander.  I stayed behind trying to operate the Nespresso machine, with limited success and a lot of mess.  I gave up in the end, and went back to bed!  After a very slow morning/early afternoon while everyone gathered themselves together, it was time to head to the venue.  

Wankpuffin: (n) Donald Trump.  See also 'Hoof-wanking bungle-c***'.

It was cold!  After having spent most of our time on this continent basking in 25-30 degree heat in Los Angeles, the 0-5 degrees of Toronto was rather refreshing, although no-one wanted to stay outside too long.  We loaded the gear in to the Mod Club and set up for one of the easiest sound-checks of the tour.  Once set up I found my way to the bogs and started humming ‘Marble Zone’ from Sonic The Hedgehog to myself – it’s always slightly unnerving when you hear someone humming along with you in the gents!  Thankfully it was only Sully.  Atherton and I went over the road for a cup of coffee and a sarnie, returning to find ALL THE PIZZA IN THE WORLD had been delivered. Nice!

Rhythm & Vibes opened the show, and were on top form.  It was really lovely to see all these guys again; I’d met them for the first time in Calgary earlier in the year, and had fond memories of their show and their company.  They got the crowd going in their own inimitable fashion, and then it was our turn.   The show was a really enjoyable one, with a couple of really special moments.  An old Radio Tehran song, ‘Eshtebah’, sticks in my head from this night. Its quite Floyd-y in a way; I get to play some pretty easy yet atmospheric organ chords, accompanying some quite impassioned vocals from Ali and some lovely slide guitar work from Pecks. On nights like this one, when the band is on fire, when the atmosphere in the crowd is electric and the lights are right, its like a warm hug. 

We had also decided to do the obvious tribute to Mr. Cohen at the start of the second set, and I got to sing the first verse – the crowd singing every word along with me.  I was reduced to a sobbing wreck after that and had to leave the stage briefly to recover myself (despite Sully’s hilarious but perhaps inappropriate altered lyric – “She tied you to her kitchen chair, she slapped you ‘round, she touched you…there…”).  Also during the second half, a young man brought his young lady-friend onstage to propose during the middle of ‘Wedding Song’, appropriately enough.  Thankfully, she said yes.  We didn’t have any suitable music prepared for the eventuality that she said no!

After packing down, lovely Aiden and Sara drove me back to base with all the gear, and then we all headed for Siavash’s apartment where the party was already in swing.  “Lots of love in the room”, says my personal diary.  I think I hit the bottle rather hard; I don’t remember much except that Sully and I got a cab back, which we had to go on a bit of a mission to find!

'This is a very boring painting' *

Saturday 12 November (Toronto, ON – Venue, Vancouver, BC)

Our host, the splendid Mohamed, woke us all up (bless him) on time for us to get ready to leave for YYZ.   We got to the airport in plenty of time, but it was all for nothing; somehow, despite confirming the booking via email and taking his money, Air Canada had no record of Ali buying our ‘plane tickets.  It took a lot of time and queuing to figure this out, and the nice girl behind the final desk seemed more interested in explaining what had gone wrong - in great detail - rather than making any visible attempt to put things right.  Luckily, there were just enough seats left on the flight, and we were fast-tracked through security.  Ali and Mohamed had stopped off for sandwiches for us en route which were distributed once in our seats (hero!), and I settled in to watch ‘Finding Dory‘ and have a good cry (Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome).

Welcome to Vancouver.  F***ing terrifying!

"The ride into Vancouver is going to be choppy...", announced the flight deck.  Shortly followed by "We're going to be landing sooner than we thought..." !!  Not particularly reassuring, but after a turbulent descent we landed safely.  We piled into a cab and headed for the last hotel of the tour (passing ‘Big Rich's Adult Video Store’ en route…).  The hotel was a fair way out of town, so we didn’t have long there before we had to turn back and go to the venue.   I had spied this venue in a Devin Townsend Project video tour diary, across the street from the Vogue Theatre where they were playing back in October.   The guys in the venue looked after us and the sound check was over relatively quickly.  Off to Tim Hortons for a coffee and a sandwich before going straight back to the venue.

The last gig of the tour, and it was an absolute belter.  We had been a bit worried about the curfew (which we were actually told about in advance, for once!), but we timed it perfectly.  The first set was terrific, and we opened the second set with ‘Hallelujah’ again; the sound man wasn’t quite ready for me and Atherton to come out and start, the house music was going for a good 5 minutes with me stood on stage like a lemon waiting to start and gently waving at the back of the room!  Still, never mind.  Another appreciative crowd, another sold-out show.  Hooray!  

The after-show / after-tour party began at Earls Test Kitchen.  My notes say “Wasabi minesweeper!” – I can only assume that somebody had something to eat which included some rather surprising heat!  I enjoyed a rather splendid array of white wine before calling it a night around 1am and taking all the gear back to the hotel.  I had done rather too much drinking and not sleeping over this trip; the other boys had sensibly taken days off, but not me.  A lesson learned, but a lesson destined to be ignored I fear.  Atherton rocked in at 4am!

"There must be some mistake; I ordered the LARGE carafe?"

"This is the end...."



Sunday 13 November 2016 (Vancouver, BC – Calgary, ON)

This was the hardest morning.  Definitely.  When I had arrived at the hotel in the small hours, I had asked reception to book a taxi to take us to the airport at around 10am.  Just before 9am, the ‘phone in the room woke me up to tell me that they had only just booked it.  I went back to bed.  Then the ‘phone rang again.  “PISS OFF!!!”, yelled I.  But it was only Ali, inviting me down for breakfast with him, which was very nice!  We enjoyed some lukewarm toast and cereal in paper bowls (definitely the least luxurious breakfast of the tour, unless you count Jack In The Slag), before meeting the boys outside.  Poor Pecks looked worryingly ill (“It feels like my face is falling off”), which is only to be expected – apparently he’d dropped the equivalent of £50 on McDonalds whilst pissed off his face at silly o’clock in the morning!  Bless him.   We said our goodbyes to Ali, who was coming home a bit later, and started the long journey home.

The rest was airports, aeroplanes, and cars!  Oh, and that nifty little tram thing they wheel you around in at Calgary International – that was cool!!!

All that, and I only lost a sock and a ‘phone charger!

I’ve got absolutely no idea how to sign this off, except to say that the two-and-a-half weeks I spent on this tour, and the time I’ve spent with the band on various European jaunts during 2016, count as some of the finest times of my life as a jobbing muso.  I had SUCH a good time, playing to some fabulously warm and generous audiences with some fabulously warm and generous friends on-stage with me.  We got through it all without any major falling out, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.

To Ali – thanks for having me along for the ride, brother.  You and the boys have built something very special here, and I feel honoured every time I get asked along to play.  Hoping that this means love…

To Sully – thanks for talking me down off a bad mood in L.A., for making wonderful music, and for being our guide through it.  Washing Bot loves you forever.

To Atherton – thanks for being my most regular and loving room-mate, for not throttling me for snoring too vivaciously, and for being the dirty, hairy, skinny beast that you are.  Don’t you go changing.

To Pecks – thanks for welcoming an (almost) complete stranger into the firm, for making me feel a part of each and every show, and for the sick f***ing guitar jams (almost) every night! NEEEEEED!!!!

To absolutely everyone we met along the way – you were perfect, and you won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Chris “a pint of bourbon, please” Harrison

* Obscure Maiden reference for any Hi-on fans who still read this thing!

Thursday 9 February 2017

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - US and Canada tour 2016, part 2: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Election Day

Thursday 3 November (Los Angeles to San Francisco, CA)

"That's a big Twinkie."

Most of the day spent on the I-5 driving to San Francisco, listening to a hair metal station on the satellite radio ("You got the rhythm, you got the speed / Mama's little baby likes it short and sweet…").  I spent a good deal of the journey sat on the seat at the back of the car with my headphones in, enjoying some ‘me’ time and watching the pretty landscapes go past.   We were originally going to be staying with one of Ali’s friends, but Ali decided we would plump for a hotel instead (hooray!) so we eventually pulled up at the Hilton Concord.  Atherton and I checked into room 516, and chilled out for a bit.

In the evening we went to a party hosted by the wonderful Nazy Kaviani, the founder and executive director of the Diaspora Arts Connection who were putting us on on Saturday.  Nazy and her organisation do some great work to bring diverse cultural and ethnic groups together in the San Francisco Bay area, and its something that she is really passionate about. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to her about her work, and the people she surrounds herself with to work on these events are just enthusiastic and fun to be around. I was introduced to the ‘Persian Lady’ (a cocktail involving vodka, pomegranate juice, and something else I can’t remember…), and a lovely lady named Yasaman who works for NASA!  We all had a fantastic time, and as is practically inevitable whenever a bunch of musicians get together on the need, eventually we started jamming.  Someone definitely played the Faramaz Aslani song we had played in DC, and I have a memory of playing ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Hotel California’, and a couple of Ali tracks accompanied by some of my bandmates and the assembled party-goers.  I think I had the piano room to myself a little later and entertained myself with a little gentle Bon Jovi…!  It was a properly lovely night, and definitely a highlight of the trip.

A lot of love in the room. 

Friday 4 November (Day off, San Francisco, CA)

I was up first and tried the hotel breakfast.  I managed to destroy the waffle iron by forgetting to oil it up first.  Whoops.  They made me one in the kitchen instead!  The boys were all broken by the party.  I refused to admit defeat and ordered myself a ‘Persian Lady’ while Atherton and Sully lounged in the Jacuzzi.  We headed off to the lunch at the curiously named ‘Claim Jumper’, which did Atherton and I no favours whatsoever – I felt almost as bad as I had after Whataburger.  What the hell do these people put in their food?!?

We went for a drive into San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and stopping to take photos.  The general broken-ness meant that we all ended up back in the hotel early doors and having something of an early night (apart from Sully, who was chasing some skirt or the other all night – no word on his success, I’m afraid; what goes on tour, stays on tour!).

 No caption needed, I feel. 

Saturday 5 November (Slims, San Francisco, CA)

That's us!

Once up and checked out, we headed for the next hotel in the South of Market (or SoMa) neighbourhood, with a bit more hair metal on the car stereo just for good measure (“Let’s get NAUGHTY NAUGHTY!”).  We passed 2 freakin’ DeLoreans on the way!!!

In what was pretty much the only mistake made in the tour arrangements, this hotel had been booked for the week after we needed it.  It took the nice man behind the desk to point this out – both Atherton and I checked the booking on the screen of my phone and didn’t spot the error!  Thankfully he managed to squeeze us in at no extra cost.  We waited for the rooms to be ready while Sully and Pecks dropped off the hire car.  Once safely behind the hotel room doors, we chilled out briefly before heading for the venue. 

Queen of the Slim's Age. 

Slim’s was a cool place.  The snare drum, which I am pretty sure had been provided the support band, had been autographed by Metallica drummer and San Francisco resident Lars Ulrich.  The place had a great vibe, and posters from all sorts of bands (Queens of the Stone Age, Radiohead, etc.).  NWOBHM stars Diamond Head had played here a few days before us!  After sound-check and waiting for the doors to open (and the bar to open) I wandered over and bought myself a venue t-shirt, and was treated to a bourbon on-the-house.  Lovely people!  That wasn’t the only present I received – Yasaman brought us all some gifts from NASA!

The gig was a ton of fun right from the off.  Sully seemed to have a bit of a dip in energy during the first half, and looked utterly beaten at half-time; however, he then located his sunglasses and almost immediately perked up (Pecks was looking for some sunglasses too to chuck off his face at the crowd a la San Diego…).  The crowd were great; the spirit of Nazy’s organisation was definitely in full force. 

Tequila? Backstage? Surely not. 

The minute I came off-stage, however, I had a massive crash.  My energy levels simply dropped to nothing.  I had expected to hit bottom at some point during the previous week, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it made the after-party rather difficult for me to handle, so I made my excuses and naffed off a bit early.  I did meet two lovely folk in the elevator who both offered to drive me back to my hotel, which I gratefully accepted – especially after they told me that I might not be particularly safe walking around the area near our hotel!  I got into me bed and watched ‘Hellraiser’ until Atherton rolled in, and nodded off shortly after.

Sunday 6 November (San Francisco – El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA)

Nice Feelings On Tour, No. 7: Seeing your band name on a marquee like this is a Nice Feeling. 

The mid-tour exhaustion that hit me at the end of last night’s gig was still in full force.  The clocks went back, which gave us an extra hour in bed, but even a relatively sensible 9:30 lobby call wasn’t quite late enough for me.   I couldn't get the shower working in the room (I found out later that it was one of those ridiculous ‘pull the thing under the tap and it’ll work’ things), so I was grumpy and un-washed right from the off.   Thankfully there was no airport drama to contend with; all was plain-sailing from the hotel door to the plane, although we sat for ages on the concrete at LA X waiting for a jetway to let us de-plane.

We hopped straight in a cab and headed to the El Rey Theater.  The venue was ace, all plush lining and chandeliers.  It had been a choice between this and the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard.  I had initially been a bit bereft when I found that we weren’t playing at the Roxy, being as it is right next door to the Rainbow and just down the street from the Whisky-a-Go-Go, but I got over it as soon as I saw the place.  I was still grumpy and snappy all afternoon – the combined effect of days of drinking too much, sleeping too little, being un-washed, and an element of homesickness.  Hopefully I didn’t piss anyone off too much.  We were staying in the same apartment as the week before, so after sound-check we headed off there to pick up the keys and chill out.  I finally got to have a shower, and felt much better.

Love.  Guitar love. 

Looking back at the footage, this was one of the better gigs.  Hamid did a great turn on ‘Ah Az Eshgh’ to round off the first half of the show.  I was still a bit moody, and didn’t really get into it until we got round to the almost-metal of Wedding Song in the middle of the second set.  After that, I loved it.  The specially extended intro to the final song, during which I got to jam with Mamek, was particularly memorable – I recall seeing Sully on the other side of the stage looking like he was loving every single note we hit.  Everyone seemed really happy with how this gig had gone, and as I write this I’m slightly annoyed that my memories were so coloured by being in a foul mood!  Still, we all had a crash at some point on this tour – it’s just a shame that mine came at the apex.  Never mind – next time I get to play in L.A. (fingers crossed!), I’ll be more in the moment!!!

After the show we piled back to a friend’s apartment.  We must have made a bit of a racket.  Music was blasting from the owner’s phone through the stereo, and one of her neighbours called to complain; the complaint came loud and clear over the stereo, causing the neighbour to become the very thing he was complaining about.  I enjoyed the irony.  And the wine…

Home. Sleep. 

Monday 7 November (Day off, Los Angeles, CA)

Don't mind if I do!

After yesterday’s moodiness, I decided to give the guys a break from me (and give me some time to think) and spent most of the day tromping around L.A. on my own. I walked for 6 miles, and wound up back at the Rainbow for a quiet drink.  Sat at the bar, I met a lovely couple, Nate and Lora from Orlando FL, who were on their honeymoon.  They had gotten married in Las Vegas at a place called the Neon Boneyard, where all that old iconic Vegas neon goes to die.  He loved rock, and was visiting the Rainbow in tribute to Lemmy, and she loved Marilyn Monroe (Lora explained why the area in which the Rainbow is situated is named the ‘Norma Triangle’ on city maps, which had been bugging me for a while!).   Lovely folks.  I walked back to the apartment via the empty carcass of Tower Records and the guitar shops.

Tuesday 8 November (Day off, Los Angeles, CA – U.S. Presidential Election Day

Rarely seen in the wild, the lesser-spotted 'Romford 'Raptor'

Election day.  We decided that today would be the day to do the touristy theme park trip, and took ourselves off to Universal Studios.  We were right – we didn’t queue for more than 5 minutes for any ride or attraction.  We discovered that Pecks was a bit nervy about roller-coasters; on the Harry Potter-themed ‘Flight of the Hippogriff’, he proclaimed, "There's six year-olds with bigger balls than me!"  I think he liked it though – we must have gone around about six times at the end of the day.

Pecks went to the gym while Athers, Sully and me returned to the Aroma café to have dinner and watch as the polls closed and the votes came in, returning to the apartment to watch the rest of it.  

Wednesday 9 November (Los Angeles, CA – Toronto, ON)

Americans elected Donald Trump as their 45th president.  We left America for Canada.


Next time, Canada!!!