Hydromatics Euro Tour 2003 a.k.a. The Death Tour
I’m flying Northwest/KLM to Amsterdam. It’s late night, U.S. time, Monday, August 18, 2003, and I’m somewhere over the Atlantic. Seated next to me on the aisle is Bridget and she weighs 300 pounds. I am sort of crammed into the window seat, but I put up with it until she falls asleep and starts to sprawl into my tiny space. I ask for another seat and get it. Could this be an omen? I will soon find myself crammed into a small band van with a 300 pound gorilla named the Hydromatics. And when I touch down the airline has lost my luggage…
The first day is off at Tony Slug’s girlfriend’s apartment. Judith is a great girl and has superb taste in music. Our drummer Andy Frost and Tony are also staying there. We order Indian. Lamb Madras and saag paneer. Later I get a reprieve from Judith’s closet to stay with Vinnie “The Chink”. He’s one of the singer/guitar players in The Felchers, or as they say in Spain, Los Fletchers. His apartment is real nice and I am grateful. Next day we order pizza and then head for the jam. It’s the premier rehearsal room in Amsterdam. I meet Claudia Cowabunga from the all-girl Los Looches. She’s very fetching as she shows me the Hydros t-shirt she designed and how the curve of the logo kind of follows her own curves. I might take a ride in her motorcycle basket but it could be kind of dangerous.
Next day more rehearsal and lamb shoarma. Lots of Middle Eastern food in this town. Our driver Eugene O’Leary from the Spanish band Holy Sheep arrives and so does my suitcase, but not my spare guitar - Maureen’s Schecter Tele.
Next day is Friday, August 22. It’s the first day of the tour in Kontich, Holland. We are playing this one gig with a friend subbing on bass. Jevin is also in The Felchers, and our photographer Kim’s boyfriend. It’s a long story but basically our bass player Theo Brouwer has quit the band on the eve of this tour. It is at this gig that we meet our new bass player for the tour, Laurent Cirone, of the Paris band, The Dogs. He has seen our “desperately seeking bass player” ad on the 'Net and volunteered. We all miss Theo, but as it turns out Laurent is an apt replacement.
Larent and Scott.
Back in Amsterdam for more rehearsal. Laurent tells me about Antoine de Saint Exupery’s room in Paris. He wrote the little prince whose character lives on Asteroid B-612. We add “Tumblin' Down” and “Love & Learn” to a set of the usual suspects, a combo of SRB covers and our own new stuff. Our producer/engineer Evert Kaatee suggests we cut a record in two days at the end of the tour - very old school. My guitar finally arrives.
Monday August 25 we leave for Paris to pick up Laurent’s gear. On the way to Toulouse a car rams into the back of the van. The guy had just run someone off the road behind us. Laurent calls the gendarmes and they will no doubt pick him up since we are on a closed tollway and we pass him with his radiator steaming on the side of the road. Half the band wants to beat his ass, but cooler heads prevail. He won’t get a good reception from the French highway patrol.
After a gig in Toulouse and seeing old friends Yves and Bridget, we’re off to a festival in Montpellier. The setting is beautiful in the opera square park with fountains all around and lit up for the evening. I walk around and find the whole area is like this. It’s one of my few and far between sightseeing experiences on tour. We play to our biggest audience so far and stay at the Club Subsonic.
Next day we’re off to Madrid. It’s on the route to our main objective - the Serie z Festival in Jerez. The sun comes up as we enter Spain with the first rays of the new rising sun playing in the van. We don’t have time for much of anything but driving now. Two days of it.
Finally, we’re at the festival and beat to hell. Eugene’s band is sound checking as we arrive. Five minutes before showtime, Tony decides to change his strings. Bad idea but I can’t talk him out of it. The Hellacopters' stage manager, Eric, changes them for him. Somehow the string lock is not secured and the guitar is out of tune immediately. Meanwhile I break a string on my '67 Tele. Then another on the Schecter. We’re running out of guitars. Nine Pound Hammer hands me a brand new Les Paul and I’m afraid to touch it, fearing belt buckle scratches or mike stand accidents. I kind of hold it balanced in mid air. Strings hands me a freshly strung beautiful old Tele. Finally we get to “Hijackin' Love” and I decide to stretch the breakdown into a real gospel revival testimonial. The set pulls up dangerously close to the ground and certain disaster. We’re saved. I can see 10,000 people spread out in front of the stage swaying in the warm Spanish evening air. Great God almighty! The rest of the show is fun. We can sit back and listen to Radio Birdman for the first time ever followed by the Hellacopters. I try not to fall off the stage.
The next day we have an actual off day with no drive scheduled. We spend it at the beach. The following day we have another day off in Seville. Awesome! On Tuesday September 2 we are at Belle Epoque in Caceres. The audience holds up signs and chants “Scott we love you”. I’m feeling lucky to be alive.
We stop at Gene’s hometown of Leon on the way to La Corruna where last tour I had “stood onstage in old Espana”. It’s a line from Powertrane’s “One Eyed Jacks”. Next is the Club Nashville in Vigo. “Gotta turn that damn thing down”. After a great gig in Madrid Friday at the anniversary party for the Club Grutta 66, which is recorded, we drive all night for a makeup gig in Rennes. We skipped it last tour. I can see why. It’s just too far for a one-day drive but we make it. Andy has flown from Madrid to Paris and trained to Rennes with his girlfriend Renee. I don’t know how they got there but they did.
We all get some sleep after the gig except for Eugene. He has decided to spend the night at the club. I wish you could see what he looked like when he stuck his head out the dressing room window the next day. We don’t get to go to the D-Day site at Normandy but I will have my own D-Day this year in Sweden. (More about that in the news section).
It’s back to Amsterdam and more rehearsal followed by a drive to Bielefeld Tuesday August 9 in the rain. We arrive soaked and meet the Birdman guys again. We’re opening for them, and Klondike and Deniz join us for “City Slang”. We were supposed to do this with the ‘Copters at Serie z but at least we pulled this one off. Great to see these guys for the 2nd time ever! It’s kind of surrealistic watching them now nearly 30 years after they broke up. I’m surprised at how melodic they seem. Almost laid back. I guess that’s the feeling of revisiting an experience for the 2nd time.
Next is Chemnitz and Dresden. The club in Dresden is the church. It’s actually an old stone church turned into a club. This is the old East Germany and things are different here than in the west. There is an apartment upstairs so we have to play at an acoustic decibel level. This is the night we hear Johnny Cash has died. It was the capper to what Andy was now calling The Death Tour after so many people had died stateside. When I get home I will receive the coup de grace of The Death Tour.
We’re supposed to do our two-day session now but after laying down basic tracks for “All Down the Line” and “You’re So Great” the session is called off. That night I have a nightmare. Maureen is leaving me. It would prove to be prophetic.
Now for our final date in Holland at Tilburg with The Spades. This is the band Tony is currently playing with. Tonight he’s with us for the final Hydromatics gig in Holland. We kill because we’re on a mission tonight. Gene decides to trade shots with The Spades after the show and we have to carry him home. He leaves his bag at the bar. Bye bye bag.
The rest is sort of anti-climatic. We were supposed to end the tour on Market Street in London but instead we’re heading south. First we’re at Freiberg, Germany at the Swamp Bar. They treat us well and the club is packed with people spilling out onto the street.
Then it’s time for the final euro gig for the Hydromatics. It’s been a good five-year run with two studio albums (and a live one to come soon). We arrive at the Shuxenhuus (“shooting gallery”) at Ins, Switzerland. It looks like a kid’s clubhouse. Laurent’s friends are playing the Bigman’s Festival nearby. He, Gene, and I, decide to drive there after soundcheck. We meet some women from a band called The Wellers backstage. Gene drolly turns to me and says “The Wailers”. My jaw drops a foot. As it turns out, most of the band are replacements. We finish the gig and our friend Fabio gets the unfortunate distinction of promoting the final gig. He’s always been good to us and I would work with him anytime. A great guy!
We all declare we will see each other in 2023 in Pyongyang and go our separate ways. Back to the U.S. And the looming release of the Powertrane album. But The Death Tour ends with Maureenand I breaking up (we’re still the best of friends) and my father dying December 12. Musically, it's time to open another door. This one is called The Solution.