Baseball Tour Diary
At a late meeting the night before our early morning flight to Taiwan, festival booker James Chen tells us of Typhoon Haitung, currently battering the Taiwanese coast. The Hohaiyan Rock Festival is held on a beachside sandbar that is currently submerged (and possibly washed away) by the violent seas. Now, the fate of the festival is uncertain. James advises us to at least play the other shows booked for the tour in Japan and Taiwan. Hell keep us informed.
Ho Chi Minh City
With the assistance of (many) a drink of Scotch, we fly to Taipei with a three-hour stopover in Ho Chi Minh City. When transferring planes, our confidence in the journey begins to diminish as steam enters the cabin. The plane rattles, shudders and shakes as we take off. We quickly order more Scotch as we are served jellyfish salad, untouched by all but Ben (who has a cold and cant taste anything). Forty minutes out of Taiwan we head through the tail-end of our archenemy Typhoon Haitung. As the shaking increases, lightning strikes get closer, and babies start crying and vomiting, Evelyn informs us of her brutal vomit phobia. Thick Passage enters into his mantra Its not going to happen! Its not going to happen! as he grips his seat within one stitch of its life. Surely we cant die now: were not nearly famous enough and none of us are 27. This isnt cool.
Anyway, we arrive safe and soundly aware that we arent in Kansas anymore. We are met by James mother, Billie, and his father, Golden Dragon, who will be looking after us while were not staying in the promised five-star hotel.
We are whisked away into the city through the sea of randomly swerving and weaving motorised scooters. Traffic in Taiwan operates on a pushy yet respectful level where whoever dares wins. If you want to drive through four lanes of oncoming traffic to turn into a side street, nobody waits for an arrow or a clear road. You just start going, and anyone coming towards you will sort of slow down, and whoevers nose is in front generally goes through first. God knows how many times we think well see an accident, but we never do. Which is nice because all the scooter people have such cute helmets.
Festival is postponed for two weeks. Rescheduled for 5 August. Peaches cant attend due to recording commitments. All the other international acts are still on the bill.
We drink away the news at a bar called Underworld where we meet up with Yuchen and her friends and band mates from Chasing Sparrow. Theyve helped us out greatly in organising and promoting shows at a local level and getting our tour EP manufactured. They take us to the night markets, and recommend many of the amazing local foods, such as stinky tofu, pancake cones, shaved ice delights, durian (a spiky pungent fruit), corn chip thingos (with US dollars in random packs), pigs ears (and trotters), chicken claws, and, wherever possible, help Evelyn in her quest to slay at least one mango per day. Theyre all fantastic dudes and we cant wait to play our two shows with them.
After an amazing meal at a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant occupied by half a dozen of the cutest teddy-like puppy dogs, we head down to the venue for our first gig. DV8 is a cosy but cool little bar with some dangerously steep stairs down to the thin and fantastically painted band room. Baseball play after the crowd-pleasing sets from Chasing Sparrow and Fall of This Corner. Both bands are really engaging. We play our first set of the tour like we are the first batter up and want to get a score on the board. Yes! This is the way gigs should feel. We showed you, Typhoon Haitung!
It isnt until the end of the set, in a state of euphoria, that we discover Thick Passage has broken his violin. Emotions go for a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
It is lucky that the Hohaiyan Festival was postponed, as the snap in the violin is across the tuning pegs in the head of the instrument. Luckily, we find a violin repairer who sticks it back together for 1000 Taiwan dollars (about AU$40). This is just a stopgap effort, and means that a proper repair job can now no longer be done. Hopefully it will hold up for the remainder of the tour.
On our three-hour coach ride south, we pass suburban rice fields, massively wide riverbeds and thickly forested hills with huge golden Buddha statues watching on as we travel to the provincial city of Taichung. With us are our new best friends, Chasing Sparrow, and their mates. After our gig at Nunos Live House (and signing every cd we sell) we hit the streets looking for a good time. Tonights a night of trying more foods and bowling. A local sausage vendor and the convenience store supply many a tasty and challenging delight, from great varieties of chips with wacky packaging to eggs cooked in Chinese medicine.
Yoz from Chasing Sparrow introduces willing participants to binlang (a.k.a. betelnut), a stringy green bud wrapped in a green leaf. Betelnut is chewed like tobacco, however Yozs instructions arent clear to Ben, who probably swallows far more than he should. This legal narcotic is sold to those over 18 by scantily clad Betelnut Girls who sit on high stools in brightly lit glass booths. Some might even offer extra services for the right price. Binlang is popular among taxi and truck drivers for its adrenalin boost and (!) its warming and restricting sensation around the neck. Bens experience also causes queasiness and some increased anxiety. However, since the experience, Ben becomes somewhat obsessed ... even though he doesnt actually get to see a Betelnut Girl.
At 3am we decide to make the three-hour trip back to Taipei on the continuously running bus service. How great is Taiwan?! Sure, there may be only four venues in the country a band can play, but the food is cheap, interesting and healthy, you can buy beer at any corner convenience store, you can drink on the streets, our new friends are legends, and theyve got 24-hour public transport. Sick!
After a lazy day of recovery, sorting out logistics, and a few beers back at Underworld, we catch our 9am flight to Tokyo. This time our plane has personal TV screens with Tetris! Ben and Thicky hit the booze and notice on the in-flight news channel that theres been an earthquake in Japan (nothing major though) and a typhoon is approaching Tokyo. Crikey!
We make our way via train to Shibuya Station and met by Shintaro, the much spoken about long time friend of Thick Passage and Monika. With an okay he leads us like the White Rabbit across the famous Shibuya intersection at Hachiko Square, and through the narrow winding streets to the legendary venue, Yaneura, where we walk straight up for our assigned soundcheck.
Japanese venues like those in Taiwan supply a back-line of equipment and a sound engineer, but the quality in Japan is amazing. With Fender Twins, Marshalls, Ampegs, and complete, quality and well-tuned drumkits, these joints are a touring bands dream. Our sound engineer is equally as professional, and for a mere 100 yen extra (around AU$1.20) she records our set to mini-disc.
We catch up with a bunch of ex-pats and locals whod done time in Oz at the show, including previous Baseball member Yoshi. This is the first time Thicky and Monika have seen Yoshi since their tour to Japan 12 months ago. Tragically, at the end of that tour, Yoshi wasnt able to return to his home of the past seven years in Australia as he had exhausted his visa options. After the show we go out eating, drinking and catching up while the acid rains from our second typhoon tumbles down.
Catching the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka is made a little less fun due to its great impact on our rapidly dwindling bank balances, sleep deprivation, and the typhoon rains preventing any view of Mt. Fuji. However, in the upcoming days we learn to appreciate the value of Japans most famous train.
Once again, Osakas Fandangos live house has an amazing set up and another kick arse in-house sound engineer. The show feels good, we catch up with old friends, and chat with some members of Limited Express (Has Gone?) before a feed at Mos Burger and getting a relatively long sleep of six hours.
The two days spent in Kyoto bring a day free from travel and lugging our gear. Our gig with Geronemo Label, and the cool all-girl band, The Dokuros, at Caf Independants is friendly and fun. Again we meet more amazing people. The extra day to visit some of the famous Kyoto temples with our charming Aussie host Kass. She also takes us to the best thing about Japan, a sento (Japanese bathhouse) which provides a refreshing recharge for Monika, Ev and Ben.
Meanwhile, Thick Passage has been getting followed by feral raccoons in the park, and dodged at least five cockroaches (of which he has a mortal fear). He hasnt been able to put his feet up much this tour.
The trip to Nagoya takes its toll: lugging our gear on and off three local JR-line trains, and then catching an expensive taxi to Huck Finn, only to find a small black den of metal. We are not confident about how well go down with the crowd. The bands we are playing with are called Berserk and Impale. Damage pulled out. Lead balloons, anyone?
Impale are brutal to say the least. Even when they speak between songs, the singer growls out his words. Berserk are fierce, with samurai-like power.
However, somehow we soothe these beasts of metal, sell and sign more cds than any previous show, and go out afterwards and drink our new friends under the table.
More lugging gear on and off five trains from Nagoya to Tokyo, then three nights in a row of being uncertain where we are going to sleep. Somehow we find friends, new and old, to help us through with accommodation. Our final gig in Kichijoji at a club called Warp is Killer. There is some old-school hardcore, some post-rock, some glam-punk, and some collage fashion rock. All the bands are great, but the act that blows Ev and Ben away most is Psycho To Black. A noisy, mic-clutching, metal orgy of screaming, feedback and doom. At the end of their set they spaz out, leaving a path of destruction.
Yoshi comes to the show and is invited up on stage during the Baseball set to play the lonely nights of poetry must end for old times sake. Hed been practicing all week, and once he was up on stage he was in heaven as his face gets lost under his rock and roll hair. His face is beaming at the end of the song. A great way to end our Japanese leg of the tour.
Back in Taiwan, where this time we get the rock star treatment. Were given some spending money and get put up in the Grand Hyatt. This is more like it! Theres only one problem: a third typhoon named Matsa is heading straight for the festival site and is due to hit the day of the festival. They cant cancel this time... surely. All the bands are in Taiwan at this point.
We are summoned down to a 600-capacity venue called The Wall, where the gig will be held the following night. Beers are drunk, stage plans are mapped, equipment is ordered, people meet people and shake hands and all seems well for a swell show. Festival Show Day
After another mighty buffet breakfast at the hotel (complete with all the mangos Ev can eat!) we get a call. It seems a public holiday has been called due to the typhoon, and we are asked if we still want to play:
Umm, yes, of course. Why not? Arent the other bands playing?
No. They cant get the requested mixing desk because businesses are closed.
Our hearts sink again to new depths.
Hours of miscommunication and uncertainty pass until 3pm when we hear that the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have been down to the venue and decide theyre prepared to play. Suddenly all bands confirm their intentions to play and soundchecks begin.
Baseball is called to the venue at 7pm, but its 9pm before we get to soundcheck, which (due to the chaos of the typhoon) takes a little while, also. There are a few more delays. Meanwhile, there is a line of young Taiwanese punters winding through the corridors, up the stairs, and down the street in the typhoon weather patiently waiting to get in. Some have been waiting for 12 hours! Thousands are turned away. When the doors open at 11pm, a wave of joy fills the room. Everyone is so glad to finally get inside, out of the weather, as Gallo and his band ease the crowd into a fantastic night.
Next up is Baseballs set. Were well primed with the healthy rider and Yoz hands a couple of binlang to Ben. The curtains in front of the stage are still drawn shut, but as Ev has a test hit around the kit, the crowd erupts in anticipation. We give the all clear, the curtains peel back and the crowd goes nuts again. Were on cloud nine. We play well, the crowd is enthusiastic and Thick Passage sacrifices his violin to the gods of rock. Actually, it is Bens crappy pawn-shop violin brought over especially for the purpose, but its disintegration is appreciated by everyone. What a catharsis!
Perhaps its the fantastic local beer, or the binlang, or maybe the looks of those 600 faces in the audience ecstatic to finally witness some music after waiting for so long, or simply the feeling of euphoric release after three weeks of travel, typhoons, toil and uncertainties. In any case, Baseball play a blinder of a show that night. Slayed and buried. Unforgettable.
Auf der Maur, the solo project for Melissa Auf der Maur (ex Hole, Smashing Pumpkins) are on after us, followed by Japanese electro-rock outfit Boom Boom Satellite. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club play encores to a full house at 4.30am. We make friends with the Auf der Maur crew and enjoy the offerings of our hotel well into daylight. Then its time for our long and delirious journey home.
Ho Chi Minh (again)
Due to extra flights being booked from the festival postponement, we have to catch a flight to Japan before getting our return trip to Melbourne via Ho Chi Minh City. In Japan we arrive late and wind up sleeping on the floor at Narita Airport. (Not ideal, but all of us except Ben sleep reasonably well ... considering.) We relocate to a hostel for our remaining 20 hours in Japan, where we sample some more crazy chip varieties and convenience store beer. We also experience an earthquake. It shakes the hostel enough to ring the doorbell and rock the drinks in our glasses for 20 seconds or so.
Still sleep deprived, we catch our last JR-line train to our plane to Ho Chi Minh and swiftly order our whiskies. Unable to leave the airport or transfer small amounts of yen at Ho Chi Minh, we are fed more plane food and play hopscotch in the waiting lounge while Thick Passage sleeps. Finally, six hours later, we are on our seventh and final flight home. We vow to slay every drop of Chivas Regal on the plane, however, exhaustion gets the better of us.