I am starting to write this post about 10km west of the Canadian border, approximately two hours after the concert ended. Due to Canadian customs rules, a Canadian citizen must not drive a USA‐plated car into Canada (otherwise Canadians would buy cars in the USA for cheap and re‐sell them in Canada, which is exactly what the government doesn’t want people to do). Therefore, Jeroen is driving.
Neither of us wanted to start the day; it was going to be a very long driving day, driving from Milwaukee to Ann Arbor (approximately 550km) and then, after the concert, to my house in Waterloo, Ontario (approximately 400km). Waking up in the morning knowing that you’re going to be spending the night 1,000km away is… how should I put it… de‐motivating.
But knowing that tonight I’m going to sleep at the best hotel in the world; a hotel that is better for me than any hotel in this tour; a hotel that I would prefer even over any of the hotels that the band stay in during their tour—my own house—kept me going. Instead of growing tired during the day, I grew more and more alert.
Another source of motivation for us was the opportunity to once again sink our teeth in a Potbelly’s sandwich. That sandwich chain… we discovered it a couple of days before, when we left Milwaukee towards Minneapolis, and kept yearning for it ever since.
Driven by the urge to eat a great sandwich, we left the prison‐like Ramada Hotel in Milwaukee and drove to downtown. Trust me folks, neither of us was too happy to find Potbelly’s closed. Turned out they open each day at 11:00am and we weren’t going to wait for it to open as time is not our friend today. We had to suffice with a moderately‐acceptable sandwich at Cafe Mocha across the street; a macchiato for the road and I started driving.
You won’t see any pictures of the road from Milwaukee to Ann Arbor simply because neither myself nor Jeroen wanted to torture the camera by forcing it to take pictures of this road. Really boring, nothing interesting to see. We also had to drive through some bad neighbourhoods in Chicago in order to bypass a huge traffic‐jam caused by the I‐94E’s express lanes being closed.
We survived; but I’m sure that many unlucky ones didn’t.
Chicago… then some God‐forsaken towns in Indiana… then Michigan. The roads never end. What a big‐ass country the USA is.
(Canada is bigger)
At last, we got to Ann Arbor, MI; not before Jeroen saw something that made him yearn for home, as well as reminders for some good songs.
Ann Arbor, MI (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Arbor,_Michigan) is a students town—much like Waterloo, ON, where I live. As a matter of fact, the similarities between the two towns struck me—walking in downtown Ann Arbor feels just like walking in downtown Waterloo: not too exciting, and it ends very fast. Ann Arbor is where the University of Michigan is located, and is also a home for quite a few high‐tech companies that are headquartered there as means of “tapping into” the stream of new graduates.
The Michigan Theatre is located right downtown. We were happy to have found it so quickly, but something else made us even happier… much happier: a Potbelly’s Sandwiches store!
Parked the car in a nearby parkade (which later cost us 30 minutes… waiting for the cars in front of us to pay & leave. Beginner’s mistake, to park in a parkade near a concert venue) and went directly to Potbelly’s. Folks, it didn’t really matter whether we were hungry or not. Hunger is definitely not a pre‐requisite for a sandwich in Potbelly’s. 10 minutes later, I received that hot sandwich into my hands; 7 minutes later it was all gone.
Oh, Potbelly’s. I’m going to miss you.
Got some time to kill so we went to Cosi across the street, for the sole reason that they had some tables outside and it was a beautiful, crisp‐clear day; perfect temperature and not even a trace of clouds in the sky. Killing an hour over coffee outside brought much joy; I used that time to catch up with blogging.
Then went to collect our tickets—front row, dead centre again. Jeroen went to the venue, I went to a nearby Biggby Coffee store (adjacent to the venue; good coffee). Had to catch up with some more things… sorry Pieta & Bo.
As soon as I parked my ass on one of those bar‐stools facing the cafe’s window, I turned my laptop on and found out that Jeroen is connected. Apparently the backstage’s Wi‐Fi access‐point is unprotected so he used the time before Pieta’s concert to tell me that there’s a lion cage between us and the stage.
Oh, OK. You’re probably going “WTF”. No worries, I’ll explain. When you install a Wi‐Fi access point, such as a router, you should make sure you set it up so wireless access is authenticated and encrypted, otherwise uncalled guests can tap into your network.
Ah I see. You’re talking about the lion cage. Yes, I went “WTF” too. Of anything that Jeroen could have told me about the interior of the venue, that was probably the last thing to come to my mind. When I asked for explanation, he wrote back “it’s hilarious. You’ll see”.
Hmmmm. OK. THAT should be interesting.
Caught up with emails, quick bathroom break and off I went to the venue, about 15 seconds walk from the cafe.
The Michigan Theatre seats 1,700 and, comparing to the previous magnificent theatres I’ve been to during this trip, this one is sort of an exception. Perhaps I didn’t pay much attention (and soon you’ll understand why), but nothing there really caught my eye as being too impressive.
Of course the first thing I wanted to do once in the venue was to see what the hell did Jeroen mean by “lion cage”. Well, it wasn’t that far from it. What happened was, that between the stage and the front row, there existed a 3–4 metres gap, and the front row was raised about 1 metre above the ground, requiring the placement of some rails to prevent people from falling. Here is what it looked like:
We were seated at the very centre of the front row. For the first time this tour, we had the chance to actually see the entire band, as well as the beautiful lighting experience during the show. Anyway, I kept asking people around me “WTF” with regards to this cage, failing to realize that the stage has been organized a little differently.
There was a chair.
Dumbfounding, isn’t it. Then, the show started.
The band came on stage and Mark sat down with his signature Fender Stratocaster. I was expecting a surprise setlist… but was quite surprised to listen to the regular show opener.
Only a couple of songs later, we realized what was going on. Mark stood up and turned around, and he appeared to have had a slight discomfort in his left leg. He then went back to sitting, and apologized to the crowd for “not doing the regular jumps over the monitors” (being sarcastic, of course). “I guess I pulled something”.
So before I go on, here’s a wish for Mark’s health—get better soon.
Mark played the entire concert seated, except for a total of maybe one minute of standing. I should say though that Mark’s ill leg had no impact whatsoever on his guitar playing which was superb tonight—the entire band played well and gave Ann Arbor ample reasons to cheer.
About a week ago, I posted a question in Guy Fletcher’s forum asking what is the strategy that band‐members take for coping with mis‐synchronization, referring to an occurrence in one of the shows where Mark continued solo‐work while the band finished playing a song. Guy’s reply was that such things happen and there is no pre‐determined “strategy” to cope with them; they just get resolved somehow.
My thought about it was that recovery from mis‐synchronization between band‐members requires quite a bit of professionalism; the Ann Arbor served as another proof that these guys know what they’re doing, when Mark continued playing Hill Farmer’s Blues’ solo while the rest of the band started the outro. Really, within milliseconds, the band recovered and just went on in perfect harmony. Had I not been the pedantic individual I am, I would probably never notice it and I hardly believe anyone in the crowd did.
Playing great takes skills; recovering from such “train wrecks” in real‐time takes a whole different set of skills. Hats off to the band for a job well done.
During the performance of Romeo and Juliet, there is an intermission when Richard is playing a few bars while Mark trades his National guitar with the red Stratocaster. Mark got up and went to the back in order to change the guitar, however due to his leg being in pain, didn’t make it all the way back to his chair by the time it was his turn to play; so he had to play that outro solo while standing.
Now, unless you’re a guitar player, you probably don’t know that a volume pedal is used quite extensively during this solo, especially at the end. Mark uses his right leg most of the time for the pedal; that means that, in order to use the pedal, he would have to lean on his left leg… sounds painful to me; and so, for the first time ever, I saw Mark using the Fender’s volume knobs for handling the guitar’s volume, instead of the pedal. I don’t know why I find it exciting; I just do.
Being so far away from the stage served as good enough reason for Jeroen to take a few pictures.
I should mention that most, if not all, of the pictures are taken by Jeroen. These pictures, and more, are available on his Picasa page at http://picasaweb.google.com/gerritsj.
Concert ended with a really cheerful crowd and I was excited as the trip home begins. I am finishing writing this post about 20 minutes away from my house. Oh, my bed; oh, playing my piano and five guitars again; and above all, the great espresso I am going to make tomorrow morning.
No place like home.
Tomorrow’s show is in Buffalo, NY—about two hours drive from my house. We’ll spend the night either at my house or at my friend’s place in Toronto—we’ll see.