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Hello. My name is Isaac Shabtay, 32 years old from Ontario, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s “Get Lucky” tour during the spring‐summer of 2010. This is in much the same way I did for Knopfler’s 2008 “Kill to Get Crimson” tour (see the “Links” section), except that this time, I will be following the entire tour—starting April 8 in Seattle, Washington, and ending July 31 in Gredos, Spain. Similarly to before, though, you are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read and comment. All comments, positive and negative, are welcome. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see links at the right‐hand side of the screen), so new posts become available through your favorite RSS reader. Have fun, Isaac

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Concert Day: Salle Wilfrid Pelletier (Place des Arts), Montréal, QC (April 30, 2010)

I apologize in advance if this post seems a bit too long… it has been a very long and eventful day.

Right after bidding Jonathan goodbye, we proceeded with the estimated 5 hours drive to Montréal, not including stop‐over’s. The weather was sunny and bright, perfect day for a convertible ride.

There is not much to tell about the ride between Toronto and Montréal; highway 401, crossing south‐western Ontario west to east, stretches from the Windsor border crossing (near Detroit) in the west, all the way to the Ontario / Québec “border”, about 850km give or take. Not quite the scenic route.

Driving east of Toronto towards Montréal involves passing through a small city named Kingston. It is a university town, very small; quite the boring downtown area, despite the attractive location (right by the shore of Lake Ontario). Had you been making your way to Montréal, you would probably not find any good reason to stop there.

That is, unless you had talked to me first, in which case I would have told you about Wooden Heads.

Wooden Heads, located downtown right by the water, is a seemingly innocent restaurant. It only happens that it serves the best pizza that I could find so far in my travels in North America—and, believe you me, I am a complete idiot in so many areas (ask my friends) but I did have my share of pizza. Ever since I discovered that place (through an ex‐roommate), there is no way I would drive by Kingston and not visit it. I consider it a crime.

I don’t know what it is they do there to the crust, and where the hell they get those ingredients, but I would sign my life next to their pizza. I am still baffled by the fact that the owner is reluctant to expand his business. The only place I had pizza in, that came as close competition to this pizza, was at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas—and that’s a 5‐star resort that is all about “Italy”.

Today was no exception. We entered Kingston, fought the miserable traffic (the entire city is under construction), did whatever it took to wrap teeth around this magnificent crust. And Lord, was it worth it (I took the Commerciante; see their menu here:

Happy, we proceeded with the drive, and took the detour off highway 401 into the Thousand Islands Parkway. Another road I try to not miss, as it offers picturesque views over a myriad of tiny islands with houses on them (Wikipedia: Those islands were sold by the Canadian government to residents, a long long time ago, for pennies; try buying one now…

See this:

Really nice ride, especially when it’s sunny and you have no roof over your head.


About 50km into Québec, we decided that I do the driving from then on. The reason is that, every year, there’s a study showing that Montréal’s drivers are the worst drivers in Canada, and myself, having been raised in a country full of crazy drivers, is the more suitable individual to deal with such mayhem.


Here is what you have to know about driving in Montréal: Signs and traffic lights often serve as mere recommendations. Don’t take anything for granted; we have seen cars doing impossible things on Montréal’s roads today, and that experience wasn’t much different than my past travels there.

Another thing you need to know about Montréal is that it’s probably the worst place to be in, if you’re in a hurry and don’t know exactly where you’re going. People appear to be very busy here; they are not necessarily rude, don’t get me wrong; but they look so busy that it makes you feel bad to interfere with their lives.

It is a crazy, crazy city. There is so much to say about it but I will suffice with the one thing I like most about Montréal: the food.

Many people travel to Montréal for the sole purpose of eating. Not surprising considering the fact that, after New‐York City, Montréal has the most restaurants per capita in North America. There are thousands of restaurants here, and the standards are significantly higher than average. Other than Québec City, Montréal is the most European‐like city you will find In North America, and it clearly shows in the menus. There is so much food here, in so many tastes, so many varieties, that you could go through a lifetime and still miss some.

And when talking about food in Montréal, there are a few locations that are well worth mentioning. Actually, way more than a few; but I’m already sort‐of tired so I will suffice with one location that no visit to Montréal is complete without (unless you’re a vegetarian). It’s a small deli called Schwartz’s.

Whoever visits restaurants every now and then, is probably familiar with the term “Montréal‐style smoked meat”. Well, here’s the deal: “Montréal‐style” basically means “Schwartz‐style”. That small deli serves the best smoked meat you are ever likely to wrap your tongue around.

The interesting thing about this place is, that it doesn’t look glorious at all. As a matter of fact, if you were to walk up Saint‐Laurent and pass by that deli, you would probably just move on into some other place that more resembles a restaurant.

When going there, there are a few things you need to know (I learned some in the hard way).

First, you would most likely encounter a line‐up outside. Don’t deter; it moves fast. However it is important that you know which line to stand in, because there are two of them—stretches to the right‐hand side of the door, the other to the left. The one stretching to the right‐hand side is for take‐outs only; the other is for sit‐in.

Second, for sit‐ins: an employee of the restaurant will most likely ask you how many people are in your party. As sit‐in space there is scarce, the host is responsible for picking your seats and you are well‐advised to follow his direction otherwise you’re in for some crooked look. Under no circumstances should you assume that you will have your own private space; more often than not, you will be seated next to people you don’t know. People come here to eat, not to socialize; if you’re looking to socialize, go somewhere else. Seriously.

Third, about the menu. These guys serve a lot of things, but going to Schwartz’s and skipping the smoked meat is like travelling all the way to Nova Scotia and eat chicken instead of lobster (I have done that. Yes, I realize how stupid it is); like buying a car from IBM, or a computer from Honda. It may be good, but kind‐of missing the point.

Fourth, there are two types of smoked meat there. The “regular” one is also called “medium”, which refers to the amount of fat in the meat. There’s also “lean”, which has less fat but, take my advice and cut your calories somewhere else. Go for the fatty stuff.

Fifth, order a pickle. They serve dill pickles there, which blends beautifully with the meat.

Sixth: eat, and go. Keep the line moving. Lots of people want to enjoy this heavenly sandwich; be considerate. If you aren’t, then the staff will most likely do whatever they can to convey the message that, come on, just go already.

It is all simple, simple, simple there. A smoked‐meat sandwich costs $5.50—less than most Subway sandwiches. Unless instructed otherwise, an order for a “regular sandwich” consists of:

  • Two slices of rye bread;
  • Mustard;
  • Meat.

That’s it. Nothing more is needed. So simple, and so tasty that no wonder this place is open 16–17 hours a day and there are always people eating there, often lining up outside the store. I don’t know what it is that they do to the meat there, and therefore I cannot really explain. You have to taste it to believe it.

OK, I could probably go on and on about food in Montréal but there’s limited time in the universe so I’ll continue with today’s events.

Lots of construction along the way made us arrive to downtown Montréal much later than we expected; staying at the Quality Hotel in downtown, about 600m from the Place des Arts, we barely had 5 minutes to change and rush to the venue.

Arriving at the venue, we found a complete and utter mess. The entire Place des Arts complex is under construction, and the entrance to the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier looks like a subway stop in downtown Manhattan on a really busy and gory day. Millions of people passing by with no mercy. What a huge mess.

The ticket pick‐up instructions (for buyers) said that there will be a couple of will‐call wickets clearly marked for ticket‐pickup. Well, as everything else in Montréal, a “sign” is not necessarily an “instruction” and you have to be prepared to the possibility that you’re in a situation in which you know nothing. There was no “clear signing”. The words “Mark Knopfler” (which should appear the same in English and French, I would assume) appeared nowhere near the box office.

After waiting about 20 minutes in line with the entire world, we finally picked our seats—the best seats in the house, front row dead‐centre—and went into the reception hall of the venue.

After about 5 minutes, we finally found the entrance to our section. That’s not because we’re idiots; what can you do, when there’s not even one sign in English telling you where you should go. There were quite a few people there, which didn’t help much as everybody appeared to rush somewhere and there we are, in the venue and can’t figure out which door to go through.

I skipped Pieta Brown’s concert due to other commitments. On 8:45pm, Paul Crockford appeared on the stage, escorted by an individual holding a piece of paper. I had no idea who that person was, however once Paul finished his anti‐video speech, it became quite clear… this is Québec here, and someone has to give that speech in French.

On 8:50pm, the show started.

Mark’s ongoing injury (you can read about it in Richard Bennett’s and Guy Fletcher’s diaries, see links to the right) may be improving or may be worsening, that I don’t know for sure (and it goes without saying that I am wishing Mark a quick and safe recovery); it did, however, lead to a few changes in the show’s format.

The stool on which Mark has been sitting during the last few shows has been accompanied by a small tray, hooked up to the microphone’s stage, having a bottle of water and a towel on it. A minor distraction to people sitting in the front rows, but overall I guess this was necessary to keep the show fluid.


Normally, the band leaves the stage area prior to the encore, returning after about five minutes. This time, however, they didn’t leave the stage area; I suppose that was done in order to minimize Mark’s efforts as every step he takes causes him a huge amount of grief. Instead of leaving the stage, the band gathered together while Peter MacKay (assistant tour manager) brought drinks for everybody, which the band consumed along with a “cheers” gesture towards the crowd.

The show went great with a few things worth mentioning.

While in the Toronto concert it wasn’t evident (to me, at least) that Mark is in pain while being seated, in Montréal he did seem to be in pain pretty much the entire show. He still played really well, just didn’t seem so calm and relaxed.

What It Is featured a completely revised work by Tim & Mike playing in concert—a new approach, much different than before and doesn’t sound like anything I heard so far.

Done with Bonaparte has been resurrected; as soon as the song started playing, band started playing it I noticed that something’s different. I sensed that the song is performed in two tones higher than usual; looking at the guitars’ capo position, I’m pretty sure that was the case (capo placed on the National’s 7th fret). Need to verify; regardless, that change made the song sound cheery than usual.

Very interesting twists; I’m all for such changes.

Speedway at Nazareth featured a particularly violent jam, perhaps the loudest so far. Also, the mini jam‐session during Marbletown featured yet another variation of the flute work, courtesy of wonderful Mr. Mike McGoldrick—he makes flute‐playing seem so easy.

The Montréal crowd was extremely happy to welcome the band; looking at the crowd, I noticed quite a few young faces there. It was my first time attending a concert performed in front of a crowd that is predominantly not English, which was interesting… cheering in French sounds so different.

Was a very good concert overall, however I am a bit concerned with regards to Mark’s health. I hope he gets well soon.


Starving as dogs after the concert, we walked towards Schwartz’s for some smoked meat. The streets were swamped with people; Montréal is known for its great night‐life scene. People of all shapes and forms are all over the place, lined‐up for clubs and pubs as if there is no tomorrow; and that was a Friday night with a mildly‐coolish weather. I have been to Montréal once on a weekend during the summer. One big party.

Jeroen appeared pretty damn satisfied with the smoked meat sandwich; we finished three sandwiches between the two of us, and you should know that these sandwiches are not the smallest sandwiches in existence. That’s what happens when you combine a starving stomach with the best smoked meat sandwich in the world.

A quick walk back to the hotel. Passing by a McGill University residence, we noticed a guy pushing a queen‐size bed, a mattress, some linens and some patio furniture, elegantly placed on a huge cart. Twelve midnight, and he’s surrounded by drunk‐looking students emitting a significant amount of noise.

Yes, this is Montréal.

Continued to work on something until about 3:00am, then went to sleep. Long driving day the next day all the way to Mashantucket, CT.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Concert Day: Massey Hall, Toronto, ON (April 29, 2010)

Pheeeeew what a day.

Sleep was sweet after returning from Buffalo late last night. It was the last night to be spent at home before the tour proceeds east to Toronto, then Montréal and then USA’s east coast—and so I savoured any minute of breathing at my own home.

Fresh clothes from the laundry… and somehow, whatever I packed took less space than before. Placed my MK Signature Stratocaster back to its case (see you in 12 days, darling), and by 11:30am we were in the car: Jeroen driving, I’m savouring a cup of freshly‐brewed macchiato, product of my beloved espresso machine.

Was great to be at home… sad to leave.

I had an important meeting to attend at 1:00pm; usually at around noon time, traffic coming into Toronto is a no‐brainer. An hour and a half should be enough time to get to where I was going at the downtown area of Toronto. However, for whatever reason, everything went wrong. Starting with construction right outside Waterloo, and ending with my stupid GPS apparently not counting traffic lights as hurdles, and taking us through the city instead of using the Gardiner. I knew something was wrong, but trusted the GPS. Mental note to self: don’t trust a GPS if you already know your way.

Half hour late, oops—well, what can you do. Jonathan, my good friend who recently moved to Toronto, hopped into the car with Jeroen and guided to his apartment, while I went to the meeting. An hour later, the three of us met at a nice cafe right downtown, a bit south of Yonge & Bloor. Everybody caught up with everybody, and I made a pretty good job “priming” Jonathan for the concert.

Jonathan has very little Knopfler experience—we went together to the Toronto show during the Kill to Get Crimson tour two years ago, and I vividly remember him being awe‐struck after it. He’s been waiting for tonight’s concert for almost two years; as our “guest”, we (Jeroen and I) jointly decided to give Jonathan the privilege of choosing the best seat of the three that we got.

We had some time to kill so we went back to Jonathan’s apartment, conveniently located right at Yonge & Wellesley—footsteps from the subway, right downtown—perfect location with view over Yonge street, where most of the action takes place. Well‐chosen apartment; should be great to crash there for the night.

The time that has to be killed was spent unwinding, until the time came for the pre‐show dinner. On our way to Massey Hall—about 10 minutes walk from Jonathan’s apartment—we noticed a place called The Horonero, which claims to make good pizza. Being a pizza buff, eager to find a pizza in North America that is better than Kingston’s Wooden Heads (in which we’ll visit tomorrow, on the way to Montréal), I expressed my inclination to give it a shot.

Well, yeah, it was a good pizza. I’ll even take the extra step and say that it’s a very good pizza; but no, it doesn’t quite make it to the first place. Anyway, if you’re in the neighbourhood, go there.

Paid and left; concert time is approaching. As in the last tour, I was very excited for the Toronto show. There may be more impressive venues than Massey Hall, bigger cities than Toronto… but there’s something about watching a concert so close to home, that makes it a different experience altogether.

Five minutes later and we arrived at Massey Hall, just south of the Dundas Square (dubbed “Toronto’s Times Square”).


That was my first time in Massey Hall (Wikipedia: The last time Knopfler played here was in 2001, during the Sailing to Philadelphia tour; it was just when I started listening to Knopfler’s music, and it was before I even moved to Canada. So far in Toronto, I have seen concerts at the Molson Amphitheatre only.

Massie Hall is a pretty respectable venue in Toronto, seating ~ 2,800 people. Not the most brilliant interior design.


Grabbed our tickets; not such bad seats. Front row, with Jonathan’s seat—the best of the three—being three seats left of the centre.


Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey went on stage and gave a beautiful performance; I especially liked the mellower‐than‐usual performance of The Other Way Around. It was the first time in a while that I’m able to catch the entire opening act, simply because one of the projects I was working on has been completed. Pieta then announced that she’ll be signing CD’s at the merchandise stand, which prompted dozens of individuals to line up there. I decided to wait for another concert to buy the CD; I dislike waiting.

Back at the hall and we were all counting the minutes to the show; and at 8:50pm, it started.

In a nutshell: this has been the most outstanding concert in the tour so far, which sort‐of sucks because I find it hard to believe that any of the coming 50+ concerts could top it (having said that, I was surprised before).

Mark, still seated due to his slight injury in his left leg, again apologized to the crowd for “not doing the somersaults he’s usually doing”.

Some concerts have a particular element in them that makes or breaks the show. For example, in St. Louis, it was the crowd. In Toronto’s concert, though, it was about Mark himself, hence the upcoming detailed elaboration about the individual—bear with me please.

No doubt, Mark was in a very good and joyful mood. Even though the finger of death was sent towards two individuals right at the first song, he smiled through it and went on with full force, frequently danced while seated, smiled at the crowd and having a really great time.


At one point, Mark mentioned that there are benefits for playing while seated; if it’s of any help, I have to say that I agree. As well as he plays standing, things go even better when he’s seated and feeling comfortable.

Having seen this band over 50 times already, I can’t remember the band in general, and Mark in particular, being so much into the music as they were last night. Look at this picture, taken during the outro solo of Sultans of Swing. You can only imagine what the solo sounded like, with Mark holding the Fender so close to his chest, literally using every ounce of concentration he could, to deliver a stunning performance.


Everything in his behaviour, body language etc, revealed a perfectly calm and joyful individual. Being seated, he was also quite relaxed and gave the audience the feeling that he feels like he’s at home. Well, I guess Canada has this “thing”, making people feel good (this is particularly true in some areas of British Columbia, however for different reasons altogether… think green leaf. No, I have never tried).

I was a bit surprised though of the crowd not cheering too loudly for their city during Speedway at Nazareth. At previous tours that I have been to, which took place at the Molson Amphitheatre, the crowd used to go bananas once Ontario and Toronto were mentioned; I suspect that the venue style (closed hall) had something to do with it.

My favourite part of all concerts so far is the show’s epilogue, Piper to the End. That also happens to be one of Jonathan’s favourite songs and we were all so into it that, really, nobody wanted it to end. Perfect performance of this brilliant hymn, with Mark yielding to the rest of the band during the outro. Stunning.

Quoting Jonathan, who rarely raves or gets too excited over things: “I don’t know if it’s because it had been two years, but this concert is even better than the previous one”, followed by “This is the best concert I have ever been to. Unbelievable.”

It was.


Completely awe‐struck after the concert was over, we wandered through the streets of downtown Toronto, trying to compute the musical extravaganza we had just experienced. And what’s a better way to end the day than some desserts. We stepped into a small restaurant serving Belgian waffles of all sorts, and ended this perfect day with some good calories in the form of fresh waffles topped with goodies such as strawberries and chocolate.

A short walk to Jonathan’s apartment, some more chatter and we all went to sleep at around 1:30am.

Woke up today (Friday) morning early, as we had to leave to Montréal. Long breakfast in downtown, then we bid Jonathan goodbye and went on our way. Was great seeing him, thanks Jonathan for having us over; and get your frikkin’ BlackBerry already; you don’t need an i‐Fail.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Concert Day: Center for the Arts (NY University at Buffalo), Buffalo, NY (April 28, 2010)

Before I start, just a small addition to yesterday’s blog post. Driving back from Ann‐Arbor to Ontario, we came across this. Jeroen thought it’s worth taking a picture of the very same Telegraph Road which inspired Mark Knopfler to write the so‐named song back in the early 80’s.


It was really strange, waking up this morning. After crossing the continent over the last 2.5 weeks, sleeping in hotels, motels and whatnot, it was really bizarre to wake up and find myself in my own bed. It was a sunny, beautiful morning. The neighbourhood where I live, at the west end of Waterloo, is a very quiet neighbourhood and I could hear the birds in the morning—wonderful. It was so great waking up at home.

Buffalo, in upstate New‐York, is two hours drive from my house so there was absolutely no reason to rush. Laundry… a visit to the supermarket (the fridge was totally empty)… good home‐made breakfast. Had breakfast on my deck, only blue sky & the sun above. The highlight, though, was saved for post‐breakfast; the cappuccino I prepared for myself this morning was so good that all memories of terrible coffee over the last 2.5 weeks were completely erased right after the first sip.

Took my MK Signature Strat for a few riffs, then the digital piano. Yes, still works. Life’s normal.

Felt so good to be home that I was actually a bit reluctant to leave. Try crossing over 8,000km over two and a half weeks, and let me know what it feels like to be home after the craziness is over.

Good stuff.

Piles of mail on the table, courteously picked‐up by my friend Jonathan. %95 of it went straight to the shredder, the rest will wait till August as I’m in no mood for dealing with paperwork.

When the clock showed 2:00pm, we left my house on our way to Buffalo. We left early as I was going to take Jeroen on a quick tour in Niagara Falls—the Canadian side, of course, which is prettier—before the show.

On our way there—I’m still amazed that there was no traffic whatsoever—we stopped at a Harvey’s store in St. Catharines, just west of Niagara Falls. Harvey’s became famous when Richard Bennett mentioned his sympathy towards their hamburgers; it’s a Canadian chain that sells only in Canada. Good burger, really—however not the best, in my opinion (I still hold my opinion that White Spot’s hamburger, with the Triple‐O’ sauce, is Canada’s best fast‐food‐style hamburger). Too bad those are only sold in the west coast (plus a few stores in Alberta).


Tourism season hasn’t started yet, and it’s a weekday, so traffic (motor & human) at the Niagara Falls area was rather diluted. Found a street‐parking spot in Clifton Hill (the major tourist‐oriented street near the falls), and within a short walk we were close enough to the falls to take some good photos.


Quite the impressive sight, especially in perfect weather conditions.

Half an hour later, we went back to the car, crossed the US‐Canada border and drove towards the venue. For some unknown reason, we couldn’t locate the venue (or anything concerning the NY University at Buffalo) using my car’s GPS, so driving was a bit tricky, using Google Maps through the BlackBerry. Not too much trouble though; at the end, we found it.


Hmmmmm. Buffalo. For most Ontarians, Buffalo is known for its airport, as flights from Buffalo to USA destinations are much cheaper than flights out of Toronto, sometimes by 50% (this is the point to note that, according to a recent study, the Toronto airport is the most expensive airport in the world, for airlines to operate in. In other words, it costs a lot for airlines to do business here, hence the high airport taxes and, consequently, ticket prices). Other than for taking a flight, I spent only one hour in Buffalo for leisure (if you can call it that way); my friend Jonathan and I decided, at some sunny Sunday, to drive to Buffalo and see what’s in there to see and do. The result: NOTHING.

The Centre for the Arts (website:, Wikipedia: building is located inside the NY State University at Buffalo, at the north campus. Parking is available for free just outside the building.

The best way to describe the venue (minus the concert hall itself) is “white”. Everything here is white. Way too much white, and fluorescent lighting doesn’t make it any less white. Other than that, there’s a convenient seating area, few drink stands, and lots of artwork hung upon the (white) corridor leading from the entrance to the theatre area.


The concert took place at the Mainstage Theatre which seats a little less than 1,800 people (there are other theatres in that complex, one of them seats 600. Now that would be nice, wouldn’t it). I had to skip Pieta’s show (again, unfortunately) to catch up with a few things and entered the theatre a few minutes before the show. I got the best seat in the house—front row, right at the middle.

The Mainstage Theatre is surprisingly large. I myself had a few wonderings regarding the choice of city and venue—Buffalo just never struck me as a “concert town”, and a university? … sounds strange, I don’t know. But anyway, the Mainstage Theatre is not a bad theatre at all. Very spacious and comfortable; I think that the back rows are just as far from the stage as the back rows in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN; I had to walk quite the distance in order to get to the front row.

The Mainstage Theatre also features a “deep stage”; the distance between the front row and the stage was maybe half a metre, yet the front monitors were located some 3 metres further. I wasn’t impressed too much, as such setups yield a psychological effect of estrangement—as if the crowd and the band are on two different planets.

And perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the Buffalo crowd being, by far, the quietest, most disciplined crowd so far this tour. Much fewer standing ovations than usual, much fewer cheers; I wouldn’t put the cause for that in the show itself, as the show, as a musical deliverable, was great as always; even the sound was great. But there was a sense of distance in the air, don’t know how to explain it but it was there.

Mark’s leg apparently still hurts as he was seated for the entire show. A funny moment took place after Sultans of Swing, when Mark said “This song… I usually don’t do it in such a position”. Someone from the front row shouted back “That’s what she said”, to which Mark replied “That’s right. I usually do it in a different position”, making a few ladies “woo‐ooh” with passion.

During Get Lucky, I suddenly felt in dire need for fresh air. I went outside the hall, into the reception area, and found out that hell, is this theatre warm! someone must have forgotten to turn on the vents. I then was swept into an interesting conversation with Cod, who has been the merchandise sales guy for Mark Knopfler’s tours ever since the beginning of time. Quite the interesting chap.

I returned to the hall for a great performance of Telegraph Road, and after a short encore the show was over. Time to go back, for the last night at home before continuing to Toronto tomorrow morning.

Getting out of the venue was a hassle, with millions of cars blocking all possible intersections. Still it was far better than the worst venue‐getaway I can remember—the Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia (that took about an hour, two summers ago).

Tomorrow’s show is at Massey Hall in Toronto. Jonathan, my good friend, will join us to the show and, just as Jos whom we took to the Denver show, will have the privilege of choosing the best seat out of the three we have. We’ll spend the night in Jonathan’s place in Toronto, to save us some driving the next day.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Concert Day: Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor, MI (April 27, 2010)

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:,_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

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.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day Off: Stop in Milwaukee, WI on the Way to Ann Arbor, MI

I am writing this post sitting outside a Cosi store in downtown Ann Arbor, MI; Mark’s concert starts in a couple of hours. Beautiful day, sunny, clear blue sky. I didn’t post anything since the Milwaukee show, and received some emails asking what the hell is going on. Thanks for checking up, folks—the reason was primarily due to me being extremely tired as well as occupied with some side‐project I’ve been working on. Hopefully no delays from now on.

Not much to tell about yesterday, really. Woke up to a miserably‐cloudy Minneapolis morning, again having not much of a sleep. It was a day off, like every Monday during the North American leg of the tour; the distance to Ann Arbor, Michigan, is about 1,000km and we had two days to complete it. Not much of a rush.

First thing we did though was to check‐out that place called Dunn Brothers Coffee. Recommended to me by Eric, Dunn Brothers Coffee ( is a coffee‐roasting chain with stores in just nine states in the USA. Quite the espresso buff, I was determined to try it out. Went to their store on 15th street in Minneapolis; good sandwiches, grand coffee. Good job Eric for a recommendation well‐received and well‐fulfilled. I had a chat with the owner, who said he’ll be more than happy to ship some roasted beans to Canada for me. Joy; now I have 4 sources of great coffee to choose from.

Having an extremely healthy breakfast, I didn’t really need to eat anything until dinner. We drove from Minneapolis to Milwaukee—a distance of about 500km—and, due to a poor mistake I did when booking the hotels, stayed at the Ramada Hotel just by the highway. $20 cheaper than the grand Intercontinental we stayed in two nights ago; and man, this hotel looks like a prison. From the inside, and the outside. I literally couldn’t spend more than 5 minutes in that hotel room before I announced that I’m going to find a coffee place to sit in.

I’d suggest against that hotel for whoever of you who’s travelling to Milwaukee. Pick the Intercontinental if you can. It’s worth it.

A couple of days before that, Nancy, Jeroen and myself had dinner in this precious place called Louise’s, a great Italian restaurant at the east bank of the Milwaukee river. It was so good that we decided to skip the “try different things” approach and go there (but try different dishes). It hasn’t failed; great food, good times and we’re out of there walking towards Cafe Mocha, adjacent to the Riverside Theatre in downtown Milwaukee (that’s the very same venue in which the concert took place in Milwaukee). The place was playing an insanely‐annoying mix of house music but really, I was too tired to care. Kept on working until about 9:00pm when I felt that I cannot possibly go any longer without sleep.

Back to the hotel, and I made the apparent mistake of taking a shower before sleep as it really pushed sleep away. A few more hours of work and—done! one of my side‐projects is completed. Went to sleep feeling good, looked at the ceiling, remembered I’m in a prison‐like hotel and fell asleep.

Today’s happenings—in a separate post coming up later today or early tomorrow.

All the best,

Concert Day: State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN (April 25, 2010)

After a day of very light travel (Chicago to Milwaukee), we’re back at driving routine again. It’s a 5 hour drive west from Milwaukee to Minneapolis. My expectations with regards to a sleepless night in Milwaukee have not failed me and I woke up after a couple of hours sleep, really weary and tired.

Weather didn’t seem to co‐operate either; it’s been raining since last night I believe; the sky was grey, the air damp and foggy.

Clearly, the stars have aligned themselves just right. Long drive, ugly weather, tiredness… what else could one wish for. I was looking forward for breakfast; you know, sometimes, a good breakfast is really your only hope for things to get better.

Sunday morning, hardly a soul in downtown Milwaukee. We stopped at Cafe Mocha, adjacent to the Riverside Theatre where the concert took place last night. They had millions types of coffee but only one poorly‐looking sandwich.

Frustrated, we left the store. One should not have his morning coffee on an empty stomach. Looking around trying to find a place to eat, my eyes suddenly landed on a sign saying “sandwiches”. Right across the road from Cafe Mocha, there’s a place called “Potbelly’s” which claimed to be serving good sandwiches.

I felt obligated to check whether they know what they’re talking about.

Large store, hip interior. Three people in their twenties working there, really gives you the feeling as if you have just shed a few years off your life. A couple of minutes later, the sandwich was ready.

And I wouldn’t have told you about this experience had it not been one of the grandest, most delicious sandwiches I have ever had the pleasure to wrap my mouth around. Jeroen and I looked at each other with astonishment right after the first bite; perfect, no other way to describe it. Whoever been around Europe (or Montréal, or Québec City) knows how hard it is to find perfect bread in North America; thousands of Subway stores consistently fail to deliver and here’s this place, a chain I had never heard of, doing it better than any other sandwich store I had been to. I took the Italian Sandwich, containing all bunch of cold‐cuts in a hot, fresh bun.

We vowed to return to this place on our way back from Minneapolis to Ann‐Arbor (passing through Milwaukee).

Finally a good sign for perhaps a better day. Crossed the street back to Cafe Mocha for my coffee to go, and within minutes we were back in the car, ready to drive to Minneapolis.

Not much to tell about the drive except that it has been raining almost non‐stop pretty much the entire way. Landscape here is very familiar to whomever had the chance to drive in south‐western Ontario—I guess we’re not up to any dramatic changes in landscape until we cross the border south of Montréal back to the USA (I’m pretty sure we’re going to cross wonderful Vermont? have to check the map).

We lost about 45 minutes on our way to Minneapolis due to the I‐90 / I‐94 westbound being effectively closed for traffic, and the eastbound lanes split into east/west lanes. Two lanes in each direction had to merge into one, and that usually doesn’t work very fast, especially when you factor the rain into the equation. Good thing we left early.

I was looking forward to meet Nir, his wife and baby girl whom I met in Chicago two days before, in a freaky, completely coincidental encounter in the elevator leading to my hotel.

I don’t know much about Minnesota, but something tells me that religion may be popular here. Seen quite a few signs warning me that Jesus is watching me, that when I die I’ll meet with God, and other sorts of propaganda telling me how exciting my life is going to be when I’m dead. Gee thanks.

We finally made it to a big city; Jeroen took a bunch of skyline pictures:


… only to realize later that that wasn’t really Minneapolis, but Saint Paul. Another 15–20km drive and we were in downtown Minneapolis, at the Holiday Inn Express hotel on 11th street—supposedly right downtown. We were both looking forward for some action in a big city after this long driving day.


Jeroen found it necessary to take a picture of this; I can’t recall being offered so many bath accessories in a hotel before.


Boring as hell on a freezing day, at least on Sunday evenings.


I have been here only once before—summer of 2008, during the Kill to Get Crimson tour; the concert then took place at the Orpheum Theatre, just across the street from the State Theatre. I don’t have the fondest memories from that visit; I seem to recall getting lost due to endless road construction, as well as being starving before the show and having to walk about 2km to find a decent place for food. I do recall though that people were nice, which may be the most important thing after all.

But boring as hell. Left the hotel towards the venue to collect the tickets (front row, best seats in the house again), then consulted the BlackBerry about where to have some coffee. Almost everything was closed, except for a Panera Breads store down in Nicolette Mall street.

I remembered Panera Breads from my visit to Nashville, also during the Kill to Get Crimson tour. I was looking forward to using my teeth to chew on their fresh breads; unfortunately, since it was about an hour before closing, I got a mediocre sandwich and a roll of bread as a side—I literally couldn’t chew it, it was a brick. Yuck. Bah. Never again.

An order of a cappuccino has been fulfilled with way too much milk in it. I think they literally went away and milked a cow especially for my cup of coffee. That’s another thing that really annoys me in the espresso industry in North America: step into ten different coffee shops, ask for a cappuccino—and you’ll get ten different combinations of espresso and milk. That sort of confusion really doesn’t exist anywhere else but in North America—the reason being that the espresso market here is relatively new.

At some point Jeroen left to see the opening act; I had to stay at the cafe to continue working on my side‐projects. Shortly after, I accidentally turned my head around towards the cashier—don’t know why, because I didn’t really expect anything too pleasing to the eye there—and noticed a couple and a baby. They seemed awfully familiar… well, I guess this world is even smaller than I thought. It was Nir, his wife and baby girl, whom I met in Chicago completely by accident. I knew we were all going to meet at the concert, but the fact that we all met at the same coffee place prior to the show, is yet another freakish coincident.

And so we passed the time with a lovely conversation, during which I held their wonderful baby girl (who later became famous—read below) so the nice couple could get something to eat without having to worry about things being thrown off the table by the little hands of a micro human being. The baby and I bonded real quickly.

We then made our way towards the State Theatre, a short walk away. At the venue I received yet additional reinforcement to this blog’s popularity as nice people came by and introduced themselves to me, enthusiastically mentioning how they like this very blog you’re reading now. Thanks for the support, folks, much appreciated.


A few minutes of chit‐chat between the five of us (Jeroen, the family of three and myself) and the show started. The show was great, but I was in another world, folks; I was very tired. As a matter of fact, I was so tired that I barely found the strength to cheer—even though I wanted to, because the show was indeed a great success. Funnily enough, even when I’m not the only driver in this trip, still it is much harder for me than the previous one. Distances here are just so great and there’s much that occupies my mind that I find it really hard to get a good night sleep.

Mark did remember, though, that he’s in Minneapolis, and made it clear in his speech to the crowd. No setlist surprises today, and having passed the half‐way mark of the North American tour, I’m pretty sure no such surprise will take place in North America—I am very curious to see, though, what the European tour will bring.

The much disciplined crowd was anti‐standing this time, which I find ridiculous as Piper to the End is, as I said, a national anthem rather than a song.

Jeroen took some photos during this show. Apparently he received some photo‐taking advice from his friend Lennart, and he was eager to employ the newly‐learned techniques. Thanks Lennart for the tips:


After the last song, my friend Nir carried his baby girl to the front of the crowd, much to Mark’s joy (he appears to love little kids). I wrote, in my last post, that the baby girl had some good Knopfler experience as she was listening to him while still being an embryo, plus she met him during the unveiling of the Dire Straits plaque in the UK a few months ago (she was maybe two months old). Such a sweet baby, that I effectively stole it from her father’s hands and held her while we were leaving the concert hall, and while Nir was molesting the merchandise stand buying all bunch of goodies.

I also met Eric—a reader of this blog with whom I had a nice chat; he provided us with a very important and appreciated tip—where to get some good coffee around here. Much appreciated, Eric; good to see you.

About half an hour after the show ended, I had to return the baby to her rightful “owner” (she seemed happy with it, though. Little kids like me, but up to a point, I guess). Was great to meet Nir & his family, and sucked really hard to bid them goodbye.

Israelis know it better than anyone… when Israelis meet abroad, they can become friends in an instant. There are various reasons for that; I’ll keep it to a later post. At the meantime, whenever you hear about Israel—the country or its people—try to think beyond what you hear in the news or what you get from all sorts of propaganda; it’s a beautiful country, and even though its people may be perceived as too straightforward (sometimes maybe rude), there’s this special kind of warmth in this country’s people that you are unlikely to find anywhere else.

Went back to the hotel, walking about 10 minutes in a really boring street. Made some good progress with one of my side‐projects, and went to sleep. Nothing to exciting.

Tomorrow (Monday) there’s no show, but we’ll drive to Milwaukee and spend the night there before proceeding towards Ann‐Arbor, Michigan on Tuesday.