After 16 shows with Dan, I spent the last five as the opening support for a German act, Lilly Among Clouds. Lilly is the songwriter and singer, and she’s got four fellas traveling as her band. Here’s a quick rundown of the cast of characters.
Florian plays percussion. He likes reading the newspaper set out with the hotel breakfasts. He found a story about a Missouri man who fell off of a treehouse after being attacked by wasps, then landed on a grilling skewer facefirst. It went through his head and face?But he’s ok? USA? Florian’s got two kids - 11 and 13. When he was 12 he got terrible grades in music class, so his parents got him lessons on the drums. After that, it was over. He’s a wine guy. I’m not a wine guy. But I did drink wine on the last day.
Onno plays keyboards and synthesizers. He’s the son of preachers and grew up in a little town bordering the Netherlands. They speak a unique language there, a mishmash of a variety of languages. Most of the younger folks aren’t learning it enough to pass on, so it’s slowing making its way out. The older folk in the town still speak it - and he ran into a hotel receptionist who grew up in his town on our last day together. He describes himself as not the best musician, but someone who kept making friends with gaps that he could fill on tour. Really, he’s just a great modest musician.
Lucio plays guitars on stage, but also manages the tour. And he’s my age? I feel like a slouch. He coordinates the day to day shenanigans, always making sure we’re in the right place at the right time. He’s gracious and gregarious, always toting around a camera to snap pics for the band in spare moments. He plays and manages tours in a few other bands. So, check out Giant Rooks if you’re interested. All of the music that he puts on during his morning routine has really crispy electric guitar tones.
Gunnar runs sound. They tote their own board to every show, and then he adds his own special little bits to it. He manually adds delay throughout the set at a few little moments. So, if you watch in the back, you can see him popping back and forth between the soundboard and the delay pedal, peppering in some goodness and making it all feel alright. He also plays guitar and keyboards in the band Staring Girl - they also played the Sound of Bronkow.
Lilly is the singer and songwriter. She’s got a heck of a voice, and a heck of an ear for melodies. At one show, I talked to a couple as I was selling them a CD - they said that this is their ninth time seeing Lilly. This is a common thing. She writes these really strong songs with soaring melodies that never quite get out of your head. I started more than one day with her songs bouncing around in my brain before I even realized I was humming them.
We played five shows - a few things stuck out.
I met the band at the venue in Potsdam. It felt odd to play a solo set after 16 with Dan, but I think I got all of my big mistakes out in this show. Afterward, I met Sofia, Klaus, and Ana. They all had kind things to say. I also met a stranger when they grabbed me and whispered into my ear, “You are Beautiful,” and then walked away? So, that also happened? I’m not sure what else to say about this show. I’m just gonna move on here real quick. I spent most of that day in Dresden anyway.
In Halle, I went for a long walk in a nearby park. I found some buckeyes. It occurred to me how weird my alma mater’s mascot is. A hard, inedible nut. With arms and legs? Anyway, it felt important at the time.
We played at Objekt 5. It’s a really cosy underground club with a fancy ass restaurant in the top part. As always, that means we ate well. We all had this super rich noodle dish with spinach and goat cheese. I will choose to believe that this dinner reminded me how to play a show solo.
I remembered that I have to talk a little bit to set the stage. I remembered to have fun puttering around stage. I remembered to look at people in their eyes. I remembered to make some lame jokes. I remembered to beg people to buy CDs and LPs, and they happily obliged.
Bang and Olufsen is a crazy hi-end stereo company based in Denmark. They billed themselves as the world’s oldest consumer electronics company in the hardbound history book of full color designs and stuff. They seem like they’re a designer and audio engineer’s wet dream. But I don’t think I’ll be a customer any time soon. I think I could live comfortably well into my thirties on what people spend on those speakers. But, like, more power to them.
So, we’re in Hanover, at the ultimate home audio store. And we’re playing this thing called the Salon Festival. It’s this concert series where people perform in unexpected places. We weren’t sure if I was going to be able to play. The booker was really intent on having only Lilly play, less intend on some random fella before her. It’s a special event; they feel fancy and important about themselves. And they’re billing it as a living room concert (but everyone was really fancy and dressed up?). That’s all well and good. But they did not want an opener.
So, after Lilly and them soundchecked, Lucio had me set up and check. Then, he made a beeline for the booker. They went outside and had what looked like serious words as I strummed and hummed. He popped back in, told me to continue playing, and went back outside to continue the discussion. He came back in. He said he had to fight, but he got me 25 minutes (she had initially said nothing, then no more than 12 minutes). We celebrated our victory after the show with Domino’s delivery.
So, thanks to Lucio’s insistence, I played a singer-songwriter set on two speakers that cost about $80,000 each (seriously) in a room where I could have played completely unplugged. So that’s like, over $150,000 of sound equipment. I also ate my weight in Lindt chocolates, and those aren’t cheap either.
The set went well. People laughed, I mumbled about Ohio a bit too much, and sold a bunch of CDs. People talked about how well the sets went together. The booker profusely thanked Lilly for playing. She gave the cold shoulder to Lucio. I avoided eye contact and later fell asleep to a German dub of a Superman movie intermittently interrupted by phone sex ads.
We played our last show in Darmstadt. Full lights, huge rack of speakers, and a bigger stage than I’ve ever been on. That felt great. Afterwards, goofing off til nearly three in the morning felt even better.
Lilly and Florian and Onno and Lucio and Gunnar - Thanks so much for your help over the past week. Thanks for translating jokes and keeping everything light. Thanks for your feedback on my sets. Thanks for helping me order at the finest German Chinese restaurants close to the autobahn. Special thanks to Lucio and Gunnar for being stellar roommates as we moved from hotel to hotel.