Sunday, September 7, 2014

Summer Of Biff 2014 - Episode 3 - Serengti

At this place you should see a long and really detailed blog post about our last stop for the "Summer Of Biff" at Serengeti Festival in Germany. It was a good post - RIP!
I had all night problems with saving the content and finally the blogger tool f***ed it up and now all is gone. I am too tired to write it all again and tomorrow I won't have the time, because I leave for vacation .... finally! 

So here is the very short version:
We had a great day. Serengeti is one of  the smaller and more relaxed festivals and we really enjoyed it. We decided not to spend the day at the barrier but check out the Black Lips (fun but a bit weird) and Mighty Oaks (really good live band) on the second stage in the tent. 

After that I caught some bits of the Guano Apes show that lots of the festival goers enjoyed much. It was a solid performance but I still do not like the band, the music and especially lead singer Sandra Nasić. Some things just never change.
The last band before Biffy was NOFX, who kind of really pissed me off with that punk attitude of the regular beer drinking dude who begs you for a Euro in front of an underground station. They might find it funny - I don't. "Kill All The White Man" as final track reminded me of good times at the Rolling Stone but could not change my impression anymore. I was quite happy when it was over. 

Finally .... Biffy. We made it to the barrier without queuing and hanging out there the whole day. It of course was not center stage but I was close to  my favorite spot on James' side and I could see all five guys. Nothing to complain here - at all.

The highlights of the setlist were The Thaw, 57 and Whores. I personally also especially loved the totally rocking versions of Living Is A Problem, Glitter & Trauma and Stingin' Belle (love that song more and more every time).
I also enjoyed the very intense and beautiful version of "The Rain" (Simon alone and acoustic) a lot which opened the encore. For me it was my little memorial for the great Steve Broadfoot - the former tourmanager of the Biff and the guy who made the wonderful LugPlugs (hearing protection system) which I use at every show. I have the honor and pleasure to have a fantastic email exchange with him safely stored in my inbox archive. He was a great guy and very inspiring person. Steve died of a brain tumor just like my dad and leaves a son behind who is exactly the same age as I was when my dad lost his fight. This is hitting home - badly.
I needed "The Rain" - the song Si had dedicated to Steve a few nights before - for my personal good bye and I am very grateful I got it. 

And so another great "Summer of Biff" came to an end. It was fantastic and I cannot wait for - ERMAHGERD - December!!!  Stay tuned! 

Black Lips

Mighty Oaks



Sunday, August 31, 2014


The last couple of months this blog turned more and more into a music blog, which was never really intended. It was always supposed to be about everything that comes to my mind: generals thoughts, travel posts, art in a wider context ... whatever.
I did not give up on this concept just my life has been pretty boring this summer. There is not much to tell when you get up, go to work, sit on your butt all day working, go home, go to bed and restart the whole process the next day again. I did escape the one long weekend or the other, but that usually was for gig travel ... and that's when we are back with music blogging

Of course there is enough going on in the world that has me thinking and would be worth to write about but at the moment it seems to be mostly really depressing stuff.
War in Gaza ... that's something I grew up with. War in Iraq ... didn't we have this already a while ago? And are we considered to be afraid of Russia and Russian dictators again? And of all kind of international terrorists as well - you know ... 9/11 style?
Also racism is very obviously still a thing and more well and alive than lots of us had thought and hoped so - the drama around the Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, is just one of many examples.
You would think as well that decades of watching environmental catastrophes and their short and long term effects should have taught us that it's better to be careful with the planet but still quite a lot of people seem to think that crazy stuff like fracking is a good idea.
The list could go on and one ...

There are many things like this at the moment .... too many. It feels like mankind is looping and not learning from the past. I find that incredibly frustrating. Mistakes happen. Wrong decisions are made. That is part of being human - as single individual and as a collective - but making the same mistakes all over again and again is plain stupid but nevertheless it's happening at the moment - that is at least my personal impression - more than ever. 

Do I have an idea how to stop it? Not really, but I think it would be a good idea to simply be kind to each other. It does not require money, it does not require equipment and it does not need you to reach out around the world (although it's nice if you do and social media makes the world small anyway) - just be kind to the person next to you and we are off to a good start .... 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Of Biff 2014 - Episode 2 - T IN THE PARK

I am a liar. Obviously.

When 2014 was around the corner I said to too many people and in too public places that after a CRAZY (crazy wonderful, too) 2013 I would take it easy in 2014 (hahaha!).  Also after getting a lot of new ink in 2013 it would be a year without new tattoos and oh yes ... what ever would happen like even Biffy headlining T In The Park - I would not attend big festivals. I did not do in almost two decades and I would not change that any time soon. Open Airs - yes, small festivals - sure (I love small festivals), but not the type of event that makes a 80 k people city of wasted people grow out of an innocent field somewhere in the countryside. Not with me.

Well ... may I introduce you .... my latest ink from spring 2014:

Mac and I combined here the cover designs of the Sucioperro's Pain Agency and Fused in one lovely and productive drawing and one about three hours long tattoo session to create this wicked new addition. The elbow was by the way a weird feeling but not as bad as I thought it would be. The cute little bastard on the wrist on the other hand was ... challenging.

The other "No no no" fell apart quickly when the tickets for T In The Park went on sale with Biffy headlining the Friday. I watched all my friends posting their "I got my tix" and my resistance fell apart in Warp 10. I took a deep breath and ... booked a ticket and flights and all what was needed and once I was done I realized how badly I wanted to go because I almost cried of relief.

A few months later the day was there and I was on my way to Glasgow. This is also before we talk about the festival the right moment to thank again many many times Emma & Grant for hosting, feeding and driving me. It was such a great time spent with lovely, lovely friends. I hope I can return the hospitality one day!

I arrived a day early and it felt really like going on a much needed vacation. I left a foggy, rainy
Munich and arrived in a sunny, warm Glasgow. We even had our dinner outside in the garden.
The next morning again bright sunshine was welcoming us and we reduced the number of sweaters and jackets packed for the day significantly but put on and packed lots of sunscreen before we started the drive through the very pretty Scottish countryside towards Balado Airfield

The first impression was ... great! It was pretty out there. Sure the good weather helped a lot, but after hearing a many not so nice things about the festival I found it really well organized. Even the portaloos were doable - not just on Friday but still on Sunday. Food and drinks were okay, you could get free water and at the really nice and relaxed "Healthy T" food court even the free WiFi worked fine. 
Yes, I saw some really gross things involving people who were not able to manage their alcohol and drug intake and something REALLY gross happened to our group (no further details, but we did not cause the incident) right before the Biffy gig which made the use of almost all the disinfection wipes I had in my bag necessary, but other than that .... all good. Very good. 

Little Matador
We took things easy that first day and focused really on meeting up with the many friends who were attending as well, but of course we checked out some bands, too. We had decided early that this was NOT the day to spend all day at the barrier to be there for Biffy. Some friends did and succeeded to defend their space all day, but we did not even try. Our first band was Little Matador at the BBC Introducing Tent. After seeing them with Biffy in Dublin I really wanted to see them again. There were not many people in the tent but I loved the set. The feedback from our group was half and half. One part loved it, the other really not. For me it was a good start with some groovin' rock sounds. 

Royal Blood
Next stop was the PACKED King Tut's Tent for Royal Blood. Sure I like the type of music they do ... it's right down my alley, but I am always a bit over critical when a band just takes off with getting so much hype. So I really wanted to check out what this was all about and was more curious than excited.
But holy shit ... those TWO boys - just drums and bass - rock so much! I LOVED it. So yep ... here I am well on the Royal Blood train. At the moment they are in the US touring tiny clubs and my US friends are on the road seeing them, met them off stage and they obviously are lovely people as well. Always an extra plus. Can't wait for the full album now!

Sadly there was one big bummer attached  to the Royal Blood set and that was terrible timing and bad stage splits. While we could have done easily with some more good stuff over the afternoon this one hour was overloaded. It had Royal Blood, Haim and Maximo Park at the same time. I really would have loved to see Maximo Park but no chance. 

The rest of the afternoon we got some bits and pieces of CHVRCHES before it got just too hot and humid in the tent (I had seem them before and was not dying from not seeing the whole set), saw a bit of the dreadful Imagine Dragons playing the safe card with covering the Proclaimers (I mean ... really????), the even more dreadful You Me And Six (I bet they "LOVED" seeing the same people giving them eyerolls from the front row like in Dublin *chuckle*) as well as some notes from Ellie Goulding by walking by (of no further interest) and had nice break for food in the sunset at Healthy T

Then it was time to get in position during Ed Sheeran's show on the main stage. The kid is probably a good entertainer and a nice guy. He likely is, but I cannot stand his voice and being there for parts of his set was purely functional to get ready for the run. Our goal was the end of the golden circle, middle of stage, right before the 2nd barrier and most of us made it for Biffy! I mean not too bad right? 

Gosh .... I was so excited and I was so happy with where we ended up - full view on the stage. Yes - much more far away than usual but not Lego sized people too far to guess the faces. We had room to dance, jump and sing. It was perfect!

Before we go into the details, I need to get one thing out of the way: YES, I had hoped for Justboy, I had hoped for Joy. Discovery. Invention. I had hoped for more older songs, some little more exotic songs from the past, BUT in the end a festival is a mass event. It is not really about us - the core group of Biffy fans. 
Not even there in Scotland. You can see that at the beginning of the BBC broadcast of the show when they talk to some front row girls (not our friends standing a few meters away from those) and they could barely name a single song but had a "Simon Neil I want your sausage" sign (seriously). You could also hear it when they played Questions & Answers and the sing along immediately died because it was too fancy already. So while it was not our dream set list it was still a really good mix of old and new and of course the anthemic crowd pleasers a show like this needs. 
And if you take a step back and try to see it with a stranger's eyes, who did not see this band so often already, you see a GIANT MONSTER OF A SHOW ...a band that put all their heart into it and delivered absolutely brilliant entertainment, you hear a sound that was for a big open air stage fantastic and you feel a crowd that really, really loved every minute of it. Many Of Horror is definitely not my favorite tune, but you need to see and listen to this to get an idea of how it all felt:

I know I have done nothing to make this happen besides attending a handful of shows, but I was incredibly proud the whole night. Well done, my favorite people, very well done! 

The best part of the show came for the encore. Si had just ended a wonderful version of Machines, when the light switched and made the shape of a young man visible who is not a permanent member of Biffy Clyro but nevertheless made 60,000 people scream in delight and here he is: 

It was so so so so so cool. A warm summer night in Scotland, Biffy Clyro playing Stingin' Belle and real bagpipes. Oh ... and don't you love Ben counting in (check the video)? I love those little things! There was nothing more to wish for that moment. Nothing. 


The next day was nothing but exhaustion. I am obviously too old for this shit. I almost fell asleep on the couch of Lucky Cat Tattoo while my friend got some ink. We walked a bit around Glasgow and had a drink, but my brain was mostly blank because I was so tired. Funny enough though we ran into some more Biffy friends - always so nice and fun. It's such a great bunch of people.
Back home Grant cooked up some great pasta and that got me kicked out for good. In town a free show of We Are Scientists and Paws was happening -something that would have had me going at any other day, but no chance at all.
Oh ... it was also raining and we watched some T In The Park on the telly with people getting really wet. It made the couch an even better place. 

The next morning I felt thankfully much better and the sun was out again as well. Some last minute work schedule changes had resulted in me not going home that day but on early Monday morning by train to London for two days of meetings and work in our UK office and that allowed another day at T In The Park. Since most of my friends had just day tickets for Friday Balado and I had some 1:1 time that day but I really enjoyed that before I met up with some friends who were doing the festival "hardcore" version including camping for the whole weekend. 

I started the day with the Inspiral Carpets. To be honest I did not even know that they were still around but I spotted them on the opener slot at the Radio One Stage and it was a lot of fun to dance to She Comes In The Fall in the sun. I felt very 18 again but only as long as I did not go too close to the stage because the obvious age of the musicians made very clear that for all of is the teenage days were not exactly yesterday. Ahem. 

The Twilight Sad
Up Next was the first serious barrier slot of the festival because I went early to see The Twilight Sad at the King Tut's Tent. I had made several attempts to see this band before but it had all failed for some reasons and I was so happy that I finally made it.
The atmosphere was a bit weird because it is that type of music you hear very late at night (at least I do) when you have your mind and soul just drifting and not exactly on a bright morning when the smell in the air is mostly ... coffee. At least it was pretty dark in the tent that filled up after a slow start quite nicely (the band had an earlier stage time than initially planned that allowed a bit longer set but had people arriving late). The show was as intense and beautiful as I thought it would be. I hope they manage to come to Germany one day soon. 

Kodaline I partially enjoyed from the big ferris wheel and I loved both - he ride with the sights and the set of the band. I am not exactly a fan, but there were some seriously good vibes coming from the main stage and it was great fun.
In the picture you also see very well the second barrier - the end of the golden circle - where we were standing for Biffy

After that I went to see Sam Smith. I really like Stay With Me although pop ballads are usually not my cup of tea but festivals are always a good chance to find out if you like more stuff from an artist by just walking over and having a look and listen. But well ... no. Although the atmosphere was great - people standing and further in the back sitting in the sunshine singing along - I just could not get around it. Turns out I like Sam Smith best when it is actually not Sam Smith but Sam McTrusty together with the rest of Twin Atlantic and with Sucioperro's Stewart Chown on the bass covering Stay With Me. That was kind of predictable but still worth trying. 


Then it was time for the 2nd highlight of the T In The Park weekend: The set of Medals in the BBC Introducing Tent

I took a break before the show in the sun (and got sunburned although I had plenty of sunblocker on ... oh well) contemplating that although it was really cool that Medals had been added last minute to the line up, it was still a pity that it was not on Friday but on Sunday. I literally know dozens of people who would have loved to see the set but were already on the way back down to England, on the flight back to France or other countries. My phone kept buzzing the whole time with "Are they on already?" "How is it?" "Take pictures!" or "Can you film a song?" The last question was a clear no (sorry). I hate filming during a show and for a short set like that I can't really waste a song for standing still. Thankfully the BBC was there and did a much better job than I would have anyway.
But not just the BBC was around - quite some crowd was as well. It just needed the first notes of a seriously rocking, heavy version of Tastes Like Glass (Thanks much for moving it away from the end of the set!!!) and the tent was filling up fast. The atmosphere was just awesome with people dancing, singing along and partying.
The T In The Park show was after the two acoustic sets the very first full electric one and it was a lot of fun! Everybody who has tickets for the show on September 12 at King Tut's can be happy - you are in for a treat!  If you don't have tickets yet - they can be purchased here

The fantastic video of I Used To Be Dancer from T In The Park.  Watch & share:

And a few more pictures: 

It is always best to leave when it cannot get much better anyway and so that was the end point of my T In The Park 2014. I had no interest in the Arctic Monkeys who were headlining that day and I also had to get back to Glasgow to watch at least the final minutes of the the FIFA World Cup final Germany vs Argentina (REALLY weird to watch the German win in a foreign country, really weird) and get ready for a 6 am start the next day.

For somebody who by all means did NOT want to attend a big festival I had a damn good weekend. Good Bye Balado - it was amazing ...
The complete T In The Park photo set can be seen here. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Of Biff 2014 - Episode 1 - Dublin

Simon Neil / Picture: Anita Ivanković

This will be a quick one because I am a bit in a rush. Today will be a long and intense working day and then the next night will be really short. Thursday will have a 4 am start because I need to get very early to the airport for my to Glasgow via Düsseldorf flight for episode 2 of this Summer Of Biff at T IN THE PARK (I cannot believe it's here. It feels like forever since I bought the ticket in an attack of craziness).

But this is not about TITP, this is about the first highlight of the summer - Biffy Clyro in Dublin!

The last weekend of June I traveled with my friend Anita to Ireland for the first of a small series of Biffy gigs this summer. I am doing by far not all of them but cherry picked a few to make sure I see my favorite people again a couple of times before they go into recording hiatus.
I arrived on Friday in the early afternoon and settled already in our cozy airbnb room close to the venue. Our lovely host was so nice to explain to me how to get best to the venue and recommended to go there straight away so that I would know my way the next morning. Smart advice. I went and found everything perfectly like she had described. The venue was inside a beautiful park at the Royal Hospital of Kilmainham and easy to access. All good.
Next I headed for the city center to shop for my niece and to look around a bit. I was in Dublin before but that was a couple of years ago and I barely remembered anything, but the LUAS tram line between the city center and our home was easy to find and I got around nicely. I had some delicious dinner at Temple Bar (which is like a bit more charming version of the Altstadt in Düsseldorf), went for a nice walk at the Liffey and got my shopping done.

Camp Biffy Dublin
Saturday was an early start because ... queuing. I love watching Biffy from the front row (not just but especially Biffy) but I won't do that at the big festivals. So Dublin was supposed to become THE front row show of the summer and that indeed worked fine. Anita and I were by far not the only ones coming to Dublin from pretty far away and we all had agreed on an early queue. So when we arrived around 8 am in the morning we were already No 15 and 16 (still good enough).
The group soon moved from the gates into the park to the entrance of the actual venue. At this point I have to really mention the excellent organization of the event. The security welcomed us with a friendly "You are the queue? Please make yourself comfortable over there." They advised us to wait at a lovely piece of the park with trees and green. They assured us we would be the first getting in, explained the procedure later at doors, kept us up to date and even helped when it was time to keep things in order. Later on the grounds they were handing out water to us and made sure we were well hydrated and comfortable. It was really enjoyable. Additionally we had the whole day access to the Museum Of Modern Art in the Royal Hospital (it is free!), the museum café with cold drinks, coffee, tea, warm food and snacks and excellent clean bathrooms. PLUS we had except for some minutes in the morning PERFECT sunny weather. It was for sure the nicest queuing experience ever and obviously so much better than spending a whole day on the pavement of a random city in the middle of  winter (been there, done that).
It was all around a wonderful day spent picnicking in a lovely park with good friends. It was absolutely great to see all the other folks again after a couple of months off the road and we had a lot of fun. And if you wonder what little miracles music can do: I counted 11 nationalities in the first 30 people in the queue alone - all happily enjoying the day together. Just beautiful.

In the late afternoon at 5.30 pm it was time for doors. That's the moment that proofs that it is all in our heads ;). You know ... I am a cyclist. I HATE running. I do really long walks and stuff, but running? If I try to do that as a workout I can barely run to the next street corner without swearing, coughing, blaming the world for everything (give me my road bike - very different picture). BUT if you open the doors of a football field sized venue and every second matters, I can run and even leave several people behind me. It is also absolutely hilarious that I who cannot be bothered to catch a ball really can snag such a tiny thing like a snipped pick out of the thin air with one quick smooth move. But yes - I can. Thanks to James for the pick (I have to admit his very targeted throw made things very easy though).

Nathan Conolly / Little Matador
Then it was finally time for music. The first support band Little Matador was AMAZING. It is the band of Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly, who is the frontman of this groovin' rock band (significantly heavier and dirtier in a good way than Snow Patrol). I will definitely try to catch them Friday at TITP and both of us purchased the album first thing when we got home. Check them out - you won't regret.  I am already jealous for all the folks who can make it to Belsonic (Belfast) in August to see Little Matador, Twin Atlantic and Biffy Clyro. What a killer line up.

2nd support band of the night were You Me And Six and they were god awful. Gosh ... that was one damn long hour. The songs were boring but the worst thing was the hilariously exaggerated attitude. Tip between us brothers and sisters for YMAS: Just watch again that band that played after you to see how that is done well. Posing over some boring tunes and then tell those teenagers who came to see you (yes, there were quite a few) to remove some clothing (remember ... it was a hot summer day and there were no hats and scarfs and such things) to wave is ... questionable. We folks from the Biffy queue could not hold back some pretty nasty laughs (NOT appreciated by the YMAS singer) when indeed bras were thrown on stage.
At least I collected some karma points. During Little Matador's set a girl behind me asked if she could stand in front of me. THIS is a question you do not ask a person that started queuing at 8 am. If you do .. be happy when you earn just a "NO". It could be much worse. During the first songs of YMAS I then understood the situation. THAT was the band the child was there for and the lady behind her was her mum. The girlie had tears in her eyes looking up to the stage. And while I have no idea how you do that for YMAS I know very well how she feels. So I put the kid in front of me to the barrier and negotiated with the mother that she had to remove her daughter again for Biffy. The mum almost cried and said like three times "You made her day!" and agreed to make sure they would go back right after YMAS (they did). Since the singer dude had to look in our bored faces over the longest stretch of the barrier he was obviously happy to catch the eye of the now front row teenager and flashed some bleached smiles for her. Kiddo almost died of happy. I want to be at least reborn as a cat or so for that. I think that would be fair.

Churd :)
Then it was time .... oh how I love that. YMAS were off and the Biffy crew on stage. So good to see all the familiar faces again. Churd wearing his DOUG FIR shirt (club in Portland) made me especially happy since I know that the best memories are connected with that place for my US friends.
And then one of the best Biffy shows I have seen to date started. They all had their special moments and especially Paris and Tourcoing will always be most precious memories and Tourcoing still has the top spot, but Dublin was damn special as well.

James Johnston
First of all the setting in the summer evening with a golden and then pink and then dark blueish sky was AMAZING although the daylight made the light show on stage pretty redundant. It also caused the funniest moment of the night when James was not sure his strobe in the "Glitter & Trauma" intro was working and checked by strobing himself right in the face. I guess he did not see much for the next minute or so.
What made me silly happy is that FINALLY the boys started to play more around with the set lists - something we wished for already for a long time.

Mike Vennart
So this night's special treats were "Questions & Answers" (amazing dance by Mike Vennart), "The Thaw" (that piano intro KILLS me - so beautiful), "Whorses", "Machines" and ... "Justboy".  I am aware that it is not easy to understand for not Biffy fans, but this meant so much to me.  It was my first "Justboy" live ... EVER. And it is one of my very favorite songs, my right arm tattoo song, too. So when the first notes went off into the evening sky I promptly started crying. No chance stopping it. It was amazing.  So good.
The audience at least around us really appreciated what was going on and at some point the guy behind me (who I did not know) and I gave each other a big HI5 while he kept saying "We are so lucky!"  Yes, we really were.

Team Biffy in the Irish sunset
When the show was over we were simply ... happy. This sounds like a simple sentence but it means so much. Being really happy is not so easy to achieve and those moments when you question nothing, when you can leave everything behind and just enjoy who you are, what you are doing and what you are feeling in this very second are rare. But that is the reason why I do this ... why I travel, queue, spend money. I do it because doing it and listening to this band and watching them play makes me happy. And not just me - the same applies to my friends who spend these gig days and nights with me. It is why we grin at each other and comment all the efforts just with "WORTH IT!".

After leaving the venue we finally stumbled back to the LUAS stop and went home after a very, very happy day spent with friends at a really nice place and with enjoying the best rock show you can get these days.

Next day we went for a bit of sightseeing but we were basically powered out from the days before and kind of happy to catch our flights home.  Thank you Dublin - you were a great host for a great weekend.

On to the next one ...

PS: All pictures enlarge when you click on them.


Different People 
That Golden Rule 
The Captain 
Sounds Like Balloons 
The Thaw 
Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies 
God & Satan 
(Simon solo acoustic)
Glitter and Trauma 
Who's Got a Match? 
Questions and Answers 
Many of Horror 
Woo Woo 
Black Chandelier 

(Simon solo acoustic)
Stingin' Belle 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mixtape - June 2014 Edition

The trip to Scotland was already a month ago and I would have a severe depression about that fact if not a lot had happened in between and more will happen very soon. To not let too much time pass without an update I went for another mixtape edition. I hope you enjoy ...

General state of mind

I wrote in the Medals post that with this show 2014 stopped sucking and it really did. My life feels like it is back on regular speed. The gigs keep coming, a LOT of travel is in the pipeline and even the work situation is starting to get better again.
The only thing that keeps annoying me is my body who seems to think 40 is a good age to become a jagoff. Latest adventure - an infection around a wisdom tooth that kept me on painkillers and frequent dentist visits for weeks. The wisdom tooth has to go. Obviously. I think sometimes between T In The Park and Serengeti. Wish me luck.
On the first day without painkillers for the tooth (yesterday) I made a stupid move in the morning that then resulted in terrible backpain. Long story ... it was foreseeable and tracks back to an old problem. Stupid me. Praise the lord for Voltaren, my mom's old physio therapist who taught me how to deal with it when it happens some years ago and a good rock show (standing for hours seems a bad idea, but nothing distracts better and that's essential when a sudden muscle stiffness has to losen up). I am a bit sore now but okay, I just could really do without that type of trouble. I really do. Getting old sucks. 


New Pens GM Jim Rutherford
While all the other madness was going on the Pens dropped out of the Stanley Cup playoffs early again. Yes, again. The main difference was that I did not care as much as the years before. I could not watch too much of the 2nd half of the season because I was not fit enough to deal with all the late nighters, but what I saw made it really clear to me that we were no Cup contender this season. The drive, the energy, the chemistry, the excitement were missing - and depth in the roster. So I protected my heart early and was of course still dissapointed but not as shattered as the years before.
It was very obvious to me and everybody else that things had to change. The way this team was handeled would not bring us a Cup and that is what this whole game is about. What I did NOT expect was that the first head rolling was not the one of coach Dan Bylsma but of GM Ray Shero. But I am not Mario Lemieux and I have not the insights to really judge that decision. What followed were some dreadful weeks of waiting for a new GM and shockingly the search included interviews with Pierre McGuire. I really, really cannot stand that guy and I am not sure how I would have dealt with having him in such a key position. He did not make it, but Jim Rutherford did. Yes, the Jim Rutherford who gave us Jussi Jokinen for a bag of pucks and kept paying half of his salary. I have really trouble to see how this guy after spending decades with the Hurricanes including some very questionable decisions is supposed to do the job better than Shero, but here we go.
Trying to rationalize this is the way it makes kind of sense: This is an interim solution supported by a trio of talented assistant GMs who should grow into the full role within the next 2 to 3 years with Jason Botterill being the strongest candidat. To close the gap the Pens chose to opt for an experienced person to manage a team around Crosby and Malkin in their prime instead of a rookie in that position like *gulp* Pierre. Rutherford was sure not the wishlist No 1 candidate but the one they could get on board and met somewhat the criteria. We will see if that all works out. 
Rutherford's first decision was to fire Bylsma, which was no surprise. I like Dan but I would have done the same. He is a good regular season coach, but he is very obviously nobody who leads a team to a Stanley Cup. For those who insist that he did exactly that: Well yes ... but that was a team he took out of the hands of Michael Therrien who is the opposite character - often questioned and blamed during regular season but surely setting his boys up for playoffs as you can see with the Habs, who made it further this year since quite a while. 
It will be exciting to watch who can Rutherford bring in as a new head coach and how the rebuilding process works for the team. On to a new season in the fall ...

Very sad news for us Pens fans broke a few days ago. We lost Cy Clark - better known as Malkamania and one of the most passionate Pens fans ever. He lost his fight against throat cancer and he will be missed - a lot! I met him once - at the first game ever where I had seats down at the ice and I was SO excited - and he was a lovely, friendly guy - a Pittsburgh orginal - and he just belonged with his team. Rest in peace, Cy! 

Gigs at home

Manic Street Preachers 
Once again I was benefiting from the relaxed gig approach of the people here in Munich when I headed out to see the Manic Street Preachers. I arrived at  the Backstage (one of my favorite bigger clubs) shortly after doors and found my preferred slot at the left end of the barrier still available. So on to another front row show. It was - shame on me - my first Manics show and it was good fun. The gents did sound very well and the band is sure a smoothly running machine. The audience was cool and friendly all around. People were singing and dancing but for once not pushing like maniacs - very enjoyable. It sure did help that the majority was well ... middle aged like *cough* ... me. Also both neighbors left and right identified my arm tattoos by the quotes as Biffy tats and were also at the Biffy show in Munich - nice.
A fun side note about the Manic Street Preachers:  that was the cleanest stage I have ever seen. Since drums, keys and 2nd guitar are all in the back only James Dean Bradfield and the lovely Nicky Wire use the whole front part of the stage ... one cable from the left, one from the right and pretty minimalistic pedal set up hidden behind monitors and that's it. It looked clean like a dance floor before the party starts.

The second show was The Amazing Snakeheads from Glasgow in the Café of the Muffathalle, which is a lovely, tiny club. It was warm and sunny Sunday evening which is sadly the worst that can happen to a band here in Munich, but while it was not packed it wasn't super empty either. I have seen much worse and some of the fans in the house were really enthusiastic and made up for the relatively small headcount in the audience. The Snakeheads are not exactly my cup of tea. They sound and look like they were out to make a Tarantino soundtrack. There is a certain buzz around the band and I was mostly out to see if it has some substance and yes ... definitely a solid set, but nothing that wins over my heart. Most fun part was watching the puzzled Bavarian faces around me trying very hard to figure Dale's accent out without much success. There was a lot of "What did he just say???" around me. 

Gigs on the road

Way Back When Festival - Dortmund

What a perfect weekend! On Saturday morning I threw myself in the train up to Cologne where my friend Anita lives. It was a lovely, sunny summer day and once I was there we went for a long walk followed by fantastic burgers and freshly cut fries at Fette Kuh - the best burger meal I ever had outside of the US. Highly recommended.
Then it was time to head to Dortmund for "Way Back When Festival". This festival works like for example "Live At Leeds". It is not outside but takes place in several clubs around town. It goes on for a couple of days but we only could make the Saturday because I had to work. We wanted to make this a Swedish night and that worked out perfectly fine. 

Friska Viljor
First stop were our lovely besties of Friska Viljor. Instead of the usual 5 people line up Joakim and Daniel played this show as a stripped down acoustic set and it was absolutely beautiful.
The setlist was a brilliant mix of fan favorites and rarities including a stunning version of my much loved "Useless". There was a lot of interaction with the happy audience, story telling, improvisation and many laughs. I really, really like the full electric line up (later more about that), but this was a different thing. It of course did not hurt also that we made it front row and could enjoy it the show from really close by. We still had the big big grin of the extended "Shotgun Sister" in our face and the last notes in our ears, when we had to leave and run to catch as much as possible of the Johnossi show happening in another bigger club 15 min walk away. And that would be my feedback to the organizers: It was very obvious that Friska and Johnossi would have a big share in the audience and it would be nice, if we would have been able to see both sets completely. We opted for staying with Friska until the end and missing the first half an hour of Johnossi, some others left Friska early - happy was nobody with this. 

Johnossi ... a totally different beast than Friska Viljor. Dark, loud, huge. I LOVE them. On record it is already good, but live? They are SO good, that they made me forget that The Black Crowes cancelled on me (same weekend than my first Johnossi show) and that means something!
The venue was packed but with some trickery (not pushing away people - honestly) and the usual "over the wings" approach we made it despite the late arrival to the (far end) of the barrier. Thankfully I did not miss too many of my favorite tunes and we could rock for another hour. The weird thing really is that it looks like nothing. There is only Ossi on the drums, John with his (semi) acoustic guitars - he usually switches only between 2-3 guitars through the whole show - and a keyboarder who is on the road with them to support the songs from the latest album. If you look at the pics it looks almost singer songwriter style, but hell .....NO! It is like a thunderstorm

For the musicians among you. THAT is what is happening with those acoustic guitar sounds - pedal porn ;) 

After the Johnossi set the night was still not over. Joakim and Daniel were doing another DJ set in one of the local clubs and it was a lot of fun. We danced through the rest of the night and were not in bed before 5 am. It's been a while since I went to sleep with the sun up and the birds singing. 

On Sunday we went to see the new X-Men movie, which was definitely better than the last Wolverine. It also has Michael Fassbender so nothing could go wrong anyway. Ahem ;)

Musiksommer Dachau

I had seriously thought about skipping this one since I had to go alone, but after seeing Friska in Dortmund I just could not have them play only 20 min by S-Bahn from Munich and stay away. They are one of my favorite live bands and I KNOW that I will have fun every time I see them. So a last minute ticket was purchased and I took the train out to Dachau in the lovely warm evening sun. Sadly the train was delayed and when I finally arrived I sprinted through the small town up the hill because I could hear that Friska Viljor were playing already. 

Friska Viljor
The little square was filled with people and the scenario could not have been nicer - a warm summer night in a lovely old town, lots of people in a very good mood and a fab band playing. I made my way to the front ... over the wings but it wasn't that packed / squeezed anyway.
Back to full strength Friska offered their typical fun show with Joakim being in best form flirting with the front rows and the band members joking with each other and fooling around. It's surely not the most complex music Friska is offering and there might be bands who could do crazier, more experimental stuff, but those Swedish guys play their hearts out every single time. If you need something to cheer yourself up - a Friska show will do the job. I promise! 

Shoud Out Louds
Second band of the night were the Shout Out Louds - as well from Sweden. I have to admit that I heard some of their songs before but I do not own a record (should change that soon) and I had never seen them live before. My friends were texting me if I would stay around after Friska or take the train home, but I loved it there, the weather was perfect and why not?
Gosh, I am glad I stayed. Should Out Louds were ... awesome! I am not knowledgable enough to name songs here or praise single performances (sure frontman Adam knows his business though), but they did sound damn good and had the people dancing. I had changed the "wing" and found myself a nice slot at the entrance to the backstage area where I could go some stairs up for better sight (see the side of stage picture) which turned out to be a lucky decision because when Adam towards the end came off the stage to climb the stairs up where I was standing it all turned into a little fun dance party right there with the Friska boys. PERFECT and also a nice cure for my sore back. 

My new stereo

Little Big Man
My old stereo was a gift from my mom after my dad had died. I was 17. It was that old. The CD player had few years less, but the speakers? Ancient. I had thought about buying a new one for quite a while, but it is a serious investment and it never really happened. Then three things came together:
1) I got my tiny BOSE for Christmas / birthday and that wee bastard sounds better than the whole old stereo that I barely touched ever since.
2) My colleague bought the Teufel "Little Big Man" package and loved it. Teufel is a German brand for somewhat affordable highend speaker systems. You can read as many tests and reviews as you want and you will get as many opinions, but on average the Teufel set had - in its price segment - very decent reviews all over the place and my coworker (who listens to the same music as I do) loved his. The stereo itself is not groundbreaking and only an interims solution but the speakers incl subwoofer are really good. 
3) Teufel reduced the price for "Little Big Man" - 20% off. That was the moment I was sold and ordered. It had to happen and it just had made into the "affordable" segment. 

A few days later HUGE parcels arrived and although I came home late that night (thanks to my neighbor for handling the delivery) I OF COURSE had to unpack and set up right away. And what should I say ... BRILLIANT! Since my old system was really dead I am easy to please but it is really good especially for that overseeable amount of money I spent. The sound is very clear and detailed. I heard things I never heard before .... Ben Johnston's work on the cymbals at Live From Glasgow for example. And Medals "Tastes Like Glass" with an additional subwoofer is really a lot of fun. I am totally in love with that thingy. Not sure said neighbor is though ;) 


The next three months should be fun (minus the wisdom tooth removal) and here is what is in the pipeline:

- Biffy Clyro in Dublin at the end of June
- T In The Park in Scotland with Biffy Clyro headlining mid of July 
- Serengeti Festival in Germany with Biffy Clyro headlining mid of August
- Medals full electric show in Glasgow mid of September 

All the awesomeness ... I CAN'T WAIT!

More to read

... but not written by me. You should go here and read what David Conrad, actor, Pittsburgher and fantastic writer has to say about traveling. As a nomadic existence that has trouble to stay more than 4 weeks in a row at home I can deeply relate. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Save my soul with Rock 'n' Roll - Medals in Irvine (Scotland)

YAY .... finally again a travel issue of the "Save my soul ... " gig series! 

Medals live at the HAC in Irvine. Scotland

There is no way  to describe it nicely, but until May 2014 was a pile of shit. I was sick for solid eight weeks - two of them the knocked out and drugged up type of ill - and that would be usually enough for 3 to 4 average years. On top of the fun there was and is lots of trouble at the work place and a couple of really shattering things happened to people close to me. It was just not a good time.

One morning in late April I found out about what theoretically could have been the cure of all evil: Biffy Clyro would play an acoustic gig at the legendary King Tut's in Glasgow celebrating the (re)launch of XFM Scotland.
THAT was something .... I have been to a lot of Biffy shows from very big to very small venues, but no hometown gig and no acoustic show yet. The only 200 tickets for this event would not go on sale but given away in a couple of competitions which means: MADNESS. My friends and I tried everything possible and impossible to get tickets, but it worked out only for a very very few of us.

On Good Friday - still ticketless - I went to my sister's for Easter when in the early afternoon my cellphone started to dance on the table in some kind of crazy buzz with dozens of messages dropping in all at the same time: Breaking news - Medals, the recent project of Sucioperro's JP Reid, would have their first ever live show supporting Biffy at King Tut's (All about how much I love the Medals debut album "Disguises" can be read here and that I am a massive Sooch fan is no secret either.)
With that having no tickets turned from "really sad" to "complete nightmare". We all now tried even harder to get our hands on those diamond dust like wristbands, but there was simply no way and no luck for pretty much all of us. 2014 felt worse than ever.

The day of the show came and I could do nothing but starring at my phone waiting for the messages and pictures dropping in from the very few lucky ones of my friends who had managed to get in and they did and with them good news:  
Medals would have another gig - the first ever headliner show - on Friday May 9 in Irvine (a small town on the Scottish West Coast).
Logistically that was a challenge but I wanted to hear those songs live since they were released and I was really in the need of a nice gig trip to cheer myself up. Thankfully I have amazing friends and within 48 hrs the whole Irvine thing started to shape up: My friend Claire would give me a lift up North from Manchester. I would get there by train from London, where I was for work anyway that week - and we would be not the only ones traveling. The little hotel next to the venue was booked out in no time and of course lots of the Glasgow area based pals would come around, too. Finally ... good times around the corner!

When May 9 came everything went like planned. The adventure part of the trip started then with passing the "Welcome to Scotland" sign which was btw a first for me. I never made it North of Yorkshire before.
We thought it would be smart to avoid the rush hour around Glasgow and chose the "direct" route to Irvine the TomTom offered and got off the motorway soon after entering Scotland

To call what followed "a scenic drive" is the understatement of the year. Long and - literally - winding roads took us through tiny villages with gaelic names, landscapes shaped by hills in all sizes and forms and over high plateaus with incredible views. While Claire bravely fought the challenging roads I just sat watching and falling mile by mile more in love with the still, mostly humanless land under the rushing, windswept sky. It is like a fairy tale country made mainly to produce rainbows (I have never seen rain and sun at the same time more often than in 24 hrs in Scotland). 
We would have been worried that we were lost because there was really nothing and nobody around us for most of the time except sheep, lots of sheep, but the GPS spot kept getting closer to the target and the encouraging naming of the roads like Ayr or Kilmarnock Road kept us optimistic. Only when between two especially steep hills where the road was barely wide enough for one car (in total - not in each direction) some lambs jumped around in front of the car (all good - nobody got injured) we had a slightly hysterical laughing fit

Around 6 pm we arrived in Irvine and it immediatly made it into the top list of "odd ends of the world where I had a really good time" - together with a very hispanic little town in NoCal, an abandoned steel mill in the Mon Valley (PA) and a small youth center in "Toorkwah" (Tourcoing, France). It's a rough little harbour town that at least on that grey spring day was not exactly pouring the charme of a beach resort, but it had a clean and surprinsingly comfy inn and with the Habour Arts Center a really nice, small concert venue - and that was all we needed.

This Silent Forest
We entered the venue short after doors and there was already a buzz of excitement in the room. Although the capacity of the HAC is only 115 it is seated arena style which means there is basically no bad seat in the house - where ever you sit you are close to the stage and nobody can really block your view. It is quite perfect for a small acoustic show although I am really bad at sitting through a gig and prefer standing.
We took a small round to say hello to our friends which was great fun in itself because we had not seen most of them since the end of the Biffy winter tour and settled in our 2nd row seats on the side for the set of the support band This Silent Forest

I have really no idea what they put in their famous, crystal clear drinking water up there in Scotland to produce so many great bands, but here you got another one. I had not heard of them before, but the more pleasant was the surprise when the music started and some beautiful songs filled the room. I do not like comparing bands and I won't (much) but I think it is safe to say that This Silent Forest dig some nice Twilight Sad (as do I) ... just for a rough direction. I bought the album and like it a lot - definitely worth for you to check out! 

JP Reid
Then it was finally 9 pm. The sold out venue was packed with smiling people waiting for Medals as basically everybody collectively held their breath for a little moment when Simon Neil entered the room to take his reserved seat in the top right corner. Nobody of us was really surprised about him showing up, but since the overlap between Medals / Sucioperro and Biffy fans is easily 90% it certainly added to the already high happiness and excitement level.
A moment later the lights went out and all eyes were back focussed on the stage welcoming the band. I love small gigs 
with an audience that is really into it - it just creates a very special atmosphere

The Medals show itself then was a case of pure beauty. One hour of amazing music - song by song. While the recordings of the King Tut's show were already fantastic (give it a listen here) it was soon very clear that having the monkey of the very first show off the back and finally playing for their own audience was a really good thing. The songs from "Disguises" sounded tighter and more powerful than for the first gig. I personally found the difference most significant for "Stand Back, It's a Miracle" that definitely had a way more confident feel to it. 

The set list - Pic by Medals
Before finishing up the set with "Sit Back Down, Judas" and my favourite song "Tastes Like Glass" (How always my songs are the set closers? Am I not traumatized enough yet by "Mountains" breaking my heart again and again? ;) ) we could benefit from the fact that we had John backed up by a combination of former and recent Sucioperro members (plus the wonderful Marianne Fraser). They took together a little trip down the Sucioperro back catalogue memory lane with playing a heart shattering version of "Hands" (picture dozens of people blinking because there was suddenly "something" in their eyes), "Reflexes Of The Dead" and the sing along classic "Conception Territory"

We also got a totally jamming version of Marmaduke Duke's "Silhouettes". And then (actually before "Silhouettes") there was ... "Kid Gloves"

I love that song so much and especially the acoustic version. To be very honest ... I had until this show was in the planning never thought I get a real chance to hear it ever live and acoustic, but there it was and it was stunning

It was a very special moment on so many levels. I sat there drumming on my knees with Gus, singing along the lyrics I'd still know if you'd wake me straight out of a REM sleep phase. In front of me I had this really special and absolutely amazing band performing while I was looking over to the opposite side of the venue straight into the face of a smiling friend singing along as lyrics proof as me. One row below another friend his eyes fixed to the stage barely blinking to not miss a precious second. A few steps further in the round another lovely friend laughing at my "dancing in the seat" approach, more familiar faces just a few seats down the row and even more friends directly to my left and right and front. And finally not to forget - the Captain (my personal nickname for Si) in his dark corner on the highest rank. 
Right there in Irvine, Scotland, roughly 1,400 km from home, surrounded by fantastic people I would not even know if it wasn't for the music, it was one of those priceless magic moments in time you can't stop from passing by although you want to so badly but keep them in your heart where nobody can ever take them away from you again.

Sadly - and  that was probably the biggest bummer of the night - there was a hard stop at 10 pm. The audience burst into cheers and did not move hoping for an encore but the band was given only one hour and that was over. I just can say that I hope, no ... strongly believe that this was just the first of many shows. I for myself am totally ready to do it all again as soon as possible. 

The moment the light went on is also the moment for a honourable mention of Simon Neil's impressing patience. When it was clear Medals would not return about 100 people stopped simultaneously pretending Si was not there and slight madness ensued. He made his way only very slowly down the steps while taking pictures, chatting with fans, hugging people and looking at a significant number of Biffy tats. He could have easily just said "Not today - this is my private time" and left, but he didn't. 

After the show it was party time - congratulating Medals to the absolutely brilliant show, catching up with friends, drinks, putting faces to what had been just online nicknames before, chatting to new people, watching friends playing football with some oranges (don't ask ;) ), discussing tattoos with the barkeeper and more drinks. So. Much. Fun. 

The next morning we had to leave the inn at about 10 am and decided to make the short drive to Ayr for a walk at the beach and lunch.
I always was and always will be a seaside person. The salt in the air and the chance to rest my eyes on an empty horizon is extremely relaxing to me. That morning we were lucky enough to catch an hour of absolutely stunning spring weather and I just lay down on top of the wall above the beach for a while watching the sky and the sea.
Scents are some of the strongest memory triggers you can find and the beach in Ayr smelled in the same way of the sea and the wind as the North Sea beaches of my childhood holidays. It smelled like my sister, my dad and me stomping in wellies through the wet sand looking for the best spot to fly the kyte. It's been over 20 years since he's gone and I still miss him very much. I likely will always do. 

When the sun started to hide behind the clouds we went inside for a final round of chats and a really nice lunch before hitting the road down South again ...

And with that weekend 2014 officially has stopped sucking ;)

PS: If you still haven't yet go and check out & buy the Medals debut album "Disguises" HERE now!

The video

Medals LIVE - HAC Irvine 

Enjoy the full set in great audio and video quality!

Thanks a lot to John, Mike, Dave, Gus & Marianne for the music, the warm welcome & the hugs. Thanks to Si for the quick chat and for pulling funny faces with me. Much, much thanks to Claire for driving and being an excellent travel pal. Thanks to Dave (the other one) for the laughs (always) and the lunch (greetings to the chef - best bacon outside the US and as a part time Pennsylvanian I am very picky with bacon). Thanks to all my lovely Biffy/Medals/Sooch pals - so good to see you and I cannot wait to rock the shit out of T IN THE PARK with most of you! Thanks to all the new people I had lovely, fun chats with through the night - you made Scotland looking really good to a newbie. And finally big thanks to the Freckfest team for organizing the show - all of them are doing this as volunteers!  

Also thanks to the greater powers for NOT winning King Tut's tickets. This was so much better!