Minneapolis. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Minneapolis (and granted, it’s not often) I imagine somewhere quite westerly within the whole US of A scheme of things. Today I am finding out quite how wrong I am. It’s not in the west. It’s not even in the middle. Look at a map. It’s in the east. We are, even as I write, driving from Minneapolis to Vancouver, and it would actually be quicker – by about eight hours – to drive back to New York than it’s going to be to get to the west coast. Right now we’re belting across what I hope I’m correct in describing as a prairie. And yes, there are a couple of little houses on it. Prairie dogs so far appearing elusive (perhaps they’re all inside, surfing the web – we’ve still got a great 4G signal out here). But we’re not complaining: in about two hundred miles we hit the sprawling cosmopolitan metropolis of Bismarck, earlier we drove past a water feature called Middle Spunk Lake, and in Saint Paul we learned there’s a road called Cretin Avenue, where I am now considering buying property.
So what have we learned since last time? Well, far from the ‘twenty people and a Labrador’ scenario we were perhaps expecting, our shows in Montreal and Toronto were stuffed with gratifyingly enthusiastic music fans who made us feel quite ridiculously welcome. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of travelling three thousand miles to find someone singing along to something you’ve written, but I highly recommend it. It almost made up for our van getting broken into outside our hotel. That’s something else we’ve learned: Montreal junkies aren’t very clever. They took a brown corduroy jacket belonging to Robalicious our sound man, but not our GPS, nor a couple of pricey sets of headphones. Ah well, if dressing like a middle-aged Dutchman makes their life slightly easier, who are we to argue.
In other van news, we have taken to listening to BBC Radio while haring along the highways. Sorry if this comes across as excessively quaint, but being five hundred miles from your next destination with gigantic trucks breathing down your neck can sometimes make you feel a little unhinged, so hearing the chimes of Big Ben, a English voice discussing politics or culture, or even Tom Ravenscroft spinning some cool tunes on 6Music, is enormously grounding.
Sadly nothing can sweeten the experience of driving across a US border. The States is an awesome country filled with charming people, but what on earth makes some US border guards think they can speak to foreign visitors the way they do? This particular chap managed to make me feel both stupid and like some sort of unsavoury, freeloading criminal, neither of which I currently consider myself to be. It would be foolish for me to go into detail, but I do hope that one day this guy wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘hmm, perhaps I should try to not be such an arrogant arse today.’
Luckily for us, we had a sold-out gig at Schuba’s in Chicago to look forward to. Schuba’s, for those of you who’ve never been, is one of those superb bar-cum-venues that America does particularly well: all wood floors and interiors, great jukebox with free credits, atmospheric back room with a nice stage, lovely food, enthusiastic staff and a beer selection which kinda makes you wish you weren’t playing a gig. Of course I don’t mean that. At this show we were lucky enough to have Daniela Sloan on support, a relatively new artist from Chicago itself. We’ve been really fortunate with support acts on this trip; they’ve all been a nice surprise. Some have been almost too good. Matthew Santos in Minneapolis was a case in point, who with his cracking songs, magical voice and insane effects units, threatened to upstage us. Next time he’ll have his band with him and finish off the job.
Coming from England as we do, it’s difficult to imagine travelling very far to see a group you like. In the early nineties I once went from London to Cambridge to watch some unspeakable indie band, but that’s an hour on the train. In Minneapolis we met Tony and Stephanie Belmont who drove FOURTEEN hours from Arkansas to watch us. A few others else came from Dakota. In Chicago, we had a nice couple from Detroit. All parties claimed it was worth it. Hot damn – as probably no-one says anymore – we must be doing something right.
Next up: The GREAT DRIVE west… Vancouver… Seattle…