Mono / ASOL / Jo Quail Tour draft

Day 1: Introductions in De Centrale, Ghent, Belgium

As someone who’s no stranger to traveling, I found myself frankly at a loss on the morning of October 6th. Barely packed and scatterbrained, stressing over a multitude of factors. Was I adequately prepared? Would I get along with my new tour mates for the coming nineteen days? I’d met Josh of Storm the previous year when he played with his solo project IIVII at Ancienne Belgique, and I’d been working with Gregory, their drummer for this tour, at a bar in Ghent for nearly a year now. I’d also met briefly with Dan, our guitarist, and Domenic, our bassist, when the band had first flown in to Ghent from the US. But the rest? I had no idea. Mono had actually been one of the first bands I’d gotten into before I started listening to heavier music, as well as one of the first bands I’d seen live when I was still living back in LA.

I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of it all, if I’m being honest. Nonetheless, I swallowed my nerves and made one last attempt at getting my shit together: sleeping bag, pillows and blanket for my makeshift hobo camp in the van, camera and assorted lenses, bare-bones wardrobe, tour-germ-fighting arsenal (vitamin C enough for an army), and a good book to pass the time (Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, for those wondering). All set, I thought to myself. Or so I hoped.

With the help of a very dear friend (thanks Nico!) I hauled my pile of junk to De Centrale, the venue for the evening, after receiving the green light text from Josh. Taka of Mono sat smoking between the parked vans and backstage entrance – a common occurrence, as I was soon to find out. We nodded briefly to each other and I ducked inside in search of some familiar faces.

Nerves melted away a bit as I reunited with Josh, Greg, Domenic and Dan. They recanted a bit about their previous week in the UK, the portion of tour that I hadn’t been able to attend. Seems I hadn’t missed much; lots of curry eaten, gloomy weather endured, and moors admired. Dan had a bit of wide-eyed excitement about him. This was his first trip to Europe, and his zeal showed even despite the general air of prolonged sleep deprivation. It was refreshing to see for sure.

A Storm of Light guitarist Dan Hawkins

Josh, Dom, and Mike Keirsbilck of Consouling Sounds

Josh took the time to introduce me to our entourage for the coming weeks. There was our hired out crew from Nomads of Prague: Amak, our sound tech, a man who was the perfect combination of hilarious, eclectic, and sweet; Big Tomas, Mono’s driver and tour manager for the first portion of tour and an unstoppable force when it came to loading in and out; Lena, our lighting tech who would become my drinking buddy on more than a few nights; and Small Tomas, our driver and fellow analog photographer with who I would get the opportunity to explore a few cities as the bands were busy sound checking over the coming weeks.

I met next with Jo Quail and Mono, which further helped ease my nerves. I recognized Jo as a kind of role model right away; she was caring, kind, and motherly. Tamaki, Taka and Yoda seemed friendly yet quiet, with the latter quality dissipating fairly quickly over the coming few days. Their American drummer Dahm seemed quite personable and interesting.

I got to enjoy my first of 17 shows in good company among a few friends from here in Ghent, which was nice. It was a good primer for what was to come. I was completely unfamiliar with Jo’s work, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise; she crafted beautiful sonic landscapes through her mastery of the electric cello and loop pedals. Her melodies contrasted with Storm’s set quite a bit, which I had expected. Armed with an arsenal of new songs from their polarizing new album Anthroscene, they gave the audience little time to breathe between each pummeling song and undoubtedly left them with much to think about. As a result, Mono felt like both a digestif and a main course. Taka and Yoda’s dual guitars wove together seamlessly, like so many vines – and the audience stood silent and captive as Tamaki’s haunting vocals blanketed the room.

Needless to say, I was going to be in for a treat in the coming weeks.

Load out was a whirlwind – or rather the illusion of one caused by my lack of experience playing van-tetris. Luckily Big Tomas took the lead, and we were sorted fairly quickly. Josh, Dan, Lena and I went for a beer (just one!) at Cafe Gitane, one of my favorite spots in the city, while the rest turned in for some much needed sleep. And, after finishing my beer (okay I lied… beers) I shuffled home to do the same. One last night in my own bed… I’d be meeting back up with the group at the Consouling Store just a short walk from my house at 10:00 the next morning, per Josh’s orders.

Day 2 - De Helling, Utrecht, Netherlands

If 10 seemed early to me at the time, it was clear that I was completely oblivious to what was to come. I had yet to understand the look of exhaustion that seemed permanently plastered on everyone’s faces as they thumbed through Consouling’s selection of LPs, stopping every now and then to pluck one out.

Dom, Mike, and Josh saying their goodbyes in front of Consouling

Tomas arrived shortly with our van, and it was time to make our goodbyes. Greg, Josh, Dom, Dan and I took turns exchanging hugs and brief words of departure with Mike, who’d been kind enough to host those who didn’t live in Ghent for the night. And with that done, we filed out one by one into the van’s open belly; Dom in front with Tomas, Josh and Dan in the middle, and finally Greg and I in the back beneath the sleeping compartment (undoubtedly a blessing in disguise).

Initial excitement wore off fairly quickly. I alternated between reading, napping, and jammin’ out to Tomas’s playlist (which was, indeed, excellent). In turn, the short two hour drive flew by. One rest stop later, we arrived at our hostel with time to spare.

Dan taking it all in

Rest stop hangouts

The hostel was a quaint one to say the least. Our cozy 6-bed room on the outskirts of Utrecht overlooked a grassy courtyard abundant with travelers and one particularly hyperactive dog.

We made quick work of checking in and headed straight to the venue, all of us eager to get some food in our stomachs. Hunger was an excellent motivator that made for a quick load-in.

The show, unfortunately, did not go as well as the previous night. Plagued by technical difficulties and minor human error, Storm left the stage more than slightly frustrated. It didn’t take long for the sour mood to dissipate, however. After loading out we managed to sneak a few beers into our bags, perfect for blowing off some steam upon our arrival at the now-deserted courtyard of the hostel.

Day 3 - Tower, Bremen, Germany

Despite gulping down a couple Chimays, I only managed to get a fitful three hours of sleep at best before our van call at 9:30 the next morning. It was a three hour drive to Bremen. Fortunately for me, seeing as I slept through all of it. My hobo gear seemed to be quite useful after all, transforming the sleeping compartment into a cozy cave.

Greg and I taking turns napping in the van’s cave

A clean van is a happy van

A much-needed smoke break

We arrived in Bremen feeling reasonably more well rested than earlier that morning. The city was, to put it nicely… interesting. It would become a trend that the venues on this tour tended to be in more questionable parts of each town, far out of the city center. Between the abundance of seemingly abandoned industrial buildings and the fifty or so junkies getting their fix in the courtyard behind the venue, Bremen was a prime example of this.

Despite unsavory surroundings, the venue staff were some of the friendliest and most accommodating people I’d ever met. I had a nice long talk with one of the coordinators, also named Josh, who I had originally thought was American but had actually just spent a lot of time on the Ramstein US Military Base, and as a result had adopted nearly perfect English. He told me a lot about life on the base (which was apparently like living in a mini-America smack dab in the middle of Germany), Bremen’s rich town history, and their current battle with the junkies out back. He was also kind enough to gift us an entire bottle of rum after I’d asked for “some rum” so needless to say, he was my savior for the night.

After sound check was done, we were treated to some of the best dinner I’ve personally ever had. This venue was scoring major brownie points. Stomach full and happy, I snapped a few shots of the show before helping with load out and retiring to our hostel down the street.

Day 4 - Beatpol, Dresden, Germany

The next morning was a brutal 7:30AM van call. Rubbing sleep out of our eyes, we shuffled into the van and straight to the nearest bakery for breakfast. Honestly, I couldn’t remember what I ordered if I tried to; pretty sure I was still more than half asleep.

Greg and I spent the four-and-a-half-hour drive alternating between watching episodes of House (season 3, best season) and sleeping (surprise, surprise) while the others either read or dozed.

Upon our arrival in Dresden we were surprised to be greeted by Hans, a huge, lovable 7-month-old Great Dane puppy. He was a distraction of the best kind.

Tamaki and Dahm enthralled with Hans - “So tall!”

Unlike the previous night, this venue was huge. Posters dating back to the 70s and 80s plastered the walls of the backstage and front of house. Scents of the evening’s coming meal floated out the kitchen doors, making my mouth water.

The bands played to a packed venue that night. Spirits were high during load out as Hans pranced around underfoot begging for pets. We happily obliged.

After load out we sadly parted ways with Big Tomas, who was being replaced that day by another driver from Nomads, Libor.

We were lucky enough to share a hotel with Mono for the evening, which meant comfortable beds and our own private showers at last. Josh had the (excellent) idea to start watching Hulu’s new series Future Man with the whole crew, so we managed to sneak in a couple episodes over some shared beers before bed.

Day 5 - Schlachthof, Wiesbaden, Germany

Things were starting to become more and more routine for me by this point. Waking up was less painful as we continued our zig-zag across Germany, Wiesbaden-bound.

Yoda and Jo wave as we pile in to our separate vans

Tomas picked a cool place to stop off for a quick bite to eat around lunchtime, and we dined on some good ol’ Subway sandwiches in the middle of nowhere off the German highway near some train tracks.

The venue for the evening was, coincidentally, also situated directly across the street from an altogether different set of train tracks. The converted warehouse exuded a much more relaxed and liberal vibe than that of the night before. Graffiti covered walls left and right, yet a quiet calmness blanketed the area. Warm sunlight shone brightly on skaters and families alike, spending their days lounging about in the open area in front of the venue’s cafe.

We headed back to the venue for soundcheck after a brief exploration of our surroundings and a mini-photoshoot in front of the graffiti out back.

Yoda of Mono during soundcheck

Mono soundchecking Halcyon featuring Jo Quail

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mono soundcheck Halcyon with Jo. They’d performed the song together almost every night, but packed venues had kept me from checking it out from up close.

Soon after we all headed downstairs into the backstage for dinner. Things were starting to become pretty routine for me at this point; slowly but surely I was getting into the “tour rhythm.”

Fred greeted me hidden away on a corner by the stairs on the way to the venue’s basement backstage

Show and load out both went smoothly; we were all relieved that we didn’t have to travel long to get to a hostel that night as we’d be staying in the venue accommodations.

Day 6 - KIFF, Aarau, Switzerland

It was around this point that things started to become more of a blur. I noticed it not just in myself, but in others too; there was a lot of “where are we again today?” type of questions being asked in rapidly increasing frequency. It was, after all, not easy to tell one day from the other at times. The routine was the routine - awake, breakfast, van, couple rest stops, van, venue, load in, dinner, play, load out, sleep… I was starting to realize what more experienced musicians meant when they referred to tour as “boring.” I didn’t necessarily have a problem with it, actually, quite the opposite.

But I won’t deny I was feeling the itch to get out of the venue-to-venue thing. So, when Tomas agreed to walk with me into the town center of Aarau I leapt at the chance pretty excitedly. I’d never been to Switzerland before, and the drive had been the most scenic yet. Winding roads through mountaintops shrouded in fog - a definite change of pace. We made plans to leave after lunch and load-in.

Ahh yes, elevator load-ins…

The walk to the center wasn’t a long one, maybe fifteen minutes at most. Tomas brought his camera along, a medium-format that was neat to play with. We walked and exchanged stories about our respective home towns, stopping every now and again to take a few snaps (him usually of classic cars – we stumbled upon a legion of parked Porsches that was undoubtedly the highlight of his day).

“Bit kitsch isn’t it?”

Aarau center

Aarau center

We went for a coffee and ended up stumbling upon a used camera goods store, which ate up a big chunk of our time. Luckily we managed to get back just before doors and scrounge up the last of what remained of dinner.

The show that night was more high-energy than any yet. A group front and center danced all throughout Storm’s set, and the band left the stage vibes high.

Day 7 - Hard Rock Café, Lyon, France

We heard sometime along the drive that the evening’s show had been moved to the Hard Rock Café, which was something a bit unexpected to us all. There was an uneasiness that hung in the air as we wound our way down the Swiss mountains. Still, I could sense that the band were trying to remain optimistic.

Rest stop routines

Arrival in Lyon

The venue was nestled between two canals in the heart of Lyon. Jackets lay abandoned in the van as the sun shone warm and bright. Greg, Tomas and I took a minute to walk around snapping photos while Tomas paid for parking. Two birds one stone.

We discovered shortly after load in that the Hard Rock didn’t have a screen appropriate for Storm’s projections, which was more than a bit of a let down. Still the bands was determined to put on a good show as we noticed the restaurant filling with fans eager for the evening.

There was no time for relaxing for Mono after the show however; they were set to drive straight to Barcelona that night, with us to follow in the morning. We stole their rooms in the hotel for the night and settled in for a comfortable (albeit short) few hours of sleep.

Lyon, France

Day 8 - AMFest, Barcelona, Spain

This was one of those brutal 7AM van calls that made me wanna die, just a little bit. It made sense, though - this was to be our longest drive yet at just over six hours.

We did get to stop at a beach roughly midway through. Wind whipped at our hair and waves at our ankles, but there was no denying it was scenic.

Halfway there

Barcelona was a hot, humid maze of a city. We must’ve spent half an hour alone trying to navigate our way to the festival site. The warm rain was oppressive, and by the time we reunited with Mono we were drenched - half from sweat, half from rain, that is.

Mono taking the time to chat with two fans outside the backstage

Jo Quail posing on festival grounds

I hung around a bit for some food and Storm’s soundcheck before Libor, Tomas and I decided to wander for a while. We stumbled upon a museum that seemed to have some kind of bondage exhibition going on, which was very interesting in my slightly buzzed state (had to chug my entire beer per security’s orders, no regrets).

We got a quick coffee and headed back to the venue just in time to see Storm play their last song to a completely packed venue. People everywhere were super into it – there wasn’t any room for me to squeeze my way to the front to snap a single shot.

I did stick around to watch Mono, who played to a similarly full house. Audience reception was unbelievable.

Despite being dead tired, it seemed everyone was riding the high from the festival. We congregated outside the hotel (horror apparent on the employees’ faces) passing between us cheap bottles of Ballantine’s whisky and white wine that we’d stowed away from the festival.

I think this night ended up being one of my favorites of the tour; you could feel a special kind of bond being formed as we all chatted, drank, and smoked the night away.

Rebel without a cause

Day 9 - Le Rex, Toulouse, France

We awoke the following morning just a bit more groggy than usual. Fortunately the drive wasn’t set to be as long as the day previous. Nonetheless, I was still happy to have the chance to nap alongside Gregory in the bunk.

When I awoke, we’d stopped off at an incredibly scenic rest stop near the French city of Carcassonne. Feeling considerably less hungover, I joined the others for a brief exploration of the sunny hillside overlooking the citadel walls.

It didn’t take much longer to reach the venue from there. It was a snug one, yet cozy. The staff were some of the nicest people I’d met, and the home-cooked family-style meal that evening was delicious.

I did manage some time to walk around the surrounding streets a bit with Amak and Tomas. We stopped for a few coffees at the café across the street, but hurried back inside the venue as soon as it started to rain.

Amak’s new beard

The place that night was pretty packed, but I did notice that French crowds had the tendency to be strangely silent. Nonetheless, morale remained pretty high, especially after we learned that there was to be a local (free!) craft beer tasting fest in the venue immediately following load-out.

Day 10 - Krakatoa, Bordeaux, France

Toulouse to Bordeaux was a ridiculously easy two-hour drive. The venue was situated quite far from the center, but there was no denying we were in France. Rich warm sun illuminated greenery left and right.

Krakatoa was a very quirky venue full to the brim with the same French hospitality we’d experienced the day before. Creative decorations, friendly staff, and delicious smells wafting from the kitchen made me never want to leave.

A member of the venue staff had a super cool vintage camera from the 1800s that he used to photograph the bands. I took some portraits of my own at the same time, and later got to watch him develop his shots in his makeshift darkroom. It was really interesting to watch the photos come to life on glass sheets treated with special chemicals.

We dined once again family style in the venue’s huge dining area. I was, effectively, in a food coma by showtime.

The venue hadn’t quite filled up, but that was fair; it was a huge space, after all. I helped the boys pack the merch back up and we all filed off to the hotel for a well deserved night’s rest.

Day 11 - Astrolabe, Orléans, France

The next morning’s drive was mostly uneventful. The French countryside that rolled lazily by was as beautiful as the tolls were expensive.

The venue was situated on the top floor of an industrial building connected to an ice skating rink, which made for an interesting first impression. We arrived to discover that we would be playing the smaller of two rooms. But, much to our surprise, this would be the most enthusiastic French crowd yet.

Post load-in chills

Soundcheck set-up

Amak and Dahm popping in for a visit. Photo by Tomas.

I took some time to wander up and down the winding staircases hidden away in each and every corner of the venue. It was a bit surreal to find, upon opening a door in the corner of the merch area, a figure skating team mid-rehearsal.

As the shadows through the windows grew longer, fans began to line up outside. People spilled out into the hallway as the tiny room filled quickly to the brim.

Audience reception that night was phenomenal. A group of four or five particularly enthusiastic fans danced and cheered all throughout Storm’s set.

We made haste of load out, keeping in mind that we had another long drive ahead of us the next morning. Five and a half hours to Heerlen, passing through Belgium entirely.

Day 12 - Nieuwe Nor, Heerlen, Netherlands

There’s one thing I can say for certain, and that’s that you know for sure the moment you’ve crossed into the Netherlands. Grassy fields dotted with cows and windmills stretched on for miles. The country’s like one big stereotype come to life – in the best possible way.

Josh realized he’d left an HDMI cable behind in France shortly after we crossed the border, and so the hunt began to find a replacement. We stopped at a few shops in the middle of nowhere along the way with no luck.

Fortunately the venue was in the center of town, allowing us to continue the search shortly after load-in.

Load-in was always Libor’s favorite activity

Gregory and Josh on the HDMI cable hunt

We had some success after a brief fifteen-minute wandering through town and returned promptly to the venue just in time to soundcheck and chow down on some delicious all-vegan dinner.

Tour delirium was definitely starting to set in. Members of both bands lounged on sofas backstage trying to squeeze in a few winks of rest at any possible opportunity before the show.

Despite the general air of fatigue, the bands didn’t fail to deliver spectacular sets. Familiar notes drifted throughout the backstage, and I found myself realizing just how much I’d miss hearing these songs every night.

Mono drummer Dahm’s shoes await his return just to the side of the stage

We learned after the show that the venue had booked us accommodations in a hotel outside of town located within what used to be a monk’s abbey. The grounds were beautiful – ancient buildings towered around huge grassy green courtyards complete with intricately carved stone statues. A moment of hilarity ensued when Tomas parked the van and made his way towards reception; to everyone’s surprise, the heavy antique wooden door opened automatically. Our tired minds found the contrast between the centuries-old building and automatic door unbelievably funny (to be honest, my first thought was ghosts).

We settled in to our respective rooms after making plans to explore further the following morning. Fortunately it was to be a short two hour drive to Oberhausen, giving us plenty of time to sleep in (for once).

Day 13 - Drucklufthaus, Oberhausen, Germany

After inhaling a much needed continental breakfast, we took some time to wander about the abbey grounds before loading in to the van. Josh and Greg discovered that the abbey kept a sort of nature reserve just a short walk away. The fenced-in area held deer and geese left and right, and they weren’t shy; many of them came right up to the fence to greet us.

Josh made great friends with the geese. He’d recorded their squawks on his phone and was having full-on conversations with them, playing the audio back as they eagerly “responded.”

We took just a few more minutes to admire the architecture and shoot a few photos before filing into the van and heading on our way.

The easy drive was a relief. We found a coffee bar not far from the venue and took some time to relax and enjoy the city before having to load in.

The venue had a squat-like vibe judging from the exterior. Graffiti-covered walls greeted us as we pulled into the loading area, still damp from the previous night’s rain.

Despite the crude exterior, Drucklufthaus was cozy inside. A huge open café space made up for a tiny backstage area.

The gloomy weather lingered all day, and as a result, none of us strayed far. We passed the time chatting, smoking, and drinking way too many coffees.

There was one thing the venue lacked, and that was proper stage lighting. In place of taking live photos I took some time to learn the ins and outs of running the merch table. Libor and Tomas would be leaving us in just two short days, and as a result some of their responsibilities would fall on me.

I insisted on much neater folding than the boys. Photo by Tomas.

It was nice to enjoy the band’s sets for a night without having to shoot. I caught more of the music than I had on any other occasion.

The venue staff was nice enough to let us leave our equipment there overnight, so we didn’t have to worry about loading out. We drove the literal thirty seconds to the hotel and settled in with the whole crew for some more episodes of Future Man before bed.

Day 14 - Into the Void Festival, Leeuwarden, Netherlands

We awoke early the next morning and headed back to the venue to pick up the vans and load everything out. Taka played barista and took care of making a very essential cup of coffee for everyone.

After all the work was done, we paused to take one big group shot of the crew all together. After the fest later in the evening, we’d be dropped off at the airport by our respective drivers and be separated for good. The atmosphere was bittersweet for sure.

photo by Tomas

The drive was another short one at just over two hours. I was thrilled to learn that the load in area was situated next door to a craft beer bar. It was going to be a good day.

Festivals were always easy, since they normally provided their own backline. The vibe was low-stress as we met up with Nele Buys of Consouling, who’d driven up from Ghent to pick up our excess luggage before we made the drive to the airport. After all our belongings were divided and stowed away, Gregory and I were treated to some updates from back home as we sat catching up with Nele on the beer bar’s sunny terrace.

I headed inside shortly afterwards for dinner. On my way to the dining hall, I stopped to ask Domenic how dinner was, to which he replied, “round.” Sure enough, everything was spherical: the meatballs, the potatoes, and even the carrots. Amazing.

After helping Tomas and Libor set up the merch, I wandered around the maze that was backstage (seriously, I must’ve gotten lost over five times) snapping photos here and there. Some acquaintances of mine from LA, Ancestors, were also set to play the festival, so it was super cool catching up with them so far from home.

Taka enjoying the sun on the venue’s balcony

Team meeting

The festival had a two stage set-up, with Storm set to play the smaller stage first and Mono the larger directly after. We were all relieved to have fairly early set times seeing as we’d be driving to the airport later that night.

A Storm of Light playing to a packed house

The room started out empty but quickly filled to the brim as Storm’s sound drifted throughout the venue. I’m certain they earned some new fans that day; people craned their necks to get a glance from the doors and hallway as others jammed out from the front row.

We all said a bittersweet goodbye to Jo shortly before Mono’s set. It was to be her last night with us, as she wouldn’t be joining us to Greece or Russia, but instead driving back to her home country later that night.

I elected to stick around for the remainder of the fest as the rest of the band walked back to the hostel to try and squeeze in a few hours of sleep before we’d be forced to head to the airport. As a result, I was able to catch a bit of Elder’s set, a band I’d been a fan of for quite a while. They left the audience primed and ready for Mono, who were to follow.

I hung around for about another hour or so after Mono had finished. Between helping Tomas and Libor take down our merch and load the vans, I didn’t manage to see any more bands, but that was fine; I think we were all tired enough to be able to pass out on the spot.

By the time Tomas and I made our way back to the hostel and found parking, we figured we’d have to wake the others in just under an hour’s time. We forfeited the thirty or so minutes of sleep we’d get and decided we’d rather just stay up instead rather than risk oversleeping.

Sitting on the steps in front of the hostel, smoking as the freezing night air whipped around us, we reflected on the past two weeks, swapping highlights and lows alike. It was a welcome pause; a calm before the absolute sleep-deprived shitstorm that was to come.

The next twelve or so hours were kind of a blur. I managed to fall asleep for some twenty minutes in the van, only to be shaken awake by Gregory upon our nearing the airport (around 3AM). We stumbled out and to our check in counter, taking turns giving Tomas big hugs and thanks as we parted ways.

The way we moved through the airport, you’d think we were zombies straight out of The Walking Dead. It was full-on autopilot as I hauled myself through security and to the gate.

Domenic did manage to scare the shit out of Lena and Taka, who were standing on one of the airport’s moving walkways when he ambushed them from behind. Seeing as it was four o’clock in the morning, we thought it was hilarious. They did not think it was hilarious until much later.

Day 15 - Fuzz Club, Athens, Greece

At the gate, members of both bands slept scattered and in every possible position. I, for some reason, was unable to get a wink of rest in the airport or on the plane. At this point, I’d been awake since the morning we’d left for Leeuwarden, and was definitely starting to wilt. I faded in and out of consciousness as the worn-down Mediterranean landscape flew by outside the van’s window en route to the hotel.

It must’ve made quite the impression to walk into the lobby of a four-star hotel in the center of Athens and see a bunch of burly tattooed dudes splayed out on pretty much every piece of furniture in sight. But, seeing how dead we were, I think it was justified.

We managed to squeeze in another two hours of sleep before the van arrived to shuttle us to the venue around four o’clock in the afternoon.

Backstage vibes

I pretty much passed back out on one of the benches backstage, waking only just before Storm were to play their set. The venue was huge, packed, and spectacular. This would be the biggest show of the tour yet. Fans were stacked all the way to the rear of the downstairs, as well as on the balcony above.

Josh, Dan, Greg, and I managed to power through the weariness and headed out for some drinks after load-out was finished. Athens seemed to come alive at night. People spilled out of cafés left and right, drinking and dancing in the warm evening air. We sat on a terrace sipping some local craft brews and taking it all in only for a short while before the tiredness finally hit and forced us to turn in for the evening.

Day 16 - Free Day in Athens

We were lucky enough to have a late check-out and an even later flight to Russia, giving us a full day to explore the city by foot. I’d visited Athens two years prior, and not much had changed; graffiti still plastered the face of every building in sight, giving the whole place a kind of dystopian feel.

Our group split up at one point in the day, with Dan and Greg choosing to pay a visit to the Acropolis while Josh, Dom and I explored the antique markets that littered the streets.

Acropolis overlooking the vintage street markets

We met back up for a quick drink and dinner before hauling ourselves back to the hotel to gather our belongings and get ready to head to the airport, Saint Petersburg-bound.

“A quick drink”… of water

We had just another hour or so to kill until the van would arrive to pick us up; naturally, we chose to spend it lounging (and napping) on the hotel’s rooftop garden before heading back down to the lobby.

 A broken man

A broken man

Day 17 - Zal, Saint Petersburg, Russia

And so, the traveling began again… from sorting out baggage (i.e. cling-wrapping two guitar cases together), to going through security, non-stop fun. I learned we were to have a layover in Moscow before arriving to Saint Petersburg, which was more than slightly frustrating seeing as we’d have to play the former city the following day.

Regardless, we tried to keep our spirits high despite the stressful nature of airports. It did help that we managed to get a few winks of sleep in here and there. It seemed there was definitely a direct correlation between hours slept and level of crankiness.

Russian customs was very… Russian. Cold and blunt. But, we made it out proudly on the other side. After a very long and hard battle for the visa (back and forth to the Russian visa center in Brussels six times) it felt like a victory.

I was riding on a high as we arrived at the hotel and almost wanted to go out and sample some Russian vodka… until I realized it was 10AM. Bit of breakfast then bed it would be.

The situation was really similar to Athens in that we got to sleep for a couple hours before a van arrived to shuttle us to the venue. The buildings in the center of town boasted a grandeur that the ones on the drive in definitely hadn’t. While the suburbs had seemed deserted, industrial, and run-down, the architecture of downtown impressed us all.

The venue was even more impressive than Athens had been. Promoter Andrey and the rest of the staff were more than hospitable.

Josh was excited to have a full LED screen at our disposal for the visuals; they came out crisper than ever.

The Russian audiences tended to be pretty quiet throughout the set and during changeover, so we could only hope that they were quietly enjoying the show. Mono’s set brought much of the same respectful applause.

We were all relieved to not have to load out our equipment, as it was to be transported by car overnight to the venue in Moscow. We used the time to instead relax for a while backstage before heading back to the hotel.

Domenic was the star of the show, donning Tamaki’s jewelry and Taka’s coat

Day 18 - Zil, Moscow, Russia

We awoke early the next morning to board the high-speed train to Moscow. Andrey sorted our reservations and herded us through the bustling central station onto our correct carriage.

Traveling by train through the desolate center of Russia was something different. The towns we flew by looked deserted at first glance. Some buildings were half-collapsed, missing their roofs, while others had just one or two walls left standing. The only signs of life I saw along the way were a few scattered clothing lines, the clothes on them still drying. Nothingness spread in all directions… even farm animals didn’t dare roam outside in the freezing cold.

It was easy to tell when we were nearing Moscow. Tall, clean, glittering buildings quickly began to replace the empty expanse.

We drove to the venue with little time to spare.

There was a kind of air of sadness throughout the day as the end-of-tour depression began to set in. We’d all grown close – as is bound to happen when you spend literally every day with the same group of people – and while I’m sure many of us were looking forward to going home, at the same time, we weren’t quite ready for it to end yet.

After dinner, the venue staff had prepared a cake for Yoda’s birthday, which we were able to surprise him with. It felt much like a family affair as we all gathered round and sang.

The venue itself was quite similar to the previous day’s. I did have a few enthusiastic encounters with fans at the merch table, which was a welcome affirmation that everyone was excited for the show. As the hall continued to fill up, Storm took the stage. Taka couldn’t have chosen a better moment to get revenge on Domenic for the airport scare as he snuck a slice of cheese and an orange on his pedalboard. Perfect.

The last show of the tour felt like a release for sure. Every member poured everything they had into the performance, all while having fun with it. It felt like a victory had been won as the members made their way off the stage amongst the crowd’s cheers.

Mono took to the stage soon after, performing with a similar energy. The peaks and valleys of their melodies seemed to rise and crash with progressively more fervor as they neared the end of their last set of the tour.

And just like that, it was finished. Cans and bottles of beer began popping off backstage as we celebrated the end of a long, successful tour. We loaded ourselves into the van, which had somehow transformed into a sort of party bus (complete with hot pink lights) and headed back to the hotel to check in.

Lena, Josh, Greg and I decided to stay up a bit later in the hotel lobby, dividing up some really nice Russian imperial stouts and IPAs (the craft beer scene in Russia surprised me, they were delicious) and swapping late-night conversation before heading off to bed.

Day 19 - Free Day in Moscow, Fly Home

We awoke fairly early the next morning hoping to squeeze in some sightseeing before we’d be forced to leave for the airport. A few of the band had woken up with terrible head colds, so our group was limited to myself, Amak, Lena, Tamaki, Josh, Greg, and Dan.

Luckily enough, Lena and Amak spoke some Russian, which made getting around a whole lot easier. They navigated us through the subway station and to Red Square.

Moscow subways

Entrance to Red Square

We saw Lenin’s body (preserved in a glass coffin, no photos allowed of course) and later met up with one of Lena’s friends. Having a local pick a spot for lunch was much to our advantage - the traditional food and drink were all delicious.

The Russian vodka got the best of us and we quickly lost track of time. Pretty soon we were sprinting along the streets of Moscow and through the subway station in a panic to gather our belongings from our rooms before the van would have to depart en route to the airport.

We made it – just barely – and after spending three long hours stuck in traffic, we were all unceremoniously dumped at the departing gates. We made our goodbyes brief so as not to miss our flights and set off on our final airport adventure, this time with all different destinations. •

Bonus: small gallery of some (stupid) photos taken from my disposable film camera!