Recent Events Dictate : Russia, Part 3

|September 15, 2012 | Asia, Recent Events Dictate, Travels

Goodnight, Moscow. Tomorrow, we fly to Anapa, the Black Sea resort where the final show of the tour will take place.

” Moscow is capitol city, is not actually real Russia “, Andrey tells me. ” Tomorrow, you will see real Russia .” We board an Aeroflot jet ( I notice that the airline still uses their Soviet-era logo, with the hammer and sickle ) and fly into a regional airport, the kind of place where you get off the plane, walk across the tarmac, and you’re in the parking lot. There are no carts, and I find myself humping gear, which I kind of enjoy. There are certain things I unexpectedly miss about touring, and one of them is the spirit of camaraderie you get when you have a group of people and a pile of equipment which must be moved, and each person goes for the heaviest thing. Which is usually the drum hardware case. And a curse upon you, drummers, for that.

We pile into a couple of vans and take off, and this is, in fact, the Russia of my imagination : farmland as far as the eye can see, dust, fields full of melons and grapes, cracked pavement, the occasional battered Soviet bus stop ( Do you know about Soviet bus stops? Check it out ). This is the Real Russia, the country no foreign army could conquer. I have a reverie about doomed German soldiers on a troop train, grasping, as they pass through this endless place, the enormity of the country. I think about the Trans-Siberian Railway, which traverses nearly all of Russia. You can take a train from Moscow to Vladivostok, a journey of about six and a half days. The longest railroad in the world! I would do that. Why am I not doing that? Home is just some other place, with a door and a lock, where you keep your stuff.

The hotel is on the beach, and it’s a new building, but we are surrounded by cracked concrete structures in various states of repair. Rebar and sand. It’s windy, the sky is grey, and when Eugene gets out of the van and takes a look around, he says, ” Huh. Looks like Chernobyl. “

After check-in ( Which is chaotic, because the place is full-up with bands and festival-goers, and because the hotel has just opened, so a lot of things, like toilets, don’t work. There is no elevator, but there is a tour manager, so I don’t have to navigate this mess alone. I am grateful. ), we load up at the buffet in the basement ( good Russian food, stuffed peppers and kashi and cucumber and tomato salad, and I can tell from the freshness and lumpy, non-uniform nature of the fruits and vegetables that it’s all local ) and head outside to the bar. Night falls, and a Russian guy gets in the DJ booth and starts playing shitty remixes. There’s an immediate air of ” oh, HELL no “ among the band, and Pedro goes and gets his CDs and takes over, much to the relief of everyone present. A backyard reggae party ensues.

It’s exactly like backyard reggae parties I’ve been to in New Orleans, and I forget where I am. One of the groups playing the festival is The Skatalites, and a couple of them are sitting by me, and they are cool old people, hanging out, bobbing their heads slightly to the music. It dawns on me : I am listening to Jamaican music with some Jamaicans who helped invent it, in Russia, on the shore of the Black Sea. Everything is everything. Another round of Baltikas, спасибо.

I get up way too late the next day, and am surprised, like everybody else, that it’s nice out. The sea is light blue and warm as bathwater. Sergey, who is Russian, who is standing in the surf next to me, tells me about the many lovely beaches ranging down the coast from here.

GIG. You are probably familiar with Gogol Bordello, so I’m not going to talk about how entertaining the band is ( very ), or that every one of them can play their asses off. What I will say is that I find them to be genuinely interesting and different from all the other bands, and that, while watching them play, I become invested in the transaction between performer and spectator, and I start clapping and hollering, which is how it’s supposed to work. I have FUN. You know?

L→R : Oliver, Pedro, Michael, Thomas, Eugene, Sergey ( Yuri and Elizabeth are somewhere else ).

I’ve seen the band quite a few times, from the audience ( the first time was in New Orleans at TwiRoPa – one of those giant mega-clubs with multiple stages, built in old warehouses and factories, the sort of place I grew up going to .. which got badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina and was torn down in 2007 – and my reaction that night was, what the FUCK is this? This band is crazy! ), and then from the side of the stage. I make my way through the crowd ( what I mean is that I make my way through a crowd of a couple thousand well-to-do Russian kids in swimwear, who are dancing and waving big flags – of soccer teams, the Jolly Roger, and various South American countries – and the festival has a tropical theme, and we are on a beach, so I could just as easily be in The Bahamas or somewhere like that ) and climb up into the soundbooth.

This is my favorite way to watch the gig, from Frank’s perspective. Frank’s running the show up here, but he’s also, in a way, jamming with the band – mixing each song as its own thing, toggling through compressors, pushing different elements to the front of the mix and pulling them back in. Frank is rocking out as hard as anyone on stage. Sergey saws completely through his violin bow and throws the shredded thing into the crowd at the end of the encore. I ask Frank if this is something which happens often, and Frank says, no, but sometimes, when he is playing in his own country, Sergey gets excited.

The crowd files out. This is the last night of the tour, and I have a feeling that we’re going to be up much later than the hotel bar is going to want to stay open, so while the guys are packing up, I drift around backstage procuring all the wine and beer I can get my hands on.

Next : Belfast, Northern Ireland.