A good primer for bands considering a European tour is Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky's recent independent film, Radiation. Set in Spain, the film follows a feckless promoter struggling to organize a doomed tour for the Boston band Come. It takes the group about five minutes to figure out what a large-scale fuck-up the guy is--financing the tour by selling speed, and haggling for a half share of nothing. Because this is a fiction film, the band wisely avoids the ordeal and leaves Madrid for home. In real life, nothing is ever that simple.For every band, the tour begins with a panicky wait to enter the country. Will your work permit be in order? Or do you even have a work permit? Perhaps you've resorted to the "I just brought my guitar along to jam with people at the youth hostel" scam? Yes, you've been drinking the endless free liquor available on international flights, but pull yourself together: you're facing a possible strip-search by a customs agent.
When East Bay punk band the Peechees touched down in Munich to begin their 1998 European tour, not only did they lose their luggage, they also lost their bass player. "Rop wasn't allowed in the country," singer Christopher Appelgren recalls. "He has a Filipino passport, but we didn't know that if you're from an Asian country you need a visa to enter Germany. They wouldn't even give him an emergency visa, so we had to make an immediate decision. It was such a freak-out. We finally got Rop on a flight home and decided to go on with it." After four shows without a bassist, the Peechees coaxed a friend from the British band Comet Gain to come across to the continent to help them, but it wasn't enough to stop fiasco from becoming the leitmotif of the tour. "Our van was like a cage. For some mysterious reason the driver stopped every 20 minutes. We'd stop for gas, get back on the road, and then 10 minutes later he'd say, 'Does anyone have to go to the bathroom?' It was about the only thing we were ever consulted on. If I didn't have my Game Boy and 'Time Has Told Me' by Nick Drake, I would have gone mad."Music is the universal language, right? So what if the audience doesn't understand the painful message of your lyrics, or your scintillating stage banter? When it comes to expectations (both the band's and the audience's) the whole operation suddenly becomes a crapshoot.
"Play faster! You must play faster if you want to get us excited!" That is what the crowd chanted to Tacoma garage band Girl Trouble midway through their set in Frankfurt. Singer K.P. Kendall describes the mayhem: "They thought we were going to be a rockabilly band, so these crazy guys with Dr. Seuss hairdos kept pounding their beer bottles on the stage and screaming at us. After about 10 songs we decided to get the hell offstage, only to find that the side room next to the stage didn't have an exit. There was no way to escape! Immediately they started saying stuff like, 'We can see you! Please, you are not going to cry and run to your mothers?'" Pushing drummer Bon Von Wheelie through the crowd like a snow plow, Kendall finally managed an escape. "After the gig we asked someone why the crowd hated us so much. He said, 'You don't understand our scene. We are from the Black Forest and we are very hard men.'"Food seems like the one thing that would never fail to appeal to European travelers of any stripe. Italian truck stops put AM/PM mini-markets to egregious shame. Wouldn't you rather have a delectable focaccia sandwich than three corndogs for a dollar? You can get Swiss chocolate and amazing coffee anywhere! Falafel! Paella! A McDonald's "Royale"! But for some reason, rock bands in Europe are constantly offered baguettes and Brie. "You have to eat a lot of yogurt, because you feel like you're gonna get a yeast infection from all the cheese and bread," explains Donna Dresch of lezzy rock band Team Dresch. "You wake up every morning to a plate of--surprise!--bread and cheese. And every night you get a plate of vegan mush. By the third day you're like, "I'm gonna kill myself."Well, you're gonna tour Europe anyway. Maybe you'll be the one independent rock band that manages to have a delightful, well-managed, snafu-free tour of Europe. We offer our blessings and a few travel tips. Chris Appelgren suggests, "Make sure you're smiling in your passport photo. Our guitarist's passport looked really mean, and it always held us up!" K.P. Kendall recalls an incident with the singer of the band they were touring with. "A German guy threw a bottle at him, so he did a Nazi salute and said, 'Never again!'" Kendall sighs, "I wouldn't really advise anyone doing that."