The last two weeks of tour were a near-hurricane (we missed one by just 10 miles) during which our collective thirst for a Great British cup of tea became almost crippling. Before we succumbed to the madness though, we had to play just a few more gigs. First up on the home stretch were three shows in Phoenix with our label mate and Wembley-headlining folk punk maestro Frank Turner. As we left California the landscape became yellower and sandier and the heat leapt up to over 90 degrees (that’s mid-thirties, Europeans) making us pallid folks a sweaty bunch indeed.
Ben loves pricks.
The first of the trio of Frank Turner shows was in Phoenix, the state capital. The stage was large and the crowd were very appreciative, especially during the louder and heavier moments. The wonderfully hairy Drowning Men, who were one man down after their keyboard player got stuck in customs somewhere near Dallas, followed us. They sounded great despite their missing member. Before long Frank arrived and played a marathon set of nearly two hours that left the crowd in rapture. The spirit of the show made me a little nostalgic for the days of my youth when I’d lose myself to various US punk bands that’d made the reverse trip over the ocean wearing armbands to London.
Southern grammar at its finest.
Next up was Tucson, an arty and alternative town that served a fine line in duck sandwiches. Wilting in the heat once more, the group decided that some lighter apparel was required, leading us to the local thrift store. Said store had its best day of business in years as Taffel replenished his flagging collection of vests, whilst everyone else bought things with sleeves still attached. The gig was a blast and another testament to Frank Turner’s endurance with no drop of energy in sight. The same was the case the next night in Flagstaff, a town deceptively high up in the mountains where I became short of breath on several occasions. I’m glad that someone let me know about the altitude, as I was fearful that my health had deteriorated so badly after five weeks on the road that breathing was becoming an issue. Here we all are at the end of the show before a few drinks next to the venue:
Everyone was pleased to be crowned joint-winner of the standing up game.
We then headed west to Las Vegas, home to the world’s most subtle light show. Back we were with Bastille in ‘Sin City’ in yet more searing heat, playing at the House of Blues. The show was great fun and we ran out several pens signing merchandise and people afterwards. That left the rest of the evening to explore the main strip. I was very pleased to recognise all three of the casinos that were plundered by George Clooney et al in Ocean’s Eleven, alongside seeing the mighty Trombone Shorty for free at the geographically-suspect Hollywood Bowl. After I accidentally role our bowling lane’s sweeper we fled at great pace to a nearby casino. The Bellagio was a strange place, a palace of desperation where oxygen is pumped into the room to make sure people are awake but not alert enough to realise they are still haemorrhaging money. Despite some decent wins from Ralph and Grant, the joy was snuffed upon seeing their astronomical bar bills.
Ralph disarms the one armed bandit.
Perhaps if I ever don’t have to worry about money Las Vegas will become more appealing, but the amount of homeless people who have nothing in a city where almost everyone is throwing it away made for an uneasy juxtaposition.
Dumbo had found a new lease of life since escaping the circus.
The bright lights of Las Vegas soon made way for another stop in Arizona, this time in Tempe, where some of the keener fans needed hospital treatment due to too much sun in the queue that started about six months before the show. Before then we’d stopped of in Tombstone, an old Wester-looking town with all the trimmings, including these guys:
TKAK 2055 (from left to right): Taffel, Grant and Ralph.
After a strong show we returned to Texas, finally completing the loop that had started so long ago at South by South West. Upon our arrival we went to the House of Blues, Houston branch (where playing the next day), to see the hotly tipped trio that is Haim, who spent a good chunk of the set jamming to a boisterous crowd. Soon after we made our way across the road to a bar called Dirt, where the two barmaids could have been clones, both sharing very similar tattoos, hair, complexions, wardrobes and enhancements. I particularly enjoyed the music they played, as I never thought I’d hear NOFX or Rancid in a bar, anywhere, ever, let alone on the very same night.
Ben takes woman tips from the Walrus of Love, Mr Barry White.
Playing at the House of Blues the next day was a strange experience, a 180-degree flip from the previous evening. From the stage the venue seemed far smaller and we made many friends, both gig-wise and also backstage with the various artwork on show. The next day at Emo’s in Austin featured a backstage pool table, a criminally overlooked feature that should really be mandatory at any venue large enough to house one.
The shot you’ve all been waiting for.
The next day, half of our crew hired a car and headed to the Gulf of Mexico, whilst Ralph, Grant and I went to space, or at least as close as we’re ever likely to get. After a sinful breakfast KFC (sorry mum), the Space Centre in Houston was the destination. Here we got to see the main control room from the real Apollo 13, the training area for the International Space Station where people get used to moon boots and anti gravity, and a fully-fledged space rocket that was about the size of a football (soccer, for the Americans) pitch. My mind boggled at how they got that thing or anything similar up so high in the air, leading to a far more excited mood than our sour-faced tour guide. I left with a newfound appreciation for mankind’s intellect and a little more conviction in those moon landing conspiracies being true.
The inmates of Guantanamo Bay’s youth wing joined us on day release.
As for the rest of it, it’s all a blur. Nashville was unbelievably wet the entire day, resulting in our van’s aircon unit doing its best impression of the Niagara falls, which was infuriating and soggy. The venue was beautiful though, the crowd’s spirits completely unaffected by the weather outside. Georgia featured the fastest pre-Pompeii dinner in the history of TKAK so far, with various Japanese delicacies inhaled at light speed leading to some quite uncomfortable onstage ‘eh-oh’s.
Squirt’s* ‘less than 1% juice’ stat was deeply troubling.
By the time we returned home deliriously jet lagged we’d played 40-odd gigs in 54 days, having travelled 14,000 miles or so in the process. We had an incredible time seeing so much of the US and Canada, witnessing some wonderful sights and meeting some beautiful people.
Despite the demands of tour, Grant looked better than ever.
Finally, on behalf of us five, to everyone who saw us, clapped us, bought our music and merch, let us stay with them, told us what where to go and what to see, to Alice for her organising, Siobhain and Nick for their driving, Debbie for her photography mastery, Olivia for consummate schmoozing, Bastille, Frank Turner and Xtra Mile Recordings, and anyone I might have missed, we’d like to say:
*Its real name.