The next four days of our trip were spent in New York City. Having last been in 2006 on a family holiday, I was excited to be returning on my own terms. We were all giddy as we approached the city and its famous skyline rose into view. My advice to our party of not looking up if you don’t want to look like a tourist fell on deaf ears as chins after chin faced skyward upon our release from the van. Having parked and loaded in to the evening’s venue, food was agenda item one. Katz’s, one of New York’s most famous delis and the very same one where Harry met Sally was the destination of choice with many a mountainous salt beef sandwich as the order of the day. These were delicious if somewhat expensive, but with hunger sated and sound check complete we were free to roam Manhattan for a few hours.
Katz’s Deli; so good they named it twice.
With Washington Square conquered that afternoon, our attention returned to the job at hand. Proving its credentials as the city that never sleeps, we were due on at 11pm, after a band featuring Ezra ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ Miller on drums. With the celebrity shenanigans out of the way we bestrode the stage and played an energetic set that held the crowd’s attention throughout. I had New Yorkers down as disinterested arm-crossers especially for out-of-town, let alone out-of-country bands; luckily I couldn’t have been more wrong.
New Yorkers begging for change.
The next day was spent learning our New York City cover and filming it on the frozen doorstep of our wonderful hosts (thanks Valerie Gritsch!), after which we sped figuratively but not illegally into Brooklyn for the latest Sofar Sounds gig. This one was in a warehouse apartment in Williamsburg. For the unaware, ‘Billyburg’ is home to most of New York’s hippest hipsters, a la Dalston or Peckham or wherever else they’ve moved to in London these days. As a hipster hive, said apartment was complete with fixed gear bikes hanging from the walls, a bottle opener that looked like a fish, an open-plan office space and ironic hand sanitiser gel. As if things couldn’t get any cooler, the couple whose apartment we were in had adopted a dog without any teeth.
The least hip ornaments in the apartment that night.
I never found out if ‘Original Fresh’ meant penis-scented.
I’d be as glum as this toothless dog if my diet consisted solely of soup.
Wednesday was that rarest of tour things, a day off. There were no gigs, no sessions and no interviews; New York City was at our mercy. We splintered into various groups (all of them non-violent and a-political), some taking in Chelsea’s elevated walking garden, others heading to Times Square and Central Park, whilst I went on my thrift store tour of Brooklyn in an attempt to replenish a flagging wardrobe and get a haircut, that I eventually got from a large Russian lady (conversation topic: winning the lottery). Despite our varied coordinates we were all victims to a fierce, biting wind howling in straight from the Atlantic.
Ben had underestimated the size of his new keyboard.
We reconvened in the evening for a visit to the Comedy Cellar, where after waiting in the polar temperatures for longer than necessary we were treated to a bill featuring comics who all seemed to have appeared on Saturday Night Live, but none of whom were Tina Fey or Will Ferrell, unfortunately. They had us chuckling nonetheless, and we headed home in good spirits that helped ease the confusion that reigned on the subway journey back to the van.
Our wagon was ready for battle.
Our final day involved a gig at Cameo that went well. After the show we headed to a laundrette to do some much-needed washing, followed by our final drink in Barcade, where alcohol and classic arcade games join forces and conspire to rid you of all your remaining cash. New York then was a blast and felt strangely familiar; fast paced, over-priced and ever so slightly surly, I realised I enjoyed it so much as it was much like home in London, the whole world (people-wise) in one city with seemingly infinite possibilities.
New Yorkers in all their glory.
Soon we awoke and with a final bagel in our bellies headed to Pittsburgh and the tour’s best-named venue, the Smiling Moose. Our Lonely Planet guidebook once again used the word ‘rugged’ to mean ‘working class’, exuding a simmering snobbery when informing us that Pittsburgh isn’t as rough as it used to be. The Moose was in a slightly alternative part of town with vegan cafes and the like, and featured the smallest cubicle I’ve ever had the pleasure of endorsing. The gig was great fun and a fair chunk of the crowd knew the words, which we found mind-boggling. Amongst them was Dean, the barbecue baron of Nashville (not his official title), who was back in his hometown for the weekend and accepted us weary travellers into his palatial abode for the night.
TKAK rocking the Moose. That is not a euphemism.
Next came Cleveland, Ohio, and the first snow of the tour. There was a barrage of the stuff that made loading into and out of the venue quite a challenge. This show, at the wonderfully named Grog Shop, was notable for featuring some of our keenest fans thus far, some of who had travelled up to five hours to see us having thought we wouldn’t make it to the USA for quite some time, if ever. They were bellowing the words along with every track, making our in-crowd rendition of Bloody Shirt the equivalent to a rowdy lock-in.
Here’s the smallest and most belligerent-looking snowman I’ve ever seen.
The final date before joining Bastille took place in Chicago, the windy city that on this occasion was surprisingly still. Fine artist Nick Hoar arrived to add yet another joker to our pack and the gig itself was a solid warm up for those to come. It also foreshadowed the weeks to come when Dan arrived mid-set, half the room turning 180 degrees and speeding towards him like vultures to a sun-baked carcass. He sang Choices with us which was a treat and a fine way to finish the week before the queues would lengthen, the crowds would swell, and the screams would deafen, standard fare for the world that Bastille inhabit.
The ‘Sensible Portions’ tag line was a complete lie.
I’ll be back soon with fourth instalment.
Until there, farewell.