Dirtbombing Down Under

May 12, 2004 at 12:00 am

The Dirtbombs left Detroit Metro Saturday evening March 27 and didn’t arrive in Melbourne, Australia, until 10 a.m. on Monday, March 29. Somewhere in the cosmos lies my lost Sunday.

Monday, March 29

We get to the Hotel Cosmopolitan in the Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda and realize we ain’t as big Down Under as we are in Japan. Roommates happen. I get drummer Pat Pantano, but more importantly, I win the rock-paper-scissors match and today get my own room. Trivial victories like these can make or break your day on tour.

As the rest of the band soaks up brew, I hit Raoul Records, a shop famed for a backyard White Stripes show (in front of 20 faces) back in November 2000. I discover a single by a local band called the Stabs. It was a numbered copy of 200 and had hand-applied paint-splatters. I’m sold. They sound like Thurston Moore reviewing the Birthday Party. Give word to store employees that I want as many copies of the single as they can round up.

Tuesday, March 30

I explore St. Kilda by foot and the briny air fills my lungs as I step between seaweed and seagull shit. I sit on the abandoned beach and wonder what to make of it all.

I notice the Australian women seem to have lots of tattoos. I don’t mean a trivial lower back tribal or an ankle lily or some such frou-frou American college girl bullshit. No, Aussie women sport tats of flaming skulls ornamented with eye socket daggers topped with “Daddy” scrawled in dripping blood. Certainly makes for a double-take when you spot said body splash on the bicep of a fresh-faced woman as she casually pushes her infant’s stroller down the street.

At the Tote Hotel (this night’s venue), opening band Leo Slayer (actually Rocket Science, Aussie band with whom the Dirtbombs toured Europe) slays and ends their set with Pat doubling the drums and me precariously balanced atop a Farfisa organ alongside RS singer Roman Tucker.

Our set is tight. We close with a wild, shirtless encore of “Dirt” that finds me leering at audience minx and swinging from ceiling pipe.

Wednesday, March 31

I sit around the hotel room listening to Six Organs of Admittance and Nick Drake until it’s time to play Geelong, an hour outside of Melbourne. At the show, the crowd is responsive, and the dude from Raoul Records comes through with five copies of the Stabs single. Some douche bag pilfers one of my drumsticks and then has the balls to ask me to sign it. Prick.

Thursday, April 1

We roam downtown Melbourne during the afternoon, hitting record stores, but it’s nothing spectacular. After sound check, we rush to PBS radio to play live-to-air. We play Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha,” Troy Gregory’s “Born in a Haunted Barn” and a handful of Dirtbombs oldies.

The first of a two-night stand at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge is marred by jet lag. When you’re traveling on long-ass flights into skewed time zones, your body craves sleep at the most awkward times. For me, during opening bands. I wish I could control it. Instead, I crash. Hence, our first song, “Start the Party,” is fast and painful for Pat and me. I’m expecting either one of us to explode.

We pull “Granny’s Little Chicken” out of our ass … a song we haven’t attempted in ages, and it surprisingly works. It’s clear the audience is in our palm. I’m topless for the encore, chirping “Dirt” again. I stray from the song’s lyric and decide to confront a young lady stage side, in my best Barry White voice, “Hey … how’s it goin? You come here often?” I then lick a bald man’s head. He finishes singing the song.

I later find myself at “Soul Night” at the Cherry Bar. A “soul night” in Detroit usually involves an obscenely meticulous DJ clad in tats of matrix numbers spinning singles by bands so obscure that the bands themselves had forgotten about them. In Melbourne, I’m treated to “ABC” and “Dancing in the Streets.” Don’t get me wrong, I love these songs, but because of 104.3 WOMC’s Motown-hits-till-you-puke formula, I’m sick of them. Can’t WOMC rip out some Nathaniel Mayer?

Friday, April 2

Next day sees us in Corduroy Records, recording our version of “Ha Ha Ha” and a song written by the studio owner’s 6-year-old son. Everyone at the studio keeps telling me about the latest recordings by the ubiquitous Stabs.

On our way back to the hotel, we spy the glowing Luna Park, an amusement center that dates back to 1912. With an hour to kill, we hurry over and are bedazzled by the flurried lights and carnival clatter. I ride rides alone. I forget about the world and just laugh at the idea of being in an Australian amusement park on tour with a rock ’n’ roll band looking at Port Phillip Bay upside down at the age of 21. This is, by far, the most fun I ever had on tour.

Our second Ding Dong show blows monkey balls. Bassist Troy Gregory (Ko Shih stayed home) is drunk, and it becomes clear that we aren’t going to top the previous night’s show. Troy unknowingly violates the newest statute in the Dirtbombs canon: Do not pull people up on stage to dance, especially not on the last tune when everyone’s tossing instruments around. Ever the irate one, I stop caring.

Saturday, April 3

We fly from Melbourne to Sydney, check into the Sydney Holiday Inn and kill time. We hit the club hours before doors and there’s one lonely dude waiting by the back entrance. We all sign a copy of Dangerous Magical Noise for him. It feels kinda weird to see a lone guy waiting to get autographs from us, a bunch of losers from Detroit.

We arrive at the club after the first band has finished (me thinking “rock asshole”). Our set is blunderful. Mick can’t play the right notes to save his life, and it seems Pat is speeding up. … Two bad shows in a row. Damn.

Sunday April 4

Fly from Sydney to Auckland. John Baker is our New Zealand contact/booker and we arrive to a sign that says “DIRTBOMBS” with our names on it. Funny. We check into the hotel room, more like an apartment, and Mick and Troy both call the single rooms. Jim Diamond throws a fit. Jim is, to put it nicely, painfully precious on tour. If anyone gets their own room before him, he gets all bent out of his shape. So tonight, he offers Mick outboard effects gear in exchange for his digs. Mick holds steadfast. Jim then offers Troy money for his room … a really shitty move because Troy called his room fair and square, but was pretty penniless too. I am ready to match whatever Jim offers Troy for Troy to not give up his room, but Jim relents. I bunk on a couch at John Baker’s place.

Monday, April 5

Awake in a room where the only blind-free window is the one perfectly positioned for the 8 a.m. sunrays to hit my head. Grand. Make way to Frisbee studios and record footage for two different national television programs. We play “Earthquake Heart” and “Get it While You Can” a handful of times for the none-to-impressed producers, then Mick and Pat do on-camera interviews. Later, we all gather in the hotel and watch our performance on Nightline. Estimated viewership at 10 p.m.? Sixty thousand people. I should’ve combed my hair.

Tuesday, April 6

Baker drops me off at 95BFM, the only radio station that matters in Auckland. I manage to swing a two-hour DJ slot via Troy Ferguson, a friend who happens to be the station’s program director. I spin as-yet-unreleased tracks by the Whirlwind Heat, Loretta Lynn and Sonic Youth. Got phone-ins from Jack White, Arthur Dottweiler (former Dirtbombs manager) and my mother, who so tactfully asks if I had showered or changed my underwear that day.

Later on at the club we sound check, play pinball and sleeve copies of our new one-sided single, “Earthquake Heart” (same version as found on our latest LP, but 50 or so copies have the blank side silk-screened with an image of Mick. Pretty badass.) Openers the Checks are local 17-year-old rock ’n’ rollers that will be a force to reckon with.

Our set is remarkably improved. The club is packed and there are tons of people up front dancing their shoes off. Singing along even. These are the rewards you look forward to.

Wednesday, April 5

Homeward bound. With John Baker a Gold Plus (or whatever the hell they call it) member of New Zealand Air, we bypass longish lines at the Auckland airport. Earlier, Baker handed each of us a sizable chunk of dough from the previous night’s show. We had done the tour without any thoughts of profit, figuring the equipment rental and airfare would eat the earnings. The coinage was a nice surprise. Making money for doing something you love can be troublesome, though. You feel guilty for it.

While the tour had robbed me of a Sunday, it rewards me with a never-ending Wednesday that lasts from Auckland, across the Pacific and our missed Los Angeles-to-Chicago connecting flight, all the way to our Smith Terminal arrival.

I head straight from the airport to the Lager to catch the Transiztors and Weird War. This rock ’n’ roll shit is in my blood.

Ben Blackwell is a 21-year-old drummer, label owner and writer. Contact him at [email protected]