Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Fury In The Slaughterhouse + Me - Part 4

Me at Manfred's - Photo: Dolly
Friday was the day of the first show, but before that, Dolly took me out to meet Manfred Ilsemann, who runs an independent comic shop, as well as the best Fury In The Slaughterhouse fanshop in Germany, or so I hear. You remember me talking about how I didn't get a poster from the 2008 show? Dolly was going to help me find one. 

The shop was a veritable treasure trove of Fury history. The place was packed to the gills with books, and the Fury section was upstairs. Now, when Dolly said it was upstairs, I was expecting some tiny little staircase for us to carefully navigate, but it was even a bit more odd that that. 

The shop was in a converted barn, so to get to the Fury section, Manfred brought out a ladder and laid it up against wall. We headed up into a loft, an attic of sorts, where all the Fury stuff was kept.

There was an entire wall full of Fury CDs, whole blocks of the reissues, and an entire shelf full of rolled up posters. There were a lot of posters for Pure Live, but after a while, we dug through the rolls and came across a poster for the 2008 farewell tour. Just one. It wasn't for either of the exact shows I was at, but it was close enough. One of the two opening acts was different - I need to look into who Schulz is, as they're on the poster instead of Terry Hoax – but it was as close as I was going to get. Dolly also got a couple of different posters as well. 

The Fury wall - posters from 2017 & 2008
There were also several old promotional kits for the band, and a handful of photos from when they'd be out shooting videos. There was one photo in particular that the three of us spent at least a minute at trying to identify all the people in it. It was only after a bit that we realized the person we were having the most trouble recognizing was, in fact, a young Gero. (With hair!) Dolly had been worried that communication might be a problem, but my phone had Google Translate on it, which works offline when set up properly, and we used that a couple of times. All in all, it was a good excursion.

After dropping the posters back off at the hotel, I headed back to the arena. By this point, I had grown a little more comfortable going in and out of the place. I was there some three or four hours before the concert, mostly so I could get my legs underneath me when I knew people were going to be showing up.

When I got there, I ran into Christof almost as soon as I'd gotten in the door. He had an acoustic guitar around his neck and was wandering around the hallway, warming up. I said hello and he offered me a friendly wave before he headed towards the stage. I followed over towards that way a little later, and ran into him and Rainer as they were coming off the stage, with Martin.

Rainer, Christof, Martin & Christian (Photo: me)
Martin Buch is helping the Furies for the rest of the year, with all their activities. He's a multi-instrumentalist, another 'Swiss army knife musician' as Gero describes him, who plays a bunch of different things. Over the next three nights, I'll see him play a pedal steel guitar, a lap steel guitar, a regular guitar and a mandolin. In some regards, he's taking some of the burden off Gero, playing some of the parts I remember Gero playing back in '08. On the other hand, having a pedal guitar adds unfamiliar and beautiful shades to many of the songs. It's a very nice addition, and Martin's very talented.

Me & Rainer
I get a chance to talk briefly with Rainer, who looks remarkably unchanged for the years. A few more wrinkles, perhaps, but the same warm smile, and the same friendly handshake. He gives me a grin and tells me it's good to see me and that he hopes I'm having a good time. They don't have long to talk, because they want to go and relax a bit before the show, so I tell them to break a leg, and that I'll see them after the show.

I wandered up into the outside ring of the arena. I wanted to see if there were people outside in line already (and there were) and I wanted to get a look at the merchandise, which they were setting up when I got there. 

Later in the night, Thorsten's going to make fun of me for buying stuff from the merch, but when you love a band, you want to support them any way you can. I don't get all of the shirts – I buy a couple, as well as a hoodie. I was tempted to ask Kai if they had any extras of the tour crew zipper jumpers (or hoodies as we call them here in the states) but I didn't want to impose.

One of the shirts I want to talk about specifically, though, because it made me actually laugh. So back in the 90's, the band went on tour in the US, supporting Meatloaf, like I mentioned earlier. (Told you we'd come back to it!) Meatloaf was touring on the back of “Bat Out Of Hell II,” which was doing quite well in the US. So, the Furies called it the “Hell Gets You To...” tour, because they have a song called "Hell Gets You Nowhere." At the show, they had t-shirts from that tour. Well, not actually from that tour, but the same design. On the back of it, there's listing of all the US dates they played, and among them, on July 5th, 1994... my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. On the basis of that alone, I had to buy one of those shirts.

The arena had a handful of lockers, so I stashed the shirts, the hoodie and my jacket into it, dropped a 2 Euro coin into it, took the key and headed back into the arena itself. Kai was checking a few final things with the sound team, and he also introduced me to his son, who looked like he was in his early twenties.

Over the next few days, I end up meeting a lot of the band's families. Kai's wife, Christof's wife, Gero's daughter, Christof's kids... by the end of the week, I felt a lot like a member of the family. I was trying not to bother anybody, but any time I was just standing around, someone would come up and loop me back into whatever was going on. I appreciated the hell out of it. My favorite instance of that was on Saturday, before the concert, when I was standing behind the stage skirts, back off to the side of the stage. Christof and Rainer were on stage, and Christof looked at me with a grin and said, “Hey Cliff! Why are you standing down there?”
On the stage, behind the drums, before the show

It's your stage, man. I don't want to come up uninvited.”

Your pass says Access All Areas! Come up here!” And that was how I walked onto the stage at TUI Arena and walked around for a while. He and I talked about the universality of music, and how a band from South Sudan – all refugees – set up in their rehearsal space with Christof's help. While they had some language problems, they started playing Bob Marley songs, and suddenly it was like they all knew each other very well. I took pictures of the stage with my cell phone camera, but on Sunday, I'd take my actual camera with me and get pictures then.

You might notice the only person I don't seem to have a story about is Christian, the band's bassist. I'd see him around every now and then, but he was always moving with a sense of purpose, heading from one place to another, and I didn't want to get in anyone's way. I talked to him very briefly, when I was saying goodbye on the last night, but that was about it. I hope he doesn't think I was avoiding him. I was just trying to be respectful. And I know bass players can generally be low-key people. The instrument itself is all about finding the groove.

Christian & Gero
Each of the three nights of the show, when they started letting people in, I would go and wander around in the crowd a bit, just to watch people, and each and every time, someone would recognize me, either from my posts on the band's Facebook page, or because they were one of the donors to the crowdfunding program to get me out there. 

Some of them spoke very little English, but they knew my name, and inevitably there was someone there to do a spot of translating. I got my picture taken with a lot of Fury fans, and I was probably grinning from ear to ear in each and every one of those photos.

Let's talk a little about the three shows. They had the almost same setlist all three nights. There was one song change – they played, “Words,” one of the new songs, only on the first night, changing it out for nights two and three for “Come On,” off of “Nowhere...Fast!” It was a good change – while “Words” is a fine song, it feels much more in line with Kai's Celtic-styled party band BalticSeaChild. Also, my host Claudia's first Fury album was “Nowhere...Fast!” and so she had a special place in her heart for that album. She went to the first show, and then again to the third one, so she did get to see “Come On” done live.

The shows weren't without their occasional stumble. An amp blew one night, the band lost their place in the middle of one of the songs on another, and the Kabuki opening was a cooler concept than the execution resulted in. But the shows were great nonetheless. After an opening film showing the band over the years (set to the sound of Susanna & The Magical Orchestra covering AC/DC's “It's A Long Way To The Top”) the band opened each night with one of the new songs, “Dance On The Frontline,” while they were performing behind a screen.

Each night, the band did play a full thirty songs (assuming you count “Won't Forget These Days” as two songs – since the band continues it as “Won't Forget These Days (Reprise)” when they come back in for the first encore), covering most of the band's catalog. Unsurprisingly, the set was more centered around the midsection of the band's career, although almost every album got at least a nod. As mentioned earlier, I was sad that we didn't get one song from “Every Heart Is A Revolutionary Cell,” but Kai's told the German media that he wasn't a big fan of that album, so I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise. Personally, I would have made traded out “In Your Room” for “Wasted,” although the lighting for “Room” was quite gorgeous, with columns of blue light shooting straight up, illuminating the band from beneath.

Christof & Thorsten, on the satellite stage
They did play my favorite Fury song “Haunted Head & Heart” all three nights, and Thorsten dedicated it to me the first night, and to Soren the second night, much to my delight. I was also very glad to hear the new songs getting strong representation. “Dance On The Frontline,” “My Personal Everest” and “Love Has Gone Home” are three of the band's best songs in quite a long time, so I was glad that we got all three of them, and “Dance” in particular feels so very relevant right now.

Nine songs in every night, the band moves out onto the little satellite stage and brings acoustic instruments out, to play three songs - “When God Goes Home,” “Then She Said,” and “Bring Me Home” - and while it's a little crowded with seven guys out there, it's clear they don't mind. Seeing Rainer do the percussion for “Bring Me Home” with just a single drumstick and an empty beer bottle is impressive as hell. When I saw them do this in 2008, they actually came out into the audience and made everyone sit down so they could play in the center of people, but getting on and off the arena stage would make it more challenging, so they use the satellite stage instead. I don't think anyone minds.

Christof, Christian & Kai
The first night in, when they get to “Then She Said,” it turns out the band had been approached about someone making a wedding proposal at the show, and so Thorsten stopped the show for a moment, to let a spotlight operator find the couple, and then someone proposed to his girlfriend in the audience. “Then She Said” yes, clearly. In the last two nights, Thorsten tells the audience about the proposal on the first night, and even jokes that he's proposing to all of Hanover. I hope his wife's okay with that.

I met Thorsten's wife, Silvia, back in 2008, when we were at the first of the two shows. She talked with me for a few minutes and was incredulous that we'd flown out from the US just to see the band live. “Have you seen psychiatric help?” she teased, and I smirked, before replying “Chase the things you love with all your heart.”

The main set ends with “Won't Forget These Days,” which they then reprise when they come back in a minute or two later. Each night, the audience is still singing “Won't forget these days / And I never thought I would” over and over again to bring the band back, although they're certainly singing the strongest on the first night.

I wonder how much of the audience was repeated over the three nights, and I'm not entirely sure. I'm sure there was some, but I wandered through the crowd before each night, and didn't see a lot of faces that I recognized.

All the supporters, and Olaf right below me - Photo: Olaf Gebert
On Saturday, we had a lunch get together where I got to meet a bunch of the people who had contributed to the crowdfunding program to get me out there. I got asked to tell a few stories about the band, both from this trip and the previous trip, which I happily indulged in, and then there was a lot of time with the fans just talking with one another while one or two of them talked to me. 

I was happy to drop in and out of conversations, although it was a little trickier than expected since they were talking in German.

The fans bonded with each other as much as they did with me, which was important. There's a powerful sense of community among the Fury fans, and people who didn't know each other at the onset were already talking about if they were going to meet up for other shows, both Fury shows and other bands.

Me & Thorsten on soundcheck day - Photo: Olaf Gebert
We also had a special guest show up. On the soundcheck day, I'd gotten the chance to meet Olaf Gebert, who has been the band's photographer for quite some time. (He took the great shot of me and Thorsten you see here.) He was one of the two official photographers for the band I had a chance to meet over the course of the shows, the other being Holger Bucker.

Olaf came by to hang out at the fan get together, and then did us the honor of photographing the event, getting lots of pictures. Everyone who came out got to get a picture of me and them taken by Olaf, and he also did a few group shots, so we were photographed by one of the best.

Kai & Gero - Photo: Olaf Gebert
While Olaf's English was rusty, Holger's English was remarkable, and when I ran into him on Saturday before the show, I got a chance to talk about how he was shooting the show, what he'd liked that he'd gotten so far and what he was unhappy with. I told him I was going to bring my camera on Sunday, but I wasn't sure how good at it I'd be, considering I'm really just an amateur. After I'd been talking with Holger for a bit, I cocked my head to one side and asked if he'd spent some time living in Australia, and he cocked his head and seemed surprised, telling me that he hadn't, but he had relatives there. I could hear a hint of an Aussie accent in his voice, which made him laugh.

Between Olaf and Holger, they got such amazing photographs of the band, the arena, and the crowd, and since I've gotten back, I keep seeing them post new photos and I'm envious each and every time. 

Olaf has a ton of great shots of the band, one in particular of Kai out on the satellite stage with Gero a bit behind him that I love, because you can see the mass of people surrounding them, and you get a sense of scale for the place. Holger's got a bunch of amazing photos as well, some showing the sound crew, but also this glorious shot from behind Rainer during “Down There” when the sea of lights is on the other side of him.
Glorious lights - Photo: Holger Bucker

Oh, I didn't mention the sea of lights!

So FFN radio handed out these little LED lights for people to hold up, in lieu of a mass of cigarette lighters. I've seen this done at other concerts before, but I've never seen quite as many of them as I did at the apex when the band played "Time To Wonder." 

It was like an ocean of tiny white lights, our own personal starfield for the night, and the entire arena actually glowed with an ambient diffused aura.

Gero & I after show 1 - Photo: Holger Bucker
You'll notice my photographs are mostly in black and white. I don't have steady hands enough to get color photographs well in concert lighting, without some truly expensive lens or a tripod or, most commonly, a bit of luck and good positioning. Olaf and Holger are masters at this – I'm just a dabbler. (Any photos you see in this that don't have a photo credit in the caption, I took, so you can blame me...)

After the show on Friday night, I go and get my t-shirts and hoodie from the locker I'd stowed them in, and then wander back to try and find the after party. The first person I run into is Gero, who is just outside of the dressing room with a glass of wine. I ended up chatting with Gero for a good twenty or thirty minutes, about his new ocarina, how many instruments he plays (he guessed around thirty), and how I loved his acoustic guitar solo in “Trapped Today, Trapped Tomorrow.”

Gero tells me that the solo is improvised each and every time he does it, and the band gets to play 'how long will Gero be playing tonight' each time, to his amusement, because Christof and Thorsten get to hold a couple of uncomfortable chords while he does.

Christof, amid guitar heroics
One of the things I like best about the three shows is that every member of the band get a chance to shine individually at some point. 

Gero's solo on “Trapped Today, Trapped Tomorrow,” Christian's piano on “Things Like This,” Thorsten fronting the band for “Haunted Head And Heart” and “Then She Said,” Rainer's skill with a drumstick and a beer bottle for “Bring Me Home,” Christof's shredding guitar solo on “Kick It Out,” Martin's gorgeous slide guitar on a number of songs, and of course, Kai's vocals on just about everything. Everyone gets their moment in the sun, to show off what they're capable of.

After chatting with Gero, I wander around the arena a bit and come across the hospitality area, where the afterparty is. The first person I see is Martin, whom I congratulate on a great show, and he smiles, telling me the first one is always the most nerve wracking.

Rainer on beer bottle percussion
There's a bunch of people at the after party, and the hospitality area is bursting at the seams with people. I maneuver my way in and get a drink, but like I often am at parties, I'm a little overwhelmed by all the people I don't know and so I keep to myself for the first couple of minutes. Of course, Thorsten finds me at that point, and teases me about being a wallflower. I tell him that I'm not sure how many people here speak English, considering a bunch of the Fury fans haven't spoken much English, and he laughs and tells me everyone speaks English, and he introduces me to Volker.

Volker is the bassist for Wingenfelder, and has been playing with Thorsten for a long time. He's also wonderfully friendly, and I spent a good half an hour talking with him. He's pleased to find that I'm familiar with the band's side projects as well, so I've heard many of the things he's played on. 

Gero, mid solo
As it turns out, he joined up with Thorsten when he was touring with his Driftland side project, and has been playing on Thorsten's side projects since then. He also speaks excellent English, and I tell him that if he ever wants to come out to the San Francisco Bay area, I'll happily give him a tour. I also get to meet Thorsten's son Vincent, who I think Thorsten may have tapped to make sure I didn't get lost among the sea of faces. 

I also saw Norman, who also plays in Wingenfelder, but I didn't say hi, as it seemed like there were a lot of people clamoring to talk with him.

I don't want to be the last one to leave the party, so I take off after an hour or two, and catch a cab back to the hotel. Apparently I missed the band fooling around at the hotel bar after their afterparty at the arena wound down for the night. Note to self: leave parties later.

On Saturday, when I get to the arena, I wander into the main space and one of the members of the crew is flying a drone around the space, and Thorsten's son Vincent is looking on, so I head over and say hi to him. I tell him that I know a guy who races drones back in California, and he tells me he would love to get a drone for himself, but then the conversation turns to what I used to do for a living.

Christof & Kai
For most of the last decade and a half, I've worked in the videogames industry, for those who don't know. I was a journalist writing about games in 2000, when the first Dot Com Crash happened, and then after a stint of unemployment, I went from writing about games to working on them. And when people find out I work in videogames, they have lots of questions, and I have answers.

Kai comes over after Vincent and I have been talking for ten minutes or so about games, and I suspect it's mostly just to make sure I'm not bothering him, but Vincent's all smiles, and tells Kai he's having fun talking about videogames. Kai and I wander over towards the soundstage and I ask him if they're going to use a drone to get some pictures tonight, and he laughs, telling me it would be an insurance nightmare to have a drone flying over a crowd. Ever the smart businessman.

It's going to be a busy year for them, Kai tells me. Not just for Fury, but all the individual band members as well. There's a new Wingenfelder album in the works, and there's the rest of the tour in a few months, plus other stuff they haven't talked about yet.

I forgot to eat Friday night, so I intend to make sure I don't repeat the mistake, so I head into the catering area to grab an early dinner, about an hour or so before the doors open, and whoever was catering at Tui Arena that night, they made one of the best cheeseburgers I've ever had. Caramelized onions, crispy bacon, cooked to perfection. Bravo, catering, bravo.

The understage crew hammock
Backstage has a more relaxed vibe to it today. Kids playing ping-pong, members of the crew napping among the road boxes or in a hammock suspended beneath the stage, the band themselves strolling around the space. I think I'm most amused by seeing the kids riding on skateboards through the long, curved concrete halls of the back passages in the arena, not standing atop them, but sliding along on their stomachs. Two kids are racing by, and I make engine noises at them and hold out my hand to one of them and he high-fives me as he zooms past.

There's a sense that everyone's relaxing a little now that they know it all works, that they can do this, and the reviews from the first night have been very positive, I'm told, despite the fact that there were a couple of mishaps. I don't think people really noticed, though. Something I've noticed over almost a quarter of a century going to concerts – it takes a pretty significant thing going wrong for the audience to notice. Gero told me that on Friday night, there had been a miscommunication and they had put the accordion away for the night before the show was over, and Gero uses that accordion in the very last song of the night each night, “Seconds To Fall,” that has just Kai, Chrisof and Gero on stage, and that they had to scramble to get it back out and ready in time for him to join the other two on stage. But if he hadn't told me that after the show, I wouldn't have known.

The Cliff Trap
When I'm wandering around the high hallways backstage, I have to pause for a second, as my brain misfires a bit, and I'm confused by what I see. I'm including a picture of it here, because I want you to take a look at it first. Now, once you realize it's a pair of soccer goals, it's pretty easy to see what you're looking at, but I want you to know that for an actual minute or so, I wondered if I'd discovered the world's largest Rube Goldberg machine, a giant game of Mousetrap to snag me when I wandered down a hallway. Maybe I'm the only one who finds it funny, but it made me laugh for a while.

I run into Holger before the Saturday show and spend a bit of time chatting with him about how the shooting has gone for him so far. He's got two cameras with him, which always amazes me. I've seen Olaf doing that too, and I know it means less lens changing, but man, I know I'd be nervous as hell doing that. He's only shooting two of the three shows, so he tells me if he wants to get any shots, he has to get them tonight.

After a little bit, I ask Holger if he's got the WiFi password for the arena and he tells me it's up on the wall in production, and offers to take me over to it, which is good, because I didn't know where production was. When he takes me in there, one of the members of the crew (who I'm pretty sure I haven't met) says “Hey Cliff!” like we're old friends. I kind of sheepishly ask about the WiFi password, and they laugh, telling me they were wondering how long it was going to take me to ask, and point to it on the wall. For the rest of the concerts, I have internet access while I'm at the arena.

Kai in the shadows of "In Your Room"
Each of the three nights, I have a different favorite song of the new songs. The first night it's “My Personal Everest,” which has that slinky guitar groove and that catchy chorus. The second night, it's “Love Has Gone Home,” with its chilly, brooding melancholy through line. The last of nights it's “Dance On The Frontline,” whose lyrics are way more relevant now than when I read them first last summer. I've said it before, but I'll say it again – the new EP is full of so many amazing songs. If you are a fan of the band at all, be sure to pick up the Ultimate 30 collection.

After the second show, I wander around to the hospitality area, but there doesn't seem to be anyone in it, so I suspect everyone is just taking a breather for the night, and heading to bed early, but maybe I simply came by too early. I know Sunday's going to be a long day, so I decide I'm just going to get back and crash.

Thorsten & Kai, out on the satellite stage
On Sunday, I get up and start getting everything packed up. The plan is that we're just going to load all my luggage into Claudia's car, and she's going to come back after the concert to meet up with me for the after party, and then give me a lift to the train station. My luggage, humorously, is like my heart – overstuffed.

The new best of collection fits in my laptop bag with my laptop, but is too tall for me to zip it closed. The poster I got from the 2008 show is in the tube with the poster I got from the Fans of Fury and Cliff, but it's wider, so it sticks out the top and I can't close the tube. It means I'm going to be carrying these things with me, keeping them close until they're back in California with me.

I know it's going to be a long day, because my plan is similar to what I did in 2008. I'm going to go from the show to the after party, from the after party to the train station, from the train station to the airport, and the minute I get on the plane flying out of Germany, just pass out and fall asleep. That means I'll be up for about 36 hours.

Christof, the lovely new guitar & the gaudy shirt
For the final of the three shows, the band is at their most relaxed. The first night, the band didn't move a ton around the stage, focusing on making sure they were getting the songs right, and making sure they put on the best possible show. For the second night, they've gotten past that initial hump – they know the show works, they know the audience is still there, and they know they can deliver. The final show, the band is comfortable wandering around the stage as much as they like – Christof stands on the front speakers a couple of times to get closer to the audience, Christian steps up onto the monitors and rocks back now and again, Thorsten crosses the stage to play closer to Christian and Christof, Martin does the same, Gero wanders out onto the satellite stage a few times when he's playing guitar, moving to stand with Kai out there.

Christian on the upright, Kai on the mic
The best gauge for the band feels like it's the rhythm section, particularly Christian, but Rainer as well. The first night, they were mostly business, but each night they grew more comfortable and smiled more and more. On the final night, they were both grinning from ear to ear, and I caught Christian laughing more than a couple of times, a nice change from the first night when he looked so intense and focused.

It seems obvious to say this, but music is about rhythm. What isn't obvious is how I mean that, because it's not in the way that you think. It's not only about being in sync with your instrument, but also with your fellow musicians. You get harmony from harmony. When I saw the band in 2008, at the end of the night, it seemed like they were mostly relieved it was over. Tonight, everyone's just happy to be playing together, as if they can't wait for it all to keep going. Instead of road-weary touring dogs, they're practically a bunch of kids again, taking joy in making music together.

Christof, Gero & Kai - last song of the night
At the end of the third show, I just want to see them playing again right away, as greedy as that sounds. I wish there had been more variety in between the three shows, but I absolutely understand why there wasn't. Like I said, most people probably only get to go to one show, so the band wants to put on the best concert they possibly can. And if you were even just a marginal Fury fan, any of the three shows was an excellent experience.

The show wraps up, and almost as soon as the lights come on, the crew starts breaking the set down, trying to get the whole thing squared away. A lot of it's getting loaded into road cases, but parts of it are also just going into storage, as it's part of the arena's default gear. The fans mill around a while, until the security starts herding them towards the doors. The band isn't on tour in April, but they'll be back for two shows in the middle of May, three shows in the middle of June, five shows in July, two in August and two in September, touring around Germany.

Before the show, I met a couple of Martin's friends, and after the arena's been cleared out, I run into them again, and they're trying to find where the after party is, just like I am. But eventually we hear that the after party is going to be in one of the skyboxes, the one on the far stage left side of the arena. It's the skybox dedicated to the Scorpions, which amuses me.

When I get up to the party, the skybox is packed to the gills, and it's almost tricky getting into the space. I run into Thorsten as I'm getting myself a drink, and he tells me that he's pretty happy with how the shows went. “We've played bigger shows than this, but this was the best. This felt... good. Good people, good times.” He's all smiles. It seems like all the guys are.

Christof & Me
I drift around from conversation to conversation for much of the party, spending a bit of time talking with Rainer and a good amount of time talking with Christof. Christof introduces me to his wife, who doesn't seem to speak a ton of English, and his wife's sister, who's eager to talk American politics for a bit. I got that question a lot over the trip. How could we elect Trump? Did I think it was representative of how the American people felt? But mostly just 'what the hell happened over there?' I did my best to walk people through what I understood, and explained a bit of what could end up happening in America over the next few years.

After a few hours, I start to make my rounds saying goodbye to everyone, thanking all of them for their generosity. I start with Thorsten, and tell him that maybe I'll be back again to see the band. He tells me that it's been great having me around, and that if I want to come back, there's always a place for me. We talk a bit about the rest of the year, and while ideas are tossed out, nothing's planned. Not yet. I thank Christof and get a quick picture with him, and then do the same with Rainer.

Gero and Christian have been at a table by themselves for the last ten minutes or so, having a conversation and laughing a bunch. They're relaxed and enjoying each others company. I know that Gero can be quite a talker, so I've allotted a bunch of time, because I don't want to rush him, and frankly, I enjoyed the hell out of talking to him each and every time. I suspect I could spend a week swapping stories with him over dinner and drinks. We end up talking for a good ten minutes again, and we laugh about how at the end of “Jericho” tonight, he pointed out to the audience that it was 'fake trumpet' for the king of 'fake news.'

Gero & Kai
At the end of it, he takes both of my hands and gives me one piece of advice, which I mentioned at the very beginning of the whole story - “write the whole truth.” And then he laughs and says, “Not the fake truth like our fake trumpet solo!” And I scribble that down into my little notepad file on my phone that I've been taking all my notes. Like I said at the beginning, it felt like the moment in the Cameron Crowe movie “Almost Famous,” where Billy Crudup says “Write what you want.”

So let's give you a blast of whole truth – the band isn't perfect. They aren't perfect people, and I've seen the band play five times, and not one of those shows was without some kind of mistake or minor accident. But that's good.

Perfection is boring.

There's beauty in the sharp edges and imperfections. True beauty has to be able to cut you, otherwise what's the fucking point? And that's why I love the guys. They know that. They embrace it. They're willing to push themselves, to challenge themselves into taking risks, gambling every now and again. They know that you have to risk to be rewarded, and they thrive on that. They aren't sloppy, and they know that a mishap isn't the end of the world. There's more music to be had, and the fans, us, we know they're people just like us, and we understand.

A page from my concert book, part of 2008
I might have changed the setlist a bit more in between each of the nights, but Christof told me after the first night that changing the setlist would involve a bunch of extra work for the sound and lights team, so it was best not to throw them any curve balls. Claudia's brother, Calli, wanted to hear “Hello & Goodbye” and I certainly wouldn't have minded hearing “Here We Go,” “Wasted” or “P.O.W.” from “Every Heart Is A Revolutionary Cell” but hey, I'm not calling the shots.

I'll never understand why the band didn't take off big in the US, other than maybe the band didn't want it to, or didn't want to sacrifice the time needed to break into the market. Touring the US is a giant change from touring Germany. Driving from Hamburg to Munich, most of the length of Germany, will take you 8 hours. I can drive 8 hours south out of San Francisco and still be in the state of California. More relevant, though, is driving east to west. Driving from Berlin to Cologne is about 6 hours of a drive. Driving from New York City to San Francisco is about 44 hours. It's a huge time commitment. And it's a long time to be away from home.

My hope in writing all of this is that it raises awareness of the band here in the states, and that eventually all of the band's albums become easily available here. I'm an evangelist, and I've often said that if you find something you love, you should share it with as much of the world as you can. Convince people why the thing you love is something they should love too. I'm not going to stop talking about the band, because the music of Fury In The Slaughthouse has been the soundtrack of my life. I was listening to Fury In The Slaughterhouse when I packed up all my things and moved out from Nebraska to California, setting out to carve my own path. I was listening to Fury In The Slaughterhouse when I started writing my first novel. 

The final bow, night 3
I carry the band with me everywhere I go.

The last person from the band I said farewell to was Kai. A couple of years ago, I realized that Kai and I were actually born on the same day – November 26th – and so I wanted to mention that to him, and he smiled. (Different years, though!)

He told me the guys had loved having me around and said he hoped that it wouldn't be the last time we'd see each other. I told him that I'd happily come back and see the band again and again, given any opportunity. 

It's going to be a big year for Fury, and there's more to come, so we'll see what that brings, for them and for me. He gives me a big hug at the end, and I'm struggling not to tear up. 

It's hard to say goodbye, so I say "See you soon" and hope that it's true, before we head out. 

I've been telling you for a long time now about why you should listen to the guys, their side projects and all the wonderful music, but at the end of the day, just go listen to it. While you can't get almost any Fury In The Slaughterhouse albums in the US, you can import all of them from Amazon.de and they're all worth it. Just about all of the band's side projects are available on US iTunes, and you should take the time to dab your foot in, see if you like them, even if it's in German.

Kai, front and center - Photo: Olaf Gebert
There's a German word I heard a lot, so I wrote it down. “Genau.” It means “I agree,” in the simplest translation, but it seems like it's a word that has a thousand and one uses, and it seems appropriate here. Fury is awesome. Genau. You should be listening to them, and all their side projects. Genau. I had an amazing time there. Genau. They are some of the kindest rock stars in the world. Genau genau genau.

I suppose I should wrap up talking about the trip back. Claudia gave me a lift to the train station, and hung around for a little bit, since it was actually rather cold outside, so we shot the shit a bit, talking music and what came next. The train had some delays getting to Hanover station, and some delays getting to Frankfurt's hub, but there had been plenty of time buffered into my plans for that kind of thing, so I still had a number of hours to wait at Frankfurt airport.

Me among the roadcases
The plan had been to pass out as soon as I got on the plane in Frankfurt, but as it turned out, the guy who sat down in the seat next to me was sort of an oversized Santa Claus look-a-like, and he was spilling over into my seat. He also constantly shifted and fidgeted, so much that I couldn't get comfortable and couldn't sleep on the plane, which meant that when I touched down in San Francisco, I'd been up almost 40 hours. 

My flatmate Sean picked me up from the airport and gave me a lift home, and when I laid my head down on the pillow at 8 p.m., I passed out immediately and didn't wake up until almost noon the next day.

As the Fury song goes, “Won't forget these days / And I never thought I would.” 

Thanks again to everyone who helped me out along the way. To the guys in the band, to the friends and family of the band, to the band's friends in other bands, and to the people who chipped in a few Euros here and there to get a complete stranger out to share in the best band in the world, you will always be a part of my heart, and if you come to California, let me know and the first round's on me.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fury In The Slaughterhouse + Me - parts 2 & 3

When I was in Germany in 2008, I asked Thorsten what was going to happen with the members of the band after Fury packed it in. He pointed out to me that pretty much everyone was a musician and that they were probably going to keep making music, just in different forms.

The Driftland album - track it down!
Sure enough, Kai and Thorsten formed Wingenfelder:Wingenfelder (who would eventually be renamed to just Wingenfelder, despite the fact that Kai's solo album 'Alone' had also been released under the name Wingenfelder – no, that's not confusing at all), Rainer Schumann released a solo album under just his last name, Christof formed a band called Wohnraumhelden (Living Room Heroes), Christian I think started working with a charity and Gero, well, we'll get to what Gero was up to later because it's too funny to rush through. Kai also founded a record label called Burrofeliz, and he also has a Celtic-styled band called Baltic Sea Child. Thorsten also put out one solo album under the name Driftland, and one under his own name.

I have done my best to get all of the things the guys have been up to over the years. It's a bit of a challenge because of the language barrier, but I'm pretty good at finding things. I didn't know about Wohnraumhelden until after I got back, so I just recently picked their albums up, but most of the rest of the things, I've either had them imported through Amazon.DE (the German branch of Amazon) or found them on iTunes. Finding what Burrofeliz has put out has been a lot harder. I found the band Subwave early on, but only recently found another band on the label called Porno Pony. There might be other releases – I should remember to ask Kai.

A couple of years later, Kai and Thorsten joined Facebook, and lo and behold, they each sent me a friend request, which I gladly accepted. I'd been getting the Wingenfelder records imported from German, and while the lyrics were all in German, I enjoyed the songs themselves even if I had to muddle through a Google translation to understand what they were singing about.

The Furies reunited for a single show in 2013, but they made it clear that it was likely a one-off. I thought about trying to get out to Germany for the show, but the option didn't seem all that viable.

The Wingenfelder poster from Soren, and my messy desk
In 2014, Wingenfelder started crowdfunding the recording of their next album. I kicked in a chunk of change for the album, but because I was reading the entire process in translation, I made a mistake in what rewards I wanted to get. Which meant I hadn't actually signed up for a copy of the new album itself! The challenge of working through a language barrier. So I contacted the crowdfunding organizers through the site and an admin for the band, Sören, corrected the mistake for me, ensuring I would still get a copy of the new album. And Sören also offered to mail me one of the spare posters that Wingenfelder had from their acoustic tour. I mailed Kai, Thorsten and Sören each a copy of my self-published novel, “Escaping Heaven,” as my way of saying thanks.

As part of the crowd funding, the brothers sent me a postcard from the studio, which I put into my book of concert tickets. That's also where you can find the signed copy of the “Brilliant Thieves” CD sleeve as well as the backstage page from the final show. I didn't have actual ticket stubs from the Fury shows. But that's okay. Sometimes it's something even better.

Now we leap forward to 2016. In February, pictures of the band altogether again in a studio were posted to their Facebook, and it was clear something was happening. On March 9th, 2016 (although I think it was March 10th in Germany), Fury In The Slaughterhouse released a new song to Hanover's FFN radio. It was called “30 (It's Not Easy).” Thankfully, FFN broadcasts through the Internet, and since it was a Wednesday night for me, I was over at my weekly boardgame night with a bunch of my friends. When the song came on, I stepped away from the games for a few minutes, put in my headphones and listened with a huge grin on my face.

Horror of horrors, the stream cut out in the middle of the song, so I missed about a minute's worth of the three and a half minute song. And while I was annoyed that the stream had cut out, it was such a great song that I didn't mind that much. The old magic was back, even if I didn't hear all of it. That said, as soon as I got home that night, I posted to the Fury In The Slaughterhouse Facebook group, asking if anyone had recorded it on the radio to share, as I'd missed part of the song because the internet stream had dropped on me in the middle.

About twenty minutes later, after I'd gotten a fairly scratchy version from one of the fans, I got a message from Kai, and he personally sent me the mp3 for the song itself. I was ecstatic. It was a very strong return to form for the band, and I was hopeful that it wasn't going to be the last thing the band was putting out. But it was also announced that the band was going to play a 30th anniversary show in Hanover at TUI Arena in 2017. One single show. But it was only the initial spark.

Things blossomed quickly for the band after that first announcement. One show turned into two. Two shows turned into three. And when three shows in their hometown of Hanover wasn't enough, it turned into a tour. I was very interested in going to the shows, but money in the spring of 2016 was tight. People asked on the Fury page if I was coming to Germany for some of the tour, like I had back in 2008, and I said while I'd like to, I just didn't have the money needed to travel out and back.

That was when the band said they might be able to help. Things grew quiet for a while, and I just went about my day. A few months later, one plan had fallen through and another had sprung up in its place. There was a crowdfunding movement to try and raise money to get me out to Germany, and the donations came in very quickly. The Fury fanbase is even more than generous than I suspected. Best band in the world, best fans in the world.

By November, there was enough money to cover my plane tickets to and from the US, to cover the train between Frankfurt and Hanover, and to cover the housing at a hotel run by one of the donors. The trip was a go. The band would provide an all access pass for all three of the Hanover shows, and was looking forward to sitting down and talking with me around the shows. I made sure to set the time aside on my calendar.

But there was another thing that happened in between worth mentioning. In June, I got a message from Kai. The band was going to go in the studio at the end of the month to record an EP of new songs. He wanted me to take a quick look at the lyrics for the new songs to check his English, as a native speaker, if I didn't mind.

If I didn't mind.


Getting to read Fury In The Slaughterhouse lyrics before anyone else? It was a honor. For the Fury fans who are wondering, I only suggested a few minor tweaks here and there. I offered maybe five or six minor adjustments over all the songs, total. Twenty or thirty letters tops.

I also got to hear the demos for the new songs, and all of them sounded great. In fact, they were some of the strongest songs Kai had written in a long time, in my humble opinion. If I'm totally honest, I kind of wish that he'd written another six or seven songs and made a full album out of it, but hey, you take what you can get. And we as Fury fans were getting a whole lot of amazing new Fury In The Slaughterhouse songs.

Not telling anyone that I knew more songs were coming was hard, but I wanted to respect the trust the band was extending me, so I didn't mention it on the Facebook group. Eventually, though, the band posted pictures of themselves in the studio again, and so people knew something was up. But I remained quiet. My ground rule for anything the band tells me that is upcoming is that I don't tell anyone until I've seen them posting about it themselves, first and foremost. Better to be overly cautious, I figure.

RIP Sören
Towards the end of the year, right around the time the crowdfunding group was buying me plane tickets to and from Germany, the band announced the upcoming release of “30 – The Ultimate Best Of Fury In The Slaughterhouse,” a 2 CD collection of 30 songs that would include the EP with the new songs. But the songs themselves weren't announced, the titles anyway, so I kept silent about it, but I was grinning left and right.

There's a sad shade to the tail end of this chapter, unfortunately. In November of 2015, I got word from Sören that he was in the hospital, battling cancer. I never got a lot of detail about it, but he was trying chemotherapy, trying to purge the cancer from his body. He'd been one of the first people to contribute to the crowdfunding, and I was looking forward to meeting him when I got to Germany, but sadly, Sören Möller passed away on February 11th, 2017. If there's an afterlife, hopefully he's got a front row seat for the band in heaven. Thanks Sören. You are missed.

The trip to Germany itself was relatively uneventful. I flew from San Francisco to Seattle and then from Seattle to Frankfurt. On the flight up to Seattle, an Icelandic man asked if I could swap seats with him so he could sit with his wife. I was already settled, but I can understand wanting to be next to the one you're with, even if I'm single. I had hoped to sleep on the flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, but there was a child, maybe a year and a half to two years old, who spent most of the flight crying and screaming. Every time I was just about to drift off to sleep, the child would start to scream again and I would get jolted back to consciousness.

Me and Claudia
When I arrived in Frankfurt, I passed through security, and passport control asked what my final destination was. When I said 'Hanover,' they asked if I was in the country for business, but I told them I was going to Hanover for concerts, and the guy at the counter seemed surprised. Then I gathered my suitcase, headed down to the subway, took the subway over to the train station and then hopped on a train to Hildesheim. Staying awake on the train was a challenge, but if I fell asleep on the train, I'd overshoot my destination, as the train went all the way on to Berlin. So I stayed awake.

In Hildesheim, my point of contact on the ground, Claudia, was waiting for me. I'd made friends with most of the people in the Facebook group that had been set up for the crowdfunding movement, and so I knew what Claudia looked like. She welcomed me to Hildesheim, and gave me a lift to the hotel just a little bit away in Giesen. I tried to stay awake, but after just a little bit at the hotel, I headed upstairs and went to bed a little after 7 p.m. local time, and then passed out. I didn't wake up until a little after 9 a.m. the next day, a full 14 hours to get my body clock right.

Claudia was a charming host. The hotel, Hotel Ernst, is a family business, with her and her brother doing most of the management for it, it seems. I took a picture of one of the wooden rafters, where Anno 1605 was inscribed. Four hundred years and change that building's been there. Talk about history. Claudia and I spent a lot of our time talking music – both about the band itself but also about other bands. She'd spent some time in Ireland, and in fact she'd gone to a concert on Tuesday night after I'd gone to bed, a German band called Broilers. (Note: You can hear a lot of the music that Claudia recommended to me in Episode 119 of my podcast.)

For much of the trip, Claudia would also double as my translator. While most of the people associated with the band spoke pretty good English, many of the fans, people who had contributed to getting me to Germany, they often didn't speak more than a handful of words of English, so they were all happy to talk with one another and Claudia would translate for me in the breaks, so I could at least get a general idea of what people were talking about.

I posted that I was awake to my Facebook, and Kai posted that the band was just hanging around the arena for the day, doing some prep work and some media interviews, if I wanted to swing by. Of course, I wanted to spend as much time hanging out with the band as I could, so I told him that I'd be down to the arena in just a few hours. He told me that if I had any trouble getting in, I should just call Benny, their manager, and gave me his number. Of course, Kai posted it to my Facebook page publicly, but he took it down almost immediately and then sent it to me via private message. Oh, Benny, I hope you didn't accidentally get a ton of phone calls.

When I got to the arena, I got a laminate, a backstage pass marked AAA – Access All Areas – for all three of the shows, and the days surrounding it. It meant I could go anywhere, stand anywhere, as long as I didn't get in the way. I've been around an arena in advance of a show before, but it had been a good long while, not since I was a journalist in college.

Press day
It's fun to move through a space designed to hold 12,000 people when there's just 50-100 of you in the entire building. I had a blast just walking into the space, and sure enough, as soon as we're into the arena itself, Kai wanders over to say hello and greet me. He's got a little bit of time to chat before the press shows up, and he's happy to spend some time talking with me about the music industry, about what the band's up to, and a bit about politics.

Politics isn't an uncommon topic of conversation for the entire trip, but I don't mind. I'm in agreement with everyone – I don't really understand what's happened in the US right now, how Trump could possibly have won the election, and how so many people identify with this misogynist, racist asshole. As soon as I tell people how anti-Trump I am, there's always this sigh of relief, as if to say 'oh good, you're one of the sane ones,' and then I get to hear a bit of how the politics of hate is threatening Germany as well.

I also spend a bit of Wednesday talking with Thorsten, who's in good spirits as well. It's a good omen that the brothers are all smiles, even though they're spending part of the day talking to press. I don't see the whole band around – it's just Kai, Thorsten and Rainer, although I do hear that Christof is off doing interviews nearby. There isn't a ton going on today, but it's nice to spend a bit of time chatting with Kai and Thorsten. Tomorrow they tell me will be soundcheck and light testing, if I want to come by, and I tell the guys I'm down for everything, and anything that they invite me to, I will definitely show up for.

Me & Thorsten at soundcheck. Courtesy of Olaf Gebert
Thorsten's getting a bit of a late lunch (or maybe an early dinner) and we talk for a bit about the Driftland album, his solo album and why almost all the Wingenfelder stuff is in German. (The exception is part of 'Off the Record.') He tells me he'd been a good ways into making a second Driftland album when he decided he wasn't feeling a connection to the material, and so he rewrote all the songs to be in German, which became his 360 Degrees Heimat album under his own name.

I told him that part of the reason that I felt like Fury's music, and the Driftland album as well, were so insightful was that they come at English from an unexpected angle, a direction that a native speaker wouldn't necessarily think of. There's a certain insight you get when looking at something you aren't as comfortable with, when something hasn't been ingrained in you as to become reflexive. I tell him that I hope we keep getting more English works from all of the guys, be it as part of Fury or part of Wingenfelder. He tells me he can't make any promises, but my comments about coming at English from a new angle, like Picasso deciding to make a new kind of art, is something for him to definitely think about. He also found it hilarious that I still remembered old Fury songs, like “Anthem of the Hansom Ransom,” which is off "Hookah Hey," the third Fury album, and wanted to ask if it was partially true, and indeed, it was. It was clear from the grin on his face that he hadn't thought about that song in a long, long time.

Claudia and I headed back to the hotel where I grabbed dinner down in the restaurant attached to the hotel. I was happy to take a seat at the bar and watch people coming and going while I eat.

On the way over to Germany, while I was in the Seattle airport, I called my cell provider and asked what it would cost to have internet access while I was over in Germany, and they quoted me a price. A ridiculous, silly, exorbitant price. So I decided I would just stick to WiFi while I was over there, and at first, the hotel was the only place I had internet access, so I was checking email and posting to Facebook while I was at the bar.

One thing I did notice over dinner, however, was this strange concoction – a glass half filled with beer and half filled with Coke. Apparently it's a thing in Germany. They call it diesel. They also have a similar thing called spezi, which is half Coke and half Fanta. Apparently there's actually a bottled version of it called Mezzo Mix, but getting it mixed fresh is better. I developed a taste for spezi while I was in Germany last time, but you can get a close approximation to it here in the states with Orange Coke from the Coke Freestyle machines. It's not the same, though. I didn't feel bold enough to try diesel. I know it's sacrilegious, but I'm not really a beer drinker.

"Dolly" and me, at breakfast
Thursday was soundcheck day. Thorsten had told me they were starting up at around 2, so we headed over a bit before that. Before that, though, I got to meet Dolly. Eberhard “Dolly” Doleczik was the crowdfunding program's link to the band. I got the impression that he's an old friend of Kai's, and everyone in the band seemed to know him, and talked about him fondly. Dolly was in the army for a while, and has both of his motorcycles detailed with Fury related images. His English isn't spectacular, but it's certainly better than my German.

The soundcheck was fun. I was still getting used to just being able to walk into the back door of Tui arena, but the laminate definitely granted me access. Before I'd gotten the pass, I'd had to wait outside of the gate, not even able to enter the parking lot until we called Benny and they gave us permission to come up to the door itself and get the pass, but now the guy at the gate just saw the laminate and gave me a little wave. I stopped and chatted with him a couple of times over the week, although his English was hit and miss, but he was friendly enough.

When I got there, they were about an hour from starting, and I had a bit of time to talk with Kai again. He gave me one of the first copies of the new Ultimate 30 Special Edition, taking a minute to get all the members of the band to autograph it for me. They were still doing some final tweaks to the show, so they were going to run through a bunch of the songs for soundcheck, maybe half of each song, just so they were comfortable with it.

After Kai gives me the CD, he has some things to review before soundcheck, so he heads off, and a little bit later, I see Gero walking through the arena, taking pictures of the stage. I barely talked to Gero when I met the band in 2008. I knew he played a bunch of instruments, but he'd also been the most off-the-radar since they'd packed it in back then. He also recognized me immediately, and wandered over to say hi.

This time I got a chance to ask a question that had been bugging me for a long time. Fury's album “Brilliant Thieves” opens with the song “Bring Me Home,” but before it, there's a track called “Intro” (which isn't in the above video for the song) that the liner notes said was performed by Gero Drnek, and was from his upcoming solo album. For years, I've been looking to try and find any trace of that album, all to no avail. But now I could ask Gero all about it. I'd been nervous about talking to Gero before. Hell, I'd been nervous about talking to all of the band back in 2008, but in the intervening years, I'd gained a lot more confidence, and talking with Kai a bit the year before had helped me with that. I wanted each of the band members to deal with me on their comfort level. If they wanted to talk a little, I'd stay out of their way. If they wanted to talk a little more than a little, well, I'd happily talk with them as much as they felt comfortable with.

Gero at soundcheck
Gero, as charming as he is, is happy to talk. A lot. And he's a great conversationalist.

As it turns out, Gero never released that solo album. “All of my friends would love for me to,” he told me with a smile on his face, “just so they could talk badly about it.” I ask what he's been up to since the band went on hiatus and the first thing that he tells me is that he's been happily at home, cooking. That he's replaced his love of music with his love of cooking. I'm still not entirely sure how much he was kidding and how much he was being serious. He's sly like that.

I mention that I'm surprised with all the instruments he can play that he wasn't constantly busy with other musical projects. I know he played with a few of the other guys with a Hanover musician named Kuersche on a few live albums, but other than that, he's been completely off the radar. “Nobody called me,” he sniffed, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Some of my friends thought I must be busy. Some of them were afraid of me, I think! So I sat at home. An unemployed musician.” I couldn't tell who was more tickled by that, him or me.

I asked Gero how it was, the band being back together again, and he seems to grin. He says the band's energy has changed, back towards what it used to be, that they feel better. It's a story I'll hear a lot over the next few days. Things are better, far better now than they used to be. And the more I hang with the band, the more I can feel the energy, the comfort. It's a bit like falling in love again with someone you haven't seen in a long time. The arguments are all in the rear view mirror and you can't even remember what you were fighting about.

They're older, wiser and when the soundcheck starts, it's easy to see they're all still enjoying each other's company. A little later, I talk to Christof for a bit, and tell him how much I loved the guitar tones in the demo for “My Personal Everest,” and he smiles a bit at that. He tells me that when they were recording the demo for that, it was the moment when it felt like they were all back where they needed to be, when they'd recaptured the old magic and everything was healed.

The band plays through parts of a bunch of numbers, and they're in good musical shape. They've shaken the rust off and I can see them playing off of one another here and there, goofing around. Having fun. And that warms my heart, more than the access, more than talking to the band, more than getting to stand behind the barricades, more than getting to sit and eat dinner with them... I'm happiest most that they're happy again.

On the satellite stage, at soundcheck
There's a point in the middle of the sound check, when the band is practicing one of their acoustic songs, and they all walk out onto the little satellite stage, and sit down, and Kai calls out to me. “Hey Cliff,” he says, then he tells me that when he wrote this particular song, “When God Goes Home,” the lyrics felt just as relevant then as they do now. 

“There are mad dogs in our governments / With dollar bills and guns in hands /Building walls then knock'em down / First destroy then buy the town / They write the book of history / With lots of blood and misery / Every page is drowned in red / Sleep well in your bed...”

You can see why they're particularly poignant now. He'll tell a variation of the same story to the crowds, in German, over the next few nights, but at the soundcheck, it feels like it's just for me.

Kai's had hip surgery not too long ago, so he heads out part way through the soundcheck, so he can rest up and be tip top for the next three nights, but the rest of the guys hang around to push through some more songs. I notice that Christof isn't smoking on stage, which sort of amazes me. The last time I saw the band, it seemed like Christof had three cigarettes going simultaneously at all times. In fact, apparently he even had the nickname “Piff Puff” for the longest time. When Thorsten comes out to chat after the soundcheck, I point out how surprised I am, and I'm told that Christof has given up smoking, mostly given up drinking, no more drugs... and now he's doing, of all things, yoga. I shit you not, I would've paid good money to see Christof doing yoga, but I know it's true because I see someone chiming in on one of his Facebook posts not long after that they were missing him at yoga class.

After all the rest of the band has taken off, Christof is still wandering around on stage with an acoustic guitar, simply enjoying the space, noodling and playing snippets of melody. When we're about to leave, I tell him how proud I am that he quit smoking, that my father smoked for half a century and I know it can be a bitch of a habit to kick. He tells me that sometimes his left hand wants to reach for a cigarette, but his right hand slaps it down, and keeps him good. But he admits it's been good for him, and I suspect it's been good for the band as well. I tell him not to stay up too late – tomorrow, they're back in front of an audience.