June 15-21: Spain, Portugal, France
On Barcelona’s quiet streets on Sunday, bus driver Fred waved a baseball bat and scared off a couple who for some reason exited their car at a red light and approached the bus like tough guys, an interesting random event on a day filled with spare time. With time to kill, Jucifer drummer Edgar Livengood explained the Hillary Duff pin tagged on his hat. Without a hint of irony, Edgar just happens to be a big fan of the teen star. A really big fan.
So, with time to spare and shit to shoot, the bands found themselves chatting about their musical inspirations. The Jucifer folks have an exceptionally broad appreciation of music, and so does Steve Austin. For Steve, listening to Bono and U2 was one of the catalysts in deciding he wanted to pursue a career in music. As a matter of fact, about twenty years ago Steve was out one evening to catch a U2 set when he pulled over. He got out of his car, stood in the face of freezing wind and made his decision. He would then quit college and live for the Rock.
Addressing the Barcelona crowd that evening, Steve paid tribute to his eldest son, whose birthday he couldn’t attend because of the tour. He reflected on helping the doctor and his wife Hanna the day Hank was born. “After some careful pulling and tugging, he popped right out and it was the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of. I literally pulled my son into this world. With rays of light blasting in the room, it was the most spiritual thing I have ever seen or felt.”
Though he played Hellfest himself, TITD bassist John Judkins was a star-struck fan boy, bragging about claiming one of Paul Bostaph’s sticks (the former Forbidden, Slayer and Exodus drummer was there drumming with Testament), and taking pictures and meeting members of Carcass. At a fest of this caliber, metal “stars” are everywhere. While hunting for lunch, I overheard Impaled Nazarene’s Mika Luttinen screaming at the top of his lungs about transportation that hadn’t arrived. Events like Hellfest are like Disney World for metalheads.
The crew, especially ComFail, was in complete awe when hanging out with Morbid Angel at the end of the evening, with drummer Mike Rosswog’s enthusiasm forcing him to scream, “David Vincent” (Morbid Angel is a major influence on ComFail’s members). On many levels, several members of ComFail are self-loathing and self-negating. So the contrast was astonishing and humorous when Vincent found out their moniker was Complete Failure. The overtly confident man was shocked. “What?!? Why would you name your band that?” (A few days earlier in Lisbon, a dude in Portugal black metal band Corpus Christi approached them following their set. “Can I ask you one question? Why do you guys call yourselves Complete Failure? Because you’re far from it.”)
But, of course, the show itself was the main attraction. A 3,000-plus crowd enthusiastically cheered the TITD set at Hellfest, at the end of which Steve smashed his guitar in fine rock star form. The lineup including John and Rosswog was firing on all cylinders, definitely as powerful as any lineup that Steve has ever had. Steve was full of energy and anger, John stood tall and hammered the shit out of his bass, and Rosswog was the typical beast he is behind the kit. Together, they played a powerfully dynamic and evocative set.
Following the big Hellfest, we traded the hell bus for a van, and Jucifer left for the States where they were set to do more shooting for a movie that was being filmed about them.
June 22-29: Belgium, Switzerland, France
A few days off were spent at guitar tech Kevin Lerminiau’s mom’s place in Brussels. His mother made arrangements for Steve to visit the FN Herstal factory, one of the world’s largest firearms manufacturers that provides international military and law enforcement agencies with weapons and ammunition, a place that ordinarily doesn’t allow civilians. A gun fanatic if there ever was one, Steve had died and gone to heaven.
A great deal of time was spent unwinding and barbequing at Kevin’s mom’s house. Rosswog and Erik both jammed on an acoustic, making plans for their sophomore disc. Uncle Steve led the campfire-like story telling session in the backyard while wearing those classy Blasphemy shorts (years ago he apparently tried to drive over a crackhead following a sketchy drug deal. And when he and Seth Putnam were doing lines of heroin in the studio before Putnam cut some vocal parts for Sadness Will Prevail, Seth made snorting noises into the mic and almost directly into Steve’s ears while Steve was incapacitated for nearly an hour).
After the mid-tour vacation, a much needed break, there were only a couple of shows left. The one in Bern, Switzerland proved to be a tour highlight. It was at another commune-type venue, vast and dark inside with an open barn-like roof (at these leftist venues, we really had to do our best to tone down our collectively politically incorrect humor that was essentially prohibited there). The stars and planets were miraculously aligned that day, as the final guardian devil descended: Chris Spencer, Unsane’s frontman and Steve’s former labelmate during the AmRep days. He was in the area for the high school graduation of his Austrian girlfriend’s sister. He wanted to check out a show after that when he found out about the TITD gig. What are the odds?
A disturbing anecdote: a decade ago while Chris was walking the streets in Vienna one night, he was jumped by several men, savagely beaten even after he was unconscious, and nearly killed due to a lacerated small intestine. He had been wearing military pants and a Yankees cap. Did they assume he was a US soldier? Whatever the case may be, it was nothing less than belligerent anti-Americanism, and no different than extreme cases of coppers racially profiling and brutalizing. Despicable any way you look at it.
But at the show that will go down in infamy, TITD were especially intense, Chris Spencer joining onstage for an impromptu jam where TITD backed Steve singing along with Chris, who played some new riffs he’s been working on. They gelled together mellifluously and Steve came up with fitting and well-executed vocals off the cuff. A perfect way to end the tour.