MASTERMIND with FISH across the USA
By Bill Berends - July-August 1997
The saga continues...What a year 1997 was. As soon as we got home from Europe I was glued to the phone trying to catch up with my life and figure out the next step for the band. First up in June was opening the day for RUSH at the Camden E-Center in New Jersey which got us quite a bit of exposure, but that was already arranged before we left for the UK. The most surprising part of the day was seeing folks from the Orange gig in London at the show in Camden!! 'Err, dude, didn't I see you in London?!' Pretty cool.
Going back a bit now, if you've read the European tour stuff you'll know we met Fish at the CRS gig in Sheffield, England earlier in June. We seemed to hit it off and I learned from Fish that a mutual friend, Jim Pitulski (Roundtable Entertainment) was handling his tour in the States so naturally I called Jim when we got home to see what was up. The long and the short of it was we jumped on the tour with 20 dates coast to coast across the USA which was very cool and also very last minute!! We didn't even know all the dates until a few days before we took off, so there was little chance for any PR or announcements. I apologize to the folks who missed the shows, but what can you do? Seize the moment. As many of you may know, the USA is the toughest music market in the world, so this was a great opportunity and I'd again personally like to thank Jim Pitulski and Fish for making it happen for us. No, we didn't do the eastern Canadian leg of the tour as the Canadian promoters had already booked Canadian support acts, and we didn't do the Roxy show in LA because Jim had already committed to another band, but we took the music of Mastermind from Boston to San Francisco which may be our most ambitious undertaking to date. It was a lot of work, but I think it worth it.
I'm not really sure if more Fish fans or Mastermind fans will be reading this stuff, so forgive me for stating the obvious on occassion. I suppose the 'spin' will of course be more about how touring affected Mastermind, there are plenty of other Fish sites out there for the Freaks and Fish-heads, but I thought some of the behind the scenes touring type stuff would be interesting, especially for people who have never spent any time in a rock road show environment.
Road WarriorsThe tour kicked off in Pittsburgh and ended for us in Freemont CA at the prog friendly Club Kaos six weeks later. So much stuff happened in between I can't possibly relate all of it, so I'll try and stick to some of the more interesting anecdotes and observations. My first overall observation is America is a really BIG place!! Coming from the east coast those States out west are just incredibly huge by comparision, like countries all on their own! Driving across Germany takes less time than driving across Nevada!! There's a LOT of real estate out there, so we did a lot of driving!
We took to the highways in an extended Chevy van which fully loaded with stage gear had a full size matress laid across the top of my artistic pack job in the rear. Between that and a large bench seat in back we could comfortably seat two while two slept, so despite the low budget mode of transportion, we were pretty comfortable. Most nights we stayed in motels and did a lot of driving at night since it was summer and really hot most places, and a few nights we spent with friends which saved us a few bucks. It was the same team as the rest of the year's gigs, with Phil on bass and Art Dorety (our trusty road crew & soundman) we were a party of four. Pretty reasonable and it worked out well, we only needed two rooms a night, so expenses were low. That was the only way we could pull this off without any tour support from the label (yeah right... tour what?!). A lot of people thought we were crazy to attempt such an undertaking on our own, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I think we earned Fish's respect by PROVING we were crazy and met a lot of cool people along the way.
And we're off...The way the tour was laid out we had the opportunity to get it together in stages; first the mid-Atlantic States, next up through New England, then "go west young man...". A leisurely drive across the wooded mountains of Pennsylvania the day before the first show, a good motel night of beer & sleep, we got to the Graffiti in Pittsbugh several hours before Fish arrived. It was nice to see our name up on the marquee. Finally some recognition in our own country. A little while after we got in this crazy tattooed biker type burst into the room and started hollering for Fish! 'Who is this guy?' I thought. Well, it turned out to be "Doc" of Fish's Brother 52 fame and we seemed to hit it off with Doc right away! I guess being known as the 'biker prog' band and all that. Fish showed up shortly thereafter and seemed tired but in good spirits, we chatted briefly and they took to sorting out all their equipment problems as are usual on the first night of any tour. JJ Belle (guitarist) was the first member of Fish's band we met as he was first in and set up, but as the tour progressed we became pretty good friends with everyone on the tour. Fish and his guys are our kind of people, very real and all slightly crazy!
Pittsburgh went well for us, we sold a bunch of CD's (hawking the Live in Tokyo disc was our primary form of tour support) and it introduced our music to a lot of new people which is what it's all about. We're much more instrumental in nature than Fish's lyrical approach, so it seemed like a complementary pairing. Of course some hard core Fish fans (known as Freaks) weren't into what we do at all and there were some complaints about being too loud, but we got that under control after a bit. Hey, we're used to playing for a more hard rock type of audience for the most part, and die hard Fish fanatics who had waited 10 years to see their man in action didn't want to see ANY other band anyway. But at the end of the day we won over far more than we offended, and lot of people we spoke with had just come out to see Mastermind anyway since this was our first jaunt across the States, so I think it worked out well for everybody.
Philadelphia the way we saw it.
The second show in Philly was one of the highlights of the tour since it was our hometown show so to speak and it was a capacity crowd at the TLA. Philadelphia definitely rocks! We partied with Doc after our set and Adam Levin (of the Prog Pages fame) had come up to help us out with moving equipment. It was a great gig! DC the next night went well too although the staging was kind of weird, being so high up in the air it was quite a chore moving our shit on and off the stage. The Orion crew was out to give us a hand so that helped ease the work load a bit. Thanks guys! That night Mickey Simmonds (keyboards) from Fish's band shared our dressing room since quarters were a bit tight and we got to chatting about midi, hard disc recording, musician stuff, which was the beginning of a wonderful friendship, by the third night I think we had both begun to see the merits in each other's work. A funny little story, after our set in DC (and BEFORE Fish's set) somebody went up to Fish and told him "You guys were awesome" while later another guy shook Jim's hand telling him he was a great guitarist! Hehehe... I guess all tall maturing rock types look the same to kids these days. ;)
We got a few days off as one of the employees at Viceroy (Fish's US label) had arranged for his own band to open the NYC and NJ shows. Oh well, can't complain, it was the western gigs I really wanted anyway! Rich & I went to the show at Tramps in NYC anyway just to hang out where we met a couple of the guys from Dream Theater. Apparently Mike Portnoy is a big Fish fan, waving his fist in the air and mouthing along with the lyrics. It was nice to just have a chance to relax and watch the show without worring about equipment and logistics. It was the first time I really took in Fish's whole show and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had begun to recognize what it is people admire about him, he's quite a charismatic character and definitely has the crowd in the palm of his hand! There were some equipment problems that night, but Fish carried it solo for 15 or 20 minutes like a cross between a talk show host and a standup comedian. It was entertaining to say the least!
The next four dates went without a hitch, but Boston... the Paradise in Boston was definitely one of the highlights of the tour for us! We've done well with album sales there the past few years so there was a good contingency of Mastermind fans in the audience that night. Hollering out song titles, "'it's about f**king time you guys made it to Boston" and that sort of thing, it inspired us to really give it our best and that show will always stand out in my mind. Fish had a great night as well and I think it made up for the previous night's Strand Theater gig which was one of the low points of the tour. Not that it was a bad show, but the hall was pretty large and the audience just didn't fill it out. I enjoyed the Strand gig myself as we hit it off well with the Hell's Angels stage crew and spent hours telling jokes and swapping rock 'n' roll anecdotes with them. That biker prog thing again I guess.
By now everybody was getting along pretty well laughing and joking around a lot and the whole Fish gang was seemly obsessed with The Simpsons, so soundchecks and backstage was an amusing relentless non-stop series of D'OH! and WOOHOO's which kept everything pretty upbeat. By Poughkeepsie, Mickey had picked up on our ELP bits and started playing 'Trilogy' effortlessly on piano in soundcheck every day which was impressive, he's really a talented player. Fish seemed relaxed that particular day and they did some Frank Sinatra tunes and ELP's 'Take a Pebble' in soundcheck... if only I was a bootlegger! Those were some rare moments indeed. Squeeky (Dave Stewart, Fish's drummer) spent some time playing Rich's drum kit telling people "he taught me to play in only three lessons" and Fish seemed to enjoy hitting our gong. After the Poughkeepsie show we found Squeeky & Steve (Vantsis - Fish's bassist) thoroughly checking out our van saying it looked a lot more comfortable than their bus relating some amusing tales of how they couldn't sleep because of squealing brake pads and a certain bandmate's disqusting sexual habits. D'oh!
So things were going well for us, merchandise was keeping us afloat, we were all having a great time! What more could you ask for?! But after Boston Fish was off to Canada for a week so we went home to work out some details of the show as they trekked off to the great white north. The next show for us was Buffalo.
Middle AmericaThe week went by quickly and we were off to Buffalo. This was the "big" part of the tour since we'd be working our way all the way out to the west coast now, no stopping back home between gigs, so there was a little apprehension about making it the whole way. Even the drive to Buffalo seemed quite far, let alone Vancouver! But we were up for it so off we went. I don't know what happened up in Canada, but the Fishy crew seemed pretty happy to see us when we showed up at the Tralf (or Tralfamador from Kurt Vonnegut, which as far as I could tell was primarily a jazz venue). Were the support acts in Canada that bad? I don't know, but it was nice to feel like they missed us.
As I mentioned we spent some time working on keeping our stage volume (unnaturally) low and it seemed to pay off with Fish's crowd. We were very well received in Buffalo and it was a good show even though for a moment I didn't think it was going to happen!! On the week off I had re-tubed my Marshall with these Russian tubes everyone raves about and as soon as I got it on stage it started blowing fuses! Fuck!! As the room was filling up I was sticking the old tubes back in my amp. Luckily they worked OK and we got throught the show without a hitch, but I would continue to be plagued by tube problems for the rest of the tour. Not anything anyone could hear, just an intermittent tendency to blow fuses which kind of kept me on a edge a bit. Luckily it never popped a fuse during any of our sets.
The Tralfamador, Buffalo, NY
After the gig we were invited back to a local biker bar called Max's to party with the owner Fred and his wife, and party we did! They were lining up shots of Old Number Seven all night long!! Good people. It's a good thing Phil doesn't drink or we may have never left the place! But in the wee hours of the morning we set off for the next gig in Michigan. We had decided to stay at a central spot in Ohio for a few days so we knew we'd have a hotel bed to sleep in every night.
Of the mid-west shows the real highlights were The Odeon in Cleveland, and Park West in Chicago. I'm not sure why everyone seems to make fun of Cleveland, but the place really rocks and the inner harbor area is quite a party zone!! There were a lot of people who knew our material there as a real raucous cheer went up when I announced 'Brainstorm' and we were pumped up to a pretty high intensity. Despite the local newspaper review (calling us a cross between UK and Iron Maiden as if delivering the ultimate fatal insult) it was a good gig. All the shows were good gigs actually, just some of them were very special. The Park West gig was really great as the audience seemed totally pumped, the cheering and hollering perhaps the most vigorous of the whole tour. Fish put on perhaps his best show here as well. The Windy City is cool, we gotta get back out there sometime!
On the other side of the coin the Intersection in Grand Rapids was another low point. It was more of a little bar with insufficient stage space (no gong or 2nd floor tom at this one) and no monitors and no dressing room. A swill filled hallway to load in through (a puddle of green stench), I know Fish wasn't too happy with the place! But, the audience was still very enthusiastic and the barmaids were wonderful! In Pontiac there was this little hallway we loaded off stage into that apparently was between fire doors or something and I got locked in and had to pound on the door until someone let me out, that was pretty weird. Good show though. Shank Hall in Milwaukee was a good night too. Apparently the venue is named after the hall in 'This is Spinal Tap' with little Stonehenge type arches everywhere. Pretty amusing. Ludlows in Ohio was another good gig with wonderful hospitality from the women who ran the venue. All in all this whole part of the country seemed pretty receptive to the type of music we play and I hope to get back out that way again soon.
Rocky Mountain HighWe had decided to drive straight through to Denver after the Chicago show to have a little time to hang out in Rocky Mountain country, I had never been out there before and I wanted to be sure I had some time to experience real mountains! Rotating drivers made it possible to keep moving 24 hours a day and the night drive across Iowa was spectacular as the heavens put on a truly impressive lightening display. I drifted off to sleep with visions of tornadoes dancing in my head. Luckily we didn't encounter any severe weather on the entire tour. By the time I woke up we were in Nebraska somewhere and it was my turn to drive.
Once you get into Nebraska there sure is a lot of nothing! The speed limits are 75 mph and we spent much of the time with the speedometer needle buried on the high side... who knows how fast we were going, 90 mph or more easily. Just like the Autobahn except the trucks are much larger. Pulling into Denver was a bit strange, you drive and drive through all this nothingness, then all of a sudden there is a city of gleaming glass towers just there in the middle of nowhere. We checked into a high rise hotel and proceeded to go right to sleep in wonderfully soft hotel beds while gorgeously intense lightening jumped between the clouds and the Rockys loomed just off in the distance. Very cool.
The next day I bumped into JJ in the lobby and was pleasantly surprised to learn Fish was staying in the same hotel, they had come in late that previous night. I told him we were going driving around in the mountains since it was a day off and he and Mickey asked if they could come along. Of course we said they could. Fish was feeling a bit ill and just stayed in his room for a few days. Phil went to a baseball game with Mike (the character assassin, Fish's monitor guy), and I don't know what everybody else was doing. We (Rich, Mickey, JJ, Art & I) went off to Buffalo Bill's grave site, and after struggling our way up some rather steep mountain roads which at times were quite frightening, spent most of the day walking around, taking pictures (meet cowboy Mickey, the rootin' tootin' gunslinger from... Surrey!), and marveling at the view from the mountain tops. You could see all of Denver and most of the rest of the State of Colorado it seems! Back down the mountain and then driving around town a bit to check things out, we spent the rest of the night in the hotel bar.
The Denver show was at the Bluebird Theater the next day which we were told is on the "bad" side of town. Well, if that's the bad side of town, I'll take it! Nothing like the sleazy urban decay we're used to on the east coast, I didn't feel like I needed to be looking over my shoulder every time I stepped out into the street. I'm starting to think everywhere in the civilized world is better than New Jersey. Anyway, we were a bit concerned about the mile high lack of oxygen thing we'd heard about, but we went ahead and played a good set without it, however I did notice some tingling in my finger tips and a slight tendency to space out. Later on I took a few hits off Fish's oxygen tank and you could definitely notice the difference!! Your skin came back to life! Denver was a good gig I thought, the audience was very appreciative, and the Fish boys were messing with us big time during our set. The theater itself was rather steeply inclined and in the back was the merchandising area which you could see clearly from the stage. Squeeky, Andy (Fish sound), JJ, Dave (Fish merchandise) and others were back there holding up signs saying "YOU SUCK" and "TOO LOUD" which, once they caught my eye, cracked me up and I lost my train of thought completely. Later on I told Andy 'you made me play a weird note' to which he replied "all your notes are weird" which thoroughly amused me. We were always telling Andy his mixes sucked (a compliment), and by now goofiness was sort of setting in for everyone, maybe it was a lack of oxygen, but spirits were high all the way around.
A handsome bunch!
After our set we partied with Doc (again) back in his camper, unknowingly this would be the last time I would see him as he ended up having some problems of his own. My last sight of Doc was him waving and blowing his horn as his busted up blue camper headed off in the exact opposite direction we were all going. Good luck Doc! Anyway, the next part of the tour would be the most intense for us and we set off for Vancouver directly after the show at the Bluebird. Westward ho!!
©1998 Bill Berends. May be reproduced in whole or in part with inclusion of this copyright notice.