Day 4 – "Fuck My Ass!" the group of girls in the front row kept chanting.
I forced myself out of bed at 9:30 so’s I could catch the free breakfast buffet downstairs and still have time to find some bottled water to brush my teeth with. Soon after, we all piled into the van for our much-too-long ride to The Matrix in Belo Horizante. Our trek included no less than 20 repeat plays of both Toque Toque and Guitar Wolf. By the time one was finished the gang would cheer in a chorus of hoorays and ole’s, followed by a rousing AAAAAAaaaaaay! as soon as the song would begin again.
"Singa da song!" Breck de Rato would yell, and so ensued another gang-chorus of the song.
I’m learning that just about anything here in Brasil can become a chorus. Anyone who watches Latin futball knows the chorus I’m talking about. It is the same monotoned pitch the crowds thunder whether there is a foul, a fight or a gooooaaaaal. It’s a the same note of a car engine just after it passes over into the red, and the yelling carries with it the same intensity and passion. But it doesn’t take sports or music to bring on a deafening choral chant. For example:
"Does anyone else have to go to the bathroom?"
The trip passed slowly and hotly. No particularly exciting scenery and no particularly diverse music selection. In fact, there was two choices of music (take a guess…). We hit a lot of stop signs giving the false impression of having arrived somewhere but ultimately they just slowed us down. Nino was in full force though, obviously charged by the oppressive heat. He acts like he doesn’t understand English but he seemed to understand Karoline pretty well when she closed her eyes and screamed "Shut the fuck up!"
About the time it turned dark, a collective hunger surfaced. We were told "a few minutes more" every few minutes for the better part of two hours. Our first stop was supposed to be someone’s house where a supposed feast awaited us, along with our directions to the venue. Directions to the guy’s house would have been more helpful.
When we did finally reach the house, Mozine ran inside then ran back out saying, "Guys, we are fucking late for the show," putting emphasis on the ‘fucking’ rather than the ‘late.’
Fifteen hungry people grumbled foodlessly all the way to the club. On the way, Discarga reminisced about the last time they played The Matrix. As they told it, a gaggle of drunk punks fought to get in free, citing the door price was too high (too high, of course, after they spent all their money on beer). They were repeatedly denied entry and grew more restless as the night wore on. Fearing a riot, the club let them all in where they took to patronizing Discarga for the noblest punk cause of all - not having the right patches. A riot broke out and guitars were broke, bottles flew, and Discarga shut their mouths and called it a night. The closing comment on the subject, agreed to by every non-gringo in the van, was that the kids in Belo Horizante were fucking crazy.
As luck would have it, they were right. We pulled up to a sea of teenagers making out, throwing beer bottles, pissing in the streets, fighting, and giving off an aura that Devon simply described as "feral." We grabbed our gear and headed inside, expecting to be descended upon like gazelles in a lion party.
In the Matrix backstage we found copious amounts of yummy, starchy, filling foods courtesy of the guys from Contrataque (not to be confused with Kontraattaque or Counterattack). It was so good Devon and I ate ourselves into a state of toilet emergency. A new friend ushered us past the doorless, TP-less puke-receptacle the club passed off as a baño and down the street to a crowded pork smorgasbord which was armed for such emergencies. On the way we walked passed by some transsexuals whom our toilet tour guide depreciatively refered to as "Trekos." In one of those priceless and poignant Crocodile Dundee/taming of the beast Acts Of Devon, the kid came to see the "Trekos" as just another subversive counterculture waging an assault on the dreaded status-quo, not unlike us punk rockers with our spiky hair and vegetarian diets and DIY records and gosh-awful tattoos.
Speaking of DIY, I have a soft spot for bootlegs. I enjoy fans making copies of music for other fans, and I love acquiring live (unauthorized) tapes of my favorite bands. Lots of the music we got as young punk rockers was from dubbed tapes passed on from who-knows-where. Nowadays, we send CDs out to people in other countries for the sole purpose of them making copies for their friends who will make copies for their friends who will make copies and so on…
Similarly, it’s pretty awesome to travel halfway around the world and find kids making their own shirts of your band. It’s very flattering to think that someone values you enough to bootleg you. Unless, of course, they are selling your bootlegs at the table next to you for cheaper, like the kids of Belo Horizante were doing. In almost ten years Devon and I have only once come back home from tour with more money than we spent before leaving. To reiterate, only once has a tour of ours made money. This is a labor of love and we have no fantasies about the budget ever balancing. This ‘loss’ of money is a given and an excepted fact and fortune and is made up for by experience and culture and friends. However, we still work hard to try and at least recoup some of our expenses, if only to be able to eat the next day.
So I say to any bootleggers out there: bootleg responsibly and respectfully, and please hold off on your bootlegging until after we’ve left town.
Contrataque were obviously the local favorites and the shared energy of the band and the crowd was fun to be a part of. Except when some drunk kid managed to start a fight involving the bouncers, the soundguys, and just about everyone else hanging out in the sidestage area. The tension lingered for a while but when Discarga played, rather than start another riot, the kids started dancing and having fun again. It was reassuring for us and we were poised to get our set rolling.
We set up behind what we wrongfully figured was just a pretentious stage curtain. It’s true function, however, was to shield us from the wild animals snarling and drooling and hurling solid objects and passing out drunk on the other side.
Our first rule when faced with a rabid, potentially dangerous audience is to beat them at their own game. As out of control as they act, we let loose ten-fold. If they make noise, we make more noise. If they spit on us, we spit on ourselves. If they look like they’re gonna beat us up, we beat ourselves up. And that’s what we did until we felt they understood what we were capable of. Unfortunately for me, this meant I got a couple of swift kicks to the face and chest from Devon which left some marks. But the point was made.
I took a chance in between songs to step to the mic for a little broken Portuguese.
"Hola," I said like a true gringo.
"HOLAAAAAAAAAA!!!" they shot back like true Brasillians, reminding me again of the car engine idling in the red.
"Todos," I continued and pointed to all 500-something of them, "Mis amigos, si?"
"AAAAAaaaaaaaaay!" they shouted back with their sweaty fists in the air.
Then I grabbed the (humongous) bouncer next to me – who had been taking endless beatings since we started – and dabbled in English, Portuguese and Spanish, "Tonight…mi amigo…e tu amigo, comprende?" I motioned again to everybody, the bouncers, the bands, the audience, "Tonight, todos amigos."
Another deafening chorus erupted and, like, the energy in the room went up another couple notches, man.
From that point on the audience drew little distinction between the stage and the floor. A constant wave of stage divers and guest singers washed across the stage. One kid who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds never left the stage. He jumped up, danced for a while, then every time he tried to jump back in the crowd they effortlessly spit him back onto the stage. Devon, Robert and I took a few opportunities to throw him back but he just wouldn’t go. At one point he staggered headlong into my guitar from all the way across the stage so I reached around him and played with him trapped between the guitar and me. He looked to Devon for help who happily obliged by freeing him and picking him up over his head, twirling him around, and finally body-dropping the kid across his bent knee.
The crowd was pretty out-of-hand by this point and they only seemed to be getting worse.
"Fuck My Ass!" the group of girls in the front row kept chanting. After one of our songs, one of them took the music-free minute to repeat, in a standard 2/2 time signature, "FUCK ME FUCK ME FUCK ME FUCK ME…"
As all Brasillians seem to be up for a good chant, her friends joined in enthusiastically. Us gringos marveled at their command of the English language, not sure if we should acknowledge them or ignore them and hope they went away. Before we had a chance to do either, the lead girl informed us we had a phone call. Continuing the tradition, the rest of the girls started chanting, "There’s someone on the phone for you." We asked who it was, but conventional call-and-response was no longer in effect.
The mob had taken over.
The lead girl got her friends to quiet down long enough to unleash what was going to be the mother of all chants…
"The book is on the table!"
Thoroughly confused, we watched as hundreds of kids began chanting "The book is on the table! The Book Is On The Table! THE BOOK IS ON THE TABLE!"
Our next song was announced as The Book Is On The Table and it was an instant hit. Since everyone knew the words they all sang along (or resigned to punching their neighbor in the face).
It was later pointed out that "The book is on the table" is the first thing every Brasillian learns in 3rd grade English class.
Zodiac Mindwarp once said groupies "gravitate in a lead singerly direction," but when our lead singer usually vanishes into his hoodie and dry shorts and glasses before the amps are even turned off, that theory becomes irrelevant. Throw in a bass player who is married to the roadie, a drummer who is inexplicably able to put out a "Don’t even bother" vibe before attention is even focused on him, and you are left with me: the guy who doesn’t try, doesn’t not try, and doesn’t know what to do in either event.
That said, I should also point out that this band (or any other band any of us have ever been in) isn’t exactly a groupie magnet, nor are any of us groupie-ee types. But then, Belo Horizante isn’t exactly your average town, nor is it very rife with predictable characters. That’s not a dis, mind you, merely an observation based on personal experience. [All You Can Eat played here in 1995 and we thought we were gonna get torn to shreds when the crowd rushed the stage in manner similar to what happened to Discarga. Only, instead of ripping into our flesh and tearing at our entrails they were just coming to unearth Myron’s skateboard, which they held high above their heads in awed reverence. When we started playing again the venue turned into a skatepark. Then a guy stole all my picks and someone else grabbed some of our clothes laying behind the amps, and they said they wouldn’t give them back unless we played a Beatles cover, a request that launched another chant ("Bea-tles! Bea-tles! Bea-tles!")]
Anyway, a tall, slender woman with a short denim skirt and a skin-tight, fringed Superman top approached me a few times while MDR were setting up. She spoke no English but she had no problem speaking Portuguese to me. I had no idea what she kept talking about, and I tried to make that obvious, but she didn’t seem to mind. She also didn’t seem to care that I was soaked to the bone with sweat, as shown during some pictures wherein she somehow made a seamless connection with my body from our feet to our necks.
I finished putting my stuff away and drying off backstage before coming back out to watch MDR from the side of the stage. Within a minute Supergirl was standing next to me whispering something in my ear. If you were standing next to a live band and someone whispered something in another language into your ear you’d probably be a little confused, maybe even oblivious that it was happening. But if that person also put their breasts on your arm and a hand on your butt you’d probably get the point. I did. I also got a kiss on the neck, a bite on the earlobe, a tongue in my ear, and the creeps. There were about 40 teenagers who had stopped watching the band and were now watching us. She whispered something again that could have been "The book is on the table" for all I knew, and then she bound off.
A few songs later Paulisto’s guitar rig started causing problems so I went to help troubleshoot. In between banging my fist on the amp and going to get another cable she came back and tried snuggling up again. I was obviously a little preoccupied trying to solve the guitar problem, and when we finally got it fixed she was gone again.
The remainder of the show went smoothly with no riots, no more fights, and a lot of bootleg WHN? shirt-buying. I heard some guy outside was selling vegan burgers for small change so I went looking for him and saw Paulisto walking hand-in-hand into the darkness with Supergirl. I was flattered for what attention she already gave and glad I didn’t make myself go through the awkwardness of making out with her just because the opportunity came up (so to speak).
Mozine found me and handed me a couple vegan burgers and we walked back to the van, ready for our all night trip to his hometown, Vila Vehla. We waited and waited but neither Breck nor Paulisto were anywhere to be seen. Max got bored and hauled out his skateboard and skated while the feral kids threw bottles into the street and vomited onto each other. Half-hour later everybody was suddenly present (Breck and Paulisto were blushing under Nino’s accusations as to their whereabouts) and we all hopped in the van positively giddy for another opportunity to sleep upright.
As we were pulling away Mozine panicked and jumped out. He came back 20 minutes later and said, "Fuck, man. I forget getting our money."
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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