Saturday, May 14, 2011

$4 curry and the best band in the world

The big day rolled around, and after finally finding the motivation I left my bed for the last time and began to pack what was left of my room into my backpack. A few t-shirts, two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, socks, jocks, camera, computer, book and enough toiletries to make Esquire magazine proud. My skateboard is attached to my bag, my guitar is in my left hand and my hat sits on my head. It's everything I need and more. Much more actually. It's a backbreaking weight, and by the end of the next six weeks I'll look like Quasimodo.

Back breaking weight or not, I still had to sort out my room and get it tidy enough to get set free before my 2:15 bus. There were trips across campus, seeing people off, signing out, eating whenever I could and finally, towards the bus stop.

I sat at Haigis Mall bus stop for the final time and was joined by Perla, Joe and Dicky Peach. When I finally checked my bus ticket I noticed that it was 2:15 from Springfield to Boston, and 1PM from Amherst to Springfield. Shit. The next one wasn't until 3PM, and while I was happy enough to have a few more minutes in Amherst, I felt bad for missing a bus ride with a number of friends - including Ollie, the great elf. I never got a proper chance to say bye, and knowing that a bit of laziness on my part stopped me from getting another 3 hours of his Northern English banter was not easy to take.

Still, when my bus finally arrived I was alone at the bus stop. I threw my bag under the bus, grabbed a seat on my own and put Frightened Rabbit on my headphones. I remember Michael messaging me about how sad his bus trip leaving UMass was. We'd seen the same small towns together as the bus travelled through the five college area, and  we both remarked about what the tiny town we had signed up for was all about. Now it was my turn to traverse through these towns for the final time. Only I wasn't upset about it.

Amherst was good to me, and the people I met were great. No doubt I'll miss it and them a great deal. There were guys who would have me in agony after laughing too hard, and girls so amazing it would keep me up at night - that's not something that you let go of immediately. It's already been two days, and when I'm reminded of particular people it is somewhat disheartening to think that I won't be able to tell them about it in person. Still, it's no time to look back with sad eyes. That moment I stepped on the bus I put my student life on hiatus, and for the next six weeks I'll be a tourist. There's no better way to get over the blues than by running away.

When my bus finally did make it to Boston I grabbed a train out on the green line to the studenty part of town. Having not checked my bus times, I also had not checked the hostel's address or how to get there. Randomly, I jumped off a stop on the green line and after a 20 minute stroll past an Indian restaurant selling $4 vegan curry I found the place.

It was decked out with double beds, and while I was excited about the prospect about my first night alone in a double bed since May, I was jubilant about the prospect of $4 curry. I did my best to reacquaint myself to one of the other guys in my room, but when he refused to shake my hand and told he was going out with some locals, I went away on my todd.

The curry show was about three blocks from the hostel, and the walk there took me past a building called Bacon Chambers. On the corner of Harvard and Brighton is the Brighton Music Hall. I noticed that there was a large tour bus out the front, and after a quick glance at the poster on the wall I noticed that there was no band listed for the 12th. On I walked until I saw a bigger listing of the bands, and on that list the band playing tonight was Biffy Clyro. Holy fuck!

I didn't even see the price next to the name before I immediately barged in through the door. I went to the window, stuttered through the words "one for tonight please" and when the receipt came through requiring my signature my excitement got the better of me. Not only was I offering the worst piece of handwriting in my life, but I also got my name wrong. Better yet, when I got the customer copy of the receipt back it said $15. Again, holy fuck!

The show wasn't on for two hours, and my initial plans for a quick feed and a quiet night changed immediately. I was in a shirt from the day before that was absolutely reeking and I felt like a shower was long overdue - that was a problem for everyone else in the room though. Once I left the ticketing office Dicky Peach got a call, and I did my best to implore him to leave his bags behind and make run to the venue. He couldn't make it in time, such is the tyranny of public transport, but more heartbreaking for him, he also missed out on a cheap curry.

The $4 vegan curry was perfect. Really. But I absolutely scoffed it down in my excitement to see Biffy. It's not often the opportunity to see the best band in the world* catches you by surprise, but when it does, it's amazing.
*Not;, they're the best band in the world, but equal second best thing from Scotland as they're tied with Rangers FC. Mum is number one.

I got in just as the first band was finishing. They were local, and boy were they crap. Even in a world where a band like Creed exists, they were still horrible. The second where somehow worse. Every terrible rock cliche was on stage at the same time. There was the denim vested slicked back hair guy, the blazer, t-shirt and jeans guy, old-school ponytail shitty goatee guy, a drummer who looked like he'd glued a koala to his face, keyboard player girl and finally, leather jacket bandana wearing singer guy. The singer was like Jack Black, but funny because he didn't know the joke was on him the whole show. No word of a lie, there was a box of tissues on stage, of which I presume someone supplied for all the wank they provided. They were horrible, but I stood at the front of their set for 45 minutes knowing it was going to pay dividends in the end.

Finally, with some intro music playing and a without their shirts, Biffy Clyro grabbed their instruments and immediately set about destroying the eardrums of everyone in the room by playing 'The Captain'. The room wasn't exactly full, but when you're the best band in the world that doesn't seem to matter. You just play as hard as you can for 90 minutes, sweat like a boxer in the 15th and know that you've got the best job in the world.

I don't joke when I say they're the best band in the world. There's only three of them, but they make some sound. Technically, they're amazing. It's like watching virtuosos on stage who have been raised on a strict diet of punk-rock and Scottish banter. They graft as hard as any blue collar man and have the creativity any artist would envy.

Standing near the front, the only thing that separated me from the band was the row of speakers that were decimating my ears and shaking up my insides. It was beautiful. I was so close to the stage that not only could I see all the sweat pouring off Simon, I could feel it as it flew into the audience (gross). It was one of the loudest shows I've been to, and easily one of the best. To have such an event fall into my lap after the day I'd had was amazing.

The night typified what I'll miss about America when I leave. Never in Wollongong has a quick stroll brought me a gig with the greatest band in the world, whereas here, great shows seem to be happening all over the place.

I left Boston in the morning on a trip to Hyannis, the biggest city on Cape Cod. I sat on the bus, still thinking about the people I'd just said bye to and read Bukowski. On a solo trip quotes like "the greatest men are the most alone" are comfort in words, but taking advice from a man who worked in a post office for 20 years and drank himself to death might not be wise. Besides, I was just looking forward to the quietness and relaxation the Cape would provide.

I walked towards the harbour and was surprised to find my hostel directly across from it. The old wooden house typifies the Cape Cod image in my mind. It's like Edward Hopper is out the front with his easel putting his brush to canvas. I approached the front door to be greeted to a sign saying check-in time began at 5PM. Fuck. Another oversight, I was about three hours early and stuck in the sun with a ton of luggage.

Fortunately, on my exploration of the site I saw there was someone in the house and when they saw me lurking I was greeted enthusiastically by them. It turns out I was the first check-in of the season, and the only person staying there that night. Here I was, for $35 a night with a beautiful and newly renovated house that feels like it has come straight from the pages of a John Steinbeck novel all to myself.

I dumped my gear and immediately went for a walk around Hyannis' harbour which is a mix of tourist boats and fishing trawlers. It's still early in the season, so the boats were more static than usual, but I was absolutely loving being back by the water. Living in Amherst has been my longest stint away from the water, and even though the water here is still polar bear friendly, it was nice to be reacquainted with the ocean.

I headed towards the JFK memorial that was built because he spent so much time here. The fountain was switched off, but the view out into the bay is one worthy of a president. Next door is a Korean war monument, and for whatever reason a young pregnant woman was posing next to it in her bra. Another perfect moment of the American lunacy I've fallen in love with.

I walked all along the bay and onto a sandy beach where I was the only person around. 24 hours after I'd left UMass and had to say goodbye to a group of amazing people I stood alone on a breakwall with the sun beating down, staring out into the ocean with my ears still ringing from seeing the best band in the world. It was bliss, and exactly what I was looking for following the end of an amazing time at UMass. Already, things were coming up Milhouse, and even though I was on my own, this was the moment I'd come out to Cape Cod for.
These old birds eventually left me with two beaches all to myself.

I continued along the beach, past the crabs that had been picked apart by seagulls and all the broken shells that had washed up. The sun was doing its part and the wind blew softly enough to keep things cool. There was no rush to do anything but sit, relax and realise what a great time I've had, and how just beyond the horizon in the Atlantic is the further point on Earth from Australia (well it's nearer to Azores, but I'm trying to be poetic, and it's the same ocean). If I was looking for proof of how far I'd come, typically, it was just out of reach, and in need of a bit more work. It's a reason to move on, try harder and see that there is always something else in life to achieve.

With the house to myself and two staff for half the night, I finally found that moment of quiet I'd been after for a week or so. With the lights turned down, I sat by the window staring out at the boats in the harbour and finally got some writing done. I was living like a discount store Hemingway, and I loved it.

The sun that had been so kind lately disappeared today, and with my heart set on getting out onto the water, sending home my pea coat felt like such a poor idea. After walking around to the other side of the harbour and back, I found a converted steamboat that is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary this month. The boat did lapa out into Hyannisport, pointed out the Kennedy homes and other landmarks of the district.

Like the hostel, I was the only person on the boat until a few minutes before departure when two couples showed up. We left the dock and started to leave the bay. Immediately the wind picked up and cut right through my hoodie. A few years back I took a boat trip out on Loch Ness and was similarly inappropriately dressed. On that trip I met a lovely American girl who had grown up in a gated community in Saudi Arabia. Apart from the fact that she was the kind of pretty that would make any man jump into the freezing loch if she asked, she was also doing a law PHD and was incredibly sweet. I remember how the wind made me shake like never before, and that the only thing worse was the fact my nose was running but it was too cold to take my hands out of my pocket. She stayed chatting for the whole time, seeing past the fact that my hair was going everywhere, my nose was running and my eyes were beginning to water. When we returned to Edinburgh in the evening she waited for me to get off the bus just to say goodbye. The point is, I remember so much about that day, yet I still haven't learned how cold standing out on a boat can be. The day after in Scotland I went and bought a jacket. Today, I just froze.
Not even photoshopped
Freezing aside, going out on a boat again felt fantastic. There were bumps, lighthouses, homes I'd have to rob a few banks to be able to afford and a group of fisherman who had bravely walked out onto a broken breakwall. The tide had come up, and gaps in the wall were now underwater. It's the kind of fishing you do only if you have cajones the size of buoys.

With the boat trip over I went and checked out Main street. With a few good record and second hand book stores, the place surprised me with what it offered. There was even a cigar bar at one end of town that looked amazing, but without companions, I couldn't think of a worse place to be - watching sports, drinking spirits and smoking cigars is something best done with great company.
Bravery, a couple of hundred metres from the shore

Harry Morgans

The town itself is rather small, but with a decent mix of bars and restaurants it's easy to understand why it's such a famed weekender. It would have been real nice to see more of the area and head out to the islands, but the prices on ferry trips are like putting a vacuum cleaner into your wallet. Still, it's been the kind of break I was looking for after UMass, the frantic last week and the comedown from saying bye to people. The hostel has been great, and the privacy and quiet I've gotten is not something I'd usually associate with them. I've been making mac & cheese for dinner, drinking their tea and loved being so close to the water again. Now it's back to Boston, to see Dicky Peach, Alex and JLo. The reprieve has been nice, but I imagine things are going to downhill very quickly.  Ole!

Biffy Clyro
They are the best band in the world. I can't demonstrate that in one song, because that's not fair on all their other great tunes. Instead, I've tried to add a few live songs. I implore you to find out more about them, if they're playing anywhere near you sell a kidney or whatever it takes to watch them. All that blood in your piss will be worth it.


A Whole Child Ago:

Folding Stars:

Many of Horror:


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