Balmorhea Tour Diary, Part 5

Hamburg

Balmorhea recently returned from a month-long trip through mainland Europe and the U.K., a tour that provided the group with some of its most memorable experiences to date. Fortunately for us, band member Michael Muller was kind enough to jot down his impressions and share a few photos of the journey with MAGNET. Read our Q&A with him. View more images from this tour on Balmorhea’s Tumblr page and Muller’s personal blog.

Hamburg, Germany, April 21
A lovely gig at the Haus III&70 in Hamburg. During the show, we heard echoes of American accents, and to our amusement in the crowd were some Americans. Philly band A Sunny Day In Glasgow had a day off in Hamburg and made it out to our show. They were quite lovely people, and it was so very nice to speak our mother tongue at a normal rate. After swapping tour tales, we loaded the van and had a short walk to our apartment, where a 12-hour sleep took hold. As the sun rose high above the city, we made our way back to the venue for a breakfast in the cafe. This was much anticipated since our first stop by Haus III&70 last spring. The venue also houses a lovely mascot: an old wobbly dog named Lisa (complete with leather harness), who joined us beneath the breakfast table.

Just a short drive to Bornsen, Germany awaited us for a day off and a private concert and dinner party in the home of Nils’ father, Klaus (a renowned architectural photographer). His immense old farmhouse had been passed down from generations and held more than 20 rooms in its massive structure. A maze of small work rooms and offices held all varieties of treasures and remnants from the past as well as some high-tech photography and computer gear for Mr. Frahm’s business. We spent a good hour exploring the array of rooms and knick-knacks before jaunting out to the nearby forest for an adventure through Nils’ childhood playground. We hopped over creeks and picked up lichened sticks along the path in the immaculate woods.

Upon our return to the home, we set up our instruments and had a brief soundcheck for our mostly acoustic set before reclining in the garden with an assortment of pastries and coffee crafted in old antique Italian percolators. For the dinner, Mr. Frahm was making two massive pots of soup, one cream of asparugus and one cream of pumpkin for the 30 some-odd guests. Shortly thereafter, the onslaught of guests starting trickling in, a full barrage of important-type people ranging from architects to archivists to designers to editors to musicians. We all sat at different tables strewn throughout the ground floor before crowding around Mr. Frahm’s recently restored Bechstein grand piano. After the concert, which was by far the most intimate we may have ever performed, we got to know the guests and our new friends. At just after 2 a.m., we all parted ways for our room of choice, each with the cool spring German country breeze parting the panes.

With just two more shows on this tour and en route to Leuven, Belgium, I find myself jotting down this entry longhand in a small journal for slight bumps on the Autobahn. This tour has indeed been the best we’ve had the joy to venture on, full of interesting people, foods and culture. It will be hard to wait six more months before we return to this continent. Thank you for reading and for caring about music. We’ll see you soon.

Balmorhea Tour Diary, Part 4

Paris

Balmorhea recently returned from a month-long trip through mainland Europe and the U.K., a tour that provided the group with some of its most memorable experiences to date. Fortunately for us, band member Michael Muller was kind enough to jot down his impressions and share a few photos of the journey with MAGNET. Read our Q&A with him. View more images from this tour on Balmorhea’s Tumblr page and Muller’s personal blog.

Paris, France, April 14
The U.K.: a rough week (save Edinburgh) of long drives, traffic, road closings and ferries. We were happy to be back in mainland Europe via the tunnel for two nights in Paris. As a godsend, the promoter’s friend Marco put us up in his loft in the 19th arrondissement for both of our nights in the city. Marco’s flat was brimming with musical instruments from around the world as well as a well-stocked music collection of CDs and LPs.

Night one we played a normal gig in small room just around the corner from Marco’s called Espace B. Between Nils having come down with a cold and the non-existent parking for our long van, nerves were a bit thin upon load-in. The show ended up sounding great and was even filmed and photographed by a friend of ours who we’ve worked with in the past. However, it was strangely the smallest crowd of the entire tour.

After a 30-minute walk back from the odd parking spot we found, we retired for what would end up being a full 12 hours of sleep. Internet catch-up, laundry, many croissants, fromage and percolated coffee filled the day in Paris very quickly before our strenuous parking search in the city center. Sitting through dozens of light changes at each intersection, we easily spent a good hour-and-a-half in the distance of approximately two miles. After being told the Louvre had high clearance, we realized the 80 Euro per hour wasn’t worth it. After reversing out of the enormous garage and braving the rush hour again, a light from heaven shown down on a loading spot that opened up. It was right in front of the building where we were to play and film for a La Blogotheque program called Soirées De Poche in the 3rd arrondissement.

The performance space was a narrow setting in the lobby of an artistic office space, which was jam-packed with art books and fashion periodicals. After setting up and getting all the levels and camera crew settled, we popped into a lovely little bistro on the corner for a nice mix of salads, cheeses, meats and wines by sight of candlelight upon the smoothed wooden tables. The waitstaff looked like they were in a photo shoot as did the patrons lounging with their perfect hair.

In just a short time, we returned to the performance space to find it crammed with nicely dressed folks waiting to enter. Nils played a short set before we went on for two sets bridged by an intermission. After an energetic encore, we finished the night embracing our new Blogotheque friends and made our way back to the 19th via the now-empty Parisian avenues.

An early rise found us trudging through two hours of morning rush-hour traffic to start what would end up being a nine-hour journey to the heart of Switzerland, where we would spend four days to about our first day off, one that we all were anxious to reach.

Balmorhea Tour Diary, Part 3

Edinburgh

Balmorhea recently returned from a month-long trip through mainland Europe and the U.K., a tour that provided the group with some of its most memorable experiences to date. Fortunately for us, band member Michael Muller was kind enough to jot down his impressions and share a few photos of the journey with MAGNET. Read our Q&A with him. View more images from this tour on Balmorhea’s Tumblr page and Muller’s personal blog.

Edinburgh, Scotland, April 10
Proceeding a couple of long days of overcrowded, narrow London streets and too many round-a-bouts to keep track of, we sauntered up the isle of Britain to the picturesque beacon that is the Scottish capitol of Edinburgh. We were to play as the performance to an exhibition closing called The Thrill Of It All by English artist Peter Liversidge at the illustrious Ingleby Gallery. Liversidge himself invited us to perform in the immaculate space he had crafted surrounded by his lovely “Proposals,” each of which is basically a glorified to-do list that is typed and framed meticulously.

On this oddly sunny day, we lumbered down the ancient cobbled street under Calton Hill and an age-old castle to pull into the “car park” (as the Brits call parking lots) of the starkly and cleanly designed Ingleby Gallery. The music was to be on the second floor, and the stage area was speckled with trees arrayed between the sets of clean, white gallery walls. Alan Sparhawk (of Low) and his Retribution Gospel Choir also recently played here as part of the exhibition.

Peter, the artist and our host, arrived in a dapper suit with his wife, two young boys and his parents to greet us. Such a lovely picture of an artistic and musical family in contrast to the run-of-the-mill concert promoter. The exhibit closing was exquisite and turned out to be highly attended. The crowd respectfully sat in silence during our set in this beautiful space.

Afterward, a group of 25 of us, with all the gallery staff and adjoining friends, strolled over to what we were told was the best Indian food in town. Many naans and masalas later, we took a long walk through a park and arrived at Peter’s cousin’s flat, where we settled for the night. After a much-needed repose, we were greeted and escorted by the Liversidge family to his aunt’s home for a brunch of fresh salmon from the North Sea, toasts, coffee and juices. After several rounds of each, we had a lively mid-day stroll up to the highest point in Edinburgh: Calton Hill. Cascading with private gardens and residences, the hill is strewn with old ruins and features a complete panoramic view of the city and the Eastern coast line.

Peter and his wife showed us so much kindness. They are both artists, she being a painter by trade. Collectively, they have had showings or exhibits in Barcelona, NYC, London and even Hong Kong, amongst others. After parting ways, we loaded up for a short drive to Glasgow for our second-to-last show in the U.K. before heading south to Paris.

Balmorhea Tour Diary, Part 2

Amsterdam

Balmorhea recently returned from a month-long trip through mainland Europe and the U.K., a tour that provided the group with some of its most memorable experiences to date. Fortunately for us, band member Michael Muller was kind enough to jot down his impressions and share a few photos of the journey with MAGNET. Read our Q&A with him. View more images from this tour on Balmorhea’s Tumblr page and Muller’s personal blog.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 6
It was the day after Easter Sunday, and in The Netherlands, the Monday following Easter is a holiday as well. We left early to arrive for what would be a holiday matinee show. Having stayed in a charming B&B last night, we had a short drive to Department Of Eagles‘ first record as a soundtrack en route to the renowned Paradiso venue in the heart of the red-light and marijuana capitol of Europe. We did a radio in-studio performance last year but hadn’t had a proper show in Amsterdam yet. Paradiso is an enormous ex-church sitting on the banks of one of the main canals of the city. “Soli Deo Gloria” spans the arch above the stage in the big room. On the opposite side of the building is a very nice and intimate smaller room where we were to play with a nice 100-plus seated capacity atop old, creaky wooden floorbeams. We helped the stage hands cart the piano into place, and after nearly getting lost in the labyrinth of backstage dressing rooms and corridors, we found fruit and sandwiches waiting for us after our soundcheck.

I snuck quietly back into the concert room to watch Nils’ set and found no seat empty, with the collective mass of concert-goers sitting in silence. I took a seat by the merch table, removed my glasses and closed my eyes, transported by Nils’ best set yet. Rob Lowe (pianist of Balmorhea) joined Nils for a four-handed duet, which was a very nice treat. Paradiso had the best sound for any venue on this tour. For Balmorhea’s set, the crowd sweetly applauded us to an encore, and we got to spend a good amount of time post-show speaking with our new Dutch friends, including Machinefabriek (who contributed a remix to our All Is Wild, All Is Silent Remix double LP in 2009). One group of people said they travelled more than two hours to see our set, which is always humbling to hear.

After load-out, we made our way to the hotel, which could’ve possibly had the steepest staircase known to man. It also had a good-sized cat, whom we were told was named Boy; he took stock of us by aptly smelling all our bags. After dropping our bags in our respective rooms, we walked to the city center and all kind of went our own way for dinner. Andrew Hernandez (our studio and traveling live sound engineer) and I coupled up and ended getting some American fare at a pretty touristy spot. An hour or two later, we met up with the rest of the group and walked back to the hotel via the meandering canals and narrow cobblestone streets.

I am writing this sitting up in bed listening to the new release by Mark McGuire. Tomorrow morning, we will do a VPRO radio session and drive west to Gent, Belgium. Aside from Switzerland, The Netherlands has once again proven to be a top choice for stops on tour. Everything just seems to have such a clean and organized aesthetic in its design and architecture. Aside from having monumentally more bikes per capita than cars, the Dutch speak better English than most non-English-speaking countries.

We are now almost a week into tour and thrilled for two Belgian shows before a week-long U.K. stint. Travis Chapman (bassist for Balmorhea) is a self-proclaimed beer aficionado and is especially eager for the Belgian libation offerings. Our last show in Gent (which was the final performance of our last EU tour this past October) was a sold-out show packed with lovely people, and we have high hopes of a similar experience this time round as well.

Balmorhea Tour Diary, Part 1

Berlin

Balmorhea recently returned from a month-long trip through mainland Europe and the U.K., a tour that provided the group with some of its most memorable experiences to date. Fortunately for us, band member Michael Muller was kind enough to jot down his impressions and share a few photos of the journey with MAGNET. Read our Q&A with him. View more images from this tour on Balmorhea’s Tumblr page and Muller’s personal blog.

Berlin, Germany, April 2
In the culturally diverse mecca of former East Germany, we begin a 27-day tour of EU & the U.K. Supporting the entire tour is our dear friend (engineer and pianist) Nils Frahm. This, the first entry of our journal, finds us on night two of the tour in Berlin, Nils’ hometown. The venue is the newly reconstructed Magnet in the Kreuzberg neighborhood just off the Spree River. On the other side of the river stands a portion of the Berlin Wall, now a tourist spot complete with commissioned murals from artists. On the adjacent riverside lies the newly sprouting spring grass atop of which people sit in the late-afternoon sun, slowly nursing their ice creams.

We arrived a bit early and went for a walk with our friend (and lovely musician) Greg Haines, who opened for us on the first night in Hannover. Greg is from the U.K. but now resides in Berlin, so his local expertise lent itself to being a tour guide for the nearby sights and Turkish bakery we visited. On the walk, we also ran into Icelandic friends Kira Kira and her flatmate, Elín Hansdóttir (noted artist and actress of the Noi fame). Upon arrival back to the venue, we were greeted by Nils and his vintage Yamaha CP-70—all 250 pounds of it. Big hugs ensued before soundchecks. We’d played with Nils twice in 2009 in Germany and have kept in close contact.

Magnet is multi-leveled with many rooms and several different bar areas. A nice smattering of breads, cheeses and fruit garnished the backstage as we caught up with a decent Wi-Fi signal. A few of us took a short walk with Greg to a pizza shop down the street. Two large square slices of mozzarella, tomato and arugula with a hand-tossed crust aptly hit the spot before we arrived back at the venue to find the doors open and concert room packed to the gills, sitting on the floor in reverence for the quiet ensuing set of Nils. I am always taken aback by an audience acting in such a quiet and gentle regard within the midst of a black-walled traditional rock venue. We took the stage about an hour later and played some new songs from Constellations with a good finish on the note of a new song that is yet-to-be-named. We were applauded to a double-encore, which was quite humbling and a good note to begin a tour on. Murmurings of song titles thick with a German accent were rising from around the crowd and were embraced as a very flattering sound. We ended the night with a group of friends, meeting at a bar around the corner called Wendel, where we talked and laughed until almost 2 a.m. After that, we trekked a good number of blocks on foot to our hotel. A solid sleep followed with hopes of annihilating any remnants of jet lag.

In the morning, after a walk back to the van, which was still parked at the venue, we picked up Nils at his flat and his girlfriend, our former touring cellist and good friend, Heather Broderick (also of Efterklang). We had a nice brunch in the sunshine at a cafe in the Wedding neighborhood. The brunch orders were all similar ensembles of a large piece of toast topped with scrambled eggs, mushrooms, cheese, tomatoes and arugula. (Yes, I think arugula fits in any fare!) After dropping Heather off at the train station for her reuniting with Efterkland in Copenhagen to begin their EU tour, we meandered out of Berlin, heading north to the Eastern Sea and the city of Rostock for show number three. The sun was shining, Bibio was playing in the van, and people were  already napping with mouths agape. Welcome to tour.