Every tour must have a low point. There are scientific and linguistic/logical principles that insist upon this. And so, Swindon. For fans of the ”The Office” (the real one — not the gutted, unwatchable U.S. imitation) Swindon is the nearby rival to Ricky Gervais’s Slough paper products branch office. In the real Swindon, a ten story gray 70’s office building with most of its windows shattered rises as a sort of town centerpiece. It was built to replace a handsome old brick college building, but the modern experiment failed.
As low points go, this one is higher than most. Perched atop the town’s steepest hill, stands a cool little pub, The Beehive. As we wind through tightly parked cars up the narrow residential road, it begins to look familiar. Two story row houses packed together with bay windows and garages below. You’d think it was Potrero Hill if you didn’t know better. Six years have fogged our already foggy memories. As we walk in Paul wonders, was it kind of a bummer playing here last time? Maybe. Rob remembers the little dramatic video we shot here entitled “Exeunt Pub.” That was fun, right? Maybe the Beehive has changed. Or maybe we have. Perhaps our expectations have risen a bit for the places we expect to play. And that’s a good thing.
But we’re country rock soldiers, people. A funky pub is not going to get us down. We know how to deal with this. Paul and Marc get to work setting up the sad P.A. and backline. We all swallow hard as we discover the meager money deal. The accommodations are stinky sofas scattered in the flat above the bar. Now, we’ll sleep just about anywhere, and have, but this is beyond our funk limit, mostly because of the cigarette butts filling the large ashtrays scattered about. Rob and Victoria hit the streets and luckily find a cheap and very cool B&B a short walk away. Whew.
Brightened by the newfound digs, the band takes position and digs into the first set. The gig is okay, could have been worse. Paul overcomes his recurring sullen fit about the backline amp, tonight a giant Traynor with the tone of a, well, Traynor. There’s a group of bearded hippie types gathered near the front. Thank god, the Deadheads have arrived! There’s even a tapir. An Irishman in the front row seems to be singing along. We’ll later learn he skipped work to be at this show, a fan made six years ago on a night not unlike this one. These gigs are the ones that turn you into a band. While some of the crowd would obviously prefer Stevie Ray Vaughn tunes, we find our most innovative and free rock sound of the tour. Victoria plays a rock solid train beat that fits perfectly with all our two beats. But in her drummer’s heart of hearts she’s a groovy melodic indie rock drummer. We turn each song into a jam, Paul turns his overdrive to 11 to disengage Traynor tone. We rock, stretching songs way out. The crowd responds. They’ve been waiting for some action and the action has arrived. The night ends well, the kind owner flowing us a generous bar tab. So it’s a wash, not bad for a low point. Good night, Swindon!
We amble down the road to The Swan B&B. We hang in the Doten-Waller suite watching British game shows, drinking tea, and smoking our first joint of the tour out the window. Finally, someone has hooked up the band–thank you, intriguing mysterious cowboy in Leicester. And it’s actually not bad stuff, even for these spoiled California stoners. We set our alarms for the early free breakfast. That’s the trick of the B&B. You’ve got to be able to get up for that breakfast no matter what. Marc rises first. Then Rob. They knock on the slumbering couple’s door. Shocked and dismayed, they too muster. Bacon. Orange juice. Tea. Cereal. The morning is gray. We are in England. The end of our tour is here, a tour which has, as we suspected it would, passed in a flash. Prepared as we were, we’re a little bewildered and hurt. It’s over? We’re not ready for it to be over. But the end is nigh. Flashes of harsh desert air, desiccating chapparal, billboards and reckless driving on vast freeways intrude into the soft green vistas before us as we motor east toward London, windshield wipers clicking hypnotically.