venerdì 22 aprile 2011

American Tour Diary: Blog 5 - St Louis to Meramec Caves

Fri 11th March 2011
Location: St Louis, Missouri

Arrive in St Louis around 4pm and head to our hotel to freshen up. My Tour Manager Keef decides not to have a shave. After his speeding warning this morning I have noticed a slight change in him. This inconsequential brush with the law, combined with a throwaway comment made by a shop assistant that he looks a little like Ryan Reynolds seems to have gone to his head a little and he has been walking around all day with a swagger and confidence not too dissimilar to that of James Bond. I have a feeling we will hear more from him later in the tour.

Tonight we play Cicero’s. Sound check is uneventful. For the first time in the tour though one thing is becoming apparent - night after night of relentless gigs and shenanigans are finally catching up with us. We are due onstage at 10pm, and by 9pm, unbeknownst to the fans inside the venue we have crawled off to the car park and all fallen asleep inside the tour van. Fifty - five minutes later and we are rudely awoken by the intrusively banal alarm tone of my iPhone. I have a handprint on my face where I fell asleep and I am due onstage in five minutes. As you can probably tell, I am extremely particular about my pre-show preparations.

The gig itself goes surprisingly well. I Debut new song “I Don’t Believe You, Alison” and chat with fans afterwards, saying hello to everyone who has made the journey to Missouri. 11.38pm and we resume our horizontal positions back inside the tour van in the parking lot.

Sat 12th March 2011
Location: St Louis, Missouri

Spend the day walking around St. Louis and take a trip to the famous St. Louis arch. It’s absolutely huge and well worth a visit. Have the evening off so decide to embrace American culture to it’s fullest and go ten-pin bowling. Can’t remember who won..

Sun 13th March 2011
Location: St Louis, Missouri to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Long, long, long drive to Oklahoma City from St Louis. Along the way we keep seeing a billboard for Meramec Caves. This doesn’t appear too interesting at first as none of us have ever heard of it before, but by the fourteenth signpost we are becoming more than a little intrigued. “Come visit the amazing Meramec Caves! You will not be disappointed!”, “Meramec Caves – Jessie James world famous hideout!”, “Meramec Caves – You have to see it to believe it!”. After seeing these advertisements for the best part of two hours, by the time we reach the exit we feel like no trip to the USA would actually be complete without visiting these caves and it is a done deal. We are now extremely excited that we were fortunate enough to pass by one of the wonders of the world completely by accident and pull into the parking lot with camera’s at the ready.

We each part with 20 bucks and approach the caves wide eyed under the close supervision of our group’s tour guide Amanda. Amanda is wearing a tight khaki safari outfit with a little scarf reminiscent of something I used to wear in the boy scouts. She also has a whistle around her neck. I wonder what use the whistle could possibly be down here. Surely a torch would be more effective?

It is an eerie feeling descending into caves as old as the Earth, and anticipation is high as we wonder out loud what secrets they may hold. The first thing we are shown is a large 20ft pendulum that was installed by a bunch of school kids in the 1960s. Notable because there are only two like it in the world. And also because it doesn’t work. Not a great start but I am still excited because Jessie James allegedly used this place as his hideout, and I like cowboys. I am sure that this little exhibit must just be an appetite wetter and tension builder for the history steeped goodies to come. Next stop in our 6 billion year old cavern is a tiny little hole next to a concrete walkway, which was allegedly used as part of a TV program 10 years ago. A married couple apparently spent a week here in a tent and were filmed doing so, or something. It’s awesome stuff, and Amanda sounds particularly proud as she regales her script with monotone robotic expressiveness.

Next we enter the Jessie James cave. This will justify the $20 entry fee, I am sure of it. We enter the room and Amanda flicks a light switch. In front of us and cordoned off by a security rope is a cardboard cutout of Jessie James and his equally famous brother Frank holding a shovel. Jessie’s leg is falling off slightly and they both have shocked expressions on their faces. Perhaps they too cannot believe we have just paid $20 for this.  Amanda begins, “Jessie James and his brother were once chased into this cave by a band of lawmen in the 1870s. They promptly escaped by diving into one of its many underground streams and swimming to their safety. I can tell some of you are very excited so I will pause for ten minutes so you can all pose for photographs and savor this part of the tour...”

I look around. It’s a cave. A very dark cave. With a shabby cardboard cutout about 3ft tall illuminated by a light bulb hanging directly above it. We are standing on a manmade concrete walkway. I wonder just how authentic this tour actually is. Did Jessie James actually stand 3 feet tall with a partially severed left leg? Why did he need to carry a big shovel into a cave when he was on the run trying to escape from the police? I feel slightly duped. Even more depressing is the fact that people are actually posing for pictures. I turn to Keef to make a joke out of the situation but he is no longer next to me. Instead he is now standing in line behind a bunch of school children patiently waiting his turn to take a picture. I guess like the school children, he too wants to remember this day forever.

After another hour or so of misery, we are lead into the largest cave of them all for our finale. Amanda tells us that this final cavern is called “The Theatre”. This raises my hopes slightly. Could it be that by sheer fluke of nature this cave actually resembles some kind of Shakespearian stage, surrounded and curtained by a glittering array of stalactites? Close, but no, it is actually named thus on account of it’s square concreted area, plastic seating and littering of metallic handrails. It even has wheelchair access. So nice to see such history remaining unchanged for so many millions of years and preserved in it’s natural state.

We take our seats. In front of us hang a multitude of stalactites about 50ft high and 30ft wide. They are impressive. Apparently they grow about a cm every 100 years. A bit like Orlando Bloom’s facial hair. Amanda takes her place on a podium with a switchboard in front of her. “So this is now the moment y’all been waiting for. Our world famous audio visual light display…” I consider pyrotechnics for a brief second, and then curse myself for being an idiot. Pyrotechnics would actually be quite cool, and somehow I doubt Disney feel very threatened by what we are about to witness. She presses play on her iPod Nano and “God Bless America” begins to fill the “auditorium”, then with a large clink she flicks a light switch and a gigantic red beam illuminates the stalactites.

What happens next we are utterly dumbfounded by. The ensuing display of human talent and dedication I am confident will live with each one of us till the end of our days. It had crossed my mind that we would be watching a computerized light display timed to coincide with the aforementioned song, but we are thrown completely off guard when Amanda lurches forward into action and begins to flick light switches at will to coincide with the changing music. Slowly at first she caresses each switch with her fingers throwing a different shade of light onto the spikes in front of us, each switch making an extremely audible clunk like the triggering of a sample on a drum machine. Gradually though she begins to pick up the pace, flicking the switches right then left, moving up to two hands, faster and faster with pure effortlessness. It is beautiful, like watching Fred Astaire skip from toe to toe at the height of his career, or witnessing Van Gogh gently dabbing the finishing touches to his Sunflowers.

“CLUNK! CLICK! CLICK! CLUNK!” The sounds of the switchboard are now so loud that they are drowning out the music. Amanda’s hands are now a complete blur and her face a sweaty mass of concentration, tongue aggressively poking out of her mouth to one side. The stalactites shimmer as they are swathed in heavenly gleams of jumping light. It seems possible that smoke will emanate from Amanda’s fingers at any second, as we each continue to stare in disbelief at the rainbow strobe lighted Fantasia-esque display flashing in front of us. Timed to complete perfection, it is truly magical.

An old man in front of us begins to shake vigorously. At first I fear some kind of epilepsy attack, but as he stands to his feet it becomes apparent that he is actually clapping and cheering as loud as he can. The people around him jump to their feet whooping and hollering, and before we know it we are on our feet too, mouths slightly open in amazement. It was awesome. It was our Meramec moment, and once again America does not disappoint us. We wait our turn to congratulate Amanda on our way out of the theatre and ask her if she will sign our programs. She obliges us, though our time with her is brief as she tends to other fans and then quickly disappears back into her dressing room, probably to compose herself for her next performance/tour. My US tour has reached a new peak. Meramec Caves. Next week we head to SxSW Festival in Austin. It has a tough act to follow. LMD.

Thanks Lee for giving us the details of your US Tour!

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