There had been talk of international touring on the strength of the Guns ‘n' Roses fame since almost the moment Duff McKagan and I started playing together. While it seemed like a no-brainer, and I was certain it COULD happen, if I had learned one lesson in the music business it was: until you have an itinerary, all you have is talk - no matter WHAT echelon you're swimming in.
A couple years earlier I had had my proverbial "Major label nightmare story" cherry popped. Green Apple Quick Step had been given a release date by Columbia Records for the band's FINISHED third record. We were flown to Los Angeles to make a full production video. The record's first single would be included on the I Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack. Then we were flown to New York to play for a room full of booking agents, and flown back to Los Angeles to play the premier of the movie. Soon, we saw our video (my sole appearance) on MTV. The machine was behind us, grinding out opportunities.
Then one day we met with our management. They weren't satisfied with the label's commitment to properly promote the record. They had pulled the record from the label and would get the band another deal ...
Then, of course, the music industry fired half of its employees, and that was the end of that. The band fell apart a few months later.
So when Duff would say, "Duuude, we can go to South America and make some DOUGH!!" it was certainly a cup I would drink from were it presented to me, but I wasn't going to become intoxicated by its mere existence.
Duff and I started playing together in 1999 as the band Loaded. By the time our first international itinerary was placed in my hands, it had been two and a half years. We had played with almost as many musicians as months had passed. I never had trouble finding guys (or girls) to get on stage with us when we would put shows together to pay for plane rides back and forth from Los Angeles (where I had relocated to in 2000). However, at the time we confirmed our first international dates, the lineup that would perform said dates had yet to ever be in the same room together.
There we were, booked onto the (very) Japanese equivalent of Lollapalooza, called FIRE WIRE - a seven-city tour. Two extremely popular domestic Japanese bands (J and Zilch) would be supported first by Loaded (for four dates) and later by The Cult and (Sex Pistols guitarist) Steve Jones.
The most recent Loaded line up had included Dave Dederer on bass. He had been involved, on and off, for as long as I had. He wouldn't be making the trip. Other than that the starting squad would remain the same, with Mike Squires on lead guitar and producer/engineer Martin Feveyear on samples, keyboards and percussion. BUT we were going to need a bass player.
Duff played the bass on the Dark Days record. He's pretty good. I ran through the mental checklist of what someone was going to have to be to play bass out in the real world behind Duff McKagan:
"Must have chops." "Pro gear and own transpo," "hair and attitude a must, and "no flakes." I knew who I WANTED to do it, it would just depend on weather he was available.
Getting to call a buddy you've known for a dozen years and always wanted to play with to tell him, if he wants, he can come along as we fly business class (!!!) to Japan was a pretty cool feeling. There are very few obstacles in our business that should stand in the way of going to Japan supporting a guy from Guns ‘n' Roses. For Jeff Rouse, apparently, there were none. He was in.
I wasn't entirely sure of the sized venues we'd be playing, but it seemed like a good idea to get us together on stage a few times before we presented ourselves to the people who were going to be mentioning (and writing about) us in the same breath with Duff's previous, world-famous, three-ringed circus of a day job.
So I booked a few warm up shows - all shitholes. Or, at best (in the case of The Sunset Tavern), in the "great dive bar" category. We would play The Planet Hot Rod in Fife, The Sunset Tavern in Ballard and The Lakepoint Tavern in Kenmore.
None of these "venues" had a capacity above 200. That number would be cut in half if it were the fire marshal asking. But they did have at least partial stages and two of the three even had working PAs when we arrived on our slated days to perform.
I think it was just those three shows, then off to Japan
The plane ride and everything leading up to us walking out onto the dark stage in a sold-out NK HALL in Tokyo is a full story to be told at another time.
Bands that regularly play sold-out arenas and stadiums with enormous stages will rehearse on an enormous stage before for performing, preparing for their rabid, drunk, eaten-from-the-inside-out-with-anticipation, loose-their-fool-minds-when-the-house-lights-FINALLY-go-down fans.
There is a good reason.
It's the difference between shooting baskets in your driveway with your buddy and playing five-on-five, full court on the hardwoods, with buzzers, cheer leaders, score keepers and a guy doing play-by-play for the folks at home - all in front of more people than you may have met in your entire life up to that point.
It's the show. They only make stages so big. Without rehearsal on such a stage, it is IMPOSSIBLE to foresee how your chosen group of guys will react, acclimate, and convey with that much space between each other.
You can't hear what you normally hear. You hear things you've never heard before. Some times you can't even SEE your band mates. Try that one on for size.
Just before we left our dressing room and started the long walk towards how we would come to define ourselves as a band, Duff gave not so much a pep talk, as a cliff notes reading - like a down hill ski racer that had taken an early run and was now filling his team mates in on course conditions and what to watch for.
The thing that sticks out in my mind was his talk about, "Lets make sure our spacing is good, right?"
He wasn't kidding.
Check out the video below and you will see the exact opposite of what we saw when the lights came up. It was the summit. It was the top of our world. We had reached the peak. It was nothing short of breathtaking. But in the excitement of GETTING to the top, most forget that if you're going to perish, it's usually on the decent...
Drummer Geoff Reading - who writes the bi-weekly online column Wednesday Reading - has played music in tons of Northwest bands - Green Apple Quick Step, New American Shame, Top Heavy Crush and most recently Duff McKagan's LOADED - to name but a few. He's toured the world several times over, sharing stages with the likes of Slipknot, The Cult, Buckcherry, Korn, Journey, The Sex Pistols, Nine Inch Nails and on and on. He has called Tacoma home since 2005, and lives in the North End with his wife and son.