The Riot Before
Contributed by ben_conoley, Posted by Say-10 Dispatches

Tonight's Dispatch comes courtesy of Richmond, Virginia's The Riot Before who have just returned from their first tour of Europe. In today's episode, vocalist/guitarist Brett Adams talks about, amongst other things, Poland.

I awoke when the van decelerated slightly and gently pulled from the highway into the parking lot of a vacant rest stop. My tired mind struggled with simple math, the 6 hour subtraction that I had used the last few days to justify my fatigue. "In Richmond it is… and that’s why I’m so tired." Three days into the tour my body still wasn’t buying this new time of day I was selling it. I opened the front passenger-side door to the van. An empty plastic bottle fell to the ground and hit with a familiar descending donk, donk, donk, ddd . I was in Poland. I had to piss.

Here are the things I knew about Poland prior to crossing its western border: in Eastern Europe, formerly communist, something about the start of WWII, Greenpoint Brooklyn, those delicious hot dogs they sell out front of Costco for $1.50. What I knew in regard to the first two mostly involved an image of a dark and imposing statue of a dictator in a city square, maybe there’s a tank, and the sky is always that sort of gray the Weakerthans can’t stop singing about. Or I pictured outdated fighter jets in disrepair sitting idly on runways, with weeds growing through cracks in the asphalt, all lit by the languid light of the same sky as before. Granted, I did know that the Soviet Union had been dismantled since about the same time Reading Rainbow stopped being my major source of news and entertainment, but I had no idea what had taken place since, and so nothing of substance had really supplanted those previous images. It turns out (shockingly?) a lot has changed since Geordi La Forge read me a story about the Berlin Wall[1]. But it would take a few hours before I would gladly retire those outdated notions of Poland, and so as I stood next to the parked van eating a sandwich[2], I looked past emphatically green rolling hills bathed in brilliant sunshine unencumbered by a cloudless sky, and selectively searched for evidences of distant authoritarian times I knew nothing about.

We soon resumed our long drive to Krakow, and while passing rustic looking nuclear power plants and small rural villages where the color of stone seemed to shine through the paint that covered most walls, a dark blue Lamborghini sped by at a velocity that restored my hope in exotic car owners,[3] and augured well for a Poland I had not anticipated.

After arriving at the venue some three hours later, we realized we were actually a bit early and took the opportunity to explore the surrounding city a bit. Narrow cobblestone streets cut canyons between three-story stone and brick buildings, and then opened up into a city square whose grandeur and resplendence I was not prepared for in the least. The massive square (which I’d later learn was the largest in Europe) was bordered by busy cafes and beautiful, very old churches whose architecture was, for lack of better terminology, totally bad ass and like, pointy with spires and monsters and shit. I’m tempted to call it gothic, but since I know nothing about architecture, I’m worried that I would be egregiously wrong and then John Ruskin’s ghost would kick my ass. According to the official webpage of Krakow, it is "a city wrapped in legend, where time flows differently, and where every moment becomes a moment of history." After spending 20 minutes there that description suddenly seemed devoid of hyperbole.

Next we headed to eat dinner at the house of the show’s promoter, Tom. We were greeted warmly by his parents and sat down to a delicious meal. His father turned out to be as funny as he was friendly. After asking us if we all liked his wife’s cooking, which we did, he responded, "Good, cause I don’t." Later when Tom’s mom commented in Polish regarding an interest in Freddy’s tattoos, Tom’s father casually told Freddy to "Get undressed, show my wife everything." After we ate he treated to a musical performance on a Casio keyboard. It. Was. Phenomenal. At that point there didn’t even need to be a show. We could have just got in the van and drove away and my review of our time in Krakow would have been glowing.

After dinner we headed back to the venue, which if in the U.S. I would describe as "like an underground dungeon," but since we were in Poland the "like" in that sentence seems superfluous. It probably at one time was an actual underground dungeon. It looked like something I’d walk through while waiting in line at Disneyland except that every time I touched the walls they revealed themselves to be real stone and not that fake stuff Imagineers put everywhere. While already extremely impressed with how Poland was turning out, there was a part of me that expected the show to be just ok. After all, the first two shows of tour had been great and I just wasn’t used to playing well attended shows on a regular basis. I felt like I had bet on black at roulette, had won twice in a row, and now expected the next roll to land on red. I assumed that we would play to a mostly empty bar and balance would be restored before long-standing precedent was too disrupted. These assumptions were also based on the fact that Krakow was one of the few cities on this tour that Death is Not Glamorous had never played before, and we didn’t have their past experience to guide us as to what to expect. But then the room started filling up and yet again I happily watched my assumptions begin to crumble. I didn’t know what to believe anymore, and I was glad. Halfway through the opening band’s set I escaped to a back room to warm up my voice, change into last night’s sweaty shirt, and expect my expectations to be exceeded.

We opened the set with the first song from our most recent record because that’s what we’ve been doing for pretty much the last 100 shows, and like I always say, change is for political slogans and bums[4]. It’s a slower paced song that sort of builds and gives me the opportunity to showcase my ability to mess up while playing only one single note on the guitar at a time, which I do (mess up) with a frequency so seemingly implausible it’s near heroic. The crowd was understandably still while I struggled with guitar 101, and at this point the part of me that expects crowds to act like a molecular reenactment of absolute zero started to mouth "I told you so," but then was dramatically cut off and shut up the instant we started Threat Level Midnight.

Have you ever been in a traffic jam and just wished that everyone at the exact same time would take their foot off the brake and floor it, rather than wait for the car in front to wait for the car in front to wait for the car a hundred cars down the road to move? A lot of times crowds at shows act like backed up traffic in that everyone seems to wait for someone else to give the cue that it’s time to get moving around. But in Krakow it felt like there was a coordinated stepping on the accelerator the instant our first fast-paced song was played. The crowd simultaneously erupted in energy. With fists in the air a shocking number of people rushed the mic to sing along, others danced, and a constant stream of people jumped from the stage into the enthusiastic crowd below. I had set the mic up on the floor, which is S.O.P. for the majority of our shows, but tonight the crowd was so crazy that by the second song—after the mic had been inadvertently slammed into my face for the twentieth time, and I began to think less about the show and more about the skills of Polish dentists, specifically their ability to replace broken front teeth—I escaped to relative safety of the narrow stage behind me about the time Jon was hoisted into the crowd. Not long after, he was followed by Cory, and then during the next song a few kids rushed the stage and threw me into upheld hands.

I could go on forever describing this show but I’ll stop by saying that it was amazing; by far the best, most fun show we’ve ever played. It firmly cemented Poland, specifically Krakow, as a place never to miss, to return to as soon as possible. After we finished I stood on the periphery of the crowd and watch DING play a phenomenal set to a mass possessing a limitless sort of energy that if bottled would easily put Red Bull out of business.

When the show ended and we loaded our gear up winding steps and out of the humid basement into warm, spring night air. I was still feeling quite a high from the show and was determined to eschew sleep for as long as I could. Being in Europe had restored a Thoreau like zeal to suck out all the marrow of life, and Poland, having already impressed me so much, seemed to justify in advance the next day’s hangover and fatigue. Freddy, Jon, and Mathias (DING’s bass player and representative partier) felt the same, and so we joined some kids from the show for a late night on the town. We grabbed some cheap beers at a grocery store and hung out under a bridge next to a river about a quarter mile from Wawel Castle. After watching some videos I recorded that night, it’s pretty clear that the castle made a huge impression on me[5]. Having grown up in California where the oldest buildings have been standing at most a century or two, I was constantly astonished to be looking at something that represented the center part of a world history textbook; and the juxtaposition of drinking a beer under a bridge next to the thousand year old former residence of a king never ceased to amaze and entertain me. My brain ran a repeated "I’m in Poland, that’s a castle, this is amazing!" An hour later we walked by the castle on the way to a club, took a picture next to a dragon, and then Jon, who had just enjoyed a few delicious beers, took a piss on the castle wall. I haven’t known Jon for more than a couple years but I think it’s safe to say that this is the most punk thing Jon has ever done in his life[6].

We left the castle behind and made our way to a club filled with people and dance music and strobe lights. In the states I avoid places like this like the plague, but in Poland, apparently, I love them. A lot. I danced like I’d never danced before. At the bar Freddy ordered two shooters for himself and Jon[7] and, much to their delight, was given two trays of six shots each. And in stereotypical fashion, so far one of the only stereotypes that actually held up as true, it was incredibly cheap to drink. The whole night cost less than $10.

A few hours later we stumbled out into the early dawn and took a twenty minute train ride out of town to where the rest of our bands’ members had long been asleep. The night had been so full of fun that I hadn’t even considered whether or not I was tired. Like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff but not falling until he realizes that there is no longer ground beneath his feet, the silence of the train gave us all plenty of time to contemplate and then crash into just how tired we were. Nearly nothing was said, instead all energy was focussed on staying just awake enough to walk home from our stop. We sat slouched, heavy and still on those plastic benches that are ubiquitous on public transportation worldwide. When our stop finally arrived we walked the few blocks to the apartment in silence, the dark black sky revealing a light blue and orange along its eastern edge. After ascending three flights of stairs and making my way into a generous stranger’s home, I grabbed an unused pillow from a nearby couch and fell asleep on the wood floor. Still wearing the clothes I had worn that day. One of the best days of my life.

[1] Not in Poland I know. But in my head anything east of West Germany was pretty much the same thing. Kinda like when you refer to Pomona, Long Beach, and Fullerton as Los Angeles.
[2] Contents of the sandwich had been purchased that morning at a grocery store from a woman behind a butcher counter who didn’t really know English but luckily understood pointing and thumbs ups and "what is good?" We ended up with variety of delicious mystery meats, including one sort of sausage that had cheese INSIDE OF IT! Holy shit right!? That’s brilliant! It was like the Pert Plus of meat!
[3] As a child I was obsessed with exotic cars. My walls were adorned with posters of Porches, Ferraris, and, my favorite, Lamborghinis. I spent a sizable amount of time memorizing acceleration and horsepower statistics. My obsession waned as I got older but never died, and there is always a small rebirth of my childhood every time I see some absurdly expensive sports car. Even when I was trying to be "punk" (I failed at this) I could never bring myself to regard a Ferrari as anything but bad ass. I used to see exotic cars all over town when I lived in Santa Barbara, but never one driving in anything but first or second gear, which made me feel kinda like how that one sappy animal rights commercial with Sarah McLaglen wants me to feel. Sing "Arms of the Angels" while showing sad pics of a caged McLaren, and I’ll donate my last dollar to free it. All that said, seeing this Lambo fly by was kinda like when the whale at the end of Free Willy jumps over the rock wall into the open ocean. It was like finding out that the Santa at your mall is the real one.
[4] I never say this.
[5] In one video in particular, my castle to every other word ratio was approximately 1:4. (the other 4 mostly being: the, is, fucking, and awesome.)
[6] Take that, the monarchy!
[7] Jon can drink more than pretty much anyone I know, but despite his ability to hold his whiskey, has a strange affinity for sweet, fruity shots.