March 30 1800 Central Standard Time: Last Crack and crew await boarding an Icelandair 757 at Minneapolis International Airport. To settle nerves some of the boys have taken to the bar and shot glass. Happy flights, next stop Iceland!
0630 Atlantic Standard Time: That's midnight for us Wisconsinites. Our day starts waking up at Iceland's Keflavik airport in need of transportation for our crew of nine plus gear to Reykjavik, Iceland's capitol forty-nine kilometers to the west. Reykjavik is about the size of Madison and harbors two thirds of the island nation's population.
An attempt was made to find the difference in cost between the bus and a rental car at the Hertz window when along comes a cab driver with an idea. Olafsson, the world's only Porsche taxi driver, tells us he's going to Reykjavik anyway so he'll give us a good deal. He also suggested we rent a one-way car for the rest of the gear and guys and just drop off the car in the city. Brilliant idea! He saved us some money right off the bat.
0800 AST: After an intense drive past kilometer after kilometer of moss covered lava, mountains and volcanoes, Olafsson drops us off at the club we're playing that night, The Grand Rokk.
Kalli, the owner, and his associate Jon (pronounced like yan but with a little yone in it) meet us and dole out cups of espresso by the dozens to the weary set of travelers, trapped in their lair. They tell us of Vikings, celtic lore and Icelandic customs, then take us to the guest rooms at the hotel Adam to meet host Ragnar and get some rest.
1000 AST: I can't sleep, way to much espresso in my blood, so my roommate Jared and I decide to walk the streets and hand out fliers for our shows at the Grand Rokk. Wind and rain can't stop us as we traverse the hilly, cobblestone streets of downtown Reykjavik.
Jared flew from LA to Boston to Iceland to hook up with us for the tour. I'm thinking he must really be a crazed fan, only to find out he was the infamous friend who gave the original Last Crack demo tape to Jake Wisely (Red Decibel) who then put it in Monte Connor's hands at Roadrunner records…. And the rest is history after that!
1800 AST: Our entire group of nine invade the local café down the street and order the same soup and bread combo to the surprise of the young girl behind the counter. Americans.
2200 AST: Iceland's Dark Harvest, an instrumental metal band, kicked off the show with a blistering set of songs that inspired our friend and crew member, Jeff Grieshammer, into a moshing frenzy. Gugli, the biggest Mastadon fan in the world, slammed through solos and growling rhythms on his Van Halen-esque Kramer guitar to bassist Matte's incredibly accurate and melodic tinkering on a 6-string bass which seemed like it had the widest neck I had ever seen. Christian, the madman on the double bass kit, looked like he had just arrived with Leif Erickson to kick some ass off the island -- Viking style!
2315 AST: One down, three to go, another night and one more show! You would think after traveling all night, running around Reykjavik all day and playing a show the following night, that we would be bushed and retreating to our hotel rooms. But this is Last Crack in Iceland, so nothing doing! Kalli and Jon keep our Murphy's and Heineken glasses full well into the morning, but before we go, Kalli instructs us to be ready for the next day's journey!
0400 AST: In Iceland, they party late, and as we stumble out to the cobblestone streets it seemed like the party just followed. In Reykjavik, you can walk with open bottles of alcohol so many of the “happy” local folk hoist bottles of beer or Black Death and we continue our merriment. More stumbling and we finally arrive at the hotel Adam. Sleep.
Friday, April 1, 1200 AST: April Fool's Day, it's time to wake up. Kalli has our vehicles waiting to take us away, and everyone is still sleeping. A quick knock on the doors gets everyone up quickly, no one wants to miss the Blue Lagoon!
1300 AST: Driving to the outskirts of Reykjavik we stop at a gas station next to a bay filled with fishing boats, trawlers and haulers of all sizes. We calculate that gas is about $8 per gallon and snicker about US gas prices. But in Iceland, heat, electricity and hot water are free, although the water has a tinge of rotten-egg smell from the sulfur, and the cars and trucks are all small and efficient.
1315 AST: Kalli and Jon take us to a special restaurant called the Viking Village. Decorated with Celtic trinkets, shields and lore, it is like a history lesson of the Vikings.
We gather around a table fit for a group of Vikings and each receive a shot glass filled by the owner with Black Death, a locally made liquor resembling moonshine. He says, in his Icelandic accented English with a hint of Russian tone, “Everyone does a shot of the Black Death or you wait outside!” Donny Bakken, Last Crack guitarist, made one of those funny faces he makes, and before he knew it, our host had a king-sized Viking-knife up to Don's throat with the Black Death bottle in his other hand repeating, “I said, Everyone does a shot of the Black Death or you wait outside.” Donny and the rest of us had little choice but to check our sobriety at the door.
We were then served an outstanding lunch of fresh, just off the boat, Icelandic Haddock, salad and mashed potatoes. An amazing plate of food I will not forget soon. After our feast, at Donny's request, our host pulled out a sheep's head, and no, I don't mean a fish! Somehow, Buddo took the right time for a bathroom break and missed being coerced like the rest of us to try a cube of the local delight neatly served from a toothpick bearing the Icelandic flag. Don wasn't brave enough to eat the eyeball, but came close.
1600 AST: After a 45 minute drive back towards the airport, we finally arrive at the fabled Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.com). In Keflavik there is a power plant that pumps super-heated seawater out of the ground to run turbines. The plant pipes hot water to Reyjavik and the surrounding fishing communities as well. The “waste” water from the plant is sulfur/mineral rich salt water that is very blue. It boils out on to the lava to form plenty of steam, rivers of boiling water and a salty white mud.
Along the way, Icelanders found out about the healing effects of the water and built a spa and cordoned off an area known as the Blue Lagoon. It is like a giant pond in the lava but it is hot like a hot tub. The closer you get to the source of heat, the hotter it gets to a temperature you can't stand. Patrons also rub the salty, white mud from the bottom of the lagoon onto their skin like a mud-pack. Relax, that's it, exfoliate.
We lounged around, soaking in our arctic paradise for a few hours until we were completely wrinkled. Our drummer Ski thinks we should shoot band photos in the water with mud on their faces. While I run in for dry clothes and a camera, the boys applied their mudpacks. Last Crack guitarist Paul “Pablo” Schluter set up small piles of mud on his head with lava rocks like cherries on top of ice cream. The Icelanders looked at us very strangely, they thought we were nuts. One woman in amazement asked, “in your hair?”
The Blue Lagoon is a surreal place. On a side note, just after our visit to the Blue Lagoon, Robert Plant flew to Iceland for a show in mid April and stopped for a Blue Lagoon visit after getting off the plane. I was just a few days away from being able to claim I showered naked with Led Zeppelin's singer…. I never give up on comedy.
1830 AST: Back to Reykjavik along the highway of lava, past the volcanoes towards the snow capped mountain range the outlines the view across the smokey bay. We stop at the Pearl of Reykjavik for a site seeing stop. The Pearl is dome-shaped museum that offers a great view of the entire city and bay of Reykjavik.
1930 AST: We make it back to the hotel in time to meet the Radio Reykjavik deejays, Arni and Bjarki who take Paul and myself to the station for an interview. RadioReykjavik.is is a broadcast and internet radio station. They support Last Crack, Muzzy Luctin and other regional bands from our area play them in their regular rotation. Arni and Bjarki are bringing Milwaukee band Rictus Grin to Iceland in June to play at our Icelandic home-away-from-home, The Grand Rokk (www.grandrokk.is).
On the way back to the venue, I ask if Led Zeppelin had ever played in Iceland. Their immediate answer was “the Immigrant Song was written about Iceland.” Pablo and I quickly start humming the song to recollect the lyrics. What a crazy place.
2200 AST: Almost showtime at the Grand Rokk and many patrons are showing up downstairs to start their evening drinking and playing Chess, the national sport. The crowd is up for another set of Dark Harvest and party in anticipation.
Saturday, April 2, 0000 AST: Last Crack performs to a great crowd of Icelanders. After a great set, we partied with the fans and clubbers. In Iceland, the “cheers” tradition is to raise your glass, and in your heartiest tone yell, “SKAL!” It comes from the Vikings using their enemy's skulls for drinking vessels.
0300 AST: Some of us head back to pack our gear, while others went to party in the famed clubs of Reykjavik, but by 05:30 AST everyone is packed into two taxis for a drive through the wind and snow 49 kilometers back to the Keflavik airport. We say our good byes to Ragnar, the hotel owner, Kalli and Jon and set off.
0700 AST: The time for rushing has ended, we made our trek back to the airport in time for our 07:30 AST flight to Amsterdam. Upon boarding the plane, I find that I have a window seat, Buddo is in the middle and Ski has the aisle seat. Ski is in rare form as he becomes Jim Carey in his sleep-deprived state. I didn't stop laughing for the entire flight as he played with a toddler in front of us and joked with the two Icelandic girls sitting with Donny behind us. No sleep though, and we land in Amsterdam at noon, 25 hours after we awoke to go on our Blue Lagoon journey and it hasn't ended yet.
1300 GMT: We arrive by free shuttle bus at the Etap hotel by the airport. We are in Holland to play the Headway Festival (www.headwayfestival.com) and many of the bands are staying at this hotel.
A moment later, we are welcomed to Holland by a tall Finlander named Minni, or we like to call him, Minni Toboggan. Minni greets us with many cans of Heineken that he's purchased from the beer machine in the lobby. After we get our rooms we decide to head downtown with Minni and explore the delights of Amsterdam.
Minni persuades us to take a taxi with a group of Turkish drivers that he's negotiated a deal with. We had a big group and two taxis were needed. We split into two groups and left in a BMW and Mercedes taxi on the most harrowing, nail-biting taxi ride ever! I remember looking over at the speedometer as we sped through a long tunnel and seeing 150kph. Donny and Minni were pretty shook up over the whole ride, and Donny used to drive a taxi… it was pretty scary but a lot of fun!.
1400 GMT: Into the city we go, hunting the Black Bear! The first place we came to was one of the many Bulldog Cafes. After sampling their Top 44 yield we moved on to explore our new surroundings. The goal was to find the Winston International, the club we were to play on the 4th of April.
But Amsterdam is a web of canals and streets where getting lost is a certainty. And if you're lost in Amsterdam, you will sooner or later end up in the Red Light District. Which isn't terrible. The “coolest” cafes are in that district including another of the Red Light's many Bulldog Cafes.
A good appetite prompted many of our crew to sample the “Space Muffins” and “Space Hot Chocolates” this time. I don't know how many we ate, but the directions said not to eat more than half to start off with. That's what we get for not reading directions. That ended our friend Minni's night, he was just too blasted to go on, so back he went by taxi to the hotel and left for Finland the next morning. We wouldn't see Minni again, that crazy Finlander!
We finally found the Winston International in the middle of the Red Light District and it was closed. As we stood in the alley pondering our next destination, a siren broke out and everyone hugged a building as a cop on a motorcycle raced down the alley doing about 60mph, followed by foot cops from all directions. There aren't many cops walking the beat, but there are cameras everywhere, so when something happens they converge like it's 9/11.
1900 GMT: At night is when the red lights turn on and the spiders of the canal's web turn their eyes to the flies. And our group of flies certainly couldn't keep their eyes off the enticing dreaminess of the spiders as the doors open and close in erotic rhythm.
2200 GMT: Having been up for nearly 36 hours and still in our stage clothes from Iceland, our crew finally started losing steam. I could almost hear them chanting like Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz, “Dinner, train, home. Dinner, train, home.”
Unfortunately, dinner was in the form of McDonalds and not wanting a McPita, I pulled my best imitation of Rachel Ray and ordered the special of the day from the outdoor café next door. The meal, fit for a king, came piping hot just as the Crackers were finishing their Filet-o-Fishes, a timely payback for their hasty decision.
I slept the whole way on the train from central station to Schipol airport. Such a smooth ride, I love the train.
0000 GMT 03 April: A quick shuttle from the airport to the hotel and it is time to sleep, real sleep, like a Viking, like Grendel the dragon. Big show tonight, the Headway Festival, we have the second to last slot before prog-metal legends, Fates Warning. Coming next month: Part II - Holland