With a heavy heart I pack up and join the posse to depart NZ for AU and eight more shows. The people of New Zealand have been uniformly engaging, friendly and happy. The unknown awaits.
At the Auckland airport Galen Henson, our tour manager, guides us through the maze. He’s there every moment, watching, heading off disaster, keeping everything moving. Unfortunately he could not control the replacement of a valve in engine number three of our Boeing 747, necessitating a three hour sit on the ground, tucked into our numbered seats and reading quietly. The repairs went smoothly and after a three hour flight we landed in Sydney, AU, walked onto a bus and drove for yet another three hours to Canberra, AU, the nation’s capitol. This purpose built urban settlement seemed benign enough when we arrived at 3am local time. I had a room with windows I could open despite dire warnings of blood sucking multi-legged, mandibled, misbegotten creatures feeding off the liquids in my brain as I slept. I woke at 6:30am to ghastly screeches and alien mating calls echoing in silent vastness. It was the local birds. Mentioning these sounds later to Joe he told me about calling hotel security on his first visit to this country because he heard someone surely being murdered across the street in the darkness. The hotel guard politely asked him to describe the sound. Joe did and the guard named the bird. Okay, so I’m not in Kansas anymore, surely, but the Australian equivalent of the American heartland sounds like a Darwinian cesspit of cannibalistic brutality. I sleep with the windows open anyway, trusting to my excellent luck so far.
Sound check that afternoon goes long because we’re fine-tuning a new (to us) Australian equipment back line. I get lucky, with a double stack of sweet hand-wired Ampeg SVT CLs which I encourage Jerry (our stage left tech) to wire together for maximum oomph. Much of our crew have been here since 6:30am, working with the locals to get everything dialed in.
We’re sound checking for an hour or more, which is rare for us.
After sound checks at every show Joe and Steve do a meet and greet for fans that want (and are willing to pay for) more than a live performance. Here attendees ask questions (“do you look at the neck when you play?” “what do you think about when you’re practicing?” “is there love in space?” “was the Zappa song about the ‘spanking’ a metaphor?”) which are handled deftly by the two. Participants also bring their guitars to be signed. Instruments with cases and without (some very expensive) litter the floor. The chemistry between Joe and Steve and their ability to be kind, engaging and funny with the questions and each other endears them to the crowd.
Meanwhile, the endless sound check continues. Steve Lukather whips the crew into shape, carefully going over everything twice. We’ve all been burned before so no one can begrudge him this.
Jeff Campitelli and Eric Valentine use different drum kits, provided by the manufacturer and set up on a low riser with casters for speedy set changes. Jeff always gets DW sets (this leg of the tour his set is a tasteful black pearl) and Eric is provided with Yamaha kits. I remark upon the cool purple color of Eric’s shells but he merely grins, offering that I’m kind to be so polite. To him and the crew it’s pink drums. Merciless ribbing, punning and outright slagging ensues.
I am continuously fascinated by the behind the scenes mechanics of creating a show. To my mind this is a daily miracle.
We typically have white athletic socks on the show rider but these are unique. Having never needed socks that can be pulled high on the thigh we speculate how they are worn. Added bonus: they’re “technical”.
The show goes well, not a sellout but close enough so as to make no odds. Directly after we are finished in Canberra we’re hustled into a bus for the three hour trip back to Sydney. On the bus ride Luke tells us a story of working with Miles Davis. Standing in the aisle of the moving bus, adopting the iconic musician’s body language and imitating his voice, we are rapt. Blinding rain pummels the vehicle and a detour gets the driver’s blood boiling to a point where our final leg into Sydney city center is conducted at speed. He drives the twenty ton bus like an Alfa Romeo GTV, slinging around corners and hustling down side streets. We arrive intact. The next day in Sydney is a day off. I walk around in the humidity, the rain breaking up into sunshine and I learn (see photo above) how those technical socks are intended to be worn.
In a music store in downtown Sydney I see the Satchurated live performance poster displayed prominently and my name up there with my fellow bandmates, too. I like how my job description is not pluralized.