The Massgrav giglog. Click the images for more photos
|Russia, part IV - Moscow - October 17, 2009
Ok, so we finally gave up on sleeping and tiptoed out of bed in order not to wake everyone up. We felt like exploring a bit on our own and this seemed like the perfect time. Don’t’ get us wrong, all the people that took care of us and showed us around were very nice and we’re very grateful, but at times it makes you feel like an idiot who can’t take care of yourself and it is also nice to be able to do just whatever the hell you feel like. So, we told Max we’d go out for a walk and headed off. First stop was the farmers market across the street, which was just opening. People gave us very weird looks when we walked around and took pictures of their fruit and veg, butchers and fishmongers and plumbing supply salesmen.
After this rather foolproof warm-up, it was time for what had the biggest disaster potential of the day: riding the subway without any assistance. This was the only time the brick of a guide book Ola had brought actually came in handy, helping figuring out how to do it and where to go. Buying the tickets is easy, since the price is the same no matter where you’re going, but we had to change trains twice to get where we wanted to, and that was a little bit trickier, but being the well travelled international superstars we are, we managed without too much of a problem.
To play it safe, we’d decided to start off where we ended Saturday’s tour of the city – Arbat; a touristy pedestrian street with tons of cafés and souvenir shops. We began the day with breakfast in a real working class restaurant, eating mainly meat, bread and potatoes. After much ado, Ove managed to get some vegetables to munch on. At least we had a view of the Pusjkin house-museum, which is one of the few buildings in good repeair we saw during our trip.
Next up: gift shopping. You can’t come home from Russia empty handed so we took the oportunity to stock up on stuff our Russian hosts frown at; babusjka dolls, Russian t-shirts, wood carvings, stuff like that. Unfortunately we could neither afford the MAGNIFICENT chess game with WW II theme (Stalin as the king on one side, Hitler on the other) nor the superbly crafted backgammon game that had Ove drooling. We comforted ourselves with milkshake, cherry pie and the thickest hot coco in the world. Although it was a bit cold, it was a very nice and sunny day and things felt pretty damn good.
Since we don’t know much about Moscow, we decided to just walk around in an area that the guide book described as “bustling” or something, to have a look around, look at people and stuff, rather relaxing and entertaining actually. After a while, we stopped for lunch at a place that was probably a tourist trap, but seemed pretty genuine, where we ate what we believe is genuine Russian food. Borstj of course, a weird starter of uncooked, thick bacon and hard, dark bread, blinies and caviar and sour cream and for Ove, some sort of tortellini with sweet berry sauce on it. Ok…?
After lunch we once again managed to outsmart the Moscow subway system and made it home with just enough time to pick up our stuff and get ready to leave for tonights show. We did this a bit slower than necessary to make Max nervous and it worked pretty damn good. Sorry Max. Big Anton suddenly revealed a love for Swedish trall-punk and started playing Asta Kask youtube clips. We tried to teach him a thing or two and played him “En näve hat” by Radiaktiva Räker but everyone seemed very much nonimpressed. Can’t win ‘em all…
This fine Sunday night, we were playing in Zhukovsky, which is a fringe town of Moscow. Or, so we’d been told – the truth was a bit more complicated. Apparently, we were playing a rather distant suburb of Zhukovsky, but since noboydy would recognize the name of it if they put it on posters, they hadn’t. Okeeh… We got on the subway and rode it ‘til the last stop, hurried past a fantastic looking suburb market square and entered the commuter train station where we stocked up on beer for the hour long train ride (yeah – end of the subway and then a freakin hour on the commuter train!) when suddenly a rather large bunch of soccer fans burst onto the platform, singing and shouting. Since everyone had seemed so uptight about soccer hooligans the night before, this made us a bit nervous, but it turned out these guys were going home after a game they’d won, so they were happy and non-lethal. Phew!
The train ride. I’m sure some people would describe it as rather eventless. To me, it was one of the best things about this trip. There was just so damn much to look at and for us pampered westerners, a lot of it was quite surreal. Imagine a combination of a rather dense wood and a crowded and gigantic, quite derilict suburb. After ages and ages, we got off the train at what seemed like a puddle of mud and a few shacks. We discovered we’d been on the same train as Matze and his Russian friends Olga and Sergey, so we joined them and started walking towards the gig.A series of shabby kiosks provided supper (drinkable kefir and some bread and chips) but Max told us not to buy any beer, as we couldn’t bring our own to the venue.
As we walked down a muddy back road, between a few old, leaning garages and a huge pile of dirt, we suddenly came face to face with one of the most unlikely places I’ve ever seen. Meet Slam club – a dedicated punk venue, situated far far in the outmost outskirts of fucking Moscow! In a place where they barely have paved roads, there’s a bar with the walls covered with well know faces like GG Allin and Sid Vicious, where it seems every band playing music resembling ours plays when touring Russia. The place had not opened yet, but there was about 30 people standing outside, drinking, waiting to be let in. Being international stars and all that, we were ushered in and shown to our… well, there’s no backstage area in club Slam, since it’s so small (there’s no stage either, just a dedicated corner for bands to set up shop in), but there’s a narrow section in the back that we had dibs on, so we parked our stuff there, declined soundchek as usual, let big Anton handle our merch and sat down to have a beer.
All of a sudden, the a lady that was somehow associated with the venue showed up with a tray with a big decanter of vodka and some shot glasses and also a plate of various pickles – gherkins, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and cabbage. Russian hospitality – unbeatable! We’d been talking about how little vodka we’d actually drunk on this trip and instantly set out to remedy this situation. Max showed up and finished what pickles we didn’t want and there was no shortage of people who were willing to share the vodka with us, which was probably for the best, considering how things ended up.
We were very much unsure about what bands were playing that night, there were supposed to be two of them but we’d only seen one and suddenly they started playing. To be honest, we were a bit too busy warming up and getting hammered for there to much of a description of that band here. They seemed pretty cool, very crusty looking and all. Once they finished, we were told there was no third band, it was now our turn. We started getting ready. The amp situation was most unfair – Norse had a nice whopping Marshall half-stack and Ola got a “my first amp” combo that wheezed like a pneumonice 90-year old chainsmoker. What can you do?
Belive it or not, but this was the first time ever Massgrav did a floor gig. It’s not because we think we’re too good for them or anything, it just never happened to happen before. Also, some of the “stages” we’ve been on have been 3 inches high, but there has always been some sort of line where the band ends and crowd begins. Today, we had only the mike stands to fill that function. But this being a Sunday gig waaay out in the sticks, things should be pretty quiet, right? Well... this is Russia, remember?
Ok, so it was a bit quieter, but still c-r-a-z-y. All the usual antics of moshing and stuff, people throwining themselves in a huge pile on the floor (including Max – don’t think we didn’t see you there, you bearded Russian you), worshiping at the altar of Johan Norsebäck and all kinds of gymnastic stuff, but the most insane thing was when a small guy came up to the mike sang about half of ‘Skända flaggan’ in what sounded like perfect Swedish. We figured it was some sort of Swedish exchange student or something but after the gig it turned out to be a regular Russian kid who didn’t speak a word of our language but liked the song so much he’d memorized the lyrics. Russia – we love you, did we mention that?
Earlier that day, back at the apartment, we’d rehearsed a few new songs to make the set list a little bit different from the night before (which was good as a lot of people seemed to have come to both gigs) and after a very shaky start, where we could hardly hear each other and subsequently lost track rather badly, things turned for the better and the gig ended with a number of encores, the final one being our Limp Wrist cover and the crowd in a big pile on the floor. Afterwards, a large number of them lined up with us to have a group picture taken and then it was time for the usual “arm around shoulders” photo session where poor Russians got our sweat on them but seemed happy anyway. Lots of fun, another fan-fucking-tastic gig. Being in this band and going to Russia is soo good.
For once, we didn’t have to rush to a train – we’d played very early and had hours before we had to leave. Norse settled in in ‘our’ corner, simultaneously keeping an eye on our stuff and having some sort of discussion about squatting (which he knows soo much about) while Ove and Ola sat with Matze, Sergey and Olga. Olga is a Sweden nut who’s learning Swedish on her own and she forced us to pronounce all kinds of weird words and sayings, tell her what this and that was called and we talked forever about Swedish bands, customs, you name it. It was fun. Very nice people, all three of them!
We could have stayed forever at this weird place, chugging dirt cheap beer from manly glasses, talking to our new friends, pausing occasionally for photos with people, but sadly there was yet another night train to catch so we had to get on the commuter train back to town. Luckily, a large bunch of people were smart enough to realize the party is where we are and joined us for the ride into town, making our jolly (and probably pretty loud) little group take up half the train car. Don’t ask where the hell all the beer came from, I have no idea, but there was no shortage, which led to Sergey teaching Ola how to take a leak the Russian commuter way (you stand between two cars, holding on for your dear life and try to aim for the tracks) while Ove and Johan opted to save themselves until we reached the station.
As soon as the train stopped, they were off like a herd of stampeeding cows, with Max in tow, to find a toilet before someone had an accident. Unfortunately, Ola didn’t pay attention and was left behind. At the same time as he noticed, he also discovered his phone had died and he had no way of contacting the others. Nobody in a crowded station, surrounded by a group of 20 helpful people, has ever felt so lonely before. No worries though, after a short while, the toilet boys returned and we headed for the kiosks to get more beer for the trip. During the short while we spent by the kiosks, waiting for Max and big Anton (who decided to walk to a supermarket further away to get cheaper beer), lots of stuff happened. Complete strangers joined the party for some hardcore drinking, a very old, ugly and chain smoking Russian lady tried to covert Ove to christianity (while Ola, in vain, tried getting Olga to translate mature sayings like “lady, we worship the devil” into Russian) and some shady guy tried to steal Ove’s bag. Lots of fun for the whole family!
However, all good things must come to an end and this was no exception. A million hugs and handshakes later, we were on our last overnight train ride across Russia, heading home, sharing our car with a tae-kwondo team.
Monday AND going home-day on the same day, how lame can things get? We were met at the station by Nikita and brought to his flat, which by now felt almost like home. We showered, had some food and spent the day doing as little as possible. Max had a guest lecture by some crazy polititian in school so we were meeting him at the airport but little Anton joined us after a while and we just hung out until it was time to leave for the airport. Although the airport system was different from every other place in the world (security check and x-ray *before* you check in?), everything went smoothly, except Norse spent so much time in the tax-free shop, we had no time for dinner and had to make do with a snickers bar from the vending machine befor getting on the plane. Ola was NOT a happy camper. And then, just like that, we were back in Sweden and they didn’t even manage to lose our luggage. To sum things up: no trouble with customs in either direction, no trouble with trains except for being woke up all the time, no trouble with fearsome Russian skinheads, no problems whatsoever pretty much. A-fucking-mazing! If only we’d known in advance, we wouldn’t have had to worry quite so much (yeah, so we’re weaklings, but we did worry a bit).
Ok, so getting this mini-tour in order was a fucking hassle, especially considering how few dates we played. This was partly due to our demand that we’d not waste a lot of time on travel and off-days, partly to Max’s ambition to save money and partly to the great Russian system, which isn’t really made for touring bands. Our visas only allowed us to stay in St Petersburg, as getting permits for our actual tour would have required us to go through the very complicated registration process in every town we went – fuck knows what would have happened if we’d had our passports checked in, say, Moscow. Also, the Russian consulate in Sweden is apparently extra narky compared to other countries, which became all to apparent when they refused our initial visa application. And then we had absolutely no idea about how much of a hard time we’d get from customs – apparently it’s completely random whether they ignore you (like they did us) or give you a full cavity search. Those things aside though, this trip was probably the best thing we’ve ever done. If you ever get the chance to go to Russia – jump at it, especially if it’s as a band (just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to plan it, and I mean plenty)! All the things we got to see, the must-be-seen-to-be-believed FANTASTIC crowds we played to and most of all, the marvelous people that took care of us, fed us, showed us the way, did everything but wipe our asses for us! And everyone was so hospitable, keen to tell us stuff about their towns, their lives, whatever, it was crazy! So, to both the Antons, the Moscow apartment crew, Olga, Sergey and Matze, Andreij and Sascha, the Zorka guys, the bands we played with and the people we partied with… thanks guys! We’d love to come again some time. Extra special huge thanks to Nikita and his girlfriend for putting up with us hanging out in their apartment over and over again and of course to Max for setting the whole damn thing up, arranging all the gigs, filling out the forms, buying the tickets, keeping track of everything and herding us around his country. Thanks.