Almost Infamous: The Unband/Def Leppard Tour Diary

Written by Mike Ruffino on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


Editors’
note: Mike Ruffino is the bassist for the Unband. Eugene Ferrari is the drummer,
and Matt Pierce plays guitar. Last summer they went on tour with Def Leppard.
They are currently working on their second album.





 


First
Leg


There is no question that having
the run of an arena will be a curious thing. Quite possibly, it makes no sense
at all. But neither does most everything we do, and besides–this is catered.
And it’s summertime, and the lawns will be smattered with people getting
anesthetized on quilt islands, smeared with pizza grease and feeling each other
up. Nice, like when they show The Wizard of Oz in the park.


It’s hot
as hell and though we’ve only been driving for a few hours, it feels like
we’ve been doing this for a week. Best I can figure this tour will take
us around 25,000 miles, give or take…loosely once around the Earth.


We have more
guys with us now, augmenting the well-soiled Machine that is Steve the
tour manager, Eugene, Matt and myself: Safety-Bear very much comes from Vermont
and is recently married. Steve performed the ceremony, having been ordained
in some mail-order church just before a previous tour (Note: Steve also gave
him the nickname, for reasons which did not become clear until Safety-Bear later
quit following some very unsafe behavior.) He is handy with things and hammers
and is one of this planet’s Nice Guys, as it were. Peeler is a delinquent
from Chicopee named for his strip club addiction who can drive without sleep
for days on end, tech the drums and, not least, is a crackerjack B & E man.
Neither of them has been on a rock tour–or out of New England for any other
reason–until now. Mr. Taylor has got a week or so off from a more timely
sort of summer tour and is doing sound for the first few shows. No idea
what we’ll do about FOH after he leaves, but he’s the only guy who’s
ever been able to mix us just right and he’s got some pills I think.


We’re
traveling in two vehicles now. This one, a Dodge conversion van, used to be
white and inconspicuous. Now it looks as if the shades are closed for a very
good reason, which is nerve-wracking on the open highway because they are
closed for a very good reason. The VCR’s busted, but it’s some comfort
to have one: ballast. Like most of our amplifiers. But all in all, considering
what we put this thing through, we can’t complain, and there’s a fairly
good chance it’ll make it through this tour. May we load the dice. For
some reason we have also a Ryder panel truck. I believe we were all under the
impression that there was another van coming along, but I don’t see one.


We also have
acquired a, how would you say…giant red hand. I can’t recall whether
it’s a right hand or a left hand at the moment, but I know it’s around
8 feet tall inflated. We had it designed by some parade-balloon company in the
Midwest. It was kind of a joke idea we mentioned at some kind of meeting, then
one day the fucking thing showed up. It grows out of a big black box when plugged
in on cue and you can make it sign any number of ways. We generally have it
throw the goats. Obviously.


The Hand is
a lonely prop for such big buildings, unless you count the usual pyrotechnics,
which are just fireworks taped to the instruments. We get them at this airplane
hangar jammed with cheap explosives off of I-70 on the way to Chicago. All fireworks
here are called things that have been painstakingly translated from the Japanese:
you have your Violence Ammunition, your Hard-Killing Mobster, your Disco Maimers
and Explosion Face Policeman. You’ve also got your Roman candles and your
bottle rockets, but in my experience those are of little use if you’re
not on a beach down the Cape. Everything costs about 50 cents, and since we’ll
be playing half-outdoor shed-type places for the next few months, I brought
along some extra Rape Volcanoes.


Every place
on the itinerary is named after a soft drink or a computer company and frequently
something worse. As right as it once seemed to rag on the Stones for taking
dirty beer money they didn’t need, the phrase "Budweiser Presents"
implies a certain kind of party that diarrhea medicine does not. Now it seems
if you want to see anybody of size at all (or–fuck–us) you will see
them at the Imodium Center and that’s the end of that. If you’re talking
to ladies or anyone, you maybe just call it the local enormo-dome.


It’s seven
hours to Darien, NY–which is Rochester to some, Buffalo to others.


Now how about
that _______ somebody talked me out of.


 

Six Flags Darien
Lake Amusement Park
The Something-Something Video Store Amphitheater
Darien Center, NY, July 22, 2000



I-Am-A-Gettin’-It



Took a _________
last night just as we got underway. Got through a glass of scotch and a glass
of wine and woke up here, to rollercoaster sounds: screaming, metal on metal.
Parking lot has the four Def Leppard buses and two semis, our van and our mysterious
panel truck, and a Free Beer and Canapés tent. We’re parked behind
the stage. Sixteen and a bit elephants could stand up there comfortably; this
place holds 20-something thousand. For contrast, the last place we played was
a sports bar on a stage that could fit possibly a lute, a midget and a plastic
flamingo.



Made very fancy
dressing room signs for us before we left, but forgot to make any that did not
include the word "motherfucking." Had to do some folding and scotchtaping
before posting them because everybody in the other bunch has got their kids
with them.


Had a bit of
breakfast (a peach and some tea with scotch), read some Condé Nast atrocity
for a while, drank the last of the wine and went back to sleep in the van. Woke
up around 12:30. Ate a lunch of tuna salad, coffee, two beer, and watched the
lighting guys swing around. It’s all very impressive, but this is why people
would eventually start sticking fish into the groupie. Down time. Let’s
put this in a nice syringe, or, how much you give me if I get that chick
to ________ on that _________ and then __________ it. But that’s all been
done. We can be entertained by much more wholesome enterprise: there’s
an amusement park 10 feet from us that will keep us occupied. If we take enough
___________. (We do.)


Joe Elliott
burst into the room a few minutes ago to introduce himself and to say 15 hilarious
things and to warn us that though the weather looked nice right now, his band
"wasn’t the luckiest band in the world exactly," and that it
would probably rain for the rest of the tour. He just left saying he wants to
find the people and tell them that we don’t have enough foodstuffs on our
card table. He’s right, we don’t: we have a bowl of crab apples
and some paper cups. No matter. We’re taking some ________ and going for
fried dough.


Upon returning
from the haunted flume ride, it is discovered that our dressing room has been
amply stocked with food and booze and beer and doily things as well.


 

Tweeter Center
Mansfield, MA
July 20, 2000



Pyromania



You would have
to look a ways back, but our band is actually from Boston–and whatever
is the opposite of the Key to the City, we have that. I remember being flung
by giants into the Fenway while someone who looked like a John Gotti and a rocket
pop cursed me from his depths through a hole in his throat (God rest
his soul), cinematically tossing a red velvet jacket and a guitar cable after
me. That was around seven years ago. If there was a gig in Boston after that
then it was nothing memorable. This is as close as we’ve come. This place
used to be called Great Woods until some money geeks came. There are two catering
tents and I was brought in a golf cart to the one that has beer about 20 minutes
ago. It’s a cloudless 80 degrees.



Our room is
a locker room but with leather couches, a clean carpet and separate shower stalls.
There’s a lot of shrimp. We have piles of ________, thanks to a very good
friend who is always showing up like a redemptive meteor when we’re "tired."
Matt’s whole family is here, including a couple cousins and the like. They
all look confused and proud. Monahan is here, too: drinking fruit juice with
no vodka in it, trying not to talk about his novel to the guy who’s not
doing the video. He keeps wandering outside to not talk about his novel with
more people. There are Northampton people along to help out (helping: guy offers
to roadie and do lighting; gets a free ride here, some woman he wants to fuck
gets guest-listed with her six friends, they all have brunch for the first time
in their lives, while the main guy drinks everything in sight, eats the dip
with his hands, insults somebody’s girlfriend and passes out in the can
before we even load in). Old friends from this immediate vicinity in various
stages of pronounced liver failure are shotgunning a Bud suitcase every 30 minutes.
The buffet looks less like it has been classically ravaged than like someone
at some point dropped a Buick through it.


Someone in
the Leppard crew came in a while ago to ask the room if anyone wanted to put
in an order for the "cigarette run," everybody piped up, and now the
runner has returned with a carton of each brand and nobody has any money. So
we’re into the Leppard for a hundred something, and we have two cartons
of so-and so’s fucking honey-nut-menthols eating up our per diems.


We tried to
get our fireworks bit okayed by Def Leppard’s road management with this
warped audition on the loading dock.


"So it’ll
just be that I light this fuse here…"


"And what
happens, exactly."


"Something."


"What
do you mean? What is that thing?"


"It shoots
fire."


"Uh-huh.
What kind of…fire?"


"Chinese.
We get them at a place."


"You’re
fucking kidding, right?"


"Um. No."


"You aren’t
even really sure what that’s gonna do. Are you."


"It’s
okay. It’s got duct tape on it. Watch."


The dock is
showered by a 20-foot, totally uncontrollable arc of dimestore napalm that immediately
ignites a plastic No Smoking sign, curling it into a charred tube. The whole
dock smells like shit. A Southie cookout gone terribly wrong. Some guy doing
things with boxes down the end goes what the fuck. Not union-approved standard
issue equipment, but it does the job.


"That
looks like a ‘No’ face."


"Close.
It’s a ‘No Way in Bloody Hell’ face. And what exactly does this
Hand do again?"


Our attention
is drawn to a treated rubber pad that covers about 90 percent of the stage,
so that you’re standing on a 20-foot Def Leppard logo that prevents splinters
and, presumably, grounds your band in an electrical storm. They are very touchy
about it because it cost 11 billion dollars. "Nobody lights any fucking
fires on this." They are watching us.


Absolutely
high as jackasses when we get onstage and the crowd is silent and frightened.
Every once in a while someone way back on the lawn yells out "Faggit!"
The response to this is to guess what the guy is wearing (you’d be right),
single him out and then fuck with him from the Jumbo-Tron. I think we got a
rise out of the people once when we shouted "Aerosmith!" for no reason.
Toward the middle of Def Leppard’s set, during "Photograph,"
our friend from Hudson, MA, wandered obliterated from the dressing room out
onto the stage trying to eat a mangled roast beef sandwich through the hair
in his mouth. Security, etc. As we were loading out I saw a little bit of roast
beef and some Thousand Island dressing on one of the Leppard guitars.


Noted: Mansfield
is a suburb of Framingham.

 

 



On
Through the Night



Safety-Bear
got us so stoned on marijuana that we were able to make shadow puppets under
a streetlamp in a rest area all night long. We had a bit of the vending and
drank a case of beer and slept in the bushes.


 



Jones Beach
Amphitheater
Wantagh, NY
July Something, 2000



Joe Elliott
Had A Mott the Hoople Tattoo Before You Did



Today we were
told some Rules. Behind Behind the Music. Def Leppard are "cleaned
up" now so we’re not supposed to be "drunk in catering,"
which seems impossible and is. Ian Hunter came out and sang "All the Young
Dudes" with Leppard as an encore. Brilliantly. We met him in catering.
Drunk. What.



 


Blossom Music
Center
Cuyahoga Falls, OH
Aug. 2, 2000



Sitting in
a dressing room that looks like the common room at a hippie college. Orange
couches, white cement walls, brown-gray lockers. I’m licking ________ residue
off of some absolutely fucking inexplicable Little Mermaid wax table
coverings. Def Leppard is upstairs sound-checking. F-F-F-Foolin’.



The huge hospitality
room down the hall has a video arcade that is entirely free, ping-pong and a
putting green, a jukebox (also free), and huge windows that have you looking
into a dense elfin wood. There’d be a perpetual Renaissance Fair on the
patio if Certain Types ran the place. The helping people tried to serve us some
kind of sloppy joes for food. This was not well going. And though these kitchen
people are very friendly I find that I would not like to eat their things. I
hear now behind me that there is some more _________ left over from last night’s
atrocious binge. There’ll be no bother about eating at all.


There is a
parrot here who doesn’t give a shit. He rides around on one of the Lep
roadies’ shoulder. People give him grapes and such. He’s frequently
alone on one or other of the tables in catering with a paper plate of melon
rinds in front of him–just thinking I guess. Right now he’s sitting
on the pinball machine. Thinking. I don’t know what his name is. It is
good to have a pet animal on the road. Especially a wise-ass one with his head
around things and some command of English.


The show here
is a good time. Three Def Leppards were laughing–at or with, doesn’t
matter–in the wings while we played "Quiet Riot" for the 8000
people. Joe Elliott had specifically asked for that to happen. We were also
laughing because we don’t know it that well. No one else was laughing all
that much–because we don’t know it that well. (I know there were at
least 400 pre-glacial musical geniuses sitting there fuming, going Who the
fuck are these assholes? I could fuckin do that.
Yes, but you’re not.)
This place is 1980, dethroned. Everything is a blinding anachronism. Except
the _______.


The Ryder truck
has disappeared and the rental van has shown up. It is immediately broken and
sent to Assy McRipoff’s Auto, while the most important equipment–the
Hand, couple guitars, some leftover chicken–is put into Def Leppard’s
truck.

 




Hey, How
Come This Is Wet?



Let me say
about how we urinate. We go and buy two gallons of water at a place that has
a bathroom. We use that bathroom as much as we need/can after we have drunk
as much of one of the gallons of water as possible. We put whatever is left
into smaller containers, which we put somewhere in the van to get nice and hot
for those desert drives, leaving half an inch of water in the gallon jug. Now
this is a toilet, or more specifically, a urinal. The jug we have now has a
sticker on it reading, Indian Rock Spring Water. "Rock water." I used
to sneak around when it was my turn to dump it. Now I just pour it out wherever
I feel like and say what the fuck are you looking at. The other gallon jug we
dump out and fill with prostitutes.


 


Baptists



Gas station.
Somewhere in Missouri. Safety-Bear opens the driver’s side door and a few
Budweiser bottles roll out and smash on the ground, which is just as well. Matt
is throwing up out the back of the van. A jug of piss is leaking toward our
neighbor’s car: the guy’s got one hand on the pump and an expression
on his face that I feel no need to accurately describe. Inside, I’ve knocked
over a rack of something blurry and Peeler is giggling at the hotdog carousel.
Steve is paying for some Big League Chew with his pants down. His raspberry-glass
Kiss belt buckle scrapes along the linoleum as he walks out.



There’s
a nacho accident all over the counter. A giant black woman is shoveling cheese-food
back into its pan under the heat lamp in one of the most retarded operations
I have ever witnessed, saying, "There must be a better way to do this,
but Baptists don’t know it."


Additionally,
today was Joe Elliott’s birthday. We gave him, indispensably, a Boy Scout
handbook copyright 1948 and a stick pin that says "New England: Caring
Is Our Way."


Now I’m
shotgun in the van back on the highway. Listening to some Mountain. It is proud,
proud music.




 


Winks



Sur-fucking-prize,
we slept sitting up in a rest area again. As a matter of fact, from now on that
goes without saying. I owe any moments of blissful unconsciousness to lots and
lots of ________, __________ and wine. And Tylenol PM: that in particular is
a good friend.



The place we
played last night was called the Smirnoff Center. Or if it wasn’t, it certainly
is now. So I slept well. When I say sleep I almost always mean pass out. When
I say tired I mean need ______, or else a swift death. When I say "took
a nap," I mean suddenly collapsed in the middle of doing something important.
And so on.


Driving. There
is a terrible terrible song on the radio right now. Holy shit. Fucking hell,
this is a bad song. We can only listen to the radio a couple hours per day on
account of the van’s electric is shot and we can only afford batteries
for the portable once a week, otherwise we won’t have any money for…insulin…or
anything. Battery time is much better spent on talk radio or, say, white noise,
if you ask me, and no matter what we don’t have the resources to sit through
any shit music. Maybe we could have radio stations page us when they’re
going to play a good song–like what that company in L.A. does for people
who don’t want to miss the car chases. Our thing’d vibrate about three
times a month. Except in Ohio. There’s good radio all over the place there.
Makes you wonder who knows what about anything.


It is 113 degrees
today. We’re coming up on Little Rock, AR. Or some such fabled kingdom.

 

 



Hail
to the Pimp



Little Rock.
This is by far the hottest weather ever. It may be slightly warmer at the center
of the earth. Maybe. Everyone is moving like the mercury. The heat index is
117. There are gazillion-watt stage lights. It’s hard to breathe.


Across the
park is a "discovery store" for kids. It’s cooled by NASA or
some god-machine from the future, so I spend several hours discovering shit.
Bug Boxes. Solar Kites. Lil’ Elephant Man chemistry sets. A good many of
the things to discover involve Bill Clinton in some way: cutout fashion books,
What Does the President Do All Day pop-up book, etc. They’ve got Hillary
looking a lot like Sharon Stone, and Bill looks like Superman’s more ass-kicking
brother. Which he is, by the way.



Catering was
a fucking joke, though; delivery people from local restaurants were coming and
going all day. Costing the promoter lord-knows-what to feed people, the woman’s
serving macaroni with hotdog bits and pound cake squares with food coloring
smiles on them, which in the 117 degrees ran so that each piece looks like it
says "die" on it in pink. Lunchlady asked a 400-pound local stagehand
if he was a vegetarian as he stood there with two chops and a burger on his
plate. He said, "Yes, ma’am!" So she gave him some turnip greens.
An old guy brought our beer to us in a mop bucket along with "our"
package of Oscar Mayer something and some consumptive grapes. The Def Leppard
gentlemen, mind you, live in castles and I’ve seen their cart and they’re
not faring much better. I do not wonder why there are sweaty envoys from the
local food shacks coming in and out of the dressing rooms.


But as the
story almost always goes, the places from which you expect the worst turn out
to be the best, and despite the heat and catering, Little Rock was one of these
places. A pit broke out, and there was no barrier (or if there had been it didn’t
last long enough to be noticed) so it felt suddenly more like playing in a club
than a shed–albeit a club with 10,000 people and the sun in it. Even the
putrid river behind the stage was sparkling as nicely as a putrid river could.


Matt introduced
"Everybody Wants You" as a song "penned by Mr. William Squier."
Blank stares and total silence. Then, "Um… Billy Squier,"
and the place went nuts. Them’s the peoples.


The promoter
girl, Peggy, took us to see Junior Brown. He is the fucking man who plays the
guitar. I will wind up telling everyone and my children about the guy. Watching
a couple guys in his band mingle after the show, Eugene and I thought of a good
pick-up line: "Hey there, ladies. Would you like to come back to my place?
I’ve got tons and tons of heroin, dope and smack, and I’ll shoot you
right the fuck up." But that is the best guitar-playing I have heard
since…the last time I saw him play. I hope he lives long. He does this
thing with the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind that I am
stealing immediately.


The bar next
door is open until 5 a.m. for regular people and then later for less regular
people. I didn’t make it past 3:40–sometimes you shove pounds of ________
and ___________ into your eye sockets every five minutes for a couple weeks
straight and then you have to nap. Steve became something from redneck mythology
inside of four beers, as he is wont to do, and he was just about to rock the
place with a chair over his head as I was on my way out. Matt wins the prize:
a Christian librarian and her mute and even more Christian friend followed him
from our show, tagging very quietly along not drinking, watching him booze like
a fucking Hun, I don’t know if he even tried to talk to them at all–until
finally in the wee hours (our hours) these girls sat with their hands folded
in their laps on either side of him, while he face-planted on the table in the
back of the bar and started snoring. He was soon carried out as they looked
on not saying anything, not drinking, hands folded. I don’t know what became
of those Christians. Off to not drink somewhere else, I suppose. We were off
to a rest area somewhere stupid.


 


SOMETHING SOMETHING
MEGA WHATEVER
Summer 2000




Huck
Finished



Last gig on
this leg, tonight. Don’t know what’s coming next exactly, but anyway
I imagine hell being a good deal more pleasant than western Pennsylvania and
I know that it’s more hip. We’re at the Hair Club for Men Amphitheater
or something. It has a small, calm (stagnant) pond behind it with a putting
green floating in its middle. There are a few beaver, some frogs. Cat-o’-nine-tails
swaying around it. Idyllic in a festering, end of the world kind of way. There’s
a little metal rowboat sitting on the bank. This is noticed and drinks are fetched
from the van.



So Steve, Safety-Bear
and I are out on the pond (which turns out to be filthier than was promised)
rowing around sipping Budweisers, talking, watching the beaver and the frogs
choke, and noticing this swarm of huge buzzards circling above the arena. A
lot of buzzards, actually (and when I mentioned this to Joe Elliott a little
later he laughed nervously). So we’re rowing around talking about Kant
or tits or something and suddenly there’s 10,000 shit-fits coming from
the shore. The place goes upside down. Screaming, frothing: "YOU
FUCKING DEAD FUCKING ASSHOLES! BRING THAT BOAT BACK RIGHT FUCKING NOW!
RIGHT FUCKING NOW YOU PSYCHOTIC FUCKING BAGS OF SHIT! THE SHERIFF FUCKING
BLAH BLAH BLAH…" And so on. At some point during the row back Safety-Bear
points out that these people are screaming foully at, for some confounding reason,
the Artist.


When we get
back to the shore, there are maybe six fat guys with eternally unselected penises
shaking their drumstick fists at us. Hemorrhaging motherfuckers everywhere.
Def Leppard’s tour manager, a glum, pear-like man, starts in with the "and
another thing, that time you did this and another thing, and what was that crap
in such and such a place, and another thing about the dressing rooms, and who
do you think you are? You can’t get away with blah blah something,"
between bursts from the local guys about the "sheriff" and the "county
lockup." Apparently, Andy Griffith is gonna work us over with a broomstick
until the real police get there.


We just woke
up and were trying to have a beer in a boat like a human, "sirs,"
so I’m about to get into it with where they can stick their liabilities
and I grew up on the water and I was out ramming sunfishes and pirating commuter
boats in a Boston whaler while you were in a basement whacking off to The
Dark Crystal
, et al., but we learn that one of the guys had just pulled
a body out of the pond in question last week following Ozzfest so the place
is a little sensitive to our kind of recreation. We didn’t know this, and
now we’ve Ruined Everything with our Cruel Prank.


That was hours
ago. We’ve been sitting in the room since then, eating a cheese platter
and quietly getting fucked up. Maybe we’ll be home sooner, and for longer,
than previously thought.



 


..