Touring America with Real Life
As keyboardist in Real Life, I toured the US a number of times, but the tour I remember most fondly was the one in August to September 1998. It began rather disorganized and with some panic but it developed into something I still enjoy recalling.
We had just released the album Happy in October 1997 and after doing a number of shows in Australia, crossed the waters to promote the CD in the US and Germany. A total of seven weeks away from home. I'll discuss the German leg of the tour another time (Touring Germany with Real Life), for today I'll focus on our tour of America.
At the time we were signed to a US label, Momentum Records (Houston, Texas), and with their assistance made our way over there. A 14 hour flight to Los Angeles, with a stop over in New Zealand, quite a distance, and I'm not a good flyer! The on board movie was a new disaster flick 'Deep Impact' and not necessarily appropriate for watching on an aeroplane, thousands of feet above deep oceans, for me anyway.
We had originally expected a busy schedule of shows and had a New York booking agency handling this side of the operation. Unfortunately for us (and extremely unprofessional on their part), the person handling our bookings, who was subsequently dismissed, only organised one show. We only realised the severity of the situation shortly before landing on American soil. Directors, Travis & Eric, from Momentum Records worked like devils to get us short notice gigs which luckily made the trip worthwhile. The downside of it was that many shows had little if any pre publicity. But the ones that did, made it a success, compensating for others.
The American audiences were amazingly receptive and warm to the band. (Thank you if you were there:) Some of the concerts I remember best included Chicago where we played in an old vaudevillian theatre; the orchestra pit was boarded up and was now a dance floor. A full club of a couple of thousand people did not stop screaming, dancing and singing throughout our entire performance.
We felt triumphant after a very stressful day in which everything that could have gone wrong, did! No PA system or lighting rig had been set up till very late in the evening which upset and annoyed us. We were left waiting hours on end for our short sound-check which we were only able to do at about 10pm, then a quick ride back to the motel to freshen up, then back again for the show at midnight. I can tell you we were pretty worn down by that time, but once the audience fired up, from the first song, so did we!
Interesting enough, the song that was best received was God Tonight and not the obvious 'Send Me An Angel'. The former was actually a big hit in Chicago in 1990. The way the US system works with charting songs, as I understand it, is that a song needs to do well in many cities simultaneously to climb the National charts. A song may hit the top 10 in a few cities, but if this occurs over a long period it will only reach the lower end of the main charts. Send Me An Angel luckily did have simultaneous success across America and that's why you now know about it today.
Anyhow, back to the gig...
The Chicago fans, bless their lungs & energy, made it very special for us. I could have sworn they mistook Real Life for the Beatles or Depeche Mode:) ...oh and I must add that each of us had body guards on stage. I only learned afterwards that the neighbourhood was quite a dangerous place to be & everyone went through a metal detector to enter the venue. Not a common practice for us at the time. I was wondering, in all the crazy commotion while performing, why there were so many unknown people on this large stage.
I must also give special mention to Salt Lake City, it had and probably still does, a very strong love of synthpop bands and as this was one of the shows that was planned ahead of time we had a strong audience on the night. Aside from some technical hiccups on stage, it was an incredibly successful gig at the Wasatch Events Center.
Here's singer David Sterry with myself on guitar during the song 'Virus' (remix). It was such a genuine buzz playing there that we gratefully accepted an invitation, a couple of years later, to fly back and perform at the outdoor Synthstock 2000 concert with OMD, Berlin and other great 80s acts. I remember the city being prepared at the time for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The opening concert to the US tour, the only one organised by the New York booking agency, was at the Galaxy in Orange County,Southern California. It was quite a nerve racking gig and we were ever so jet lagged and tired; we made a few mistakes on the night but it was still an encouraging beginning. We replayed the theatre in 2004, it's such a charming and gorgeous venue.
New York City itself was such an stunning place to visit, let alone play there, as we did. We performed at a small club on the Lower East Side, can't remember its name, but it was a thrill being in such an electric environment. This was a time when the Twin Towers existed, and the City from across the river looked like the Himalayan mountains to me the first time I cast eyes on it. It was the the most impressive skyline I'd ever seen! Quite breath taking and at the same time, intimidating. We stayed at the Gramercy Park Hotel on Lexington where once upon a time the Kennedy family (as in JFK) lived during the 1930s. Humphrey Bogart also got married there. Let's say it has a lot of history and character! The temperature was SO hot during the couple days we were there, it thwarted my attempt on the last day to walk up to 72nd street, across Central Park, to pay homage to John Lennon. It's where he was killed in 1980. I regret that, as I was so close. Would you believe I couldn't work out the underground train service. Should have simply caught a yellow cab!
There's more good memories, but I've written enough I think, too much to read. We also played Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Boston, Nashville, there's more but I just can't remember at the moment. All in all, 13 gigs ranging from sunny southern California to 4 foot deep flooding in Houston. Hurricane George (no relation) was pounding the Gulf of Mexico at the time!
Eventually we made our way back to New York after our last show in Chicago in order to catch a flight to Germany. We did a further series of 12 shows in 18 days, zig-zagging by road across the length & breadth of Deutschland. But that's a story for another day!
I don't know if anyone reading this was at any of the shows back in 1998, if so I'd love to hear from you!
Click to also read 'Touring Germany with Real Life'