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Nottingham Castle

Fists in America

29 March 12 words: Paul Klotschkow
Our Music Editor went to follow Notts band Fists as they played five dates on tour across the East Coast of America
Fists in celebratory mood after their first US show at The Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, VA

Fists in celebratory mood after their first US show at The Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, VA

Fists are Angi (vocals/ guitar), James (vocals/ guitar), Pete (vocals/ guitar), Dave (bass) and Tez (drums) and have been playing for around the past five years after forming in Nottingham. I can't remember when we all met, there's been far too many pints drank since then, but the first time I remember seeing the band play was in October 2007 bottom of the bill at a charity show at The Maze. After that moment I persistantly stalked them until five year later I found myself on a plane making a trip alongside them as they toured the US.

Tuesday 13 March - Brooklyn, NYC

After meeting Fists at the apartment that they’ve been staying in the Prospect Park area of Brooklyn, we make our way to Obits’ rehearsal room, which is situated close to the Brooklyn Bridge in an area that wreaks of industry - the sights, smells and sounds of the kind of thing that Bruce Springsteen would write a song about.

Obits, who invited Fists to join them on the tour after a friendship between the bands was struck up a couple of years ago when Fists put them on in Notts and played with them in London and Bristol, are letting them use their backline and have loaned them some guitars for the tour. If they hadn’t have done, shipping over their own equipment would have driven Fists in to even more debt than they probably will be in once the tour is over.

We meet Obits and all help get the equipment out of the huge rehearsal space that is situated in what seems to be an old warehouse. The involves lugging huge amps and heavy cases along a corridor, in to a rickety old elevator, through the front doors and in to Obits’ van outside.

All of the members of Obits are old hands at this and probably have a fool-proof system of packing their van. But being the warm and accommodating gents that they are, they don’t seem to mind a bunch of bumbling Brits helping out, even though we are all probably getting in the way.

Philadelphia Obits and Fists gig poster

Philadelphia Obits and Fists gig poster

As soon as everything is packed away we start to follow the Obits van out of New York and on the way to the first show in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The thing is New York City doesn’t make it easy to leave. As soon as we go over the first bridge we are greeted by an irate policeman shouting “STOP” repeatedly at the van, his face twisted with fury. Pete (who is driving) stops. The policeman asks Pete if he saw the stop sign and that if a policeman is asking you to stop, you stop. The thing is, there wasn’t a stop sign and the only stop sign was next to the policeman, which we would have stopped for. So it seems that this man in the uniform was just a grade-A prick who wanted to take his anger out on something, and that something was us.

As Pete was being berated, Dave who is in the navigator's seat leans forward to get the paperwork out of the glove compartment. It turns out that this isn’t what you do when you are being shouted down at by a cop. He quickly snaps at Dave and tells him that was a stupid thing to do. Dave cowers in his seat. Pete explains how he is new to driving in the States and that he was ‘disoriented’, which is the only decent excuse he could’ve come up with as I don’t think any type of reasoning would have worked. He makes a swift getaway. The whole car audibly exhales and I’m surprised that the seats hadn’t changed colour.

The drive to Harrisonburg is plain sailing from here. There’s a bit of confusion at the first gas station we stop at over how to actually use the petrol pump, as it’s not just a matter of picking up the pump and pressing the trigger. I'm sure there are sniggers when I ask for help. Everyone is in an excitable mood on the long drive, which makes the six hours fly by. We drive through an Amish community and it was totally bewildering to see these people living a lifestyle that was in complete contrast to what was happening only four hours away in NYC.

The Obits and Fists in the USA

The Obits and Fists in the USA

We arrive at the venue in Harrisonburg to find that it’s an Ethiopian restaurant with a bar downstairs where they often host gigs. It’s a small college town, so I guess that bands and promoters have to use whatever space they have at their disposal. There’s enough free time for the band to have a couple of drinks outside and relax before their show.

The person in charge tonight explains that drinks and food are on the house, which totally throws Fists sideways. In fact this is a trend for all of the venues that they play on this tour. All of the venue managers and promoters are accommodating as can be and make sure Fists feel comfortable and welcome.

Gigs seems to start later over here than in the UK, so after what seems to be an eternity and sitting through a group of local kids who are the support, it’s time for Fists to make their US debut. They seem visibly nervous for the first few songs, which is only natural considering the long build-up to this moment. They loosen up by the end and throw their all in to Stag to end the show.

People come up to Fists at the end of their show and tell them how great it is that a band from England has played their small town as no-one from the UK has ever played here before.

Accommodation after shows is sorted out on an ad hoc basis. Basically if there is someone at the show who is willing to put the band up, they’ll stay there, and if not they will book a motel room.

Tonight one of the guys from the local opening act offers to put the band up. It’s a proper student joint, with a musty smelling carpet, a pull out bed that is covered in all kinds of detritus that its best not to think about and a toilet so filthy that I have to look away when I take a piss. But it’s somewhere to crash for the night and it’s very good of the people who live here to put up this strange band from overseas.

Wednesday 14 March - Washington DC

The next day we wander in to town to find a vegan cafe that has been recommended. We find the place called The Little Grill. It’s run by a guy who turns out to be a complete Anglophile and even lived in the UK for a bit with his English wife. He seems over the moon to find a group of dazed Brits in his cafe and tells us how just that morning he had been catching up with the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2. Nuts.

After breakfast we have a wander around the town and visit a pawn shop and a music place before finding the car and heading for DC.

The route to DC isn’t plain sailing, and Dave takes us off-road through rural Virginia. It might not be the most direct route, but it’s a good opportunity to see small town America. You have to see the positive in these things,

We arrive in DC in the blazing hot sun and James wants to go for lunch at a place called Ben’s Chili Bowl. This place is a bit of a landmark in DC due to it’s peaceful role in the 1968 riots as a place that both rioters and the police could eat together in peace. Inside it is a hectic diner and a sign behind the counter states that the only people who can eat in there for free are President Obama and Bill Cosby (both of whom who have eaten at Ben’s) and everyone else has to pay, whilst the walls are covered in signed photos of iconic black customers.

After eating, a little bit of record shopping at Soms Records, and a swift drink at a bar next door to the venue, the band get to The Black Cat. Obits have already loaded in by the time we get there, so the band are shown to their dressing room and sorted out with drinks for the rider and we are asked to choose food from the venue’s menu to eat later. Again the hospitality of the venue is overwhelming, and they even have a shower and give us towels if we want to use it. In fact, James does take them up on the offer later on just to say that he’s had a shower at The Black Cat.

Sitting around in the Black Cat dressing room

Sitting around in the Black Cat dressing room

Sitting around in the dressing room before the show the band find it difficult to put together a set list that has the ‘right’ sort of flow to it. Angi comes up with a setlist that everyone at first agrees on. But after some deliberating, the band then start to agonise over it. The band play a different set every night and it’s to their remarkable songwriting that they do have a pool of songs that they can pick and choose from each night, and that they are able to change the set depending on how they feel.

Perhaps it’s because of the city that we are in tonight - this is a city with a strong underground music history - but both the band and the crowd seem more into it. Fists are more relaxed and watching them it dawns on me how bizarre this situation is. I’ve been watching this band play in Nottingham for the past five year, and now here they are in America performing to a bunch of people who have no idea who they are and they're winning them over. And I’m here to witness it! They also make a killing on the merch front selling over a hundred dollars worth of EPs, singles and CDs. This is money that helps pay for the petrol and toll costs. It also help to pay for the motel room the band has to book as we can’t find anywhere to sleep tonight. 

As the band and Obits pack away at the end, Sohrab from Obits excitedly tell us that Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat/Fugazi was there tonight. Words can’t describe how amazing this is. Sohrab tells us that Henry Rollins is in Philadelphia tomorrow night for a spoken word show and that he’s going to speak to him to see if he wants to come to the gig afterwards. Unreal!

As we are stood around saying our goodbye’s to Obits, Rick Froberg (Drive Like Jehu/ Hot Snakes) Obits’ frontman and songwriter starts to speak to Pete about the amp they both play through on stage. Rick asks Pete what he thinks of it. Pete says that he’s unsure about it and that it keeps making a ‘farty’ noise. Pete keeps on repeating ‘farty’ at an uncomfortable rate as he speak to Rick. Rick replies that it is is favourite sounding amp. Time for us all to leave, I think.

The motel that we’ve booked for the night is in a small town called Silver Springs over in the next state, Maryland. It’s actually a Travelodge and Dave swears that the receptionist is a speed freak due to his twitchy behaviour and missing teeth. The room is a double for four people, so the six of us sneak the equipment and ourselves in. It wreaks of smoke and the yellow walls were probably once a pristine white, but it is a bed for the night and more importantly it has a working shower and a clean toilet.

Thursday 15 March 2012 - Philadelphia

Fists in the USA

Dave shows us what he thinks of the parking ticket

Something that has become a repetitive feature of this trip is us spending a huge amount of time driving around a little bit lost, looking for a parking space. For a country so obsessed with driving and road, it is remarkably hard to find somewhere to park your vehicle.

Once we find somewhere we hunt out a diner that had been recommended to us by Obits. Breakfast at this diner comes served with a ‘healthy’ side of grease. In fact, three days in to this tour and the lack of fresh food has started to make all of us feel sluggish and over tired and we are craving something something fresh that came out of the ground or grew on a tree.

When we head to the the car we discover that we’ve been given a parking ticket for facing the wrong way. This is a bit of a bummer and it means that the band have to use $60 of their money to pay for the ticket. What’s frustrating about this is that there aren’t any signs telling you that you can only park facing a particular way and it’s clearly just a way for the local council to raise some extra revenue.

The drive to Philadelphia is a short one, and we even manage to squeeze in watching Trading Places on the way. We get to the venue before Obits. Tonight Fists are playing at a place called Johnny Brenda’s and it is an amazingly beautiful venue. Very ornate looking, but also warm and inviting, with a raised stage and a balcony overlooking the room. More importantly, it has one of the best selection of beers that I’ve seen so far. I take a liking to one called Dreamweaver that becomes the thing of nightmares the morning after.

Again the venue provide Fists with some beer and give them some money to buy some food. There seems to be a bit of grouchiness between some of the members before the show. Perhaps this is down to spending so much time together and being over tired. Either way, it doesn’t affect their performance. Fists are on it tonight. They seem much more comfortable up on stage and it shows in their most confident performance of the tour so far. They play with a spiky, punky energy and it’s a thrill to watch.

At the end of the show James says how great it is that we’ve all been getting on together and how the tour has been so much fun, and that if we were all on ecstasy we would be hugging each other and saying how much we loved one another. In short, the band are obviously having the time of their life and it has just been topped off by the gig of the tour.

Sohrab sorts us out with a place to stay for the night at a local musician’s house and we manage to get a few hours shut-eye before shuffling out the next morning for the long drive to Cambridge, MA.

Friday 16 March - Boston

Before the long drive to Cambridge we want to take the opportunity to try and see something of Philadelphia. Due to the long drives between cities, we haven’t been able to take in many sights. We’ve been waking up in the mornings, finding somewhere for breakfast, driving to the venue and by the time we get their there’re only a couple of horse before the show starts.

Yesterday, Dave said that he had “The Rocky films in his blood” and was determined to pay homage at the infamous ‘Rocky Steps’. So we drive in to downtown Philly in the morning to visit the steps. As luck would have it, we find parking space in the car park of a Whole Foods supermarket. Whole Foods seems to be some sort of liberal mecca for fresh, organic food. It’s just want we need after days of fast food and we stock up on salads, fruit and fresh sandwiches. Tez (drummer) is so overwhelmed by the sight of fresh food that she is sent in to rapture and ends up with a twenty dollar salad.

The venue in Cambridge is TT The Bear’s, and it's a bit like The Bodega - a no nonsense gig venue. A big room with a stage one end and the bar the other.

Everyone is feeling tired and sluggish with the tour starting to physically taking its toll. Angi show us a few yoga positions that we could try to help boost out energy levels. I decide to struggle with the wifi on my phone.

It’s Friday night and it’s clear that the Bostonians want to let their hair down and drink. The gig is fun and loose with James’ “how you doing” greeting met with loud whoops and hollers from the audience. For a unknown support band, Fists have been getting an overwhelming positive reaction from the audience. Whereas in the UK many audiences would greet an unknown band with shrugs and folded arms; over here people just seem enjoy going to see music and aren’t afraid to show their appreciated. After the show a lady tells the band that they ‘crushed it’. I couldn’t put it any better.

Saturday 17 March - Manhattan, NYC

On the way to their final date of the tour in New York, Fists have been invited to film a live session for a Boston based blog called Extraneous Noise. The filming takes place in a small studio located in an old warehouse type building. It takes a few hours, but it’s a pleasure to hear the band live and loud in a tiny room. From what I can tell from the monitors the session will look bang on, and a professionally filmed session will be a great document of the tour.

Fists in the USA

Getting ready to film a live session for Extraneous Noise

It’s a long drive to the the Lower East Side of Manhattan where the Cake Shop is - the venue for tonight’s gig. Once we get there loads of familiar faces and friends start to show up, amongst them Joey Chickenskin, Katy from Kogumaza (who was also at the Philly show) and Hello Thor.

In total there are probably around 20 people from Notts here to watch the show tonight. It’s remarkable and testament to the band’s talent and level of support that they’ve built-up that so many people are willing to make the trip overseas to see them play. Support even comes from another Notts band, Rattle.

Fists in the USA

A packed Cake Shop in NYC as Fists play on stage

Obits totally smash the venue a new one, and it’s been a pleasure to watch them close up every night. The night ends with everyone little blurry eyed, yet elated. Hugs are exchanged and Obits present Angi with the guitar she had been borrowing for the tour. It’s a touching gesture and there is talk of more joint Obits/ Fists action in the near future.There’s an end of tour celebratory feel in the air and Fists give it everything they have to make sure they go out with a bang. Towards the end of the show Nick from Hello Thor makes his way to where I am stood at the back and tells me that he was completely overwhelmed with emotion. So am I.

Fists toured with Obits on the East Coast of America from 13 - 17 March 2012

Fists play with Cantaloupe and Kagoule for LeftLion at Nottingham Contemporary on Saturday 21 April 2012.

Fists on Facebook

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