To Seattle and Vancouver and Portland
Today we drive by day for the first time and I stretch out on the leather upholstery of the back lounge gazing across the fertile valley of the Willamette river to forested hills. White puffs of cloud hang temptingly overhead ripe to be hooked into a daydream. The landscape reminds me of Stirlingshire but, as with everything here, on a grander scale. You feel like you could feed most of Scotland from these fields alone, mapped out to the far ridges on the horizon.
We de-bus in Seattle around sixteen hundred and after a few desultory turns round some used clothes stores I go looking for sustenance choosing a balls basic Vietnamese gaff where a dandy of a waiter serves me a delicious bowl of noodle broth which I slurp with enthusiasm. The area around the gig is gentrified hip, if that means anything at all anymore. If it ever did. I walk to a wharf and smell the salt air. Small ships and fishing boats crowd around the quayside served by tumbledown sheds. Before the show I meet my friend Steven who is back from Hong Kong for a month. He and his wife tell me how bad Covid is there currently and how the Chinese government had no choice but to pursue a policy of containment and suppression due to the population size and density of their vast cities. We chat about Ukraine and TV before I have to warm up. Seattle has been a little wet today and the weather has made me hungry so after the gig I queue up at the little service window of a pie shop across the street from venue. I opt for the chicken hot pot pie which hits the spot. Soon I am comatose once more in a Melatonin mist.
We move off in the morning, having slept the night outside the gig, heading for the US/Canadian border. We’re dealt with swiftly and politely at the frontier, the Canadian officials’ uniforms pressed as sharp as cut glass. Even their face masks are perfectly pleated. Just beyond the crossing is a little demo, protestors waving inverted US and Canadian flags. One has a Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” banner and there are a few “No to Tyranny” flags. Their salient characteristic seems to be an idiotic inability to clearly express what they’re for or against in either symbol or slogan. They’re all white though, which I take as a bad sign. They’re warriors against lucidity.
We cross the Fraser river to the shining towers of Vancouver framed against dark blue mountains. It’s a gloomy overcast day and there are patches of white snow on the hills sucking the sky into their cold secrets. We seem to circle the skyscrapers as if planning a surprise attack on an encampment. The Imperial, tonight’s venue, is downtown and the area is pretty crazy. Hundreds of itinerant people are shuffling around stunned and lost or bent over double, many zonked out completely. It’s a grim tableau of destitution and addiction, apocalyptic in aspect. I ask the promoter’s rep, Lisa, what’s going on. She explains that one of those care-in-the-community policy changes in the ‘80s brought many mentally ill and addicted people here for the mild climate. Since then it’s ballooned and as always nobody seems to know what to do about it. The cause of the distinctive behaviour is Fentanyl, the effects of which I’ve not seen before. People bent over double as if looking for something they’ve dropped, people crouching weirdly, rummaging around in slow motion, stumbling, swaying. It’s ghastly; a tragic zombie Armageddon. And of course, as is the modern manner, the area has undergone a process of gentrification, so amongst the armies of walking wounded you find architectural practices, hip coffee joints, fine fucking dining. Two worlds intertwined and yet an ocean apart. But going from the upper to the underworld? Well, that’s as easy as ABC.
I walk down to Gastown to find some vaguely healthy food and choose a Greek place. I’m acutely aware that the window separating me from the street is millimetres thin. Everybody’s in hell but some of us are hiding behind glass and pretending it isn’t happening. That’s what everyone in the Greek place is doing. Skating over the ice as the drowning scratch from the black depths below.
We re-cross the border at 2AM, the US immigration guards friendly and curious. What kind of music you guys play? A question that has no answer that is not somehow demeaning. The genre is rock, Mr. Border Guard, but the sensibility is indie-pop with a twist of pseudo-Americana.
I wake up around 10AM in Portland, punch “breakfast” into maps and head off to My Father’s Place for my favourite thing — corned beef hash and eggs over-easy with sourdough toast. I’m at a counter on a swivel stool and happy as a pig in a chestnut forest. The waitress is a middle-aged dynamo, swooping around with the glass globed coffee jug and dispensing worldly wisdom to staff and customers like a breakfast Tinkerbell. A few folk are drinking off their Saturday night excesses with Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys. I take a walk over the Willamette river (hello again) to the old downtown, garbage blowing about its Sunday morning streets like last night’s tattered conversations. As I descend a secluded metal staircase from bridge to riverfront I check my periphery as I can hear someone following me. It’s a skateboarder and he says “You’re ok, brother” and I thank him for the reassurance. “I don’t blame ya”, he says and I laugh. It’s grey with a light cool wind and Portland is not fully awake. I see geese pecking on a riverside lawn, leisurely cyclists, staring street people, shanties everywhere. On the way back I pass a woman in an anorak staring down into the green river like it’s told her a secret she refuses to believe.
18 Responses to “To Seattle and Vancouver and Portland”
Even though I live walking distance from the Sunset in Seattle, and even though I’d been listening to the band for three decades, I didn’t get my shit together to buy tickets until the show was sold out and there was no secondary market. Fine. I drove to Vancouver and had the same WhatTheFentanyl response you did. Thanks for a good show, and I hope it won’t take me 30 years to see the next one.
I just wanted to add that when I was at the border, the agent said “what are you coming up for, and how long will you be here?” I said I’d come for a show and I’d be heading back later that night. “What band?” The guard looked to be about 24, and I cavalierly said “Del Amitri, but you’re probably too young to know who that is.” He smiled and said “Actually, I do.” Now he had my attention, and he clarified: “Well, they DID just roll through here a few hours ago.” So, I appreciated that you corroborated my excuse for crossing the border. It might be harder for me to get to the Melkweg this fall, and you won’t have softened up Border Patrol for me, but I’ll see what I can do.
Sad to admit your observations and illustrations of Vancouver were spot on. This is not the Vancouver we grew up in , know and love. Unfortunately we have politicians that care more about Climate change policies, hosting World Cup football and more bicycle lanes. So apologies are in order and thanks for returning after all these years and blessing us with a great show. Love the new material. Hope to see you here again soon. Cheers.
I had resigned myself to never hear those songs performed by that band ever again. But, there I was driving to Seattle to do just that. Meeting up with dear friends, saying hello to you as you sipped your coffee, and finding discovering a little bit of my old self in the music played.
Sunday was pivotal for me. I did things I have never done before. I camped out at the front of the stage. I’ve never been in that position for a show before. I handed a couple of ancient posters to Iain after the show. “You want these signed?” He asked. No. They’re just ancient artifacts I have to bestow. I expect nothing back.
Again, I met old friends once more, and made new ones. Having all these old friends gathered for the sheer purpose of hearing music which touches our souls to this day, is a true blessing. And, at this time, the band are one of our old friends. (said with a wink)
That part of downtown Vancouver is depressing AF.
Thanks for these little literary lifelines…
So much fun seeing you last night…sorry Portland rained on you, but what can you do. I liked that you called out the “Twin Peaks” vibes at the Doug Fir. IMO the best venue in town so I was so happy you played there! Hope the rest of your tour goes well…Cheers
The description of the state of Vancouver’s downtown eastside is accurate and embarrassing. So many dying daily of opiate ODs. The band had to dodge the homeless tents to enter the venue.
When I bought tics in December for Seattle & Vancouver, never dreamed I’d see you guys at venues with 200 or fewer people. Consider myself lucky to see you in such venues, and on the flipside, pissed that you aren’t ridiculously famous.
Thank you for making one more trip across the pond to do these shows. Your Vancouver assessment was on the money – but even risking being mugged on East Hastings was worth coming to the show.
And I’m not one of the louts that insists on shouting out requests between every tune (sorry Vancouver, but Seattle was much better behaved).
Just back from tonight’s show, amazed how the songs sound as timeless as when I first heard them live at the Crystal Ballroom many lifetimes ago. And all the tunes in their original keys – very nicely done, sir! Thanks for the soul vaccination! Safe travels and many more fine shows on the tour.
Waiting in Portland, surrounded by who knows what. Definitely a plethora of puffy coats no doubt hiding prius and Subaru key fobs. We’re not on the Gallowgate now! Driving down from Seattle I realized it’s been 30 years since I was part of a movement in Orkney to bring “chart topping rock bands” to the islands. By good fortune, Change Everything had just come out and we were offered Del Amitri as part of their warm up tour. Now after many Barras shows, I THINK Tower Records(?), Seattle and a few others, my mortality is hinting this may be my last time seeing the band who formed a huge part of the soundtrack of my days!! I’m sad but remind myself how lucky I am that these shows happened at all. Seeing JC solo in Nashville 10+ years ago, this seemed like a lottery win!! Tonight in Portland, this Scottish lad is gonna take in EVERY FUCKING SECOND and love it!!! Thank you guys! Thank you!!!!
A brutally honest and accurate take on Vancouver’s downtown east side, it’s embarrassing how this city treats it’s citizens in need. Vancouverites, we need to do better.
Thank you to Justin, Iain, Andy, Kris and Jim for an amazing show and I hope the boys will be back soon ….27 years was too long for this fan!
Justin, your Leica-accurate eyes and turn of phrase are astute. Thanks for observing and sharing. “They are warriors against lucidity.” Great show in Vancouver. Well worth the wait and the journey. Safe travels. Your attention and words add a lot to the tour.
Despite what you may think of the stage at the Imperial, for the audience it was truly beautiful and perhaps one of the best and most intimate gigs I have ever been to (having seen you 4 times in the UK).
Thank you to Jim and Iain for kindly signing the 27 year old poster from your 1995 tour which blessed Vancouver.
And yes, we hang our heads in shame at what successive governments have not done to Downtown Eastside. Makes Glasgow seem t
I don’t know why but I’m mildly tickled that you’ve had the day here in Portland.
And not that you don’t know this, but your short story, creative non-fiction is delightful.
Cannot believe we get to see you 5 in person tonight! So happy about it!
Oof, that description of the desperation that collided with gentrification in Vancouver was brutally accurate. I’m currently reading “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté about addiction and his work in that very neighbourhood. It’s a compassionate book and worth a read if you’re interested.
The thought of Justin Currie having breakfast at My Father’s Place warms me.
Yer not wrong about Vancouver, subsequent governments have kicked the drug abuse issue down the road so many times. Tragic to see.
We rode to that venue in Vancouver in silence and disbelief, and maybe a little guilt. Thought we were in the wrong place at first, although the tour bus was a good indication we were close. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.