This past winter Pinback traveled to Moscow for a show during our tour across Europe. I had kept a tour diary this time around, since we were visiting so many new places. In the distant past I had been very diligent about writing down new experiences in a journal, but after the twelfth time traversing the nation I started finding less to write about that I felt was exciting and new. Maybe a sign of taking things for granted? Or being a tad lazy? Either way, this past year I wrote quite a lot about our recent travels. Here is an excerpt of a twenty-four-hour period when we traveled from a freezing cold-Berlin over to Moscow, Russia, and back. I hope you enjoy!
We got quite lost on our trip to Berlin, but eventually made our way to a hotel near the airport. Our GPS had done us wrong! Let’s just put it that way. We were reminded of the importance of our absent paper map. The band and crew were on edge about leaving in the morning to Russia. There were some details with our Russian work visas that felt a little unusual, and we were nervous that we’d be turned away. Anything that was either suspect or valuable was removed from our luggage, and we packed the warmest clothes we could carry into backpacks. Everyone found it a little difficult to sleep, but we finally did and got a few hours before the early rude awakening of the alarm clock.
At the airport we did the normal series of security check-ins and then a final one where we had to have our Russian visas examined. This room was like a regular airport gate, except it was separated from the rest of the airport waiting gates, being walled in and covered with chicken wire above to keep anyone from passing in contraband, etc. We had a short two-hour flight to Moscow and had an amazing view on the descent into the city. Man, Moscow is big! It’s currently 11.5 million people or so, and it stretches for miles. Everywhere you look it’s sort of gray, and these large areas of trees break up the sprawling urban area.
After landing, we stood in more lines to show our passports and visas. All the gear arrived, and we were allowed in despite our having guitars and tourist visas rather than business visas. No one asked us a thing; they just made sure our paperwork was fine and then allowed us to enter. The airport was surprisingly desolate, and after collecting all of our bags we went to try to locate our translator/concert contact. We were planning on arriving just in time to make soundcheck, but we didn’t realize that in Russia, traffic is horrendous. Despite it being a Saturday afternoon, it took about an hour and fifteen minutes to go fifteen miles. They said some workdays can be a five-hour commute with Moscow traffic. We were pretty surprised with how relaxed the promoter was with the schedule. We were stressing about being late, but no one else seemed concerned about it. People were used to waiting, I suppose.
The venue was called Milk and was a good distance from the city center. With the traffic being as bad as it is, I didn’t try to get down there. Time was tight at this point. The gear was not what was described to us in the emails preceding the show, but we were able to make due with what we scrounged together. People were already raiding the dressing room and they hadn’t even opened the doors yet. Needless to say, any drinks that were back there were long gone within minutes. We were then taken down the street to a restaurant for some dinner. At dinner our host constantly insisted that we raise our glasses and toast to Texas. He had visited there once and was convinced that Dallas was the most wonderful place in the world.
There seem to be very few rules about driving in Russia enforced. People park wherever they please, be it on the sidewalk or whatever. There are few clearly marked spots, so people generally park in a haphazard way that suits the city. We ordered up some borsch and drank vodka with our host. The other patrons’ reactions to us were strange. We were definitely getting the “once over” from everyone in there. I guess we stuck out pretty badly. After a good dinner we made our way back over to the venue. People were queued up in different lines to come into the venue, and it was freezing out. Painfully cold. Everyone smoked so heavily, though, that we wanted to spend a bit more time in the fresh air before going back into the smoky venue. We estimated that sixty days of our lives were taken off by the amount of smoke we had to breathe this night.
We watched and waited through three bands and finally took the stage about ninety minutes behind schedule. We were plagued with technical problems and struggled to finish the shortened set. Bad show. But hey, we’re in Russia. Glad to check it out despite the crazy goings on. It’s hard to describe this place. There is so much wealth and everything is so expensive, but it’s really chaotic. People drive insanely and litter constantly. Bottles and broken glass were all over the sidewalks outside the venue. Our soundman, Matt, actually got bumped by a car that was carelessly driving past. We almost got hit by cars a few times during this extremely short visit. It really seemed like the value of life was a little lower, the way people took risks and treated their health. I completely acknowledge that our visit was perhaps not a fair assessment of the city or its people, but there was a definite common impression left on all of us.
We were driven back to the hotel and showed our credentials, and then nabbed three hours of sleep before making the traffic-filled trek back to the airport. Everyone was really on edge about waking up on time. One of the other musicians asked us to MAKE SURE that we didn’t leave without him to the airport and told us his room number. This poor guy actually did oversleep and nearly was stuck in Russia. Once your visa expires you have to get new papers to leave the country. This is a very strict rule. Even if it’s one minute past your visa expiration, you are sticking around. Yikes!
There was some wild architecture and parks right outside the hotel, so it was cool to see some of that before we exited. It was a weird feeling of being anxious to leave even though we still had so much to see. Being in Moscow was a very uneasy experience, but I am absolutely glad we did it.
Our flight went through Kiev, Ukraine, where we had a layover and people-watched for a while, eventually boarding and making our way to Prague. The customs/passport control lines were excruciating. It took very long, but we finally made it through to the baggage claim area, where we discovered that one of our bags of equipment had been lost in Kiev during the flight. Bummer. At least we felt more at ease trying to track down replacement gear in Prague, where we met back up with our van. Our good friend who lives in Europe now had shuttled our van and gear from Berlin to Prague so that we could rendezvous and continue our tour from there.