In Krakow the first thing to do was to hit up the band’s favourite pierogi spot. Krakow was another beautiful old town, and after feeding the pigeons in the main square for a bit we headed to the venue to meet Cyprian, the promoter, and Andy from Screaming Females Fan Club who had flown in for the show. After load-in I had another wander round some record shops though I couldn’t find any classic Siekera or Post Regiment records in any of the shops I checked out, and they probably would’ve been way beyond my price-range anyway. The old town walls of Krakow are still largely intact, and surrounded by a circular park, so the city centre feels like a little enclave. Someone tried to hand me a political flyer for POLEXIT. Not the kinda thing I needed.
This was the band’s fourth time in Krakow, and like in the other cities they’d played before, people were incredibly excited to see them. The basement venue, which for some reason played exclusively Danzig on the PA, maybe a tribute to SF’s Jersey roots, was packed, people were throwing themselves about and moshing hard, not something which happens that often at Screaming Females shows these days since they moved onto slightly bigger venues and similarly appreciative, but somewhat more restrained, crowds, much to Mike’s lament. At one point when I was down near the front getting a few photos someone grabbed my shoulders and I turned round to find Cyprian screaming with joy in my face and pogoing madly. It’s very rare you see a promoter lose themselves in the music like that. Even though the majority of the profession are keen music fans (you have to be to last in that role), for a lot of them the day-to-day grind and realities of doing it as a job seeps into their pure enjoyment of the music, but not for Cyprian clearly. The kind of guy who keeps music going, sharing an equal love for music and pride in his hometown. The show ended with Marissa passing her guitar to an ecstatic lad from the crowd who gave it his best shot at shredding. Andy had picked a great show to come to. After the gig the merch table was buzzing and people just kept buying us shots, one lad went up to the bar and just bought an entire bottle of vodka and started pouring out drinks for us. There was also an extremely tasty local cider on offer, of which I had a good few pints.
Then as we were loading out, something happened which took the wind out of our sails. We discovered Marissa’s pedal box was missing, searching throughout the venue and unloading and reloading the van twice confirmed it. Someone had pinched it. A real sour note to top off an otherwise amazing day and gig. While Marissa was having a final search of the venue and taking a look at the club CCTV footage to see if it’d captured anyone making off with the pedalbox, Mike, Jarrett and I were hanging around the van reflecting that it could’ve been a lot worse. Fourteen years as a band, one off thirteen hundred shows and this was the first time they’d had something nicked. We all know far worse horror stories about bands being robbed on the road; Sonic Youth had a trailer full of customised guitars nicked; last summer Colombian hardcore band Muro had all their tour money for their European tour taken. Jarrett told me about one New Jersey band who had just left a bag with ten thousand dollars in it in a parking lot and drove off. Sadly, it’s something of a fact of life for a touring musician, and massively frustrating as it is. It can happen. And it could’ve been a lot worse.
Then, while standing there by the van we were treated to an absolutely unforgettable piece of true street theatre, as a bunch of English lads, presumably on a stag-do, tangled it up outside a club in front of us. One of them, straight out of central casting for a Cock Sparrer biopic, was the angriest looking man that I have ever seen in my life. His entire head, through a combination of booze and fury, had gone a deep shade of purple, looking like a beetroot in a polo shirt. He was howling inchoately with rage, and when he was able to form words beyond just a maddened roar, informing his friends, us, the entire street and probably half of Krakow “I’M GONNA FUCKIN’ KILL ‘IM! I’M GONNA FUCKIN’ BURY THE CUNT! I’M GONNA STAB ‘IM!” His mate, clearly also a few sheets to the wind but also with his wits somewhat more about him, was attempting to play peacemaker, softly holding the furious bloke by his shoulders and imploring “Please, Mark. Calm down. Please, calm down. Lisa doesn’t need this.” But Mark would not calm down, despite these entreaties, grabbing the ground-floor window grates of apartments on the street and rattling them madly, looking absolutely ready to burst. The bouncer of the club they had been ejected from looked on with a wry expression that clearly said to me “Brits.”
At some point, the other main participant in this conflict appeared, flanked by another lot of the same group. A greasy-haired skinny younger lad, whose name we ascertained to be Liam as one of the group kept saying “Shut the fuck up, Liam” to him. Yes, he was the culprit who had so enraged Mark, though exactly what he’d done was unclear as of yet. The enmity was clearly mutual though, as Liam, stumbling drunk and possessed of a flimsy build that looked like Mark could cave his skull in with one swift nut from his stout red potato head, slipped away from the distracted mates who were trying to keep the two apart, and swayed towards the fray, taking aim with a wild haymaker, which didn’t come anywhere close to connecting with anyone, let alone Mark. The momentum of this punch did, however, carry our Liam off the pavement and down into the middle of the street, where he crumpled in front of a car, thankfully moving slowly enough to stop rapidly, whereupon one of Mark’s attendant appeasers walked over to him and dragged him out of the roadway by his collar, depositing him in a heap in a doorway muttering “You silly, silly cunt.”
Cyprian and Marissa came out and watched a bit more of this drama play out. The cops turned up at one point, but didn’t really get involved, just watched things unfold, waiting to see if any actual violence would break out, or if Mark would calm down. Liam, raising himself from his doorway, even staggered all the way across the road at one point, bumping into our van, the light gone completely from his eyes, and the group of them took Liam and Mark in separate directions. Cyprian said to me, sheepishly, “Look, I’m not saying that this is a British thing…” and I immediately cut him off “Oh no, this is definitely a British thing.” This kind of scene plays out across every town centre in the UK every Friday/Saturday night, though rarely so entertainingly.
Cutting our losses we drove off, passing Mark a little way down the road, still drawing on apparently bottomless reserves of anger, still roaring about how he was gonna stab Liam. Amazing fortitude. We slept in a lovely high-ceilinged apartment, replete with creepy mannequins, and took breakfast with Cyprian in a hostel next door where every other person in the room was part of a teen evangelical youth group from Mississippi. An intense thing to encounter feeling quite hungover and fragile as we were (I suppose the silver lining of the previous night’s theft was that it kept us from getting totally bladdered as we inevitably would’ve done had we carried on drinking with the effusive Cracovians.)
As we ate we sat through a talk from their group leaders giving them advice on how best to persuade their Polish pen-friends to convert. Poland is a pretty bloody Christian country as it is, though I guess there’s the chance that it could be the wrong form of Christianity according to the people leading this group. It was a bizarre situation, munching on some delicious Polish cheese while hearing children being given tips on how to indoctrinate other children. Everyone was so oppressively well-mannered, I’m used to groups of teens getting rowdy, arguing with each other, not addressing everyone in an exceedingly formal way and nervously couching every mildly querulous point in so many layers of awkward hedging as to almost obliterate anything they were actually saying.
I joked to the band that we were seeing two ways in which our respective countries dealt with outsiders, the casual disrespect of hammered Englishmen, treating every corner of the world like their own personal consequence-free drunken playground, and the calculated inculcation of missionary work, convinced wholly of its own righteousness, never mind what lives people might be living anyway before you came along.
Cyprian took us for a wander around the old Jewish quarter, and we stopped by a music shop to get some emergency pedals for Marissa, and came back to a parking ticket, one more sign that Krakow had had enough of us, before we went off to Warsaw.