Ampatch DisPatch 4
From Noah's Ark to Bacchus: The West Coast

The Camlin is a big fusty hotel in the centre of Seattle. It's where I always stay. Shizu, Grisha and I check in after our sobering drive from Idaho. The others press on to Olympia, a satellite just south of the city, where we'll join them tonight after the show.

Seattle seems rich, white, clean and fresh. It's actually refreshingly chilly. The covered harbour market teems with tourists. We breakfast overlooking the harbour, then head towards Chinatown, descending towards its bubble pearl tea houses through a hillside oriental garden. Kinokuniya bookstore is an obligatory port of call. I don't know why, though; the Japanese magazines on display are the May issues, and when I left Tokyo last month the July issues were already out. I'll also visit this bookstore in LA's Little Tokyo and see the same outdated titles. Yet I can't deny I draw some nourishment from flipping through Fruits and Zipper, no matter how old they are. I try to recognize the Tokyo locations behind the street models. I already recognise the aesthetic games they're playing with clothes, and I recognise their body types. This is now far more real to me than the American cities I'm passing through, with their drive-thru convenience, their carding laws, their evangelical radio stations... America will always be a much more foreign place to me than Japan. I must be homesick.

I read in the paper that the word 'oriental' has just been banned from all official use in Washington state after a Korean gentleman won a lawsuit in which he argued that the term implied 'narrow eyes, yellow skin and some mysterious quality'. I vow to use the endangered word, which I find beautiful and evocative, between all my songs at tonight's show.

The day is rounded out with a journey on Seattle's exemplary underground tram system, a visit to the alernamall at Belltown (a good one where I buy lots of secondhand CDs) and a monorail trip to the Musical Exploratorium designed by Frank Gehry, a more colourful version of the Bilbao Guggenheim. The building is great; unfortunately all it seems to house is a vast multimedia tribute to Eric Clapton. A sad monument to banality.

Rroland plays the first of four dates, weaving and jazzing on his analog synth, leading us all back into the amniotic fluid of our past lives. It's actually a bit painful when he hits the high notes, so I don ear plugs. Rroland bops and boogies like a teenager to all the other sets. As ever, Super Madrigal Brothers are the ones who seem to impress the most, selling more CDs than anyone except me and drawing whoops of appreciation. It seems that the past lives most kids here remember are encoded on old Atari carts.


After the show we head for Olympia, where we're staying with Peter's friend Lizz. In the morning (the family bungalow is low, wooden, surrounded by trees, chaotic inside because her parents are away) Shizu and I take the car out to search for a store where we can buy breakfast, but in this suburban warren there's nothing but lube shops and garden centres. We find our way back to the house and Peter guides us to downtown Olympia, which turns out to be a Williamsburg-like strip of hip cafes, cinemas, and thrift stores. There are cafe clerks who say 'Peace, man' instead of 'Thank you', there are insane gibbering homeless people who talk to rags on the ground as if they're long lost friends, there are cinemas showing low budget lesbian movies. As alterna-malls go it's a good one, with signs of a vital cultural life. But I can't help feeling a mite depressed by it.

Inspired by our spirit of restless adventure, Lizz has decided to join the tour, relieving our cramped, crowded cars. We don't have time to see much of Portland, but the show happens in a rather good little club with warped wood chairs and a cool crowd. We spend the night with Chris Metzler, who worked at Setanta Records when they put out 'Ping Pong' on the Satyricon label. Now he's bought a big house and is doing it up to resell it. The walls are stripped back to planks, the windows have no glass, but it's fine. I like the look of unfinished buildings better than finished ones. I examine Chris's Tricatel CDs and rip an Andre Popp disk for mp3s. (This ripping is a bonus of staying in people's houses rather than hotels. Later I'll rip Steve Reich and Terry Riley records in Texas.)

The next day is July 4th, and the weather is glorious. With one ear cocked to the radio for reports of terrorism, Shizu and I drive through the lush, utopian scenery of Oregon and Northern California. We stop at a place called Noah's Ark, a hillside attraction built by Jewish volunteers to the exact specifications of the Tabernacle of Moses. We're the only customers. The waitresses look like they've stepped from another age, or Planet Wholesome. But when I engage a plump Ukranian granny I find she's more interested in vintage cars than the Old Testament.

San Francisco

In San Francisco Shizu and I stay two nights at the fabulous loft apartment of our friends Karin and Takeshi. After teepees, rec rooms and building sites, this place is utter luxury. There's Airport streaming broadband web through the air, there's tasteful furniture in red and cream, there's a huge kitchen and a leonine Persian cat (called Momus, as it happens) lording it over us from the top of the spiral staircase. I'm reminded of my Design Zen essay. Does all this 'aesthetic correctness' make people happier? It's like liviing in Elle Decoration or Brutus Casa.

Karin comes with us to the SF MOMA's Yoko Ono exhibition (I saw the show last year at the Japan Center in New York) then Chinatown, Castro and Mission. We thrift as usual (we're never happier than when rooting through people's smelly old clothes). At the show, I announce on the spur of the moment that I probably won't ever tour the US again. I even slip into the Ziggy retirement schtick: 'This is the last show we'll ever do...' I don't know why I say this, but it's probably because I suddenly feel like I've been at Bottom of the Hill way too many times (I must've played there eight times in the last four years). The SF audience is as enthusiastic as ever, and, egged on, I raunch through the songs with gusto, dropping improvisations about Dennis Cooper into "Radiant Night' and breakdancing during 'What Are You Wearing?'

In LA We Meet Bacchus

In LA we meet Bacchus in the form of Matt Fishbeck, singer with the now-defunct Push Kings. Bacchus strides into Spaceland wearing a big floppy pimp hat and flares. His pupils are the size of saucers and his ego floats somewhere far above like a blimp. He's a very smart and very nice guy, Fish-Bacchus. If his first gesture is to knock a plate of Thai food into my lap, it's just because he's reaching out to hug me.

Before the show I commiserate with two charming girls too young to get into the show, Ellie and Summer. Later, standing at the door like a pastor greeting his flock, I meet the MOCA girls who commissioned the Suffusia piece which has just gone up on their digital gallery site. One of them turns out to be married to Beck's brother, who brings Beck's apologies: he's a big fan, but is working tonight on the album after next, a rockwerk produced by Dan The Automator. (The intermediate album is more Mutations-folksy.)

After the show we climb the hills of Silverlake and spend all night in Bacchus' villa, where very loud rock from the 60s, 70s and 80s plays. There are some fanzine girls, and a pretty party of art exiles who've driven up from Mexico for the show. Shizu and I sleep on a waterbed with earplugs deep in our ears, but John, Phiiliip and Bacchus speed through the night, talking music. In the late morning everyone sprawls spent and wasted in the beautiful garden, surrounded by scarlet blooms, exotic birds, lemon trees and tomato plants. Bacchus is a handsome poet, and LA is Rome in the Silver Age. It's a brief respite from American puritanism before we plunge back into Arizona and Texas, with their testamental rocks and dogmas.

Part 1 of the AmPatch DisPatches is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 5 is here.
See more photos from the tour in the Daily Photo section.

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