It was a cool, grey, wet morning in Antwerp when a van-man met us outside our hotel. The short drive to Sportpaleis was uneventful and apart from taking pictures of our truck pack, so was the load in; or so I thought. As far as The Winning Team were concerned, after snapping some shots of the gear as it was unloaded from the truck, the set-up seemed quite chilled, simple, and easy. The audio department had an issue with a fancy cable called a ’50-pair’, and its complicated socket was mended, but the repair made little impact on the schedule, and our line-check was delayed only a few minutes. To be sure, it was a busy set-up, but that was due to taking pictures, making (oh so expert) line drawings and load lists; in truth, there seemed little interesting to share, and indeed just before dinner I asked the dwellers of the production office if there was anything new and exciting going on. The reason I asked at all was because I had thought it was just another day at the office, and was fishing for something, ANYTHING to write about — and I was informed of something which provides a stark contrast to the mundane acts mentioned above: the stage was in the wrong place.
Yes, the large stage on which ‘the magic happens’ was at least 15 feet further away from the front audience row than was tasteful, and the entire thing had to be shifted. I am of course providing the short story, as that is the only story I know, but estimating the stage at 5 feet in height by 60 feet in width and 50 feet in depth, one might begin to understand the effort involved in moving what is essentially scaffolding and plywood a whole fifteen feet. So apart from THAT, it was a fairly event-free load-in.
Copying the template of recent pasts, the show was delayed 15 minutes, and once we got going, the crowd were quite tame — appreciative of course, yet somewhat subdued. I can’t explain it, other than to state the obvious: this ain’t no punk rock show. The first set seemed to fly by; Ain’t No Cure for Love and Choices (maybes in parentheses) were skipped and before long, we found ourselves in the mid-show break.
Again, the cameras seemed to really come out during Suzanne (or perhaps it’s the only time I’m looking into the crowd). Sisters of Mercy was favoured over The Gypsy’s Wife, and Show Me the Place was outta there. When Take This Waltz was in its near-end musical phrases and while Leonard reintroduced the band and gave crew members a mention, the congregation began their exodus: the faithful rose from their seats and descended upon the space between the front row and the stage — the kids are in the pit; perhaps this is a punk rock show after all. Offerings of flowers flew through the air while Leonard skipped off the stage and the band played him out before the encores.
As in London, So Long Marianne gets the kids going; the singalong, voiced by what seemed like the whole floor, on their feet, resonated in the room, and Leonard complimented the singers, one of whom held her butane lighter aloft, lit, for what seemed like an eternity. I hope she didn’t put it in her pocket straight away, once the flame was extinguished, because the spark wheel was probably a few degrees shy of molten.
90 minutes following the last echoes of I Tried to Leave You, your Winning Team were finished with the truckload of backline, lighting spares, risers, chop-shop cars, illegal migrants, live ponies, transformer, washing machines and whatever else they throw our way at the end of a show to fill a 40-odd-foot truck. We were then lifted to our hotel, where dreams of sugarplum fairies denounced by diet fad propagandists awaited.