Friday, May 9, 2008

The Sugarcubes - Pt. 2

Elektra offices, NYC

So Elektra released their debut, 'Life’s Too Good', and I thought I'd try to catch as much of the accompanying tour as possible. Their first show in the US was at the 9.30 Club in Washington, DC where I finally got to see the group in all their glory. Margrét (Magga) Örnólfsdóttir (now a permanent member, having replaced Einar Melax on keyboards) was dating guitarist, Thor. Thor had previously been Björk’s partner and their 2 year old boy, Sindri, (aka ‘Sparky’), was with them on the road. There was no weird fact, everyone meshed beautifully, sharing responsibilities and taking care of business professionally and with good humour. It's not usually like that with musicians on tour. There’d often be an unstable one, perhaps a jealous-of-the-singer one, there’d be somebody who cared more about the ‘business’ than the music, a married one (whose spouse resented the band), often one who’d given up a good, paying job and found themselves in a filthy van, eating crap and sleeping on floors. There was none of that here. The ‘Cubes were the most democratic, hard working, down to earth, secure band I’d worked with. They took their artistry very seriously, but not at the expense of their lives outside the band. Hanging out with them was fun and inspirational. The DC show was a solid start to the tour and it was immediately obvious Björk would, one day, become a big star. The next show – July 29th 1988 - was in a decrepit hall in NY’s East Village called The World. It had no air conditioning and the temperature was in the low hundreds. I don’t think the group had ever felt such heat before, but they played their hearts out and later, backstage, made many new friends. A full complement of Elektra staff showed up, from the mail room to the legal department, and all were hugely impressed. Later, the show was pressed up as a bootleg double LP, 'Have An Ice Day'.
drawing of 'The Sugarcubes In Concert'
by Bragi (Konrad Bé) Ólafsson

Boston was next, and I watched the show standing a few feet to the side of Siggi’s drum kit. Now this guy’s a drummer! Not because he chose to wear a fetching white dress with a ton of tulle filling the drum-stool, but because his crisp, meticulous playing and extraordinary technique was a revelation to watch and hear. His playing is a huge factor in the band’s distinctive sound and later, he showed me he could play in four different time signatures simultaneously (using both hands and both feet independently), something not many drummers I ever ran into could do. After the show, we all went to Elektra promo rep Dave Johnson’s house for a party. Mark Cohen, our Deadhead from the mail room and Mary Mancini, an assistant in the a&r dept - and these, days a popular talk radio hostess in the Nashville market (Google and listen to her Liberadio show) - had both made the journey and were happy to watch Einar and Siggi demonstrate ‘Glima’, a form of Icelandic folk-wrestling which, apparently, is best undertaken after many Heinekens. According to Wikipedia, there are four points that differentiate it from regular wrestling:
* The opponents must always stand erect.
* The opponents step clockwise around each other (looks similar to a waltz). This is to create opportunities for offense and defense, and to prevent a stalemate.

* It is not permitted to fall down on your opponent or to push him down in a forceful manner, as it is not considered sportsman-like.

* The opponents are supposed to look across each other's shoulders as much as possible because it is considered proper to wrestle by touch and feel rather than sight.
Ok, that's quite enough of that...
The following day, I took the band to my favourite Boston attraction, the Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library, next to the Christian Science Monitor building. The place is a trip and after we walked across the ‘equator’ and tested the freaky acoustics inside the globe, I returned to NY feeling really happy with our latest signing. I caught them again in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Word was spreading and People Magazine arranged a photo shoot at the Phoenix Hotel in SF where I introduced Björk to SF resident and NoFoSo playlist-mate, Angel Corpus Christi. According to the big map of the United States displayed in their bus, the tour had been christened NAMERIKA ’88 and, for some reason, whenever Duran Duran’s 'Notorious' came on the radio, the whole band would leap to their feet and start frantically spazz-dancing. Elektra’s Peter Philbin took us all out for sushi in Los Angeles, and once again, there was our mail room guy, Mark Cohen! How the hell did he get out here? The tour ended back in New York at the Ritz. Joey Ramone, Richard Butler and Sinead O’Connor came to pay their respects. So did Denis McNamara from WLIR, which, at that time, was the only radio station with a relatively far-reaching signal within a radius of hundreds of miles that played ‘modern’ music. For a slideshow of the Sugarcubes' first US visit and tour, click here...

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