No one in the South of Chile knows how long it takes to get to Santiago. I was told anywhere from nine to sixteen hours (by bus, of course). Turns out, from Frutillar, it’s just under ten hours. My 8 AM arrival was much earlier than anticipated and seemed like centuries before the concert, the only reason I was there in the first place. I left Jake WC and my newfound friends in Frutillar to attend one of the most fortunate coincidences in any band’s international-tour history. I say this, of course, because my favorite band, Tame Impala, managed to book the most convenient venue in the most convenient (convenient meaning only) time I could see them on their South America tour. I had luck from the beginning. I planned my entire break around my ability to be in Santiago on Saturday, October 19th. Anyway, my early arrival left me with more than enough time to kill before my 9 PM show. I felt I hadn’t played a sufficient amount of guitar over our fall/spring break, and as such, broke it out in a park by the bus terminal. It was at this point that the coolest 48 hours of my life began.
I’d say it was a half an hour of strumming before I was approached by a homeless man who offered to play me a few songs. I obliged, of course, given that I was in his yard. (I was invited to his house – a nearby tree – for dinner, complete with steak and champagne. Had the rest of my weekend been any different, I would have been upset to have missed it.) We played together for about an hour, and after I was introduced to the rest of his family, he blessed me and sent me on my way.
I walked into the first Internet cafe I could find to book a hostel and discovered what I would later come to know as “coffee-with-legs.” Imagine Hooters mixed with Starbucks. Not an intentional part of my Chilean experience (despite what my roommates here may believe), but certainly a nice surprise. I received a kiss upon paying my bill. I then went to my hostel, dropped off my things, and without a plan, left. It was 1 PM.
I could write my PhD dissertation on what it means to travel, and when one does, what one should do. But, simply put, I have no interest in touristy things. I knew nothing of Santiago anyway, so instead of using my afternoon to see the city’s “sights,” I decided to pursue my two favorite things: food and music. The former came by way of a street vendor with some type of chorizo/pulled-pork sandwich. It was damn good. I knew the latter was a given considering the evening’s scheduled events, but since I didn’t know where the venue was, I figured I might as well check it out.
A 10,000-peso cab ride later (about US$20) and I found myself at the base of the Andes. I didn’t even know they bordered the city until I was at the foot of them the air quality was that bad. The Chimkowe venue has a capacity of around 4,500 people, and even though (as I would soon learn) the pre-sale was only about three-quarters of that, six hours before the show a line had formed. There wasn’t any security at the door, so I simply walked in and explored the venue. I began with the bathrooms.
I quickly made my way to the stage, and upon doing so, saw Joe(y), the tech manager for Tame Impala, loading in their gear. Everyone else from the venue wore uniforms, but I decided to help, too. I managed to introduce myself to Joey and Nico, the day-of-show contact at the venue. It was at this point that I made a decision that would make my mother cringe, but would later reward me immensely: for this day, I smoked cigarettes. I bummed one off Condor Jet, the opening band, which provided me the perfect opportunity to establish myself as more than just a fan with impeccable timing. I never had to lie. I said I worked in a concert venue in Chicago and met the band in the city, both of which are true. It wasn’t long before they thought I was with Tame Impala. After I welcomed Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind the entire band, to the country, two thoughts crossed my mind: How far can I take this? And when will they tell me no? Those close to me know I like to push the limits, but this time it paid off. Big.
When the headliner finished their sound-check, I accompanied Garth, their assistant manager, to the market to buy cigarettes for the band. The three words in Spanish he knew sounded very funny with an Australian accent. My accent isn’t much better, though I was able to buy two packs of Lucky Strike for us. A terrible move for my health, but a brilliant move for the evening.
Once I returned, I continued to wait for my joyride to end. Abruptly. “Okay, you have to leave the backstage area now,” I expected to hear. But it never came. The world let me take it farther and farther until the moment of truth came. Nico, the day-of-show contact, gave me an “Artista” wristband. I was set. I had backstage AND greenroom (the artist’s lounge) access, and, equally important, free food and drink. (Side note: I had one of my favorite beers to date with these guys. An artesanal lager brewed with fruit only grown in Patagonia. Call me a snob, hipster, whatever. It was fantastic.)
Condor Jet played a fairly short thirty-minute set and at around 10:30 PM, Tame Impala took the stage. As did I. Not as a musician, but I was literally on the stage for part of the show. The latter half I sat on a raised platform that offered a better view. I will refrain from reviewing the entire show here, but I will say this: I thoroughly enjoyed my third Tame Impala concert. To be honest, I would have enjoyed the set list they used weeks earlier in the States more, but given this particular show’s circumstances, it’s hard to complain. If nothing else, I was able to see the band communicate with each other from an angle un-seeable to a member of the audience. Guitarists often need to face their amp during solos so they can hear themselves, and for the first time, I was able to see what Kevin did as he lost himself in the transcendent world of face-melting solos.
Sadly, the band did not indulge in South American culture and play late into the evening as they finished around 12:15 AM. I walked upstairs to the greenrooms and chatted with Condor Jet as we made plans to go out. Neither them nor I wanted to bother the guys from Tame Impala with anything, so I figured I’d go out with them since they were local and try some “pisco sours,” Chile’s signature drink. But because Condor Jet thought I was with Tame Impala, they sent me after the tour manager with their EP. I figured my once-in-a-lifetime backstage experience was nearly over, so I risked it and waltzed into the band’s fortress-of-a-greenroom to find the manager. A few others asked me to get CDs signed for them, and after twenty minutes or so I made it to their manager, Jodie. What started out as chit-chat turned into an hour-long conversation about everything from stories about the band as teenagers to plans for the next South American tour to Jodie’s dreams to open a studio that will support her carefree (yet successful) managerial style. I absorbed every word of what she said and was grateful to be exposed to so much knowledge and experience. Even though my heroes only swung by for short bits of the conversation, I was happy to spend time with her.
Around 2 AM, things wound down at the venue. I grabbed Jodie’s bag for her and walked with her “boys” to the car. She told me they didn’t have room for anyone else, and I accepted that as the end to an unbelievable night. But for some reason, they had to wait for something. What do musicians do when they stand around? Cue the Lucky Strike. Kevin ran out of cigarettes and since I was there to offer him one, Jodie was there to offer me a seat on the floor of their van. As I waited with Kevin, I was able to ask him about the set list and why they chose the songs they did. Apparently, it’s fairly random, and they change it when they get bored with the order. When I get the chance to talk to people who do things I love professionally, I often ask if there’s something else they rather talk about given the certain frequency with which his or her profession is discussed. But Kevin assured me that music is his “sole passion and all he really talks about anyway.” After a brief description of what he thought the future of Tame Impala resembled, we got in the van and left.
I must say, the coolest part about the ride was my chance to hear what was on their playlist. I recognized nearly everything, which included electronic bands like Daft Punk and Justice, a lot of Frank Ocean, and some Coltrane, too. Once we arrived at the hotel, Jay (the keyboardist) played me a nearly indistinguishable recreation of the beat from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” he made in the car. The music discussion continued over drinks and Spoonk, an Asian massage mat, in their room. We thoroughly discussed Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love and why Kevin actually cites a Scandinavian band as more of an influence than the god of all guitarists himself. I inquired about the change in lineup and what it meant for everyone. (The former bassist, Nick, was replaced by Cameron, a member of the band Pond that contains all the same members but Kevin from Tame Impala.) They compared it to J. Tillman’s departure from the Fleet Foxes and how his band, Father John Misty, made one of the best albums of the last ten years. Needless to say, we chatted for hours about our shared passion.
At around 7 AM our evening (morning?) ended. I was forced to decline an invitation to join them in Buenos Aires because of my commitment to the Casa program. Had I been in the States, I would have dropped everything I was doing and followed them as long as they would allow. I recognized this was probably the last time I’d have such an intimate experience with the band members. But our goodbyes were as nonchalant as our first encounters. A short cab ride later and I was in bed back at my hostel. Due to the brevity of my “nap,” I can’t consider it to be the end of my grand tale. The whole weekend seemed like one long, continuous adventure. The remainder of my “coolest 48 hours” holds a very different appeal, both as a story and an experience, but I’m inclined to share it nonetheless. So it continues…
I dragged myself out of bed and made it to the terminal for my 9:30 AM bus to Mendoza. There aren’t any direct buses to Córdoba, so my eighteen-hour trip had a checkpoint in the “tierra del sol y vino.” I was seat #1, which, objectively speaking, is the best seat on the bus due to the panoramic views provided by the front window. I was too exhausted to appreciate it at that point in the morning, so I put on Hendrix’s debut album “Are You Experienced?” and tried to sleep. Despite my drowsiness, I couldn’t let my mind rest after the evening’s adventure. I gave up and stared out the window long enough to realize about an hour into the trip the bus had turned around. Eventually my mind was alert enough to ask the girl next to me why we had switched directions. In Spanish. I managed to understand “bad weather” to be the cause of our change in itinerary. My broken introduction provided me with her name: Noelia. We determined our respective plans for our surprise return to Santiago just in time for the bus to turn around again and continue towards the Andes. With an eight hours journey ahead, I debated sleep for a second time. But the conversation continued. In Spanish.
Unlike every Spanish class ever, the first topics we discussed were not how many siblings we have and what we like to do. I learned Noelia traveled from Mendoza to see a concert for the evening. What concert? Tame Impala. A person who travels almost twenty hours round-trip a) clearly likes the band and b) clearly likes music. Take two of those people and put them next to each other for ten hours and it’s a sure bet music will be discussed. I’ve done exactly that before, but not like this. Not in Spanish. And not after an all-nighter. But once I was awake, I was AWAKE. I tapped into some alternate reality, some alternate mental function, because for the next ten hours, we spoke about everything. We examined each other’s music libraries and shared our current favorites. We talked about the music scene in South America and the advantages cities bring in regards to concerts. Of course, we deconstructed every second of the show we both traveled so far to see. And yes, in Spanish.
We effortlessly flowed between topics as we touched on everything from our education to our families to our hopes and dreams for the years to come. The conversation was often fueled by the unreal beauty that unfolded outside the window. It was the most amazing drive of my life. But it flew by. It wasn’t long before we approached the vineyards of Mendoza and the conversation quickly turned to my impending bus ride to end my weeklong journey. I convinced Noe to grab some wine with me despite her off-the-marketness which further extended our time together. She helped me buy my return ticket to Córdoba, a necessity given my ability to function (minimal) at 8 PM or so. Once we made it downtown and ordered our Malbec, I was on Cloud 9. The last day and a half caught up with me in the best of ways. I could barely speak but I smiled with bliss as I got lost in Noe’s stories. In Spanish.
I talk a lot about presence and its importance. Here, I had no energy to do anything but be present. I believe Argentines (and probably most Latin Americans) offer people love, i.e. presence, without an agenda and without the desire to be anywhere else. I experienced it so intensely in that moment with Noe, I felt like we were the only people in the world. But the reason this is so amazing is because of the lack of any motivation, on either side, to do anything more than just be together in that moment. There was no romance. Just love. In Spanish.
It wasn’t long before we exchanged information and I found myself on yet another bus to end my coolest 48 hours. What solidified my ability to confidently dub this weekend as such was what awaited me at my seat. Actually, it was my seat. It folded completely flat into the most comfortable bed on which I’ve ever been. (Okay, not really, but it was a bed for my 12-hour overnight-bus. Hyperbole justified.) I briefly thanked the being, spirit, force, or energy that rules this universe for a truly unforgettable, incomparable weekend, and finally, after almost 40 hours, fell asleep. In Spanish.