Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pavement Tour Diary: Brixton Academy (and London Coffee Quest)

Posted By on 05.20.10 at 02:41 PM

Brixton Academy for four nights. At 5,000 people a night, that makes 20,000 people. The last time Pavement played in London was the last gig before they broke up.

I have two goals here. First? Help the band have the four best shows they have ever had in London. Second? Complete my disloyalty card!

Coffee in the UK was really terrible for a long time. I'm talking instant. But things are changing for the better. The first good coffee I had in the UK was in an New Zealand place called Flat White in Soho. A year later I found Monmouth Coffee. Then in 2009 Gwilym Davies won the international barista championship, and things have been exploding.

Gwilym wanted to generate some interest in what was happening in east London, so he created the disloyalty card. Hit up the eight places on the card, and you get a free drink on him. Sounds like a fantastic thing to do with my four days in London! When you do multiple shows in one venue, you only have to set up once and break down once no matter how many nights you play, so all the nights in between feel like days off to the road crew.

The reflections in the room from the sound system were really bad on the first night, and Pavement were having a tough time hearing each other. Before the second show we rehung the sound system and it completely changed the sound onstage for the better. I tweaked the mixes onstage to match, and they had a much better time for other shows. They even decided not to sound check on those days, thus basically giving me three days off.

On the first day I woke up as early as I could (the beds at the Royal Garden Hotel were pretty fantastic after the bus) and called Mark Ibold, not only a fine bassist but also the ultimate guy to have food/coffee adventures while traveling. We consulted the card and headed to the closest place via the tube: Taylor Street Baristas. For serious coffee drinkers indeed! It was a tight little place and strangely empty, given that there were six people working behind the counter. We ordered drinks and suddenly the place was slammed with businesspeople—it was wall-to-wall the rest of the time we were in there.

Never intended to be a place to hang out, Taylor Street churns out excellent coffees and gets you out the door and back to work. It was perfect for our first stop. Two stamps down (I'd already hit Dose Espresso), seven more to go if you're counting the free one, and I am.

Mark's only must-do today is lunch at St. John Bread and Wine. (If he tells you a restaurant is a must-try, you go. Even if it is famous for being one of the first "snout to tail" places and you and your wife are vegetarian, you still go.) We decide we can get one more stamp in before St. John's opens at 10 AM. We walked a few blocks and found Nude Espresso. It was pretty slow at that hour and big enough to hang out in for a while. I thought their milk drinks were fantastic (the gibraltar and the macchiatos). No time for the news today, we have too much work to do! Three stamps down . . .

Taylor Street Baristas
  • Taylor Street Baristas

A great day to read the paper here in London. Quite a changing of the guard!
  • A great day to read the paper here in London. Quite a changing of the guard!

Nude Espresso
  • Nude Espresso

Macchiato at Nude
  • Macchiato at Nude

We walked up to St. John's as they were opening, and it looked really classy. The place was empty, but they still asked if we had a reservation. We didn't and it wasn't a problem, but you might want to call first if you come here. Mark is a team player and will always order lots of vegetarian when I'm around so I can try as much a possible. There was a funny moment when we were asking questions of our butcher-aproned waiter and Mark said "My friends are more interested in vegetable-based things," trying to avoid the V-word in the butcher shop.

The waiter didn't skip a beat at all and helped us pick a bunch of things. Champagne (why not?). Stinking Bishop with Jersey Royals (the best "baked potato" I've ever had—basically little baked potatoes with leeks and a soft cheese instead of sour cream). Beetroot soup with thinly sliced beets in a creamy dark broth. Bitter chocolate cream and prunes (the prunes were stewed in Earl Grey tea). We were in there for a while, and it was wonderful. There are eight other puddings we didn't get to try, but there's always next time, right?

St. Johns Bread and Wine
  • St. John's Bread and Wine

The beet soup might have been the greatest of all time.
  • The beet soup might have been the greatest of all time.

Leek vinaigrette
  • Leek vinaigrette

Good lord, this was incredible. Bitter chocolate cream and prunes.
  • Good lord, this was incredible. Bitter chocolate cream and prunes.

Back on the quest! The next closest stamp was Pitch 42 in the Whitecross Market. We zig-zagged past a few wonderful-looking food carts (burritos in London?) and found the line for the coffee. The best I've ever had under a tarp! Stamp number four! Guess it's time to head back and go to work.

Pitch 42
  • Pitch 42

If you ask, they will give you a proper glass. Nice folks!
  • If you ask, they will give you a proper glass. Nice folks!

Festoons and pedal steel
  • Festoons and pedal steel

I know him, and he does.
  • I know him, and he does.

That mike sounds so good it can hold up a guitar!
  • That mike sounds so good it can hold up a guitar!

Good night London!
  • Good night London!

The show went even better—this time with balloons! We headed back to the hotel, but everything was shut down in that part of town aside from this one Lebanese restaurant—beggars can't be choosers at 2 AM. Except it turned out to be a killer place! They were making everything from scratch as we ordered it! We asked for hot sauce and they made some up for us on the spot! We were so stuffed, but we kept ordering one more thing just so we could try it. There are a bunch of locations around London—it's a chain called Maroush, and I suggest you check it out if you visit.

Perfect fattoush
  • Perfect fattoush

Show three? The band is fine! No need for sound check, once again. So it's back to the coffee quest! The Espresso Room sounded like a good one to start with—a tiny little hallway of a shop, it seemed out of place, but the very nice baristas gave us directions to this street around the corner filled with really amazing men's wear. The shop girl at Oliver Spencer told me that the Monocle people live around there. It sure seemed like it—the shops were right up their alley. I found an amazing sweater from Universal Works, and boy did I pay for it. We had a nice pub meal at the Duke of York around the corner and called it a day. Three stamps left to go! Can I get to them all tomorrow?

The Espresso Room
  • The Espresso Room

The author and his espresso
  • The author and his espresso

Wonderful
  • Wonderful

Dan Mapp, Gwen Lemos, Mark Ibold, and the Espresso Room
  • Dan Mapp, Gwen Lemos, Mark Ibold, and the Espresso Room

Oliver Spencer. Maybe if I were in the band, I could've bought two things . . .
  • Oliver Spencer. Maybe if I were in the band, I could've bought two things . . .

Rock pose
  • Rock pose

Spiral and Stephen
  • Spiral and Stephen

Good times onstage
  • Good times onstage

OK, my final morning in London. We decided to hit Tina, We Salute You first because it seemed out of the way. While trying to get our bearings after our tube trip we happened upon a sign the shop had posted to help people find it! Almost there! We walked a few blocks and what do we see? It's closed for two weeks while they soundproof the floor? What a fool's errand! Why didn't they take down the sign? Grumpy and uncaffeinated, we grabbed the first taxi and headed to the Broadway market to try to find Climpson & Sons.

The sign made us think it would be open!
  • The sign made us think it would be open!

Bummer man! Closed!
  • Bummer man! Closed!

It was worth the taxi. As we crossed the street, the sun came out and we grabbed a table outside. This block was filled with shops and young people on bikes, the big windows were perfect for people watching, and the food was really nice too. Crumpets and honey before coffee and a halloumi-and-hummus sandwich for the walk to our last stamp: Taste of Bitter Love. It was just around the park and we got there in no time. There were second-hand shops up and down the street, and this place fit right in. Quiet and sunny, it would be a perfect place to catch up, and that's what Alexa Chung was doing at the table next to us. (I hadn't noticed, but my wife told me as we were leaving.)

That's it! The quest is complete! I still have a show to do, but I can't stop now!

Climpson & Sons
  • Climpson & Sons

Flat white at Climpson & Sons
  • Flat white at Climpson & Sons

More coffee! Ah-hah!
  • More coffee! Ah-hah!

Crumpets!
  • Crumpets!

Taste of Bitter Love
  • Taste of Bitter Love

However, the Coffee Will Be Photographed
  • However, the Coffee Will Be Photographed

One more tube ride to Present, a fancy men's store that just happens to have an espresso machine in the window. This is it: Prufrock Coffee. Gwilym isn't around (it doesn't surprise me, since the last time I was here my friend Jenni Bryant was subbing for him), so I'll just have to live with being served by Swedish champion Mattias Bjorklund. He seemed excited to see I had the entire card filled out, and let me slide on not getting a stamp from Tina, We Salute You. (He had heard it was closed down too.) "The espresso is really bubbly today," he said. "It's turning out really well." I had to agree.

Present, which hosts Prufrock Coffee
  • Present, which hosts Prufrock Coffee

Thanks Mattias!
  • Thanks Mattias!

Success!
  • Success!

Oh, and for those folks who said there was no coffee in Brixton? Sorry, wrong. Federation Coffee is great.

Federation Coffee in Brixton
  • Federation Coffee in Brixton

This might be the first decaf Ive ever had. But it was better than my heart exploding.
  • This might be the first decaf I've ever had. But it was better than my heart exploding.

Next it was off to Minehead, where Pavement played an edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that they'd also curated. Highlights: Faust cutting things up with a chainsaw onstage, the whiskey tasting at 2 AM on Sunday in Holnicote A16, Mark E. Smith walking around during the Fall's set changing the microphones and turning all the knobs on people's amps, Omar Souleyman being the perfect thing for a Saturday night, Monotonix getting to play four songs while seated ("No shticks this time!") before they got shut down. Stone the stage manager. Venom P. Stinger.

Looking good, boys!
  • Looking good, boys!

This guy was psyched!
  • This guy was psyched!

Mr. and Mrs. Nastanovich during We Dance
  • Mr. and Mrs. Nastanovich during "We Dance"

Faust. Yes, this really happened.
  • Faust. Yes, this really happened.

Omar Souleyman
  • Omar Souleyman

Mark E. Smith, messing up his band
  • Mark E. Smith, messing up his band

Jeremy also posts on Twitter and is probably on the road right now. . . .

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