One way to avoid the travails of driving your band around in a van is to simply do away with both. Lately, Jamaica Plain impresario and Midway Café fixture David Daniel Geissler has been rocking his Plunge Into Death project — typically a raucous three-piece danceplosion — solo, toting around an iPod full of throbbing, grit-tastic booty fire — and little else. Devoid of any of the traditional tools and propelled more by curiosity and restless energy than blind ambition or lust for faux fame, Geissler’s approach works because it forgoes not just the traditional notion of what a tour is, but even traditional notions of what a show is — or for that matter, what a band is.
“Some people have no point of reference for a guy on stage with an iPod jumping around with a mic,” says Geissler, chuckling at himself. Count among those the people of France, Switzerland, Germany, and the assortment of European countrysides that Geissler and his mechanic buddy RobBob (a/k/a Team Plunge Into Death) biked through this past May. Armed only with a souped-up bicycle (broken down, boxed, and checked as luggage for no extra fee, since it was fewer than 50 pounds), a pair of panniers, a few maps, some tools, some clothes, an iPod, a cord, and a cell phone, Geissler managed to tour Europe for an entire month.
“It’s different over there,” says Geissler. “In Europe, there’s a tradition of traveling musicians that extends back for centuries. In the US, it’s like people are mystified by bands and touring; they don’t really get how it happens. Live entertainment is not as valued here. In Europe, people want to listen just because I’ve come from far away.”
It’s also not uncommon in Europe to find most of the needs of financially strapped, disoriented traveling musicians addressed by the venues themselves. In clubs, squats, and other venues, bands (or dudes with iPods) are typically greeted with a hearty meal and provided a place to stay after performing. “Old-world hospitality is the standard here,” Geissler wrote me in May from an Internet café in Switzerland. All told, he spent roughly $1500 for his month overseas — and only had to sleep outside twice (once for a campout festival outside of Brussels). While most shows were arranged beforehand, many were booked on the fly; it’s an itinerary that is served with a nerve-wracking level of uncertainty, which not every performer could stomach night after night.
“It’s the best and it’s the worst — and that’s why you do it,” says Geissler. You throw yourself into the middle of the unknown to see what happens. You’ve got to be crazy to do it, but you’ve got to be crazy to play at all. When I go there, I’m not seeing these cultures through a hotel window — I’m becoming part of them. I mean, what else do you do with your money?”
Geissler’s MO may seem as DIY as it gets, but as he plans out his next trek through Europe, there are still elements to refine, corners to cut. Being hands-on isn’t enough — he may need to get his feet involved.