True-Life Rock Tales

Split Enz: True Colours, Part Two

Issue 125

In Issue 124 Ken wrote about the beginning of the Split Enz 1980 US/Canada tour, encounters with Iggy Pop and Cynthia Plaster Caster and more. The story continues here.

On November 3 we flew United Airlines to Seattle. Again A&M Records had a bunch of afternoon interviews scheduled for Neil and Tim Finn before the night’s performance. The show that night was wild, with almost a New Year’s Eve vibe. A&M was there in force, and after the show the club closed but we all stayed and had an impromptu party. My new friend Jacqueline taught me how to properly ingest tequila shots, Acapulco style. Party we did,  the band, crew, A&M people, club management and employees –  about 40 people . And it got loud. At one point we convinced the Finn brothers to get on stage and do an acoustic version of, “I Got You.” it was a wonderful intimate moment and we celebrated until four in the morning when the cleaning crew came in and kicked everyone out.

Next day, we piled into rental cars and drove north to Vancouver, Canada. The route was spectacular, the scenery something to behold. This must be one of the America’s great drives. Getting through Canadian customs was a breeze this time, and the drive into Vancouver was short. It was my first time there and driving into this attractive city surrounded by snow-capped Mountains was awesome. We were staying at Century Plaza on Burrard St., quite an upscale hotel. That afternoon the Finns had two radio call-in interviews.

 

Just after dark we drove over to the Commodore Ballroom for the gig. The first thing I noticed about the downtown area was the large population of homeless people. In 1980 there were more than I have ever seen in a city before. We got inside the Commodore and tonight we were co-headlining with Iggy Pop. (We had to share a dressing room with him and his guys, but no problem; it was a big room, easily 15,000 square feet.)

Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Deinocheirus.

He went on first and I went out to watch. High energy, raw with a punch. The house was standing only, no seats. Those standing up in front were spitting on him. He did not flinch or even look bothered, like he was used to it. I was amazed, speechless, I could not believe it.

Later, after his set and before ours I walked in the dressing room and Iggy smiled at me and started singing the jingle for Jordache Jeans. “You got the look, you got the look, you got the Jordache look.” Yes, I was wearing Jordache jeans. We both had a laugh and I said, “you got me. How was your set, was the sound OK?” “Yep, not bad; I could hear myself so the monitors were set up correctly.” Then I said, “I have to ask you, what is with the spitting?” He said that it was the audience showing appreciation. “Doesn’t it bother you?” “No, not at all, its sexual.” (He actually said something else which we cannot publish.) “What about the dry cleaning bill?” I asked. “Ha ha, that’s why I wear tee shirts!”

Right about then somebody walked into the dressing room and announced that Ronald Reagan had just won the election. This was November 4th, 1980, Election Day. Iggy said, “there goes the neighborhood,” and the Americans in the room laughed.

Split Enz promo photo. Courtesy of A&M Records.

Toward the end of the Enz show Jacqueline and her friend Audrey walked into the backstage area. They looked beautiful all dressed up. I asked Jacqueline why she was so late. “Customs gave us the third degree. They thought we were working girls and kept us there, asking us questions and accusing us for three hours. We thought they would not let us into Canada. Finally, they let us cross the border, but they said they didn’t believe us.”

I felt so bad for the girls. I told them I would have never even thought that could happen and Audrey said it never crossed our minds either. Then Audrey went off to the side of the stage to meet up with drummer Malcolm Green when he came off stage. I grabbed Jacqueline’s hand and gave her a soft kiss and she visibly relaxed as I held her softly.

I felt her tension release and she smiled. She was annoyed that she came so late and missed most of the show but she felt better. It is a shame, but she said, “we both must work tomorrow so we can only stay for a couple of hours and then we have to go back to Seattle.” Okay; back at the hotel we had a tequila and a quick bite at the bar and then went up to my room to hang out until about one in the morning. At that point she calls Audrey in Malcom’s room on the house phone, and arranges to meet up in the hotel lobby in 15 minutes for the drive back to the US.

Notes from the tour.

After Jacqueline left, I thought about what happened to the girls. The custom officials were first-class jerks for hassling them. The fact that they said they did not believe them but still let them into Canada proved the point. I make that statement because the whole experience was apparently pointless and just an excuse to mess with those girls. What a lousy experience for them. Imagine two girls in their early to mid-twenties dressed to the nines, driving to Vancouver to see a show and meet some friends and then that happens.

The next day was a travel day and we flew to Edmonton, a large northern city that is more than 600 miles north of the US/Canadian border, way up north. On the flight Noel Crombie (vocals, miscellaneous noises and percussion) got into a loud argument with the man sitting next to him, a dignified looking senior gentleman. Noel was playing with his handheld video game, and the game was emitting dinging and pinging sounds every few seconds. It was probably quite annoying to everyone in the surrounding seats. After an hour into the flight the gentleman could not take the noise anymore and asked Noel if he would he mind quieting the game. Noel freaked out; “this is a ridiculous request!” he exclaimed in a nasty tone of voice. This was back when portable video games had just appeared and hardly anyone had them. No one wore headphones and proper etiquette for playing noisy games in public had not been thought out or even considered. It was uncharted territory so to speak.

But seriously, how could Noel have been so oblivious to his surroundings and even think that other passengers would not be bothered by the constant noise assault? And now he got all huffy as if he was the injured party. Oh I get it, miscellaneous noises, that is what he does. He gets paid for that so from his point of view it is all good. I tried but could not broker a peaceful settlement. Fortunately, the stewardess then announced we were coming in for landing and that put an end to it.

After landing we rented cars and while driving into Edmonton, I noticed the scenery and that it reminded me of the plains of Wyoming. This was cowboy country, I mused to myself as we passed corralled horses and open plains and ranches until we reached Edmonton and were back in a city environment. The Finns had one local telephone radio interview which they did from their hotel room, and then the band did a concert in an old vaudeville theatre, then back to the hotel, err, corral. The next day we traveled to Winnipeg and the Enz did an early concert at the city social center. The facility was like a big school auditorium; no booze or beer, but the audience was thrilled with the band. It was a younger crowd with parents bringing their kids.

Flying into Minneapolis/St. Paul we had to pass through US Customs. They pulled me out of line and took me in a room to pat me down. Then the customs official told me to take off my clothes and get undressed. I took my shirt off and handed it to them. Then I gave them my shoes, one by one, which they carefully inspected. Then I started pulling my Jordache jeans down, had one pant leg removed and sat on a bench to remove the other leg when they stopped me and said, “okay, that’s good, get dressed.” Jeez, what was that? That was the first and only time in my life anything like that happened.

That night we played Duffy’s and after the show we all went to a bar near the hotel and had an end of tour party. We were all drinking, smoking, and joking; it was a good tour, enjoyable for me and Split Enz and I was glad that none of us got spit on. We still were talking about that show with Iggy Pop – all of us were amazed and none of us understood it. The next morning everyone said goodbye to me at the airport because we were going in different directions.

A few years later Split Enz were playing Irving Plaza, which was two blocks from my apartment, so I stopped by to say hello and see their show. I went backstage and the Finn brothers  were happy to see me. During the show, Neil told the audience that their former road manager was in the house and that they wanted to thank Ken Sander for all he had done for them. Wow! That was so thoughtful and really unexpected. I was touched, especially considering that maybe only 25 people out of probably 1,300 people in Irving Plaza knew who I was. I had never got a shout out like that before. That is the kind of person Neil Finn is.

Split Enz would go on to have more hits such as “History Never Repeats,” and in 1985 Neil Finn would become the front man for Crowded House and write their smash hit, “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” His brother Tim joined Crowded House months after the band formed. Like Split Enz, Crowded House also had a good run of successful tours. Currently Neil is with Fleetwood Mac, who, along with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell, replaced Lindsey Buckingham in the group and learned the benefits of drinking cranberry juice.

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