The Vandals who overran Rome with spears and swords 1,500 years ago may have had an easier time of it than the punk-rock Vandals who campaigned across Europe this summer with guitars and amps.
Despite a traumatic blowup with the tour's West German booking agents, the three-month, 56-concert trip was worth the trouble, Vandals leader Joe Escalante said after returning last week (the group plays a homecoming show Saturday at Night Moves in Huntington Beach).
"An eye-opening trip of a lifetime," Escalante said. "All of us feel that way. But our next one won't be that long. I can't go that long without Taco Bell."
The satirically inclined band, which originated nine years ago in Huntington Beach, was accompanied for most of its 11-nation tour by Mind Over 4, an Orange County punk-metal group.
Inexperience on the part of the tour's American coordinator led to logistical problems, according to Escalante. Worse, he said, was the attitude of the West German agents who handled bookings and financial arrangements--and took to hurling racial epithets at Escalante when he started to insist on a firmer hand in managing the tour.
"The German company said, 'We can't have this Mexican kid running the whole thing. No little Mexican is going to tell us what to do.' "
Ultimately, Escalante said, when he complained about a bounced check, one of the German promoters pulled a gun on him. From then on, the Vandals and Mind Over 4 severed ties with the company and made their own business arrangements to complete the tour.
"Things never got so bad that we didn't want to be there," Escalante said. "By the time you got to the show, it was packed, and there were Vandals fans, and it was the place you wanted to be."
The Vandals and Mind Over 4 played clubs holding 200 to 800 fans. Escalante said that in Germany, especially, it was common to find fans of such other Orange County punk rock groups as T.S.O.L., the Adolescents and D.I.
"Many of these bands could go there and do well," Escalante said. "People are over there making bootleg D.I. shirts."
In East Berlin, the Vandals played to about 100 fans in a church. Because the Communist authorities don't sanction punk rock shows, Escalante said, the concert took place surreptitiously, with the Americans following hand-drawn maps to get to the gig undetected. The Vandals marked the occasion by playing D.I.'s Iron Curtain surf fantasy, "Hang Ten in East Berlin."
The Vandals is an irreverent, good-time band that levels topical barbs and social lampoons in scattershot fashion, mainly for the fun of it. But they found that European punk fans tend to take politics more seriously.
"In America, you're brought up to see there's a chance for you, even if you're not one of the 'haves,' " Escalante said. "You think you're going to be the next 'have.' In Europe, they don't have that chance. There's no upward mobility, so they're real critical of the 'haves.' "
The Vandals tried to keep their own conservative political leanings to themselves (in 1984, the band supported Ronald Reagan for President and played at least one benefit show for a Young Republicans group). In Amsterdam, Escalante said, the Vandals were confronted by a group of taunters who, among other things, belabored them for having backed Reagan.
For the most part, though, "everyone was willing to put the politics aside and have fun."
For Mind Over 4, the tour was less a frolic than an endurance test.
The band's first European album was supposed to be released on a German label before the tour began, but singer Spike Xavier said a package containing the master tapes disappeared in transit and the record never came out, putting a crimp in the band's ability to attract fans of its own.
In Holland on the third day of the tour, Xavier fractured his ankle during a performance when he slipped on a beer slick and fell from a high stage. Rather than have surgery, which would have forced Mind Over 4 to give up the tour, Xavier spent five days keeping the leg immobilized, then hobbled on, performing the remaining shows in a cast. Xavier said he also missed the East Berlin date because of an error in the map he had been given to find the clandestine hall where the gig took place. Strapped for money, Mind Over 4 spent the tour sleeping in a van or finding shelter in warehouses and abandoned buildings.
"We did the 'Life Styles of the Poor and Unknown,' " Xavier joked over the phone from his home in Whittier. "We pulled into L.A. with $1 and a quarter tank of gas." But after much American touring over the past year, Xavier thinks Mind Over 4's European travels succeeded in establishing a new market there for the band. "We felt we made a major accomplishment under just the worst physical conditions," he said.
Destiny Records, a West German label, will release a new Mind Over 4 record in Europe and the United States this fall. The band is also about to record an album for Powerhouse Records, a Huntington Beach-based label.
The Vandals and Voo Doo Dolls play Saturday at Night Moves, 5902 Warner Ave. in Huntington Beach. Tickets: $8. Information: (714) 840-6118.