Europe Feels Their Payne

How Les Payne opened an overseas Orifice

Let's say you've got an ace band going. You've got some songs and a self-released CD. You've done bits of regional touring over the past few years. You've accumulated a fan base and a good amount of laudatory press. People are talking about your band, and the sense is something good could happen soon.

But now you're anxious with a misguided desire. You have it in your head that you should do a European tour.

In a complete understatement, obstacles litter your path.

Paris when it sizzles: The members of Les Payne take a stroll on a Parisian parkway.
Paris when it sizzles: The members of Les Payne take a stroll on a Parisian parkway.
Brendan T. Morse impersonates a booking agent.
Brendan T. Morse impersonates a booking agent.

You have no record company or booking agent, no manager or European contacts. Moreover, you're broke, except the chump change you saved up from delivering pizzas to chubby suburbanites or slinging burgers in a titty joint.

What are the chances?

Well, Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product just returned from a seven-week tour of Europe. Les Payne, as they are often called, had no record company, booking agent, manager, trust fund or Euro contacts. What Les Payne did have is chutzpah -- and the ability to entertain.

The only record Les Payne has is a two-year-old CD, Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product.

If you have never seen the band, Les Payne is a picturesque and noisy collision of skewered pop-songy references, meter changes, singsong glory and coordinated outfits. Shows are street-corner theater, only ear-splitting. And the band's two hombres, Chris Pomerenke (kazoo, keyboards, drums, vocals, etc.) and James Karnes (guitar, vocals, etc.), make a colorful tumult that assimilates Zappa and the Knack with Half Japanese and Suicide.

All that, and Les Payne somehow succeeds in sidestepping dreaded novelty.

An Internet site made it possible for Les Payne to tour Europe. Six months ago, a tour such as this could not have happened.

The tour -- dubbed Lush Budget Presents the Play All Over Europe Tour 2000 -- set a do-it-yourself precedent. I don't know of any other band anywhere that can lay claim to utilizing a single Internet site -- MP3.com -- to successfully launch and complete a European tour.

Go figure. An unknown band headlining its own European tour, playing its music for the kids (an average of 50 to 60 people a night). Few heavily commerced baby bands on major labels can lay claim to that.

The tour kicked off in Denmark on January 12, and saw the band connect the dots in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The tour ended in Germany on February 17.

The whole Les Payne tour was booked country by country, city by city, local band by local band. On MP3.com, you can go to artists by region, and pretty much anywhere in the world, and ultimately make contact via e-mail.


Pomerenke and Karnes met Brendan T. Morse -- a west Phoenix Ben Folds look-alike -- at a Les Payne show in Tucson. Morse later moved to Denmark to marry, but stayed in contact with the band, and Morse offered to help set up a European tour.

If there is a theme running this Euro jaunt, it is not so much related to Internet success as it is grim yet buoyant truths of indie touring.

This tour's theme morphs the usual Spinal Tap prophesizing with Conrad's Heart of Darkness: a trying wintertime journey through Europe led by Morse, who slowly loses his mind.

Yes, Morse is the messianic character of Conrad's Kurtz. Morse basically booked the whole tour through MP3.com while fronting his own band called Crowded Orifice. Morse formed Crowded Orifice -- with three massive Danes -- specifically to open for Les Payne on the tour. The twentysomething Morse had no more experience fronting a band than he had booking a tour.

He compiled Crowded Orifice by rounding up musicians from Copenhagen bars.

"He would say, 'Hey, I'm an American. I'm into the whole Seattle grunge thing,'" says Pomerenke.

Morse demonstrated considerable booking skills. In each town, he managed to get the local bands on the bill to play for free yet turn over all proceeds to Les Payne and Crowded Orifice. And he had no trouble finagling just a little more.

"Sometimes," says Karnes, "two days before we were to arrive in a city, he would call and say, 'And yeah, we were supposed to get food for eight people, is that still cool? And you were going to put us up, right?'

"He got us food and places to stay," adds Pomerenke. "He did a lot, a lotta work. He lost his mind and lost his life promoting this one tour. And he got together these four other guys to along with him.

"If we were going to Düsseldorf, he [Morse] would e-mail the only six bands that would be on the [MP3.com] Düsseldorf roster. And out of the ones that e-mailed us back, he would have them hook up the show, and that band would be on the bill as a headliner."

But as the tour unfolded, Morse slowly degenerated. At one point he refrained from sleeping. He lived on chocolate and Diet Coke. Three days before the tour concluded, Morse, while polishing his boots, ordered Pomerenke to "stand down."

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