We were about hour from Helsinki when we reached the Russian border. We had been dreading this moment since before we left Philly, and as the station loomed before us I felt queasy. We were going in on tourist visas, our story was that we were a band (the van full of equipment would make that hard to conceal) that was taking a few days off between Finland and the Ukraine to sight see in Russia.
To get into Russia you need to be invited by someone who lives there (in our case we were invited by a dude named Igor who helped book all 3 of our Russian shows) and you have to get visas weeks before you plan to enter the country. To get a visa, you need to go into a Russian Embassy with your passport and special visa photos. Easy enough. Well, Dave and I live in Philly, Pierce is in Ohio, and Ryan lives in upstate NY. The closest Russian Embassy to any of us was in NYC. And one person couldn't take care of every one's visas, we each had to go in and do our own which was absolutely impossible. So we went through an agency that does Russian visas. We mailed our passports, special photos, and $1200, with our fingers crossed that they didn't deny us (and keep the money, as they are able to do- with no explanation.) After days of worrying that we wouldn't get the visas, or wouldn't get them in time, they arrived the day our flight to Europe left.
Now we had to cross our fingers again. If they denied any of us, tour was fucked. We were out $1200, our shows were cancelled, and we had 3 days off and HUGE drive to the Ukraine. All the worry was for nothing though, the hardest part of getting across was trying to figure out the paperwork that asked for things like our "Patronomy" (no one filled this out or figured out what it was) and dealing with border guards who knew as little English as we knew Russian. They didn't even search the van. They opened the back door, saw how full of junk it was, and just waved us through.
Back in the van, it was more sleeping. I woke up as we pulled up to the club- a sprawling bar in the middle of another nowhere.
We met Igor, his girlfriend (who had brilliantly red hair), and Igor's friend that was to become my favorite Russian, a dude I mentally nicknamed "Kiwi", but whose real name I never said aloud because my American tongue could not make it happen. We hopped on a bus and went to check out downtown Petrozavodsk with Igor, Red, and Kiwi, and they took us to the area's largest lake. Here, Kiwi and I walked together. He and Igor live in Moscow which was about 15-20 hours away from where we were, but to make sure we were taken care of (fed, shown around, translated for, made comfortable- remember what I said about embarrassing displays of kindness?) they came to all of our Russian shows. They traveled huge distances every day to be with us, which is what they did for all foreign bands that came through.
(how random is that graffiti?!)
Kiwi told me about when Die Young played in St Petersburg (where we played the next night.), a bit about the Russian scene, and a horrifying personal story. The day of the Die Young show, Kiwi took the subway to the venue. He got off at the stop on the block of the club, but before he could climb the stairs to ground level he was accosted by a group of dudes. They were in normal clothes, so he didn't immediately suspect anything. They asked him if he was anti-fascist, and before he could even answer, they jumped him. "They kick, and hit, and beat me- calling me anti-fascist asshole. Then they hold me down and try to burn my face, but cops come then and they run." Kiwi did not make it to the show. He also said what happened to him "wasn't so bad", that often people die getting beaten by nazis, and he and Igor had lost many friends in the past years- last month they someone especially close to them and heavily involved in the anti-fascist movement. He speculated that it was an assassination, possibly involving local police. The nazi movement in Russia is strong, especially in St Petersburg and Moscow. The nazis purposely go near and to hardcore shows to fight people like Kiwi. "I guess they just thought I looked anti-fascist." And, like in Germany, there are even nazi hardcore kids.
Back at the venue, we were met with a surprise. People in Russia know us. People in Russia know what we look like, and know our names. It was very, very strange. "Dah-vin!" A small group of girls presented me with a shirt and undies from their distro (the undies say "SXE GRRL" on them), as well as a home-made straight edge necklace. I was so flustered, turning all shades of pink and red, and I couldn't thank them enough. I immediately changed into the shirt.
Our set was fucking explosive. Kids knew the words to almost all the songs, circle pitted, moshed, stage dove, piled on me- it was great. Dave later said that as he played part of "Hollow Bones", he looked up at the crowd and was stunned. "I wrote that riff in my bedroom in Allston (Mass) last year and now kids in RUSSIA are going crazy to it." The club was so hot that I saw spots and almost fainted twice during our set. When we were done, a chant arose for more songs. So we played our Reagan Youth cover. After that was done, a chant arose for "9 Lives"
"But we opened with that!"
"We don't care! Play it again! 9 LIVES! 9 LIVES! 9 LIVES!"
I looked out over the red stage lights at the mass of glistening, sweaty, smiling kids. "Thank you, Russia. This is.... surreal." We played 9 lives again, this time sloppy, picks and sticks slipping from our sweat, I could hardly squeeze the words out I was so exhausted.
We left the venue 20 minutes or so after we finished playing, soaked in sweat. Back in the van. Another overnight drive. The air outside was freezing, maybe 40 degrees. I shivered. From the van window we noticed a herd of ferrel dogs- like 7 or 8 of them, all running in a pack together, no clear leader, tongues dangling, tails wagging. I watched them running to an abandoned building, through some fence, and off, joyously, into the horizon.