Seeing: a shirtless Josh Holcombe, yellow leaves, a quiet city
Hearing: the incredible and wild Lucky Chops
Tasting: a salty and herby masterpiece of a vegetarian breakfast
Feeling: burnt tongue, sore knees and back
Smelling: black espresso
It was still frigid outside. No, it was more frigid outside than it had been before, because it was now midnight. So I called a cab to take me to the Aircoach stop. I tried all sorts of sleeping positions onboard and caught a few dozes here and there, which was unsatisfying but at least Brian was awake so we could talk when I drifted out of consciousness.
The airport was slightly busier than it had been when I flew to Florence. I (mistakenly) thought I didn’t have to check in because I had my boarding pass printed out, and the gate attendant informed me that next time I needed to get my pass stamped since I had a non-EU passport. I expected them to come for me with some crazy fee because that’s how Ryanair works, but was pleasantly surprised that I received no hassle.
The flight went smoothly and so did my bus ride to the city. I was lucky that the bus stop was right near a campus so my phone connected to eduroam wi-fi and I could Google Maps my way to the hotel.
The walk there took my breath away. I didn’t have much expectation of Bristol, I just knew that it was a port city. But when I walked over a bridge near the Control Center to see houseboats and colorful buildings, or through the Quaker burial ground to see yellow leaves on the trees and on the cobblestones, or over another bridge into the sleek Bordeaux Quay, I was quickly charmed.
It was still very early for check-in, but they luckily had a room ready for me. It was minimalistic but sleek, spacious enough, and comfortable. I was exhausted and reclined on my back for the first time in a while, but my stomach was yowling for breakfast despite the loaf I had brought with me. And I knew where I wanted to go.
Earlier this week when I was making these plans, I went on Instagram and searched near Bristol, picked out the food and drink pictures, compiled a list, and did a little research and mapping. One of the top results that had come up was Beatroot Café and one of their breakfast items was a “veggie breakfast.” I’d noticed it on quite a few café and restaurant breakfast menus; it seems like they want to accommodate Englishmen who don’t think of a plate of meat as a breakfast. It was really refreshing as I haven’t found any such similar offerings for a vegetarian full Irish breakfast in Cork. But then again I haven’t really gone out for breakfast there.
Anyway, Beatroot was a little off the beaten path (heh) and when I entered I was the only customer for a while. My chosen seat was in a former fireplace, which is about the best descriptor I could give to tell you how cool it was. I asked the barista if the town was usually this quiet on a Saturday, and she affirmed that it was indeed usually this “dead.”
The next few hours were filled with wandering. First down Christmas steps (that’s really what it’s called; it’s an alley on a downhill with no explicit relation to Christmas), then through some archway that led me up another cool street to the St Nicholas markets. It was the first day of the Christmas markets as well, so there were temporary street stalls outside of more permanent indoor stalls. Without giving away too much, I did my Christmas/Hannuka shopping for the brothers in my life (both genetic and otherwise).
My wandering next took me to a large, straight shopping street on a very steep hill. It certainly wasn’t dead here, but it wasn’t awfully busy either. I made my way up, stopped into a University of Bristol building to use the restroom (which was for people with university IDs but I can sneak), and then turned around for the descent. I bought another gift but I also can’t say what kind of shop it was at the risk of spoiling a holiday gift surprise. But the cashier who helped me had an accent that was decidedly not English. I asked if he was American and he seemed a little surprised– he was Dutch! I told him in Dutch that I had lived in Belgium but that the only Dutch city I’d visited was Amsterdam.
On the way down, a certain side street caught my eye. Mostly because of the golden leaves and the tall stone houses. I climbed it and found more to climb– a huge hill with winding paths and a tower on top. Never a shortage of climbs around here.
The view from the hill was gorgeous. This city kept hitting me with beauty so much that I almost felt close to tears. I tried to climb Cabot tower but I think I may have gone up the exit stair? I don’t know. Regardless– a nice, rigorous walk with beautiful understated landscaping.
I wasn’t in a rush to be anywhere but I knew I should nap before the concert. I made my way back (via the gorgeous city hall) and saw a skating rink set up outside the science center near my hotel with a miniature Christmas market selling drinks and sweets. I bought a mulled wine and cozied up with The Language Wars, a book about the history of “proper English,” for a few minutes before heading back up to my room and into bed.
When I woke up it was only about five p.m. but dark. Another place off the Instagram list was Wapping Warf, on the same quay that I was near. It was a sleek development with a complex of restaurants in storage containers called the M-Box. I first went to a coffeeshop for a “tall black” (what they call an Americano) to get myself alert for the concert, then to a pie place that was mostly takeaway but had some small tables for eating in. I ordered a sweet potato, butternut squash, and plum pie with a side of minty mushy peas and gravy: both things I wouldn’t usually think of getting and honestly wasn’t that hungry for but that seemed to be the locals’ way of doing it. And I was all here for locality.
I chatted with the pie guy (Clarence) for a bit when he asked me if I’d been to the restaurant next door and I explained that I hadn’t been in the city until this morning. I told him that I loved Bristol already, and he agreed. Clarence had never been to Ireland but admired its beauty and culture. He recommended going to the Clifton suspension bridge, so that was put on my list for Sunday morning.
I made my way to the concert venue with a little bit of confusion, as one does, but still arrived before the doors were open. The people behind me in line appeared by their accents to be undergrads abroad as well. I’d put money on American and Italian.
The lobby was an empty warehouse-looking space with a coat check but I was loath to part with any of my several layers in this weather. The air was foggy with artificial haze. They let us into the main concert hall which was similar but with a higher ceiling. I guess it was good that it wasn’t too warm in there because the many bodies all packed together made up for it. The opener was a reggae-ska band called the New Town Kings. They were fun and loved to interact with the audience but were clearly pressed for time.
Okay, now time to talk about the headliner. You ready? I was ready. But I was not ready for the amount of pure awe that was about to overtake my consciousness.
They jumped onto stage and kept jumping.
Josh Holcombe, the trombonist, was not wearing a shirt and loving it. The alto saxophonist, Daro Behroozi, was not wearing sleeves and he was initially absolutely frigid. Leo P on baritone sax was in his characteristically wild and multi-patterned garb with a small rhinestone on his cheek. For a few tunes in the middle of the show, he threw on a long navy smoking jacket over top. Buyo and Gawel (tubist and trumpeter respectively) were more lowkey. Buyo was wearing his nursing school t-shirt (he’s a nurse too, how rad is that?) and Gawel was casual in his trucker cap and aviator sunglasses.
Their performances are all so individually physical. Leo is the king of crazy legs– he kicks, skanks, shimmies, and twerks as he plays. And that’s likely not easy with a big hunk of brass hanging from your neck, but he’s bigger. Buyo’s range of motion is more limited as his brass is wrapped around his body, but he still moves like hell up there. He bounces up and down adorably, and during “Best Things,” he and Leo repeatedly high-five. Gawel seems content to stay more stationary onstage, and let’s be honest– a trumpet requires that sort of upright energy. Holcombe takes the stage like a warrior, but with a welcoming instead of threatening presence. He’s one of those musicians who will keep their tongue out of their mouths as long as they’re not using it, much like Loudon Wainwright. He also came down into the audience briefly! And when he and one of the saxophonists took downstage to play to each other, it was electrifying. Behroozi may have been on the more reserved side, but his passion when playing really came through.
There were some moments when the band spoke to us about the messages in each of their songs. Miami, one of my favorites, went out to the different Floridian city of Orlando and its tragedy of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Holcombe revealed that “Best Things,” the song that introduced me to Lucky Chops, was written about us the fans and how close to his heart the song is. And there was a song called “Stand” which Behroozi related to the current state of Standing Rock. It’s common for bands to bring up current events during their concerts, but I especially appreciated how they did so. They exuded positive energy and love from that stage. They really are best in person, which makes it a good thing that they perform on the streets of NYC to this day.
To this effect, they performed several pieces that I believe weren’t available on iTunes or Spotify. I try not to be too focused on photographing concerts, as fun as it is, so I can stay well in the moment. So my photos from this concert weren’t top-quality. But I did get a couple seconds of some of one of those new songs. One of them was called “For Connie,” written by Behroozi for his music teacher Connie who had died recently. That one particularly touched my heart.
Before the final song, Buyo (of whom the band was the brainchild!) made some shoutouts. One was to a fan in the audience named Shell, who has one of their songs tattooed on her leg. They said that they would be by the merch table signing autographs and taking pictures and that they “wanted to meet all of us!” I had what I wanted to say to them brewing in my head the whole show and asked Brian and Laura if there was anything they wanted to say. But after purchasing my merch, they never came out. We politely got kicked out of the venue. I’m glad I got a beanie because I needed a good stylish hat to keep my head warm and dry in this rain.
I made a brief stop at the hotel room, then out again to go to Lucky Roll. This was another restaurant choice inspired by social media, this time Tastemade UK’s Snapchat Discover channel. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is.
Story of the restaurant is that Lucky Roll was a beloved late-night sandwich shop that closed down a couple years ago, and when outrage blossomed a Greek restaurant called Taka Taka adopted their menu and hours. I find it funny how both establishments are Mediterranean and have Japanese-sounding names (I found Japanese restaurants that shared names with both). Then it was time to settle in for the night. My body was tired, but I was so filled with energy. Only the reminder that I had gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, and the desire to be up early tomorrow, persuaded me to shut my eyes and mute my brain.