Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Washington D.C.'s 9:30 Club must mean many things to many people. It's existed in two different incarnations since its inception. Currently it's a well respected venue-brand, located at "U" Street NW with good sound sytem, nicely appointed and with wise booking policies.
Before that...best to set the scene...
When I moved to DC in 1975 I was kinda heart broken. I was born and raised across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Jersey City. Throughout my youth I took the subway under the river to NYC to buy records (at EJ Korvette's at Herald Square), help produce a radio show (on WBAI-FM, called "Watkin's Rock," an hour long trifle hosted by a hi school chum who's dad taught me to work the turntables and tape machines), and just bum around 14th Street. But it'd never seemed that cool. But in 1974 rumblings of the "loft scene" started showing up in the Village Voice - shows put on outside of the club circuit by exotic sounding artists like Television and Patti Smith. Then this place called "CBGB's" opened up and that sounded even cooler. All this seemed like a the realization of the rocktopian vision promulgated by Creem magazine, then the Bible for troublemaking music upstarts the world over; aka "punk." So NOW I gotta move hundreds of miles to this pretty but dead-assed town! It really did irk me.
The short version of what I found is -- cover band clubs that'd tolerate punk rockers on an off night that'd be dubbed "punk night" (ala The Keg), original music clubs that you could book into occasionally (The Childe Harold, Psychedelly) and various one-off gigs -- either test runs for some down-at-the-heels bar considering instituting a "punk night" (sigh), or someone would get ambitious and set up a show at a Knights of Columbus Hall or high school gym.
The shows were always exciting to play and attend, to see a community starting to crystallize was heartening...but it was always so draining to have to constantly be hustling, and then have to function within a cultural context that was tolerant at best and often mildly inimicable.
In the mid 1970's, the 900 block of "F" Street NW was decisively on the seedy side. Further up the street you had a few big, fancy department stores that'd survived the flight of many retail businesses to the suburbs (following the white middle class population), probably by virtue of custom -- they were where you HADDA shop for special occasions like Christmas, wedding anniversary etc. At the far northern end of the street you had the Treasury building. But around 930 "F" street you had a number of small, not especially reputable looking businesses. Ergo, real estate was cheap. So some old cat (his name escapes me now) took over the Atlantic Building and started running a restaurant in it, focusing on the lunch business -- FBI HQ was a block or two away as was one of the big art galleries, the Treasury etc.
Somehow, one of the local underground musicians met up with this gent and inveigled him to let the band he was developing practice in the basement in return for them performing occasional shows in the restaurant area in hopes of attracting some music lovers into making the trip down to "F" Street and drumming up some additional bar business. The price was right!
This was the Atlantis Club and while there were eventually some cool shows there (Pere Ubu, Cramps, Real Kids), there was always a level of tension between the venue management and the patrons -- management really didn't understand the cultural matrix that was trying to gel and didn't really like us overmuch. At times it got outright ugly. But that's a whole other story. Leave it suffice -- the underground music scene was still being tolerated for what revenue it could produce.
Then the Atlantic Building got sold and the Atlantis Club closed. Word was that it was being remodeled...