Posted by
Jun 022014

So last night, Mr. Royale and I got our aging butts out of suburbia and headed into San Francisco to the new San Francisco Jazz Center. Marc Ribot was performing there for four nights, with each night highlighting one of his different styles; we chose to see him in his Los Cubanos Postizos incarnation. The band did not disappoint: Marc and the other three original members were in amazing form, and it was a pleasure to watch their interactions, their nods, their signals to each other. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or heard such fluid intra-band communication.

But there was something really wrong about the night: the venue. The show started at 7:30 (not the doors, the music), and we got there late (early? at 6:30) and hadn’t eaten dinner, so decided to grab a quick bite in the Jazz Center’s restaurant, “South.” Inside the white and glass interior, we were able to eat healthier, more expensive versions of classic Southern cuisine. I love me some biscuits and collard greens, but Ouch! the price tag was a bit rich. After rapidly making our way through our meal, we dashed inside just in time to catch the start. We sat in amphitheater-style seating (noting the plastic armrests and drink holders that could hold $12 plastic cups of wine), in an air-conditioned, large, battle-ship grey room. Our fellow music appreciators were seated around the small stage, but when the tempo sped up, folks got up and politely went to the back of the room to dance. The one act of debauchery I saw during the two-and-a-half-hour show was a woman skipping up to sit in a vacant seat in the front row. She lasted about 25 seconds before a clean-cut middle-aged man escorted her out. We were done, walking out the door, by 10 pm. All in all, it felt like a Disney Theme Park, an IMAX theater, a cleaned up, safe-for-aging-beatnik fans experience. I have seen the future and it is me?

I don’t know what I was expecting. I was happy that I wasn’t surrounded by jerks holding their phones up to take pictures or video, and this was certainly the first show in recent memory that I didn’t want to yell at some nearby couple, “Get a room!” But something was really missing. Fast-tempo latin music seems to need more than such a slick, comfortable venue. Where was the funk?

I could continue ranting about these weird juxtapositions of band and venue. I’ve seen plenty of bands in crappy music halls, beer-stinking bars, high school gyms, and hangar-like arenas. Sometimes the space was too small for the loudness of the band (I’m talking to you, Moon Duo). Sometimes a horrible show was redeemed when I heard the same set in a different space (Hello, My Bloody Valentine). Sometimes the smell of weed heightened the experience (Tame Impala!) and sometimes I thought, WTF (Arcade Fire?).

Please join me in my further understanding of how a band’s venue heightens or detracts from the musical experience.


  12 Responses to “Clean”

  1. I know exactly what you mean by the Disney/IMAX vibe. The World Cafe is a big complex in Philly that has a radio station, a theater, and a club. The sound is good, as are the sightlines, but the whole thing has an antiseptic vibe to it. The club in particular feels like the lobby bar of a upscale hotel chain. It’s nice and all, but I usually prefer my venues a little scruffier and to have more of an organic personality of their own rather than the look and feel of something from the HGTV network. (There is probably a correlation to this and my preference for dive noodle bowl shops rather than perfectly tasty yet utterly predictable upscale chain restaurants).

    Also, there are few club/theater shows that benefit from having seats on the floor. Sometimes it works but it can also suck the energy out of the room.

    I would love to see the Prosthetic Cubans, by the way. I didn’t realize they toured. Ribot is way up on my list of favorite guitar players.

  2. BigSteve

    The venue you describe sounds like heaven — clean, comfortable seats, people who might make it hard for others to see moving to the back to dance, good albeit expensive food … what’s not to like? I question the whole concept that music has to be somehow dangerous to be good, but I especially question the need for live music venues to be dangerous.

  3. You say that, then I see you on the dance floor with a switchblade!

  4. ladymisskirroyale

    I thought of you during the show as Ribot’s guitar seemed a pretty good example of a DRY guitar mix. He occasionally used some pedal effects but generally it was just him and the same Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster (at least Mr. Royale says thats what it was) for the whole show.

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    It was very comfortable, but just seemed very wrong for an Afro-Latin-Cuban sound.

    I’m no great fan of a small, acoustically-crappy room, even if it was “classic” or beloved by it’s fan base (CBGB – yuck). And I have been enjoying the occasional seat at a show, but it worked when it matched the sound. One of my favorites was seeing Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce in such a place: seating around large candle-lit tables, people listening to the music rather than taking selfies.

  6. I like still a little edge to my venues. For me, locally, for all its natural beauty, Wolf Trap’s matronly staff and the early curfew make it somewhat of a snoozy place to see a show. I like the “new” 9:30 Club and Black Cat, and my ultra local dives Iota and Jammin’ Java. Back in home in Minneapolis, First Ave and the entry have not changed much since the glory days. Still scruffy. A couple of band comments from the stage about venues have stayed with me:

    Circa 1990 – Marshall Crenshaw: “Welcome to the rat-infested 9:30 Club!” (Old 9:30 on F street)

    Circa 1988 – Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander at the Sioux Falls (SD) Arena — “We’ll see you next time . . . if this place is still standing!”

  7. For a rock ‘n roll show I prefer a small, rectangular room without any tables. The audience should be standing and everything should be pulled in tight. I don’t need “danger,” but some physicality and sexuality are healthy. If the soundsystem sucks and the club’s staff are assholes, however, fuck ’em. I’m too mature for that shit. Philadelphia’s Boot & Saddle, where we did our record release show with The Donuts a few months ago, totally fit my dream rock club. It’s a lot like the late, great Maxwell’s in Hoboken.

    I can handle sitting in a small theater for a “mature” artist, like the Nick Lowe show I saw a couple of years ago. I’ve also enjoyed the occasional “IMAX” dinner theater vibe you describe, ladymiss, such as when the time I saw The Fab Faux in San Francisco or North Mississippi All-Stars playing (mostly) acoustic at Philadelphia’s sterile, safe World Cafe Live. Again, though, if the drummer is pounding and the band is trying to elevate me through the Power & Glory of Rock, I want to stand and stand a little too close to strangers, even if my joints ache.

  8. ladymisskirroyale

    Well said, Mod.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    Good quotes. I bet we could come up with a whole series of quotes of musician’s commenting on their stages/locations.

    I’d seen that the 9:30 club had re-opened; I’d always wanted to see a show at the old one on my trips down to DC.

  10. trigmogigmo

    You are not kidding about Moon Duo! I didn’t have earplugs and it was bad enough that I was on the verge of leaving the room most of the time.

    I have a feeling you wouldn’t mind this venue:

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    I’d heard about that! And the acoustics weren’t too bad.

    Shall we pool our cash and have him come play chez Royale?

  12. For rock shows I like venues that allow for both standing and a balcony for sitting. North Star Bar in Philly is great for that! As long as there is a bathroom that is better than CBGB’s and it is non-smoking, I can deal with it not being too fancy.

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