Club Crunch

Shortage of all-ages venues creates some strange bedfellows

There's a strange paradox at work in the local club scene. It's not necessarily new, but it has come into sharper focus in recent months. Basically, there are what seem to be a million clubs scattered throughout the Valley, yet people regularly complain that there are no places for bands to play.

What these people mean is that there aren't enough of the right kinds of clubs to offer legitimate options for people who want to hear something new and vital. That problem was never more evident than two weeks ago, when indie-rock favorites Come and Bedhead played in Tempe on consecutive nights.

A few months ago, both of these bands would have faced some real all-ages booking possibilities. They could have played at Hollywood Alley, Nile Theater or possibly even the small room at Electric Ballroom, among others. But Hollywood Alley no longer books all-ages shows and the other two clubs are history. So, by some perverse act of God, both bands wound up in the last place you'd ever expect to see a Matador or Trance Syndicate band: Big Fish Pub.

Sure, Big Fish has its strip-mall charms, but its vibe is geared toward hard rock and funk, and its crowd isn't necessarily a paragon of enlightenment. When Come came to the Big Fish on Monday, March 9, the band members were slotted between Surf Ballistics and Fred Green, two local bands with whom they had nothing in common, and were told upon arrival that they couldn't unload their equipment in the club. By the time they were able to begin their set at 11:30 p.m., the show was way behind schedule. Come took to the stage, blazed through a ferocious five-song set, then was abruptly yanked. One of the best bands on the planet was allowed to play for a whopping 25 minutes. Meanwhile, at least half the crowd--the Big Fish regulars--looked at the band with a bemused grin that seemed to say: "Hey, you guys aren't Plaidstone."

The next night, an only slightly less egregious travesty took place when Bedhead followed Lemon Krayola and faced a crowd not quite attuned to its slow, hypnotic guitar latticework. As at the Come show, it was obvious that although a sizable audience was present, it was predominantly the wrong audience, at the wrong place, for the wrong band. The night couldn't have felt more uncomfortable and incongruous if Jesus Lizard had taken the stage at Toolies Country.

The fault isn't really with Big Fish Pub. The club simply did not know what to make of these bands and, understandably, did a poor job of promoting and setting up the shows.

The fault is with an environment--fostered by squeamish state and local authorities--that seeks to crush unbridled expression every time it rears it head. In recent months, Jackson Street has helped to rectify the all-ages club shortage by booking a series of ska and indie-rock shows. But this bar can only do so much, since it builds its music schedule so as not to conflict with downtown sports events, which will become more frequent with the unveiling of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since Electric Ballroom closed, its old neighbor, Tempe Bowl, has absorbed some underground rock shows. It's a fun site in a good location, but it lacks a true stage, and it only books shows on weekends.

Thankfully, Stinkweeds Record Exchange has also picked up much of the slack, but it's a record store first and foremost, not a music venue. Stinkweeds owner Kimber Lanning says she's actually found herself getting deeper into the business of booking shows than she ever intended.

"I can't say that I ever wanted to do this many, but the gates just opened," Lanning says. "I never intended for it to be this consistent. I just thought I'd help out here and there."

Lanning cites two pressing needs above all others to help the Valley club scene develop: a genuine college radio station at Arizona State University, which would build more expansive music tastes, and an increase in all-ages venues. Neither solution seems imminent.

Another potential problem is the uncertain future of Nita's Hideaway. Though not an all-ages venue, Nita's is one of those rare, musician-friendly clubs that no music community can do without. But Nita's has been up for sale for the past three weeks, and should the club be bought by the wrong person, Tempe could lose its most lovable dive.

One can only hope that doesn't happen. I don't know if I'm ready to see the Revenants at Big Fish Pub.

For Pete's Sake: In only a few weeks, local blues legend Big Pete Pearson will move to Maine and retire from his life as a gigging musician. It represents a huge loss for the Valley blues scene, but Pearson's friends aren't going to let him leave without expressing their appreciation. So on Thursday, March 26, the Rhythm Room hosts a tribute show to Pearson, with a massive lineup that reads like a Who's Who of local blues and roots rock, including Maxine Johnson, Hans Olson, Small Paul, Mario Moreno, Henry "Mojo" Thompson, Jackie Tutt and a host of others. In addition, Pearson's friend W.C. Clark will be flying in specifically for the show. The show starts at 8 p.m.

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