Unmodified

Downtown performance space changes hands, but not intentions

Kimber Lanning is a petite, fair-haired lady. Plopped down in a beanbag chair in a corner of her Tempe Stinkweeds record store and surrounded by records, tee shirts and magazines, Lanning's youthful face and diminutive figure suggest an earnest indie-rock kid rather than the self-made businesswoman she is.

Lanning has steadily built herself a modest local music empire over the years. In January, when she purchased Modified, a downtown Phoenix performance space/gallery, it seemed an ideal move. In-store shows that Lanning had long sponsored at her record stores had been growing bigger and bigger. Limited by space and logistical constraints, it seemed a small location suited for showcasing bands and some of her other performance-related interests would be the next logical step.

But after the first few months, it became clear to Lanning that Modified, which leases its space, had taken on a life of its own and would need the attention of someone who wasn't so busy. She tapped Scott Tennent, a Stinkweeds employee and friend who had worked closely with her since Modified's opening. She transferred ownership of the business to Tennent, although only a nominal amount of money changed hands.

Meet the new boss: Kimber Lanning (foreground) passes the Modified torch to Scott Tennent.
Paolo Vescia
Meet the new boss: Kimber Lanning (foreground) passes the Modified torch to Scott Tennent.
Don Walser: The missing link between Bob Wills and the Butthole Surfers.
Todd V. Wolfson
Don Walser: The missing link between Bob Wills and the Butthole Surfers.

Somehow the transfer spawned rumors that Lanning had "sold" the venue and was abandoning the project entirely. There was a minor uproar and a slew of concerned calls.

Fortunately for the arts and music communities, none of it is true. Though she has handed over the space's reins to Tennent, Lanning will continue to handle the art-gallery side of the business -- looking at portfolios, selecting artists, coordinating openings. Tennent will handle the music and other events that aren't directly arts-related. Meanwhile, the structure and setup of Modified will go unchanged and the booking policies will remain intact.

"It wasn't the sale of a business," stresses an exasperated Lanning. "All the volunteers are the same. Everybody who was behind it is going to stay the same, nothing is going to change."

Lanning adds that she knew she couldn't be responsible for Modified for long.

"I started Modified with the idea of it being run as a collective, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to be able to maintain it forever," she says.

The demands on Lanning's time -- already split among the day-to-day operations of Stinkweeds, promoting indie-rock shows and handling the gallery -- were mushrooming as Modified rapidly grew as a live music/performance venue for local and national acts ill-suited for the bar-and-club circuit.

Tennent is the ideal man to take over the space. A veteran of the Stinkweeds counter and an active member of the music community -- he plays guitar in local combo Half Visconte -- Tennent is a well-respected figure who's spent the better part of the last year apprenticing with Lanning, learning the nuts and bolts of booking and promotion.

"It's been really good learning things that way. I think it's going to help make the transition smooth," says Tennent.

Lanning says, "The only difference that I see is that he's already been able to dedicate more time to it, promote stronger and get more people in."

The nine-month-old venue has filled a critical void in the Valley's cultural scene. Though its main focus primarily has been split between live music and art, in its brief existence it has also played host to everything from poetry readings, music workshops, film screenings, modern-dance recitals and even fashion shows featuring the work of local designers.

But Modified's status as a favorite stop of the who's who of indie, underground, and avant-garde music is its strongest suit. Respectful, attentive crowds and an ambience unencumbered by TVs, gaming tables or booze are attractive to the kind of performers who rely more on the dynamics of their art than the volume of their amps.

Within the past few months, the space's stage has been graced by the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Low, and Elf Power. And with upcoming shows by Quintron & Miss Pussycat, Black Heart Procession, Isotope 217, and Archer Prewitt, it's clear that Modified will continue to gain momentum as a frequent destination of touring acts on the artistic and commercial fringe.

"The bands love it," says Lanning. "Take [Chicago-based slo-core band] Low as an example. They would rather play to 75 or 100 quiet, respectful people than a bar full of 500 people who are shooting pool and talking. They'll do it every time, and to them the money end of it doesn't matter."

Tennent adds, "I think for a lot of bands it's a breath of fresh air to come to a place where all the people who work there actually know who they are and know their music."

Modified's downtown location also provides an alternative to the overdeveloped neon-lit emptiness of Mill Avenue. A quick look at the club's calendar (which can be accessed at its Web site, www.modified.org) shows that Tennent is already expanding Modified's local bookings. November's schedule promises an acoustic night featuring sets by Chula's Danielle Bejarano, and Reuben's Accomplice singer Jeff Bufano, jazz from the Gabe Johnson quartet, punk from nevergonnascore, and Über Alice, and a show by power pop progeny Pollen.

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