Charlie Levy has something in common with Michael Corleone.
No, Levy isn't a Sicilian mob boss (at least as far as we know), and his dad probably looks nothing like Marlon Brando. But, just like Corleone, every time Levy thinks he's out, they keep pulling him back in.
In Levy's case, he thought he was out of the club business. Until six months ago, Levy was the booking agent and overall musical mastermind of Nita's Hideaway. When that club was sold last June, before briefly re-emerging as The Heat, Levy took it as his cue to stop booking shows and devote more time to managing bands like Gloritone and The Revenants. He sealed the deal by selling off his PA, which had powered Nita's for three years.
Of course, that was six months ago. These days, the word is that Levy is back, and no one seems more surprised about it than Levy himself. Two weeks ago, he got a call from the new owners of Fumbles, a Tempe bar (560 South College) that had been going nowhere fast for as long as anyone could remember. The three owners--recent Portland, Oregon, transplants Glen Rust and Doug Hayes and their friend Shannon Johnson--were interested in booking live music and they approached Levy about booking Gloritone to play there. Levy surveyed the bar, and immediately fired off a number of changes that would be essential to make the club a viable venue for live music.
"I said they needed to make the stage bigger, wider and taller, put a curtain behind the stage, carpet the floor, remove the television sets, and knock down a wall," Levy says.
Surprisingly, Fumbles' owners responded to this grocery list by asking, "If we made those changes, would you book the bands?" Levy was taken aback, but not exactly opposed to the idea. "The thing about it is they're really nice people," he says. But before he could seriously ponder the proposition, he needed the owners to answer a question: Did they want a bar that had music, or did they want a music bar?
For Levy, the distinction was more than a matter of semantics. It was a measure of commitment. When the owners said they wanted a real music bar, Levy was hooked.
"It happened so fast," Levy marvels. "If you had told me we were gonna do this on Thursday [January 14], I would have said you're crazy. Then, by Friday, it was done."
The result might be the best bit of news the beleaguered Valley club scene has had in recent weeks, coming as it does on the heels of state barrier restrictions for all-ages shows and the recent closing of Gibson's. Maybe the best part of the scenario is that the club--which the club's owners have renamed the Green Room--will bring together many of the elements that made the old Nita's so effective. Multitalented musician Jamal Ruhe (Sleepwalker, Yearofthemule) will work the mixing board, the Bombshelter DJs will make tag-team magic on the turntables, and many of the bands associated with Levy's reign at Nita's will again turn up.
"It's like Nita's meets these people from Portland," Levy says. That should mean a club that deftly mixes well-chosen national shows with some of the Valley's best local acts. Levy rues the fact that he didn't have sufficient time to swing a deal for punk trio Sleater-Kinney, who plan to bypass the Valley on their forthcoming tour.
Unlike Nita's, the Green Room will also be able to accommodate all-ages shows, and because it already has two bars, it will probably have a fairly easy time adjusting to the state's barrier regulations. While the owners work feverishly to get the bar ready--and Levy has donated 15 of his own CDs to make the jukebox more aesthetically satisfying--the club's schedule is beginning to take shape. Grand opening weekend will feature the Peacemakers and Gloritone on February 19, with Hammertoes and Niner (the much-anticipated band featuring the nucleus of One, Ruhe and his sister Shamsi) the following night. The weekend before will provide a kind of dress rehearsal, with Honey Bucket expected to perform.
Clearly, Levy wasn't looking for the Green Room, but he seems glad to have found it. As he puts it, "I'm all geeked about it."
Underground No More: Every now and then, a local club will try to incorporate hip-hop into its schedule, most recently Mason Jar, which gave it a short-lived shot a few months ago. But the format actually seems to have clicked at Big Fish Pub, which has turned Wednesday night into a weekly showcase for some of the frequently ignored mainstays of the local scene. The primary beneficiary has been perennial headliner Underground Empire, whose three-man, tag-team M.C. approach lends itself particularly well to a live setting.
Super Dave: Veteran jazz drummer Dave Cook is readying his new CD, Groovin' in the Desert, for national release with the help of Chart Makers, an L.A. distribution company known for its ability to identify pockets of jazz interest around the country. The disc, which Cook initially targeted merely for local audiences at club gigs, should go nationwide in the next few weeks.
Windy City Invaders: This week marks the launching of Modified, the downtown art space/music venue conceived by Stinkweeds owner, Kimber Lanning. The club, located at Fourth Street and Roosevelt, will be christened with a Wednesday, February 3, performance by Chicago Underground Duo.
The Windy City group is a skeletal offshoot of the Chicago Underground Orchestra, fronted by acclaimed avant-garde cornetist Rob Mazurek. In the duo format, Mazurek is joined by percussionist/vibaphonist Chad Taylor for a freewheeling rampage across free jazz, post rock, and any other inadequate genre handle you can apply to it. Question: If we let the Bulls keep Luc Longley, can this band stay in Phoenix?
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Opening the show is the equally intriguing Brokeback, a solo project for Doug McCombs, bassist for Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day. The show is scheduled for 10 p.m.
Revolving Door: Punky trio Hillbilly Devilspeak has had a tough time keeping a lineup together lately. After guitarists The Great Ciarlino and Mr. Smith quit a few months ago, the band filled the slots with a single guitarist, Casey "Big Daddy" Brooks. The band debuted its new less-is-more configuration at Hollywood Alley on Halloween night, after which Brooks quit the band to devote himself full-time to his other project, Black Market Midgets. Also turning in his pink slip was drummer EJ Trbovic.
Bassist Tom Reardon says, "I was prepared to let the band die and devote myself to something new, but one of our biggest supporters, Shane O'Cell, happens to be an excellent drummer, and he convinced me to give it one more try." Reardon and O'Cell joined forces with Steve Landos, formerly of Lemon Krayola, to create yet another incarnation of Hillbilly Devilspeak. Catch 'em, while you can, at Mason Jar on Saturday, January 30.