Music News

Goodbye, Modified Arts: Phoenix Scenesters Share Their Memories of the Downtown Music Venue

Before Kimber Lanning debuted her version of Modified Arts in 1999, the decrepit brick building located on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix was nothing more than a quirky art gallery neighboring numerous nearby crackhouses and endless urban blight.

It's been more than a decade since the DIY die-hard opened her art gallery/music venue to the public, and while the place occasionally stinks (from its ongoing problem with a troublesome sewage system), the diverse array of indie and experimental musicians its hosted over the past 10 years sure hasn't.

If Modified's walls could talk, they'd likely sing a jumbled cacophony of lyrics hewn from the hundreds of bands who've graced the venue's wooden stage. In many ways, it's been Phoenix's version of the Bay Area's infamous 924 Gillman, a non-profit joint where local music fans have witnessed intimate performances by burgeoning talents, bizarre local acts, and mid-level indie outfits before they went on to greater fame, including such names as Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, and the Cold War Kids.

And while Modified's impending changeover and transformation later this month to more art gallery than rock club will bring an end to the sort of marquee indie-rock shows that made the place famous, management says it will still feature smaller and infrequent performances by "unique, experimental, and challenging" musicians.

So as the venue holds its final big gigs this week, New Times caught up with a few local musicians and scenesters to get some memories of their favorite concerts from the past 10 years.

Sam Means, former guitarist for The Format

Show: Limbeck, Reubens Accomplice, and Courtney Marie Andrews (March 2009)

"I'd been touring a long time and it felt nice being around everybody again and being in that environment. It was probably the best show I'd seen in a while. Everyone was playing acoustic that night, and it was a genuinely great night. I hadn't seen Limbeck in probably about a year and they were feeling pretty scrappy to be playing, just really excited. Reubens Accomplice were really awesome, and it was the first time I'd seen Courtney Marie Andrews play, and she was excellent. There really weren't that many people there and my favorite shows are always the small ones. Really intimate and quiet. Everybody was really focused and paying attention, and there was a good feeling in the room when all the bands were playing."

Jeremiah Gratza, co-promoter of Stateside Presents

Show: Arcade Fire (December 2004)

"It was right after their self-titled EP came out, so not a whole lot of people knew who they were yet, but the show was outstanding. I brought a friend with me and told him, 'This is gonna be the only time you'll ever see this band in this setting.' And sure enough, the next thing you know they were at Coachella. It was also one of Modified's first bigger shows shortly after they'd torn down that old wall and expanded the main room. It was an absolutely great performance by the band. The acoustics were just amazing. Nothing was mic'd, so they just played the violin, cello, and accordions as loud as they could with everyone in the audience being super-quiet. When I saw them later at Coachella, I kind of liked the performance at Modified better."

Donald Martinez, founder of The Shizz

Show: Meatwhistle (July 2004)

"I think that Modified has been a music venue that's always been open to new ideas. I've been to tons of shows where there were five people there and others where it was so packed that you couldn't even get in. It was just a very diverse place that was like a second home to some people. The one show that really sticks out in my mind was one where Meatwhistle opened for my old band Budget Sinatras. During their set, there were all these people running around with flesh hooks in their backs playing tug of war while Meatwhistle was onstage. It was so bizarre. There was one point in the evening where some girls were starting to get naked, and it got a little awkward for a while. There were questions about how old some of the people were in the building, but I guess everybody was 18 and over."

Ian Metzger, frontman for Dear and the Headlights

Show: Joanna Newsom (July 2004)

"It was just this very personal kinda show where she played this huge harp. The way things are set up there, you don't get a huge feeling of separation between you and the artist, so it was unique to see that talented of a musician that close-up and watching the way their hands work and the way they interact with the audience. I kinda enjoy that, it was pretty incredible. Plus, Devendra Banhart opened."

Stefan Pruett, vocalist for Peachcake

Show: Q and Not U

"It was the first time they came through Modified, somewhere in between the release of their debut album and the upcoming release of their second album [Different Damage]. It was so jam-packed in there and wasn't standing room only, but smashing room only. What's funny is that I procured a very early advance radio-promo copy of the album from Eastside Records, and listened to these new songs that were unknown to the rest of the crowd. They opened with 'Soft Pyramids' and I started singing out loud to it. And it looked like everyone in the entire room darted their eyes to me, which was kinda awkward and funny, but I thought it was pretty amusing."

Kimber Lanning, owner of Modified Arts

Show: Don Caballero (May 2004)

"The guy [drummer Damon Che] was wearing those sorta Rollins-style running shorts, which was all he had on. He was a super-hairy dude and at one point he came out from behind the drums and bent down on one knee to play the recorder. There was a whole bunch of dudes across the front of the stage watching the show and when he bent down, everyone went, 'Woah!' and kinda turned their heads suddenly. It was some funny shit. So he must've apparently fallen completely out of his shorts and, like, every guy in the front was desperately trying to shield his eyes.

"If nothing else, Modified was a place where you had to play the cards you were dealt. There was no hiding behind a massive stage or special lighting. It's a very raw place. You never knew what you were gonna get. It was just like being naked in a sense, which, in Don Cab's case, was the truth.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.