Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek. Biweekly, he shares stories of great music and whacky characters from his continuing 27 years in Valley record stores and the always-zany music biz.
As you might expect, working in a record store is a pretty cool job.
Sure, there are plenty of times when it's just retail, with all the same annoyances and tedious tasks as any other store. Being trapped in one place all day, standing for hours, and of course, customers from hell. But for the most part, it's a music-lovers dream.
This is especially true when you get a chance to get up and close with the artists...and nothing gets you closer than being involved in an in-store performance.
Luckily, over the past 27 years, I've hosted and attended my share. They are never the same, and never predictable. Read on, and I'll share a list of stories from my Top Eleven In-store Performances of All-Time.
In-store Performances Don't Grow on Trees, You Know.
One of the reasons that in-stores are so cool is that they are hard to get. Every store begs for them - at least every store I've ever worked at or owned - but very few stores actually get them.
A store has to do big sales, have a place for bands to play, and really be able to draw a crowd. You have to be able to handle the logistics, the marketing, and the inevitable customer-created hilarities. Even then, artists are reticent to perform...especially established artists.
I've been lucky enough to be involved in a ton of in-stores for three reasons:
1) The indie chain that I managed (Zia Record Exchange) for three years had eight stores, which provided a plethora of flexibility and different customer bases;
2) The store that I owned (Hoodlums) for fifteen years was located in the one of the busiest locations in the entire country (the ASU Memorial Student Union), and;
3) Hoodlums spent nearly ten years as a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS), which placed me in the some of the best stores in the country.
Don't get me wrong, in-stores aren't all good. Sometimes artists and record labels can be a nightmare. But for the most part, a grand majority of my experiences have been enjoyable.
Now, without further rambling, I present my eleven all-time favorites.
My Top Eleven In-stores
If you read this column (or blog, if you prefer), then you know that I can't write a list without a quick list of qualifiers. This list has two:
The performance must be at a record store. I clarify this because Lord knows I've seen some really smokin' private shows at various conferences and shindigs, but that's a separate list.
It must be a performance. I say this in contrast to straight autograph signings (like Weezer and Garbage), which are cool, but not as much as a full performance.
11. Ben Kweller (Hoodlums/ASU)
By far the smallest of the Hoodlums' in-stores... and the only time we ever did two in-stores in one day. Ben was supporting his first album, Sha Sha, and his label asked if he could come in and play the same day we had Phantom Planet playing on the M.U. stage. We said, "What the hell," and borrowed ASU's piano, and put it in the middle of the store. We finished off a successful Phantom Planet show, and we waited.
Ben showed up more than an hour late, but the loyal group of fans that waited for him were treated to an extra performance: An impromptu batch of covers performed by Phantom Planet's Jason Schwartzmann (yes, the movie star) on piano with lead singer (and Gap model) Alex Greenwald.
Once Ben got there, his gregarious, enagaging nature and great songs took over. Small, but memorable.
Note: Ben did return a few years later for a much bigger show in the TV Lounge, which I actually found on youtube (see page 1).
10. Guttermouth (Hoodlums/ASU)
This was one of the first in-stores that we had after moving into our expanded location in the M.U... which, unlike the first store, featured an office.
I only bring that up because like the true punk professionals, that's where the boys drank their beers, at 10AM in the morning! Hey, you do what you gotta do for a noon in-store (we did our in-stores at noon because that is the union's busiest time of day).
It wasn't just them that stayed loyal to the punk way in spite of the early performance time. ASU punk fans packed the floor and proceeded to create a fine little mosh pit. Such a fine little mosh pit that we had to have employees stand next to the speakers (which were on stands) to make sure nobody knocked one over and hurt someone. In the end, though chaos reigned, safety was achieved.
9. Pete Yorn (Electic Fetus/Minneapolis)
A few of the in-stores on this list are not in the Valley. That's because every year a different store would host the annual CIMS conference, and the congruence of indie retail's best storeowners would be enough to track some really cool artists.
One such artists was one of Hoodlums' favorites, Pete Yorn. I did get a chance to meet Pete years later at the Marquee, but this show, at the legendary Fetus (famous in early rock magazines for it's patented Proto-pipe), was the first time I had the chance to see him perform... and what a show it was. Intimate and awesome.
8. G. Love and Special Sauce (Hoodlums/ASU)
This was our first monster in-store at the ASU Hoodlums, and I do mean monster. Over 800 kids crowded the MU stage on the first day of school to see Philly's favorite trio do their thing.
After signing autographs, at the boys request, we temporarily closed the store so the band could have a private "shopping" session. It was pretty cool to watch fans crowd all around the open-roofed store to watch the band buy about half of our jazz section (mostly). I would have done that too... especially if my label was paying for it (which they did).
Note: In case you were thinking, "Hey, that's not in a record store," let me clarify. Our first store was 500 square feet, so we used various locations throughout the M.U. to host our "in-stores." In other words, that counts.
7. Kings of Leon (Easy Street Records/Seattle)
As CIMS conferences go, none was bigger or better than the 10th Anniversary, which was hosted by Matt Vaughan and his crew from Easy Street Records. Easy Street had just opened a brand new store under the Space Needle, and with the extra "pull" of the CIMS brass, he somehow got the already-famous Kings of Leon to play on its stage.
The Followill gang kicked ass and managed to impress the entire room of jaded record store geeks (although I couldn't tell what the fuck that guy was talking about any more than I can on the records).
Here's the amazing thing: It wasn't even the best in-store of the weekend (see number one).
6. The Refreshments (Zia/Tempe)
This was about as personal as an in-store gets, especially for my late boss, Zia owner Brad Singer. Singer, one of the Valley's biggest local music advocates, had been working with the band, featuring local Valley legend Roger Clyne (still entertaining all over the country with his Peacemakers), for years. Brad's label, Epiphany Records, had helped release and promote the band's first album, Wheelie, and we were now seeing the band hit it big (OK, maybe not big, but at least medium) on the national scene.
True to their roots, and to Roger's character (still one of the nicest rock stars I've ever met), they played the Tempe store on the release date of the first ever major label album (and still classic), Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy, and we sold a truckload of records.
Can We Take a Break Now, Geek?
What can I tell you? I just can't stop myself from rambling poetic about all of these fantastic, one-of-a-kind events. And really, what the hell good is telling a story if you have to leave out cool details?
But I can stop myself for now. You need to get some work done anyway.
Stay tuned next week as I finish off the list with Numbers 1-5 .
As always, thanks for reading, and have an excellent weekend.
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