Almost-Almost Famous

"Jeez, Jett, try not to pull a Dale Earnhardt on our ass!" I croak as the PHX's sultry, bi-lovin' speed-demoness skids around a corner toward the alt-music nightspot Modified Arts near Seventh Street and Roosevelt. "Plus there's po-po all around, and I've got an open bottle of Stoli in my friggin' lap."

"Don't be trippin', K-dawg," replies the PHX's Penélope Cruz, her boobs jiggling in a tight-ass V-neck blouse as she shifts the stick of her Miata into fifth (the Impala's in the garage, yo). "And don't be spillin' any vodka on my carpet. Anyway, we're almost there, and I don't wanna miss Xiu Xiu."

Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoe-shoe") is a West Coast emo group made up mainly of this Oakland-based dude Jamie Stewart and whoever he happens to be playing with at the time. On this tour, it's a beautiful, versatile Seattle musician named Caralee McElroy. Jett's a fan of the group, though I only knew what I'd read and downloaded before the gig. At this moment, I'm mainly concerned that Modified is an all-ages venue that doesn't serve alkie-hall, which is why I'm pouring potato-juice into a small, emptied-out bottle of Arrowhead so we can swig unobtrusively while handling our biz. The sacrifices we make for our public!

We finally hit Modified, and Jett does an impromptu doughnut in the dirt parking lot before halting the Miata inches away from the wall of a nearby building. Both of us gargle a shot of hooch, then hop out of the car, flushed and ready, Jett's water bottle snugly in her tiny, Paris Hiltonesque purse. Outside the small brick structure that houses Modified, scores of kids are sitting on the sidewalk, smoking butts. Apparently, we've missed opening acts Jason Alexander, a.k.a. "Wolf Colonel," and trio Andrew Jackson Jihad. Thankfully, Xiu Xiu is still setting up.

Inside, there's an alcove with a candy/soda bar that leads into a performance space that looks as if it could hold 100 to 150 souls. There's art up all around, reminding us that Modified doubles as a gallery, and almost everyone present is young, some even of high school age, many in jeans, sneaks and tees. We corner the Mod's den mother, club-promoter, band-booker, and all-around cool chick Leslie Barton, and drag her outside for an interview.

"What are you guys doing here?" queries Barton, who's read this column before and knows our m.o. "I thought you two only hit the bar scene. Nobody's taking their shirts off in here, and there's no drunken revelry."

"Don't say that," exclaims the Jettster. "Kreme might run for the hills."

"Hey, our purview is all nightlife in the Valley of the Sun," I state for the record. "That's why our cards say, 'We own the night.'"

"They should say, 'Kreme owns a night-light,'" snarks the J-unit, shooting down my ego-filled dirigible. "To answer your question, we've been meaning to hit you guys for a long time, and since I'm into Xiu Xiu, we figured this was the right date to look you over."

"Okay, now let me ask you something, as a diehard dipsomaniac myself," I say to Barton, who's dressed like the English teacher you always wanted to make it with in junior high (glasses, short brown hair and an open red sweater worn over a tee shirt with an orange King Kong on it). "Why no John Barleycorn, chief?"

"Because then we wouldn't have all these great kids coming here to see bands and stuff," she responds. "Our demographics are like 15 to 50. But as weird as it sounds, we're doing it for the kids. Sometimes we have a hundred screaming 16-year-olds in there. It can get out of control, but we do have rules. No littering, no writing on the walls, no touching the art, and no drinking inside the club."

Jett gulps audibly, clutching her purse tightly: "Uh, so you'd probably 86 someone with booze, eh?"

"People learn to be polite here because they're not drunk," Barton tells us, ignoring the question. "It's more about the music."

Jett excuses herself for a moment, and Barton and I discuss the inevitable tensions that will arise when condos go up across from Modified on Roosevelt Street. Though Modified has been where it is longer (it's owned by Kimber Lanning, the proprietor of the Stinkweeds record stores), something tells me its halcyon days may be up as soon as residents move into those condos and start bitching about noise.

Barton's called inside as Jett stumbles back from around the corner, her face even more flushed than before. "What's the matter with you?" I ask.

"Had to lose the Stoli," she says, wiping her mouth. "So I drank it. Hic!"

"And didn't save any for me? What a lush! That's why we had it in the water bottle, ya dope."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons