Wednesday, 28 September 2016

9 while 9:30 Washington DC, 10th September 1983

With the schedule retrospectively filling up rapidly, it’s difficult to believe that there are many more unlisted TSOM gigs in 1983 left to rediscover, but another show which definitely took place is the band’s first visit to the legendary 9:30 club in Washington DC on Saturday 10th September 1983 as part of their first US mini-tour.

Those who have only begun to follow the band more recently may well recognise the name of this venue, a stalwart of the DC live music scene for thirty-five years, as TSOM have visited the iconic club subsequently in 1999, 2006 and 2008, but by these shows the club had moved to larger and more salubrious premises than in 1983, when it occupied the rear lower floor of the Atlantic Building at 930 F Street Northwest, hence the name of the club. In those days, the club was synonymous with the capital’s vibrant punk scene, and the ambiance of the long entrance hall can be seen in this fabulous archive footage of a surprisingly normal looking audience filing in and out of a Minor Threat gig in 1983, proving that the American punk look was never more extreme than that modelled by Johnny Slash on contemporary US high school comedy Square Pegs. The hallway (inspiration for future Eldritch lyrics??) was the scene of a shooting after a Yellowman gig in October 1983, just a month after TSOM’s visit, as the club had begun to acquire a violent reputation very different to the original atmosphere of the early 80’s as described in the Washington City Paper in 1995 : “In addition to music fans, the club attracted gays, art-scene makers, and new wave socialites like Natasha Reatig. ‘The place looked absolutely beautiful,’ remembers Reatig, a regular during the early years. ‘It was dark and very spare. The back bar was very elegant.”

Originally rented as rehearsal space in the somewhat faded grandeur of the Atlantic Building (at the cutting edge of contemporary architecture when it was built in 1888), the 9:30 club inherited from its predecessor Atlantis the mantle of being the punk place to hang out in Washington, and The Police, Cramps, REM, Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys and Nirvana were amongst many up-and-coming bands who paid their dues at the 9:30, attracted by promoter Seth Hurwitz’s ambitious booking policy. According to the local history blog Boundary Stones, the “cramped, L-shaped space…legally only accommodated 199 patrons, but often attracted many more. In 1983, then-Washington Post feature writer Lloyd Grove described it as “a bit of down-town Washington awash in the New Wave, replete with exotic characters clad in biker jackets…It’s fairly cheap, usually a $5 cover – but it’s also almost unrelievedly, crashingly loud”, noting a total lack of seating inspired by New York’s Danceteria and intended to keep the punters dancing.
TSOM’s visit to the club in 1983 isn’t mentioned in the official gigography on the band’s website, nor is it listed on the increasingly accurate records of the Wiki gigography. However, Eldritch made a very brief mention of it in a New York radio interview later (on 15th September 1983), when discussing how the band had gone down on the US tour so far, a fact that ubiquitous collector Phil Verne had picked up on. “To me, records are for assessing, gigs are for participating, especially when you come over on tour, it’s a strange place and you have sound problems, you really need the feedback more than usual from an audience. In Philadelphia we didn’t really get it, Washington was pretty much the same, Boston was good.”
Intriguing, but hardly definitive evidence of the gig having been played at the 9:30. However, Phil also came across a fellow TSOM fan on FB who had been at the gig. Ginnie Hruz Miller was certain that she had seen the band in DC, but puzzled that it wasn’t listed anywhere. “I definitely saw them in Washington DC in the early 80s. It was at the 9:30 Club which used to have an early show and a late show for some bands (yes, two shows in one night). My friend and I got lost on the way from Baltimore to DC and we missed the first show and were very happy to learn there was a second one, which we saw in its entirety. It was at the former 9:30 location, which was very small, and I was right up in front of Andrew, literally within an arm's reach. It was thrilling. I also have a close up few photos taken by my friend who went with me. Sadly, I cannot find the ticket, but the 9:30 Club was a very small venue back in those days, so perhaps they did not issue officially printed tickets as they do nowadays. I do recall that my friend and I did not buy tickets in advance for the 9:30 Club show in DC. We just drove down there and paid admission at the door, which could explain why there is no ticket in my collection.” As well as her detailed memories of that night, Ginnie hopes to soon be able to locate, digitise and share some pictures from the show, as a tribute to her late friend Larry Rodriguez (RIP), who took the photos that night but who sadly passed away in 2005.

Whilst there was no firm date for the show, it was now certain that the gig took place, although no audience recording has yet surfaced from the show, nor contemporary posters or flyers.
However, after days of fruitless Googling, I decided to do a digital search of the Washington Post’s archive, which threw up a fragment of a gig review from the issues dated Monday 12th September. Reviewer Joe Sasfy was clearly less than impressed, stating that the band showed such “witless passion and conviction” that the venue became a “musical morgue”. The reviewer mentions that the gig took place on “Saturday night, therefore cementing 10th September as the definitive date for this gig. Ginnie has tracked down the full, very poetic text of the critical yet fair review, which appeared in the respected paper’s Performing Arts pages, and in which Sasfy admits that at their best, “songs uncoiled in dramatic waves of droning guitar dissonance,” whilst Eldritch “hung and writhed diabolically on his mike stand, groaning and moaning through a wall of reverb.” How delighted the singer must have been with such a mention in a major national paper, which would be unthinkable back in the UK for such a defiantly independent Northern band.

However, the 9:30 club was destined to ultimately move on to bigger and better premises, and sadly the Atlantic Building was gutted as the area was gentrified in the early years of this millennium, with only the unique façade retained, with no trace or indication of the location’s pre-eminent place in the capital city’s musical development. The 9:30 has recently commemorated its 20th anniversary in its current, larger location, and its 35th overall ... much like TSOM themselves.

My particular thanks for this post are due to Phil Verne once again - check out his TSOM 80-85 FB group, to Ginnie Hruz Miller for sharing her wonderful memories,  and to the many Washington music fans who have ensured that this iconic venue has been properly archived on the internet.

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