Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Living Room, Pt. 1: One Shoe On

Like many of my rock and roll tales, this one concerns the now defunct Providence club The Living Room.

Now, I've seen shows in totally unmemorable places that became memorable through the performance itself, or through what happened to me while I was there (Emmitt Swimming at Cat's Cradle in 1999 immediately comes to mind but that's for another day). But for sheer character, give me The Living Room.

You can go to The Living Room today, but it is not in the same location as the club that dominated the punk rock scene in the 1980's in Providence. In fact, the old club meant so much to me that I never went to the new location even though I lived almost within walking distance during my years living in Providence.

The old club was in an ancient mill complex just West of I-95 in the heart of Providence. You could see it from the highway as you whizzed past...the complex began at the bottom of a steep incline. If you parked at the bottom of the hill there were several ways to enter. You could walk up the sidewalk until you reached a small archway that led onto the courtyard outside of the club. Or you could walk across the flat parking lot to a set of steps that wound up from the base of the brick basement level to the club level. The overall effect was of a giant set of steps from the parking lot with the club being on the first level.

Nestled into the left hand corner of the courtyard was a small nondescript door. From the parking lot you could see the giant bubble window that protruded from the inside of the club. I can remember standing inside the club nursing a beer slowly leaning out into the inverted arc of the bubble and looking down on the tailgaters and ejectees who lingered in the parking lot.

Everything except that window was red brick.

As you entered the club, the stage was immediately on your right hand side facing the interior which stretched away from the entrance. The bar was a hard U pushed up against the left with a small walk space that let you look out the bubble window. At the rear right hand side was the entrance to the bathrooms. The wall space between the bathroom doors and the bar was broken up by a few couches.

Side note on the couches. I saw countless shows here, at most of which I was exhausted beyond measure from exertion and elation. At no time during any of these shows did I ever consider EVEN FOR A FRACTION OF A SECOND sitting on any of these couches. If it is possible for furniture to be hostile, these were. Upon closure of this incarnation of The Living Room, the couches were whisked away to Langley to be used in clandestine torture by the CIA.

I don't know what the capacity of The Living Room was, 500 legally, 800 death wish style, I couldn't say. When I saw The Ramones, I literally felt as if I were a particle of sausage in a vacuum packed container. There was absolutely no room. At that show the slam dancing ejected me up several feet and onto the bar.

These well attended shows seemed to clue us all in to the fact that the image being pedaled in the mass media was not quite commensurate with reality. I rarely was at The Living Room when it felt empty. The audience for this type of music was vital and growing. It was like being a member of a secret society.

I'd already seen my The Replacements tear the roof off of the place the summer before in 1986. I'd seen The Violent Femmes. I'd seen The Ramones. A let down seemed inevitable as I experienced my heroes up close. Would Husker Du be the first to disappoint?

Ah, no.

In retrospect I was massively lucky. The Huskers had just put out their latest double album Warehouse: Songs and Stories. The recording of this album had been, to put it mildly, contentious. The band was coming apart at the seams and tearing each other to pieces as they went. Just before they were to kick off the tour to support the double album (which Warner Brothers had pressured them to condense into a single album...) their long time tour manager committed suicide. The tour went on in spite of the tragedy and they were a fiery furnace of grief and rage.

If you don't know their music, suffice it to say that adding that layer on top of their combustible mix of distortion and volume was like lacing the A-Bomb with Napalm.

They played for what seemed like hours. They were a power trio with two primary songwriters, guitarist Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart. Each sang their own compositions. The bass player bounced around silently sporting a handlebar mustache. I have no recollection of the songs they played, although I assume they focused primarily on the new double album. But they also played almost an hour's worth of material I had never heard.

They broke up a few months after this concert, cutting the tour short. The intensity of their performance made me wonder how they could maintain it even for the rest of the evening, let alone a world tour.

Now, there are all sorts of places you can go to find out what happened to Husker Du. It is a sad story of ruined friendship, creative competition devolving into bitter fueding, and drug abuse.

But this is a post about my shoe.

As I mentioned, Husker Du whirled all over The Living Room like a distorted dervish, all beat and propulsion and scream. The audience reacted appropriately. A sort of death dance gripped everyone as they ricocheted off of one another. The overall effect was of a souped up jalopy accelerating down a one way street towards a munitions factory.

They didn't do the normal 'leave the stage' til everyone claps loud enough encore bullarkey. They played so long that it soon became clear to everyone that they would simply stop when they couldn't go any further. And we did the same.

When I say I was sweaty, I don't mean a light mist that could be dabbed at with a hanky. No, the knees on my jeans were soaked through. My knees were sweating. MY KNEES.

All of a sudden it was over. The lights came on. Everyone was stunned. I remember it being really quiet. I had no idea where my friends were in the club. Total individual dance expression had been necessary and we'd all splintered off into our own Astaire-in-a-meat-grinder whirlwinds.

It was only after standing and breathing heavy for a few minutes and waiting for the club to clear out enough for me to find my crew that I realized something. I was missing a shoe. Somewhere it had been ripped off of my body and I hadn't noticed until I stopped dancing. I know that sounds hard to believe but I promise you it is true.

Here's the strangest part of all.

I waited until that club was empty. I searched high and low. I found many other single shoes. I walked past the infamous bubble window down the million red brick staircase and into the family station wagon. I pressed the clutch in with my sock and drove my sweaty ass home.

1 comment:

jean said...

bren - i remember that shoe - brown clarks that you got for christmas. was this show in the winter because i think you got the shoes for christmas and only wore them a few times before you were down to only one...