8420Clip: Juddy on the state of Pittsburgh music venues
- Feb 5, 2004Are there many shows at the Warsaw Tavern or Howler's these days?
You Don't Have To Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here
Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER
If you want to see the effect of Rosebud closing its doors, just look at
the Rex Theatre's schedule. A week ago, the South Side venue showcased a
hodge-podge of acoustic open jams and untested local acts, all trying to
woodshed in a room that can feel empty with 100 souls inside. Now it's
suddenly ground zero for jam bands, blues iconoclasts and the once-a-year
prominence of Cajun and zydeco music, as Elko Productions has moved its
Rosebud-heavy bookings list from Rosebud to the Rex.
When Karl Mullen was booking acts at Club Café, that venue began to rise in
stature amongst the national acts looking for a small and intimate setting.
Now Joker Productions has filled Mullen's vacancy, and continues to pack
the club with rising stars and solid national acts. As the rumored spring
closing of Club Laga, where Joker has long held court, looms closer, the
Café's schedule seems to be tightening up: Over a third of March is already
booked with national acts, everything from March's usual Irish suspects to
the Mekons. Joker, of course, can't book most of the shows they would like
to bring into Club Café's barely-100-seat capacity -- without a Laga-ish
venue, the big-time punk and indie tours Joker specializes in won't be
What you might not notice at first is the new efficiency that the music
scene's contraction is instilling in Pittsburgh's venues: Time is becoming
a commodity that it hasn't been before. So at Club Café, for example, shows
are being divvied up by hours, not nights -- most evenings feature two
shows and sometimes as many as four bands. The Rex is much the same --
rather than cancel planned events, the Rex has simply sliced up its nights
into chunks of time.
Because of its limited actual impact, this contraction -- Rosebud,
Metropol, maybe Club Laga, all gone in a season -- seems more like a
correction than a disaster. It's a sad economic fact that Pittsburgh was
living in a luxury, not of venue space, but of venue time: Bands and
promoters working at Gooski's and the 31st Street Pub, and until lately
Club Café and the Rex, could plan events around their wishes -- like the
recent Glam Rock Cabaret and Mod nights at the Rex, with numerous bands and
films and whatever. Check out a gig in culture-haven New York City and
you'll know in advance how long your favorite band's going to play for --
and it ain't "'til they're done."
It's not that Pittsburgh's venue situation is good: Especially with the
recent music-policy changes at Zythos and Lava Lounge on the South Side,
live original-music bands in Pittsburgh are finding their options extremely
limited, and their lead-time becoming outrageous. (Some local venues are
already booking for August.) It's just that, by this point -- after the
myriad closings of the past five years -- Pittsburgh seems to know what
it's doing. It took Elko Productions all of 20 hours to move an entire
calendar out of Rosebud. Mr. Small's Theatre waited about 15 minutes before
picking up slack from Metropol.
Maybe things aren't good. But, unfortunately, maybe they're not wrong
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