After all the Kinks records with tattered edges collect their dust and memories of all-night, broken-hearted Bonnie “Prince” Billy listening sessions become distant, what’s left of rock ‘n’ roll? In this age of the MP3s floating to the cloud and Apple commercials substituting for true music television, I would argue that rock is still most evident in the musk o’ urine, barf-stained, sticker-strewn, Budweiser-soaked club.
There was a lot of fuss when New York City’s CBGB shuttered its doors in 2006. Much hyperbole involving the Talking Heads, Blondie, Television and Patti Smith circled the national press. In all reality, by the 1990s CBGB was an also-ran, third-tier venue. If anyone of note played the Bowery haunt, it was for nostalgic purposes. I was living in New York in the mid-2000s and I had the chance to attend a show there once. The music was terrible — a pal’s brother’s band was playing — but I was struck by something else: CBGB was a dump. And it was great. It felt just how a rock club should, with cheap beers and bathrooms that Mayor Bloomberg wouldn’t let his horses use. Did the Ramones have their first shows there? Hell yes, and it felt like it hadn’t been cleaned since then.
Beginning tonight, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club plays Denver’s phelgm de la phlegm dive, Lion’s Lair. The Lair is dark. The Lair is dirty. And, best of all, it’s on Colfax, the discarded chewing gum on the bottom of the otherwise beautiful table that is our city. SCAC — a band for which I have an unwavering affinity — has chosen its 20th anniversary shows wisely and, of course, with history in mind. Lion’s Lair has hosted scores of Denver bands on the up-and-up (and downward spiral), including Slim. It’s a small stage that just barely qualifies as one and the intimate size lends to an almost symbiotic relationship between audience and artist. Bargain suds? Check. A head-scratching jukebox warbling when a death metal band isn’t making your ears bleed? Yup. Rock ‘n’ roll to the max? Most definitely.
Other tried-and-true rock clubs — and bars — that help Denver keep its ultra realness are the Hi-Dive, the Larimer Lounge, Bender’s, Bar Bar and Old Curtis Street. These are the kinds of places that feel lived in and abused. The sweat and blood are literally on the walls; it’s an undertaking that you can’t duplicate at a polished newcomer, giant stadium or ornate theater. The grime is vital to rock’s angular nature. Hard-nosed guitars deserve, and are only really fully-realized in, volatile surroundings.
On that score, the DIY venues that have been popping up here and across the country are just a further extension of this edgy premise. A year ago, I wrote this about Denver’s most famous self-run spot: “The relative insanity surrounding Rhinoceropolis in Denver is unparalleled: The white kids are getting away with murder, from under-21s slugging PBR tall boys to the post-collegiates pissing on trash. But, why not? It’s all do-it-yourself, right?” This grey-haired curmudgeon caught some flack from the younger crowd for that review. I might be getting a little too old for places like Rhino, but I’m all for that. What’s more rock ‘n’ roll than telling people like me to shut up?