Wrong! Have you ever been to a show where there were so few people in attendance that you wondered whether the band would even play? I read Hitless Wonder, so I know Watershed has played some gigs like that. I have been to quite a few shows like that, and while I feel empathy for the bands having to play to such a paltry audience, I secretly love the intimacy of those shows. You walk into an empty bar excited to see a band you came to see, and you think, “Crap, the show is cancelled. Or if it isn’t, they’ll soon announce it is and give me my money back.” But that never happens, because bands don’t work like that. If they did, they probably wouldn’t last very long. I’m pretty sure that the few people there usually have enough appreciation to make it worth the effort. I thought I would relate my top four stories about nights like this.
The Reds / Washington, D.C. / Nightclub 9:30
This show took place in June of 1981. I remember this because it was the day that I graduated from high school. The Reds were a band out of Philadelphia, PA. They had a record deal with A&M and had put out a nice 10” record, followed by a self-titled debut LP. They put out several more records over the years. I totally loved the Reds and was excited to celebrate graduation by going to this show with a couple of my best friends. We walked into the club and there was no one there. No. One. I was amazed. A short time later a few people came in to have drinks at the bar, but by the time the set started only a total of five people were standing in front of the stage paying any attention. The band played like it was a packed house and we supported them like it was as well. A crowd that small was rare at the old 9:30 Club, so it was all that much more surprising, and disappointing for the band I’m sure. The 10” had a nice cover of the Doors’ “Break on Through” and the debut had some great tunes as well.
The Outlets / Norfolk, VA. / Kings Head Inn
One afternoon in 1988 or so, no idea what month it was, I got a call from a friend who lived in Norfolk, VA. I lived in Charlottesville, about 2½ hours away. My friend was calling to tell me that The Outlets were playing a club called the Kings Head Inn that night. The Outlets, from Boston, were and still are one of my favorite bands ever. I called my friend Ted, and a few hours later, five of us were crammed in Ted’s Suzuki Samurai headed for Norfolk. It was a rainy night, and a weeknight, I think. We rolled up to the Kings Head Inn in plenty of time to ensure we didn’t miss any music. There was a handful of people there who seemed mildly interested, but our group of about ten fired-up fans were ready to see The Outlets. I was particularly psyched for this one. This would be the first and – unfortunately – the last time I ever got to see The Outlets play live.
The Outlets came out and played a really great set. At the time, the Restless Records release, “Whole New World” was the only music I knew by The Outlets, but I loved that record. They played most of the songs from the record, a couple I did not know, and then said they were taking a break but would be back. I was stunned and so excited that they were going to play a second set. The Kings Head was small, not much to it, so we went back to talk to the band between sets, giving them no rest whatsoever. I talked to Dave Barton, and I recall two things in particular. First, I asked him to make sure they played “Tilted Track” in the second set, but he said no. He said they refuse to play that song anymore, but he wouldn’t say why. The other thing he told me was that he thought “Whole New World” was a terrible record. I told him I loved it, but he insisted that it sucked. I still love that record to this day, but I will say that having heard some additional live recordings, and after the release of the amazing “Outlets Rock 1980” which came out in 2007, I can see his point. “Whole New World” does not capture the true rocking sound of The Outlets. It tames down their sound quite a bit.
The second set was as good as the first. The opportunity to see The Outlets at the Kings Head Inn was a treat I will never forget. They were a powerhouse of a three-piece band with simply great songs. Dial up You Tube and watch a live set from The Rat in Boston, and you’ll see how good they really were.
The Blake Babies / Charlottesville, VA. / Zippers Restaurant.
This show was around 1990. Zippers was a weird, short-lived restaurant/bar in Charlottesville, VA, which had bands play occasionally in a corner of a room with no real stage at all. Unlike the Reds show, this was in a hole-in-the-wall joint where you couldn’t have anything but a small crowd. Still, me and two of my friends knew the Blake Babies were from Boston and one of us even had one of their CD’s. We went to this place, paid a $2 cover, bought some beers and sat down in the room all by ourselves. Three of us. The Blake Babies came out and played us songs while we talked to them between songs, like they were in our living room. I left the gig thinking the band was pretty good, and for the next week I got tired of my friend oohing and aahing about how much he was in love with Juliana Hatfield. She definitely was way cool and pretty, too. Still, only now that I love all her solo records (of which there are many) and her efforts with Paul Westerberg in the I Don’t Cares, do I realize how much of a treat that night really was. If you’re not a big fan of Juliana Hatfield, you may want to dig a little deeper. She’s done tons of solo stuff, plus the Juliana Hatfield Three and Some Girls. Juliana also did a record with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf, calling the band Minor Alps. Of course anything with Westerberg gives you instant credibility, but working with Nada Surf is awesome too. Her latest record, Pussycat, is very good (and angry!). Ms. Hatfield is one prolific musician, that’s for sure.
Rhino Bucket w/ The Factory / Springfield, VA. / Jaxx Nightclub.
This show took place in 2011. Rhino Bucket has been making AC/DC-style rock n roll for decades. They are one of my favorite metal bands. Just good, old fashioned hard rock. The Factory is an old D.C. band that came oh so close to making the big time, only to be brought down by the usual rock n roll cliché problems of addiction, etc. The Factory had been gone for decades when they resurfaced in about 2010. Their awesome vocalist, Vance Bockis, had overcome years of addiction problems and some 1980’s recordings were dug up from various recording studios around D.C. in order to allow Acetate Records to release a CD. The Factory started playing a few shows again, and Rhino Bucket also had a new record out on Acetate. When I saw this double-bill coming to a strip mall suburban nightclub an hour so from my house, I was all in. I got some tickets on line and my wife and I headed out for a blast from the past. The Factory had been a favorite of mine for so long, and I was really excited to see them resurrected.
Upon arriving at the club, the gruff dude at the door told us to come back in an hour, because the bands hadn’t shown up yet. We went to a pub and came back an hour later. The door guy took our tickets and tossed them aside and we were in. There was a tiny smattering of people, but most were probably with the bands. The Factory came out and played a set that took me back in time. They sounded great to me, and they even looked great still. Rhino Bucket followed and played a killer set of straight-ahead rock n roll. I could yell out a request and they’d ignore me and then play it a few songs later. I would say there were about fifteen people there, and Jaxx is a big place with a great light and sound system, even if the outside of the place looked like a total dump. An empty metal show might be the strangest kind of show to see practically by yourself.
It’s only been a few years, but Jaxx is now closed & gone and Vance died of natural causes about a week before The Factory was scheduled to open for Kix at a show in D.C. He had invited me to hang out with the band at that show, which never happened. R.I.P. Vance.
A video of vintage Factory – The Factory performing “Girl I Want”:
A mini-documentary called SHIFT featuring Vance, probably not too long before he passed:
JCE is a good friend of Ricki C.'s whom Ricki has never actually met in person. A lot of us here at Pencilstorm have friendships like this; long-distrance liasons that sometimes eventually result in face-to-face meetings if you're on tour enough, but sometimes remain letter-to-letter (back in the day) or e-mail to e-mail or text-to-text in these oh-so-modern times of ours.
Ricki and JCE (John, to his friends & family) first bonded over their shared mutual love of Boston's Finest Sons - The Neighborhoods - and everything extended out from that rock & roll ripple. JCE lives in Culpeper, Virginia with his wife & daughter, and thinks a long-rumored new Neighborhoods record being released in 2018 would make this a perfect year.