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Butthole Surfers, My Bloody Valentine and more: Five memorable shows at the old 9:30 club

butthole surfersThere was no forgetting a Butthole Surfers gig back in the day. (Courtesy of the Agency Group.)

In Sunday's magazine our old buddy J. Freedom du Lac has a great oral history of the 9:30 club, the landmark local venue that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Click Track decided to get in on the fun by commemorating a small handful of the memorable shows the club has hosted. To help with shows at the original 930 F St. location we've enlisted Patrick Foster, while David Malitz will share some of his favorites from the current 815 V St. spot later today.

By Patrick Foster

In 1983, I was a high school junior in the Virginia burbs, clerking at a Musicland store, the tidal wave of MTV and Michael Jackson cresting around me. It probably would have swept me away if it wasn’t for a pair of older co-workers who pointed out Brian Eno LPs in the dollar bin, stocked our tiny import section with The Jam and openly ridiculed any customer who brought Phil Collins product to the register. They offered passage to the underground and I eagerly scrambled after them. It was a wonderful time.

They also led me to the high church of live music: 930 F Street NW. At the end of that long hallway, surrounded by high-mounted TV sets, inhaling that unforgettable smell (described by a friend as “a mixture of black hair dye, sweat, and farts. Maybe a little leather”), and peering around that ridiculous pole in the middle of room, I made regrettable decisions (walking out on both the Pixies and the Go-Betweens), and stumbled upon amazing bands (Salem 66, Volcano Suns, Tar Babies). Here are five nights from the hundreds I spent there.

(DISCLAIMER: These are my memories, so yours -- and the actual facts -- may not quite sync with them).

Butthole Surfers - 1986-ish

At their zenith, these weirdos’ shows promised nudity, explosions, double drummers and a genuine sense of impending chaos. Singer Gibby Haynes was nearly frothing at the mouth at the end of this particularly frenzied set and by the time he got to his cymbal-on-fire trick, he had mayhem in his eyes. Minutes later, having gone WAY overboard with the lighter fluid, the club’s carpeted back wall was ablaze.

As staff tried to clear the area, Haynes assisted by wildly shouting into a bullhorn, “PANIC! RUN! PANIC!” The cherry on top of a memorable night was the astonished looks on the faces of the fireman as they watched the crowd of freaks and geeks filing out of the smoky space.

(My Bloody Valentine, the Verlaines, Sonic Youth, after the jump.)

The Verlaines - Spring 1991

Though promoting the band's its-all-starting-to-go-downhill-now “Ready to Fly” album, head Verlaine Graeme Downes truly awed me. Touching on nearly every classic in his considerable arsenal, he played what seemed like 46 different minor chords in every song, never missed a vocal note or lyric and sent our dizzy-headed entourage out onto F Street shouting in unsion, “I love this imported German beer, they know how to make it over there!” A genuinely inspiring show from a band whose best days seemed behind them.

Rain - 1987-ish

This long-forgotten band was one of many, many Dischord acts I saw at the club, but this short, brilliant show has stayed with me. Featuring former and future members of Youth Brigade, Soulside, Girls Against Boys and Manifesto, they played a galvanizing 20-minute set: barely stopping between songs, flinging their bodies and instruments around the stage like rag dolls, sprinting away while the final notes were still in the air. While suffering through three hour-plus shows in my career as a music writer, I’ve often thought back on that Rain set as the perfect template for live rock and roll.

my bloody valentineMy Bloody Valentine: It was loud. Very loud.

My Bloody Valentine - June 1989

I bought a pair of tickets at the door to catch what seemed to be just another group from across the pond, but from the first chord, this Irish band stunned me. Somehow, someway, they were playing louder at the 9:30 Club than Big Black (who had somehow played louder than the Swans).

Songs from “Isn’t Anything” suddenly made dramatic, life-altering sense, the TV-filled walls melted around me. Ear-shattering psychedelia, chest-rattling bliss. That it was also the first show I ever attended with my future wife -- a die-hard Zeppelin fan who had never heard MBV but was enthralled. Makes perfectly warped sense.

Sonic Youth/Ignition/Happy Go Licky - September 13, 1987

Sonic Youth forged solidarity with the D.C. scene early on and always invited locals to open their shows. This memorable night was the only time one of those locals blew the headliners away. With the third incarnation of the Rites Of Spring/One Last Wish lineup, the music Happy Go Licky played was beguiling, arty, loud, shape-shifting and absolutely invigorating.

Never had I been so simultaneously confused and thrilled by what has happening on stage. And as I watched the club’s cameraman shimmy up that iconic pole (always signaling the start of the set), I had no way to know that footage from that legendary night would right now be hosted on something called You Tube. Ignition nearly topped them. By the time Sonic Youth took the stage, songs from “Sister” sounded almost quaint.

By David Malitz  |  April 16, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Lists  | Tags: Butthole Surfers, My Bloody Valentine, Rain, Sonic Youth, The Verlaines  
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Next: Nick Cave, Beck, Underworld: Six memorable shows at the new 9:30 club

Comments

I recall the Butthole Surfers doing the flaming cymbal act on April 30th of 1987 on the first of two or three circuits in support of the Locust Abortion Technician lp -- did they set the club on fire the year before that, as well?

Posted by: phburris | April 16, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I moved to DC in 1986 from San Francisco, and one of the first places I discovered was the old 9:30. I couldn't have been happier. I saw a lot of great shows there. Among the most memorable were Jane's Addiction, the Chili Peppers, and one of my favorite shows of all time: The Rev. Horton Heat w/ Southern Culture on the Skids and Tenderloin. While the new 9:30 is without question the better pure music hall in many ways, I do miss the seedy, sweaty charm(?) of the the old dive.

Posted by: EKruse | April 16, 2010 11:07 PM | Report abuse

ph -

They may have indeed set the club's wall on fire the year after. Or, as the "ish" in that 1986 indicates, I could well be recalling the show you reference in the Spring of '87. The memory is clear, the date? Not so much. Seeing hundreds upon hundreds of shows during that time may have damaged more than my hearing!

E - I agree totally with your last statement.

Posted by: PFosterP | April 17, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, can anyone else shed some light on how many times the Surfers light the old 930 on fire?

Posted by: PFosterP | April 17, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The original lineup of Flipper in 1984. Gun Club, 1984. Swans 1988, Big Black/Pussy Galore 1987(?). Black Flag, every time. Jason and The Scorchers, 1985. Sun Ra, 1986. EU/Royal Crescent Mob 1987,

What a great club, the staff ruled, the sounds were good. The question is: Where is all of that video? They used to show the Einsturzende show on the in house system all the time.

Posted by: tarquam | April 17, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Rain isn't completely forgotten - their Peterbilt 12" was recent made available for download by Dischord: http://www.dischord.com/release/163-5/la-vache-qui-rit

I'd also love to know what happened to those videos :)

Posted by: ryanshepard | April 22, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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