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Nick Cave, Beck, Underworld: Six memorable shows at the new 9:30 club

jon spencer blues explosionJon Spencer Blues Explosion: For one night in 1996, no doubt the blues was No. 1. (Ashkan Sahihi)

By David Malitz

In the previous blog post, Patrick Foster recounted his favorite memories of the old 9:30 club. Here are some shows from the new space will forever be ingrained in my memory. I immediately thought of these six, and only these six, so it seemed wrong to limit to five.

Share your 9:30 club favorites in the comments.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - January 1996

This was when I was 15 and needed to be at the very front for every show I attended. It was also the first month the new club was open, which added to the excitement. It's important to be near the front for a Blues Explosion show because if you can't feed off the energy of the band, that sort of defeats the purpose of seeing them. It's a whole lot of shtick - basically an Elvis impersonator leading a punk band through "blues" songs while shouting "Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion is number one!!!" roughly every 19 seconds -- but man was it thrilling when it worked.

Spencer's madman energy was contagious, particularly when he ditched the guitar and started attacking a theremin. The band played a 30-minute set, the lights went on, people scratched their heads and headed for the exits. Then the band ran back on stage, played 40 more minutes of sweat-drenched scuzz-blues and it was hard to walk out of there that night not thinking, "The blues is number one!"

(Beck, Nick Cave, Guided By Voices and more after the jump.)

Beck - August 1996

Less than a year later, Beck would fill the Patriot Center, as the success of "Odelay" proved he was more much more than a mere "Loser." His arena-production was already starting to take shape -- there were lots of flashing lights on the stage for this show. But his rock-star personality was already there. You could tell Beck knew this would be one of the last times he would be playing a venue this small and his humble hobo act gave way to a break-dancing, beat-boxing master of all genres. All the "Odelay" hits sounded great but the centerpiece of the show was an early version of "Debra," his hilarious/ridiculous bedroom ballad. Added bonus: Opening set by then-minor indie band Modest Mouse.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - September 1998

My first thought when this show was done: "That is one bad, bad man." My second thought: "And his band -- those are some bad, bad men, too." Cave and the Bad Seeds played elegantly dirty rock-and-roll, toggling between chamber-rock ballads and the seriously sinister. Patrick Foster actually reviewed this show for the Post: "With one hand choking the microphone, the other thrust skyward, at times he looked like Rick Springfield recruiting for Satan." Couldn't have said it better.

My main memory of this show was seeing a member of the 9:30 staff - someone who was all-business, all the time - who was working near the stage, throwing his arms in the air encouraging the crowd to cheer enough to get the band out for a second encore. It worked. The band came back and played an especially sinister version of "Stagger Lee" as Cave spat expletives and thrust his body all over the place. Maybe my favorite concert ever.

underworldUnderworld served up irresistible beats at its first D.C. show in 1999. (Hamish Brown)

Underworld - April 1999

My god, the thumping at this one. I still feel it in my chest. And it still feels good. Anyone who saw the band's set in the Dance Tent at Virgin Festival a couple years ago knows how cathartic it can feel when the trio locks into its groove and lets it build until it hits one of those crescendos. Now imagine that for a full two hours pumping through the 9:30 club's standout soundsystem.

This show happened during a brief stretch when I actually enjoyed dancing -- these things happen when you're 18 -- but even in a non-dancing era, I am pretty sure these beats would have made me move. Yeah, "Born Slippy" made everyone lose it, but the truth is that there wasn't even much to lose by that point in the set.

Broadcast - November 2000

The U.K. space-pop group was the opening act this night, playing before post-rock vets the Sea and Cake. Our editor Joe Heim actually reviewed that show and of Broadcast he said/complained: "The British group, a psychedelic-electronica hybrid played as if it were being paid by the decibel. Singer Trish Keenan has a gloomy captivating voice, and the group's high-charged, wall-of-sound songs were stirring. But did they all really need to be so loud?"

Short answer: Of course! Could have been louder, even. The trippy visuals projected behind the band, Keenan's icy voice and the sheer force of volume made me realize this would be the closest I'd ever come to experiencing the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. It was sensory overload in the best way.

Guided By Voices: Now that is a set list.

Guided By Voices - September 2004

There were other GBV 9:30 shows but the final one was the most memorable. The Electrifying Conclusion Tour lived up to its name as the best beer-swilling, leg-kicking indie rock band in the world played for nearly three hours. The official set list included only 49 songs; it felt like a good 65. Maybe that was just the number of Rolling Rocks frontman Bob Pollard downed during the show. A highlight was when he chided the drummer -- who hadn't been matching Pollard beer for beer -- for having to sneak off the stage mid-show to go to the bathroom.

The show was a parade of singalongs. The encore started with "A Salty Salute" and "Motor Away" and ended with "Echos Myron" and "I Am A Scientist" -- just an incredible string of perfect pop songs. Dave McKenna reviewed that one for us. He said: "When the house lights went on, fans stopped screaming and began asking each other if the show -- and their relationship with one of the most fun bands of its time -- was really over." It was, but how could anyone complain after a show like that?

By David Malitz  |  April 16, 2010; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Lists  | Tags: Beck, Broadcast, Guided By Voices, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nick Cave, Underworld  
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Next: Coda: 9:30 memories, looking for the Mothership


i was at 2 of these shows (GBV, Broadcast). off the top of my head, my personal favorites list would include portishead 1997, yo la tengo 1997 + 2000 (and the time they played outside in the alley during a blackout), tortoise 1998, godspeed you black emperor + labradford 1999, sleater-kinney + the thermals 2004, magnetic fields 2001, and lcd soundsystem + m.i.a. 2005. oh, and that kraftwerk show in 2005 (i saw one of two nights).

Posted by: baconfat | April 16, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

The thing about that Nick Cave show -- it came the day after Bauhaus played the second night of two rollicking, thunderous rock'n'roll reunion shows.

Bauhaus and Nick Cave, back to back? Brilliant stuff! (though, not as brilliant as the two night stint Nick logged at the old 930 in February, 1988 or the exquisite show he put on at Gaston hall in 1990, where he actually read a few pages of his first book while the band played The Carny).

The Blues' Explosion? I've never seen a bad set by those cats, though Pussy Galore impressed me far more when I saw them at the Hung Jury in '86.

Posted by: phburris | April 16, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Yes - to Nick Cave's performance that night! That was my favorite show ever. I saw him perform at the old 930 in Immaculate Comsumptive with Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond.

Posted by: wintersx | April 17, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

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