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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Column 178: Cursive speaks; SCB Sinks…

More comments about SCB to follow:

Cursive and Creek
Cursive hits the airwaves; Saddle Creek Bar hits the skids…

I usually get a chance to hear Cursive's new music performed live in one of the local clubs before the band heads into the studio to record it. Not this time. Something always has been in the way on the evening of recent Cursive shows.

So this time I'm getting my first gander at Cursive's new material via Sound Opinions, a radio show from National Public Radio hosted by esteemed rock critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. The duo strayed from their Chicago studio the afternoon of May 19 to record an interview with -- and a performance by -- Cursive at The Waiting Room in front of a live audience. The completed episode went online last Friday at The actual radio show is broadcast Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on 91.5 KIOS FM as part of the station's block of rock-oriented programming that also includes KCRW's outstanding Sounds Eclectic series (The only thing KIOS is missing is The Lazy-i Show. Let's get on that, Mr. Neisler!).

Frontman Tim Kasher and crew (actually, mostly just Kasher) talked about how the band got started, their new album and writing music in their twilight years (i.e., their 30s). Kasher said he and bassist Matt Maginn first picked up guitar and bass when they were 13 years old, but only played cover songs before they "realized kids only a few years older than us were writing records," which "really blew our minds."

DeRogatis asked Kasher about living in L.A. and working as a screenwriter. "That's a polite way to put it," Kasher said to a laughing crowd. "I'd say 'working' as in the way a hobbyist works on model planes, I suppose. I haven't made any money out of it."

He let on that, like their last three albums, their next record will again be written around a central concept. Maginn talked about Cursive's states of hiatus suffered after each album. "We've gotten comfortable with leaving it up in the air," he said.

He and Kasher also talked about how difficult it was to follow the success of The Ugly Organ -- how fans wanted them to write the same record again and again. "It caught us off guard and drove us away from music," Maginn said.

"I'm trying to write what a 33 year old rock and roll guy would write about instead of what an 18 year old would write about," Kasher said. "I love the fact that I thought 33 was so old when I was young, and now I'm waiting to find out when I'm going to become an adult."

Join the club, Mr. Kasher.

The band only unfurled two new songs on the broadcast -- "From the Hips" and "Donkeys." Both prominently feature horn player Nate Lepine on keyboards. I guess "prominently" is the wrong word -- there are keyboards on both songs, which is sort of a departure for Cursive. Both songs also sound like they'd fit comfortably on a Good Life album. Over the years the sound styles of Cursive and The Good Life slowly have headed toward a natural convergence. They haven't met yet, but when they do, I look forward to the first (and probably last) joint Good Life / Cursive show, where members of both bands perform together on stage. The opening act could be a reunion of Azure Ray. And if you think that'll happen, I've got some lovely beachfront property for sale just off of Saddle Creek Road…

* * *

And speaking of properties up for sale, I received an e-mail Monday night from Saddle Creek Bar owner Mike Coldewey saying he's getting out of the bar business. "While I don’t anticipate immediate closure, I did list Saddle Creek Bar for sale today. Sold or not, I’ll be leaving on or before Labor Day," Coldewey wrote.

The club is listed with a business broker, he said, and the undisclosed asking price would cover whatever Coldewey owes to the former owner. "He doesn't want it," he wrote. "Basically, I sell it and it lives on or I don’t sell it and walk away and he sells the property to someone that bulldozes it and builds condos or something."

Coldewey knows that this announcement will be met with victory cheers from the small contingent of local music folk who view him as nothing less than a salt-block of pure evil. Coldewey is partially responsible for the controversy that led to the passage of an all-ages ordinance that requires anyone under 18 years of age to have written, notarized permission from their parents before being allowed into booze-serving music venues for performances. Had the ordinance not passed, it would have meant the end of all-ages shows at venues like The Waiting Room and Slowdown. As a result, some musicians vowed never to step foot in the Saddle Creek Bar ever again.

But in the end, I doubt that a boycott had any impact on the Saddle Creek Bar. The club just never seemed to take hold for a variety of reason, despite having one of the best locations in the city.

Coldewey blames his own inability to tolerate "slackers and posers" for the downfall of the club, adding that there were "many factors – poor marketing, not enough capital, etc. – but in the long run, it’s me – the dark lord. I’m a failure as dark lord, can’t run a den of evil, and should be demoted to, what? Soldier, I guess."

In fact, among the many career options Coldewey is now considering is a return to the U.S. Army. God bless America.

So why has the Saddle Creek Bar failed to get off the ground? Take Mike Coldewey out of the equation for now and ask yourself what would make the venue successful. It has, in my opinion, a great location, plenty of parking, and I like how the bar is set up. The minuses: The weird built-into-the-wall stage and the PA.

So let's say someone came along and poured a ton of cash into the building, moved the stage back to the east wall and bought a new, finely tuned PA. Would that make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. For me, it's all about the booking. If the new club owner didn't have One Percent involved, SCB would still have a hard time getting the A-list touring indie bands to play there. They might get a ton of local bands, but would that be enough to keep the place going? People point to O'Leaver's and The 49'r as examples of music bars that have weaned themselves from booking a lot of shows by having a strong "regulars" business. But O'Leaver's is tiny compared to SCB, and The 49'r built its clientele over the past couple of decades (Yes, I know that SCB was around in the old days, but it spent a few years vacant before Coldewey came along). After being open almost two years, SCB hasn't developed a "hang-out" vibe like the tiny Homy Inn has just down the street. Maybe SCB is too big for something like that.

One Percent's chief focus these days are The Waiting Room, Slowdown and large venues like Westfair and The Anchor Inn (site of the Sept. 20 Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band concert. Anchor Inn could be an untapped gold mine for 1%). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Slowdown has asked One Percent to book as many big-room shows as possible. Does One Percent really want to be involved in booking a club the size of the Saddle Creek Bar? I guess it's always a good idea to have options when three or four bands come through town on the same night looking for shows, but how often does that happen? Are there really that many good shows coming through town to support all of these venues? I don't think so, at least not from an indie music perspective.

Which brings us back to what would make SCB successful. I've always said it should focus on booking a completely different genre of music -- country, blues, metal, hard rock, all covers, etc. I have a sad feeling, however, that no one will step up and keep the place open, which would point the way for the wrecking ball. As for Mike Coldewey, I for one will be sad to see him go. He's a tough guy, someone who isn't easy to get along with, and he never hesitates to speak his mind. We disagreed on a lot of things, including music (he doesn't like indie rock), but I always enjoyed talking/arguing with him, and hanging out at his bar. Who knows, maybe he'll change his mind.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--

posted by Tim at 10:56 AM

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