Column 223: Save Box Awesome; Shanks reunite somewhere tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:03 pm May 28, 2009

As mentioned in the column below, numerous calls to the property owner were unanswered and remain unreturned.

Column 223: Save Box Awesome
The Lincoln venue is being forced out…

Before I wrote this, I figured it would make sense to actually see the club that I had been hearing so much about for the past couple of years.

So this past Sunday night I drove down to Lincoln to see Box Awesome for the first and probably the last time — at least at its current location.

For a guy who rarely drives to Lincoln (I’m not a huge Husker fan), finding the club wasn’t easy — 815 “O” St. appears to be an off-ramp when searching on Google maps. It took some mindless wandering around to figure out how to get to the Haymarket and Box Awesome.

Once through the door, you’re met with a choice — either go into the main club or downstairs. The main club is flat-out swank — oak floors, cool artwork, vivid colors, a funky modern big-city vibe. The stage is oddly located in the center of the long, narrow room. There are no sight lines to the stage from the tables along the front of the building where the stage used to be when Box Awesome was The Chatter Box.

Sunday’s upstairs show featured metal bands. So most of my evening was spent in the basement — and that’s exactly what the downstairs bar looked like. The lumpy cave-like walls were painted in a weird silver-gray paint that made them look like the surface of the moon as viewed from an orbiting service module. The decor was second-hand trailer-park — ratty couches, kitchen dinette sets and a velour La-Z-Boy — all had seen better days. The cave had all the charm of the rec-room of a neighbor who likes to have his friends over for house shows.

The stage wasn’t a stage at all, but a space near the front of the long, narrow room where the band was set up behind a floor-speaker-quality PA. “Can I get more of the upstairs band in my monitor?” asked Sweet Pea bassist Django between songs as the bad Soundgarden-style noise filtered through the floorboards.

So this was Box Awesome — a two-story music venue where the main bands play upstairs and the smaller bands, downstairs. But Jeremy Buckley, who helps book and manage the club, said it’s more than that. Box Awesome has become a hotpoint for the Lincoln indie music community. In fact, folks involved in the venue’s day-to-day operations include members of bands Crush the Clown, UUVVWWZ, Dean Armband, Knots, Idle Minds, The Show is the Rainbow and Eagle Seagull. And now that community is about to see its home taken from them.

While standing outside the club just downwind from the smokers, Buckley gave me his 10,000-foot explanation. The building’s landlord — a company called U.S. Property — is trying to get Box Awesome to vacate as soon as possible instead of at the end of their lease, which runs through October. Buckley said no one knows exactly why, but that the legality surrounds a breach of contract that has to do with a rent payment sent a day or so late (but not exceeding the fifth of the month, Buckley said).

Efforts to discuss motives have fallen on deaf ears. U.S. Property apparently doesn’t care that the club has performances booked through July, nor that Box Awesome has established itself as Lincoln’s premier hip indie rock venue, whose performers have included Tilly and the Wall, Ssion, Grand Ole Party, Broken Spindles, Bassnectar, EOTO, Mr. 1986, Pattern is Movement, Flowers Forever, Eagle Seagull, the Flobots and Big Business.

In fact, one of the club’s biggest shows is slated for June 17 — Cursive, with openers Ideal Cleaners and Box Elders. Buckley said Cursive could have played at a much larger venue, but preferred to play at Box Awesome, which has a capacity of only around 250.

Ultimately, the reasons behind the eviction are likely business, not personal. Some are speculating that the landlord has found a high-dollar tenant willing to shell out even more for the building. Others suggest that one of U.S. Property’s other tenants runs another club and sees The Box as unnecessary competition. None of it makes sense. Buckley e-mailed me U.S. Property’s contact information Monday afternoon, but calls to their offices were unreturned; questions left unanswered. Maybe they just wanted them out.

But it’s not going to be that easy.

Last week, with the blessing of club owner Jeremiah Moore, Buckley posted an “open letter to the local music community” on the Starcityscene webboard (here) outlining the situation. “We’ve been asked to leave the building and the landlords along with their lawyers are trying to find ways of forcing us out,” he wrote.

And with lawyers come bills. Buckley’s plea: “We will need to figure out how to either pay some lawyers or allow ourselves to be harassed without recourse if we can’t pay those legal fees,” he wrote. “If you are in a band and are interested in being a part of a series of benefit concerts to help with some of these legal fee issues, please feel free to contact us.”

As a result of the letter, 27 bands offered to play fund-raisers. Two shows are now scheduled: May 29 at Box Awesome and June 7 at Duffy’s, along with a comedy-show fundraiser June 10 at Duffy’s, and a “garage sale” June 14 at 18th and Washington streets (in Lincoln).

Buckley and the rest of the Box Awesome community realize that whatever happens, they are going to be out of their current location by Halloween. Their only wish is to be able to spend the next few months playing out their final schedule, and finding a home for the next Box Awesome.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I got into a heated discussion with someone over the virtues of a Shanks reunion. The person speaking against such a diabolical proposal said that nothing good could come of it, except pain and despair. I argued that a Shanks reunion was inevitable, that all of the angst that existed between band members hadn’t had a chance to work itself out (on stage) and that sparing us from that cathartic experience would mean cheating their primary fans, who have been following this rock ‘n’ roll Payton Place for the past few years. Well, tonight’s the night. The Shanks are performing at Muscle Beach — i.e., a house show — with Digital Leather and Perry H. Matthews. Don’t ask me where Muscle Beach is because I don’t know. Digital Leather is Shawn Foree, a labelmate of Box Elders on Goner Records, who records songs himself and tours with a band, which this time is comprised of members of Shanks/Dinks/Ric Rhythm. Foree has been involved with bands that included current garage-rock phenom Jay Reatard. I’m also told that Forsee just signed with Fat Possum for his next record. I suspect that this show will get out of hand (in a good way). Find it and go. We’ll probably see more of the Shanks in the future (but only at house shows). They have a split 7-inch with El Diablos Blancos coming out on Free Thinkers Union Records and a 7-inch called “Backstabber” that’s being released this fall on Tic Tac Totally.

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