by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Let me tell you about the last time I saw a band at The 49’r.
“Hold on a minute,” said the guy who took my $5 at the door. “Let me stamp your hand. How am I supposed to remember who you are?”
When was the last time someone stamped my hand at the door? It’s all about wristbands now, but it seemed fitting that The 49’r was still using a tried-and-true stamp. Nothing ever changed at The Niner. The place looked exactly like it looked when I went there for all those years, for Street Urchins and Black Eyed Snakes and The Carsinogents and Carmine and The Sons of The 49’r and Son, Ambulance and Mal Madrigal and Two Gallants and Race for Titles and After Dark and Little Brazil and Zyklon Bees and The Philharmonic and Kite Pilot and Bombardment Society and The Stay Awake and Ladyfinger and The Monroes and Bangs and Owen and No Blood Orphan and The Movies and Mercy Rule and Statistics and every other band including Bad Luck Charm, who’d I’d seen there all those years ago and was about to see again. Nothing had changed. It was just as crowded as it ever was — nowhere to sit, nowhere to stand without being in someone’s way. What was the saying on the matchbook cover? “In the middle of everything and nowhere to park” (in fact, I’d parked five blocks away Friday night, just like always).
I reached into my pocked for my iPhone to take some pictures and realized that I’d forgotten it at home and damned myself for it. I never go anywhere without my phone these days. Of all nights to forget it, on this historic night. And then I thought, well, it’s serendipity. I never had a cell phone before when I went to the Niner. It’s only fitting that I didn’t have one tonight. I’d have to rely on my memory for the pictures, just like I always used to. The picture I saw Friday night was of a bar that, through its ups and downs, always held a special place in the Omaha music scene, even if its glory days were years and years ago.
Outside with the smokers I’d heard a similar story. One guy told me that the passing of the Niner felt to him just like when the Cog Factory closed years ago. He’d never gone to the Cog in its waning months and years, and so when its time came, he didn’t really care. He’d quit going to the Niner years earlier, too, and so its passing wouldn’t hurt that much.
But then he began to tell me about his favorite shows, and how much he liked playing there — moreso than being a member of the crowd. I’d heard the same story from every musician that played at the Niner — they all said it was one of the best rooms they’d ever played because there wasn’t a stage so much as a space in the back where the bands stood, with the drums a step up behind every one. There was nothing separating the bands from the crowd.
The set up was the same for BLC. Lee and Wolf, the dueling guitars, were up front, a part of the crowd, while bass and drums were in back. Everyone stumbled over cords that stretched out across the linoleum among a discarded set list and empty shot glasses. It was a mess, but it was a necessary mess. And it didn’t matter when the band started playing.
Mike Tulis years ago gave me the secret of seeing shows at The Niner. Don’t bother trying to find a place to stand along the bar or over by the fireplace with the Rudolf reindeer head. Walk right up to the front, right by the band, there’s always room up there, and if someone’s pissed that you’re standing in front of them, well it’s their own fault for sitting down when the band is playing.
It was another rough crowd Friday night. Of all the venues in town, The Niner drew the roughest — lots of aging punks in vintage T-shirts — the real shirts, not ironic replicas that you can pick up at Urban Outfitters. And lots of drunks. More drunks than at O’Leaver’s (if you can believe that). The 49’r is/was a drinking man’s bar. What’s that that Nick says in It’s a Wonderful Life? “We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere.‘” Nick could have been talking about The Niner.
BLC sounded like they sounded the last time I saw them, probably five years ago. There’s something about their music that makes people feel tougher than they are. BLC is fighting music, a derivative of ’80s punk mixed with power-chord rock from an earlier time. But it’s authentic, it’s real and that’s why it’s so appealing. No one plays music like this anymore, and chances are no one ever will again. Except BLC, who inevitably will have another reunion show some day, but it won’t be at The Niner.
Frontman Lee Meyerpeter took off his stocking cap after the first song and rubbed his bald head, saying “I don’t need hair products anymore.” Lee’s message throughout the set between songs: “Let it go.” But he was talking about more than the bar, which we all knew would soon see its demise. He was talking about every piece of baggage and vanity and resentment and fear of getting old. Even though the music was hard and loud and angry, something felt like resolution in Lee’s voice, and I’ll be damned if I know why.
I left toward the end of the set, giving up my spot up front to the twisted crowd, as more and more people got off their feet and pushed toward the band, sort-of dancing, showing their appreciation with their bodies. As I went up those back stairs for the last time, the band played a cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and the crowd went nuts. I could hear them as I walked back to my car along 49th street, keeping my distance from a pair of stumbling bald drunks trying to find their way home. And when I did get home I leaned over the sink with soap and water and scrubbed and scrubbed but I couldn’t get that damn ink stamp off my hand…
And that’s the last time I saw a band at The 49’r.
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BTW, The 49’r posted that tomorrow night (Tuesday) is the last night that it’ll be open for business.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s the return of Dr. Dog. Opening the show is Luke Temple’s new band Here We Go Magic, which just released its Secretly Canadian debut, Pigeons. $16, 9 p.m.
And in case I don’t get around to an update tomorrow, here’s a reminder that Merge Records band Wye Oak is playing at Slowdown Jr. tomorrow night (Tuesday) with Honeybee. $8, 9 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.