Column 128 is a rerun; Rolling Rock arrives; Canada, Spring Gun tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:28 pm June 13, 2007

This week’s column is an abbreviation and slight update to Monday’s review of Slowdown’s opening weekend. A post-script to that column — I received word last night via electronic carrier pigeon that Slowdown now stocks Rolling Rock — just more proof that whining to “the man” can make a difference.

Tonight at The Waiting Room, Ann Arbor band Canada along with local boys Spring Gun. I’m listening to Canada now via their Virb site. Virb must be a competitor to MySpace — it was only a matter of time. Better sign-up your band now on Virb before someone steals your URL. I will say this — it’s better looking than MySpace and the music player doesn’t automatically begin playing when you get to a band’s page. Spring Gun also has a Virb page (here). Nifty. Anyway, Canada features guitars, drums, cellos, glockenspiels, melodicas, Rhodes piano, organ and accordians, and sort of reminds me of Okkervil River. The show starts at 9, $7.

Column 128: Too Good for You
Is Slowdown too nice?

A recap of my personal Slowdown experience last Saturday night: I caught an early movie at The Dundee and got down there at around 10:30. The parking lot, which had been filled Thursday night, had a space open just a few feet from the building. Could this be a trend?

I walked around the corner past the outdoor smoking area surrounded by security guys in black Slowdown “staff” T-shirts, and ran smack-dab into a waiting line maybe 20-people deep. Two young guys got in line behind me and asked about the hold-up. “Sounds like they’re at capacity,” I said. “This could be a while. That means there are 500 people in there. Imagine how long it will take to get a beer?”

Just the mention of the capacity situation caused four people around us to leave. The guy behind me grinned. “I heard the bathrooms don’t work. I bet it smells something fierce in there.” It was a good idea, but no one budged. By the time we got to the front of the line, the two guys behind me gave up.

Only 15 minutes and I was in. The place was just as I imagined — a wall of darkly lit humanity bustling around on Slowdown’s shiny concrete floors, mulling beneath the stage, standing in a queue at the photo booth. While taking it all in at the railing, club owner Robb Nansel said hello. I pointed at the crowded bar. “I’m not even going to try to get a beer.”

He gave me a look. “It’s not that bad. Let’s time it.” So we stood there, but it only took a minute before Nansel was pulled away to take care of some pressing business.

Surrounding me was the usual indie crowd I’ve seen at other shows, along with band members and a few beefy young guys with caps turned backwards, probably hoping to scope out some action, but quickly discovering that an indie rock show is no place to pick up some trim. Mixed in with everyone else were older people, relatives of those involved with the club, out to show their support.

While we waited, I pointed out celebrities working behind the bar. There’s Roger Lewis (The Good Life) filling a tub with Old Style tall boys. There’s Steph Drootin (Bright Eyes) doing something with a bar rag. That dark-haired woman is Orenda Fink (Art in Manila). It was like being at The Hacienda in Manchester and having Joy Division or Happy Mondays serving the drinks.

It took 24 minutes, but I finally got my beer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Rolling Rock — they don’t serve it. Instead, it was an Old Style tallboy — a mistake, because I had forgotten how much I hate Old Style — a beer brewed to taste like it’s been sitting behind the back seat of an El Camino for three hot weeks in July.

Twenty-four minutes was a long time to wait for a lousy beer, but what did you expect? It was the opening weekend, fercrissakes. Sucky service is a natural byproduct of successful marketing.

I know that’s not much of a review, but what more is there to say? The sound system was state-of-the-art. Even and balanced wherever you stood, but not too loud as you couldn’t at least talk/yell at the person next to you — I felt no need to wear earplugs. The sightlines were faultless. The view from the balcony was stellar and there was enough room to stand around and chat up there without bothering people. Slowdown was undeniably the best music venue in town. Or was it?

The next morning while getting gas at AB’s I ran into someone who was at Slowdown the night before, a guy who’s a regular at punk shows. What’d you think? “I hated it,” he said with a scowl. “It’s alienating. I felt out of place.” When he added, “It’s no O’Leaver’s,” he wasn’t kidding.

In some ways, Slowdown has the same albatross hanging around its neck that hung around The Music Box. When that club opened, the general consensus was “great stage, great sound, nice and clean.” Its competition — places like O’Leaver’s, The Niner and Sokol — were dark, smoky old rooms with the atmosphere (or more accurately, odor) that comes from selling booze for decades. The Music Box, which started out smoke-free, was a nice alternative. Maybe too nice. Maybe a bit antiseptic, a bit sterile, a bit like a Holiday Inn lounge. The fact that it booked mostly middle-of-the-road pop rock bands and rarely booked indie or punk shows added to a vanilla reputation that it never shook.

Within a year, The Box changed its smoking policy. Eventually, it died for reasons involving insurance and other money issues.

Midtown show-goers will again have a similar choice — between heading downtown to the sparkling clean Slowdown or over to the smoky, lived-in Waiting Room in the heart of Benson. In its defense, Slowdown is no Music Box. Yes, it’s clean and loungy and boasts a no-smoking policy, but unlike the Box, it knows what it wants on its stage — College Music Journal (CMJ)-style indie rock, and nothing more (or less). That targeted vision will see it through it’s month-later doldrums — because you can’t judge the success of this or any club based on its first weekend.

Some people will never feel comfortable surrounded by nice things. It’s not that they don’t think they deserve them; it’s that they don’t want them, and what comes with them. Maybe in 10 years, after the gloss has worn off the tiles, the floors have become scuffed and the “new club” smell has been replaced with the funk of spilled beer, sweat and toilet bowl deodorant, they’ll feel welcome. Slowdown will survive just fine without them.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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