52 Shows: SHOW #5 – The Failed Social Experiment That Was “Tasty Burger: The Venue”

Tasty BurgerShow number five went down on February 21st, a Thursday night. I was really excited for it for two reasons: (1) Doug Sherman (guitarist of Gozu and Superhoney) was booking it under his “Mondo Thursdays” banner. Doug’s taste in music seems to overlap with mine a lot, so I knew I’d enjoy the bands. (2) It was my first chance to catch a show at Tasty Burger in Harvard Square.

I hadn’t been to TB‘s Harvard Square location yet. I used to bartend at Grandma’s Basement, the former underground comedy club hidden in the old Howard Johnson that used to be behind Fenway Park, which was right next to a Tasty Burger. I used to eat there all the time, but nothing about those experiences was helping me envision how a Tasty Burger could possibly be a venue. But, I was excited to be proven wrong, and really expected that I would be proven wrong, given the fact that the two people I knew who were booking shows there (Doug and head-booker Jim Seery, of Plough and Stars fame) know what they are doing.

So, I arrived at 9 pm (for an advertised 8:30 pm start time) and walked in. I found the stairway to the basement (the “venue”) but immediately noticed there was no signage that indicated there would be music down there. I walked down the stairs and into the room. The room is rectangular in shape and you enter it from the middle. To your left is a large bar that serves beer and wine only (but had a pretty good craft beer selection) with two large-screen TVs above it. To your right is a pool table and a ‘stage’ against the far-side wall…but it wasn’t in the corner, meaning that people could be both in front of and behind the stage if they wanted to.

For starters, the place was packed – absolutely packed. There were easily over 100 people there.

I scanned the room and was immediately very confused. On the ‘stage’ was a guy running a trivia game that very few people seemed to be playing. Given the time on the clock and the activities on the stage, my first thought when I walked in was that the show had been cancelled. I walked around the room and finally noticed Doug and a group of musicians sitting together at a large booth and they did not look happy. I immediately realized the club had double-booked. Having been in that position once as a performer myself, I resolved to grab a burger and wait the night out.

I sat down at the bar and realized that everyone around me appeared to be ‘The Harvard Crowd’ and they were paying their rapt attention to the Duke vs North Carolina NCAA Basketball game. I ordered a burger and a beer and I waited. And waited. And waited. With three bands waiting and only 2 teams playing, the trivia guy really took his sweet time.

The acoustics of the room were pretty suspect, too – it was so woofy/boomy, I couldn’t even make out what he was saying as he asked his questions. At 10:30 (two hours after the scheduled start time for the show), trivia concluded. The host made no announcements that music would follow and then proceeded to take his time clearing his laptop, table and boom box from the stage.

Left Hand Blue

Left Hand Blue

The first band, Left Hand Blue, built the stage in record time, but they were unaware of a growing problem – the Duke/NC game was turning into an instant classic.  The bar manager did the bands no favor by cranking up the volume on the TVs as soon as trivia was done. He was so enthusiastic about getting the crowd into the game, that he even got into an argument with a dozen patrons who were mad that he turned every TV in the bar to Duke/NC, when some were watching the Olympics.

The point is that everyone was looking at the left side of the room. No one saw the band building a stage behind them. No one from the club was telling the crowd that a rock show was about to start behind them. So, at 10:52 with 90 seconds to go in the game that over 100 people were eagerly watching, the music started. It was loud. And people were shocked, they were indignant and they were pissed. I actually found myself forgiving the weirdness and could envision it becoming oddly endearing.

I wanted to put a positive spin on this article and wanted to end it by saying something like “I am going to come back later this year when this room finds its way. They could be a great addition to a venue-strapped scene.” Then, two days later – this happened: http://www.vanyaland.com/2014/02/23/rock-show-tasty-burger-gets-unexpectedly-shut-venue-opening-bands-set/ Now, I have decided there is no positive spin. So buckle up – here’s my first epic takedown of this 52-article experiment.

Tasty Burger is a room with all the charm of a spoiled child who wants everything ( “I want trivia!” “I want to be a sports bar!” “I want to be a venue!” ) but lacks the vision or conviction to channel any of that into an identity. The poison combination of aimless ambition, blatant incompetence and alarming lack-of-awareness with which Tasty Burger has run its short-lived experiment as a music venue is so dangerous for this city.

The danger comes from the fact that, on both of these nights, several hundred people were sent the message by Tasty Burger‘s incredible disrespect that “local music is here to annoy you and rob you of a good time”. Can you blame these people for thinking so? If you were out to dinner, enjoying conversation and someone sat down next to you with a boom box blaring and refused to leave, how would you feel? But if you walked into a bar and saw a sign that said “MUSIC TONIGHT! 9 PM!” then you would have the ability to make a CHOICE.

Four BurgersTasty Burger repeatedly took away the element of choice from its customers and, in doing so, they placed musicians and listeners in an adversarial relationship and the whole thing was so fucking unnecessary. Tasty Burger asked to be a venue. Musicians didn’t show up with instruments begging to be let in. Talented people lined up to help – to book, to play, to attend….and the restaurant wasted their time, wasted their customers’ time and they sure as shit wasted my time that night.

So, in closing, even if they decide to continue as a venue, I will NOT be back. I’ll get my burgers at FourBurgers and I’ll get my music at a real venue where I can order a fucking whiskey.

 So ends Tasty Burger: The Venue. Maybe someday you’ll grow up and stop being a weathervane of bro. Probably not.

One Hell of a Weekend… And it’s Just Begun

First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS to The Rare Occasions. They’ll be moving on to the final round of 95.5 WBRU‘s annual rock hunt!

The Rare Occasions We headed over to The Spot Underground last night for the first semi-final event of the 2014 Rock Hunt. Both Here We Just Dream and The October Accord played amazing sets. But The Rare Occasions have definitely stepped up their game. They played a fantastic set last year in the Rock Hunt and still managed to top it this year. These guys have been on the rise and have obviously been working hard at it. They don’t even have time to enjoy their win as they are hoping on a plane Wednesday for a few SXSW tour dates. They’ll be back in the area in time for the Rock Hunt finals over at The Met.

We were pretty psyched this event was being held at The Spot. One of those venues where we are fortunate to call just about every staff member a good friend. Always great to have a few drinks with our pal, Josh, who keeps things running over there. But have to say, Joe Ferro is not as fun when he’s on the clock! It was definitely nice catching up with them and the WBRU crew. We also ran into the boys from Fly Kite Canvas. We may have to start an official petition to get these guys back together. Also, met up with George from Providence Night Out, Todd from Downcity Armory, and Nina from BB Entertainment. After the event, we all headed over to Dusk to catch Nymphidels and Viking Jesus.

Even with all the rushing around we, unfortunately, missed Nymphidels set. Grrrrr. We made it in time for Ants in the Cellar‘s and Resistor’s sets. Major props for Rob Duaguy for putting together this lineup. A great bill that drew lots of heads out even going up against the Rock Hunt kick off. Viking Jesus, of course, killed it. We say this every time but these guys are made up of some of the most talented people in the Rhode Island music scene. George Dussault was sick and still managed to play a beautiful guitar solo with his eyes shut. Literally. He even played it with the guitar behind his back. Show off!

Dusk is another venue where we always seem to run into so many good people. Our crew spent the rest of the night hanging with Rick, the owner; Marc Clarkin from Motif Magazine;  Kelley Bowman from 990WBOB, Dave from 13 Folds Magazine, and the boys from Torn Shorts. (Who, coincidentally, won last years 95.5 WBRU Rock Hunt). Some of the nicest cats you’ll ever meet.

Fun nights can also be exhausting nights. But no time for rest. Tonight we have our first official meeting for Music For Paws with Tracy & Shawn from VulGarrity and Chris Conti from Providence Phoenix. There are some great ideas being tossed around to raise funds and make this one hell of an event.

FlyerThen we’ll be at Mardi Gras MultiClub in Cranston, RI for Midday Records Presents: Dylan Sevey and the Gentlemen, Bourne, Daddie Long Legs, and Most Dangerous Men Alive. This is a great bill so I hope to see you there!

Tomorrow, (Sunday, March 9th) we’ll be heading over to Fete to pig out on some scrum-diddy-umptious treats for RI Food Fights 3rd Annual Great Cupcake Championship with  Providence Night Out and then we’ll be rushing over to The Spot to guest co-host Sully’s Cafe. Weld Square will be our guests. Good times!

Let the fun continue!

52 Shows: SHOW #4 – Wally’s Cafe

Wally's CafeSo, after the first three shows of patrolling my ‘comfort zone’, show number four of 2014 found me headed to Wally’s Cafe – a family-owned jazz club that’s been open since 1947 over at the intersection of Mass Ave and Columbus.

Jazz isn’t my thing. At least I don’t think it is. The drummer of one of my bands tells me that this because I, to quote him, “suck at music and have shitty taste in everything” – an argument that has merit – but, I just really have never had any education into what it is and why I should appreciate it. This wasn’t going to be the night for that, though. I brought my girlfriend with me and we went on the Sunday night before President’s Day – a night which, it turns out, was far more funk than jazz.

Their website listed the band name as “Wally’s Stepchildren 3” and the start time as 9 pm. We showed up at 9:45 and walked inside to an empty stage. My first reaction – the room is extremely small. That can’t be underscored enough. It is EXTREMELY small. It can’t be more than 60 feet from the door to the back of the stage and there can’t be more than 10 feet between the bar (on the right-hand side as you enter) and the wall on the left-hand side.

Given that we were 45 minutes late for the show, I was concerned that the holiday had rendered the show void. But, there were 35 people in the room and only 6 empty chairs. Worth noting: it felt PACKED with 35 people in it. I grabbed a couple of Lagunitas from the bar and we grabbed two of the remaining chairs and sat down.

At 9:56, the first person carrying an instrument walked in. Bandmates proceeded to trickle in over the next 60 minutes. Given the 9pm start time, I was modestly irritated; however, it was clear that I was the only one irritated. Most people there seemed to have been there before and this was pretty clearly par for the course, so I ordered myself another drink and resolved to chill the fuck out. The jukebox fluctuated from The Clash (which I loved) to Kanye (which my girlfriend loved) and ultimately to Sam Cooke (which we both loved).

Wally's Cafe SignAt 10:51, the show finally began and it was pretty electric. The room swelled to just over 50 people, a capacity so large that it prevented us from getting up and getting new drinks or going to the bathroom – something that would have basically required us to cut through the middle of the stage area. To me this was an issue because I spent a long time in my youth playing at a SHITTY fucking bar where the patrons literally had to walk through the center of the “stage” to get to the bathroom. It sucked. A lot.

The band was great and the frontman was better. According to the website, they’re in permanent residency on Sunday nights. Reader take note – if you want a sure thing, find a permanent residency. Clubs don’t give those things out unless they work EVERY time. The club and the artist get comfortable with each other and then some really fun stuff starts to happen. It was clear from the first note of their set, these guys wore Wally‘s like their favorite shirt.

The crowd seemed equally comfortable – paying rapt attention to every note and dancing, hooting, responding to every cue. You know that awesome feeling when you go see a band like U2 and Bono puts his hand in the air and everyone in the arena puts theirs up too? Would you believe it’s honestly better in a small room – where you can see the faces of every other person doing it with you? It’s better because you feel like you’re in on a secret. This type of thing happens every night in your city, you just have to know where to look. It’s intoxicating.

That said, there were a couple of super drunk townies who (based on the conversation I overheard) were from Lynnfield that danced their way to the front. After dry-humping in front of the band for a couple of songs, the girl started asking the keyboard player if she either could sing with them or if they would play their requests. He graciously declined. Then they both became belligerent towards the band. The ENTIRE crowd turned on them and they left minutes later. Good shit, Wally‘s.

PERFORMER SIDEBAR: If you go to a show and approach the performers asking to be included in anyway, FUCK YOU and FUCK YOU HARD. Chances are the person on stage has spent hundreds of hours refining their performance. The last thing they should have to do is cede the spotlight to you because “like, guy I fahkin play the shit outta Tohm Petty, dood”. If you were ever this person, you suck. Know that everyone thinks so and know that it will NEVER get you laid.

Anywayyyyyy….around 11:30, the room opened up a tad, dropping back down to 35. I seized the opportunity to grab another round, asking for a scotch this time. The bartender – who was extremely friendly – poured me one and realized that he had poured another of the same brand erroneously earlier in the evening. He commented on the fact that he appreciated both that I’d tipped well and that he hadn’t seen me before and gave me the other free of charge. Good shit, bartender. Good shit.

Come midnight, the place filled back up to 50+ – a clear indicator that the club has its own built-in regulars. We caught a few more songs, but my reluctance to approach the stage to use the restroom came home to roost. So, around 12:35, we decided to hit the road. I feel like I didn’t get the ‘genuine’ Wally‘s experience (given that it wasn’t pure jazz), so I will go back.

But, if I want a place to enjoy reasonably priced drinks and flawlessly executed music in an environment built to crave it – I’ll go back to Wally‘s. As I mentioned twice before – good shit.

– Mick Greenwood