Yesterday, Torr posted the news that Trees, one of Deep Ellum's best known clubs, is closing soon. Yes, the club where Kurt Cobain smacked a bouncer with his guitar and was then smacked by the bouncer (see the Nirvana: Live, Tonight, Sold Out!!! video for documentation) is closing its doors. I've had some very mixed feelings about the place over the years, but it's sad to see a major Deep Ellum venue close down. I saw a number of shows there and have a lot of stories. So I will first talk about the memorable shows I saw:
The Vandals/30footFALL, fall '98
This was the first show I saw in Dallas after moving to Fort Worth for school. Good, fun punk rock viewed from the balcony on stage right. I had never seen 30footFALL play in their hometown of Houston (where I lived primarily between 1987-1998) so it was cool to finally see them live.
At the Drive-In/Murder City Devils/400 Blows, winter '00
ATDI was supporting their fantastic Relationship of Command record and played a rather sloppy set. They were not as powerful as when I saw them with Jimmy Eat World the previous year, but I got in for free, so I wasn't complaining. I couldn't help but notice that there was an invisible diagonal line splitting the band in two (Omar and Cedric stayed close together on stage right while Jim, Paul and Tony were mostly on stage left), but Jim insists this was not intentional.
Idlewild/Arab Strap/The Rocket Summer, early '03
I don't remember if Idlewild's The Remote Part was out in America by the time of this show, but they played a number of tracks from it. They were incredibly better live than on record (though their records are really good) and they were really charged. The Rocket Summer was a sight to see: Bryce played with a live drummer along with DATs. They switched off instruments and it came off pretty well.
Cursive/The Appleseed Cast, sometime in '03
Cursive was supporting The Ugly Organ, a smart, powerful concept album about love, relationships and being portrayed as a tortured artist. The band had cellist Gretta Cohn playing with them, adding a nice element to their rather abrasive sound. I remember Tim made a comment about how they didn't like playing encores, so they played just a little longer with no break.
Guided By Voices/My Morning Jacket, summer '02
GBV was touring behind their rather lackluster Universal Truths and Cycles, but this show was a lot of fun. Opening with the Bee Thousand nugget, "Hardcore UFOs," the set consisted of a lot of favorites like "Teenage FBI" and "Game of Pricks." Nate Farley was so drunk by the end of the show that Tim Tobias was calling out the chord changes to him. My Morning Jacket almost stole the show with their melodic riffin' goodness. I was now a fan and continue to be one today.
The Promise Ring/The Weakerthans, spring '02
The Promise Ring had released a very mature and slower (but still great) record called Wood/Water only a few weeks before, but they were not "on" on this show. They seemed tired and lifeless going from the slower material to the faster, older stuff. By October, they were no more. The Weakerthans' material ran the gamut between slow, midtempo and fast but they were really into it.
Burning Airlines/Rival Schools/Red Animal War, early '02
Red Animal War was in a weird spot. Justin told me at the show that he decided to move to Austin and it kinda shocked me. I wondered how the band was going to stay together given the distance. Luckily they stayed together, but their set that night was filled with weird samples between songs and it all ended with an angry rant from Justin screaming "Who killed JFK?" Rival Schools smoked and I briefly met Walter, Sammy and Ian after the show. J. Robbins had no voice, but played the show anyway. He sounded horrible and I hid in the back.
Those were the most memorable in terms of good and strange things happening, but one show in particular was the last straw for me. I refused to go back to the venue (with two exceptions) for the rest of the time they were open.
The Danes/25%Toby, December '02
There were other local bands that played too, but these were the two bands that I got to see. 25% Toby is a four-piece that features Toby Halbrooks from the Polyphonic Spree on lead vocals. This band is not a serious band. Toby flies around stage, rolls on the floor, bumps into band members and sometimes falls off the stage. Their music is sloppy punk rock but it's not a stupid novelty. The songs are short, fast and are rather memorable (like, "I Go Down, She Gets Off"). The point is, they are a fun live band.
Well, it's been a long night and it's about 1:30am. There are about 20-30 people left in the venue and 25% Toby is wrapping up their set. Mid-song, Good Records/Polyphonic Spree manager Chris Penn gets up on stage and sings along with Toby. My friends and I think this is a cool, fun thing between friends. Neither Chris nor Toby were doing anything wrong-they were just singing together into the mike and having a good time on stage. Shortly following Penn's arrival, a bouncer proceeds to forcefully grab Penn and throws him out the back door. At first we thought this was a joke, but it wasn't. This, was not cool and this was too far.
With the last few months of going to shows at Trees, I kept having bad vibes about the place, especially with their security staff. They were buff and tough and made sure there was a wide distance between the artist and the audience. Fair enough that they're doing their job, but when they're pricks about it, it's not cool. As certain staffers walked around the audience during sets, I felt like the Gestapo was doing the rounds. Plus, the guys at the doors were usually drill sergeant-like jerks to everyone.
As of late, ticket prices had gone through the roof. I was annoyed that I had to pay $18.50 to see Bright Eyes play in '03 after it was advertised as $14 (or somewhere close to that) on the day of the show. While the ticket company should probably be more at fault than Trees, I wasn't happy with the surprise. The show wasn't that great and the venue was packed. I had never seen it so packed before and would never see it as packed again.
At some point I said I would never go back to Trees. I missed one really good show (Jets to Brazil on what became their final tour), but I don't think I missed much overall. I did go back with some friends to see the Bouncing Souls in 2004 and saw Sparta play there earlier this year. I will say this, their staff was pretty cool to me at the Sparta show, but I wasn't planning on going back there any time soon. Trees wasn't bringing in a lot of acts that I wanted to see. Most of the acts that I wanted to see were at the Gypsy Tea Room down the street. While Gypsy and Trees shared the same security staff, I rarely encounter problems or bad attitudes from them at Gypsy.
In parting, Trees had a wild ride and got a little taste of it. Hopefully another venue will open in its place so a whole new set of memories can begin.