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Fans excited about taking light-rail to the Turf Club when the Green Line opens in June are going to have to wait another couple months to do so. St. Paul’s most beloved rock venue will be closed during much of the summer for renovations. Plans call for the doors to shut starting June 1 and remain closed through probably at least the end of July – although, not literally closed, since new front doors are actually part of the vast array of upgrades that will be done in that time.
“We’ll be doing a kitchen installation, installing the fire suppression system, repairing the bars, putting a new roof on, replacing all of the HVAC, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting,” First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz listed off. First Avenue took over the club in October and formally bought it just before Christmas.
The kitchen instillation -- in the big part of the basement not used for the Clown Lounge – will be the most dramatic change for the Turf. After its success with the Depot Tavern, First Ave will similarly pair food service with its usual rock ‘n’ roll business, keeping customers there longer and bringing in non-rocking patrons, too. Kranz said the staff will hold a “soft opening” for a few weeks upon reopening to get the restaurant side in shape, followed by a grand reopening celebration, probably in early September.
Besides the kitchen, many of the other improvements – some of which are already under way – are mostly just structural renovations that won’t alter the club’s great character, something the First Ave crew (Turf patrons themselves) promised when they took over. In other words, it’s mostly just the kind of stuff that will keep the place standing for another 70 years, and maybe even another five or six more Mark Mallman Marathons.
As for the two-plus months when the club goes dark, look for more First Ave-promoted shows at the Cedar Cultural Center and Triple Rock. The Triple Rock, for instance, already has a couple shows on the summer calendar that otherwise might have gone to the Turf, including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on June 11 and a Felice Brothers/Robert Ellis co-bill on July 1.
Twin Cities metal lovers and First Avenue staff and patrons are among the many GWAR lovers worldwide saddened by this morning’s news that David Brockie – aka Oderus Urungus, ringleader of the costumed cartoon – was found dead Sunday at his home in Richmond., Va. Cause of death has not been named yet. He was only 50.
Under Brockie’s reign of blood, GWAR played First Ave 25-plus times in more than three decades, among the most by any touring act.
“Very bummed. I’ve been seeing Gwar and their associated bands at First Avenue since high school,” said First Ave manager Nate Kranz, singling out a ’95 gig by Brockie’s police-attired side band the X-Cops as one of his all-time favorite 7th Street Entry gigs.
Longtime First Ave stage manager Conrad Sverkerson, who got to know Brockie personally over the years, said of him, "He was just a great guy. Everybody in their crew were good, hard-working guys. They would always be there on the truck pitching their gear with us, including [Brockie]. There was never any ego with them."
The last GWAR show there was just this past October, another highly theatrical affair nicely captured in a photo gallery by Erik Hess. In 2012, the band performed there in tribute to late guitarist Cory Smoot (Flattus Maximus), who died of a heart attack on the tour bus hours after their First Ave gig the previous November.
“I urge everyone with a heart problem to get well looked after, and to let your friends and family and the people around you know about it," Brockie said in an interview before the 2012 show, noting that Smoot had a prior heart condition. If anything, the real danger of being in GWAR is the hard-work that goes into their on-stage performances and not any hard-living off stage, Brockie added: "It's a workout, no question. But we all know that and stay in good shape because of it."
Underneath the horns and skull masks and protruding codpieces, the man who would be Oderus looked like a normal, middle-aged, fun-loving slacker type of guy with a sly grin. His smile was especially big backstage in November 2004 when his band of fictional aliens became the first act to headline First Ave after the club shut down for three weeks and nearly closed for good.
“We were breathless,” Brockie said then, referring to how the band was left in limbo not knowing if First Ave would reopen in time for its scheduled date. “The place is a dump, and we love it. … It's been the most consistent rock venue in North America.”
Kranz remembered of that night, “It was so funny watching Oderus walking up and down the sidewalk with his ass hanging out, talking to fans and getting interviewed by the local TV news.”
Sverkerson remembered the first time GWAR played the main room in the early-'90s and pulled up in a school bus: "They didn't have any heat on it, and it was the dead of winter, so they got off and went into the club and proceeded to guzzle coffee. And then they went to work."
Brockie was also fond of Sverkerson, who for many years was easily recognized by the bushel of red dreadlocks atop his head. The GWAR guru said in 2012:
“I love Conrad's hair. I love to touch it and rub it all over me. I've been trying for years to get him to give me a big chunk of it to use in my costume, probably as a codpiece. Let me publicly call out Conrad right here and now to finally give it to me."
The band has not announced any kind of memorial plans or whether or not it will carry on without its leader. GWAR manager Jack Flanagan issued a statement today confirming the death, which read, “My main focus right now is to look after my band mates and his family. More information regarding his death shall be released as the details are confirmed.”
It’s hard to know which part of Dario Anselmo’s story might be wiser to keep under wraps now that he’s running for House District 49A (Edina) in the Minnesota House of Representatives: His past as a nightclub owner, which some Edina voters might raise an eyebrow at; or the fact that he’s running as a Republican, which might come as a surprise to the mostly left-leaning music community that knows him as a former nightclub owner.
“I want to emphasize I’m a moderate, inclusive Republican,” said the longtime proprietor of the Fine Line Music Café, laughing at the memory of when he and other venue operators hosted high-buck private parties with big-name acts during the Republican National Convention in 2008. “All of the bands were happy to take the money, but they didn’t want us letting people know they were playing there.”
He made no secret of one big reason why he’s on the GOP side of the fence: “As a small business owner, it’s hard not to lean Republican,” he said, pointing to the high entertainment tax and other levies he faced operating the Fine Line. “Running a nightclub is almost as expensive as running for office,” he said.
A Duluth native who now lives in Edina's Parkwood Knolls neighborhood, Anselmo ran the Fine Line for nearly two decades – a major feat in the always-rocky nightclub business. He sold the club last year, saying then that he was ready for a change (he says now he was only loosely pondering political aspirations). He still owns the building that houses the club and has other real estate and business investments. During his tenure at the Fine Line, he co-created the Warehouse District Business Association to advocate for downtown business owners, and he served on the board of the Minneapolis Downtown Council for 12 years.
All that experience, he said, “shows I have a well-rounded understanding of the ways things work, and I know how to work across different lines to get things done.” In addition to addressing small-business owner concerns, some of the central issues in his campaign are schools (he has three school-age children), airport noise and healthcare for senior citizens and the mentally ill.
Per our Hot Dish Politics blog, Anselmo will have to face former Miss Minnesota Polly Peterson Bowles for the GOP nod, and then DFL incumbent Rep. Ron Erhardt in the final race.
“BAR AND MUSIC EQUIPMENT MUST GO”
So reads the headline on a Craigslist ad that is sure to pour a little salt in the already wounded hearts of local jazz lovers. It’s a listing for all of the bar and music equipment at the newly shuttered Artists’ Quarter, the beloved downtown St. Paul jazz club that closed with a final New Year’s Eve sendoff.
Not only does the ad put a price tag on the club’s seemingly priceless property -- $50,000 – it confirms that owner Kenny Horst really does plan to shut the place down and not reopen with different partners, as has been sought after by Mayor Chris Coleman and other supporters of the AQ.
“Closing for business,” the posting reads. “All equipment for sale. 40 plus tables. 100 plus chairs and bar stools. Beer, wine coolers.” It sounds like everything and the kitchen sink. However, the listing does specify, “Sorry, no photos, or wall art included.”
The AQ owner since 1995, Horst oversaw its final relocation in 2002 to the basement of the Hamm Building, where he got to design and equip the room himself. Hence, most of the innards of the club are going with him as he exits the space.
***UPDATE: See below for news of Chappelle playing a pick-up basketball game at Target Center after his final Pantages set Saturday.
He may not be a musician, but Dave Chappelle has truly proven to be a rock star this week – and thus it was a no-brainer for First Avenue to give him his own star on the wall outside the club. The club’s staff painted his name on the bricks in time to show it to the comedian after his last of eight shows there on Thursday night (technically early Friday morning).
“He seemed sort of moved by it,” said First Ave talent booker Sonia Grover, who also revealed that it was pure luck that the club had so many open nights available to book Chappelle. She first got the call from his agent only two weekends ago. “Everybody thought we were holding those dates for the Replacements, but it was just a bad coincidence” they had so many open nights, Grover said with a laugh.
Outside of club staffers such as ex-manager Steve McClellan, Chappelle is the first non-musician with a star on the walls of First Ave. In the end, his eight-gig run marks some kind of record for the most First Ave main-room shows in one swoop. Atmosphere can claim the most consecutive nights and an equal number of shows from January 2005 – eight in both cases -- but those were all in 7th Street Entry. Doomtree did eight shows over seven nights for its Blowout VII run in 2011, three of which were in the main room. Anyway, they’re all stars in our book.
One other unusual facet to the Chappelle run: It was the first time in many years that the venue was set up in a seated, theater-like configuration. That, too, seemed to go over well, and Grover said they will definitely consider doing it again, including for concerts (think: acoustic shows like this week's appearance by Colin Meloy at the Woman's Club).
Of course, Chappelle isn’t done yet. His Minneapolis marathon continues with two shows tonight at Pantages Theatre, and Live Nation just announced the second of two shows there for Saturday night – noted in the press release as his “final” one.
Chappelle told WCCO-TV reporter Reg Chapman – a friend of the comedian’s, who scored an ultra-rare interview with him – that he picked First Ave largely on the basis of “Purple Rain” being filmed there. He said, “I was like 11 when ‘Purple Rain’ came out, so it has personally the same significance of playing Carnegie Hall or something.”
It sounds like Prince never made it to any of Chappelle’s gigs at the club, but the comedian suggested – seriously or not – that he plans to make it out to Paisley Park for a rematch in the shirts-vs.-blouses basketball game so famously recounted on “Chappelle's Show.”
Whether or not that happens, now comes word that the comedian will pay homage to the legendary sketch with a pick-up basketball game at Target Center after his last Pantages set on Saturday. No kidding.
Per a press release from Live Nation -- the promoter behind the Pantages shows -- the first thousand people with a proof-of-purchase for tickets to any of this week's 12 Chappelle performances will get into the game. Doors open at 11 p.m., and the game is expected to start around midnight. The release even promises that "pancakes will be served" (see: aforementioned skit).
No word on who's going to be in the game, though. Members of the Wolves were reportedly invited, but since they're playing the Celtics earlier that night their appearance might be iffy (at least the starters). But then again, Chappelle is the one who should really be tired.
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