When news got out last week about the closing of Minneapolis' oldest jazz haven, the Times Bar and Cafe, nobody had to ask why. Even my 6-year-old niece knows how badly the economy is tanking (which didn't stop her from hitting me up for tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert movie).
But there were still some questions raised in the wake of the Times, which relocated across the river to E. Hennepin Avenue in 1999 after a couple of successful decades near Orchestra Hall. Regulars wanted to know if it might reopen, and what could be done to help ensure its revival. Others had a bleaker query: Who might be next?
The Times is still billing its closing as temporary, but at press time there were no indications it will be reopened. Owner Dan Lessard has not returned repeated phone calls about its prospects. Guitarist Robert Bell, who played the Times every Sunday with the Twin Cities Hot Club, said Lessard has a couple weeks to find new financing. Or else.
Fortunately, the Times' situation cannot be seen as a strong indicator of more bad news to come. A way-informal poll of nine local venue owners and bookers this week found that -- all things considered -- most of them are getting by just fine.
"It's been an especially cold winter," said one club owner whose business slightly slipped from last winter. "I have to think the weather is as much to blame as the economy."
The venues that host touring acts are generally finding it harder to sell advance tickets, but crowds often still show up in the end -- especially for shows with college-age fans.
Old-fart gigs are still packing them in, if they're beloved acts at a reasonable price. Proof was in last weekend's sold-out shows by the Pretenders and Gary Louris and Mark Olson, both of which were worth the $22-$35 ticket prices (whereas anyone who paid $49.50-$95 for last week's Mötley Crüe show had extra reason to wake up feeling guilty).
Of course, clubs rely most on alcohol sales. It appears that music lovers haven't stopped drinking, but they are lowering their standards. One club's rep reports selling Pabst tall-boy cans by the pallet while struggling to sell higher-end craft beer on tap. Tsk, tsk, I say.
As for the bars charging no more than $5 for local bands, they report little to no dip in attendance. All told, it was a genuinely pleasant surprise to hear a consistent if not exactly crescendoing note of optimism.
As the Cabooze's James (Taco) Martin put it, "In the long run, live music in the clubs is a very affordable alternative to a lot of activities people typically choose to spend their money on."The 411 on a new 331
Here's proof that one club owner is doing well: The 331 Club's Jarret Oulman plans to open a sister venue in downtown Minneapolis in April. Oulman already has signed a lease on the site that used to be Viking Matt Birk's namesake restaurant, Matty B's, at 501 Washington Av. S. (near the Depot). Hence the name: The 501 Club. He doesn't plan to close his northeast Minneapolis spot, which has become an anchor for the neighborhood with its always-free mix of indie-folk and none-of-the above music. The 501 will expand on that formula with a twice-bigger space and food service.
"It should be easier this time because we figured out the nuances of no-cover programming and we have access to a lot more performers," Oulman said.Special of the month
Showing more cleverness in its marketing than its music, Military Special has turned the release party of its full-length debut, "Civil Union," into a monthlong celebration at the Nomad Pub. The synth-rock quintet timed the release of its CD to its residency in the Nomad's Thursday night Minneseries (10 p.m., always free), starting next week and ending March 26.
Now streaming for free at Military SpecialMusic.com, "Civil Union" is loaded with '80s-dated synthesizers and choppy guitar parts that are part PiL, early-Cure and, in the case of "City Lights," even kind of Huey Lewis-ish. It's energetic stuff -- especially when the band plays live -- but it's the kind of kitschy, Brooklynized, retro dance-rock that's the antithesis to Solid Gold's now-flourishing, forward-thinking take on the genre.Random mix
Local bluesmen the Brothers Curtis, aka guitarist Curtis Marlatt and harp-blower Curtis Blake, are coming into their free show Saturday night at Dixie's on Grand in St. Paul (9 p.m.) with some bragging rights: They took second place out of about 80 acts in the duo category of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis three weekends ago. Their tour also stopped at such renowned blues joints as Indianapolis' Slippery Noodle and Clarksdale's Ground Zero. ...
The Devil's Workshop, a studio run by Chad Weis and Andy Lageson near downtown Minneapolis, must be a happening place. Thirty bands are slated to play its fifth anniversary bash at the 400 Bar on Saturday, including the God Damn Doo Wop Band, Nightenghales, Idle Hands, Revolver Modele, Matt Jennings and Lageson's band the Nina! the Pinta! (Noon to close, pay-what-you-can). ... Alt-country/folk-rock label Eclectone Records also has a robust roster for its showcase Saturday at the Varsity Theater (8:30 p.m., $6-$8) with nine acts, including Little Man, Six Mile Grove, Dan Israel, Hojas Rojas and newcomers to the label the 757s. ...
One last bit of kudos for a music venue this week: The Varsity's operators (along with promoter Sue McLean) stuck to their word and kept last weekend's Louris/Olson gigs at a comfortable crowd level, despite the high demand for tickets and the Varsity's recently increased capacity rating. That's how you keep customers in these hard times.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
Music blog: startribune.com/poplife