Down on Punk

Had the Dixie Dregs' January 20 show at Birch North Park Theatre not been canceled, it would have been the first national rock act to play the venue in at least 15 years. Steve Kader, hired as the theater's in-house talent buyer, intends to bring up to eight headliners a month to the 700-seat theater that once hosted the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Other former rock rooms do not show as much promise.

SDSU's Aztec Center was a new-music mecca in the '70s and '80s. The downstairs, 400-capacity Backdoor hosted Metallica, the Talking Heads, Bush, Jeff Buckley, and Jimmy Buffett. Five years ago, the stage was taken out, and that space is now used for student meetings. The nearby Montezuma Hall (1100 capacity) has held shows by Bad Religion, Blondie, the Pretenders, the Ramones, Jane's Addiction, and Iggy Pop. An SDSU spokesman says Montezuma Hall could rock again, but promoters have opted to use venues that are better suited for music.

The Police reunited on February 11, but they won't return to their first SD venue; in August 1978, the band made its local debut at the 600-seat Roxy Theater in Pacific Beach.

"It went away because the post office wanted the property," says longtime production assistant Louie Procaccino. He says the Roxy brought in Dire Straits, the Boomtown Rats, and Peter Tosh between '78 and '83.

The Adams Avenue Theater is now a fabric store, but in the '80s it was SD's punk palace.

"[Casbah co-owner] Tim Mays did a show called More Core in '84," recalls Procaccino. The Blasters, X, and local punk pioneers the Penetrators played the 500-capacity theater. Harlan Schiffman was arrested at a Social Distortion show he promoted there. ("They claimed we didn't have a permit for the event," says Schiffman. "It was thrown out of court.")

"They just didn't want punk shows to go on there," says Procaccino. "It started getting harder to get permits from police and fire [departments]."

Procaccino recalls when the Clash played downtown's Golden Hall in '78: "The band kept kicking the stage monitors out into the crowd. I had to go out and get them back. Joe Strummer told me, 'I've been watching you, and I think you are a bit of a brute. I think I should thrash you myself.' I said, 'Bring it on, you limey bastard.' " Boston, the Grateful Dead, Prince, the Kinks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Aerosmith have played Golden Hall or the adjacent Civic Theatre, but promoters now tend to avoid them partly because they must hire a costly union crew.

The California Theatre (on the same block as 4th & B) turns 80 this year, but its future is unclear. In the '80s, the 1400-seat theater hosted Lou Reed, Journey, Jimmy Cliff, PiL, Cheap Trick, Motörhead, and the Cramps.

"They called the riot squad when the Dead Kennedys played there," Procaccino remembers. "There were two busloads of cops in riot gear. They were down on punk."

Brad Richter, a planner with the Centre City Development Corporation, says the theater is designated as a historic building and that it would be difficult to get permission to tear it down. Recent plans to incorporate it into a high-rise development fell through.

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