Founded in 1980 as an all-age vegetarian eatery and gathering place for those interested in radical politics, the Ché Café at UCSD quickly became a haven for San Diego’s underground music scene. Though touring bands eventually became a staple of the venue, early shows mostly featured local groups that played punk, garage, mod, and psychedelic sounds.
More than two decades later, the musicians involved in the Ché Café’s early days are scattered around the world, but a new blog (cheunderground.com) is keeping their memories alive. Former Noise 292 guitarist Matthew Rothenberg, who first played the venue in 1983, created the site in February.
The Ché scene, says Rothenberg, “…did so much to shape us as people and performers but didn’t leave much of a historical record.”
The website’s focus is on five bands that came together around the Ché Café in the summer of 1983: the Answers, Hair Theatre, Noise 292, the Rockin’ Dogs, and the Wallflowers. The site notes the regular performances by Ray Brandes (the Tell-Tale Hearts), Tom Ward (the Nashville Ramblers), and Ted Friedman (the Gravedigger V).
Built around reminiscences in postings from the musicians who frequented the venue, the site offers an insiders’ view of the San Diego music scene of the era. Though the emphasis is on bands that performed at the venue, filmed and recorded material done at other venues is included. Highlights include audio of the Morlocks live in San Francisco and a previously unseen video from the Mirrors.
Rothenberg has made attempts to inform the current Ché Café organizers about his website but has thus far been unsuccessful.
“I hope they’re flattered,” he says. “I’ve tried to contact them, but I’m a little confused about who at the co-op might take an interest. We’re thinking of sending an ambassador to their weekly veggie chili dinner.”
Rothenberg, now a resident of Maplewood, N.J., says plans are under way for a reunion concert next summer, though it won’t be held at the Ché Café.
“Everyone’s over 21 and can have a drink now.”
– Bart Mendoza