Wired for sound

Music venues as a metaphor for The Wire

The Hideout
  • The Hideout

Last year was a bloodbath for local music venues. So before we start our rundown of venues rocking 2015, we would like to pay homage to our fallen comrades of 2014, the clubs that won’t be stamping wrists, distributing drink tickets, or adjusting stage mics in 2015.

First on the list is the Shakedown, the punk-rock haven that took over the shoebox formerly known as the Rhythm Lounge. The Shakedown tried its darndest, but that location on Midway seems like a tough spot for corralling the spikes and mohawks. The same can be said of the Griffin, formerly of Morena Boulevard. Cool venue, tough location, and now, after a three-year run, it’s history as well. On a positive note, the oft-struggling Brick by Brick (also in the Morena neighborhood) seems to have regained its traction with new owners.

The all-ages landmark Ché Café is on life support. The club (as of this writing) has no shows scheduled and is in the throes of litigation with UCSD. No eviction notice has officially been posted, so there is hope that the club will come out of its coma.

Meanwhile, actually popping out of its coma is the Tin Can Ale House. After a short-span with no live music, the venue will resume its march of bands in March under new ownership and a new name, the Balboa.

So, now the good news! The North Park Theatre switched names and owners and is now the Observatory. The venue is shooting for 200+ shows this year, so look out, North Parkers, you’re gonna be walking to the corner of University and 29th a lot. Upcoming shows include Neutral Milk Hotel, TV on the Radio, and the Decemberists. These guys are rolling into San Diego the same way Marlo Stanfield rolled into Baltimore on The Wire...with the intent to take over “the game.” Assuming dueling roles of the show’s native Barksdale gang are the House of Blues and the Casbah, two powerhouses that are going to protect their turf and weed out the snitches. Of course, no metaphor of The Wire is complete without the mandatory Omar wildcard, so look out for the Belly Up to make everyone’s life in the concert business a paranoid, living hell. The North County venue always seems to sneak up and pump the Reader’s concert listings full of the area’s best shows.

On the smaller scale, Soda Bar is still pulling notable, national indie acts alongside local faves such as Hot Nerds. Speaking of which, the bar will be hosting the Nerds’ Strategically Placed Bananas record-release party on March 6. And kudos to the Hideout, the venue right up the street from Soda Bar, for making it to 2015! Over the past couple of years, the club has switched hands more often than an envelope full of dirty cash en route to Senator Clay Davis. (A deeper Wire reference, but a darn fine one if you are keeping score.) Bar Pink, the Whistle Stop, and the Irenic are all still going strong with live music in the same general area (92104/92116), but the true comeback kid for 2015 has to be Java Joe’s. Similar to Bubbles, the loving, heroin-addicted, homeless-informant on The Wire, no matter how hard society tries to keep Java Joe’s down, it just keeps chugging along and l-i-v-i-n like it ain’t no thang. The coffee shop recently hosted a bill full of the classic Java Joe’s all-stars (Steve Poltz, Gregory Page, and Berkley Hart, among others), which was recorded for a live album. Look for a cheap, Chinese-manufactured bootleg copy of the CD in Bubbles’s shopping-cart storefront.

Drifting around town, Winstons in O.B. is always a good bet for reggae and jam bands on a weekend night. As an added bonus, Winstons and nearby Gallagher’s both dabble in hip-hop shows every so often. Add to this mix the solid interval of bands playing at the Harp and it’s apparent that Newport Avenue has not-so quietly become one of the go-to strips for live music in San Diego. If The Wire’s booze-loving detective Jimmy McNulty lived in San Diego, he would probably frequent one of these three bars...perhaps more for the ladies, though.

Heading east, you can always count on Til-Two and the Tower Bar to serve up some fine garage and punk rock. And don’t forget about the Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa. You can cook your own steak (or pony up five extra bucks to have a pro do it for you) and then catch a band in the Turquoise Room. Finally, rounding out our list of fine music venues in Baltimore — I mean, San Diego, is the Merrow in Hillcrest. Not as big a name on the concert circuit as the Casbah, Soda Bar, or Bar Pink, but the Hillcrest venue has been hosting bands most nights of the week for a couple of years now.

Remember, when you support these venues, you support live music and our belief that everything in life is a metaphor for The Wire.

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I would like to add here that although I did list the Casbah as being involved in a direct, potentially bloody feud to the death with The Observatory, it is in fact the case that the Casbah's booking operation is responsible for many of the fantastic shows heading to The Observatory this year. The same benefit will be felt by The Irenic, Soda Bar, The Belly Up and others as well. Perhaps the situation here is more akin to the scenario involving the New Day Co-Op on The Wire. In this scenario, The Casbah would assume the dueling roles of both Proposition Joe and Baltimore's out of town heroin suppliers (The Greeks). On The Wire, the level-headed Proposition Joe ("Prop Joe" as he was lovingly referred to as by his numerous colleagues) created the Co-Op in order to reduce the on-going violence between rival neighborhood gangs (San Diego venues) which was resulting in too much incursion by the local cops. I guess the cops cracking down on these operations doesn't really fit here, since booking rock bands in San Diego isn't nearly as illegal as selling heroin in Baltimore is. One could argue that a long-dormant local statute that forbids the booking of rock bands would make the entire city of San Diego the equivalent of the Hamsterdam experiment on Season Three of The Wire, but the likelihood of this being true is obviously only 60 percent at best. In other words, the local police aren't ignoring laws by allowing rock shows to be booked since so many people are already addicted to booking rock shows. There is no chronic "booking rock shows" epidemic that has ruined the lives of thousands of the citizens in this fine city. No stray bullet has taken out an innocent grandmother when a booking agent miscalculated his aim during a drive-by and just missed the rival venue owner who was on his phone with the manager of Grizzly Bear regarding "squeezing in a date between Phoenix and LA." The only individual I can think of in this city that has been horribly affected by the booking of rock bands is that one person in Hillcrest that relentlessly called the cops to complain about the volume of the live bands at the (now closed) San Diego Sports Club. That person's life was definitely negatively affected by the booking of rock bands. Back to the matter at hand, the moral to this comment is that The Observatory and The Casbah play nice. They are more Frog and Toad than Hulk Hogan and The Iron Sheik. More Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder than Optimus Prime and Megatron. And, yes, even more Lester and McNulty than Avon and Marlo.

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