Material witnesses at Adams Avenue Theater

As fabric store winds down the biz, punk heydays surface at former venue

Black Flag at Adams Avenue Theater, 4/29/83
  • Black Flag at Adams Avenue Theater, 4/29/83

The Reader recently reported that Discount Fabrics on Adams Avenue will be shutting down due to the sale of their building. The story mentioned that the establishment (located at 3325 Adams Avenue) was once a punk club in the 1980s and that a lot of customers happened to bring this up while they were shopping.

Slayer at Adams Avenue Theater, February 1, 1986

Casbah owner/local promoter Tim Mays booked shows at the venue between 1982 and 1986. Via email, I asked him if he remembered REM opening for Gang of Four there. He recalled that REM was paid $250 for playing the gig. He also mentioned that Bow Wow Wow, the Stray Cats, GBH, Circle Jerks, the Stranglers, and Iggy Pop all performed there as well.

The venue was basically a hall that promoters would rent out for shows. As a result, the bookers had to provide their own PA system. No alcohol was sold in the venue, and performers usually had pretty basic riders. Just a “deli tray, beer, water, etc.,” according to Mays.

Some documentation of the theater can be found on YouTube — such as a board recording from a Slayer concert on February 1, 1986. Judging by the comments and post description, this was quite the legendary evening of live music. Besides fellow performers DRI having to execute their set with audience members filling in for a missing lead singer, a stage mic that was continuously shocking vocalists, and another opening act (Bloodcum) spending most of their set lecturing the crowd about “how to have a proper circle slam pit,” the crown jewel appears to be a balcony diver who blasted through the stage upon impact.

One commenter recounted, “I was running spotlight at this show. I lit that stage-diver crashing through the stage all the way. Can’t believe he survived the swan dive from the balcony.”

Mays guessed the balcony height at about ten feet; he didn’t recall too many jumpers at shows.

Tell Tale Hearts guitarist Eric Bacher thought the balcony may have been a tad higher — “pretty high if I remember correctly, 20 feet or so?” His band played one gig at the theater, but it was a doozy: they shared a bill with the Cramps and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“As far as I know there was no stage-diving that night. Probably due to the fact that [Cramps vocalist] Lux Interior made it clear that no one was to get onstage while they played. I guess [Cramps guitarist Poison] Ivy had been assaulted recently and he was very clear on this point. Before mentioning this, someone had jumped on the stage, Lux threw him off and jumped on top of him with his fists flailing. When he jumped back onstage he had the guy’s blood all over him,” Bacher stated via email.

Black Flag played the venue on April 29, 1983. It would be the last official show they did as a five-piece, and one that featured Descendents singer Milo Aukerman (at the time an undergrad at UCSD) sharing vocal duties on “Police Story.” Perhaps the best visual documentation is a Battalion of Saints gig from March 4, 1984. At one point, guitarist Chris Smith (RIP) compliments the hometown crowd for their good behavior.

“I hope everybody, for once, is having a good time. I haven’t seen any fights or nothing, and it looks like everybody’s enjoying themselves for once,” he said.

Mays also recalled people trashing the venue after a Motörhead concert was canceled at the last minute in 1984 and Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra performing a show with a broken leg “with a cast on a stool most of the show, except when he wasn’t on the stool, which was a lot of the show.”

And Mike Ness (lead singer of Social Distortion) got arrested there: “SDPD were waiting for him to get offstage, and we tried to get him to go out a certain exit to avoid them, but he stumbled offstage and went out the wrong door and right into their waiting arms,” Mays said.

As for the neighborhood?

“It wasn’t as gentrified as it is now,” Mays explained. “No Starbucks, no Lestat’s. Older shops that had been there for a long time. Spiritual center across the street. Carwash and post office were there at the time. There were and probably still are apartments directly behind the theater just across the back alley and the proximity of the residences resulted in a lot of complaints over noise, vandalism, rowdiness, urinating, and drinking in the area. People used to hang in the carwash bays and drink before coming into the shows. Cops also used to park in the carwash bays and wait for shows to get over.”

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