Uptown Blues

LAST WEEK, WORD hit the streets that the Uptown Bar, a nationally renowned showcase for local and touring bands, will pull the plug on live music after April. Apparently, Uptown owner Kenny Toonen--who could not be reached for comment--plans to focus on the club's role as a restaurant.

"I haven't had the chance to let this sink in," said Uptown booker/manager Maggie MacPherson on Friday. "I've been there for 11 years, so it's kind of hard to figure out what comes next three days after the fact." MacPherson has developed a fiercely loyal following among indie-rock bands and bookers; during her tenure, Nirvana, Oasis, G. Love, the Jesus Lizard, Evan Dando, J Mascis, Superchunk, L7, Uncle Tupelo, Pavement, and Guided by Voices all played the Uptown. For the time being, MacPherson will keep her hands full
as manager of Golden Smog and ex-Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman.

Local musicians and music fans are already lamenting the loss. "I think it's kind of a tragedy," says Perlman, who certainly knows the Uptown's worth: The Jayhawks debuted on that stage, and for years the club supported local acts such as Soul Asylum and the Replacements, not to mention newcomers like the Hang Ups, the Honeydogs, Balloon Guy, Likehell, and the Wonsers. And some think the venue's business won't be helped by eliminating gigs. "I think (live music) was very important there," says Dave Peil of Minneapolis-based Tough Guy Booking. "People go down there at other hours because of it, because it's a cool scene."

The question now is who will pick up the slack in mid-sized club bookings. Will it be The Red Sea, The Fine Line, Lee's Liquor Bar, the 400 Bar, Ground Zero, or something new? "I think (First Avenue's) Steve (McLellan) will definitely try to find other places for these people to play," says MacPherson. "He's not going anywhere. Whether or not somebody decides to open something and pick up the slack, I don't know. And if they did, would they know what to do? I don't know that either. But it's not like I'd be averse to helping people out."

Regardless, the end of live music in Uptown will be regretted by anyone who ever felt the boisterous warmth of a packed Saturday-night crowd in winter, burst into the place at 12:01 on their 21st birthday, or simply enjoyed the luxury of national-caliber, no-cover weeknight entertainment right in the neighborhood. "There's something that the Uptown had as far as size and the location and the built-in crowd that was ideal," says Perlman. It's tough to disagree. (Groebner)


RETSIN, WHO WILL play the Uptown on Friday, is precisely the sort of wonderful, underexposed band we may never see now that the club is closing its doors to live music. The group hails from Lexington, Kentucky, and is fronted by Rodan bassist Tara Jane O'Neill and Ruby Falls bassist Cynthia Nelson. Their debut LP, Egg Fusion (Simple Machines), moves further into the musical/emotional ramshackleness that made last year's Salt Lick EP so engaging: Songs sweep you up and drop you cold just when you're beginning to get comfy (yeah, art imitates life), or else wander around in search of themselves (ditto). Sometimes Retsin remind us of early Throwing Muses without the sibling rivalry; at others, of the Indigo Girls coming down off mushrooms. Mostly, though, they don't remind us of anyone: This is fresh, new music, sure of its tentativeness, and made for this particular room. Kitty Craft open. Music starts around 10 p.m. Also at the Uptown this week is a Thursday showcase with Hot Karl, Ten Fold Hate and Tang, while Likehell and Arm play Saturday. And the April lineup is a killer, with the Grifters, the Ass Ponys, New Duncan Imperials, Blue Mountain, Combustible Edison, and more. Call the Uptown at 823-4719 for more info, and to let them know your thoughts on the upcoming changes...

Meanwhile, there's some good news for the pre-bar audience. 7th St. Entry has reinstituted the early-'80s tradition of providing all-age matinee shows on selected weekdays. Matinee showcases will begin at 4 p.m., and then most of the bands will play "drunk shows" at 9. It begins this Wednesday with the ska-riffic bill of Let's Go Bowling, Mephiskapheles, and the Jinkies. Thursday, industrialites Haloblack--refugees from the '95 closing of another Uptown club, the Cage--play with Apocalypse Theater, Static Gray, and Glass. (Autumn replaces Glass for the late show.) House of Large Sizes rounds out this week's matinees on Friday, with Arm and the Apollo Kings (Superman Curl and Arm open the late show); call 338-8388 to confirm lineups.

In other all-age action, the University of Minnesota's indie mainstay Whole Music Club (300 Washington Ave. S.E.) hosts underrated Matador guitar sculptors Silkworm on Friday. Tix are $5; call 624-8638. Silkworm also plays an in-store at Garage D'Or Records; call 871-0563 for time.

First Avenue is sponsoring three big mainroom benefits for Camp Heartland, a camp for children infected with or affected by AIDS or HIV. Wednesday's lineup is Sonia Dada with the Mooks, $12/$14 at the door; music at 7 p.m. Thursday it's Babes in Toyland, Phull Surkle with Casino Royale, King Can, and the Apollo Kings. $8, 8 p.m. Friday: Lisa Brokop and Band with Molly and the Makers. $8. 7 p.m. ID required for all three events; call 338-8388.

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