Kids In The House

UNDERAGE LIVE MUSIC fans have met their enemy, and it is the almighty liquor dollar. While the upcoming end of live music at the Uptown Bar will shut down a scene for the bands and audiences who called it home, that scene was never really there for the under-21 fans who--unless they had fake IDs--could see gigs only through the picture window from the club's parking lot. Rock clubs have traditionally relied on selling alcohol to stay afloat, and that generally means shutting younger patrons out. Getting past that fact of life involves a couple of questions: Can anyone create an ideal all-ages venue in the Twin Cities? Or can we just make do with what we've got?

Consider the recent fate of independent club Center of the Universe, which operated in the theater space next to the Laughing Cup on Nicollet Avenue. For several months indie promoter Brad Matala and Big Ear Productions booked successful weekends of underage bands for high school-age fans. Matala says drawing in bigger-name local or national acts was a struggle against the formidable pull of First Avenue, but his underage niche proved lucrative. A few weeks back, the Universe imploded for an unexceptional reason: excessive noise complaints.

Other small all-ages venues tend to be sporadic and short-lived versions of former spaces. One exception is the Whole Music Club, the 28-year mainstay in the sub-basement of the University of Minnesota's Coffman Union. The Whole has settled into a comfortable focus on genres favored by underage, non-drinking crowds, such as ska and neo-hard-core punk. (St. Louis ska band MU-330 plays there on Friday; call 624-8638.) The underground punk scene also convenes at the Bombshelter (2951 Bloomington Ave. S., Mpls.), a basement venue that's picked up the slack in local and international political-punk booking that was left by the now-defunct Emma Center. (For info, contact Extreme Noise Records at 821-0119.) Mean-while, the new gallery/performance space Burnt House (2242 University Ave., St. Paul) has been holding monthly events reminiscent of the lamented early-'90s St. Paul art & music club Speedboat Gallery; their opening show last month featured up-and-coming post-punks Strumpet.

Outposts like these fill a specific need, but haven't had the booking clout to give underage audiences a full spectrum of gigs. So it was no small triumph when First Avenue announced a revival of all-ages weekday matinees in 7th St. Entry--a practice the club had abandoned since the pre-alternative '80s. A First Ave. press release last month included a letter from staff booker/promoter Rich Best rhapsodizing on the good old days of all-ages punk rock matinees in the Entry circa '83; the Entry has since experimented with a handful of all-ages showcases beginning at 4 p.m., followed by similar or identical band lineups at 9 p.m. "drunk shows."

In light of last year's Minneapolis curfew crackdown, this is the best news in ages for underage concertgoers. A recent ska matinee (with Let's Go Bowling) and punk matinee (the Goops) were fairly well attended, though Best feels the crowds haven't caught on yet. "I think somewhere in the last few years the kids have forgotten about the Entry, and basically listened to whatever's thrown down their throats on MTV or on the radio. There's no more hearing music for the music, and [fan bases] developing along with a band."

As Best understands, getting those kids back into the scene is a matter of some importance to clubbers of all ages. After all, most of us have formed our rock & roll obsessions by 14 or 15. If young musicians can't hang out at the clubs they'd like to play, it's no surprise that most players in the Twin Cities are already at least 25 by the time they start to gain some recognition. And if you can't get into shows during those musically passionate years of 15 to 21, chances are good you'll drop out altogether.

Don't believe me? I'll meet you on any street corner in Dinkytown this Friday night; we'll find some bored, inebriated 19-year-olds slumped against a building who'll show you their own all-ages alternative. It's kind of ironic: With underage apartheid, the kids, adults, clubs, and bands are ultimately all losers. But you know and I know the beer industry will keep doing just fine. CP

February, Dwindle, and June Sunday perform a 4 p.m. matinee (and a 9 p.m. ID show) Friday at the Entry; Gas Huffer, Lungfish, and Odd Numbers play a matinee on Sunday. Matinee lineups may vary from evening shows--call 338-8388 for more information.

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