THE 400 BAR is undergoing a change of the guard--one which bodes real well for the local music scene. Entrepreneur Bill Sullivan--who recently retired from his position as Soul Asylum's tour manager after 10 years of service--is in the process of purchasing the bar, whose fate had been up in the air for several months. Reached by phone last week, Sullivan was a bit swamped with ironing out the details of the purchase; once he has the 400's keys and liquor license in hand (hopefully by this Wednesday), he'll be ready to think about renovation and the finer points of the new-and-improved venue. One thing he is sure of: Music will be the top priority. "It's not just a West Bank drinking bar anymore," says Sullivan. "I come from the music business, and I'd like to try to seriously devote it to music. I don't think it ever was before--that was just a sideline to try to get more money in the tills."
Sullivan, who also worked for The Replacements before his stint with Soul Asylum, seems poised to give the local rock community exactly what it so desperately needs: a high-quality secondary venue for national acts beyond the First Avenue/7th Street Entry duopoly. The 400 has always been a player, but it has had weaknesses, such as dodgy sound quality and room design. Sullivan has already made some smart moves; for one, he will be assisted by former Uptown Bar booker Maggie Macpherson, who forged countless strong alliances with national agents and bands (Nirvana, Pavement, G. Love, Evan Dando and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion all played at the Uptown), many of whom remained surprisingly loyal even after their audiences grew.
Sullivan also wants to take a more quality-oriented approach to the tradition of New Band Night, and hints that blues and jazz may be included on the calendar. And unlike many rock landlords, Sullivan pledges to limit overcrowding in favor of maximum patron comfort. "I hope to make a room that the bands are really happy and excited to play in, and then that can spill over to the people that see them," he says. "If the band can hear themselves and can be seen, and the sound is good and the stage comfortable, it'll come across in gigs, and people will come to see them more."
Sullivan and Macpherson are now co-producing their first weekend of shows, including house band Detroit and two nights with the holidays-lovin' Run Westy Run. (This Saturday the club will also host Up Records's 746-Hero--a kind of gender-inverted Spinanes by way of Pavement, whose debut Salt Sinks & Sugar Floats has singer/guitarist John Atkins spinning off tales of relationship un-bliss backed by drummer Polly Johnson). After that, the 400 will close its doors for renovation for most of December, barring a few special events, with a grand re-opening party set for December 20 and 21.
The 400's new direction might help provide a new-year's antidote to the recent club bookers malaise (attendance seems to be down everywhere but Greazy Meal gigs). "Bands deserve to be seen and they deserve to make a little money. If they don't, they'll just go home and get jobs," says Sullivan. "In the early days of Soul Asylum I always made sure they made money. I didn't want them to go home and get jobs. Then I'd have to as well." (Simon Peter Groebner)
Detroit performs Wednesday and Run Westy Run performs Friday and Saturday (with 746-Hero) at the 400 Bar; call 332-2903.
LIFE ON THE MOON, ETC.
IN OTHER SCENE news, the twisted minds of the Generator label and the Polar Bear Club have devised Moon Mountain, an eclectic variety show which will be a monthly feature at the ultracozy Mighty Fine Gallery in Northeast. Music this time around is courtesy of Ye Olde Scrolls (i.e. Saucer's Howard Hamilton and Ted Kersten as an experimental duo), Prowl (an electronic trio with members of Polara and Mountain Singers), thud-rockers Frances Gumm, and digital composer Richard for Cerebellum. There'll also be stand-up comedy by one Stewy Lights, art by Tony Mogelson, film by Trevor Endeavor, and DJs Rebecca Fritz (of June Sunday) and Matt Olson (Balloon Guy/Smattering). I'm as confused about what to expect as you are, but it does sound like an evening of good, screwy fun ($4, all ages, 7 p.m. Saturday; 1301 University Ave. N.E., Mpls.; 331-5851)
LOTS OF FOLKS have been telling us about Boogie Nights, the clownish disco cover band that for some reason managed to sell out The Quest last time through town. They'll be back Friday ($5/$7 at the door; 10 p.m.). Finally, Seattle/Austin alt-country newbies The Picketts headline a show of their own after last week's opener for Wilco. They'll be at Lee's Liquor Lounge Sunday (11th Street and Glenwood Avenue, Mpls.; call 338-9491). (Groebner/Hermes)
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.