I was lucky enough to score tickets tonight to the 30th anniversary show at the 9:30 Club, what some call the best club of its size on the planet, and what I call that, plus my neighborhood bar.
Kudos to Seth Hurwitz and 9:30 staff for putting on a well-curated (and free) show to close out the holiday weekend. We arrived at about 7:30, just in time to hear Ian MacKaye and The Evens, who set up on the second-floor balcony.
After taking our position near the main stage, we were treated to the poetic roots rock of Justin Jones and the Driving Rain, the first of many bands I regret not seeing sooner. This is a five piece who came from Harrisonburg, VA, to DC, and whom Hurwitz referred to as “the next big thing.”
But Hurwitz wouldn’t maintain emcee duties for long. That was reserved for Henry Rollins, whose plane was delayed. Rollins emerged to a huge ovation, and, fittingly, had the pleasure of introducing Bob Mould, whom he recalled not wanting to follow onstage in the 80s after a particularly vicious set by Husker Du. Mould, who now hosts a monthly DJ party at 9:30 called Blowoff, kept it old school with just he and a Strat for four tunes.
Ted Leo was up next, and I’ll leave it to the estimable Eric Behrns, who has said plenty more than I can say about his current work with the Pharmacists. I likened him to Mike Ness suddenly channeling a beat poet as he slashed on his Gibson hollowbody.
Rollins introduced the next act by saying that Hurwitz received hundreds of whiny emails over the last week basically asking the same thing: “Is Dave Grohl coming?” The answer, of course, was yes. Grohl told the crowd how he got his first record deal as a 16-year-old, after playing a 9:30 show with his band Dain Bramage. And with that he launched into a solo “Everlong.” He didn’t stay solo for long, however, calling up two members of Scream and bassist Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, in order to cover two Brains songs.
The Pietasters followed, with a well-received set of what I’d call Ska Drinking Music (alternate title: Your High School Band Makes Good).
Which brings us to the revelation of the night: Clutch, ladies and gentlemen. Clutch. The band that made me realize I’d been wasting the last 36 years because I’ve never seen them live. My goodness. Imagine 1969 Black Sabbath, fronted by a wild-eyed, backwoods-looking white boy Howlin’ Wolf. Despite all the other legendary talent on hand, these Germantown, MD guys absolutely stole the show. They killed. (See an amateur YouTube vid here.)
Which left show closers Trouble Funk, one of DC’s top Go-Go acts (rumor had it Chuck Brown had to cancel).
Side note to other festival organizers: in the name of expediting load in/out and soundcheck, there’s something to be said for putting a bass rack, a Fender Twin Reverb and a Marshall stack on either side of the stage, effectively telling the musicians: “Just pick one and get on with it.”