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One of those freaky shifts is occurring in the Washington Avenue club district, an evolutionary weeding-out that seems to happen regardless of whether you're in the hot zone or the cold one. Two clubs have shuttered in the past two weeks: Karma and Polly Esther's -- the former a rock club, the latter a retro '70s dance club. The differences between them, of course, are that the former was owned by one guy, Shawn Collins, and the latter was part of a corporate chain.
When we honored Karma as the Best New Nightclub in this year's "Best of St. Louis" issue, we never said it was the most popular one, or the most successful. A result of the recent rock-attendance nosedive, the club's closing is indicative that either the Karma space is cursed -- it was formerly Quazar, formerly the Other World and formerly something else we can't remember before that -- or the scene has no interest in supporting a wonderfully adventurous rock club.
The closing of Karma is a drag, of course, but the ever-grumpy Collins, though obviously disappointed, seems somewhat relieved and puts things in perspective: "I can be making just as much money without owning a club; I can sit around here and watch TV all day and make the same amount of money."
Collins, who used to co-own the Galaxy, says that several factors led to the closing, and he's more than willing to blame a host of people (landlord, asshole neighbor who filed countless noise complaints, even City Museum) for the problems of the now-shuttered club. He seems particularly disgruntled with freshman bands -- those that get gigs and, once booked, simply show up and perform without doing any legwork at all. "I've had bands come in," he says, "and bring nobody with them, not even a girlfriend. They don't do anything -- they don't flier, they don't spread the word, nothing. It's like, if you're going to have a show, you have to work, too. It sucks, and it didn't used to be like that."
Collins notes that the musical landscape has changed in the past few years, but he doesn't understand why: "It used to be that local bands paid their dues and worked their way up to getting a weekend gig, and then they'd pack the place. But you and me could form a band tonight and probably get a weekend gig at a club in town in the next month. I don't know what it is, but it's changed, and people just aren't interested in going out to shows."
One big programming note: The monster rock show scheduled for Karma on Dec. 29 -- Fragile Porcelain Mice, Pave the Rocket and Five Deadly Venoms -- has been moved to the Side Door, on the same date. If you like the big guitars, it'll be worth scurrying your ass over to the show.
St. Louis should be proud, though, that it gave Polly Esther's the boot. The '70s-redux chain -- you know, the one with the Partridge Family bus inside -- was a pock on the booty of Washington. Here's hoping that the owners subdivide the empty space and create a couple of smaller, more adventuresome clubs. Right now the two behemoths -- Velvet and Cheetah -- draw the masses, but what the district could really use is something for the freaks and heads -- something, honestly, that closely resembles Alexis Tucci's valiant effort of a few years back, Kaos. Granted, Kaos didn't fly then (another cursed space?), but that's a long time ago on the club clock. One thing's clear, though: There are enough big clubs on the strip -- and Velvet and Cheetah are good at what they do -- and a few littler ones would be a welcome addition.
Send local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130. E-mail: Radarstation@rftstl.com.