By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
Exciting news for both the indie-rock and jam-band scenes: The late, lamented Side Door is returning, with the goal of bringing the same great music it had before, back when it was the best club in town to see fringe-rock critics' darlings; also reopening is the neo-hippie haven Cicero's, whose thriving jam-band business abruptly ended six months ago when a kitchen fire gutted the building. The Side Door will be reborn later this month, Cicero's on Sept. 5. Radar Station spent countless wonderful evenings at the Side Door but barely any at Cicero's -- although we hope to correct the imbalance next month, when we help judge a jam-band competition. (Yeah, we know: It's a little like asking Adolf Hitler to recite the Kaddish; we're trying to, uh, expand our horizons.)
Rumors that the Side Door was coming back were buzzing around for a week or so before Radar Station confirmed the details. Joy of joys, we learned that the gossip was true: Mike Kociela, formerly of the New World Spirits (a local rock band whose big-deal contract with Universal soured a few years ago), will assume booking responsibilities, and he's setting up dates with an impressive array of interesting indie-rockers and DJs -- including Fantomas, the Arsonists, Fu Manchu, Arab Strap and the Murder City Devils. The adjoining club, Z, once home to disco stalwarts Dr. Zhivegas, will remain open, but it will be devoted entirely to what Kociela calls "straight-up DJs and a cool vibe." The kitchen is kaput (good call -- rock & roll and serious dining seldom mix well), which allows more space for live entertainment. Dr. Zhivegas will still headline the occasional gig but won't be the resident band, as it was when Z took over and the Side Door as we knew and loved it was no more. The fact that the owner (Paul Chickey, of Dr. Zhivegas fame) chose to resurrect the name of the much-missed little rock club bodes well. According to Kociela, it was a "smart marketing move."
Hope springs eternal, but we doom-mongers at Radar Station feel compelled to observe that the Side Door, which closed in July of last year, was hobbling along for some time before it finally collapsed. Despite the fact that former Side Door booking agent Lisa Turallo consistently brought in the best bands in the country, turnout from the fickle indie-rock community was sporadic; suddenly the club shut down one day, leaving patrons shocked and grief-stricken and employees seriously bummed [Randall Roberts, RFT, Aug. 9. 2000]. Inspired lineups, alas, only get you so far in this town, where many prefer to stay home and watch HBO or hit the dance clubs, in which the odds of making a love connection are, perhaps, somewhat greater. This time, though, Kociela thinks the Side Door will work: "It won't differ too much -- it was an excellent venue before -- but it will be more successful. We're putting a really strong promotional team in place, and we're going to choose our acts carefully and work really hard. St. Louis needs a room this size."
If anyone can make it succeed, it just might be Kociela, whose talent-buying smarts were amply demonstrated during his tenure at the Firehouse. In addition to representing local acts Javier Mendoza and Daisy Chain, Kociela recently started his own company, Entertainment St. Louis. "When I worked at the Firehouse, it was a much bigger room, and it was harder to fill; this is smaller, and it's going to be easier," Kociela notes. "I took the Firehouse and made it the No. 1 concert venue in the RFT, beating out Riverport." (He pauses while Radar Station erupts in a mirthless cackle.) "We did some great things over there, and it hit the map nationally," Kociela continues. "That's what I plan to do with the Side Door." We're ecstatic that someone is giving the hallowed space another shot, and we look forward to spending many pleasant hours there in the coming months.
A very impolite friend of Radar Station's once predicted, during a performance by Grandpa's Ghost at the Way Out Club, that in a few years, when our heroes from Pocahontas, Ill., are hitting the jam-band circuit, we'll deny ever liking them. Basically he accused us of faking it, pretending to enjoy ourselves in the hopes that we'd seem all smart and sophisticated, like a Village Voice critic or a record-store clerk. We protested, but he remained unconvinced. Oh well. With Grandpa's Ghost, either you get it or you don't. The ones who get it like it very, very much and stand around slack-jawed while their eardrums implode; the ones who don't get it, well, they make jam-band cracks. At Frederick's Music Lounge recently, Grandpa's Ghost played two discrete shows in a single evening: The first half of the set delivered skewed but hardly mind-bending country-rock; the second half ripped everything apart into radiant, spaced-out, feedback-frazzled shards.
Grandpa's Ghost's brand-new double CD, Stardust & Smog/Early Autumn Waltz (Upland), reveals a similar aesthetic: The first disc is relatively quiet (think Neil Young's Harvest), with a pretty, stoned-immaculate kind of feel; the second is a relentless, chaotic, glorious freakfest (check out guest vocalist Spitzie Q. West, of Sexicolor, in the warped-country duet "Let It Hang," a song as psychotic as it is rocking). Radar Station urges you to buy this CD on Oct. 2, its official release date: Either you'll understand immediately why RFT readers awarded Grandpa's Ghost a Slammy this year in the Best Eclectic/Uncategorizable category, why critics gush and retail geeks swoon -- or you'll think we're a bunch of pretentious saps. You'll be right either way, probably.