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Raising the Ceiling

The Tin Ceiling looks for ways to thrive, not just survive

A couple of weeks back, scenesters lamented what appeared to be the imminent demise of the Tin Ceiling, recently anointed "Best All-Ages Anarchist Collective Reopened Under New Management" by the RFT in the "Best of St. Louis" issue [Sept. 26]. The improbable little indie-rock and live-theater venue, nestled between Hanneke Hardware and tidy rows of bungalows on the margins of the conservative Hill neighborhood, was once home to punk-rock art gallery Centro Sociale.

Sadly, the Centro went under a year or so ago, when members of the collective couldn't get their collective shit together. (In their defense, they were anarchists; moreover, they had a lot to deal with -- crabby neighbors, outrageous demands from the Man, apathy and dissension within their own ranks.) Tin Ceiling staff -- manager Robin Garrels, general manager Robert Strasser and rock-show booker/sometime director Scott Dorough -- admired what the Centro folk had put in motion and decided to take the club to the next level, installing a resident theater group, Parliament Cheez, which brought new, original plays to the humble storefront. Things seemed to be working out well, until a pissed-off neighbor called the fire department, which informed Tin Ceiling employees that they didn't have a permit for assembly, just a general mercantile permit. The timing was bad -- Parliament Cheez is in the middle of a theater run -- but not as bad as it might have been. The Tin Ceiling crew was planning to move soon anyway, when the lease expires in December. In the meantime, all they could hope for was a decent compromise. "It's become clear to us that the neighborhood just isn't geared toward what we're doing," Dorough explains. "This was just a big shock, because I had my play in the middle of its run, and we had hella shows booked."

Fortunately, after seeing that a wall had been removed to make room for a stage, the fire marshal increased the Tin Ceiling's occupancy from 30 to 40 people (excluding performers and staff), which allows the rock shows and plays to go on as scheduled. "Our actual maximum occupancy was only 50 or so, so it's not that big of a loss," Dorough says. "I just wanted to hold off for a couple of months, until our lease was up. We're looking at some spaces right now, but nothing is definite. We're trying to find someone who'd be cool with what we're doing, who'd let us do what we want with the place and wouldn't mind our having shows at night. We'd like to find a neighborhood that's a little more receptive."

Speaking of receptive neighborhoods, the western edge of the city of St. Louis isn't, at least when it comes to hip-hop. A few months ago [July 4], Radar Station raved about the weekly hip-hop open-mic held Monday nights at the Hi-Pointe. Prefaced by inspired sets of turntable wizardry from Slammies champ/Q95.5 personality Charlie Chan and the prodigious DJ K-9, the freestyle sessions were not only hugely entertaining (rather like a bawdier, more happening Gong Show) but also remarkably civilized. Alas and alack, a few bad apples ruined the joint: Hi-Pointe management canceled the popular affair after a few obstreperous patrons decided to vandalize the Amoco station across the street. Fortunately, Chan and crew have found another spot for the Monday-night open-mic: the Z Club/Side Door complex. When owner Paul Chickey learned that the open-mic needed a new home, he decided to give it a shot. "It's been pretty cool so far," Chickey says. "We haven't had crazy crowds, and we're trying to be pretty vigilant, keeping things under control. Like any other crowd, there are a few people trying to be defiant, but for the most part, people hang out, do their thing and leave -- like any other night."

Chickey hopes that by augmenting club security with a secondary unit from the police force, he'll be able to keep the crowd from getting too frisky and area residents from getting too freaked. "We have a neighbor who's not too happy with the idea of a club being there, period," Chickey admits. "It's very seldom that our decibel level exceeds what the injunction permits, but whenever there's too much noise, she gets upset. The first night we did it, her neighbor's car got stolen. She tried to link it to the hip-hop night, asking us whether we thought it was a coincidence, and I said I thought it was just a coincidence." Kudos to Chickey for giving the fantastic open-mic another chance. Let's hope a minority of assholes doesn't fuck it up.


A few quick endorsements: Joshua Weinstein, of the eclectic jazz show All Soul, No Borders (KDHX, 88.1 FM), will interview saxophonist David S. Ware on Thursday, Oct. 25, sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. Described by Village Voice critic Gary Giddins as "the best small band in jazz today," the quartet has a new album out, titled Corridors and Parallels.

Bluegrass aficionados should head down to the Tap Room on Sunday, Oct. 28, where a special benefit will be held from 2-6 p.m. The Flying Mules, Doghouse, the Smokehouse All-Stars and Lonesome Pines will perform; there will also be a silent auction featuring items donated by St. Louis musicians and fans. All proceeds benefit the families of fallen firefighters in NYC.

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