Starting in 1984 or ’85 and running through the late 80s, it was something I almost never missed on Tuesday nights. It was Club Degenerate held at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub: First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry.
1983 to 1986 were my art school years. It was a time of intense study and effort to improve my artistic skills, but it was also a time to shed some of that high school conformity and unleash my inner weirdo. (Truth be told, I was pretty weird throughout my entire schooling and even since then.) It was also a time of my learning about all that alternative music that couldn’t be found on the radio. At least, not in our market. Not every metro area of the country was fortunate enough to have a KROQ.
Minneapolis was alive with a thriving, vibrant local music scene. Sure, there was Prince and his spin off bands and proteges, but there were dozens of punk, post-punk, alt rock, Goth, new wave, no wave, neo-psychedelic, avant garde, garage and what have you bands playing the clubs of Minneapolis. It was an exciting time.
Incidentally, I hear every now and then the host of a hugely popular podcast remark about how excellent the music scene in Minneapolis is today. He’ll compare it to Austin of today and Seattle of the ’90s. I grind my teeth just a little as he is apparently ignorant of the music scene of Minneapolis of the late ’70s and through the ’80s. Hey, man! Minneapolis was Seattle before Seattle was Seattle!
He’s a West Coast guy and he hates Prince. Oh, well.
So, it was ’84 or ’85, I was in lettering class, I think, when my friend and fellow art student, Troy, excitedly talked to the group he and I hung with about going to First Avenue for something called Club Degenerate that coming Sunday (Club Degenerate was held on Sundays for a month or so, before moving to Tuesdays). Troy said it would be a night of DJ spun music filled with the bands we liked!
So, I got my friend John interested in going. John was a friend from high school with whom I had seen The Who for the first time. He and I had become huge Who fans and that interest partially lead us to discovering the joys of punk rock. My attending art school also helped in that discovery. He liked that music too, so he joined the group heading to First Avenue.
John and I had been to First Avenue a couple times for concerts by then, but we didn’t feel like owned the place. Yet.
Club Degenerate was the brainchild of First Avenue DJ Kevin Cole. He had (probably still does) a deep knowledge of music. And he had a strong feel for what was hip and interesting. He’d play loads of the new, alternative stuff, but he’d also play the roots of that music. T Rex, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop were all liberally folded into the mix. As were songs by ABBA, Nancy Sinatra, The Jackson 5. Whatever struck Cole’s fancy. And he made it all work. Most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.
The night might also feature a cameo appearance by a local artist or two. I can recall seeing The Magnolias play a three of four song set once. There was even a cameo by a very early version of Babes In Toyland with their original lead singer, Cindy Russell, who was also a regular of the Tuesday night tradition and became a friend to John and me. (Steve Albini, record producer and, in those days, member of the band Big Black recommended Russell be ousted, because her vocals didn’t quite fit.)
There might be some kind of performance art piece or dance routine. There would even be nights when the normal programming would be preempted and a guest artist would perform a full concert. Skinny Puppy was one such act. As was The Cramps with their opening act: The super-awesome, criminally over-looked, Screaming Blue Messiahs.
But, by far, our favorite act to make frequent welcome intrusions into our Club D was The F—in’ S— Biscuits. The Biscuits were a bunch of dudes who we were never sure could even play their instruments. Their music was loud and brash and sloppy. Their stage shows had their share of nudity and vulgarity and were also sloppy, because, there was free beer!
As the screen at the front of the stage came up to reveal The Biscuits, lined up along the front of the stage were several plastic cups of tap beer. The lead singer (or should I say lead howler?) would let us know there was free beer, so come and get it. That led to the throwing of said beers. At the band. They would be absolutely soaked with beer by the end of their twenty minute set, which would also mess up the floor for dancing. Normally, that would piss John and me off, but after the fun of The Biscuits we just didn’t care.
Oh, there’s more to tell. Tune in next week for part two of my tales of Club Degenerate.
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