Monday, November 17, 2008

The Forgotten Punk Clubs Of Springfield

Take a trip with me, friends, back to Springfield, Mo in the 1990’s. Being a college town, the city of course boasted a multitude of watering holes offering stale, conventional rock bands playing to equally uninspiring audiences. But under the nose of the unsuspecting town a seething cauldron of punk rock mayhem festered and thrived in a series of under the radar (and for the most part illegal) rock venues. Here’s a description of some of the most notorious spots and photos of their current condition:

The Commercial Street Club

This club was originally run by an old-time punker named Frank, and was later passed on to Dave, the vocalist of Now or Never. Situated in the Commercial Street community building, it operated from circa 1988-1992. Some fairly big acts like Clutch played there. Ironically (or maybe appropriately) the space now serves as a substation for the Springfield Police Department.

The Pink House

The Pink House was the residence of Mitch (now Midge), singer and bass player of Boring Dog Cheese Guard. The place was a mess, an old shack-style house on the west side of town that seemed to constantly be on the verge of falling down. Mitch let various bands use the place as a practice space, recording studio, and occasional venue. I remember one memorable show on a Labor Day (I think it was 1994). Disarm set up their gear and started to play at full volume on the front porch of the house. Not surprisingly, the neighbors called called the police, no doubt frightened by the large group of punks and skinheads congregating in the front yard as well as the sonic chaos that was Disarm. Midge no longer lives there, and it looks as though the house has been pretty heavily renovated, with aluminum siding now covering the striking pink paint job of the old exterior.


Culley’s was a shithole of a bar just off the downtown square that occasionally hosted punk shows. Grout played there quite a bit in the late 1990’s. It eventually became a favorite hangout of the local Nazi skinhead crew. From what I understand, a wall collapsed inside the place a while ago, and the owner felt it wasn’t worth repairing. The place is still shuttered today.

Harper’s Bizarre

Maybe the most infamous club in Springfield’s sordid punk history. It operated out of an old storefront on the corner of Dale and National in north Springfield for about eight months around 1996-1997. The venue had a bad rep as a violent place that was not undeserved-I personally saw several people get hurt there bad enough to warrant emergency room trips. To make matters worse, the band Violent Karma practiced there, and brought their drunken skinhead friends with them. Negativity aside, there were several great shows there, among them bills featuring Naked Aggression, Earth Crisis, and Mustard Plug. The place eventually shut down due to lack of heat (the owner wouldn’t fix the gas pipes). In another bit of irony, the space is occupied today by the Nu-Brew coffeehouse, which is a church/Christian rock venue.

The Looney Bin

Probably the overall best space ever occupied by a Springfield punk club, the Looney Bin was located in a storefront on Commercial street, a couple of blocks down from the old Commercial Street Club. It was a huge space, with a loading dock in back and no neighbors nearby to call the cops. It was open for about a year from around 1998-1999, and had a couple of great shows. Today it’s a used furniture store.

The 423 Club

This club was run by some people from the band Thee Fine Lines, who had also been involved in running the Looney Bin. It was open from about 1999-2001. Its name was a bit of a misnomer, as the address was in fact 425 Walnut St. rather than 423. The downtown club was well run, and got some big acts in as well as serving as a venue for some lefty political meetings. There were plans to try to get a federal loan and turn the place into a youth community center, but they fell through and the space is currently vacant.

Last year, the voters of Springfield approved an ordinance banning persons under 21 from any establishment that makes the majority of its money from liquor sales. That, plus a lack of a viable all-ages venue makes booking shows difficult. Today punk shows in Springfield are few and far between, with many of them happening at Billiard’s, a downtown bar that is willing to rent its back room.

There were also a bunch of fly by night punk-friendly clubs in Joplin (Culture Shock, the Dead Cowboy, the Warehouse, Better Than Bemo’s, etc.) as well as some in far-flung places like Ft. Smith, Fayetteville, and Pittsburg, KS. But somebody who knew those places better than I will have to write a history for them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ozark Punk Rock Gets Mainstream Coverage

Music writer Ben Westhoff has written a pretty good intro article on the old Ozark punk scene for the Crawdaddy website. (Crawdaddy, for those of you who don’t know, was one of the first rock n’ roll magazines. It preceded both Rolling Stone and Creem. It now exists only online.) I’m quoted quite liberally in the piece, as are several other persons involved with the scene. This humble blog is also mentioned. Check it out.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Aleatoric-To The Celebration Of All Slain Hope CD-R And Forever Yours 7”

As the Ozark punk scene declined in the late 1990’s, kids who might have been punks in previous years went instead to the hardcore and emo scenes. The Aleatoric was the best band to come out of this emocore movement in Springfield at that time, and they developed quite a following during their brief existence. Formed by two former members of the Springfield punk act the Fremen, the Aleatoric was greatly inspired by the chaotic, heavy metalish band The Dillinger Escape Plan. Their shows featured a double-guitar assault coupled with the screeching vocals of their bass player Josh and some great drumming courtesy of Nate. Their fan base was very devoted: rather than slamming, they tended to engage in sort of a free-form dace expression, including the occasional cartwheel. I remember the vibe at their shows was much more mellow and friendly than at the average Springfield punk show at the time. They released the ponderously titled To The Celebration Of All Slain Hope CD-R in 2001. Shortly thereafter they added co-vocalist Eric to the mix and recorded the Forever Yours 7” in 2002. The record was co-released by Fortuna per Letum out of Virginia and Holy Fury Records in France. The band broke up not long after the record’s release.

To The Celebration Of All Slain Hope CD-R

1. Melvin Udal
2. Strapped To A Track
3. Subtle Reversements

Forever Yours 7”

1. Let The Devil Wear Black
2. For My Farewell
3. Subtle Reversements