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Monday, July 16, 2007

Thing 50: 9:30 Club

Stimulant and sedative
Original, repetitive
Violently competitive
A school unaccredited

Along with such venues as Wolf Trap or the Uptown, the 9:30 Club is one of those places that is so laced with memories that everything I see there is enhanced and made richer by all those that came before.

When I first started going to the 9:30 Club, U Street was a scary place, and my Foggy Bottom-centric college self didn’t realize that the club was a short cab ride or an easy walk back to campus. I remember leaving the Guster concert before the encore to be sure that I could catch the last train before midnight.

I’ve seen George Clinton there. Twice. The first time was with Gina, and after a round of green tinted mystery cocktails from the now-defunct Peppers, we arrived at the 9:30 Club and hung out towards the back waiting for George to take to the stage. An old, busted-looking man approached Gina and told her he was in the band and could he buy her a drink. We laughed and rolled our eyes. An hour or so later, when the band took to the stage, we realized he had been telling the truth. Gina and I still kick ourselves about missing the chance to hang out on the bus with the Parliament Funkadelic.

The second time seeing George Clinton, after a round or two of Wild Turkey, one of my friends spent the night dancing with a man in a full body condom, and then we all rendez-vous’d at Ben’s Chili Bowl afterwards for some chili cheese fries. But not before said friend attempted to ride the pig statue on U Street, and ended up lying face up on the sidewalk.

I have seen Justin Timberlake live at the 9:30 Club, where I witnessed a friend (who shall remain anonymous as I do not care to publicly shame her in this venue, but you know who you are) who I never ever thought would do this, scream like a pre-teen girl, and then cry when Justin started singing. Weep. As if it were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I have seen the Charlatans there, going by myself because no one else had heard of them, and yet they are still one of my favorite bands from the time when I lived in England. I learned about the show the morning of, and rather than go with someone who wasn’t familiar with the group, or not go at all, I waltzed up to the box office that night and bought a ticket for one. And enjoyed every British, tight-jeaned, floppy-haired, harmonica-filled minute of it.

And I have seen Mos Def there. Twice, now. Mos came back to the 9:30 Club on Saturday night. I had gone to see him last time he came to town, back in early 2005, one of the first things I did after getting back into town after being away during the election cycle. I had bought Mos’ latest album at that time, The New Danger, while stressed out and working in Florida, and had listened to it on repeat driving back to this District after the heartbreak of losing a national election.

I’m like the second plane that made the towers face off
That s**t that let you know it’s really not a game, dog
Your grind and my grind ain’t the same, dog
I’m the catalog
You the same song

I love Mos Def. Hip hop artist, poet, actor, and just incredibly handsome and brilliant, he keeps me entertained in all his endeavors. And on Saturday, there he was in that little venue, not 10 yards away, in his white t-shirt, sunglasses and shaved head. Dancing and rhyming and cracking jokes. “You ever been in love with someone you don’t even like?” he asked, before launching into “U R The One”. Accompanied by two men on turntables, Mos went through a 90 minute set that included a nice balance of his old and his new, as well as paying homage to some of the old school artists that came before him and of course a shout out to Talib Kweli and Blackstar.

Of course, the beauty (and the beast) of 9:30 Club is that there are no seats. And the venue is small enough that you’re never particularly far away from the stage, you just need to angle yourself correctly for a clear view. If you are short like me, that tends to mean being on tip toe and leaning lightly on strangers for balance. The rest of the time, we were drinking Miller Lites and dancing, singing and laughing along with Mos.

The 9:30 Club excels at putting independent artists into a personalized setting where you can really hear the music and enjoy the band. And while Mos Def is hardly independent any more, and certainly not Justin Timberlake, it remains an intimate setting to see some really top quality headlining acts. Go go go, and make your own set of memories with the place and the people who play there.