I found a variation of it somewhere up in the far-flung north, but as much as I’d like to bore you with tales of wild dolphin trekking offshore in the sun-baked Bay of Plenty, this is a pop culture blog, dammit. Suffice to say the blog has been neglected while your blogger attempted to recover from such wanton pursuit of “rest”.
So before any of that, there was the small matter of a New Year’s Eve gig to attend – a party to say farewell to the iconic Wellington venue San Francisco Bath House, which officially closed its doors in the wee small hours of January 1 2014. I just couldn’t let the passing of the venue go undocumented on everythingsgonegreen – aside from Bar Bodega (old and new versions thereof), I’ve probably spent more post-millennium drinking hours at SFBH than I have at any other establishment. But I try not to think too hard about that, and neither should you (Mum). So I have to say my piece on its closure if only to sate some kind of weird need to do so purely for posterity purposes.
I’ve blogged about SFBH before and it seemed appropriate that the subject of that blog, DJ Bill E, was on hand to help give it a proper send off by way of his annual NYE bash ‘Hang The DJ’ – which combines the Eighties aesthetic of ‘Atomic’ with the more (or less) contemporary hue of ‘24 Hour Party People’. And it was equally fitting that the Phoenix Foundation, another iconic Wellington staple, opened proceedings … a band with plenty of “previous” at the venue.
I know New Year is a special night on the party calendar, but the first thing that struck me was just how crowded the venue was on the night. I’ve been to a lot of ‘Atomic’ nights up there over the years (less so the past two years), plus a fair few ‘24 Hour Party People’ nights, and plenty of other gigs as well, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it so busy up there. There’s no doubt the band brought its own following, and there were a lot of old faces I hadn’t seen for a while. It all made for a pretty special gig.
The Phoenix Foundation kicked things off early on, before 10pm. There were a few songs I couldn’t quite place in my vodka-induced haze, but the core of the set – the likes of ‘Walking In The Rain’, ‘Buffalo’, and ‘Sideways Glance’ – was well worth the price of admission alone. The band’s take on ‘Walking In The Rain’ is one of the most twisted Grace Jones live cover versions going, and the weird processed vocals give it a sleazier, even more decadent feel than that of the original … if that’s actually possible.
The brand new song, ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ was another attention grabber, before the set concluded amid a crescendo of squally guitar and other psychedelic nonsense, the band building to its all-hands-to-the-pump wig-out best on the closing couple of “songs”, most notably Fandango’s monster jam, ‘Friendly Society’.
A typically loose and infectious Phoenix Foundation set was the perfect way for SFBH to rock out on its final night, and a great way to see off another calendar year.
From there DJ Bill E and his ‘Hang The DJ’ time machine took us all the way into 2014 and beyond. I thought our man called it pretty shrewdly early on in his set, dropping a couple of Kiwi music classics with The Clean’s ‘Anything Could Happen’ and Coconut Rough’s irrepressible ‘Sierra Leone’ to help generate a second wind amongst the strong local muso contingent and older sections of the spillover crowd still dazed from the band’s onslaught.
The DJ remained meticulous in his selections well into the wee smalls, and the dancefloor was packed to overflowing for much of the night … or at the very least until sometime after 1.30am when your blogger and his dance partner said goodbye to a special venue one last time. Our cross-town post-gig scout around revealed a paucity of anything remotely close to the vibe of SFBH, as it so often has in the past, and Wellington nightlife will be very much poorer for its absence.
One story I’ve heard is that a refurbished premises will return as a “jazz bar”, whatever that actually means, but I can’t account for the veracity of its source. That particular Cuba Street site has a long and illustrious history (read dubious) … it had links with the capital’s red light scene – various incarnations and uses – for many years in the Seventies through to the mid-Eighties. I first encountered the premises as a cave-like club around 1989, early 1990, as a venue known as The Sub Club, a short-lived yet hugely popular Thursday - or was it Sunday? - night scene catering to the first waves of Techno and Acid House. From there it underwent various states of refurbishment, re-emerging as a player on the live circuit in the Nineties as Indigo, before eventually evolving into SFBH roughly a decade ago.
In another development, it turns out that a second iconic Cuba Street venue is set to close, this coming May, with the owners of Mighty Mighty this week announcing that the bar has also run its course. The “four month closing party” commenced in earnest on Friday night (just gone) with a three-pronged gig featuring “bigger-in-Portland” local darkwave duo Black City Lights. I was lucky enough to make it down to Mighty Mighty for that – so I’ll do a quick review of that set for everythingsgonegreen at some point in the next week or so.