We love the 9:30 Club, and we’re pretty sure most GoDCers do as well. How many concerts, big and small, have you seen there? The old venue at 930 F St. NW and the current one at 815 V St. NW have played such an integral role in the music history of this city that n conversation about the cultural history of this city is complete without mentioning the 9:30.
A small club was born in the early 80s, fostering a thriving local punk scene, evolving to host the grunge bands of the 90s (i.e., Nirvana and Pearl Jam). The current incarnation, has seen the likes of James Brown, Tori Amos, Trey Anastasio, Wilco, The Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, The Black Crowes, Lou Reed, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blues Traveler, Primus, My Morning Jacket and hundreds more grace their stage to nights of packed shows.
It’s nearly impossible to pick only three shows to feature here, but we’ve selected three big and memorable shows to share with the GoDC community. Many of you, I’m sure, were at one of these shows.
Opening Night: The Smashing Pumpkins
The 9:30 Club was officially taking over the old WUST Radio Music Hall space to kick off 1996 with an opening, headlined by The Smashing Pumpkins. This was a big deal. This was a huge deal, because this was a band on top of the music world at the time.
They exploded in popularity with Siamese Dream in 1993 and were coming off the monster success of their double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. On Friday, January 5th, 1996, the band was in town to inaugurate the city’s newly renovated music venue at 815 V St. NW.
The Washington Post’s Mark Jenkins had a slightly less than favorable write-up of the official opening night of the new 9:30 Club.
Both the Smashing Pumpkins and the 9:30 club were on their best behavior last night, the first evening the newly relocated venue was open to the public. As expected, though, the club proved more interesting than the band.
Playing from 9 p.m. to nearly midnight with only one short break, the band turned its performance into an endurance contest. “We’re not tired,” boasted Corgan during the second set of encores. The Pumpkins started with an “acoustic” set that featurd the band members sitting down and wearing pajamas. This part of the show enabled the group to dispense some of its older material, notably “Today,” which the audience happily turned into a sing-along. It also made clear, however, that Corgan’s thin, raspy voice is not well served by being so exposed. (For what it’s worth, guitarist James Iha sounded even shakier when he took the mike.) This set, during which most of the band members played electric instrucments, ended with Corgan also plugged in (and standing up).
Okay, so WaPo didn’t like the show. But, I’m sure this was a pretty fun one to be at … and also one of those “I was there” moments to talk about with your friends. Not only because it was The Smashing Pumpkins and the opening night of the new venue, but the second night of their run was the first night of the epic 1996 snowstorm (aka, Snowpocalypse 1.0 for those of you who remember 2010).
Our friend Lisa White, the 9:30 Club’s music booker, recalled the sense of anxiety that pervaded the club’s staff as the band was wrapping up it’s final set. The entire region knew what was coming and was bracing for the worst storm in decades. The race was on after the show to pack everything up and get the band out before the city faced white-out conditions and was covered in snow.
The Tuesday after their weekend shows, the Might Might Bosstones played the club, with the entire city blanketed by two feet of wet snow.
Thanks to YouTube, here is a video of the January 6th 9:30 Club show. Setlist.fm has the setlists available for both January 5th and January 6th, if you want to check those out.
This wasn’t the first, nor the only time they played the venue. On Friday, February 15th, 1991, they played the club’s old location on F St. with Mother May I and Special K. Bad Religion followed up the next night and Gwar on Monday night! Who doesn’t love Gwar?
The Smashing Pumpkins were back at the club that July too, with tickets costing only $5. I’m sure they never would have predicted rocketing to monster band status and opening the new 9:30 Club in less than five years.
Radiohead, Michael Stipe … Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt
Two dozen bands were in town back in June 1996, the summer of the Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium. If you lived in the area at the time, you will remember that this was a huge deal. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, R.E.M., Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam … a seriously awesome lineup for two days of music. Unfortunately, one of the days was cut short because of a lightning storm that injured 11 fans. In total, about 130,000 fans attended the concert at RFK.
That night, for a small number of lucky ticket holders, a surprise concert was given at the 9:30 Club by Radiohead with a guest appearance by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Two of the lucky attendees in the VIP section that night were Jennifer Aniston and her beau, Brad Pitt.
Check out this video from the following day. Radiohead plays “Lucky” on stage with Michael Stipe at the second day of the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
The legend was in town in 1997 to be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors (watch Paul McCartney receive his). But before he received his prestigious award, he played two nights at the 9:30 Club, Thursday, December 4th and Friday 5th.
Dylan seemed to be far more comfortable on stage at the 9:30 Club than receiving his award at the Kennedy Center. The Post gave a great review of the Thursday night performance.
When Bob Dylan went rumbling down “Highway 61 Revisited” at the 9:30 club Thursday night, he did so full throttle, his four-piece band a souped-up Humvee and Dylan himself as fueled and ready to go as he’s been in two decades. Dylan may be receiving a Kennedy Center Honor tomorrow, but he came to the 9:30 as a working musician, not a legend, and seemed particularly thrilled to be fronting a rock-and-roll band.
Indeed, Dylan appeared to be having the time of his life, taking long, loping leads in most of the 15 songs he performed over two hours, and clearly relishing the interaction with the capacity crowd, which stood transfixed, hardly believing its good fortune in catching Bob Dylan up close and personal. A few times, Dylan actually smiled.
Stepping onto the 9:30 stage in a gray suit with tuxedo-striped pants and a western hat, the 56-year-old Dylan looked like Hank Williams and other country stars of the ’50s. When he played guitar, particularly electric, his feet would slip and slide, and he’d bob and weave with the supple rock-and-roll pleasure of a Carl Perkins. And when Dylan sang, it was with familiar raspy-voiced conviction, even on those occasions when it took a verse or two to figure exactly what song he was performing.
So there you have it. Three memorable concerts from the city’s hub of music history and culture.