Remembering The Conservatory…

Cheap machine-made fog formed a whispy haze that lingered around the middle of the room, and that was the least disorienting part of stepping into the 89th Street Collective for the first time. Walls were knocked down, the stage was moved– it was like going into your childhood home and the new owners put a Jacuzzi in your bedroom.

All of the changes seemed to be for the better. There’s more floor space and a larger stage, the PA system sounded great, and they built an enclosed patio out back for us dirtbag smokers. But there are a few things that never changed, and that’s what brought out the nostalgia kick in me.

I tried to order a cheap beer and a shot, but was swiftly informed “No liquor!” It was Tafv behind the bar, who served me Lost Lakes and rotgut whiskey a decade-plus ago in the same venue. The bathroom, which was once given the dubious award of being the most disgusting club restroom in the country, was still a warm and cramped sauna of piss, one I had to uncomfortably share with a man made of all whirling elbows in his attempts to change into the black band t-shirt he just purchased from the merch table.

The headlining band was Daughters, a band I hadn’t seen since 2006, when they played in this same room when it was known as The Conservatory. It was a decent crowd then, but Sunday night was sold out, a blend of younger people who I’ve never seen in my life but probably go to shows every other night, and a bunch of people who I saw in 2006 on a regular basis who probably go to shows every other month, if that.

During the opening acts, I passed the time how I did at so many Conservatory (and Green Door) shows: smoking with friends outside. At least now there was a little fenced-in patio out back, which beats being clustered upon the front entrance on a section of North Western that is most heard about on police blotter. Same ol’ buds from back in the day, but we all have less hair or more weight, less time and more problems.

I played a lot of shows in that room, some I’m proud of and some I’m not. Opening for Lightning Bolt is a high-point in my life, but at the opposite end was when, just after starting to date this girl, she came to see me in some ridiculously awful two-piece noise band. She left right after we played, never really talked to me anymore after that, and went on to marry a son of a former mayor. So it goes. There was also the time- different night, different two-piece noise band- when I sliced my hand open during a particularly violent performance. I went to the bar after our set and Jim was working the bar. As a former Marine, he had first-aid experience. “Hold your hand out,” he said, then poured vodka onto my bloody wound. “That should help, maybe cauterize it with a lighter.” The cut never got infected, and healed quickly. Jim is a miracle man.

The better memories are the shows I simply attended in that room. Maybe the top is when Mono came through OKC for the first time in 2004. They were an instrumental band from Japan that had no draw. Like, we’re talking about 30 people or less in the room. Their performance was so powerful that the next tour Mono came through, word-of-mouth from the devotees filled up The Conservatory.

Thinking back even further, there was that weird and dirty golden era, just after the club had passed from the infamous Green Door. In those early days, The Conservatory didn’t have any kind of liquor license and it was BYOB. It felt like this grimy and barren punk rock wild west, when they were booking all these crusty thrash punk and hardcore bands, and us stinky college kids would show up with a case of Keystones looking to party. During one of those shows, I think it was Crippled Bastards, an Italian grind band, one of the singers dumped out a trash bin full of empty beer cans and just rolled around in the big Rubbermaid barrel as a way to close the set.

While Daughters was playing at the 89th Street Collective last Sunday night, I was entranced. Their intensity and volume crushed the room. I stood towards the middle, just close enough to feel the sweat from the younger people at the front of the stage who were dancing and swaying, shouting along the lyrics and waving their hands in the air to the support the oft-crowd surfing singer of the band. My mind kept drifting back to the old days of hanging out with Gianni or Dustin at the door, or other scene friends in between sets.

Even though it’s been over four years since The Conservatory closed, it had been plenty more since I was a regular. Stepping into that same room Sunday night, seeing all the old faces again, reminded me of a dumb Bob Seger song. I guess there’s a dumb Bob Seger song for every emotion…