Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe Turns 20, Neumos Turns 10
by Emily Nokes
Before Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood became crowded with fedora jerks and and fusion noodle condo hybrids, there was a magical venue called Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe, out in the middle of nowhere. The year was 1994—a good time for music, and an especially good time for music in Seattle. Indie bands were playing, and people actually wanted to hear them; national and global acts were touring and actually wanted to stop in Seattle.
There was a high demand for music, and Moe's had perfect timing, opening a venue in a non-downtown neighborhood that hosted the thriving local acts, but also prided themselves in pulling off inconceivably big shows with megastars. Yes, Neil Young played there with Pearl Jam. Portishead, the Flaming Lips, Radiohead, the list goes on and on. There was nothing like it—a medium-sized venue determined to offer the sound, lights, and hospitality of a stadium several times its size, in a neighborhood where nothing was happening yet. The staff loved to be there, the bands loved to be there, so you loved to be there, too.
Moe's reign lasted only four short years (27 in human rock-star years), but its legacy lives on not only in its later reincarnation of Neumos, but in that tight-knit music community that has helped shape this city's music scene for the last two decades.
In anticipation of the Moe's 20/Neumos 10 Anniversary, I talked to a few folks who owned, worked at, played, hung out at, lived in, and/or appreciated Moe's during its heyday. Read it and weep, current hill dweller.
When and why did you buy Moe's? There were three of us—Graham Graham, Eric Shirley, and myself—who were part of the core team that started the Crocodile. We split with Stephanie [Dorgan] in 1992 and started working on a deal with the Salvation Army, who were in the building at the time, to move them down the street. It took us until about the middle of 1993 to actually get the building, and from May '93 until January '94 to build the space out. We did a lot of it by ourselves. We opened for our first private show on January 26, 1994, with Tiny Hat Orchestra. Kelly Berry was in that band, and he designed our original sound system and ran Moe's sound—he still owns all of the Neumos sound equipment, and he's actually Mudhoney's sound engineer for live shows. Our first public show was January 27, and we were off and running from there.
What was the first public show? This is how bad my memory is [laughs], but I'm pretty sure it was Love Battery.
So before you were doing Moe's, you were doing the Crocodile. What were you doing before that? I was a lawyer. That's how Stephanie and I knew each other. We were both in our second year out of law school at a big downtown law firm when we got the crazy idea to open up a club that had hard alcohol and live music in it. Everyone was whining—why can't Seattle be a normal town where you can go and see a show and have a cocktail? Why do I have to only have beer?
So were you a big music fan before you decided to open a club, or did you just learn as you went? I learned as I went, for sure. We both could see that something was happening in Seattle—we'd go out to shows, and it was a great scene. We met Graham Graham when he was installing art at the law firm. He designed out the original Crocodile and then he came up to Moe's with me and designed Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe.
And didn't you live above the venue? Or inside the venue somewhere? I lived below the mosh pit is where I lived [laughs]. I had a house on Vashon, but it quickly came to the point where... well, backing up to the liquor laws at the time: So back then, 20 percent of your revenue had to come from food, and 60 percent of your space had to be dedicated to the restaurant, because you technically couldn't serve alcohol except as incident to a meal. So I had to run an operation where we served breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, and we did food catering for all the festivals—Endfest and all that—to get our food sales up to compensate for the alcohol sales at the shows. It quickly turned into a thing where I had to be there all the time. It was opening at 7 in the morning, and the last people were leaving at 3 at night, so I built out a little space behind my office, and it happened to be right under the mosh pit. You could see the ceiling flex during shows [laughs].
What were some of the most memorable shows? Everyone always goes right to the Neil Young show, and that was huge for me, having Neil Young play with the guys from Pearl Jam. But then there were things like the first time No Doubt came through. It was a Tuesday and I think there were 10 people at the show, before anyone knew who they were. I remember hanging out with them afterward, talking about how it sucks to play to 10 people but that "it's going to be so much better next time." [Laughs]
There was the Flaming Lips show. Their light system was designed for much bigger venues. We had to rent two generators just to power the lights! They started with "Turn It On," and the lights were dim, and then they went on and thousands and thousands of those little LED lights lit up all at once—it was just like a total visual assault. It was awesome.
Whoa. What was the capacity at Moe's? Well, it was 500.
That's so small for those giant shows! Oh I know, I know! And for a while there, this was probably '95 or '96, it sort of became this thing where if you were a European band, and you wanted to make it big in the US, you started in Seattle and you started at Moe's. So we had bands like Bush and Radiohead and Oasis—bands like that who were big in Britain and used to playing giant stadiums—and at first, they were really taken aback. I remember Gavin [Rossdale] just talking with such disdain like, [in a goofy British accent] "You know, we play giant arenas." [Laughs] Just going on and being so offended, but by the time they were done, having a great time.
It was great to have all those big underplays, but I really loved having the local bands. Like the Presidents [of the United States of America]. The Moe arc was similar to the arc of their band, their first iteration. Jason Finn did local booking for us, and [his band] the Presidents would play. It was always just so much fun. And bouncy—a contrast to the other stuff that was happening there at the time.
I heard you were really good at fulfilling rider requests. Even the most extreme ones. Oh yeah! We wanted to make Moe's a place where when bands come through, they'd think, "This is the best place for us." Not only did we have a good sound system and all that, but we built up three green rooms in the basement, we had showers, we really focused on getting good food. That was a big focal point for us—having a great space for the bands and making them really feel important. So whenever we'd get rider requests, we would try and come up with some way to exceed expectations. I guess one of the best was Alice Donut's rider, at the very bottom, it gave you a choice of something "or a Gravitron," and we were like, "What the hell's a Gravitron?" And clearly it was a joke, but underneath the stage—and it's still there, you can see the painted polka dots in the closet there—we took the closet, painted it all up, and hung a chair in there on surgical tubing so it would bounce up and down. It was the antigravity room. That became the great, epic thing—all the bands would talk about it and say, "We heard you have a Gravitron. Where's the Gravitron?" [Laughs]
When and why did Moe's close? And then how did Neumos come about? The last shows were in June of 1998. There was a little bit of drama around that, but we were just cranking along, and I was feeling burned-out personally, and the music scene was changing. Bands like Soundgarden were breaking up, and what was really popular was stuff coming out of the rave culture—all the electronic music. There was a group in town called Tasty Shows—Alex Calderwood, who recently passed, and Jared Harler—doing shows at Moe's. They did Spice, which was every Sunday night, and they'd pack it out. It was much more electronic, dance, sort of ecstasy-focused [laughs], for lack of a better word. That was getting more and more popular, and the live indie-rock thing was going through a post-hype crash, and it just felt like it was time to make a move and basically get out of the basement and have a real life [laughs]. And I'd met my wife by then. It was probably a year after I'd met her, and I had not been at Moe's for one night, and she said, "This is the first night you haven't been at Moe's," and I was like, [groaning] "You're right."
The Tasty guys had bought the building where Sam's Tavern is now, with Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop, but the seismic requirements made it impossible for them to actually make that work. So they wanted a club, their music was what was on the rise, I didn't have a connection with it—all these things coalesced, and it was like, all right, come in and take it over. In an ideal world, I probably would have wanted to partner with them, but they wanted to do their own thing, and they opened it as ARO.space. They tried a couple different things in there, and I believe Noiselab was the last iteration.
After they ran their course, Marcus Charles—who at the time had the Bad Juju—had been talking to me for years about reopening Moe's. So I said all right, let's do Neumos. So he and I relaunched Neumos in February of 2004. After a couple years, Marcus decided he wanted to go back and get his MBA, so Jason [Lajuenesse], Mike Meckling, and Steven Severin bought out Marcus's half of the business, and our group has continued on with the venture. I think those guys have done an amazing job capturing the spirit of Moe's, which is being a part of—and keeping connected to—the music scene, and not just being a venue. Some places are just a room, but those guys are actually involved and participating in capturing that essence.
What is the contrast like—Neumos now versus Moe's back then? It's a totally different world. Back then, we decided to come up here and take over a Salvation Army warehouse precisely because it was in the middle of nowhere [laughs]. There was the Comet across the street, which was a plus, and a little coffee shop called Cafe Paradiso where Vita is now, but there was nothing else around. We saw all these people streaming down the hill to RKCNDY and the Crocodile and thought, let's build it here—let's go into this completely commercial area with not much else around so it's easy to walk to and park and we don't have to worry about noise. Now Neumos is in the heart of this crazy scene where there are a million people all the time [laughs]. So in that way, it brings challenges, but it's also nice because there are so many people around, which makes it easier to get people in the doors for shows. But it's always been and still is a complicated business—you're in the show business, the restaurant business, and the bar business, with all these moving parts. It's nice to have a great group of people that can share all the burdens of what's going on.
And you've got Barboza now, too! Sheesh! [Laughs] Yeah, it was great to be able to get rid of my junk from down there and make it into something productive.
I couldn't believe there was that much space down there when I first saw it! You have no idea how much junk was down there [laughs].
What years did your bands form? Hammerbox formed in 1989, when I was 23. Goodness started in 1995.
Were you in any other bands previous to Hammerbox and Goodness? No, those were my very first bands! I had done choir all my life!
Did you live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood around the time Moe's was starting? I lived up on 15th at the time and loved coming through Pine all the time.
Did you play at Moe's a lot? YES! I think I've done more than 10 shows there. It was such an amazing club with the coolest interior. It had so many hidden nooks and crannies with circus and arcade feel/items all over. Great booths and show space as well. I love a place that is small enough to be intimate but big enough to have a balcony!
What are some memories that stick out to you? I loved how I was always on foot and my favorite places were so easy to get to. It made things feel cozy, like Cheers, where you knew you'd see enough familiar faces to feel warm, but also enough new ones to feel excited! I'd frequent Moe's, Comet, Bauhaus, and Squid Row quite a bit.
What was the best show you caught there? Worst show? Weirdest show? Best show was Sage. Worst show, even though I LOVED the band, was Heatmiser. Elliott [Smith] was doing his noncommittal attitude and even fell offstage at some point. Weird show: Goodness, where one of our fans decided to return to the bottle and yell at me from the audience that it was my fault that he was drinking again. He also was clearing out the front with his wild swinging-arms-and-legs dancing, which was pissing everyone off. Rock 'n' roll good times!
What bands were you listening to at the time? Where there any local bands you played with a lot? I loved/love Lucky Me, and we played with them and Western State Hurricanes—John Roderick's old band. Also Nevada Bachelors!
How do you feel about playing the anniversary show? I am highly flattered and excited to play the show. Lucky Me I'm totally psyched about, but also These Streets, and Gerald Collier, who I go way back with to Hammerbox days when he was in the Best Kissers in the World.
Are you working on anything right now? Any more solo projects in the works? I am in the Rockfords with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, and Esther Kang that I do with my brother Eric Akre, my hubbie Martin Lund, Daniel G. Harmann of the Trouble Starts, and Rick Friel who has sat in with us. I am totally working on new solo works with a new website coming out soon. Can't wait to get back into it for my soul!
P.S. The song "Smokin" by Goodness was written all about a night at Moe's!
Tell me a little bit about the music scene in Seattle, before and during the days of Moe's. When I moved to Seattle in 1989, the majority of bands lived on Capitol Hill, but most of the venues for punk/weirdo music were downtown. The Vogue on Tuesday and Wednesday nights was the epicenter for the whole Sub Pop/grunge thing. Then came Sunday nights at the Off Ramp. Even when the Crocodile and RKCNDY opened, people still had to trudge up and down the hill to go to shows. When Moe's opened, there was finally a place close to home to see shows.
Did you ever work there? I got a job doing construction when they were building the place. Lots of band members looking for a few days' work to pay the rent in between shows and tours. I remember hanging fiberglass sound insulation on the ceiling and having those itchy fibers on me for days. I felt a small sense of pride once the club took off that I helped build it.
What was Moe's like? In those days—as I'm sure it is now, if you're in a band that plays clubs regularly—you get to know all the door staff, the sound people, and the bartenders and booking agents. I don't think I paid to go to a show or bought a drink for a few years. One of the only ways I survived as a musician when I wasn't on tour. I remember seeing tons of shows from the little VIP balcony. Too many to list, but there was one Redd Kross show that I think warped my brain forever. I always loved playing there. Great stage, great staff, great sound.
How did you feel about Moe's closing? What about the opening of Neumos? After all the grunge hubbub, the music scene felt like it lost its course for a bit. I'm sure this happens everywhere. The established bands move up, break up, or get lost. The next generation comes along. It was particularly cool to see how quick the Presidents of the USA took off—Moe's was their home away from home. It was so different from the gloom and doom of grunge, and that room shook and sweated when they played. It was impressive. They may not be your cup of tea, but they put on an amazing live show. It was nice to see people having fun again.
It was sad when Moe's closed. ARO.space was not really my thing—although the food was great (Alex Calderwood was always ahead of things), and I was happy music was still happening there. I was psyched when I heard Jerry Everard was working with Steve Severin, Jason Lajuenesse, and Mike Meckling (and now Eli [Anderson]). All good guys with a long history in the music community. Those guys are all astute businessmen, but very community-minded, and they love music. Hats off to them for keeping it going.
I just hope that as the neighborhood finishes completely gentrifying (because "Capitol Hill is such a vibrant neighborhood"), Neumos doesn't get shut down because the retirees and software soldiers complain too much about the noise. Here's to another 20!
You were/are in Truly. Can you run me through the Truly timeline?
My first and only band had just broken up, and a week later I was trying out to be Nirvana's second guitarist (their other guitarist had just replaced Hiro Yamamoto in Soundgarden). A week after Kurt told me that they had decided to just try being a three-piece, Kelly Canary from Dickless gave me Mark Pickerel's phone number. He played my demos for Sub Pop, they became interested, and a year later Hiro joined, and we released our first EP October '91 as Truly. After another single and EP for Sub Pop, we were signed to Capitol Records in '93, then after a big shake-up at Capitol, we weren't getting proper support and so we asked to leave. After releasing one more record on Chicago label Thick Records, we went on an extended hiatus in 1998. In 2008, we were asked to play Azkena Rock Festival in Spain alongside the Sex Pistols, Ray Davies, the Sonics, Dinosaur Jr. The lineup is still Hiro, Mark and myself, plus Ty Bailey and/or Robert Mitchell on keyboards (whoever is available). We started working on new material in 2009 and playing occasionally. We have a 7-inch single being released on Flotation Records in March, and we're a little more than two-thirds deep into a new record. We all have kids, et cetera, so we've been doing the record in my studio at our own pace. Should hopefully be released this year.
Were you in other bands before Truly?
My first band was the Storybook Krooks. We started out in Oly with my brother John and my best friend Evan Schiller (later of Sad Happy) when we were in high school, then in Bellingham when we were in college under various names. We all moved to Seattle in '87 and started playing the only three live venues in Seattle—the Vogue, the Central, and Squid Row—before disbanding due to being slightly sick of each other by that point.
So your practice space was near Moe's, right? What was it called?
It was called the Chophouse, and it was in operation until just recently. We shared it with 7 Year Bitch for a little while and a band called the Cuckoos.
Did you also live in the neighborhood?
I lived in that old Victorian on 18th and East Thomas, so it was walking distance.
Did you play at Moe's? What were some bands you played with?
We co-headlined with Ben Shepard's band Hater and co-headlined with Dead Moon another time. We also played a Halloween show—I don't remember who with, just that I was in alien drag and had green makeup all over my stuff. There were one or two other gigs and I just don't remember who, what, or when.
What are some memories from that time that stick out to you?
I don't know if it was an official policy, but it seemed like if you played there, you could get in free almost any time. This meant that you were getting to meet and get to know everybody and see bands that you may not have bothered to pay attention to. Moe opened after Seattle had already established itself as a big music city, so it really felt like it was molded with the best of the collective aesthetic of the time—from the sort of junk shop, vintage clown decor to the types of bands it booked. The doormen were cool; the bartenders remembered everybody, and because it was the height of Seattle-ness in the alt-rock world, there was a certain confidence or exuberance in the air that wasn't as noticed at some of the earlier, equally compelling, but darker-feeling venues. Many, many of my nights were spent going back and forth between the Chophouse and Moe's... play music, go watch some bands, head to the gas station at 1:45 a.m. for beer, go back to the Chophouse, play some more, stumble home at sunrise. Rinse and repeat the next night. I would write songs and demos at Chophouse—there was daily inspiration just walking around the neighborhood. When I came back from a monthlong Truly tour in Europe, I took a cab from Sea-Tac back to Capitol Hill and had the driver drop me at Moe's instead of my apartment. I think it was because I had to drop some stuff off at Chop, but I remember being there at the bar with my suitcase having a beer with Guy Madison and just using that environment to re-sync with being home in PNW mode.
What was the best show you caught there? Worst show? Weirdest show? I think the most memorable for me was seeing the Flaming Lips play the week of the Oklahoma bombing. They were still playing as a four-piece "rock band" with all of the Christmas lights and fog around them. They didn't mention the bombing until right before their encore, then they played "What a Wonderful World." It was incredibly moving. I cried.
I also saw an amazing Spiritualized show there the night before leaving for tour. They played this strange, hypnotic music before they went on that I later found out was called "drum and bass," which I would hear a lot more of when we got to Europe. Mark and I walked over after rehearsal and caught Elastica on their first US tour. Neil Young with Pearl Jam, Blur (the band and my memory), tons of local bands. I know I'm forgetting some major ones. I remember our labelmates Radiohead played a free show there, but I wasn't in town. I was there the last night it was Moe's, and it was strange. It was a Brit pop band called Space. I can't remember if it was that band that wasn't very spectacular, or everybody was just bummed that it was the last night, but it was sort of a lackluster night, and there weren't many of those at Moe's.
What did you think about Moe's closing? What about the opening of Neumos? I remember it turning into a very sterile "electronica" type dance club for like a year or something, which was really alienating in comparison to the warmth and community of Moe's. That also reflected what was happening in the American music industry at that time, which was a big backlash against rock and guitars and "grunge" in the late '90s. Everything was heading toward sophisticated dance music. The ironic thing was that in sophisticated Europe and the UK, big guitars and rock were really big for the first time since the '70s, very much thanks to Seattle. Things got pretty lame around here for a little while. When they reopened as Neumos, it felt like they were reclaiming something that I had thought was lost forever.
How do you feel about playing the anniversary show on the 12th? I'm very honored to be a part of it! I'm looking forward to seeing some people I haven't seen in a while, hopefully. I'm just really glad to see that time period and place be recognized after all this time.
JONNA MCCURRY (SECURITY, PRODUCTION, BOX OFFICE)
When did you start working at Moe's? I started working at Moe's April 20, 1994. I was 25, and I did security, some production, and box office.
Did you live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood around the time when Moe's was starting? Sure did—for some of the time I lived just down the street, but I moved off of the hill by '95 and to the Central District.
What are some memories from that time that stick out to you? I have great memories from working at Moe's. We had this amazing, thriving scene in Seattle at the time, and the local bands were unlike any other place I'd lived. Capitol Hill was super intimate, and everyone knew each other; the Comet was like walking into Cheers. One of the great things about the layout of Moe was that people could hang out in the bar or cafe without having to actually go into the show. And they did. We had regulars from every walk of life—starving artists, rock stars, junkies, lawyers... you name it, they were hanging at the bar or eating lunch in the cafe.
Every person who was involved with Moe, from build to close, were incredibly unique individuals. It was a very art-driven community, and the crew there reflected it more so than even the art plastered on the walls.
What was the best show you caught there? Worst show? Weirdest show? Best? Hmm, good question. It's been so long, and I've spent the last 17 years working at the Showbox—all those shows kinda clog the memory, but some of my faves were: 7 Year Bitch with Unsane, Neurosis with 7 Year Bitch, Love Mongers, Alice Donut, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dwarves, Neil Young, Alison Moyet, Corrosion of Conformity, eyehategod, the Grifters. Worst: Bush, maybe? Weirdest: Crispin Glover, hands down.
What bands were you listening to at the time? I listened to lots of local bands, still do. I also still listen to all the same bands now that I did then and in the '80s: punk, metal, "alternative," "grunge," or as I like to call it, leftover punk rock.
What did you think about Moe's closing and then Neumos starting up later on? For obvious reasons, I was not happy about Moe closing. I was sad for my coworkers, the bands, and fans. I was also pissed as fuck at the powers that be, but that was a long time ago... and I'm still a little pissed. [Laughs]
Neumos is the last of the clubs that Moe's spawned. I love the people who run it, and the crew that staff it. It was a great addition to the Seattle music scene, that's for sure.
Do you have memories that stand out about bands playing the anniversary? Goodness, Truly, Hyperlung, Alcohol Funnycar, etc.? I have lots of memories of all these bands, all good. Well, except that one time...
By the way, I cannot tell you how super stoked I am to be reuniting with my old coworkers, regulars, and those who lived on that stage! I never really thought it would happen, and I'm thankful that it is. It was a place unlike any other, and nothing will ever be like it again.
When did Hyperlung start? What was the scene like? Hyperlung formed in 1991 and ran through 1997. There was an absolutely incredible live music scene on the hill in the early '90s. Lots of experimental stuff, lots of avant-garde stuff. I mean really, really good stuff. The hill was swimming in great bands. There were so many good bands back then that never got a fair hearing for all the grunge chaos. Jessamine, Sage, Ovarian Trolley, Bali Girls, Laundry, and on and on.
Then one day, the whole Pearl Jam/Nirvana/Soundgarden thing happened. Everything changed overnight. In terms of Hyperlung, we tended to be a little put off with the whole grunge thing and copped a sarcastic attitude about it. So we went through a period where we more or less just tried to piss people off and not deliver what they thought they were paying to get. Through that juvenile attitude, we ended up in the same circles as a lot of great bands that you'd never hear on the radio: Sun City Girls, Neurosis, Caroliner Rainbow, Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Faster Tiger. And for reasons I still don't understand, that kind of worked for us.
We went through an industrial band phase and a pure noise phase. Toward the end of it all, we actually got good. We were practicing 20 hours a week or more, two or three gigs a week, toured the States, recorded an album, an EP, and a couple of singles—all of this as a pure indie band. That got us on more popular bills, Lollapalooza one year, and so on. We broke up because we were offered a multi-album deal with Will Records, who, along with everyone else, had just moved into Seattle and was attempting to sign everyone. Some of us wanted to make that leap, others did not, and that was the end of that. It was all very sudden, as was the advent of the scene to begin with. It's really exciting to get a chance to go back to Moe's and do one more show proper.
How did you first get involved with Moe's? I first got involved because two of my bandmates worked there. Jason Fitzgerald was the talent buyer during the glory years, and Oliver Little was the house facilities guy—he kept the place physically up and running and managed constant and extensive remodels/upgrades for a few years.
Moe's started off with a big bang; Fitzgerald was undeniably the best talent buyer in town and he just kept hitting home runs. He was successful, and Jerry gave him a little longer of a leash to gamble from. The shows would sell, the crew could deliver, the artists were well taken care of and respected... repeat process over and over and eventually things start getting silly.
What kind of work were you doing? I was never a full-time Moe's employee, per se—I was devoting inordinate amounts of time to my music and my band, so I was looking for flexibility. I was the special projects/special operations guy, and there ended up being a lot of those types of gigs. I'd be called in whenever the need was to squeeze a way-inappropriately-sized band in, often for the "secret shows," but sometimes as regular paid shows—Neil Young/Pearl Jam, Portishead when they were peaking, Boy George, that kind of thing. Often, it meant finding ways to rig Paramount-or-larger-sized stage shows into the room. Flaming Lips wanted to string 120,000 watts of Christmas lights throughout the showroom. Technically impossible, and we found a way. The effect was stupefyingly awesome.
Other jobs were behind the scenes. Jerry always prided himself on fulfilling even the stupid rider items. Someone—I think it was the Lips, but it could have been someone else like Sun City Girls—called for "a zero-gravity environment" in their backstage rider. We got the job done.
Moe's was pulling off shows nightly that were WAY out of a club's league. WAY out. In order to pull that off, there was a remarkable arrangement with an "A" team of full-timers who were the backbone of the daily operations, and the "B" team of specialists that were constantly in motion doing all manner of things to enable the super special stuff to happen, and it all meshed together seamlessly most of the time. We were always locked in a fierce competition with ourselves to make the experience more and more over-the-top. It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.
What about competition with other venues? There really wasn't much competition at the time. The Croc was there, but kind of had its own thing going. The Off Ramp really was the place to be in the early '90s. Fitzgerald was the talent buyer there, but Jerry cherry-picked him for Moe's, and the rest was history. There was the Showbox, I suppose, but people didn't really prefer to go to downtown or Belltown back then—both were shithole neighborhoods. Moe's had perfect timing. Demand was insanely high, and there just wasn't anyone else to compete with. I remember sitting in the office in the basement one day with a bunch of people, shooting the shit, planning the next big whatever, when Jerry burst through the door all excited about something. I mean really, really animated. He shared that he had just learned a new club was going to open (I can't remember which it was) and was going to try to cater to the same crowds as Moe. Instead of being nervous, he was so happy he just about jumped out of his pants. He summed it all up by shouting, "Fuck Yeah! COMPETITION!"
What were some of the best shows you played or saw there? My favorite show I played there was opening for Mercury Rev. When we walked out onto the stage from the dressing room, the house was absolutely packed for us, and one of the Moe staffers, Masha, had covered the stage and our instruments in roses. It was such an amazing moment. And we fucking rocked it. Best shows I watched? There were too many to measure. Dirty Three with Low comes to mind. Faxed Head was a spectacle unlike anything I had seen before or since.
The best part about playing at Moe's, other than the fact that it was home turf, was that the sound in the room was stadium-quality. Absolutely top notch. Kelly Berry had that place dialed in. It was loud and it was clean. It was better than anywhere else in town. The sound and stage staff always gave a shit. That was the general operating principle of Moe, I think. Everyone involved had an ownership-level attitude and interest in making the venue a special place. From the bar staff to the peacekeepers to the sound crew to management, everyone cared and everyone gave it their all. And most everyone was a legitimate artist in their own right.
And now, looking back... Enough time has gone by now that I find it increasingly difficult to explain to my younger colleagues some of the stuff we managed to pull off there, the types of experiences that happened there night after night. At the time, it all seemed normal. Now I realize what we had happening there was about as far from normal as one could ever get. During a time when Seattle was the music capital of the world, Moe's was the epicenter of Seattle, and I think in many ways Moe's foreshadowed the amazing things that have happened to this town in the past 20 years.
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