Dave Grohl, Bob Mould, Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye at 9:30's anniversary party

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2010; C02

If you walked into the 9:30 club on Monday night, you walked out with serious bragging rights.

Hardcore punk legends Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and Bob Mould in the same room? Dave Grohl reuniting with Scream and covering Bad Brains? The Slickee Boys' 80th (eight-ee-yuth!) gig at the 9:30?

Yep, check, ditto and then some.

Because this wasn't any old night on V Street NW -- this was the 9:30 club's 30th anniversary bash, a five-hour fete that included performances from Trouble Funk, Ted Leo, Clutch, Tiny Desk Unit, Tommy Keene, the Pietasters and a surprise set from Grohl that had fans leaping in the air before the guy even picked up his guitar.

Divided into micro-sets from a wide swath of hometown heroes, the concert felt like the Wikipedia page on Washington music history brought to life. Rollins played host, but airport woes meant a delayed arrival midway through the program -- just in time to introduce punk icon and D.C. transplant Mould.

As Mould's Stratocaster roared through a pair of vintage Hüsker Dü songs, it was hard to imagine any band making loud guitar music today outside of his influence.

Club owner Seth Hurwitz could be seen grinning both backstage and onstage -- he sat in on drums with go-go legends Trouble Funk, garage rock vets the Fleshtones and jingle-janglers Marti Jones and Don Dixon. Earlier, he was greeting fans outside the club. "It's not the bricks and mortar," Hurwitz said, touching the box office wall. "It's the people who work here and the people who come here. . . . It's a community."

That community was on full display during a set from the Evens, a duo featuring former Fugazi and Minor Threat frontman MacKaye and drummer Amy Farina. The pair performed on the club's balcony level with the house lights shining on the crowd below. Tweens in studded belts and boomers in Subhumans T-shirts craned their necks to hear the twosome's minimalist punk tunes, every face in the club illuminated.

(Full disclosure: I'm friends with some of these folks. Fuller disclosure: My old band was signed to MacKaye's Dischord label. I've crashed at Rollins's house. I've toured extensively with Leo -- we played to six teenagers in El Paso. The first concert I ever saw in Washington was the 9:30 club's 15th birthday party. Jawbox headlined. It was awesome.)

Catching a breather between sets, fans spoke reverently of the venue. Erica Bruce, a local photographer who's been coming to the 9:30 since it sat on F Street until 1997 said: "The 9:30 is a place where I get to see someone like the Hold Steady, like, five times in a year. They always have great bands."

Frank Vestal said he's been coming to the club for 27 years. Did any shows stand out? "Too many!" he said with a laugh.

Fans in the house on Monday probably won't forget Grohl's surprise set anytime soon. He took the stage solo to perform the Foo Fighters' hit "Everlong" before being joined by his bandmates from Scream -- the Washington punk troupe Grohl played with before he joined Nirvana.

"It might be a club, and there might be a music scene that revolves around it," Grohl said backstage after his set, "but honestly, tonight is really like family. I'm seeing people I haven't seen for fifteen years that I used to spend every weekend with."

NPR radio personality Bob Boilen holds a special place on the 9:30's family tree. His band, Tiny Desk Unit, was the first group to play the club when it opened in 1980 and was the first band to hit the stage on Monday night.

"If you said to me, 30 years from now, you'll do a reunion, I'd say, That's crap," Boilen said after his set. "But there's really something basic in the DNA of all of us to make this music. . . . All the bands here are good. This isn't about old farts playing music again. It's a spark that just doesn't die."

The show's final segment included springy ska from the Pietasters, swampy metal from Clutch and a powerhouse closing set from Trouble Funk, who seemed not to know the meaning of the word "curfew."

As they vamped through the classic rumble of "Pump Me Up," Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis could be seen in the VIP balcony sporting a wide smile usually reserved for Alex Ovechkin hat tricks.

When it was over, Rollins strode onstage to bid the crowd farewell. Praise for Washington's greatest bands had been exploding from his mouth like tiny firecrackers all night, but his closing remarks hit especially hard: "I love the fact that I'm from D.C.!"

Who in the room didn't feel the same?

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