Depsite Washington's general grayness, there is a wealth of clubs and concert balls that add a note of musical color. Most of them serve up modest talent at equally modest prices, and some consistenty present artists who are nationally and inter-nationally known, in environments that range from the intimate confines of the Cellar Door to the grandiose crossness of the Capital Center.
The following is a highly subjective guide to the city's major rock and jazz venues (with folk and country thrown in for good measure). The opinions are the result of this reviewer's nightly ecursions into the musical melting pot. Repeated visits allow a perspective that is not often available to the casual concertgoer. Spatial acoustics, consistency of lighting, even inconsiderate waiters are brought into higher contrast when one goes to a performance for business as well as pleasure.
Comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various halls, I have devised a rating system based on an ascedning scale from zero to five. A "five" signifies the perfect blend of acoustics, atmosphere and service; a "zero" represents the nightclub equivalent of a sheet metal plant.
Also important is the attutude of the owners and promoters toward the music which they present. Admittedly, clubs and auditoriums are business and must be commercially viable; yet they are also servants of music as well as patrons. In some cases, rating points have been added or subtracted according to the willingness of the entrenreneurs to encourage new styles and artists and thereby allow music itself to flourish.
IF CHAINS, SAFETLY PINS, LEATHER PANTS AND BLARING MUSIC ARE YOUR CUP OF TEA, THEN THIS PLACE IS A STRONG BREW. WASHINGTON'S VERSION OF NEW YORK'S CBGB's has certainly had its difficulties-a threatened boycott by local fans and bands, contract disputes and stormy scenes. Acoustics are minimal. Service is minimal. Decor is minimal. But, considering that the club is the only outlet for New Wave "minimalist" music, the Atlastis is a necessary, if somewhat shaky, addition to Washington Rock clubs.
BAYOU: 2 (becoming 4)
The Bayou has a lot going for it-cramped seating long lines, a deafening sound system and air that is heavy with the smell of state beer and cigareete smoke-in short, just the right amount of fashionable discomfort for the perfect rock show. Unfortunately, the club has chosen to lavish these qaulities on mediocre locals and semi-known groups. If their New Era Concerts, which are attempting to bring "national" artists, succeeds, this club could become the hottest venue for rock.
Until then , a2.
This isthe best club in the area, condsistently presenting high quality and varied representatives of one of America's true folk arts. if you like jeans, cowboy boots, work shirts, an occasional beer spiled down your back and the most free-wheeling atmosphere around, the Birchmere is your kind of place.
BLUES ALLEY: 1
Blues Alley has "names" (most of which were made about 20 years ago) and that's about it. Too often, the customers chat during the show; and one night the conversation became so loud that it nearly drowned out a quiet sax solo. When this reviewer protested, the manager did nothing to stop the distraction. The sound system feels inadequate (the drums usually dominate), and the place seems imbued with the sort of smug, middle-class snobbery that just about smothered jazz in the late '50s and early '60s.
However, with its prestigious reputation, Blues Alley could be a decisive force in fostering the growth of new jazz while maintaining their high traditional standards (and excellent Irish coffees).
CAPITAL CENTRE: MINUS 5
ITS ACOUSTICS REDUCE VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING TO INCOMPREHENSIBLE RANTING. TRAFFIC AND CONCESSIONS ARE BAD. THERE IS ONLY CRAMPED SEATING FOR THE MASSES ( ALTHOUGH A FEW CAN SIT IN SKY-LIT SPLENDOR) WHILE THE DEMIGOD'S FACE IS PROJECTED IN SURREAL DIMENSIONS OVERHEAD.
CARTER BARRRON: 2
This beautiful outdoor amphitheatre boasts surprisingly good spatial acoustics, and hosts various styles, from rock to country to jazz.
The terrible wooden seats and an occasional summer rain storm are the only drawbacks (a Kris kristofferson concert resembled the Deluge, with thunder, lightning, power outages and equipment flying across the wind-swept stage). It might be helpful to bring a rubber raft.
CELLAR DOOR: 41/2
The most famous and highly regarded club in Washington (and rightfully so) has a small, intimate environment with excellent acoustics, sound system, service and the best roster of "names" and promising new talent. The shows are presented with a professionalism that borders on bosession. Noisy patrons are handled quietly and quickly. Dave "the Dude" is possibly the best allpurpose sound/light man in the Western Hemisphere.
The $6 cover charge (made necessary by seating restrictions) and the minimum make the Cellar Door an expensive evening's entertainment: the only thing that keep it from a perfect rating.
CHILDE HAROLD: 3
With its Edwardian decor-paneled wood, mirrors, plants and paintings-the Childe Harold is one of the most attractive clubs in town. The booking policy is less so. Mostly, it consists of deservedly obscure groups with an occasional jewel thrown in to keeep the reupation intact. The acoustics and sound system are bearable. If only the decor would rub off on some of the artists.
COLE FIELD HOUSE (U. of Md.): 0
Less demeaning than Capital Centre, but still a basketball court. If rock groups are presented at Cole, then the Bullets should be forced to play a game at the Concert Hall.
CONSTITUTION HALL: 2
With an interior that could have been designed by Benhamin Franklin and acoustics more suited to the Liberty Bell than a pop group, D.A.R.'s Constitution Hall has all the atmosphere of the Senate Chamber. High-volume groups too often sound like mush, and unamplifed shows seem thin and pale, but the seating is generally good-except for the high-priced boxes which usually offer a dazzling view of the P.A. system.
D.C. SPACE: 4
The most artistically adventurous and self-effecting club in town, the "space" presents new, experimental jazz musicians no one else will touch. The spartan loft (with no smoking or refreshments allowed) focuses all attention on the music. The cafe, downstairs, offers deliciously simple meals, original art on the walls and impromptu recitals among the tables. The club is a joyous celebration of the possibilities of jazz. Now, if they could only start their shows on time.
GASTON HALL (Georgetown U.): 4
Visiting Gaston Hall is like being transported to an earlier century. The heavy, carved wooden balcony, the imposing plaques on the walls and the high ceiling all impart a quiet grace and luxury that enrich any concert. The sound is stupendous-folk ensembles are well-defined and rich in tone, and electric instruments are absorbed in the atmosphere. A concertgoer's delight.
KENNEDY CENTER CONCERT HALL: 31/2
Joking about the Kennedy Center has become tiresome, but despite its structural deficiencies and gaudy furnishings, the Center has galvanized Washington's cultural sense. And for that it deserves a resounding "Hallelujah" chorus.
The acoustics are a little weak on the low end, and almost too "alive" for electric instruments-but the upper register is excellent. Oddly, the best seats for sound are those in the inexpensive second tier. The Kennedy Center has its drawbacks: But there is nothing like sitting with a companion under the willows, at intermission, discussing music and romance, while boats quietly ply the Potomac below.
LISNER AUDTIORIUM (G.W.U.): 41/2
This is quite possibly the finest small concert hall from here to new york. Orchestra, dance, opera, folk, jazz or pop-for each the sound is warm and luxurious and there is not a bad seat in the place. Parking is a problem for sold-out shows, but Lisner is definitely worth the trouble.
MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION: 1
Taking into account the lunar parking lot, the undersupplied refreshment stand, the sound-which is deafening in the front rows and muddied further back-and the lawn seats which might as well be in Baltimore, Merriweather Post is not heaven on earth. The walkie-talkies, golf carts and green T-shirts of the staff might be sold, with the proceeds going to theater-management classes for all.
ONTARIO THEATRE: 3
A movie theater that also serves as a concert hall, the Ontario is an above-average place for music. The sound is good, the seating comfortable, and the Columbia Road neighborhood stimulating.
If you like spicy local rock with a side order of obscure out-of-towners, the PsycheDelly is your dish. The room is small and the sound a trifle jumpy, but this Bethesda club serves up healthy portions of home cooked music.
ROGUE 'N' JAR: 3
The PsycheDelly of Washington jazz. A tiny, intimate club with an even more tiny and intimate stage that makes the listeners seem like part of the ensemble. Something irresistible about the music wafting up from the cellar to the sidewalk draws you in, even if you don't like jazz.
WAAAY OFF BROADWAY: 31/2
FOR SLIGHTLY SPECIALIZED TASTES, W.O.B. offers ecletic shows ranging from off-the-wall musical comedy to oldies on the rebound. The place looks like the set from a 1940's movie, with ornate chandeliers and red velvet everyting. You might want to sport a pencil-moustache, felt hat and two-toned shoes.
WARNER THEATRE 4
The Warner is about the closet thing to the late, lamented Fillmores that we're going to get until Bill Graham decides to stop being the P.T. Barnum of rock tours. The faded finery of the old fixtures and wall decorations lend an air of decrepit elegance to the shows. Like Lisner, there are no bad seats, and the sound can accommodate everything from quiet and ballad singers to the high-volume tomfoolery of the Rolling Stones. Regretably, the air conditioning system must be part of the original equipment, because the place is unbearably hot in the summer.
WOLF TRAP FARM PARK: 3
If the rolling countryside of Virginia were a symphony. Wolf Trap would be the Tchaikovsky of outdoor halls. As it is, the scenery is the most interesting fare. Perhaps, because of political considerations, there is a bureaucratic sameness to many to the shows-"safe" opera, "safe" jazz, "safe" rock-that is often a waste of the magnificent setting and outstanding acoustics (one of the ushers at a Leo Sayer concert observed that, "This guy is almost as loud as the Tijuana Brass!).
Wolf Trap is a hole experiment. It might have a little more nerve.