There’s nothing worse than waiting for the headlining band to come on. You’ve endured the opening act. You’ve watched roadies scurry over the stage. The equipment is set up, yet the stage remains distressingly empty. When will the music start?
Regulars at the old 9:30 Club, on F Street NW, knew to be on the lookout for a slight, blond woman who would thread her way through the crowd and then be hoisted up to a chair that was incongruously mounted on a metal pole standing in the middle of the audience. When she had attained her perch and lifted a video camera onto her shoulder, the show was about to begin.
Her name was Teri Stubs. It still is.
“It was the best job ever,” Teri told me recently.
From 1985 until the 9:30 Club moved, in 1995, to its current location, Teri was one of several people who pointed a camera at the 9:30 stage so the performance could be shown on video monitors throughout the notoriously sightline-unfriendly club.
Teri recently donated videotapes of some of those performances — 56 in all — to the D.C. Punk Archive of the D.C. Public Library. The videos are mainly of local bands — including Fugazi, Velocity Girl, Clutch and Lucy Brown — but there are some national acts, too, including the Psychedelic Furs, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails and That Petrol Emotion.
“It’s a wonderful addition to the collection,” said Michele Casto, special collections librarian and co-founder of the D.C. Punk Archive.
For years, there have been rumors of a Holy Grail-like cache of lost 9:30 Club videotapes. Not true, said Teri.
“Let’s clear up the myth to begin with,” she said. “I shot thousands of bands. It was a closed-circuit situation. It fed the house.”
Unless videographers had the band’s permission — and a three-quarter-inch tape was inserted into the recording deck — the performance was not recorded; it was just shown on TV screens. A band could pay for a copy of the show. Most opted not to.
A friend of a friend told Teri about the 9:30 Club job. Teri worked by day for Prince George’s Community Television, which let her take and record over old tapes that were going to be thrown out.
I was a 9:30 Club regular, and Teri always reminded me of a gunner in the ball turret of a B-17 or a brave cosmonaut climbing the gantry to her capsule. She certainly had a unique vantage point. “How much did you pay for that seat?” Joe Strummer once said. David Yow of the Jesus Lizard once climbed into her lap. The scary leader of German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten refused to perform unless Teri came down from her crow’s nest.
Teri remembers that They Might Be Giants urged the crowd to ignore the video monitors. Be in the moment, the band said. But Teri felt the video feed added to the experience. She prided herself on getting in sync with the music, of anticipating guitar solos, of moving the camera fluidly.
“I think she deserves a lot of credit for creating something, for making something,” Michele said. “People think running a camera, you just turn it on. She’s a creative person who has a great eye for capturing this.”
The tapes have been digitized. Michele said she hopes to post online the performances of local bands. Copyright issues might make that tricky for national acts, she said.
After the 9:30 Club moved to V Street NW, Teri worked for Discovery Communications. Today she lives in Takoma Park, Md., and does freelance editing and production work. She still loves music.
“Looking back on it, it’s so punk,” Teri said of the fact that only a tiny fraction of the performances were taped. “You don’t think. You’re in the moment. Do your thing and then move on to do the next thing.”
Some of the video Teri shot was shown on the second floor of the 9:30 Club during last week’s 35th anniversary exhibition at the club. For sale at the exhibit was a richly illustrated history of the club compiled by Roger Gastman.
I think my favorite thing in the book is a tongue-in-cheek letter co-owner Seth Hurwitz wrote in 1991 to the managers of interchangeable British shoegazing bands Lush and Ride. The bands were touring together and their management teams insisted that all promotion and advertising be exactly equal, with no suggestion that one band was more exalted than the other — or any clue as to which was closing the show.
“The artists will be advertised side by side at all times,” wrote the manager of Ride.
“These instructions MUST BE followed,” wrote the manager of Lush.
Failure to do so would result in a canceled show and a forfeited guarantee.
In his letter, Seth took that requirement to a ridiculous extreme, noting, among other stipulations: “If one artist feels the need to pass gas, then everyone involved with both acts, from road crew to merchandiser shall pass gas simultaneously, in perfect synchronization. . . . If any member of the audience enjoys either artist more than the other, the date will be cancelled and everybody will be forced to leave the premises immediately, without refund.”
Seth said he no longer speaks to agents.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.