January 8, 2003

Very odd. Walking home from work and I get about halfway up my road, almost make it to the house, and I look up to see this strange light in the night sky. It resembles a spotlight and appears to be originating from somewhere over in Grandview, from the land as opposed to the air. But for one, it’s much more powerful than any spotlight I’ve ever seen – the light, which remains steady as opposed to sweeping, nearly spans the entire horizon from west to east – but also, as bizarre as this seems, it bends at about a forty-five degree angle. In other words, from wherever it’s originating, this beam climbs at a perfect diagonal, then bends at this forty five degree angle and continues overhead straight across town to the east side. To put it more clearly, it’s shaped like a rainbow, except the rainbow isn’t curved, it kinks inward at a sharp angle. Also, this band is monochromatic, the vaguely bluish white of a flashlight.

Once home, I first run upstairs, but can’t get a good look and return to the front yard. By now the angular rainbow shaped beam is falling toward the south at a slow but constant clip. To put it another way, it’s like the St. Louis arch had been directly overhead, then slowly toppled over, toward the southern horizon. Whatever the case, this bizarre spectacle eventually disappears from my line of sight behind some buildings, and I retreat indoors.

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Watershed

When I once remarked that I liked local band Watershed, a friend of mine agreed that they were good but that all the songs tended to sound the same after a while, and that they weren’t very original to start with. But I don’t know. Though seeing them play live twice and admittedly walking out in the middle of their set the first of those occasions, I have to kind of disagree with his assessment. And I know that they never were considered cool enough among Columbus’s taste making elite, so my support for them is surely a real eye roller. But I still think they were better than many of their massively hyped contemporaries, and I wasn’t alone in believing this. After all, Sony signed them to their Epic label at a time this was considered a very big deal indeed, releasing both a live EP and full studio album by the band.

Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust, the live one, is a fascinating document just for its liner notes alone. Though owning this CD for a while now, I always forget that it was actually recorded in Columbus, at the Newport Music Hall, on January 14, 1994. The marquee depicted inside the disc has Watershed’s name in lights playing the Newport this particular Friday, with another local staple, Ekoostik Hookah, booked for the following Wednesday. Thank yous take up an entire page of the packaging and amount to a virtual C-bus who’s who of people and places, from music venues such as Bernie’s to the Used Kids record store to popular DJ Andyman at independent radio station CD101, musicians such as Willie Phoenix, hometown heavyweight champion Buster Douglas, and everyone else they loved down to the “sandwich artists” at a treasured Subway franchise. Naturally, the roll call would not be complete without a “fuck you” to Michigan basketball players Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard; meanwhile, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, on an opposite page this EP is dedicated to Terry Paul, who died the morning that show was recorded, without whom “the Newport will not be the same.”

This being 1994, there is no mention of a website. Similarly documenting these times in telling detail would be the subdued, black and white packaging, the presence of Spin Doctors producer Frankie LaRocka as co-helmsman (he had also kickstarted that band’s major label career with a 6 song live EP), and of course the songs themselves. Written by frontman/guitarist Colin Gawel and bassist slash forklift driver (according to the liner notes) Joe Oestreich, brought to life on stage with the assistance of drummer Herb Schupp, true, these aren’t the most groundbreaking songs then in existence, maybe, but certainly are catchy and played with a ton of enthusiasm. They call to mind a mix somewhere between the Smithereens and that loping, distinctly Midwestern take on punk rock – slower, less obviously snotty, but just as angst riddled. Gawel’s voice is perfectly pleasant and serviceable, although I find myself enjoying the moments he passes the torch briefly to Oestreich on a couple of tracks. The best selection of the set is one such number, How Do You Feel, which somehow adds an almost No Depression-esque Americana twinge to the proceedings, has a great opening riff and catchy chorus. An audience singalong in the closing moments doesn’t hurt, either.

They probably could have stood a little more variation in tempo on this selection, but you know it translated even better live than it sounds on here, and anyway, after a handful of listens most of these numbers are going to be stuck in that hummable place in your head exactly as they are. So consider this a job well done. I don’t really get nostalgic much for bygone eras, although listening to this does fill me with equal parts sadness and fascination, that a major media corporation was willing to spend money on these guys, and had faith that they just might be the next worldwide phenomenon.

Arlington Cafe

My jaw nearly hits the floor to see this place now. Can there possibly exist a more indelible message that nothing ever lasts? My friends were mostly never fans of this fabled club at 1975 West Henderson, whereas I was an early convert, yet what seemed immediately after ascending to its all-time apex and winning over even those staunch holdouts, doors began shuttering and cobwebs descended from the rafters.

Arlington Café was always a bit of an anomaly, but made its idiosyncrasies work. Situated at the end of a shopping center counting Kroger as its anchor tenant for eons, in front of a sleepy, upper middle class neighborhood populated with stuffy senior citizens, by day this bar was a dark dive which working class drunks were fond of slipping off to for their liquid lunches. Then come nightfall, shortly after the DJ slid into his glass lined booth and began cranking out modern dance mixes, it came alive with a completely different and still younger clientele, albeit one all the daytime regulars felt perfectly comfortable rubbing elbows against, having perhaps never left themselves even after the final happy hour bell finished ringing.

Much of this was attributable to at least four distinct moods to be found within its cavernous interior, and perhaps as many as six. Achieved effortlessly, I might add, a natural extension of its contour, flowing with contrivance. Contrast this against busted downtown experiments like Long Street, a much ballyhooed dance club which hit everyone over the head with all their themed rooms, tallied some staggering crowds in the early going, and soon bit the dust. Meanwhile, Arlington Café thrived, expanded, even, as it annexed the shops in front and added a second, massive dance floor.

There was even this cool, long, almost impossible to believe and semi-secret tunnel which had for some reason been carved in between the Kroger and the cafe’s western wall, leading interested seekers from the shopping center’s front parking lot around to the bar’s rear entrance. That side of the club, once indoors, also featured a vaulted glass ceiling – various people through the years told me this was retractable, even, though I never witnessed such and doubt that tidbit’s veracity – towering above a smaller dance floor or two, a horseshoe shaped bar, and seating on a couple of different levels, while the eastern, more spacious room beyond featured all of the same, pretty much (minus the vaulted ceilings) but with a larger dance floor where the DJ plied his wares from a walled in nerve center, and there were also scores of pool tables, along with the juke for non-disc jockey curated nights. And in later years, after the businesses in front were annexed, still larger dancing regions existed for would be booty shakers, in front of those pool tables. Giants TVs mounted everywhere, of course, and the lighting I recall as being colorful, neither too bright nor too dark regardless of the hour or day. But mostly what I remember are the forever changing vibes, dependent upon whatever moment you chose to show up.