It was 1988 and First Ave was still basking in the residual glory of Purple Rain. An endless parade of tourists would visit on busy nights and act surprised when they were expected to pay, or offended when staff were unwilling to administer interminable Q&A sessions for their benefit. ”Can we just look inside for a minute? Is Prince here?” they would ask, getting pissy when we explained that the Pride of North High hadn’t set foot in the place for three years and probably wouldn’t be attending that evening’s Nick Cave concert.
Being called “asshole” in numerous languages had a dulling effect on the customer service-centers of our brains, leading to a thinly-veiled hostility among the staff that would quickly morph from basic crankiness into overt violence with guests. A general atmosphere of mayhem loomed for a time, perpetuated by a swarm mentality signaled by flashing alarm lights positioned around the club. Floor employees were instructed to converge on a given area where an alert had been triggered and simply dog pile on anyone engaged with another employee—including bystanders.
At the time the club also employed several iffy skinhead types that made me seriously uncomfortable. These were the guys with neck tattoos before visible tats became a hipster shibboleth in the mid-nineties. These were also the guys who would follow local scum rockers Black Spot around Wisconsin just to partake in a weekend’s bloodsport with the locals.
There used to be a homeless shelter across the street, before the bus depot moved a third time. On cold nights it would fill up fast, leaving a hobo convention milling around outside the club. They would hit people up for change, run ticket rip-offs on teenagers and just generally act annoying. A favorite game of the skinheads was to verbally goad a bum to the front doors of the club, where they would be pulled indoors under some pretense of illegal activity. Once inside, they were cuffed with cable ties, then dragged to the employee bathroom and beaten. The toilet was smashed with some guy’s head once, and then the skinheads had him arrested for destruction of property. Fun.
I left Minneapolis in 1989, went back to college and then moved to San Francisco and St. Louis, among other places. I didn’t get back to First Ave until 1994 when I was in town again on business. I don’t remember the show (GBH? Killing Joke?), but I do remember giving the door staff my ticket and hearing “Thank you very much” and “enjoy the show.” Confused, I quickly scanned my surroundings, thinking I had mistakenly stumbled into a Bennigan’s and would at any moment be presented with a plate of delicious Tequila-Lime Jalapeno Poppers©.
Apparently a lawsuit or two in the interim, coupled with a change in management, had preceded a shift away from the standard “punch first, ask questions later” policy towards the “customers pay our bills” attitude that prevails to this day. I saw over a hundred shows when I worked at First Avenue, and a majority of them were marked by some kind of violence. I’ve seen dozens of shows since then and witnessed only a single fight, at Motorhead/Anthrax when some drunken bozo flung himself into the pit within 15 seconds of the first drum kick. Not that there haven’t been more fights than that, but still, go figure.
Some locals make the same Clockwork Orange argument about First Avenue that New Yorkers make about Times Square—i.e., a lack of danger and attitude demonstrates a concession to mundane, middle-class sensibilities and thus, diminishes the appeal. I disagree. I go to First Ave to drink cheap beer and see bands at one of the best live music venues in the world. I don’t go to First Ave to have my eye socket shattered by an overzealous, amped-up security goon raging against his repressed homosexual tendencies with a giant Maglite. Kudos, First Avenue, on a lesson well-learned.
Legal restrictions compel Almostred to write under an assumed name. His identity isn’t a big secret but you don’t know him anyway. He is survived by a daughter who doesn’t appreciate his esoteric musical sensibilities and a bank account residing with his ex-wife. His massive record collection is currently very hip with the young people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.