Since it closed its doors in 2008, the Showplace Theater has been my "Memory Motel," to borrow a song title from the Rolling Stones. Now it’s open again, and I’m looking forward to making some new memories there.
Less than two years ago, the Showplace was for sale. An article in Buffalo Rising suggested “the 6200 sq. ft. theater could be yours for $450K,” which, considering that owner Joe Breidenstein had already sunk untold thousands into the building’s badly needed renovation, didn’t seem like such a bad deal.
Reading this made me sad, as my musical memories of the once venerable Grant Street theater run incredibly deep. It also made me wish I had a way to get that kind of money together, because even then, it was not difficult to believe the Black Rock neighborhood housing the Showplace was at the beginning of a serious upswing, thanks in no small part to the entrepreneurial efforts of the Hall family, proprietors of the Sportsmen’s Tavern a block away.
It is indeed a turn of events worth celebrating that Breidenstein decided to keep the Showplace. In May, Pat Sullivan began leasing the building from Breidenstein, and the venue was reopened as a consistent home for live music. A well-stocked schedule of concerts adorns the venue’s Facebook page, with local, national, original and “tribute” bands filling the docket., including a just-announced show featuring 80s metal band Ratt with guests Hair Nation and After Affect, slated for Dec. 12.
This feels like justice, of the sort that will be forever denied to another Buffalo live music landmark, the Continental, which was torn down in 2009, four years after closing its doors. When a venue like the Continental is lost, a big piece of our culture’s living history is lost with it. The fact a former Continental employee, DJ Bud Redding, hosts an annual, rabidly attended “Continental Reunion” at the nearby Town Ballroom speaks to the fact the club’s death is still deeply lamented by many.
That the Showplace, it appears, will escape a similar fate has me simultaneously waxing nostalgic and looking forward to the future.
Some of my favorite concerts from the '90s and early '00s took place at the Showplace. The theater was first converted from a cinema into a live music venue in 1994, and wasted no time offering up a roster of some of the day’s hottest alternative bands, as well as the odd classic rocker and a healthy menu of metal, hardcore and thrash.
My first major memory of the venue came when the Tails, the band I played guitar with from 1989 to 2012, opened for glam-shock-rock-pop band the Tubes, on May 23, 1995. I recall walking into the dressing room both bands shared to grab my coat and encountering Tubes singer Fee Waybill in the middle of a rant that involved kicking empty beer cans and screaming. I never quite knew what to make of this.
The next year, I caught a memorable show by Trippin Daisy, and an unforgettable one from the Tragically Hip, the latter falling on my 29th birthday.
My first experience of Gov’t Mule took place at the Showplace in November ’96. A year later, I caught Ween in concert for the first time on what I remember as being a particularly hot early spring evening.
Mercury Rev performed a show that sits firmly in my top 10 of all-time concert list, during their “Deserter’s Songs” tour, on April 17, 1999. (I still have my ticket stub.)
I fondly recall shows from Every Time I Die, Snapcase, Aqueous, High on Fire, the Hold Steady, the Sword, Opeth, My Morning Jacket, King’s X, the Rollins Band, Clutch and Fishbone at the Showplace. It’s not likely I’ll forget hanging out with Johnny Marr in front of the venue following his show there in the early '00s.
Seeing this Black Rock institution up and running again gives me hope. Viva la Showplace.