I am not a fan of jazz. Well, I should clarify — while I don’t inherently dislike it, I have never come to fully appreciate the genre or any of its multitudes of subgenres. So when the jazz band BadBadNotGood was announced to headline the free opening night of the Barn series this year, I met it with a pretty ambivalent, “Huh. Okay.” A fellow DJ at KUCR was over the moon about the announcement, but I wasn’t quite ready to believe the hype. Countless flying bodies and “Riverside, are you ready?!”s later, BadBadNotGood had put on one of the best Barn shows I’d ever been to, setting a high bar for excitement and engagement for future bands to take the small stage.
There had to be a calm before the storm, however, and, if I’m being honest, BadBadNotGood’s calm was modestly good. The first half to approximately three-quarters of the show were a great display of musicianship and commitment to craft, as members Matt Tavares, Chester Hansen and Alex Sowinski showed their chops on their instruments. It was to the point that while I was enjoying the show, I didn’t feel the need to be in the crowd, and retreated to the KUCR table in the back to hang out with friends from the station and watch the show close out.
It’s hard to say exactly when, how or why the next part happened, but nothing short of a massive explosion of energy, music and general unpredictability that comes with the best kind of shows, suddenly appeared.
As I was checking something on my phone near the back, I looked up suddenly to see a mass of people toward the front suddenly crowding in and jumping up and down a bit. I quickly set down my phone and rushed through holes in the crowd to see what the commotion was about. Before I knew it, I was part of a massive crowd of flames that set the Barn on fire. What was two seconds earlier a mellow, if not eager, crowd was bursting at the seams. Constant jumping turned into moshing and back again, as security scrambled to stop stage-diving and anyone from getting hurt. Seriously though — moshing at a jazz show.
And it didn’t stop there. The raucous crowd was constantly lifting people up to crowd-surf, with a handful of people spending quality time hanging from the Barn’s antiquated rafters (again to the chagrin of security). Energetic drumming and groovy basslines lifted the crowd’s spirits as high as I’ve ever seen them at the venue. As some friends lifted me up to join the festivities, I got a breathtaking view from above. Controlled chaos, smiling faces and unbound passion for music were embers thriving on the coal that was the Barn floor. Even with their reputation for hyperactive live shows, there was nothing I could have predicted about their capabilities to work a crowd and bring energy to startling levels almost spontaneously.
And this is coming from someone who had never seen or extensively listened to the band before. Sure, I gave one of their albums a shot at listening and enjoyed it, but I couldn’t even tell you one song they played that night. But it didn’t matter. The band played off the crowd’s manic energy that they had helped create, playing with obvious enthusiasm as they jumped around and yelled phrases of encouragement to the crowd, while profusely thanking them for such a fantastic show.
Most importantly, it brought a sense of prolific life back to the Barn. I have seen a few shows there with more attendance, but hardly any have come close to the energy and fervor lit underneath the crowd and the band. Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Barn became known as a hub for the punk and indie scene, and meant a great deal to the community. Though its revival as a music venue since 2009 has attempted to bring some of the old culture back, it’s been, with a few notable exceptions, fairly adequate to slightly good at best.
This kind of show is what the Barn needs. This kind of show is how you build a culture and reputation for your music venue. This is the kind of show people look back on with fond memories, and the kind of show that makes more local talent interested in playing your venue, and the kind of show that makes talent interested in traveling just to come and play your venue. A fire has been lit here. So let’s not let it turn to ashes once more.