by Chris Lapham

I can still remember the very first show that I went to in a small, intimate venue. Well, maybe intimate doesn’t accurately describe this particular scene. I would say more raucous, debaucherous and out of control, but it was definitely small.

The venue was Iguanas and the band was Screaming Trees. For those of you who have been loitering around the SD music scene for a long time, you just figured out that I’m not a spring chicken. Damn, I hate it when I date myself.

I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect as I crossed the border, but man was I excited. As I walked into the venue, I was immediately struck with a hot, sweaty and humid vibe. The floors were sticky, the lighting was dim, and the beers were frosty. You also couldn’t miss the odor, unique to this very day even though I’ve seen my fair share of dives and small venues. It was kind of a combination of vomit, sweat, urine and pure adrenalin. Everything about it screamed rock ’n’ roll.

The Trees were unsung heroes in the world of grunge, at least in this writer’s humble opinion. I guess in an era of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, it’s easy to get lost or eclipsed.

The performance was more punk than a rock show. The Trees absolutely blew the roof off of the joint, and I don’t think I was ever more than 25 feet from the stage. I entered the pit and although I came out intact, I had a ripped shirt, bloody nose and a thirst for more. From that moment, I fell in love with live music in small venues. You have to experience the feeling, but it’s like you’re a part of something amazing.

My musical taste has evolved over the years, and I guess you could call it eclectic and diverse. From Miles Davis to Johnny Cash, to Dr. Dre to Bad Religion, I love it all, and everything in between.

Since that night at Iguanas, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some pretty amazing artists play small joints. Death Cab for Cutie at the Belly Up, Eddie Vedder at La Paloma, Jack Johnson at both Martini Ranch and the Belly Up, Fitz and the Tantrums at the Casbah, Imagine Dragons at 710 Beach Club, and that’s just to name
a few.

You might be wondering if there is a point to all of this endless nostalgic rambling about why I love live music so much. The answer is yes; it’s called the Loud@ series. By now you’ve probably figured out that we have a pretty good relationship with the incredible peeps over at FM 94/9, and the Loud@ series is their brainchild.

I have seen a few of the Loud@ performances over the past couple years. Passion Pit was amazing, MS MR at The Observatory (or North Park Theatre at the time) was surprisingly good, and Fitz and the Tantrums at Typhoon Saloon was incredible. I’m a little biased when it comes to Fitz; I’ve seen them countless times, including at the Casbah before they were anybody, and they never,
ever disappoint.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to catch Ben Gibbard, the amazing front man for one of my favorite bands of all time, Death Cab for Cutie. He played a four-set show for a very small, select and more importantly, lucky group of faithful listeners. I don’t think there were more than 40 people in the room.

I’ve seen Death Cab more times than I can remember, but there was something different about Ben’s solo performance at the Moniker Warehouse. Maybe it was the ambience? Maybe it was the fact that he was only about 15 feet away? Ben has a unique, hauntingly pure voice. On stage, it’s as if he’s in his own world, and it shows in his ability to put on a raw, emotional show.

His set included two songs off of their new album, plus an incredible cover of Crowded House’s “Something So Strong” and he wrapped with a passionate solo of Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.”

I have found a way to quench my thirst for amazing, intimate shows in the form of the Loud@ series. Next up is Robert DeLong on April 11. If you’re interested in attending one of these events, tune into FM 94/9 or visit their website. I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

From FM 94/9:

“The FM 94/9 Loud@ series has been giving listeners and music fans the opportunity to experience some of the biggest acts and their favorite artists in small, intimate settings with completely free private concerts. If you’d like to learn more and get the invite to the next Loud@, text LOUD to 61749.”