Capital Capital Music’s fall… off the radar?

Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – December 1, 2005

You know that old saying “Build it and they will come”?

Capital Music Hall on Rideau Street was built in the fall of 2003, and bands and fans came. But now that it’s closing in January to make way for Claridge condos, will this un-building also crumble the music scene many credit it with cultivating?

I’m going to go with “no,” Alex, for $34 – the price of my Iron And Wine and Calexico ticket, December 8 at the Spectrum in Montreal, thanks.

But Centretown News Arts Beat columnist Alyssa Noel thinks Ottawa’s entire music scene will go pop when the wrecking ball goes boom. In her November 11 article “Trading mid-size music scene for condos a bad idea,” Noel said that when the condos go up, we’re all fucked. Well, she didn’t say “fucked,” nor was she the first one to warn us about this.

I said it first. I called shotgun on the idea, which first appeared in my November 4, 2004 column “The High Life,” in which I argued that if you buy one of those high-priced condos, you’ll become an owner of “culture-destroying property.”

I’ve since changed my mind. I’m fine with Claridge. It’s the much-hyped Capital Music Hall and its culture-making myth that I’ve turned my back on now.

Unless Capital reopens as a better quality venue, it will be doing true music fans a huge favour by closing. How? It will free up our time to check out home-baked goods and force us out to venues in Ottawa like Avant Garde Bar or Maverick’s where Lindy and Jim Guthrie and Ian Blurton played (not all in the same night). As for connecting us internationally with all the big names, why aren’t we promoting Barrymore’s more?

According to many, it’s all because of Capital Music Hall that the great bands have come to our little one-horse town. But I saw Radiohead and Teenage Fanclub at the Congress Centre. And, the fact that bands like The Stills or Sonic Youth played Capital is a bit of a tragedy for this music fascist. The sound was tin-can shitty and seeing these bands in that space ruined the experience for me. How about you?

Think Sigur Rós performing in a toilet bowl instead of the well-chosen Bronson Centre. Pixies at Robert Guertin – bonne idée. Sarah Slean in a church – smart! The Cure in ’89 at the Civic Centre – wow! Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Barrymore’s – genius. I resented listening to some of my fave bands at Capital.

A lot of people say Capital was so great – as does Noel, who says that the 1,000-person venue was likely the reason bands came, because that gave the bands “an optimal venue to perform at.”

“Optimal”? Dude, you can cram 1,000 sardines in there, but only 500 of us can see anything! In the balcony section upstairs, only the first two rows of bodies behind the railing can see the stage. Barrymore’s accommodates less than 1,000, but you can see everything from any point, thanks to a superior layout and huge mirrors.

Noel mentions that groups like The Weakerthans had to play Barrymore’s for two consecutive nights in a row because the club didn’t have the same capacity as Capital Hall. They’re weaker than pussies, that band, if they can’t handle two nights of income and sold-out merch tables.

But how do you explain all the great bands that said yes to Capital?

You think Jeff Tweedy knew any better? It’s not up to him to book his band, Wilco. I would assume it’s the local concert promoter who knew they could make a lot of cash by charging 1,000 heads. Their people talked to Wilco’s people and cha-ching!

I’m not a rockstar, so I don’t know if bands play an active role in choosing the space. If I were, would I choose Zaphod’s? A lot of the gigs I’ve been to, including Maximum RNR and Ottawa’s Sack Lunch last month, were practically empty, yet these guys always play sold-out shows at the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto. Is it the early starts and 11 p.m. cut-off?

Shows that end by 11 p.m., though, get you to other gigs at The Dominion Tavern or home by bedtime. This is how they do it at Hope & Anchor and Borderline in London, U.K., La Tulipe in Montreal and for Bauhaus recently at Métropolis, which ended at 10:30 p.m. getting me to Divan Orange to see Bionic at midnight.

And if you think I’m talking furniture when I just mentioned Bauhaus, then it explains why you’re freaking out about the fall of the C-Hall. Anyone who grew up with Bauhaus knows O-Town fundamentally will never compare to Toronto or Montreal in terms of a “scene,” which deluded Capital-Hall-o-philes believe Capital created in under two years.

When Capital goes, Noel fears big bands will skip over Ottawa, and this means “kids will have to resort to begging their parents for a ride to a bigger city where they can get their musical fix,” she writes.

Show of hands – how many are still thanking Mom for carpooling the troops to Lollapalooza in Barrie a decade ago? Memories, gang. They shaped the audiophiles we are today. And sure, we may drive to Montreal every month, but we know there are excellent venues here too. It’s just a matter of focusing on them instead of whining about the Bi-way ghetto blaster that was Capital City Music Hall.

– Sylvie Hill