Remember That Time Radiohead Played a Surprise Show at Washington, DC's 9:30 Club?

Read two excerpts of the book celebrating the iconic club's 35th anniversary, featuring comments from Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and more.

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Jan 5 2016, 7:42pm


Hardcore matinee fliers pictured in 9:30: The Book

Washington, DC's 9:30 Club is one of the country's most iconic music venues, and this year it's turning 35, as well as celebrating 20 years in its current V Street location. Now, sure, everyone says their local venue is legendary. But the 9:30 Club has a few bona fides to back it up: It's been listed among the country's most beloved venues by publications like Rolling Stone and Billboard, it claims to be the most attended nightclub of its size in the world, and it's played played host to everyone from Johnny Cash to Nirvana to James Brown to Drake to Adele. Perhaps most notably, its original incarnation was one of the incubators of DC's legendary hardcore scene, home to such bands as Bad Brains and Minor Threat.

"I would stand in that hallway and watch my heroes walk by," a little-known musician named Dave Grohl reminisces in a new book celebrating the club. "When you’re standing in the hallway, and you see the singer of Void walk past you or the singer of Iron Cross standing there, you kind of freak out."

To celebrate the occasion, the club is throwing an exhibition called the 9:30 Club's World Fair, starting tonight and continuing through January 9. Featuring rare and never-before-seen photographs and memoribilia, it's a chance to reminisce over the club's considerable history. And if you'd like to reminisce at home, they're also putting out a limited-edition, 264-page book featuring interviews with people like Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Chuck D, Ted Leo, the aforementioned Grohl, club owner Seth Hurwitz, and many of the people who played a role in the club over the years.

With stories about the time President Clinton visited, the science of the original club's inimitable smell, and quite bit about its history as a hub for hardcore and other parts of the DC scene, it's a dope-as-hell read. We've read it, and it's sweet. Among the other highlights are a story about Radiohead playing a surprise show at the club in 1998 and an oral history of its all-ages hardcore matinees. We've asked, and they've very kindly let us excerpt those two sections below:


Flier courtesy of 9:30 Club

Hardcore Matinees

The club’s all-ages policy–along with a determination to continuously present new ideas–quickly found a partner in D.C.’s hardcore punk scene. The thriving mix of bands and activism would fit in perfectly with the 9:30, even if it took a little convincing at first…

Dante Ferrando (Owner, Black Cat): I remember Dody being like, “I like what you’re doing musically, I like your scene. But I can’t deal with it because it makes me no money, and there’s aggression, and sometimes the bathrooms get trashed, etc.” We came up with the concept of matinee shows.

Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band): We were kind of these rough upstarts all of a sudden coming to [Dody’s] club, disturbing her more red wine, intellectual, art school, punk rock, tuxedo jackets rolled up to the elbows kind of scene. That was what the clientele looked like, this kind of older, gentler DC crew that was going to get hip checked by Dischord Records, Black Market Baby, and the Bad Brains, etc. And at first she was like, “No.”

Ian MacKaye (Co-owner, Dischord Records; Minor Threat, Fugazi): One of the real bellwether gigs was a show that Minor Threat played with Government Issue and Youth Brigade in the summer of 1981. And with that show, everyone’s mind was blown, so many kids came. There were so many people in line, and I remember Dody saying “There ’s too many people. Do you want to add a second show?” We were like “Really? Wow.” So we played two shows that night just to accommodate all the people. And I think that’s when we realized that something was going on.

Alec MacKaye (Faith, the Untouchables, former 9:30 staff): 9:30 Club was not welcoming at the beginning. They booked big acts that we wanted to see, British bands and stuff, because it was a great place to play. Local bands would try to get on the bill, but we had to have this sort of meeting with Dody and convince her. We said, “How about we come in and do a Sunday matinee? You’ll have one person on staff. You don’t have to have any bars open or do anything. Just turn the lights on and the PA and we’ll have a show.”

Jeff Nelson (Teen Idles, Minor Threat; Dischord Records co-founder, graphic designer): Dody at the 9:30 Club finally agreed to do some allages shows. It was really frustrating to not be able to get into shows, but we eventually found out that under DC law, a place could not serve liquor unless they ser ved food. And if they served food, they weren ’t allowed to ban people based on age.

Dody DiSanto (Original co-owner, 9:30 Club): I just said “What do you guys want? What is the problem, what do you want?” I was doing the shows, I just didn’t want to get beat up for it. I didn’t want the cops showing up, I didn’t want conflict. There was a narrow, 106-foot hallway in the old club. It was packed for hardcore shows before we opened the door, so I’d stand up where everyone could hear me and try to lay down some rules. If one bad person gets in the pit, it messes it up. It was dangerous as hell. For me, the bottom line was if someone breaks their neck in the pit, I’m the club owner. It’s my insurance policy.


Fliers pictured in 9:30: The Book

Sometimes even the club was surprised, like the time RADIOHEAD played at 2 in the morning.

For all of the great shows held at the 9:30 Club over the years, one of the most memorable in the venue’s lengthy history was never officially on the books. It happened on June 13, 1998.

“I got a call in my car,” 9:30 Club co-owner Seth Hurwitz recalls. “A member of the Radiohead staff said ‘We were wondering what’s going on at the club tonight.’ I thought the guys wanted to hang out and see a show, but then he starts asking me a bunch of technical questions—and then I realized they didn’t want to hang out, they wanted to play. I told him if you want to play the club tonight, we’ll make it work.”

The band was one of many acts scheduled to play the Tibetan Freedom Festival, a two-day festival at RFK Memorial Stadium spearheaded by the late Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys. When lightning struck and injured several concertgoers on the first day of the festival, organizers cut the event short before the group’s set. Looking for an outlet for the events message, Thom Yorke and company quickly started mapping out a Plan B.

“Radiohead and Michael Stipe decided that they would play a show that night around midnight at the 9:30 Club,” remembers Bob Waugh, who was then program director for WHFS . “This is Radiohead OK Computer, so you can imagine how cool that was.”

“I’ll never forget driving home disappointed and all of a sudden hearing that Radiohead was playing a surprise show at the club,” says Dave Hennessy, former assistant program director for DC 101. “We turned the car around and hightailed it to where the club was. When we got there, there was already what felt like 5,000 people in line. I remember getting in line and seeing one of the door guys walking down the line literally counting. Luckily we made it into the count, but they got to ten or 15 people behind us and said, ‘If you’re beyond this point, you’re not getting in.’”

After Pulp’s 12:30 AM opening set, Radiohead took the stage at 2 AM. The band played before a capacity crowd, not to mention some prominent A-listers who were already in town for the festival.

“I remember thinking, ‘Is this really happening,’” Hurwitz says. “I got to the venue and there were Radiohead cases on the floor. Michael Stipe was there. That was the night that Brad Pitt was spotted on the balcony with Jennifer Aniston, and their relationship was just a rumor at that point. It was unreal. It was just phenomenal. One of the most magical moments ever.” —Ryan Bray

9:30: The Book is available for pre-order now right here. The 9:30 Club is hosting the 9:30 Club’s World’s Fair, an exhibition of rare and never-before-seen memoribilia and photos, January 5 through January 9 in Washington, DC. Tickets are free and available at the club's box office or ticketfly.com.

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