While the Crocodile Cafe deserves its historical status as ground zero for Seattle rock, for anyone actively involved in the early- '90s music scene, Moe's Mo' Rockin' Cafe was equally iconic. From when the doors opened in 1993 until they closed with much mournful, drunken fanfare in 1997, the Capitol Hill club was a magnetic force for touring bands (now-legendary acts like the Flaming Lips, Drive Like Jehu, and Radiohead made unforgettable appearances) and a supportive breeding ground for strong local acts like 7 Year Bitch and Sage. When Moe's closed its doors, the cliché was apt: It was truly the end of an era.
It was also the beginning of a really crappy era, as the subsequent line of tenants proceeded to demolish and neuter much of the building's aesthetic charms, ushering in a stream of electronica and dance-oriented programming that invariably failed. Whatever form it took--the vapid sterility of ARO.space's blank white disco or the more recent scatterbrained "house of sound" that Noiselab was supposed to be--every incarnation perpetuated urban lore about the building being cursed.
That's all about to change dramatically. After six years of leasing out his building, original Moe's founder Jerry Everard has joined forces with Marcus Charles (owner of the Bad Juju Lounge and Marcus' Martini Heaven) and original Moe's booking agent Jason Fitzgerald to resurrect Moe's under the updated moniker Neumo's. Construction is already under way and during my walk through the club last week, I was relieved to see they couldn't be smarter in midwifing the club's rebirth. Deftly weaving together elements of what made Moe's such a beloved haunt (the decadent carnivalesque atmosphere, the labyrinth-like layout) and improving on its shortcomings (poor sightlines, not enough bathrooms or bars), Everard and his partners are planning on delivering something bigger and better. The most dramatic changes are the complete removal of one showroom wall and the building of an enormous new stage, shrewd moves that bump the room's capacity to approximately 800 and will immensely improve the live experience for both audience and artist. In addition, a brand-new 48-channel sound system is being installed and three separate green rooms are being built in the venue's sprawling basement. Several pieces of the club's original artwork, including the laughing, ghoulish "faces" paintings from the showroom, will be brought back. The owners plan to open to the public in mid-February.
That Everard is willing to make a comeback is rather extraordinary in itself. When he chose to close Moe's originally, he had plenty of good reasons to be done with the club industry. "It was a confluence of changes," he explains, "changes in the music scene and changes in my personal life. Everything was moving towards dance and electronica and things were really on the downhill slope in my mind, as far as live music. I also was in my mid-30s and it was time for me to settle down and get married and have some kids."
After taking a tentative step back into the industry a couple of years ago when he purchased the Rendezvous, Everard began considering a Moe's revival, thanks to tenacious encouragement from Marcus Charles. "Marcus started writing me letters in '97 and I would just put them in a file. And for years he would write me these letters saying, 'Moe's was great, these people that are there now are just screwing it up and I've got great ideas...,' and finally after a few years, I couldn't help but admire his persistence. So I met him, got to know him a little bit, and found out that he was a great operator. So when [Noiselab] fell apart, it was just natural that we would collaborate on this."
Bringing back original booking agent Jason Fitzgerald (who also booked the Showbox and the Off Ramp for several years) was a logical move--but he was ready to take on a different role and function as a general manager instead of a booker. Fitzgerald's immediate suggestion for the booking position was Graceland's Jason Lajuenesse, the passionate, creative agent responsible for Graceland's remarkable revitalization in 2000. "I think [Lajuenesse] did amazing things in a very difficult space," says Fitzgerald, "and we want to focus as much as we can on the local scene, so I definitely wanted someone already deeply involved in that."
True to his character, Lajuenesse plans to exit Graceland on good terms and wishes owner Chris Beno continued success. "I'm not leaving till January 15th because I want to have someone in place and trained before I leave," he says earnestly. "I want to make sure I leave everything in place for [Beno] so he's not scrambling to save his club." Professionalism aside, it's clear that he's thrilled to make the jump to booking a larger venue and he's already been instrumental in pulling off the club's first coup: Stuck Under the Needle will move its popular Yo, Son! night from Sundays at Chop Suey to Saturdays at Neumo's.
Seattle is overdue for a middle-ground venue that can comfortably accommodate crowds of 600 to 800--a capacity that will put Neumo's squarely between smaller rooms like the Crocodile and larger venues like the Showbox. Anyone who saw wildly overcrowded shows this year like ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead at Graceland or Neko Case at the Crocodile knows that the need for something slightly bigger is painfully palpable. Furthermore, Moe's history gives Lajuenesse a healthy foundation to work from, despite the fact that he didn't live in Seattle during its original inception. "In talking with agents, they're already excited about it, because they know Moe's and have fond memories of it--and I already have holds on shows that I never could have pulled off at Graceland."
So will Neumo's be able to erase the old Moe's curse? Everard has his theories.
"Within the first month after ARO.space went in there, they had the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence come in and do what they thought was a cleansing to get rid of the spirit of Moe's--and I think it was actually a curse. We'll test this theory, but I think we're going to bring the spirit of Moe's back. I think that the people that were in there [after Moe's closed] had ideas about club ownership being glamorous and didn't have the commitment it takes to make a place work when it's not glamorous--just dealing with the drudgery of it all. We know what it means to make that happen. I think it ultimately comes down to that commitment."