As I reported in Line Out last week, the rumors about ownership changes at Chop Suey and the Comet Tavern are true. Chop Suey is now in the hands of John Villesvik, a businessman with a history in real-estate development and a background in bar management (Chop Suey is his first foray into the music business). Former owner Chris Dasef had originally hoped to bring Villesvik in as a partner, but eventually chose to sell the entire business for a variety of reasons, including a desire to make good on some old debts that Chop Suey had acquired, and to free up Dasef to purchase the Comet.
"When Neumo's first opened up, we had a rough time of it [financially]," explained Dasef in a phone interview last week. "We got behind on a few things, and I just wanted to get caught up and get square on everything." As for the Comet, Dasef says there are plans for minor cosmetic changes (new paint, cleaner bathrooms) and the current staff will be retained. "The Comet is going to be exactly the same. We're going to remember, support, and cherish the parts of the Comet [that everyone loves]." Perhaps the most significant evolution will be the presence of liquor; Dasef plans on applying for a license to serve the hard stuff, a change that old-timers may grumble about, but seems to be a necessary upgrade for most bars these days.
Both new owner Villesvik and booking agent Colin Johnson are extremely optimistic about the impact of the sale on Chop Suey's future. "Chop Suey already has a great reputation and puts on great shows," said Villesvik when I asked him about his interest in acquiring the Capitol Hill venue. "I was looking to get into this business for the last couple of years. I'm coming at this from a financial background and the numbers were there."
Villesvik plans on maintaining a hands-off approach, he says. "The people who are doing booking [and running the bar] are already doing a great job." Johnson, who took over talent buying after Steven Severin left the club to become a partner at competitor Neumo's, is understandably pleased. "I have complete autonomy, which is great," he enthuses. He is also obviously happy about the club's new sense of financial security, a change that has the potential to increase Chop Suey's muscle to land coveted shows. "We're going to have plenty of money on our hands up front. We've also upgraded our sound system and have plans to upgrade our lighting and add a projector. The diversity of the shows we book will still be there, but the production quality will be better." While it obviously remains to be seen how things will play out in the long run, the club has some strong offerings for the fall, including the recently announced appearance of Talib Kweli on September 8.
If you're a fan of honest hard rock, black-hearted metal, or progressive alt-country, there are plenty of excellent shows to check out this weekend. On Friday, August 11, Tall Birds play the Comet with the Goodboys, Go Fever, and New Fangs. Consisting almost entirely of former members of the Catheters, the Birds are a much more melodic and structured affair, touching on some classic-rock hallmarks (the Rolling Stones, early Alice Cooper), but adding enough unexpected touches (out-of-the-box arrangements and perpetually shape-shifting vocals) that they sound entirely fresh. Sub Pop will release Tall Birds' first 7-inch on September 12.
Also on August 11 at the Funhouse, Book of Black Earth will play their first show without fearless guitarist Rebekah Dunbar. Her shoes are hard to fill, but Dav Tafoya-Garcia (Countdown to Armageddon) is gonna try.
As for Saturday, if I wasn't heading to Portland to experience the last-ever Sleater-Kinney show, I'd either be taking in the reliably weird and technically dazzling work of Devotchka at Neumo's or the return of Dave Alvin to the Tractor, along with much-buzzed-about openers Hacienda Brothers (see Kurt Reighley's glowing Up & Coming on page 49 for more on them). Look for a complete report on Sleater-Kinney's farewell in next week's column.