I hate to come off like one of those tiresome old-timers who are always lamenting Seattle's disregard for its history (especially because I only moved here in 2002), but the idea of the Showbox being leveled for another mixed-use high-rise might be the last god-damned straw. If we demolish this historic, 102-year-old building—which, consensus tells us, contains Seattle's finest music venue for both sound and atmosphere—we will have crossed a threshold from which there will be no redeeming this city's soul. Seriously—people from many strata of the culture scene are furious about the prospect of losing the Showbox. You may call this sentiment melodrama, but it's unmistakably the mind-state of many thousands of music fans, musicians, and DJs who've enjoyed some of the greatest experiences of their lives there... overzealous security staff and all.
To commemorate the Showbox—ornate storehouse of countless indelible memories, debauched, drunken revelries, transcendent and awry drug trips, crowd-surfing, surreptitious tree-blazing, the tragedy of The Stranger's 2016 presidential election party, etc. etc.—we surveyed some of the area's most ardent music heads for their highlights, and we'll be running them on a daily basis... until we squeeze the last drop of nostalgia from the city's collective consciousness. (In case you were wondering, my most cherished shows include Autechre's pitch-black mindfuck at 2015's Decibel Festival; post-rock deities Slint's majestic comeback tour in 2005; Stereolab's golden torrent of epic mantras in 2004.)
Note: You can sign a petition to make the Showbox a historical landmark here. Now let us commence with the reminiscing!
Bruce Pavitt (former Sub Pop owner, 8Stem founder, DJ): In 1981, I traveled up from Olympia to see the Dead Kennedys. Near the end of the show, the band walked off, leaving singer Jello Biafra alone. “My band just went on strike! Can anybody help me?” A friend of mine then pushed me on stage, and I got to play guitar with a newly improvised Dead Kennedys. Epic.
Dawn Smithson (Jessamine): Spectrum! Jessamine was blessed to be able to open for them and do improv with Sonic in between our sets. I will never forget being down in the green room with Sonic while he drew a kind of dynamic map of peaks and valleys we were to follow for the improv set 😂 We did a Sabbath cover, only to find that Sonic hates Sabbath. Also, Slint reunion!
Amanda Okonek (U.S.E): The time we (U.S.E) played with Sir Mix-a-Lot and Carly Nicklaus and I danced on stage with him to "Baby Got Back."
Nils Bernstein (Matador Records, owner of the defunct record store, Rebellious Jukebox): PiL & Napalm Beach, 1982.
Chris Porter (former Bumbershoot booker): Producing the Terrastock Festival there in 2000 is probably my favorite memory. Celebrating my birthday during a Peter Bjorn and John and the Clientele show, and a particularly great Jon Spencer Blues Explosion come to mind, too. Too many other shows to list—I've been to hundreds there. I have countless great memories from being in that venue. There's no place quite like it.
Jeffrey Smith (Mr. Epp & the Calculations): Devo in 1980 (my first non-Christian rock show), John Cale in 1981 for $3, (playing in) Mr. Epp, opening for Nina Hagen, and realizing that a rabidly hostile audience can be an even bigger rush than a receptive mob.
Andrew Matson (Stranger freelancer): Best show was either D’Angelo or Frank Ocean, coolest thing was Beth Ditto working coat check at the Gossip show.
Kelly Fleek (the Spider Ferns): Stereolab and Coco Rosie. The Coco Rosie show was the first time I'd ever seen someone make electronica with a rubber duck. X also gets kudos for a groovy reunion show—the entire venue was packed with the faces of what appeared to be a majority of the music scene from the mid '80s-'90s. Great show.
Chloe Harris (Raica): Snoop Dogg in 2001, Up in Smoke tour. Pansonic and obviously Autechre, every time. Underworld was pretty amazing, too, tbh. But mostly Electrolush, the weekly. I don't think people realize how lucky we were to have Electrolush, tbh. Laurent Garnier, Kenny Larkin, etc. Also playing there many times opening for John Digweed (the first of our long standing relationship). Skinny Puppy, of course... but old Skinny Puppy, not the new shit. I got to play with Eva and a Guy Called Gerald, and his sampler broke in transit, which was devastating and he was the nicest person ever. He played amazing, too. One of my fave sets from Eva that night, also. Really amazing 2 step goodness.
Ricardo Wang: I saw Big Black there with the U-men opening in 1986; they reopened it just for the show thanks to Larry Reid. The club had been out of business and empty for some years. Then there was another special reopening in 1987 or '88 for Pere Ubu's reunion tour, with John Cale opening. It would literally go years between shows in those days! Next one I remember was a Sub Pop showcase with Mudhoney, Coffin Break (who weren't on Sub Pop, but were pretty big at the time), Dickless, and others, maybe 1990. In more recent, but still ancient, years I went there with Kait Moon to see Autechre, maybe 2000. Just a couple years ago I was working in Seattle and staying in a hotel downtown and stumbled into the Showbox to see Thomas Dolby put on a really great interactive video performance of his hits in a lighthouse theme.
Nick Tamburro: Not favorite, but weirdest, was being an audience member in a Cameron Crowe-directed Pearl Jam video (that ended up actually being a Target commercial) after eating a pot brownie, stuck in a loop of them playing the same song (something from an about-to-be-released album) 100 times and not being allowed to move from my spot. Also a kind of intense one: Elliott Smith in 2001 having a lot of trouble getting through his songs, getting really frustrated, yelling "FUCK!" and stopping mid-song a lot. The outpouring of love from the audience convinced him to keep starting songs over.
Matthew Counts (Hawthorne Stereo): That Pansonic show almost demolished the building then and there! I remember bits of the ceiling coming down from the resonant frequencies.
Jeremy Moss (By Proxy): I had an out-of-body experience (no alcohol or other substances was/were involved) dancing to a Richie Hawtin set there in the early-middle '00s. It felt like he was playing the same stripped-down hypnotic beat and bass line with no frills for hours, and it was sublime. In my top five DJ sets ever witnessed, for sure.
Phil Neff (Hastio): Falling asleep during Built to Spill.
Austin Santiago (Do206): Prince... solo piano encore of Purple Rain.
Mark Lewin: Slam dunk: King Crimson 1981, Discipline tour.
Jeff Kahn: Sleep, 4/20/15. I’ve never seen so much pot smoke in a venue.
Kim Selling (Stranger music calendar editor): FRANK OCEAN’S TOUR KICK-OFF FOR CHANNEL ORANGE. Definitely worst experience was election night, wherein I drank maybe 12 Montuckies and was stone-cold sober the whole time, but at least I never tripped on a cord and fell off the stage, which was my true fear. Oh god, remember that rotting Clinton cake, like weeks later in the office? ACTUALLY NO, MY WORST EXPERIENCE WAS WHEN I LOST A FAMILY HEIRLOOM RING AT A PEACHES SHOW B/C IT WAS SO FUCKING HOT THAT I SWEAT IT RIGHT OFF MY FINGER AND ONTO THE FLOOR AND NEVER FOUND IT AGAIN EVEN THO I WAITED TIL EVERYBODY CLEARED OUT AND I SEARCHED THE SHOWBOX FLOOR ON MY HANDS AND KNEES WITH THE SECURITY CREW. ONE OF THE SECURITY GUYS LAUGHED AT ME SO I TOLD HIM HE WOULD BE HAUNTED BY MY GRANDMOTHER'S GHOST, EVEN THOUGH SHE HADN'T DIED YET.