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The short version of this piece is: Go see the Slickee Boys and The Factory reunite this weekend. If D.C.’s musical history matters to you, they’ll put some things in perspective.
The long version is this: The first and only show I saw at the old 9:30 Club was the second-to-last one ever held there (I think). I came to the D.C. area for a job in September of 1995, and due to some late-night work hours in an outer Virginia suburb, it wasn’t until late December of that year that I finally made it down to 930 F Street. I’d heard stories about the club, I’d seen a few of Mark Holmes‘ postcards, and I’d caught most of the major D.C. bands of the era at venues elsewhere. I knew why it mattered.
So, for the most part, I was going just so I could say I’d been there. Otherwise, I’d have little motivation to see that night’s headliner. Although I’d listened to my fair share of college radio in the ’80s, the Slickee Boys were never on my radar (except maybe the beach song on MTV’s Basement Tapes), and I hadn’t been in town long enough to know they were important. But I went, and it was good: They wore New Wave-y costumes (I remember at least one surgeon’s mask), the crowd was energetic, and I had a chance to savor the club. It was easy to see why people loved the place and the band. But the evening ultimately was anti-climactic. I was with a co-worker, and we were still looking to be entertained after the show ended, so we went across the street to a club housed in the Old Equitable Bank building. (Maybe it was just called The Bank at that point?) We watched people, had some overpriced beers, got bored and took a cab back to Virginia. And that was that.
I suppose it would be easy to ascribe some sort of cosmic significance to the night (the end of an era, a glimpse of an upscale future for downtown D.C., and so on) but, through no fault of the music, it generally sticks in my head more like a museum visit. The 9:30 wasn’t my club. The Slickee Boys weren’t my band. It would be years before I felt settled in Washington. And, really, I was there for the same reasons that people look at the first ladies’ dresses at the Smithsonian. But if the band did anything for me that night, it sent the message that D.C.’s rock scene was not about one label or one sound or one decade.
POSTSCRIPT: If the Slickee Boys seem like somebody else’s band, then The Factory might as well be from another planet: They were gone before I got here, and they haven’t done much since they disappeared. If it weren’t for Northern Virginia native Rick Ballard, who put out their two-decade-old tunes recently on L.A. label Acetate Records, they’d probably be completely inaccessible at this point. I ran into Ballard last week at Silverdocs—-where he and his wife Keirda Bahruth were showing their documentary Bob And The Monster—-and he noted that, for starters, the band won’t ever be anywhere near the top of Google’s search hits for “the factory.” But as he’s told us before, they definitely matter, too.