Sunday, March 13, 2016

Contrasts: Doro Pesch and Blackthorn 51; Great and Grimey

Contrast is at the heart of the heavy metal world. Light and dark, brutality and melody, high pitched screams and guttural growls, super fast tremolo riffs and ultra slow doom marches. Musically, almost every album contains a mixture of multiple facets and characteristics. It's not as often that contrasts readily appear in the social construction of a live experience. I'm talking about the contrast of emotion that a show can cause. A dreary, miserable, pall contrasted against the presentation of an eternally upbeat, persistently optimistic, blindly heartwarming performer.

My review below doesn't cover every band and is more focused on my awful experience with Blackthorn 51 as a club but there was a great review over at of the whole show that covers all the bands. Some great pictures there as well. I'll say that Doro's set was strong, running through classic after classic. Four or five tracks off Burning The Witches and Hellbound, the anthemic "All We Are" that could make even an affineur weep, and especially a very genuine and emotional performance of "Without You" dedicated to Lemmy made the trip worth it. Doro  really adores her fans and it's easy to see why her fans adore her. The whole show was one big giant smiling and familial orgy of joy and feel-good vibes.

The contrast? Blackthorn 51 as a club is the single worst place I think I've ever been to for a show in... well... ever in terms of treatment. It's truly sad too, because the front of house production was awesome. Kudos to the sound guy for really making every band - even the one's I didn't like - sound like rock stars. But the nickel and dime-mentality of this shitpit should be enough of a reason for any band that has it's fans in mind to refuse to play this venue. That's claims of pay to play aside which run rampant with this place.

Ticket says $25. We were charged $35 to enter
I'm not the only one that has apparently had a problem with this club. From the first human interaction after entering the doors, an aura of greed coated the air like shit coats a septic tank's walls. Having been involved in many ways with the scene for a long time, I am not against venues making some money. Without successful venues able to stay afloat financially, bands will not have places to perform. I do, however, believe that a certain level of professionalism is necessary in order to maintain the validity of a venue among fans and supporters. When you charge $35 for a ticket at the door, when the face value of the ticket is $25, you're engaging in price gouging.

"Price gouging is a pejorative term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair, and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. Usually this event occurs after a demand or supply shock." In this case, the lack of tickets sold online - as evidenced by a stack of at least 250 tickets that the door guy had at the entrance for a venue that is probably only rated for maximum occupancy of 350-450 people by the fire code - forced the venue / promoter to hike the prices up to cover Doro's guarantee.

Immediately after purging us out of $70 for both tickets, the door man informed me that I had to coat check  my jacket. That they don't allow jackets inside the venue. Initially, I thought that this was acceptable, I guess, for safety reasons - even though I've never had this happen at any venue before in my entire life. So I give the coat check girl my jacket. She asks me for $2 to check the jacket. If you're going to force people to coat check articles of clothing - articles of clothing that no other venue in the entire city asks people to check and that nowhere else disallows - there should be no charge for it. This essentially amounts to extortion. We already paid for the tickets and now we can't enter the concert without paying an additional $2 for our coats. So I gave the girl my coat and my two dollars. A coat check is a great service when it's optional. I'm sure I'm not the only one that gets fucking sweaty and hot when crammed into a small venue. But forced coat check at a price?

We walked into the main hall area. Magus Beast was just about ready to go on. At this point we were already pretty sour on the venue but when I looked at the beer list on the wall and see PBRs for $5 and $8 for pisswater like Coors Light and Heinekens... any interest I had in buying a drink was eviscerated when I considered the prices and how we just paid $70 to enter the venue. I likely would have bought two or three beers, my friend would probably have had a beer or shot of vodka or something. We probably would have spent $35 - $40 for some drinks if we didn't already feel ripped off. Now I'm looking around and, at this point, there weren't that many people there but I started to see other people in the venue... wearing fucking jackets.

Not just like one or two jackets but all sorts of jackets - denim jackets, leather jackets, a guy wearing a fucking zoot suit and pin stripped pea-coat, later on a transvestite wearing a full length fur coat strolled in. I saw Michael Malachick (of Regalia notoriety locally) wearing his own denim jacket with practically every Iron Maiden patch ever made painstakingly sewn onto it. By this point, we had just realized the physical tickets had a face value of $25. Magus Beast had just started playing and we made a decision to ask the door guy up front about both the ticket and the jackets after they finished playing to reduce the risk of any communication problems due to volume.

I hate to say it but in our pissed off states, it was tough to really focus on Magus Beast's set. They sounded great though and I did recognize a couple songs from when I had seen them open for Fates Warning at Revolutions in Amnityville, Long Island. Their vocalist, Ron Scauri, is a really talented singer. I spoke with him briefly after their set before we talked to the doorman and got the impression that Ron's a really nice levelheaded every-man type of guy. Ron was super nice and appreciative as I mentioned how I enjoyed their set. I'll definitely be sure to make it to St. Vitus on March 26th when they open for Whiplash and get there soon enough to see their set in a friendlier venue.

So after a nice conversation with Ron, we go talk to the doorman. I asked him about my jacket. The conversation went something along the lines of:

    "Hey, I saw a bunch of other people in there wearing jackets. Why did you make me coat check mine?"
    "Those are all band members. They have to load in and out."
    "Ok. Well, I'm a bit chilly. Is there anyway you can make an exception?"
    He scowled. "I don't need to give you an explanation but if you want to wear your jacket, go ahead. When people ask me why you're wearing it, I'll tell them to ask you..."

I left my jacket in at the coat check because I wasn't cold. But now I know that their policy isn't a policy for safety. It's a policy of extorting $2 from everyone they can. It's a policy of greed that pervades the operations of Blackthorn 51 like indifference pervades the apartments of hoarders as they pull dead pets from piles of trash. If it was for safety, there would be no chance that I'd be allowed to get my jacket. If it were about safety, there would be no one else inside wearing any jackets. If it was about safety, I would have been asked to remove stuff from my pockets and been patted down like other venues. This was not about safety, it was about pickpocketing two bills from as many people as possible.

This greed is particularly evident in the explanation for the ticket prices by the doorman and my subsequent research. My friend asked about the tickets. The doorman said that the tickets were $25 advance online and $35 the day of the show.

First. The official flyer for the show says that tickets are $25. It's not unreasonable to assume that's the price day of the show when it's presented with the venue's address, notes on age to enter, and the door times. The tickets say $25. 

Next, Blackthorn 51 officially said the following on the page for the event:

There is mention of advanced tickets, but no price of them. There is no mention that tickets at door are $35. There is no mention that the door price is different than the price listed on the flyer.

Second, bands mentioned they had discounted tickets and implied the regular show price would be $25:

This same band mentioned they had tickets for $25 a month earlier with no mention of it being discounted or advanced tickets at the time. Discounted tickets would, in fact, be less than $25 then.

Magus Beast linked to official discounted tickets at $20:

 I'd like to repeat my biggest gripe: there is no mention of $35 day of the show. There is never a mention of a door price, never a mention of "day of price." I would not have driven with my friend an hour and a half, paid for tolls at two tunnels, one bridge and the NJ turnpike to see Doro for $35. We would have bought tickets online then for the advanced price. At the very worst, this was a miserably presented, poorly described, advanced pricing situation but I don't believe that's the case. The tickets should have been $25 at the door as evidenced by the ticket price printed on the ticket and the price on the show flyer. I've never seen a discounted amount printed on a ticket before, it's always the door price.

Is there any reason to believe that the price is $35 day of the show? I don't see one. If there was any mention, anywhere, that the show was $35 at the door, and not $25, this article would have been finished a loooong time ago, but like this article, the complaints continue:

Thoughts against the venue, and operators, run deep and there are many people online who have voiced their concerns running from pricing, to coat checks, to pay to play to a whole host of other issues. A couple specifically potent ones below. The first thing that showed up when I search the venue on facebook was a post by veteran vocalist, vendor, label operator, friend, and all-around underground maniac Brian Varney:

Others on Yelp, complete strangers, have left their own reviews:

I'd love to hear from the owners, promoters on this as an official statement. I'm not out to cause problems - not really - but stuff like this does get me, and others, pissed off. EDIT 3/14/16: I contacted via private message Blackthorn 51 on facebook. I received a non-confrontational message that said that my facts were not accurate, and that I should have contacted them to get their side of the story first. I offered them a chance to respond officially which I promised to include in this article and they have since shown no interest in doing so or given me any evidence to the contrary of my above opinion.

Be your own judge, but I won't be returning to this venue. I'd recommend others do the same. This kind of fast and loose exploitation of music fans shouldn't sit favorably with fans of a music that's always been intended to be straight-forward, honest, and "for the fans."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to mention when I think last year there was a punk show and the asshole door guy pepper sprayed everyone in the club and then kicked everyone out before letting the headliner even finish their set.. The place is a fucking joke nikky is a bitch he talks about how he was in the scene fuck him! Fuck the black thorn.. I wish that day we could've destroyed more of their property but the scared bitches shut the gates on us