by Mitchell Hillman
It’s been just over a year since I’ve written about music in this town.
I’ve been laying low working on perfecting recipes of health and happiness, while churning out a slew of paintings and tending to my own self care. So it had to be something truly special to apply my pen to poetic musings of the vibrant goings on of the Phoenix music scene. This past Saturday was an emotional and boisterous explosion of saying farewell to a venue that was a staple for local bands over the last twelve years, The Rogue Bar. Having been in the thick of it for most of those years, it was the truly special event that made my heart swell, my soul soar and present a time tunnel of memories and friends that sparked a fire in my mind.
“No One Cares About Your Stupid Problems”–the projection on the stage screen read, and it was printed on the shirts they sold as well. It was one of many slogans they bandied about over the years, and probably the one that stuck best. The Rogue Bar, was in no uncertain terms, a dive bar–the diviest of dive bars and it was celebrated as such. One metric for a dive bar is the dilapidation of the bathrooms and The Rogue Bars restrooms were nightmare fuel at best, but somehow loveably so.
The main man responsible for making The Rogue Bar the important dive bar it’s been is, Emmanuel “Manny” Tripodis. He took it over from the previous owners when it was known to many in the music scene as one of the hottest weekend dance night locations which featured the likes of William “Fucking” Reed spinning discs in his early days before finding further glory in LA. When Manny announced the closure in January he recounted that over the years it had many incarnations ranging from neighborhood bar, tiki bar, pool hall, biker bar, dive bar, gay bar, punk bar, hipster dance club, and small cap venue–and that it was pretty much all of that, minus the Tiki bit.
Along with a trusted crew of bartenders, hooligans, sound engineers and ever changing door people, most of whom were musicians themselves, Manny cultivated the dive bar image and with the aid of soundman extraordinaire Michael Quinn, created an amazing sound system in such a surly location that it always seemed unexpected. The walls were covered with paintings by local artists of rock and punk icons like Elvis Costello, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and many more. The place was dark–never so much evident than if you visited the place for some ungodly reason during the daytime, a fact pointed out quickly upon my arrival last Saturday by Ari Leopold of Lava Lake Studios. It was a dive bar for musicians, run by musicians for musicians and there was a sincere beauty in that kind of ethos amidst an apocalyptic back drop of walls painted black and tile floors cracked. Manny knew something a lot of other club owners don’t quite get–don’t try too hard, he put in a lot of work, but he also knew when to just let the magic happen and sit on the sidelines in awe of the talent that came through the door.
Everyone that was a Rogueular has a hundred tales or more of the place, myself included, some surely have thousands. The place had as much of a tragical mystery to it as it did a magical history and it seemed like an otherworldly vortex where the only real cover you needed to get in was to just be yourself. So many relationships started there and probably just as many ended there, the balance may be even on that one. Some were just fortified, it’s hard to deny that at any time Michael and Anamieke Quinn (Treasurefruit, Las Chollas Peligrosas) were not the reigning King and Queen while Manny owned the place. The night The Woodworks released their Unhealthy Decisions album in 2015, lead singer Solo Lounsbury asked her drummer and boyfriend Konstantin Bosch to marry her on stage amidst the performance. That same night I met Sarah Chapman for the second time ever, and after another visit to The Rogue to see her and five days after that evening, I found myself dating the love of my life.
The Rogue Bar changed lives for a living and for many it was their “Cheers.” I heard a lot of stories on Saturday night, some that I was already intimately familiar with, that The Rogue had saved their lives. For a place that didn’t care about anyone’s stupid problems, Manny and folks like bartender/local luminary Craig Citizen actually cared a hell of a lot about people’s problems, stupid or not. I spent many nights of alcohol fueled debauchery at The Rogue until I decided to quit drinking in 2015 and while I had never spent a sober night at say The Sail Inn or Long Wong’s Firehouse, I felt comfortable going to The Rogue sober–and the staff made sure to have a club soda and lime waiting for me. It was Roguelar and all around good friend Jedidiah Foster (The Bittersweet Way) who told me “I like sober Mitchell much better” and stayed my hand more than once when I was considering giving in to a Jameson’s and soda. It was Craig Citizen though who really drove it home when he said, “I don’t say this about anyone that’s quit drinking, but you’re just as funny sober as you were drunk and that’s awesome.” I realized at that moment I didn’t need alcohol in my life ever again, because the friends that stuck by me saw that sobriety only improved my life. That’s an amazing commentary on the quality of character who is a bartender.
For much of the time I was writing about music there were three staple locations I could rely on for continual servings of new, unique musical talent, three places you could almost guarantee I’d be at every week and they were Long Wong’s Firehouse, The Sail Inn and The Rogue Bar. Keep in mind for many of those years there wasn’t a Crescent Ballroom, or any of the Stateside venues or Last Exit Live or The Rebel Lounge–the scene was heavily reliant on East side locations that also included Hollywood Alley and the last club standing, Yucca Tap Room. When Long Wong’s and Sail Inn closed within months of each other in 2014, it paved the way for the Phoenix downtown clubs to prosper and expand to new heights. The Rogue Bar was one of the last places where new artists could cut their chops, where the kids could come up, where Manny was willing to give bands that needed the practice to command a weekly residence on Tuesday nights or an innate ability to make Monday nights always strange and unusual. Somehow, for him, it was a profitable formula.
In those days there seemed to be almost a step by step progression for young bands and emerging talent, start at Long Wong’s, gain an audience there, then move to the bigger stage at The Rogue, and eventually the even bigger outdoor stage at The Sail Inn–and as time and other venues opened, if you got that far, you could probably hold a sold out show at Crescent Ballroom. Sure other clubs and venues have come and gone, but The Rogue was, in the end, the last bastion of a place where nascent artists could develop their talent in front of an audience. Sure, maybe it was only five people on an awkward Monday, but what the hell, the drinks were cheap, the company was good and conversation was always engaging. There was an Open Mic on Wednesday nights that went for nearly a decade that practically created its own micro community within the music scene itself. The Rogue was a magnet for weirdos and there’s a lot to be said for how blessed the strange can be in the right scenario–sometimes it was a shit show and sometimes it was watching miracles happen on stage when no one else was there to witness.
I can’t account for how many artists I found for the first time at The Rogue Bar, but it must have been a good third of all the artists I ever wrote about in the local scene. Manny would often whisper sweet nothings in my ear on the regular about the next band he loved and the artists I should check out. He had an ear for talent, and there was almost nothing better than watching Manny smile wide, eyes agleam while watching Field Tripp or Fairy Bones or Ali A and the Agency or any number of his favorite bands as the crowd went wild. And on rare occasions, you’d get Manny up on stage, usually during his birthday or anniversary celebrations to show off the fact that he was himself a talented musician with the voice of a fucking angel. Hard to believe, but true. This sense of discovery was shared by nearly everyone there, the Quinns or Craig or Shannon Harden (Roethke and frequent Door Person)–they were always genuinely excited by what was happening in the now and what was next. We all were.
It was this, it was ALL OF THIS, that we found ourselves bidding farewell to this past Saturday night–tons of us throughout the day and night. I got their at 6pm because I wanted to catch Anthony Fama (The Redemptions, Doctor Bones) play the Rogue one last time, I got there a little late, which meant I was right on time and as soon as I opened the door familiar faces poured forth, glaring into the blinding sunlight. It was Fama’s birthday and seemed a perfect send off as he crooned sad bastard songs, but made time for my absolute favorite of his, “Belgian Moon.” I sat with Ari Lepold, one of my favorite producers, conversationalists and human beings and began to soak it all in. It was going to be an amazing evening, I had no doubts about it. The time tunnel effect began almost immediately for me as friends, fans and fiends from the days of Long Wong’s and The Sail Inn began to arrive in full force and I gave more hugs on Saturday than I’ve given in the rest of the year combined. I wasn’t planning on writing anything about this, I didn’t bring a notebook or a camera and there were times I was swept away by reunions with friends I hadn’t seen in ages that took precedence to the music. It was a completely engaging evening and I planned to stay to the end.
One of the scheduled bands had cancelled and in a moment of sheer perfection, Page the Village Idiot took the stage and it seemed somehow fitting. I’m pretty confident he played at both Long Wong’s and The Sail Inn’s finale and this completed the trifecta. His brand of humor, but also his Hendrix style “Star Spangled Banner” were just what we needed as we neared sunset–it was good to see Page, as he was an absolute staple of that time and space. Familiar faces were everywhere, this was possibly the most fun you could have at a funeral ever, outside of New Orleans (as Leopold noted).
I watched the sunset in the parking lot at The Rogue for the last time surrounded by friends and found family for the last time, while they had the door open for all of Possy’s set. They were the only band on the lineup I wasn’t familiar with and I would encourage anyone to check them out as soon as they can. I realized during their sunset set that I was 100% sober and smoke free and the same could not be said in an way shape or form when I bid farewell to other venues in this town and it was a refreshing realization. A chain link cage was being constructed so once more, as had been done for a few special occasions like Cupcake and some Fetish evenings, folks could smoke and drink outside for the night–it was key for the evening’s success.
Up next was The Woodworks Duo, which featured husband and wife Stan and Solo. Since they got engaged on that very stage they had to be there regardless of their bass player being on his honeymoon–so Stan played bass and drums, while Solo mainly stuck to guitar and her stunning vocals. They played tunes that were often nixed by their bass player and had a hell of a lot fun doing it, but they closed with three amazing covers, the first by Portishead, the second was a mind blowing rendition of Radiohead’s “Nude” and closed with a fan favorite and staple in their set for years, The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up.” Every record release show The Woodworks had was held at The Rogue and it was great to hear some songs live that hadn’t been played in years, one even preceded the band entirely.
Jackson Difé (pronounced Di-Fay) was up next and though I had written about them on several occasions and was friends with both guitarist Adam Price and vocalist Chris DeGreen, I had never seen them live. I met DeGreen at the opening of the local film production Stuck Outside of Phoenix and knew how he behaved in regular life, back in 2016 we had talked on the phone for over an hour about working on a project that we may now finally pick up once more, but last night I got to see him possessed by the spirit of a ghost named Jackson Difé and I do mean possessed. He becomes a completely different person, a rural blues singer from the distant past and there is almost no trace of DeGreen present–even his producer Jalipaz (Audioconfusion) commented on this, realizing he needed to pull more from the lad in the studio on future endeavors. I was absolutely transfixed by their set and stood close to the edge of the stage as Citizen got me multiple club sodas with lime. The set was almost entirely originals, but they finished with a searing version of “House of the Rising Sun” that brought new life to a tune that’s otherwise been a bit overdone.
The Psychedelephants were up next and their asymmetrical genius was on blast at top volume, I went in and out of phase from reality during their set. They’ve been practically a house band at The Rogue in their current configuration. Lead visionary Danger Paul was at his best and sporting a new t-shirt design that I gladly handed over fifteen dollars later to get my hands on. They are working up some amazing new material, so be on the lookout for release announcements and future gigs, because it’s going to be amazing. The highlight of the set for many, was when Manny joined them on stage and I’m sincerely hoping video was captured throughout their stunning set. They were the first band to beat my ears into submission during the evening, but they wouldn’t be the last. By this time the crowd was in full frenzy, Dubs Witma showed up, The Echo Bombs were represented, most of Lawnchair was there, The Ancient Egypt crew showed up in due time–so many musicians and bands that weren’t on the roster were there to say goodbye to a venue that had helped them hone their talents and we sorted through memories old and new, discussed strange directions and even made some future plans. The Rogue Bar was fucking magical right up to the end.
Citrus Clouds had to bring their full frontal shoegazing sonic assault to the stage next and once again I found my aural soul pummeled. They played some new material and Erick Pineda had promised me earlier that the new record was going to be some of the best material they’ve ever released. I woke up with their “Imagination” playing in my head the next day, amid other tunes from the evening, and could not believe it’s the last time I would get to witness their insane guitar maelstrom at The Rogue. It was the first performance that brought a tear to my eye. I was hoping to escape the night without crying, but with two more bands to go and the hour getting late, that outcome seemed unlikely. If I think about it hard enough I can still feel Citrus Cloud’s bass thumping against my chest–sheer synaesthetic insanity.
A band that truly cut their chops at The Rogue is The Runner Up and they were up next. Guitarist Benjamin Fuqua was running sound earlier in the day before the ever capable Andy McDearmon arrived, both brilliant protégés to Michael Quinn. Fuqua in particular had played the stage with Bacchus and the Demonsluts as well as Zodiac Bash and now with The Runner Up–his talent behind the board or on the frets cannot be overstated, nor can his resemblance to Jon Snow. That said, The Runner Up is Rusty Nail’s game and his over the top, electrifying stage personality is one of the most commanding and engaging performances available in the music scene today. The Runner Up harnessed lightning across a tight eight song set that ranged from brilliant originals like “I Came To Play,” “Somebody” and “Pills” to fantastic covers of Toto’s ” Hold The Line! Love Isn’t Always On Time” and the insanely entertaining “My Prerogative” from Bobby Brown. You can try resisting the urge to dance to The Runner Up, but I don’t recommend it.
It was finally time for the final band of the Last Saturday Night at The Rogue and perfectly, brilliantly, loudly, it was The Bittersweet Way. Jedidiah Foster, Jess Pruitt and Ehren Stonner have all spent a ridiculous amount of time at The Rogue Bar–Pruitt in too many freaking bands to even count, Stonner with Treasurfruit and Foster with his band that has songs that are old enough to drink, The Bittersweet Way. Simply put, The Bittersweet Way have become one of my favorite Phoenix bands of all time and Jedidiah Foster has become one of my closest friends.
I’ve watched this band become its finest formation in recent years as the current trio that closed out this monumental evening of talent, emotion, and sentimentality and they absolutely raged into the dying of the light. The set list suspiciously consisted of nearly all of my favorite tracks from the band, but I put that suspicion aside, since I’m no longer an active journalist on the scene–I think it’s simply I agree with the band what their best material is for this kind of rager.
Songs about drinking, songs about rock’n’roll shows, songs about cigarettes, and songs about murder–The Bittersweet Way knows how to close out a night, as well as the end of an era, and leave your ears ringing for sure. They’ve got a way of delivering sad bastard music with as much vitriol and cathartic energy as possible and the crowd went crazy over “Rock Show,” “Nonfilter Fantasy,” “Nothing Left to Say,” “Sweat The Details,” and “Already Over.” The set was over, but the crowd was not, Foster was admittedly toasty, but the demand for an encore was met with the first Bittersweet Way song of all time, the song old enough to drink, “Suicide Love Song.” There could be no finer end to the music of the evening, nor finer performers on the stage to close out the Last Saturday Night at The Rogue.
I looked around as the crowd thinned out, bid my farewells to Manny, Craig and so many other friends–I put my hand on Foster’s shoulder and said, “Jed Foster Is My Constant,” he had a tear strolling down his cheek and suddenly so did I. I have a t-shirt I made for one of his shows that says the same thing. I had to leave, before I broke down completely in tears, collected my love Sarah Chapman, whose band Ghost Cat Attack had played there on Thursday and bid farewell to the bar that I not only got uproariously drunk in once up a time, but also got incredibly sober in without missing a beat. The end of an era indeed.
There was a point in the evening where suddenly it dawned on people that there won’t be this place where developing talent and embryonic artists can find space and time in front of an audience, if only their friends, family, and other musicians. While we bid farewell to The Rogue Bar, the good news is that after a well earned vacation, Manny, Craig and crew will be scouting for a new location to make the magic happen once more and I have no doubts that they can do exactly that.
Stay tuned to the social media for The Rogue Bar for future announcements of great importance, the dream won’t die entirely, it just needs to find a new home. It may not be called The Rogue, but it will have the same visionaries behind it and the same ethos guiding it.
It’s sure to be a real cool time ahead of us.