January 20, 2016 at 6:08 pm EST | by Chris Gerard
A milestone for 9:30 Club
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The 9:30 Club, celebrating its 35th anniversary this month, has been a gay-friendly spot since day one. Adam Lambert is among the out acts who have performed there. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 9:30 Club is one of the nation’s most iconic venues and has hosted an enormous variety of artists since its founding in 1980. The club is currently celebrating its 35th anniversary with a new deluxe hardcover, “9:30 The Book,” which details the history of the hallowed venue and includes reflections from many of the countless artists who have performed there over the last three-and-a-half decades.

There has been no shortage of LGBT artists to play both at its original F Street location and its current location at 815 V St., N.W. The club was known for the roster of punk and hardcore heavyweights that regularly blew the doors off the place (Circle Jerks, Mission of Burma, Agent Orange, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Misfits, Black Flag, Killing Joke, Dead Kennedys and others). Seminal post-punk/goth pioneers Bauhaus played a show in early 1981, only a few months after the release of their debut album “In the Flat Field.” It wasn’t long, though, until a wider variety of artists made the 9:30 Club their tour stop in D.C., including LGBT artists of all genres.

Self-described queer artist Michael Stipe performed with R.E.M. at the venue multiple times, including in November 1982 in support of their “Chronic Town” EP, and a show on March 12, 1983, precisely one month before the band released its classic full-length debut “Murmur.” The main set opened with “Gardening at Night” and closed with “Radio Free Europe,” the two early songs that cracked open the door for their wider success. Minnesota-based Hüsker Dü, who would become one of the ‘80s most important alternative rock titans, played their first gig at the 9:30 Club on April 24, 1983. It was the start of a long and fruitful relationship between the club and Bob Mould, who’s gay, which continues to this day.

The first of multiple appearances by pop duo Erasure was on May 14, 1987 in support of their second album, “The Circus.” Gay singer Andy Bell shared his fond memories of that first 9:30 Club appearance: “The stage was so teeny and it was so crowded that I felt like Alice in Wonderland after she ate the cookie that turned her into a giant. It was an amazing gig, your head touched the ceiling and the audience would grab you by the ankles. Also it was very, very hot.”

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Andy Bell, left, and Vince Clarke of Erasure. (Photo by Phil Sharpe; courtesy Mitch Schneider Organization)

The duo’s most recent stop was for two electrifying performances in September 2014 in support of their album “The Violet Flame.”

Rufus Wainwright, the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter who is gay, has played at the 9:30 Club numerous times, with the crowd growing with his popularity.

“The 9:30 Club has a stage that moves back depending on how many spectators are at the show, always making the room look well attended,” he says. “I cherish the experience of starting out there with a sliver to work with, then a rectangle, and finally a big fat square full of punters thanks to the backwards moving stage. Hope that stage don’t start moving forward.”

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Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

Melissa Etheridge, a rock legend who has been churning out great albums since her 1988 self-titled debut, played a highly publicized string of dates at the 9:30 Club in November 2014 in support of her album “This is M.E.”

Boy George, one of the all-time great pop figures of the last 30 years, appeared at the 9:30 Club on April 21, 2014 to support his excellent solo album, “This is What I Do.”

Gay icons The B-52’s have performed at the 9:30 Club in 2008 in support of their comeback album, “Funplex.”

Passion Pit, whose lead singer Michael Angelakos is gay, performed on June 3, 2010. Not long after, gay pop sensation Adam Lambert played on June 28, 2010, in support of his debut album “For Your Entertainment.”

Electric pop/rockers Neon Trees, whose lead singer Tyler Glenn is gay, performed at the club in July 2010, just as their single “Animals” was becoming a major hit.

In November 2012, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed their massive hit “Same Love” in support of same-sex marriage.

Visionary hip-hop artist Frank Ocean, who had recently revealed same-sex attraction and wrote about unrequited love for a man in the stunning track “Bad Religion,” performed at a show surrounded by buzz on July 23, 2012.

Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter John Grant, whose lyrics are sometimes startlingly confessional and self-deprecating, graced the 9:30 Club stage on May 11, 2014.

Atlas Sound, led by openly gay Bradford Cox, has appeared multiple times. Local D.C.-area genre-bending powerhouse Meshell Ndegeocello has also graced the 9:30 Club stage.

The flamboyant and always entertaining Scissor Sisters, featuring three gay members (Jake Shears, Babydaddy and Del Marquis) became a fixture at the club as they performed eight times between May 2004 and July 2012.

Kele Okereke, the talented frontman for Bloc Party, has appeared both with his band and as a solo artist.

Widely renowned lesbian duo Indigo Girls played at the club in March 2005.

The wonderfully outlandish and always memorable Canadian artist Peaches first appeared at the club in November 2006.

Against Me! first performanced at the 9:30 Club on Nov. 12, 2007. This was, of course, before Laura Jane Grace came out as a trans woman in 2012, as detailed in the band’s stunning 2012 album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” (they’d play two dates in September 2014 after Grace’s transition). 

Mika, the uber-creative openly gay British pop experimentalist, played on June 12, 2007.

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Mika (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Hercules and Love Affair, whose breakthrough hit “Blind” is about coming out as gay and then losing yourself in a world of endless hedonism, performed in November, 2008.

The lesbian country/folk/rock singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, who released the stunning album “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” last year, played the club in October 2009, the same night at the electrifying new wave revivalists Gossip, led by the amazing Beth Ditto who has referred to herself as a “fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas.”

Other notable appearances by LGBT artists include Ani DiFranco (who’s identifies as bisexual), who first performed at the club in 1990 and has made many stops since, the most recent being in November 2013 and with another show coming up on Jan. 26.

A month and a half after the release of their breakthrough album “Dookie,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Green Day (led by openly bisexual frontman Billie Joe Armstrong), played their first 9:30 Club gig on March 15, 1994.

British alt-rockers Placebo (vocalist Brian Molko is bisexual, guitarist/bassist Steven Olsdal is openly gay) performed at the club in December 1998 in support of their classic album “Without You I’m Nothing.” Skunk Anansie, led by the dynamic bisexual vocalist Skin, played in September 1999.

Indie darlings Sleater-Kinney, featuring bisexual vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (who once dated), played the 9:30 Club in May 2000 and then again in September. A month later, openly gay leather-clad metal icon Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame rocked the club with his band Halford.

Critically lauded Icelandic band Sigur Rós, whose amazing lead singer Jónsi is openly gay, first performed at the club in September 2001. Jónsi would play a couple solo dates in 2010. The 9:30 Club hosted synthpop legends Soft Cell, featuring pioneering gay artist Marc Almond, in 2002 when they toured in support of their final album “Cruelty Without Beauty.”

Tegan and Sara, the openly gay duo of Canadian twin sisters, first appeared at the club in October 2002.

The 9:30 Club has also hosted other events, including “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Battles of the Seasons” in March 2015. The club frequently has gay-themed dance parties in conjunction with Capital Pride every year.

And of course, getting back to Bob Mould, the alternative rock titan teamed up with DJ/producer/musician extraordinaire Rich Morel — who at last count has an astonishing 25 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Dance Chart to his credit — for the Blowoff dance party, which started small in the club’s back bar and turned into a mega event that eventually traveled to other cities. Morel cites the 9:30 Club as essential to Blowoff’s success.

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Blowoff (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

The 930 club was Blowoff’s home base,” he says. “When Blowoff expanded and started doing shows around the country the vibe and mood we had built at the 930 was what we brought with us. The staff was so great and the space made for many memorable nights.”

He also fondly recounted for us the time a certain Lady Gaga came to see Blowoff in all its glory.

“I had first met Lady Gaga when I was touring with Cyndi Lauper,” Morel says. “Gaga opened a show we were playing in San Francisco. Gaga was just starting out and we chatted a bit and exchanged info. Fast forward a couple years and she’s the biggest thing on the planet. I got a text message from her PR guy that she was in D.C. and wanted to come down to Blowoff. It was a crazy night. She arrived with a security crew all dressed in Armani. We were hanging backstage and she burned a CDR of her new song, which was not released yet.  She said the song was delicious and asked if I would debut it. It was “Bad Romance.” I played it during my set while she stood and waved at the crowd from the balcony. It was a surreal pop moment that I was delighted to be a part of.”

There is no question that if the 9:30 Club walls could talk, the stories they could tell would fill volumes. So many of the biggest artists in rock history have performed at the club that it’s hard to keep track, and that includes many LGBT artists as well. It’s been an impressive 35-year run for the club, with lots of rock ‘n’ roll memories made along the way.

Blade, 9:30 neighbors at former location

For a few years in the 1980s, the Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location.

Although the Blade staff — especially on production night deadlines — sometimes worked late, long-time employees say the two entities had no major issues.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” says Phil Rockstroh, a long-time Blade staffer. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

He says the noise wasn’t a problem.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh says. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

Despite the proximity, Rockstroh says he only remembers going to a concert there once to see a punk showcase with a former co-worker, the late Lyn Frizzell.

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he says.

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