Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Notes from The Underground

Great article at Vanyaland about the short lived, but much loved, Boston rock club The Underground. Some excerpts here, but go read the whole article (here's The Cure page on the Flashpoint website, and the Cure video archive):

"But for 15 months from one night in February 1980 until June 14, 1981 — 35 years ago today, to be exact — the building housed the Underground, a long-gone Boston rock club that crafted an insane legacy at the height of the post-punk era. The L-shaped room, with a legal capacity of 103, was a haven for locals like Mission of Burma, the Neats, and Lyres, and a remarkable pipeline for young British bands playing Boston for the first time, like New Order, the Cure, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, A Certain Ratio, Bauhaus, and Au Pairs.

In addition to the 35th anniversary of the room’s closing — with a rowdy set by Boston’s the Neats, who tore the place apart with help from fans — this week is a special one in celebrating the Underground’s legacy.

The Cure, who played the Underground on April 20, 1980, on the eve of Robert Smith’s 21st birthday, perform at Agganis Arena just up Commonwealth Avenue on Thursday (June 16). Orchestral Maneouvers in the Dark, then still a jagged, electronic-leaning post-punk act from Factory Records and a few years away from mainstream attention via breakout hit “If You Leave”, played a roughly 15-minute set rife with technical difficulties just before 1 a.m.; when they play the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion this Sunday (June 19), things will likely go smoother.

This week also serves as the arrival of a new archival website called Flashpoint, an extensive home base from Kino Digital Video’s Jan Crocker, who as a teaching assistant to Benjamin Bergery’s Film, Video, and Performance class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Film/Video department, was able to capture video and audio of many of the Underground performances. Crocker saw something special happening in the subterranean Comm. Ave. club, and dragged his students — with, at the time, large burdensome video equipment, long before the days of over-the-shoulder VHS recorders and digital video — to Allston to capture the energy. Some came along kicking and screaming, eager to hang out elsewhere in the city

Crocker’s website, which documents what was happening in Boston from 1978 to 1982 with unrivaled media, photos, and personal anecdotes from many of the players (Mission of Burma, The Neats, Peter Hook of New Order), is an archive portal to a lost time. He has “hundreds of hours” of footage stored on old reels in Washington D.C., down on Cape Cod, and elsewhere around the country. He estimates that about 60 percent of it has surfaced, and only 30 percent has been shown. His recordings of the Cure and New Order’s shows have been floating around the internet for years; with Flashpoint, he hopes to give it all a permanent home.

“The British were not very happy with the room”, says Roger Miller of Mission of Burma, who opened that Cure show in February 1980 (the cover was $5). “It was really dense, and if you got 100 people in there, it was a throbbing mass of humanity.”

But the pipeline of bands that came through Underground was incredible. Whittaker says that a lot of the British bands would get paid handsomely to play New York clubs like Danceteria and Hurrah. Because of Boston’s close proximity to New York, and because of the city’s wealth of college students who were plugged into the bands in an era long before the internet, Coffman would score several Next Big Things.

“So we got all these bands that really had no business playing a room with a capacity of 103 people,” Whittaker says. Three hundred people showed up for the Cure show, the same week they would release sophomore album Seventeen Seconds. They were paid $800. “There was no space to move,” Whittaker says. " (Thanks @anniezaleski)


  1. I've seen videos of secrets and other songs from that show but I never really felt like I had the whole thing.

  2. We got a short 17 Seconds encore in Boston to commemorate the show. Sadly they didn't play At Night, but it was still great.

  3. Hey thanx for publishing this...my archive will always host those Cure videos from the Underground for everyone to enjoy...I still have a few songs that haven't been seen yet and if i post them wouldn't it be just like Heaven???