Music scene is alive and well – and ready for a shot at the Rex Revival, done right

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News came down last week that the Palace Theater was going to be taking over operations of the old Rex Theatre, once a cinema, then basically a fight club before being shut down years ago.   

I remember standing inside the club, which was called “Spin,” once and once only, long before Elm Street sprung wings as it has over the last decade. The crowd was a hearty group of young toughs and girls that smelled of coco cream and cigarettes.  Not a terrible combo.  But there was a palpable rage in the air.  I could feel it, taste it.  Gregarious to a fault at times, I attempted to strike up a conversation with a fellow club-goer.  I’m guessing he was from Lowell or Lawrence.  Just a hunch.  My act fell flat though, generating nothing but a hard stare and the promise of blood if I didn’t turn and get gone.  Which I did.

Like Dylan says, “I pay in blood, but not my own.”

Since then, the building has been nothing but an eyesore.  It makes the inside of the peep booths at the porn shop across the street, Forbidden Fruit, look like a place for fine dining. That said, the building has some sweet bones, and if you can look past the crusty paint and water marks, you will see in your mind’s eye an absolute gorgeous structure that will bring an abundance of life to Amherst street, the whole downtown, really.

And, I am talking about a richness that could very well change one’s uneducated opinion of the music scene in downtown Manchester. This is my guess. Even the untested music lovers who have yet dared dip their toes into the numerous clubs downtown with bands playing live, fantastic music every night of the week, might be forced to be enlightened instead of ignorant to the many forces of creativity that roar on Elm.

When someone says that the downtown music scene is “deficient” and that the take over of the Rex by the Palace should be viewed as a rescue mission, I not only find that offensive, I see it as giving the Palace Theater a pass for failing the music community in Manchester for years now.

The Palace has plays down pat. Musicals too. They are fantastic at that form of performing arts.  Not taking anything away from them there.  But music, bands, solo artists – they’ve been utter disasters for years.  Tell me why we, the music lovers from the surrounding towns, have been forced to travel 100 miles down and back to Portland or Portsmouth or Boston to see a band at a venue that holds the same amount of seats as the Palace Theater?  I find that just wrong.  And lazy.  And, frankly, a spit in the eyes to those of us that have been more than willing to pay for that experience in downtown Manchester.

Chandeliers still hang inside the old Rex Theatre – will the glory days return? Photo/Carol Robidoux

Two weeks ago I drove down to the Sinclair in Boston to see rising country star,Tyler Childers, perform to a sold-out club when I should have had a beer at the Rover, then another at the Shaskeen, then a quick stab of vodka at Penuche’s before I headed over to the Palace to catch his show.  They have a stage, the sound system, the seats, the lights and bar.  You don’t need much else.  Why was he not booked there?  How does that person not know that if Dwight Yoakem can sell out the Music Hall in Portsmouth, they could do the same at our theater in the state’s biggest city?  Why do we drive 20 miles to Concord to see the great John Prine when we could spend our loot at one of the restaurants downtown here before being serenaded to Montgomery and back to Paradise by a legend?  No clue on this end.  What’s been your excuse?

The Palace should be giving each of the owners of the Shaskeen Irish Pub a free lifetime pass into the Rex Theatre when it reopens for carrying their lunch for the past decade. They are the ones, and there are a few others, who have kept the music scene in the Queen City vibrant, multicultural and consistently great over these years.  Deficient my ass. That’s just ridiculous. Don’t fear the backroom. It don’t bite.

Now, as I come down off the snide, I ask you to just peer down Amherst Street someday soon, as I do daily, cruising our great thoroughfare each day, and picture it at night.  A brightly-lit marque hangs halfway over the sidewalk, welcoming your arrival to a place where in the past you would usually travel far and wide to see those artists you love so much but never hear on the radio, yet come up easily on Spotify or Youtube.  The bands that travel the country, playing 300-seat venues, who are in their second act of their careers, having reached a level of popularity that affords them a luxury van and a big stage to play on.  Nathaniel, Drive By Truckers, Sturgill, TV on the Radio, Peter Wolf, Colter Wall, and legions of other acts that would get our nips hard to see playing the Queen City.

Mine are already.

The outlook is outstanding, and if the right company or person is hired to book the acts that come in and out of the Rex Theatre when it reappears all shiny and new, stacked with a new sound system, new seating, new paint and plaster, a place where you can get lost in the music, where your mind will careen back and forth over 300 other bodies as the music washes through your veiny heart, well, if done correctly, it will be majestic, a true shot of love and a powerful addition to an already highly-spirited music scene.

Fail us once, call us the fool. Fail us twice, and you’re just a tool.

Godspeed to all involved. I mean that.  Now, trust us. We will come.


Rob Azevedo/Music

Rob Azevedo covers the NH music scene and is host of Granite State of Mind on Friday nights at 7 p.m. on WMNH 95.3 FM. He can be reached at onemanmanch@gmail.com