"It's like a flashback to 2001 in here!"
Cuzin Mike is in front of a packed house at the Riot Room. The grizzly-voiced bassist and Throttlers lead singer kicks his band into its next tightly wound, punk-speed, rock-and-roll fast break. I edge back to the bar area because the volume is, yes, throttling.
It is like 2001, maybe even 1996, at the Riot Room, the club that's claimed the space once held by the Hurricane, Westport's most-loved — and most-hated — music venue since the 30- and 40-somethings in the crowd tonight were in their youth-gone-wild days.
Headlining tonight's show is the perfect act for the Riot Room's grand opening: Cretin 66 the MC5-worshipping sleaze-rock brawlers who haven't played a show in five years but whose name never fails to inspire nostalgia or nausea in the bellies of back-in-the-day scenesters.
Around midnight, the Throttlers are over, and Cretin is bashing out a hit.
One not-so-old KC rocker sings along.
Shaking his frizzy brown locks around his denim-clad shoulders, 27-year-old Riot Room general manager Tim Gutschenreitter stands by the door and yells, Gonna jump and shout, bust out windows!
Gutschenreitter used to front the band National Fire Theory. Now, he and his friend Robbie Hadley own the Riot Room, having purchased it from John Kelley and Mike Rounkles, the proprietors of Jerry's Bait Shop, with whom Hadley and Gutschenreitter have worked in the past.
The Bait Shop guys didn't have much luck with the Hurriane between late 2006 and early '08. During that phase, band nights, DJ nights and an array of plasma-screen TVs all came and went. As the Record Bar became the go-to place for live music, no one really knew — or cared — what the hell was happening at the Hurricane.
I dropped by the Riot Room for the first time on the Monday prior to the Cretin show — Retox Monday, to quote the calendar. I hadn't walked through the door for six months, and my expectations were low. Even when it was open regularly, club nights and knife fights had given the place a dirty reputation.
But walking in that night, it was as though Jesus and the apostles had driven the moneychangers out of the temple and were settling down for a drink, a smoke and a little rock and roll.
Making up the holy assemblage were chummy, whiskey-loving bar manager Nate "Dutch" Humphrey, bartender Jessica Delich (former owner of Strawberry Hill's rocker-friendly 403 Club), and DJs-for-the-night Zach Phillips and Keenan Nichols of the Architects. Cretin 66 bassist Chico Thunder was at the bar, as were assorted other musicians.
Gutschenreitter was there, too, buzzing around the place, half businessman, half kid with a new treehouse.
"I was raised here. I've been coming to this bar, and I've played shows here since I was 13," he told me. "I want this place to be a destination again."
He said he gets chills talking about his hopes for the room, and his enthusiasm was catching.
That made it easier for me to fight my hangover and come back the next night to catch two surprisingly great bands: Flannigan's Right Hook, an Irish fiddle band from KC; and Dusty Rhodes and the River Band From Anaheim, a big-haired, '70s-influenced California jam band that covered the Band's "The Weight" and Boyz II Men's "The End of the Road" amid their own Grand Funk-saluting barnstormers.
And then there was the righteous Cretin 66-Throttlers show the following Saturday.
In summary: My liver wasn't loving the cheap drinks I splashed all over it, but my rock soul was close to heaven three nights last week. And I was in Westport.
The Riot Room: fuck yes.