For the most part, though, I'm all for all-ages shows. So it was somewhat disconcerting to see El Torreon, the erstwhile punk playground, hosting a 21-and-over affair on September 6. However, there weren't many crestfallen teens turned away at the door or suspiciously fresh-faced, fake-ID-carrying party crashers. The phrase avant-garde jazz has a way of scaring anyone too young to have acquired the taste.
For the beer-chugging crowd, though, this concert was a liberating experience. At previous El Torreon gigs, guzzlers had been confined in a cage that served as a barfly trap. They could still see the action through a chain-link fence filter, but for a better view of the stage they had to discard their drinks. Now the barriers are gone, and free-range sippers can roam as they suck on their foam.
Not that the imbibers got too rowdy, or even remained upright. El Torreon isn't known for having chairs available to make sit-down shows viable. But when Snuff Jazz, a local trio featuring omnipresent saxophone player Mark Southerland and innovative bassist Bill McKemy, played its first exotically scattered notes at roughly 10 p.m., the several dozen spectators chose mostly to stay seated.
Snuff Jazz sounds much better if you're listening with your eyes closed. Every note sounds vivid, and the group's eerie background loops and subtle rhythm-section interaction come into focus only in total darkness. But there were a few advantages to using other senses during the show. Some chairs were situated so that Southerland was entirely eclipsed by a speaker stack, which led to some interesting shadows and silhouettes. When he fidgeted with his 8-track-scratching contraption, it looked as though he were feeding flesh into a corpse-grinder; when he attached a thin hose to his horn, he seemed to be swallowing a snake; and when he started spinning that hose above his head lasso-style, several spectators with obscured views were curious enough to leave the relative comfort of their seats to watch the spectacle.
Some shut-eyed spectators ended up drifting into dreamland. In this case, that's a compliment to the band. Snuff Jazz plays perfect sleeping music: It's elaborate, elegant and instrumental, and unlike smooth jazz, it's not so lame that it leads to annoyed insomnia. After a rough workweek in the real world, adults couldn't ask for much more than an enchanting live lullaby. Even more so than the Ramones-worshipping three-chord wonders that usually haunt these halls, they wanna be sedated.
Zu, the headlining trio from Rome, Italy, shook the dozers awake with its high-volume blasts, but it was repetitive enough to pound them right back into a trance. The group often settled into noisy grooves, with its electric guitar and horns blaring in unison. Occasionally, it would engage in the type of overextended sputter-and-shake conclusions that mar the genre, but for the most part its dynamic tunes were effectively abrupt. A handful of fans even stood in front of the stage and moved a bit, though not until the band's drummer extended a charmingly accented invitation to do so.
Similarly, the Zu and Snuff Jazz bill proved that adult audiences will come to El Torreon, given the right motivation. The venue remains primarily youth-oriented; the rest of the dates on its September-October calendar are all-ages shows. But the occasional 21-and-over gig should go over well with bar hoppers who long ago abandoned the club because of its early showtimes and cagey liquor quarantines. In live music clubs, as at the pools, grown-ups get the best of all worlds.