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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Jun 16 1999
Trouble in Clubland Last week, the Blackouts decided not to play their scheduled gig at the Mission's Tip Top Inn on June 11. Thereon hangs a tale.

In early May, a lengthy e-mail titled "The Tip Top: Another Dead Venue" began circulating. In it, its author, John Cobbett, negatively characterized the Tip Top, encouraging local bands not to perform there and clubgoers not to patronize the venue.

As e-mails often do, the message got passed around and in effect became a chain letter; numerous people responded and weighed in with their own opinions about the Tip Top, one of the few live music venues remaining in the Mission after spaces like Komotion, Starcleaners, the Chameleon, and the Kilowatt either closed shop or stopped booking bands. The Tip Top has run into its fair share of difficulties; since March 8, police have been dispatched to the Tip Top's address 33 times, responding to calls regarding malicious mischief, trespassing, fighting, and assault. The worst case occurred on May 30, during one of the Tip Top's regular Sunday night hardcore punk and metal shows. On that night, the police were called twice. Shortly before 10 p.m. that evening, they responded to a complaint that a person was harassing patrons, and just after 11 p.m. were called again to disperse a crowd of about 25 to 30 people who had become so rowdy -- smashing glasses and bathroom mirrors and so forth -- that the Tip Top staff wasn't able to close the place on its own.

Afterward, the Tip Top hired a new booker, Tracy Arnbrister, who in turn hired a new sound person; the Sunday night format was changed from punk and metal to Irish music.

When the Blackouts informed Arnbrister they'd decided not to perform last Friday, they cited Cobbett's e-mail as part of their reason. Bassist Brian Hull says the band's cancellation was "basically because of that [e-mail]," adding that among bands and clubgoers, there's a prevailing sentiment that "we'll get looked down upon in this small, incestuous music scene" for performing there. Handfulla Flowers, another band slated to play that evening, also did not perform.

Cobbett used to work as a soundman and doorman at the Tip Top. In an e-mail to Riff Raff, he said the letter was a "parting blow" meant for "a few folks who I thought would care, or get a kick out of it. It was not meant for major circulation. The fact that it got circulated far and wide via e-mail was a surprise to me. I guess some folks really got a kick out of it."

He added: "The fact that my letter had such an effect is pretty astounding to me, but encouraging as well."

Arnbrister acknowledges that she's inherited an uncomfortable situation, but says her goal is simply to improve the club and its environment. The Tip Top, she says, "has potential. That club can bring what the Mission is lacking." She's working to make improvements: getting monitors for the stage, renting new PA gear, installing new acoustic paneling, recarpeting the stage, repainting the approximately 50-person-capacity space, and generally revamping the place. And last week, Arnbrister called Cobbett to clear the air; Cobbett provided assurances that he no longer has any interest whatsoever in the Tip Top. "I want this thing to blow over," says Arnbrister. For Cobbett, it blew over a moment after he wrote his May e-mail. "That letter was written over a month ago. I have since forgotten about that place, and so have all my friends [and] peers. Ancient history, basically."

Brian Hull of the Blackouts says he has no particular complaint with the Tip Top in general -- he calls Arnbrister "a blessing to the city" -- but still expresses discomfort about playing there, at least for the time being. "By September, it'll probably be water under the bridge," he says. More later.

We'll Get Right on It, But These Things Are Hard to Confirm Sometimes From a message that made its way to Riff Raff's voice mail last week:

Yeah, after reading the article, I realized that it was sort of some kind of sarcastic joke by the San Francisco Weekly. The San Francisco Weekly is going to be taking over BAM magazine, which is the biggest yuppie magazine. They forgot about all the Bay Area musicians, and they're just kissing ass to the ones that make the money, and who have large record deals. So the San Francisco Weekly is full of hip ... hip ... hypocrite ... hypocrisy, you know. So ... uh, who's ever listening to it, whether it's on one side or the other, will get the message, and use it while you can. Heh.

Oops Creeper Lagoon manager Jordan Kurland, in response to last week's item on the band's scheduled New Year's Eve show ("From the Y2K Compliance Desk"), took issue with our characterization of Sharky Laguna as the group's "frontman." "Sharky does sing and write some of their material, but Ian [Sefchick] is Creeper's lead vocalist and chief songwriter." Apologies to Laguna and Sefchick for overstatement and understatement, respectively, of their roles in the band.

-- Mark Athitakis

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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