Independent Thinking

Two new high-class local venues. Bruce Springsteen concerts. Sounds like the work of Clear Channel. But it's not.

Kevin Arnold remembers the Kennel Club as a venue of immeasurable importance in his development as a music fan. "I saw everyone there in the late '80s and early '90s," he says. "Superchunk, Galaxie 500, Dinosaur Jr., the Flaming Lips." It was Arnold's favorite club in San Francisco. He even hosted the first Noise Pop there, 12 years ago.

The Kennel Club, at 628 Divisadero, became the Justice League in the late '90s, its gritty interior mirroring the underground nature of the hip hop and indie rock artists who graced its stage. Its walls were adorned with Barry McGee murals, the bathrooms were always a few shades from disgusting, and the concrete floor did a number on patrons' knees when they stood on it for more than a couple of hours. The club, which was "closed for renovations" more than a year ago, reopened for Noise Pop this year, with a new name, a new look, and a burgeoning new company putting on its shows.

Another Planet Entertainment, the nascent concert production and promotion team that barreled onto the music scene last August with the 40,000-seat Bruce Springsteen sellout at Pac Bell Park, opened the Independent while the paint was still drying on the walls, with a performance by spacey avant-gardists I Am Spoonbender. The outfit's approach to live music and the combined experience of its founders are bringing a new level of attention to the local live music scene, offering the strongest alternative to Clear Channel Entertainment's oft-derided regional and national dominance.

Another Planet's owners, Gregg Perloff and Sherry Wasserman, are protégés of legendary Bay Area promoter Bill Graham, and honed their chops over 25 years running Bill Graham Presents before it became a Clear Channel company in 2000. Soon after the Bruce Springsteen concert, Perloff and Wasserman approached Mystery Machine Productions head Allen Scott about joining forces. The young promoter had, in only a few years, built a strong reputation for putting on quality shows with emerging artists at midlevel clubs around the city (Soulive, Princess Superstar, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, Northern State, to name a few). Scott was already in talks with a group of investors to reopen the Divisadero space, and found Another Planet's proposal to become the club's exclusive booker and promoter -- and in the process give him a full-time job -- appealing.

"The name 'The Independent' came up through some discussions with music industry friends," Scott says, sitting in Another Planet's Berkeley offices. "The whole idea of the Wal-Marting of America applies to the music industry as well. We wanted to stand alone: independent thinking, independent music. We're an independent company. Of course, it was also an elbow in the side of the corporate giant out there."

Although Perloff's departure from Clear Channel was acrimonious -- the massive company is suing him, accusing him of lining up the Springsteen show before he left -- he says he's not out to undermine CC. "Last year I was in charge of a 12-state area for a company, where we did over 1,500 events. This year, I'm in charge of a company where I'm hoping to do 100 events. That's a big difference.

"People would talk about Bill Graham having a monopoly," Perloff continues. "It's so funny to look back on that now, because he was a tiny speck in the overall world of music. He was very important in terms of what he accomplished, but we grew up in a tradition of trying to keep ticket prices down. And trying to keep it a healthy concert market where everyone could enjoy music."

Another Planet is producing shows across the west -- Sarah McLachlan in Denver, Phish in Las Vegas, Shania Twain in Sacramento -- but its primary focus is the Bay Area. The company has already opened both the Independent and the Grand Ballroom in the Regency Building on Van Ness, where the Jaguares will play on March 26 and 27, and for the first time since the 1970s a promoter other than BGP/Clear Channel will be booking and operating the concert series at the Greek Theater on UC Berkeley's campus. "The concert business -- it's almost like 'think globally, act locally,'" Perloff says. "Even though the music industry is a worldwide business, you have to operate locally. You have to tell people when a show is happening, you have to understand which days are not good days to present a certain concert. You have to have a sense for what kind of music people want to hear."

It's that acute ear for good music, and appreciation for the elements of a great show, that allowed Scott to turn a profit on the first 30 shows he produced at Mystery Machine, a track record that Perloff finds amazing, but not surprising. "Allen is an entrepreneur," he says. "One of the things about Clear Channel: Everyone's in a tight little box. You're a booker, an advertiser, a sponsorship person. That keeps you from having an overall perspective, as Allen has, on what it takes to produce an event."

That 360-degree perspective for putting on great shows pushed Scott out of the venues where he'd promoted in the past. After years of respectfully playing by the rules of the venues that hosted his concerts, Scott developed an interest in having complete control over the experience, which drove him toward opening the Independent. "At the end of the day, when I went into these rooms, the bar staff and the security wasn't reporting to me," he says. "I remember one venue in town, where the staff were really jerks. It would be 1:30 or 2 in the morning, and the staff would be kicking the band out of the venue. These are the people who are bringing patrons into your establishment to drink. It was incredibly frustrating."

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