Satyricon lifts the curtain for next generation of fans

by: ©2006 DAVID PLECHL, Since 1984, the stage at Satyricon has served as a proving ground for indie bands, and the fans who love them. After a three-year hiatus, it’s open again, with groups like the Altarboys bringing on the noise.

One Monday night in 1993, I pulled up in front of Satyricon in the station wagon my parents gave me. My car was full of gear belonging to a band called the Surf Maggots, and even though it was New Band Night - and I wasn't even in the band - I thought I was pretty damn cool.

Now, 13 years later, I don't feel quite so confident. After a three-year break, Satyricon has reopened as an all-ages club, and I'm not sure what to expect. Feeling out of place is never good, but feeling out of place somewhere that was once very familiar could be really depressing.

The front of the club is dark and empty. Behind the bar, where the liquor used to be, there are rows of potato chips and candy bars. A glass-front fridge is full of energy drinks. In back, a crowd of 20 or 30 stands, facing the stage. A vinyl banner that hangs behind the band proclaims them 'The Altarboys.'

The audience is young, and a few kids in the front have a five-person mosh pit going. A girl falls down, and two guys immediately set her back up on her feet. The lead singer introduces the next song - 'It's about the best day of my (expletive) life, the day I quit my job!'

The club looks the same as I remember - eerily so. Same bar stools, same black paint. At the same time, it looks unfinished, like someone decided to remodel, ripped up a few boards and then totally slacked off.

'It feels like we broke in,' Steve Powell says. 'I keep looking over my shoulder.' Powell is an old-timer, a 33-year-old who remembers sneaking into the club when he was 20.

His roommates were in a band called Dimbulb, and he discovered that if he helped them carry in their equipment, no one checked his ID. 'Five-dollar pitchers of Henry's … yeah, it was great.' Now he's legit: He's the drummer for the Muddy River Nightmare Band, tonight's headliners.

The new Satyricon doesn't have a liquor license, but it has a permit to set up a 'beer garden' in the bar adjacent to the club, which used to be the restaurant Fellini. A bartender with glow sticks tucked behind his ears tells us to make our choice between 'Pabst and PBR.'

Tom Ulrich is hanging out in the bar. He'll leave the dancing to his 14-year-old daughter, he says. She's in the other room, up close to the stage. Her hair is dyed purple, and she's wearing her dad's old leather jacket. Ulrich was a regular at Satyricon, but it was his daughter who told him the club had reopened.

She read about it on the Internet. 'These kids today,' he says, then pauses. 'Oh, man! 'These kids today' - I never thought I would say that.'

Ulrich is wearing a Satyricon T-shirt, from the club's 18th anniversary show in July 2002. The headliners were Dead Moon and Poison Idea, but he's more interested in pointing out another band listed on his T-shirt, the Nightmares, his girlfriend's band. She arrives on cue, a few minutes later, in a red lace vintage dress and high-heeled black boots.

'It looks like a grave,' she says of the place. 'It really feels like going into a house that's haunted.' Her legal name is Jennifer Shepard, but in the old days, a bandmate dubbed her Jen Genocide, and it stuck.

'You went to Satyricon because it was the clubhouse,' she says. 'I would come down every single night of the week for, god, a good three years straight, probably. I was just so afraid, oh my god, I'm going to miss something.'

In truth, that something was as likely to be a meltdown as a great show. I notice that whenever I ask people about Satyricon, they respond with a fond, enthusiastic nostalgia. Then, inevitably, they launch into a sordid, sorry tale of alcoholic excess, drug abuse, emotional chaos and unpleasant bodily functions.

But that was a long time ago. New owners Mike Wolfson (of Loveland) and Jeff Urquhart (King Banana promotions) both have a history in Portland of hosting safe, legal all-ages shows that won't set your kids on the brink of doom.

Twenty-five-year-old Loretta Bondioli is at Satyricon for the first time, and she's never heard any crazy stories about the place. She's here, she says, because 'my roommate Joey's friend Matt's birthday was yesterday,' and Matt, it seems, is friends with some of tonight's featured musicians.

Legendary bands have played at Satyricon, and maybe they will again. But it was always your band, and your friends' band, and your friend's friends' band, the ones with the goofy name, the ones that need a ride to the show, holding it all together.

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Where: 125 N.W. Sixth Ave., no phone

More: Leaving the Scene, the Twitch, Oliver and Quaker Gun play 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, $8,