On Wilmington Street, just between Martin and Hargett, there’s a skinny shotgun bar which during the day will fool you into thinking it’s nothing special. If you go in you can order your vodka Red Bull and carry it through the emergency exit at the back onto a concrete pad tucked between two tall downtown buildings. You can call it a patio if you want, but that’s one of those “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” kind of things. There’s also an upstairs loft with the obligatory off-balance, beer-stained pool table and two pinball machines. From there you can gaze down at the faded and dusty 70’s and 80’s era album covers: Cher, Supertramp, Neil Diamond, Lou Reed, Elton John, and (omg!) Jim Nabors.
The only thing that gives this place away are the thousands of band stickers on the bar’s industrial coolers and the metal stairs that arc over the bar to the upper floor. Who plays there? Hell, who hasn’t? Slim’s Downtown is a sort of CBGB for indie rock, with the band member sleeping upstairs on a couch before the gig to prove it.
Apparently they were originally scheduled to play The Brewery where they might have had more room, but Tristan Clopet and the Juice packed Slim’s to the rafters. Clopet was born in Toronto but calls Raleigh home, and has at least one social media savvy marketing friend who found me on Twitter on gig day (my bio says “live music fanatic”) and invited me to catch the show. I did a little research, loved what I heard (check out this video of their recent appearance on the CBS Morning Show), and sent a tweet out to Tristan, who was quick to respond, making me even more eager to get downtown early enough to nab a seat at the bar, one of only about 11 chairs in the entire place, not counting the couch upstairs. And it was a good thing I did, because come 10 pm, the crowd came pouring in, and these people were here to see a friend.
Clopet quit school at University of Miami with two semesters to go in order to tour with his band; he says it was the best decision he ever made, and after you hear him it’s hard to disagree. Think Squirrel Nut Zippers meets Red Hot Chili Peppers, channeling a mellow James Brown. This guy has a voice like caramel creme, an easy smile, and the irrepressible and quirky sense of fun. My favorite moment was at the end of their set, when every member of the band hammered on a drum, consummately passing solos back and forth in an fabulously grin-inducing display of music geekiness. The show included all the songs on their demo disk (on sale at the merch table for five bucks — how do these people make money?? — and they throw in a free sticker which I needed for my husband’s guitar case) as well as a few covers. I have a terrible set list addiction, so naturally I shoved my way up to snap a photo of it, which you may notice is upside down so we can read it. You can see the rest of my photos from the gig here.
From here the band is headed to Virginia Beach, DC, and multiple dates in New York, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be slowing down any time soon. More power to ’em. Next time they’re in Raleigh, I bet they’ll be able to fill the Lincoln. Get there early.