Seems like Portlanders forgot exactly what a rock club is for.
Now, of course, Sabala's has settled to a steady simmer. On a recent Thursday night, a smattering of punk aficionados and Southeast Portland barflys lounged in studded leather jackets and "Fuck the FCC" T-shirts. On stage a bearded man let out a strangled scream as if Satan himself were squeezing his balls. A frantic bass drum beat joined the sonic onslaught and set the dimly lit space's booths jittering like |25-cent vibrating hotel beds.
Slowly, the crowd--many of whom looked old enough to have screamed their devotion to Black Flag the first time around--began to bob their heads in unison. Their cans of Pabst Tallboys made the worn path back and forth from their mouths into a salute to the large, square stage, then back to their mouths.
Somebody wanted to know the name of the band. Nobody knew. Not even the bartender.
It's almost as if, that night, the music was simply part of Sabala's decor. Which is fine, because the spacious new club/movie theater/art space's feverish Trading Spaces-like makeover is what signals that this once folksy jam-band haven is now a hardcore Disneyland. Notable stage acts have already played and, with luck, more will follow.
Flames cut from sheets of metal crawl up the sides of the well-stocked bar. Oversized mural portraits of Johnny Cash and Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre flank the fluorescent-lit front hallway. In the still-grand ballroom, old notices for the Cramps and the Melvins jockey for space alongside cartoon characters and the Texas state flag (after all, Sabala did work at the venerable Austin club Emo's a few years back). The place fairly screams "We WILL be your rock club, damn it."
As Thursday night slipped into Friday morning there was no sign of the antic carnage that heralded the venue's explosive birth. Ladies with liquid-liner-caked cat eyes noshed on gyros from Big Bertha's, the adjoining diner, while the last sweaty trio of high-octane noisemakers, called, appropriately, Naked Violence, spewed verbal ichor across the stage. As the band finished, a lone, drunken fan clambered up on stage and blasted a keening fragment of song through the microphone. He looked crestfallen as Naked Violence pointedly ignored his entreaties to jam. And then he fell off the stage.
It was the kind of thing that one could have fondly recalled happening not so long ago at Satyricon or EJ's or the Blackbird.
But that evening, the mayhem, at whatever level, was at Sabala's--as it will be from now on.
Sabala's at Mount Tabor, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1646.