Well before Courtney Taylor-Taylor ever considered turning the streetside section of his band's Slabtown practice facility/recording studio/clubhouse into a wine bar, the Dandy Warhols' frontman had already begun storing emblems of a disappearing cityscape within the Odditorium's vast confines.
Even during its first night, Old Portland seemed somewhat a reliquary. The signboard out front belonged to a lower Southeast playhouse where the Dandy's recorded Welcome To The Monkey House. A daunting collection of concert handbills dominates one corner. Woodwork was repurposed from the Multnomah Athletic Club. Furnishings could be traced to the Lotus, Wildwood, an early incarnation of the Hilton lounge—a decorous assemblage of artifacts salvaged from an increasingly distant civilization.
And, now, they've unearthed the Rosetta Stone.
Unseen for more than six years and long believed stolen or destroyed, the marquee of fabled rock venue Satyricon has returned to old Portland. Following a series of concerts across Europe two months ago, Taylor-Taylor returned to the Odditorium to find the sign leaning against a Roman column in the main room. "I had literally just come back from tour," he said, "and it was sitting there. I asked [the building caretaker] where it came from, and he had no idea. He wasn't here when it showed up… I'm just really glad the sign's amongst the M-99 and Napalm Beach posters. Funny, but, every time I look at it, my stomach still does a turn."
Since opening along a still-blighted stretch of darkest Old Town nearly 35 years ago, Satyricon soon became an irreplaceable hub of alternative culture and left-of-center nightlife within an often-parochial burg slow to embrace weirdness as chief civic virtue. Throughout the 80s and 90s, its dank, graffiti-strewn, surprisingly-small interiors served as launchpad for arena-bound proto-superstars (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), incubator for local heroes beyond number, and open canvas for acts (transgressive performance art, poetry readings, daft disco experiments) otherwise unable to find a stage. Alas, however fiercely its legend burns—site of riots, where Kurt met Courtney, longest running punk club on the west coast—the venue spent the new millennium struggling to stay afloat.
After an ill-fated stint as dance-fueled Icon, SatCon soldiered on as all-ages metal parlor for a while longer before finally shuttering doors in 2010 following climactic Poison Idea-led Halloween show. Among several former mainstays called back to pay their respects, the Dandy Warhols played one of the final nights, bringing back original drummer Eric Hedford to headline an infamous 31+ concert with old friends Swoon 23 and Sugarboom.
"The closing week or two," Taylor-Taylor recalled, "they drug out all the old junkies to prop em up on stage and get 'em to play before they closed. That was a 31-and-over – probably could've gone 41 and had exactly the same people there. We did hear that some spunky 22-year-old showed up at the door in an outrage that 31-and-over wasn't legal. I'm pretty sure whoever was working the door did tell them it was actually a joke and that they should go ahead and come in … Satyricon never carded."
Despite the outpouring of goodwill throughout that last month, little thought was ever given to disposal of the remains. Piles of memorabilia were unceremoniously given away to anyone interested. The iconic men's room trough was last seen languishing midst Gresham tulip farm. And, prior to the building's demolition the following summer, Satyricon's marquee seems to have been stolen.
On December 10, an I, Anonymous submission to the Portland Mercury identified the theft as tribute to the original acts and protest against the rapidly-changing city:
Old Portland, where the sign now hangs, is not a venue.
Though Taylor-Taylor may "play an acoustic thing there one day", they've had just one show since opening: a private set by Bauhaus/Love & Rockets legend David J (exclusive video snippet below), with no current plans for more. Nevertheless, the bar was only made possible by a rock'n'roll forged through countless gigs at Satyricon, and Taylor-Taylor maintains an abiding affection.
"I've been going there since I was a teenager. My band was a bunch of 16-year-olds, 15-year-olds, and my dad dropped us off, pulled up behind Satyricon so we could load in. There were puddles out by the door and the dumpsters, and he said: 'Don't step in that puddle, kids, there's a syringe in there. Don't step in that puddle either, there's feces, looks like human.' That was was how I entered Satyricon, and I kept coming through the back until I turned 21. Or looked close enough. Or wore enough eyeliner and lipstick that they just didn't care. I probably looked like a 30 year old woman …
"Whenever I look at the sign, it still gives me a little heartache. It was so exciting to see the name of your band on that thing as you're going in and wondering how many people would be there. 18? So packed that you can't walk through? All your friend's bands were up there. Everyone was up there.
"Satyricon shaped what I ended up like. It shaped me more than any other person, place, or thing ever in history. Satyricon shaped me more than my parents."