Metro Rides the Rails

Yet another downtown venue claims The Man is messin' with it.

In the continuing saga of downtown Oakland clubs, the folks behind the Metro on Broadway down by Jack London Square complain that they’re the latest in a string of nightclubs Da Man’s been messin’ with.

The Metro is actually a nonprofit, “avant-garde” opera/theater space, but over the past year it’s also been throwing some cool music shows and selling beer and wine to keep afloat. Although its managers say most city officials have been great — especially the mayor’s office, go figger — the club’s existence has depended on it jumping through more bureaucratic hoops than a mid-level office poodle.

According to Lori Zook, one of the venue’s operators, the club’s main foe is the city’s Alcohol Beverage Action Team, or ABAT. The name conjures up images of middle-aged guys with crew cuts in different Power Rangers outfits representing different spirits. “I’m Pabst!,” “I’m Champale!,” “Hooch here!,” and everyone’s favorite kindly coot, “Ol’ Grandad!”

But these guys actually are responsible for cracking down on businesses that sell booze to minors or operate without a liquor license. A lot of their work involves decoys, underage kids who go into liquor stores and see if they can buy a six-pack while the ABAT fellas wait around outside to swoop in.

Sergeant Leonard White is the head of ABAT, and one night last August he discovered the Metro for the first time. “I had never seen the place open since it had been Tyrone’s,” says White, referring to the club that had been there previously. “I was just a little bit inquisitive.” He wandered into a packed house during an East Bay Pride event and asked to see the club’s permits. “He didn’t like what he saw,” says Zook.

White, who says he was just doing his job, notes that the club’s cabaret license was expired by one day. He notes that city officials can grant a nonprofit up to two dozen 24-hour liquor licenses each year. The Metro had already used 39 of the one-day licenses. “ABAT isn’t coming down hard on anyone,” the sergeant says. “ABAT wants people to be in compliance with what the local ordinances and statutes are.” He also points out that the building isn’t up to fire codes, though according to the Metro folks, that’s the fault of the porn shop next door.

Regardless, the Metro must now appear before the planning commission to try and get a major conditional-use permit, the piece of paper that says, “Here’s what you’ve gotta do if you want to stay open.”

The Metro is calling on its supporters to show up at the club’s March 19 hearing to speak its praises, even though the planner in charge of the downtown zone has assured club owners “the hearing will go fine.”

The main issue, then, isn’t even whether or not the Metro will stay around — because it sounds like it will. It’s more that the club is feeling harassed by ABAT, just as Sweet Jimmie’s is feeling harassed by the fuzz. “For a city that complains about its vacancy rate and how it wants to be business-friendly; if we had to do it over again I’m not sure we would,” Zook says.

Truly Unverified
Last week’s cover story about CMJ’s pay-to-play fiasco (“The Monster That Ate College Radio”) had at least one unexpected outcome.

Quick recap: CMJ New Music Report is the Billboard magazine of college radio, publishing the charts of thousands of stations. The company has recently gotten itself in hot water for replacing entries its computer didn’t recognize with Certain Damage, CMJ’s own commercial sampler, which labels pay big bucks to put their bands on. Once Planet Clair came snooping, the company did what it should have done in the first place, printing “Unverified” in those slots instead.

Albuquerque band Unverified can’t believe its good fortune. (Or perhaps it can.) “Thanks for bringing some attention our way!” e-mails bandleader Scotty Unverified, who claims his Web site has been inundated.

The site quotes e-mails from various music directors, including Brian Turner, music director at New Jersey college station WFMU and a subject of the story: “Best thing I’ve heard since the band that called themselves ‘Various Artists’ to get in record-store bins!”

The band also quotes KZSU Stanford’s Bill Cuevas, as saying, “You must feel like a flag distributor/manufacturer on Sept 12, 2001.”

The music director of University of Southern California’s KSCR was apparently a little hot under the collar: “The very fact that you are benefiting from this horrible occurrence is worse than CMJ’s original actions,” he e-mailed, according to the site. “You claim that you are a Ramones-influenced band. Well, quite frankly, I doubt very much that Joey Ramone would think much of you now.”

And now for the weird part: The folks at CMJ, Scotty claims, have asked Unverified to appear on a future Certain Damage disc. “Whoever made this Web site is my new hero,” Louis Miller, associate editor of CMJ consumer magazine New Music Monthly wrote in an e-mail forwarded by Scotty.

This last one makes Clair wonder if this isn’t all some elaborate hoax. Scotty, after all, could be tech-savvy enough to fake an e-mail. WFMU’s Turner, for one, claims he never e-mailed the band, though Cuevas verifies his own e-mail.

And the plot thickens: Unverified’s Web site recommends a publicity book by Albuquerque writer Mark Mathis called “Feeding the Media Beast.” What’s more, the two songs the band has posted online might well have been written and recorded by a group of drunk-though-intelligent platypuses over a three-day period, with lyrics such as: “When the alarm goes off I slide down the pole/Get on my gear and I’m ready to roll/’Cause I’m a fireman.”

On the other hand, if this is a publicity stunt, it seems to be working. Oh, the horror.

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