Like most Boston residents, my first visit to T.T. the Bear’s Place took place freshman year of college. Boston’s music scene was spilling with shows, fall was spreading over the city, and a buzz filled the air like I had never seen before. I constantly stressed over which concert to go to, for there was, and still is, never a lack of options. But then I arrived at T.T. the Bear’s to see The Octopus Project. The tiny stage held its ground while the crowd squashed against it, dancing to electronic beeps with whiskey sours in their hands. I had heard about the epic shows of the past, about the Pixies blowing the walls out and Arcade Fire bringing people to tears, but it was only then that I finally understood. This wasn’t just a small venue that booked stadium-acts-to-be; it was a community of passionate, fearless, unrelenting fans who loved music wholly, regardless of an act’s hype.
T.T. the Bear’s Place is a venue of memories for more people than the city of Boston can hold. To choose the memories you hold dearest, even as a single unit, is surprisingly hard.
I lost a shoe during a Joyce Manor show where they refused to play more songs until the crowd helped find it. Like all emo punk bands, Joyce Manor attract batches of gangly, white, middle class boys, most of whom clock in around 6’2″ and make it remarkably difficult to see the stage, nevertheless a black slip-on shoe. I remember tapping the tallest man I could find on his arm. “Excuse me,” I began. “I lost my shoe. Can you ask the people on your other side if they can see it? It looks like this.” Hobbling, I took my left shoe off and held it up so he could see. When he grinned and nodded, I wasn’t expecting a loud voice to come shouting out of his mouth demanding attention from the whole room, including the band. “Everyone, we have to help her find her shoe,” singer/guitarist Barry Johnson said, leaning into the microphone. “Come on. Look.” In under 10 seconds, a voice on the opposing side of the venue called out in a joyful exclamation. Tall Guy gave me a thumbs up. At the same time, I saw my shoe come hurling through the air, rotating in a high arc just past his head and hitting another Tall Guy, this one two inches shorter, on the collar. Everyone cheered. There was dirt on my foot, my cheeks were fully flushed, and every square inch of my body was covered in sweat — but then again, so was everyone else’s. It was a moment of friendly care, an older brother looking out for you, a leveling of audience comfort. I felt welcome.
I went to my first show alone there where no one raised an eyebrow to make me second guess my decision. Before, there came shows where I trotted out to the Paradise Rock Club or the House of Blues with a single ticket, but was fully aware of classmates or friends likely to be in attendance as well. This show, however, was different. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, a Maine native who stole the show from Sharon Van Etten at Brighton Music Hall a few months prior, was set to perform, and no one I knew could go. Lady Lamb’s shows are always filled with magic in one form or another. This one, a half-filled show with adoring, awkward fans fumbling at the stage’s edge, was different. “Florence Berlin”, then un-released, was the most heartfelt I had ever seen it (and to this day, I listen to the ripped audio from that show instead of the LP version). Maybe it was because she wasn’t worried about promoting upcoming records. Maybe it’s because it was chilly November winds were kept at bay outside. Maybe it’s because the venue is too small to press expectations on a performer. Whatever the reason, that evening became a performance unlike any I had seen by her, and not once did the nerves of loneliness infringe on my enjoyment. T.T.’s offered a mature, relaxing, welcoming mood to quell anxieties that come with going anywhere solo, a vibe every other spot in Boston unfortunately can’t rid itself of.
I got punched in the face during …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead where the whole room supported my decision to carrying on moshing. There’s a blissful solitude that comes from hearing music live that’s several notches too loud. It transcends. Source Tags & Codes throws more fire under its belly the deeper into its catalog it goes, and fans react to that. The room at T.T.’s shook with grown ups and college students hollering lyrics and soloing on air guitar. As such, accidents happen. An arm swings backwards when your head rocks forwards, creating the perfect impact point for tension and resistance. With a hand to my bleeding nose, I looked up, making direct eye contact with the older man in front of me. His eyes widened, horrified. I began laughing, looking at the dots of blood on the ground, and he screamed apologies over the music. Those nearby stepped away. One man offered to grab me ice. “Days Of Being Wild” pummeled on and I waved my hand, trying to communicate over the guitars. “It’s okay, I promise!” I mouthed over the music, smiling. He stared a few minutes longer, but when I flashed a thumbs up, he offered an informal salute. Safety comes first. It did, it has, and it always should. From there on out, though, returns the reason you came: enjoyment. The fact that the crowd understood and supported the decision speaks to Boston’s crowds and the venue’s actions to offer, but not mandate, care in the face of health concerns, a line frequently overstepped due to legal concerns.
Memories don’t fade, even if buildings do. T.T. the Bear’s Place is a venue for its people, for the bands, and, most importantly, the music. Those pool tables in the back and its U-shaped bar don’t hide their efforts to foster a friendly environment, and neither does the host stamping your hand at the door. That itty bitty paw print pressed into the woodwork is more than a decal; it’s a friendly wave, a guiding light, and a raised fist in solidarity for supporting the underground.
For Bonney Bouley, the venue’s long-time owner, seeing the rock club close was never part of the plan. Yet here we are, looking at those double doors wondering what will move into that location and how it will struggle to, if ever, replace it. T.T.’s was build in two years by Bouley, Miles Cares, his father, his girlfriend, and her boyfriend. It officially opened as a rock club in March of 1984, but prices in 2015 are far greater than those 43 years ago.
“I am not tired, I am not sick, I have COPD, everyone has to die of something!” Bouley wrote in a farewell statement. “Contrary to what has been written, I have been trying to degotiate a lease that was given to me by the Saters, in December. I was told that I could look for buyers and they would negotiate the lease. The lease has never been able to be negotiated by me or any buyers. This is not what I wanted, but due to pending financial changes, staying open or trying to sell T.T.’s is not a viable option.”
They’re summing up over 40 years in a week of memorable bills: The Lights Out, Ad Frank & The Fast Easy Women, Parlour Bells, Francine, and Cujo featuring Jen Trynin on July 22; Harris, Emergency Music, Vic Firecracker, Orbit, Field Nurse, and Atomic Spectra on July 23; The Neighborhoods, The Dogmatics, Howie & The Scrapes, Martin & Morrell, and Bleu on July 24; Scruffy The Cat, O Positive, and Randy Black & Willie Alexander July 25. After that, nothing.
You read the Dig. You’ve been to T.T.’s. Head to one of their final shows before those rattling doors never open again because you will never, ever forget it. We don’t have to tell you twice.
T.T.’S FAREWELL BLOWOUT. T.T. THE BEAR’S, 10 BROOKLINE ST., CAMBRIDGE. 617.492.2327. WED-SAT 7.22-7.25. 8PM/18+/$15. TTTHEBEARS.COM