052897 Matthew Sweet, Ottawa, ON

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According to a note in my ticket album, on May 28th, 1997 I saw Matthew Sweet at Barrymore’s.  I have no recollection of the show whatsoever, but I do know this was among a flurry of “plus one’s” I enjoyed courtesy of my girlfriend Christine.  At the time she was working at HMV and got on the guest list for lots of local shows so by association I was introduced to tons of music that was new to me.  Though many of these artists quickly entered my personal lexicon of musical adoration, unfortunately I can’t count Matthew Sweet among them.

I say that because I remember absolutely nothing about the show.  Zippo, zero, nada.

I do know that we would have entered Barrymore’s from Bank Street and gone up the steep first flight of stairs to the small ticket window.  After getting our (okay, her) name checked off the list we would have continued up another flight and entered the ancient theatre from audience left, halfway up the multi-tiered room (luckily bands loaded in from the much shorter steel staircase that ran from stage left to the back alley).

It would have been dark – Barrymore’s was always dark – but your eyes could only go to the stage, shining under racks of 200w light cans and framed by a large red curtain that was brought in from the Capitol Theatre when it closed down decades before.  Jimi Hendrix played in front of that curtain (at the Capitol), so did Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Who, Ravi Shankar and so many more.  The huge chandelier that hung from the yellowed ceiling was rumoured to be from the Capitol too.  I can tell you from many experiences on the Barrymore’s stage that the curtain has seen much better days; it’s dirty, dingy and frayed but it’s a dirty, dingy and frayed piece of tattered rock and roll history.  I actually tore a little piece from that curtain the first time my band headlined at Barrymore’s.  I still have it somewhere.

In the pre-reno days the main bar was on the floor, stage right (aka ‘audience left’*).  If the bar wasn’t very busy that’s where we would have gone.  While the place had a capacity of six hundred patrons, if only fifty or a hundred people showed up for a show everyone would collect on the floor, giving the place an intimate small-bar vibe.

If there was a good crowd at this show we probably would have headed right up to the top floor.  This was generally my favourite place to watch a busy show from, looking down on a rollicking room with plenty of space to move and a good-sized bar ten feet behind me.  

I can also tell you that behind that upstairs bar was what we used to call the Sawdust Suite, a small, uncelebrated secondary dressing room that was regulated to unresplendent opening bands, of which I was a part on many occasions.  It was the old projector room from the days when Barrymore’s was a grandiose movie house called The Imperial Theatre, and it had a little window of sorts that would open, offering little Keith Moon wannabes like myself a portal on unsuspecting Bank Street, three stories below.

I have gotten up to much shenanigans in that room over the years.  I suspect the Sawdust Suite did not survive the reno.

So while I can report with confidence and great familiarity that Barrymore’s was a fantastic place to see concerts big and small (and a heck of a lot of fun to play at – I played there about seventy times with at least four different bands), I can offer nothing regarding this concert in particular.

Frankly, it’s vaguely suspicious that I don’t even have a ticket stub for this show.

*You’re welcome.

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