Chaos at the Back Booth House
Note: Riverwest writer Bob Buss is working on a fantastic project called Riverwest Underground Music Scene, 1999-2004. I have to say I completely relate to the time frame he has chosen. I moved to Riverwest in ’98 and right around 2004 is when I kind of dropped out of what was going on in the music scene (for awhile, anyway). I found some old flyers I drew from that era as well as an underground paper, the Milwaukee Orbit that I contributed comics and articles to for Bob to take a look at, and typed out an account of a memorable show from circa 2000, which is below.
This must have been back in 2000, though it possibly could have been 1999 or 2001. I was working in the kitchen of the Hi Hat Lounge. One of the other kitchen workers was a young punk rocker, I forget her name. We’ll call her “Sheena.” She told me she had moved into “the Back Booth House” which was on the 2700 block of Booth Street. Both the front and back house on that lot had a long line of punk rockers and skinheads living and hanging out there. I hung out there frequently because my friends Andy and Adam lived in the front house. Other people I remember living there: Tang, Becky, Jake, Danimal, Watty (aka Wally) and Jason “The Straightedge.” The place was always totally trashed, it was more like a squat than a rental.
Anyway, I’m working in the kitchen of Hi Hat when my young co-worker Sheena walks in and is all smiles and says they are having a party at the Back House.
“Check out the flyer,” she says, unfolding it from her pocket. The flyer had some crude art and listed off about 8-10 local punk, metal, and ska bands. Then the right hand corner caught my eye. “FREE BEER! 5 KEGS!” It said. I looked at her.
“What did you do with this flyer?”
“Oh, we handed some out, we hung some up around the neighborhood.”
“Wow.” I said. “Wow, you just…you are going to have some big problems.”
She said some nonsense about her boyfriend and her roommate doing security and asked me if I was going to go.
“I sure am.” I said.
* * *
“This ought to be good,” I thought, walking into the Back House. When I walked down the stairs to the party, the first thing I saw was a huge mob of people jammed in a circle around the only keg with a tapper in it, stretching out their arms with empty plastic cups, demanding beer from someone who was spraying foam at them as fast as they could. I had brought my own bottle of grape Mad Dog 20/20, wrapped in a brown paper bag, and watched the crowd trying to climb over each other’s backs to get the beer. It reeked heavily of Coors and armpits.
It was a long, terrible night. A fight broke out in the basement, apparently over a dispute about one of the bands being racist (I wish I remembered the band’s name but I don’t) and a different fight in the early morning resulted in one person almost being beat to death. It was absolutely horrifying. Two of the kegs were stolen and the Back House was, for the umpteenth time in its existence, completely trashed. It suffered broken windows, walls, stairs, and a basement filled with blood, puke, and sticky, humid beer.
I went to a lot of well-mannered, considerate, hygienic basement shows. This wasn’t one of them.
I don’t remember if the police came. If they did, it was after I left. I lived about two blocks away, so after the Mad Dog, after the empty kegs of Coors had been smashed against the wall and thrown out the window, I headed home. I saw Sheena again at work and I can only describe her as being in a state of shock.