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POP BEAT / Randy Lewis

Rock Club Bucks the Pay-to-Play Trend

June 15, 1989|Randy Lewis

When Troy Tabak and Randy Noteboom took over Joshua's Parlour in Westminster last year and renamed it the Marquee, they decided to turn it into an oddity in the world of hard rock and heavy metal: a nightclub that pays its performers.

Elsewhere, "pay to play" is the rule. At major Southland clubs from the Country Club in Reseda and the Roxy, Whisky and Gazzarri's on the Sunset Strip to Jezebel's in Anaheim and Goodies in Fullerton, bands frequently are required to purchase $100, $200 or more worth of tickets before they will be given places on the schedule. If they want to make money, or break even or whatever, they then have to go out and sell the tickets.

But Noteboom, who serves as Marquee's booking agent, promoter and manager, will have none of that.

Noteboom, who has a reputation as a friend of struggling rockers, said: "The way I look at it, bands do what they do for a living. They are artists, and even if a lot of them aren't the greatest in the world, they should get paid for their art. If I was to do presale ticketing, we would make a helluva lot more money. But I'm in it to have bands doing what they do without having to pay to play."

Noteboom said he typically arranges a mutually acceptable flat fee with a band in advance, rather than track the number of customers who come to see each group. ("It seems this way is more professional," he said.) A new band starting in a weeknight slot might get $50 or $100, and, if they prove to have significant draws, can graduate to more lucrative weekend shows.

"In the long run, I think it's definitely going to help us," Noteboom said. And indeed, after about five months of live shows, the trend-bucking gamble seems to be paying off at the 450-capacity club. While Joshua's had lost its audience--as well as its liquor license--in its latter days, Tabak and Noteboom are trying to prove that the dead can rise again.

Hard-rock fans, who are known to be particularly avid club-goers, are returning in sufficient quantity to keep Tabak and Noteboom happy. In addition, bands are calling for bookings in increasing numbers as word spreads that they won't be required to buy their way onto the Marquee's refurbished and enlarged stage. "I'll get bands," he said, "that call up for a booking and ask, 'How many tickets do we have to buy?' I'd say 'None,' and they'd say 'Geez, it's so strange getting paid.' "

If the bands noticeably appreciate the change, so do their agents.

"I love the Marquee," said Shelly Berggren, a booking agent with Tapestry Artists who handles 14 local bands, mostly hard rock and metal. "The people there are easy to work with, nice people, and they know what they are doing. They know which bands can draw and which can't, which bands to put with other bands."

Even stranger than the payment arrangement: Joshua's is an Orange County live-music club--and one that caters to the stereotypically rowdy metal crowd, to boot--that actually is sitting pretty with the local authorities.

"They police themselves, and they are very good about checking I.D. over there," said Officer Tom Broderson of the Westminster Police Department. "They've had very few problems. Occasionally they get the guys that square off in the parking lot, but you have that anywhere. Other than that, they've got a nice club and they are really trying to keep the reputation up.

"We do our usual checks through the parking lots for intoxicated people, but they've had very few problems. Hopefully it'll stay that way," Broderson said.

Upon buying Joshua's last July, Tabak, 29, enlisted Noteboom, 27, to oversee key aspects of the club's operation. Together they formed a partnership called Exclusive Entertainment.

"Troy saw the potential of the club and its location," Noteboom said. "All that was needed was to put something into it. So we've made the stage twice as big as it was, opened up the ceiling, hired new working personnel and made it more of a fun atmosphere."

In turn, he said, "our clientele has gotten a lot nicer, and there have not been as many problems as Joshua's had."

The Marquee books bands playing original songs four of the five nights it's open each week (Tuesdays and Sundays are dark, and on Thursdays the house band plays covers). Admission is typically $5 or $6, but goes up to $8 for some of the better-known acts that come through, Noteboom said.

While Mondays and Wednesdays offer all-original lineups, Fridays and Saturdays are "Showcase Spotlight" nights, in which one original band is sandwiched between sets by a hard-rock cover band.

"We're the only club I know of that does this format. I couldn't see it working in Hollywood, but it's doing fantastic here.

"This way, there are no egos to deal with in having three other bands fighting over where they are on the lineup."

The Marquee has been trying to attract bands with record contracts as well as struggling local groups, and has hosted the likes of Skid Row (which is opening some Bon Jovi dates) and Extreme.

A July 5 gig with Shark Island is the club's next show with a major-label touring act.

CRUZ CONTROL--Big Drill Car, a punk-influenced rock band from Huntington Beach, has signed with Cruz Records and is set to start recording its first album for the label next week.

Big Drill Car got rolling last year with "Small Block," an EP that the band released on its own. It subsequently set about building a name for itself with do-it-yourself national touring.

Big Drill Car and All play Saturday at Night Moves in Huntington Beach.

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