Alexi MURDOCH, a long-haired, bearded singer-songwriter, stands on the Troubadour stage, picking a moody scale on his guitar and singing an expressive, introspective lyric. The crowd, which includes press, record label reps and movie soundtrack supervisors, quiets down and tunes in to his dusky voice. It's the classic Troubadour tableau, as inscribed in the early '70s, when it was arguably the most famous nightclub in the world.
A few weeks later and some decibels higher at the Roxy up on the Sunset Strip, the young English band Supergrass is working up a froth as it delivers the winsome, aggressive rock that's drawn a growing audience here.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Band's name -- The band pictured on the cover of Thursday's Calendar Weekend is Locale A.M., not Art of Safecracking, as stated in the caption of the photo appearing in the index.
The band could have played a bigger venue on this tour, but sometimes groups like the feel of a packed room, the air of urgency that comes when people cluster outside trying to get in.
That's what they get at the sold-out Roxy, where the fans are crammed in from the dance floor back to the new section of booths to the new bar area on the room's other wing. People are bouncing, throwing their arms in the air, reaching out to urchin-like singer Gaz Coombes, who visibly revels in this close encounter with his audience.
Two blocks east at the Whisky, the atmosphere is more subdued as a casually dressed, acoustic-leaning band called Overwater plays earnest, complex pop-rock songs to an audience of about 100. Like most nights at the Whisky these days, it's a pay-to-play or pre-sell engagement, meaning the band bought tickets from the club and sold or gave them to friends and fans.
From the current level of action at the Roxy, which opened in 1973, and the 46-year-old Troubadour -- and to a lesser extent at their senior citizen peer, the 1964-vintage Whisky -- you'd never imagine that they were given up for dead not long ago.
The resurrection of these three dowagers was not supposed to happen, given the uncertainty of the music business, changing music tastes, incursions of deep-pocket entertainment chains such as the House of Blues and the shift of the epicenter of hipness from the Strip and West Hollywood eastward to Silver Lake.
But here they are, spruced up and dusted off after crawling out of the ditch. The Roxy and the Troubadour are right up there with the Knitting Factory and Spaceland among the city's 500-or-so-capacity clubs -- that ideal vehicle for acts just emerging and starting to take off. The Whisky is a lesser player, but just the fact that it's a busy live music venue is an accomplishment, considering that it closed in the mid-'80s and then reopened as a dance club.
And if their current profiles don't match the legends carried by their names, well, what could?
In their heydays, the Troubadour, the Roxy and the Whisky weren't just rooms in which to see shows. They were places where things happened, where a performance would spin from the stage into lasting lore.
"It was a meeting place, watering hole, information center," Tom Waits says of the Troubadour. "It was kind of a switchboard for folks you lost track of."
The Troubadour, which owner Doug Weston moved to its Santa Monica Boulevard location in 1957, was a triple threat: a showroom for name acts that made it synonymous with the soft-rock and singer-songwriter genres, a barroom hangout famous for birthing the likes of the Byrds and the Eagles and, with its Monday night hoot, a launching pad for unknowns.
"You go up and do three songs and you hope there's somebody in the crowd," says Waits. "Everyone tells you that there will be.... A lot of what I was told would happen there did kind of come true for me."
"If there was somebody everybody was waiting to see, the bar would empty out into the room for that person's set," remembers Jackson Browne, another regular at the weekly showcase. "If you could empty the bar into the house for part of your set, that was doing pretty well."
The Troubadour's regular shows also yielded classic moments. Elton John's 1970 engagement made him an instant star. Carly Simon opened for Cat Stevens, then met James Taylor in her dressing room. Sitting in the audience, John Lennon melted down and got tossed after heckling the Smothers Brothers.
Weston, a long-haired, 6-foot, 6-inch eccentric who died in 1996, was famous for something besides presenting the cream of pop music: the "options" in his contracts that required acts to return, even if they had become big stars capable of packing arenas.
In response to that policy and other dissatisfactions with the Troubadour, an alliance of powerful music industry figures -- including label owners Lou Adler and David Geffen and managers Peter Asher and Elliott Roberts -- converted an old-school Sunset Strip burlesque house called the Largo into a posh music room and named it the Roxy.
Unlike the Troubadour, the Roxy never became identified with a particular style of music, but it logged its share of classic shows, starting with the opening in September 1973, when Neil Young previewed his unreleased album "Tonight's the Night."