After more than 20 years, the majority of them spent as the hub of the indie-rock scene in Buffalo, Mohawk Place will close for good today. So the venerable club threw itself a farewell party this weekend.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, multi-act bills featuring many of the bands responsible for cementing the club’s legendary status acted as the club’s farewell party. Much more Irish wake than teary-eyed funeral, “The Last Waltz” was sold out on both evenings, and a decidedly giddy air eased the pain of parting. In keeping with the Mohawk Place tradition, the weekend-long party found the Buffalo music community fiddling like madmen while Rome burned. All in attendance agreed – it was only appropriate that we should die with our boots on. We owed it to the club, and to ourselves.
On Friday, things got under way at 7 p.m., and by 8 p.m., the club was packed, and the incredibly and unseasonably clement weather urged crowd members to mingle freely on the sidewalk in front of the club between sets, as the Lloyd’s Taco truck enjoyed brisk business curbside. On occasion, the assembled seemed to collectively forget that this bacchanalia was not the average Mohawk Place throwdown, but rather, a party designed to close the door on a significant chapter in the last 20 years of independent music in Buffalo. You could tell when it hit them; they’d get misty-eyed, hug their friends, and lament the seemingly senseless passing of a downtown landmark.
It was all about the music on Friday, though, in keeping with Mohawk Place tradition. The design of this “Last Waltz” was clearly inspired by the first “Last Waltz” from which it borrowwed its name. That one was a collaboration between legendary promoter Bill Graham and the Band, to mark that group’s farewell to the public. The Band called all of its friends, among them Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, to help it say goodbye. Similarly, the folks at Mohawk – principally, bar manager Erik Roesser and bartender Nick O’Brien – signed up a dream list of Buffalo bands with strong, deep ties to the club.
Early sets from White Whale and the Trailer Park Tornadoes whipped the crowd up, and drove home the message that this was not an evening to be spent crying in one’s beer.
Bensin spat out a well-received set of soulful power-pop with a punk edge; The Chosen Ones, featuring Mohawk Place soundman Neal Brodfuehrer on guitar, tore it up with an emotionally charged collection of complex, dynamic punk tunes. The band was ferociously tight, belying the fact that the musicians involved rarely play together these days. Brodfuehrer was clearly touched by the band’s reception, and his passionate performance served as a fitting farewell to a club he more than obviously loves. Wolf Tickets offered its fiery blend of Clash-style punk, with singer Chris Malachowski leading the charge. Malachowski birthed the annual Joe Strummer Tribute, which was always well-attended. He too seemed to be operating at a high emotional pitch on Friday.
That left headliners Bobo and the Irving Klaws, both responsible for legendary nights at the Mohawk over the years. Bobo’s acid-edge power-pop blended the raucous joy of the New York Dolls with the trippy edge of “Fun House”-era Stooges, guitarist/vocalist Jimmer Phillips driving the band forward with the ominous energy of a carnival barker gone mad. To Phillips’ right, bassist Marc Hunt and drummer Pat Shaughnessy shoveled coal in the Bobo engine room, while guitarist Frank Sterlace made like Iggy Pop’s onetime foil James Williamson, spitting out strangely beautiful lines atop it all. The Klaws then did what they always did at Mohawk – played a killer, high-energy set of punk and psychobilly, even if guitarist/vocalist Dave Gutierrez was getting over the flu and suffering a bout of laryngitis. The band was ably assisted by guest vocalist Ashley Kyle, and later, members of other bands on the bill – Bobo’s Phillips among them – joined the band for a frantic raveup.
By Saturday, reality had set in. The night commenced with a more subdued air, but within a few hours, the vibe was once again jubilant. Members of the Harvest Sum roster – the indie label that grew around bands that frequented Mohawk Place in the early days – got together to perform each other’s tunes. Roger Bryan and the Orphans, the Old Sweethearts, Semi-Tough, Johnny Nobody and On Beta – all friends, all Mohawk loyalists, all Harvest Sum bands – celebrated each other’s music in a killer jam session, leading toward the evening’s headline set, projected at press time to kick off at 1 a.m. That would be a finale from Girlpope, Buffalo’s finest power pop band, and the very outfit that presided over so many memorable Mohawk Place gigs over the past 15-plus years. There is no glossing over the fact that the closing of Mohawk Place hurts everyone involved in the Buffalo music scene – musician and fan alike. It can’t really be replaced. But the spirit of the music, so evident during this farewell weekend, is sure to survive. In that sense, Mohawk Place will live on.