It was fitting that Girlpope was the last band to take the stage at Mohawk Place. The group had been a mainstay of the club during its peak years, and for that January 2013 finale, no band more suitably served the purpose of the delivery of a fond, boozy and emotional farewell, with various miscreant characters, musicians and fans flooding the stage to share the final curtain call with the band, hugging, laughing, crying, huddling around microphones to sing along in gloriously dubious pitch.
It felt like a happy funeral. Attendees raised their cans of cheap beer in salutations as the coffin was lowered into the ground. It hurt like hell, but at the same time, it was thrilling.
A year has passed since the ’Hawk closed its doors, but really, that passage of time feels arbitrary, meaningless, artificial. For all who considered the club a second home, memories of Mohawk are fresh. To be blunt, time has done little to dull the pain of loss. No matter how one might wish to romanticize it, losing Mohawk Place struck a blow to the area’s music scene. As much fun as that weekend-long farewell was, the whole thing still feels like a bummer.
For those who still recall the Mohawk’s final days as a blurry, soft-focused hallucination, local filmmaker Michael Sobieraj has crafted a documentary that cements that final weekend in reality. “Bring Me Your Vultures: A Mohawk Place Documentary,” premiering at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Town Ballroom (681 Main St.), tells the story of the much-loved hole in the wall, but it does so without gilding the lily. What we get over its roughly 90 minutes is a warts-and-all portrait of a dive bar that became the hub of an illusion-free music scene in a town that can often seem merciless.
Mohawk Place was an attitude and a philosophy more than it was a mere building. “Vultures” gets that and doesn’t attempt to rewrite history from a romanticized vantage point. Mohawk Place was too loud, too small, too smelly, and the bathrooms were atrocious. The beautiful people did not frequent the ‘Hawk. No one got rich playing there. No one used the club as a springboard to national fame. No A&R men from record labels were seen snooping around for bands to sign. Just about every band that played Mohawk Place with any regularity over the past 15 years or so broke up or morphed into new configurations, but either way, the members of those bands are still here and playing music.
The prevailing attitude fostered by Mohawk Place was one of personal fortitude – a toughness of spirit that seemed to be saying, ‘We’re the outcasts, the freaks who refuse to grow up, the scarred and battered heart of a rock ’n’ roll scene, and we’ll be here until we drop.”
This feeling is made palpable by “Bring Me Your Vultures,” as footage of bands performing during the club’s final days is interwoven with interviews. The film tells the story of the club in the words of the people who know best, and probably should have known better – the musicians, the bartenders, the fans who frequented the club. Mikel Doktor, Bill Nehill, Nick O’Brien, Erik Roesser and Pat Shaugnessy all attempt to put into words what working in Mohawk Place meant to them. Roger Bryan, Mark Norris, Andy Vaeth and Mark Nosowicz represent the independent music community, and they articulately and emotionally express the feeling of community between musicians that pervaded at the club. Marty Boratin, Donny Kutzbach and Chris Ring are among those who booked the bands and promoted gigs, in the process forging the “brand.” Mohawk Place became an alternative music Mecca principally because these guys have good taste, and they booked the coolest bands they could find and afford to pay.
When “Bring Me Your Vultures” has run its course, one is left with the overwhelming impression that what made the club special was the collective spirit. But where is that spirit now? Where is the new Mohawk Place?
The truth is, there isn’t one. But what undoubtedly remains is an ethos, an attitude and a bullheaded willingness to celebrate music for its own sake. That spirit shows up in various clubs now, like a homeless ghost that wanders from host body to host body. Last week, it took up residence in Nietzsche’s, when Irving Klaws guitarist and Mohawk Place regular Dave Guitierrez presented his annual birthday tribute to the late Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett. For its first 10 years, “Dave G’s” Syd tribute was in Mohawk Place. Its Nietzsche’s debut found familiar faces – and some new ones, too – paying tribute to a musical freak-savant, and a rampant blend of art-rock eclecticism, punk fury and trippy garage-rock psychedelia combined on the stage, in a manner that screamed, “This is the sound of Buffalo!”
It was awesome. It made me realize that though Mohawk Place is gone, the lessons life at the club taught us are resonating as loud as ever.