North Howard Haunt

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & block and a half up from the Season Ticket, across the street from Blumenthal Uniforms, the sign for Larry's Bar & amp; Grill is lit for the first time in years. Most of the rest of Howard Street between Boone and Indiana is dark and deserted -- there are few streetlights, fewer cars, no open businesses. The activity here is clustered around the light given off by that sign. A Ford van with a gear trailer sits parked half on the sidewalk in front of the building. Two men in tight black denim pants load amps and instrument cases. A coterie of youth mill around, smoking and talking. They're mostly punk fans, but also acolytes of metal and hardcore and heavy music's other million derivations, members of musical movements comfortable with -- even committed to -- staging shows in basements or VFW halls, wherever and whenever the opportunity presents.

Approaching it from the dark stillness of the south, the scene feels like a portrait of a moment in time. If Norman Rockwell had been hanging around Bleecker Street or Hammersmith in 1974, he might have come up with this: tucked away from everything, a still life outside an emergant scene.

Then the sharp crack of a snare drum shoots out the door, ushering in a tumult of tom and kick drums and the rowel of power chords. Somewhere beneath it all is a stream of declarative sentences that come out sounding less like a human voice and more like the staccato bark of a Gatling gun. The kids ash their cigarettes and pile back inside.

The space is no longer called Larry's Bar & amp; Grill. The new name has been scrawled onto a piece of butcher paper and taped into the venue's long front window, but you don't really notice it until you read it backward from inside the place.

"The CRETIN HOP," it says.

A pit stands in front of the low stage, with room for maybe 70. Another 15 could fit around the long L-shaped bar across the room. In back is a passage that leads to the bathrooms, a nook that houses the soundboard and what will soon be a small lounge area capable of seating another 40. The word "SHITERS" is stenciled above the doorway, a nod to punk's half-British roots. Or not.

Opening Sept. 12, about a month after owners Thomas Chavez and Tyler Arnold first discussed the idea of an all ages DIY venue, there wasn't a lot of time or money to devote to decorating the place, so it's all stencil and spray paint in black and white and red. The owners plan to apply to sell beer and wine this week. For now, the bar looks like the concession stand at a movie theater, mostly candy and soda.

Named after one of the Ramones' strangest songs, the Cretin Hop is purposefully low-budget. No one in underground music makes a million dollars, says Chavez. Only a few break even.

"We needed to keep costs as low as possible," he says. That's a big reason they're up here on Howard Street. "The owner's a slum lord, and he knows it," says Chavez, "but the price was right." The overhead is low enough that a minimal amount of money at each show will keep the venue afloat, which allows Chavez and Tyler Arnold to bring shows that would be hard to justify elsewhere.

No one has kept exact count, but about 75 people have come through the door to see Stormcrow -- a band from Oakland that plays a dreary metal/hardcore hybrid called Crust Punk -- and the four other bands on the bill. Not bad for a Sunday night show as underground as this, Carroll says. Chavez agrees.

At most venues, independent promoters pay a flat rate up front. For Dustin Carroll, the promoter of tonight's show (and an occasional Inlander contributor), even small fees are a serious burden. "Every time I put on a show [that's] this underground, I'm straining to make that 100 bucks," he says. Rather than a fee, the Cretin Hop takes a 60/40 split of the door charge. For Carroll, that makes booking a show much easier. It also makes the Cretin Hop wholly unique in Spokane: a venue dedicated to the communitarian values of the scene itself. "Like tonight: I'll be able to give the bands some gas money," Carroll says, smiling at the novelty.

The Cretin Hop has shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. See Sound Advice (page 44) for listings.