Nightlife - Field Notes From Joel

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'm pretty sure the blonde on the couch is giving me the sex eye as Luke and I walk into Barrel No. 6. I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, not because I'm anything to write home about, but because this little wine bar is easily the sexiest, most disgustingly plush joint I've seen in all of North Idaho. I mean, it's sensual -- the humid reek of warm red wine, the high, dark purple ceilings and burgundy walls, the sharp-looking wine lists bound in cork covers. Get a little Coeur d'Alene Cellars Syrah in you in a place like this, and you're likely to start grabbing the asses of passing strangers. Or at least I am. Or at least I hope that girl is.

It's a vibe that Dan Purser tends to exploit. The 20-something guitarist with studiedly mussed-up hair and uber-hip Abercrombie-ish threads has just launched into his first song of the evening, something about wanting to make some girl breakfast. Cramped in one corner of the long room, against the windows looking out on Sherman Avenue, he strums percussively and moans and whispers and soars into falsetto. Sitting beside him, a dude plays the egg shaker. Masterfully. In fact, I don't know if I've ever seen a more skillful eggist. We call him "Rattlesnake." At one point he seems to produce a large shaker from behind his ear, as if by magic. Halfway into the song he joins Purser on the word "night," stretching it out into six syllables: na-high-ee-ii-high-eet.

If it isn't obvious enough after the first song that he's trying to win the hearts of his (mostly young, female) audience, Purser chooses for his next number Dave Matthews' "Crash Into Me." A solid choice. That song's been getting frat boys ass since, like, 2000. Two songs later, I'm less worried that Blondie over on the couch has ditched me for Dan; after three hopelessly romantic songs, he's now singing something about being free of a disease. Is this some kind of assurance? Seriously, ladies, I just got tested -- no worries.

We sit through probably five songs, nursing a nice little glow from our flight of reds, and from the nearly two pounds of barbecued rib sandwiches we just ate at Scott Ja-Mama's, down the street. We had actually come to Coeur d'Alene to see John Sylte and Friends "strike up a jig" (according to the ad) at O'Shay's. That, we thought, was sure to mean some raging hot fiddlin' and probably a fair amount of dark Dublin beer, but by half an hour after the show had started, we were still irrevocably lost, with only the foggiest memory of where we'd seen O'Shay's on the Google map. It was dark and the streets were way icier than they'd been back in Spokane, and a fire truck on Lakeside was blinding us with its lights. So we just stopped in for barbecue, which we figured was the best possible food for such an inhospitable night.

Few seemed to share that opinion, I guess. Three dudes sat at the front of the small room; near the back, an older woman played hearts with a little kid -- her nephew, we gathered. Despite the Hendrix playing over the speakers, it seemed quiet. We ate our sandwiches and sipped endlessly refilled sodas (which I spiked with whiskey from a stylish hip flask I acquired on a recent trip to Texas). Heading to the bathroom to wash my hands, I found, perched on a half-wall near the kitchen, a Wayne Gretzky action figure, still in the original packaging. Odd. For just a second I imagined shoving it under my arm and barreling into the dining room with gun blazing, then fleeing to a Sicilian villa, like that scene from The Godfather. But I had no firearm, and one of the cooks had a pretty good story for the Gretzky doll. Besides, I think that was just the whiskey talking.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & dd to that the wine flight at Barrel No. 6, and I'm starting to feel pretty belligerent. Over in the corner, Dan Purser cries, "Don't walk out the door" as we walk out the door. I beg Luke (the sober driver) to let me pop into the Iron Horse (which is packed, by now) for one of their famed "Derailers" -- a potent mix of rums, fruit juices and, I think, horse tranquilizers -- but he steers me into his Corolla S and steers it onto westbound I-90.

I don't remember much about the next 30 minutes, except that at some point, speeding through Liberty Lake, we found ourselves singing Neutral Milk Hotel's "Aeroplane Over the Sea" like it was the national anthem. And with inexplicable gusto.

"Is that your friend?" an exceptionally gay man asks Luke, motioning toward me as I take a few compulsory spins through the Davenport's revolving door. We had parked just north of the train trestle on Howard Street and turned west on First Avenue. The door is -- as always -- too much to resist. But apparently I'd inconvenienced this guy while clowning around. Luke answers his question, "yes." The guy pauses dramatically and says, plainly, "I'm sorry."

Of course I don't hear him say that -- I just see it -- because I'm trapped inside the door, which has ceased to revolve.

At Rock Coffee, Jackie Parrott pours me up a pint of Northern Lights' Chocolate Dunkel. Luke and I find a seat in the crowded back room, where I realize for the first time that the Trailer Park Girls -- a trio whose name I've heard many times since moving to Spokane -- is headed by resident newspaper yuckster Doug Clark. Great.

At least he's not up there telling fart jokes. In fact, the band sounds all right. I don't care much for the too-long song about God and Chevys and Elvis and the Space Age, and I believe the bass player's got about five too many strings on his guitar, but I like the drummer, who stands Slim Jim Phantom-style behind, simply, a snare drum and a high hat. And, truth be told, Clark is quite an able guitarist.

Then there's this: I've been to probably half a dozen shows at Rock Coffee and never have I seen a more attentive audience than tonight. And this ain't no Holiday Inn, either. This is a good place to perform. In less than a year, it's become a mainstay in the local music scene, packing in appreciative audiences who usually come to listen, not to shout over the band. But this is ridiculous. People listen attentively as Clark sings a mean, funny song about a fat girl. They chuckle at all the right places and shoot "isn't this great" glances at each other from across the room. The laughs build. It's infectious. For once, I laugh at Doug Clark.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & o subject is taboo, apparently, as a stand-up comic at Brickwall Comedy Club, deep within the bowels of the Budget Inn, riffs on white women, King Kong, being black in Spokane, rock 'n' roll and hillbillies. Priming the crowd for the main event is never easy, especially in comedy. Granted, club-goers usually show up with the express purpose of laughing and being entertained, but they also tend to be some of the toughest critics in entertainment.

Not this crowd, though. They're either the happiest bunch in Spokane, or they've already gotten good and liquored up (or both). Chicken and the egg. Whatever, almost all the whole crowd -- mostly couples, not exclusively white -- laughs hysterically at whatever this guy says.

We missed the beginning of his shtick because Luke doesn't believe in driving drunk. And Rock Coffee's at First and Monroe. And this dark little bunker of a comedy club is on Fourth and Division. Which doesn't sound that far away, really, but it's 30 degrees outside, and it's no short hop from the Blue Spark to The Blvd. We hoof it down First, under the train trestle, past the homeless shelter, through a little neighborhood we didn't know existed, past the starving masses waiting in line at Dick's, over a guard rail, across Exit 281, under the freeway, through some bushes, over a fence, past a construction site, into the hotel and down the stairs. When we finally arrive, we're overjoyed to discover that The Inlander's operations assistant moonlights as a waitress at the club and is willing not only to find us seats in the dark, damp little room, but to ply us with round after round of whiskey and beer.

Rick Reed, a comic from Naples, Id., takes the stage wearing cowboy boots and a leather vest, his long, graying hair fluttering, his eyes a little fierce, crazy. A half-circle of tweakers in the front row goes into conniptions with every drug reference. "Huh huh, smoking pot," a guy behind me laughs. Someone keeps slurring inappropriate remarks in my ear; his friend, clearly embarrassed, shushes him curtly and drags him out by the arm a few minutes later. Reed jokes about Californians, Ruby Ridge and impregnating his mother-in-law. "Yeah, we got gangs," he tells a fictional Californian. "What do you call them up there? Same thing we call 'em -- Jehovah's Witnesses!" Reed comes up with an anagram for Idaho -- I Don't Accept Homosexual Overtures -- before saying that of course he doesn't have any problem with gays.

"Stay alert, stay alive." That's what some guy tells us on the corner of Riverside and Stevens. It's not a bad reminder. "Alert," after all, is not a word I'd use to describe my behavior in the last two hours. I turn to resume walking down the sidewalk, but when I spin around again, with the thought of asking this guy if I can take his picture, he's nowhere to be found. Seriously. Vanished.

Luke and I had ended up skipping and jumping back over and under and through and across town to the B-Side for the show featuring Raccoon and Belt of Vapor. We'd both seen the former for the first time at Slick Rock during First Night and were impressed. They were even better tonight, maybe just because the sound wasn't bouncing all over the room and landing in the refried beans, like last time. And the place was packed, possibly as a nod to the mainstay club's imminent demise. Scenesters crowded the stage close enough to get a sweat-shower from bassist Dave G. Booze flew off the shelf. Giggling couples and trios popped in and out of the photo booth. We settled into a game of pool with some friends. I ended up sitting in an overturned chair in a door well. I don't recall why. No coincidence, I suppose, that I also drained the last drop from my flask.

We head for Trickshot Dixie's, a place I'm as ashamed to admit I've never visited as some are to admit they have. I'd heard wild stories about this place (Luke had once, he says, been "ghost-humped" here). And yet, for all the stories, I'm still blown away as we enter the front doors and the enormity of the place reveals itself. People are everywhere -- dancing, yelling, riding the mechanical bull, coagulating, dispersing, clutching to their small groups of friends, wolf-whistling at passers-by. From clear across this airplane hangar of a club, I'm pretty sure a blonde at the bar is giving me the sex eye ... not because I'm anything to write home about, but because everybody here is eye-balling everybody. Dancers on the main floor grind into each other like industrial love robots. Four bartenders mount the bar and gyrate. Everywhere, hungry, appraising eyes. It's simultaneously disgusting and captivating.

I drag Luke and his gal, Adrienne, into the middle of a crowd of dancers, and we just stand there. My eyes are agog; theirs are uncertain. It smells like a locker room here in this tangle of elbows and asses and long, restless hair. The music, the laughter, the primordial sexual groans are almost deafening. And though I don't have a clue how to dance to Kid Rock's "Cowboy," I feel kind of weirdly happy. I mean, shit, these frat boys in their sagged-out pants look ridiculous, but here they are. Cheesy Dan Purser and Rattlesnake, the comedy club tweakers, the Doug Clark devotees -- they could be at home watching infomercials, playing hearts at the dinner table right now, but they're not.

They're out here. With the rest of us.

Vandal Summer Cinema Series

Fridays, Sat., Aug. 21 and Thu., Aug. 26. Continues through Aug. 20
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