Kings was always more than a rock club; now, take two | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Kings was always more than a rock club; now, take two 

Trace it with paint

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Trace it with paint

This weekend, Kings Barcade—the Raleigh music venue, bar and near-familial hang that closed in the spring of 2007 on McDowell Street—reopens four blocks deeper into downtown Raleigh.

The club's musician-owners spent the better part of three years seeking a second home before ultimately leasing a three-story space at 14 W. Martin St. It already includes the basement bar Neptunes and, later this year, will include the restaurant The Garland. Kings was always more than a rock club. Watching the construction of the new space, then, has often felt like watching a familiar metaphor manifest itself.

When Kings closed, reactions fell primarily into three strata. There were, of course, the devastated—those who'd spent many loud, lost and boozy nights in the unassuming concrete bunker, drinking, socializing, listening. They were the ones who carted pieces of the club's walls home after one last debauched night or, three years later, still deride Wake County's new monolithic McDowell Street parking deck. This had been their club and their bar (or at least one of them), a formative place for one or a dozen unhealthy reasons.

And then there were the apathetic—perhaps those who had heard of or read about Kings but didn't consider it a part of their general existence—and the cynical, people who knew about the club but didn't consider its imminent demolition a cause for alarm. Maybe they thought whatever people found magical about that one dive could be transposed easily enough to the next spot. How could the fourth biggest rock club in a town matter so much, anyway?

That question, actually, is the crux of the answer: The most essential part of the rock club Kings was that it was never very good at just being a rock club or even a bar. Sure, four or five nights a week, bands from Japan, Portland or Raleigh's Oakwood gathered on the club's short, barely lit stage, playing beneath a cut-out of John Dillinger's glaring mug. And from Baroness to Bandway, Dlek to DeYarmond Edison, Ted Leo to Ticonderoga, Kings hosted hundreds of remarkable shows during its eight-year run.

But Kings was happily open to everything—gong shows, film screenings, talk shows, dance parties. It was big enough for good rock shows and small enough for whatever else needed to happen. Really, Kings was more of a community center with an attitude, spinning the wheels of a positive-feedback cycle that generated the very art, ideas and bands on which it and its allies thrived. Kings was a scene, in the very best sense of the word, that nourished itself—at least until someone else needed the space.

Now, the owners have a chance to do that again, but on a bigger scale. There's a dedicated bar, of course, and a kitchen; the rock club itself looks and sounds better than its predecessor. It's the sort of interesting space that should become not only a destination for local listeners but also for touring acts.

And the timing could hardly be better for Kings' return: Chris Tamplin has been something of a local rock show savior at the Irish pub Tir Na Nog in Kings' absence, but he leaves Raleigh in September to run the new Motorco Music Hall in Durham. The end of The Jackpot—the dingy and well-loved Hillsborough Street bar that long shared the core of its audience with Kings—is imminent. And downtown Raleigh has certainly expanded its collection of big businesses since Kings disappeared, whether with the still-gleaming RBC Tower and Raleigh Convention Center or with the dated sounds of the city's new sad, bungled jewel, Raleigh Amphitheater.

So, once again, Kings the rock club has the chance to be much more than that. It will almost certainly remain a place for friends, yes, but its resurrection is proof that a handful of talented, driven, rock 'n' roll adults—with help from a horde of well-wishers—can anchor their city, too.

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