Saturday night, I watched someone try to put a beer bottle inside a trashcan at Kings. As it came to rest, it started sliding again, pushing a dozen other bottles and cans to the floor with it. People stepped over the shattered ones and tried to put the whole bottles back in the can. I didn't rush to get away from the avalanche, and I didn't go look for the obvious other trashcan. Instead, I just remember staring at the overflowing bottles and cans, glancing around the packed-too-tight room and thinking, "Where is Mike Dillon?"
You might remember Mike. Most people who went to Kings do. He's the smiling blond kid working the door, the one who lost one of his front teeth three years ago when he got mugged at a party. The News & Observer ran a story about the concert Mike's friends threw to buy him a new tooth, and local dentist Kevin Nashat just decided to give Mike the thing. Or maybe you've seen Mike onstage with Spader, or with the now-departed Kings talk show Oak City Nights, or with one of his noise bands (one of which is called Skeptic Tank!). Mike's been working at Kings for two years, and he's the best kind of Kings fixture—funny, friendly, known to play jokes on the kids who don't know better. He loves to talk about records. Saturday night—when the last set of six rock bands played Kings—Mike wasn't there when the bottles started falling. That didn't feel right. Kings as rubble doesn't feel right, either.
Mike wasn't there because he was working at Bickett, another gallery/club/conduit just a mile away that's being squeezed out of existence by high rent, liquor license fees and a lack of support by the city at large. But as soon as Bickett closed, Mike was down on McDowell Street, high-fiving and watching Birds of Avalon close out Kings. Long after the show was over but long before the club was empty (which was sometime after 5 a.m.), one of Kings' chief vinyl syndicates, DJ Castro, dropped an instrumental. Mike hit the stage around 3 a.m. and freestyled for maybe three minutes about life at Kings. It was a perfect outro, but it's safe to say some people wouldn't get it.
Likewise, it's understandable that the downtown renaissance or crusade, whichever you prefer, doesn't incorporate grimy, sweaty, smoky, sudsy, important places like Kings in its strategy for luring an association of optometrists or widget sellers to Cabarrus Street for the weekend. But it's not understandable when the City—rich, persuasive and very fond of the Gin Blossoms in the Moore Square Arts (?!) District—decides it needs to live all over the city—creative, busy and very fond of doing something for itself. No one should be mad that this one tiny location of cinder blocks and steel beams on South McDowell Street (which happens to be Raleigh's most important musical focal point in two decades) is being closed because it's cheaper for Raleigh Development Company to have the city raze the building for free now rather than keep collecting rent and just do it later. Those are details.
The real shame here is that the city knows exactly what it's doing: Let the kids build something on a block no one cares about, and then use that hipness as a stepping stone for your "Raleigh Rocks" (did you see that video?) municipal image. Drive the kids out now, and—who knows?—repeat in a decade. We'll see.
The Kings triumvirate acts like it's going to move on to a new space, and maybe it will. Maybe the Jackpot will be a bit more packed for a few months, and maybe you'll hear a lot of loud bands in cheap Raleigh living rooms this summer. Or maybe what Kings had to give—which was a club run by musicians that was equally welcoming of its audience and its entertainment—won't return for a long time. Either way, I just hope someone gives Mike Dillon another barstool and moneybox soon. Because hearing him rhyme about it onstage—smiling, dancing, dropping his AIM name in a verse as kids literally ripped the bathroom wall apart—was, at the very least, the most fitting performance I've seen this year. Hey, Doug Grissom, can we get Skeptic Tank on for Raleigh Downtown Live?