All Smoke, No Fire

You're just an invite away from private, drug-sponsored concerts around town. But what's behind the rock and the glitz?

After four different men verified my driver's license, I was escorted into the club and given a few drink tickets. Athletic, attractive people already filled the lobby, but compared with what awaited me, they may as well have been dressed like Cub Scouts.

In the main hall, more than a dozen skimpily clad models pranced, mingled and took photos with the dancing crowd. A few more women stood in cages on elevated booths, gyrating in the stretchiest of stretch pants. Against one wall, a few models (complete with ass-revealing skirts) hung out by a series of electronic massage chairs; against the other, another model manned a series of free, flavored hookah pipes. And on the stage was the biggest draw of the night: Mix Master Mike, flown into Dallas to spin records for the private, unannounced party.

Stranded in the middle of this titillating melee, I could only think one thing: "This company really wants people to drink its beer." But Coors had a funny way of showing it. Last Thursday, the Granada Theater hosted an invite-only shindig for the beer manufacturer, and its brand identity was in full swing, from the nonstop Coors ads on the Granada's big-screen monitors to the Rocky Mountain-style model outfits (assuming the fuzzy boots and tiny skirts would do much for a gal in Golden, Colorado).

Look closely and you can see the butt sweat on this caged, dancing model at last week's private Mix Master Mike concert.
Sam Machkovech
Look closely and you can see the butt sweat on this caged, dancing model at last week's private Mix Master Mike concert.

Thing is, this party was as off-limits as could be, an invite-only fling that crept through the rumor wire slowly enough to reach my desk only a day before the event. And its timing was certainly intriguing, coming exactly one week before another big-time, drug-sponsored, invite-only concert in the area (Austin's Spoon takes the Ridglea Theater stage this Thursday for a show thrown by Camel).

At first glance, both parties seem to be exactly what they're billed as: private. This isn't a rare scenario; companies that target bars and nightclubs (liquor, smokes, what have you) throw soirees throughout the year, inviting bartenders and club managers to hang out, enjoy free goods and perhaps be persuaded into giving a certain brand bigger displays and preferential treatment when they head back to work. More than a few party patrons confirmed this angle, telling me they tended bar around town or were friends of bartenders (though most others were cute girls who'd received invites at the Galleria the previous weekend).

The Coors show went entirely unadvertised, and last week, the Ridglea was asked to leave the invite-only Spoon gig off of its large marquee. But in reality, these companies want true invite-only privacy about as much as I wanted the Thursday night ladies to cover their butts. Freebies and cute models are one thing, but bands create buzz: the kind of buzz that hits the hippest (and often youngest) age groups, no less. The Mix Master Mike show certainly got around ("They're playing for some Coors thing" was the common phrase), and in the past week, word of the Spoon show has spread like mad, fueled by the promotional work of opening act Black Tie Dynasty and ads throughout the city.

Private parties at places such as the Granada and Gypsy Tea Room aren't news; if anything, they're the norm, a relatively steady source of income for mid-sized music venues. As Granada owner Mike Schoder told me at the Mix Master Mike show, venues that size can't depend on daily bar tabs like smaller rock clubs can.

And for Black Tie Dynasty, the Spoon gig's a no-brainer; if I were in an up-and-coming band, I'd open for Britt Daniel and his band's pop savvy if he played in a Dumpster and was sponsored by a pedophile. But if the Coors gig is any indication, Spoon probably won't smoke Camel Wides and tout the brand's smooth flavor onstage; last Thursday, Mix Master Mike stared the Granada crowd down like each person had insulted his mother, playing a no-frills DJ set that had little in the way of underground tracks or hot mixes. He didn't just phone the gig in: He clicked it in with Morse code.

Of course, manufactured attitude has its breaking point, and for Coors, it came at 1 a.m. Mike descended from his turntable tower so quickly you'd swear a snake was in his crates of wax, and after the emcee thanked everyone for coming to the party, she gave a veiled "drink responsibly" speech before shouting, "DRINK COORS!" Within seconds, the dancers vanished, and the only people left were the cleanup crew and a few dolts standing aimlessly, wondering where their party went.

And as dedicated Spoon fans bang on the Ridglea door on Thursday in a futile effort to enter (assuming die-hards aren't given a few invites at the door), Camel will grin to know that a modern version of Joe Camel will stand onstage, rock the hell out of the crowd and give the kids a reason to stare at corporate logos for a few hours. Smoke those tickets if you got 'em.

 
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