Cover Charge

In early December 2005, I walked into Club Dada for reasons that don't normally lead me into Deep Ellum. A buddy was playing his first gig with a new acoustic trio, and he needed friends to show up so that the group might get booked again. I went to Dada out of curiosity and, to some extent, out of pity...two inspirations that don't necessarily guarantee a rockin' time.

By the end of Dada's previous tenure as the last "original" Deep Ellum venue, not much golden remained. The booking had become a wasteland of forgettable bands, and the crowds saw a considerable drop in regulars. After the Texas Comptroller's Office seized the club later that December for unpaid taxes, people close to the club expressed shock--the place wasn't doing that badly, they said.

But it wasn't doing much good, either. A local-loaded benefit for the Chemistry Set's Cory Helms in June '05 was the last big, attention-worthy show the club had thrown in some time; after that, the majority of gigs were like my buddy's, bringing out the curious and the pitying to see struggling, underwhelming local acts. It was hard to say whether the booking or the worsening Deep Ellum reputation was to blame, but former owner Steve Shin didn't stick around (or answer anyone's phone calls) to clear that one up. He's been AWOL since December.

Dada hasn't sat idly in his absence. Only weeks after the comptroller posted signs on Dada's Elm Street doors, new signs sprung up. The landlord had legally ousted Shin as lessee of the building, they read, and rumors sprung up quickly about who would take over the building. Outsiders might've been shocked that a local cover band would eventually stick its flag into Dada, but for Hard Night's Day, that's exactly the point.

"The ironic thing is, the band was formed by Club Dada in 1994," HND bassist Mark Ehmann says. [Longtime open-mike host] Tom Prejean had the idea, and the owners thought it'd be a good idea to have a Beatle cover band for happy hours on Friday."

Aside from a few personnel changes, the group held its weekly stand at Dada for a steady 10 years; after Shin took the club over in 2004, the band's stint turned into a semi-monthly affair, which meant the December closure didn't rattle the group that much, but it did rekindle previous talks about opening their own bar someday.

"We thought it was a shame that this institution that's been around so long and has hosted so many great bands could be quiet," Ehmann says. "Our guitarist Bob [Cummins] got the ball rolling, got some investors together. The rest of the band got involved as well and have a vested interest."

The group could've put its interest in other Deep Ellum vacancies--the old Orbit Room on Main Street and Deep Ellum Live on Canton Street have sat dormant for years, but even after saying the December closure didn't affect the group, Ehmann insists memories are the deciding factor for Dada's reopening: "We considered it our home. The Beatles had the Cavern [the one in Liverpool, not on Lower Greenville]. We have Club when that opportunity presented itself, we had to jump on that. Take our place back on Friday nights."

This Friday, they do just that, reopening Dada's doors with a concert marking HND's 12th anniversary; following their set, fellow cover band Queen for a Day headlines. In fact, Ehmann wants cover bands to play a big role at the new Dada.

"Right now, we do have a lot of tribute acts," he says. "But we don't want people to think it's gonna be a cover band bar. It's gonna have cover bands--easier money and bigger followings, usually, than garage bands or someone who's just trying to make it. But we wanna give those kinds of people a chance. So the best way to do it is to get a lot of people in there, attracted by a local, popular cover band, and hopefully they'll stay around to hear a new act."

This mission statement is exactly what I don't want in a live music venue--predictability, stability, something that's just plain...nice. More than a few music venues cater to cover-lovers as it is, and even though Ehmann's hopes for a revitalization are noble (he points to Edie Brickell's long-ago Dada days), one can only imagine whether a cover band crowd would leave as soon as a band like the Theater Fire followed with an original song. I can already hear frat boys heckle: "PLAY SOME NEIL DIAMOND!"

As business owners, HND and their investors can't be blamed for this plan. Right now, Deep Ellum's not a sure thing, so if it takes comfortable cover bands to get a regular crowd back, one that can be hooked into local bands (or at least buy enough booze to cover the rent), then maybe the district can benefit from spillover. It's hard to believe that the next Brickell will be attracted to the next Club Dada, but then again, anything's a step up from pity.