In the Before Times, the people of Kalamazoo would dress in outlandish fashion, and dance in a sweaty mass before a stage of performers also dressed in outlandish fashion.
Breathing heavily, maybe even touching each other.... Memories are hazy, and it seems so long ago. Am I thinking of the last Eccentric Day I attended, or maybe of the 1980s-'90s when The Club Soda would host bands like The God Bullies?
The night before Thanksgiving was known as the biggest bar night of the year. When was the last of these nights?
Val Walters of Bell's Eccentric Cafe
"That would be 2019, right?" remembers Val Nelson Walters, events and concert manager for Bell's Brewery's Eccentric Cafe. "We had an All American Funk Parade show, and it was sold out. We had that sweaty dance party that you envision at that show. We had a full front bar as well, folks everywhere spilling out into the atrium and into the beer garden."
The venue hasn't been seeing packed crowds lately, but they've been getting an audience. Bell's has been hosting indoor shows since Sept. 8, "as safely as possible," Walters says.
Since then, to attend a concert at the Eccentric Cafe's Backroom patrons must prove they are vaccinated with the Clear Health app
, or they can show their vaccine card, or bring a negative COVID test taken in the past 72 hours.
There was some negative online chatter aimed at Bell's when the policy
was announced last summer. Walters thinks of Jason Isabell's response to the claims that such requirements hinder patrons' freedoms: "If you're dead, you don't have any freedoms at all," the country singer said
She brought up Bob Mould's video
explaining why he wanted extra precautions when he played the Eccentric Cafe in October. In addition to proving vaccination, Mould wanted all in the venue to wear a mask. Mould and his band were taking a risk getting back to their livelihoods, "and in return, I'm asking you to keep us and everyone in the building as safe as possible."
"You know he's a grumpy punk rock dude, which I love, but he's one of the kindest people you'll ever meet," she says.
Mould said it's OK if you don't want to attend for any reason. As he said, "If it's not the right time for you, I totally understand that," Walters says. "We're just doing everything we can to make sure we're here when you're ready to see a show."
Bell's shows haven't been packed, and there's been a rate of around 30% to 40% of people who buy tickets but don't attend, she says. But Walters has found that "people are so happy to have the option to see a show with the safety protocols in place. They've been gracious and kind and super respectful."
Ze sexytimes with the Sexy Toxins
If things were normal, this would be the time that Bell's Backroom would be full of people being not-normal.
Sexy Toxins perform disco rock for an audience thoroughly vaccinated and COVID-screened on the night before Thanksgiving.
Walters was looking towards Eccentric Day
, happening Dec. 3. Usually, the day would turn into a night of a floor slippery with Eccentric Ale, people dressed eccentrically eating from a buffet of unusual foods and dancing to DJs and bands.
The day didn't happen last year. This Eccentric Day, COVID protocols will be in place, and the venue will limit crowd size, Walters said.
A crowd can be freaky without being huge, this past night before Thanksgiving proved.
It was billed as "Hells Bell's," with local acts It Will Hurt, The Sexy Toxins, and Pajaro Negro.
To prepare for the event — the first indoor show this writer has attended since January 2020 — I got my booster, registered myself on the Clear app, and of course set up an online meeting with The Sexy Toxins.
A Toxin (vocals, guitar) and B Toxin (drums) may be a normal couple living in the Arcadia neighborhood, but they showed up on my screen in character, backed with disco lights, as if communicating from some sort of disco party planet.
As a performing duo, they dress in campy fetish style and play salacious disco rock — like a kinky Captain and Tennille.
A, speaking in a ridiculous German accent he uses in their shows, describes their shows. "It'z a big sveaty hot mess of sexual rock energy. Lots of thrusting, you know, thrusting hips and rock 'n' roll the whole times that ve play."
He continues, "We try to make the disco and the rock 'n' roll mixups so that everyone can dance. We try to mix them
(disco and rock) together and makes them have ze sex, you know, like sexytimes Saxons! That's us! Right! Everyone has fun and gets sexy with us, you know!"
Unfortunately, we've had a long time when we can't have ze sexytimes in public places, with strangers, and in crowds -- "You have to use protection!" A says sternly, as B laughs in the background.
A Toxin and the band onstage at Bell's Eccentric Cafe at a recent Sexy Toxins show.
"When we go out to meet the fans and gets close with the hugs and things we probably put masks on this time around.... Probably try to use a fishnet mask because that probably work very well. As far as with the look we have, we try fishnet mask maybe."
Fishnet probably won't block viral contagions, though.
"Oh! Are you Anthony Fauci now?" They both laugh. "I'm just kidding wit you! I just joke. Not fishnet."
A rambles on, "We've had every vaccine three times, so we should be fine."
"And flu shots," B adds
'I didn't get flu shot."
"The rest of the family did!" B says. Behind the sexy disco rock façade, a bit of domestic life headed by a responsible matriarch showed.
Like the Before Times
At Bell's, near the end of Sexy Toxins' set, during a tune we'll not name because its title is naughty, A Toxin threw a marital aid down on the dance floor. It, being hard rubber, bounced off the floor and nearly put someone's eye out.
The venue wasn't packed, but the disco rock party drew people to the stage. Individuals got closer to people outside of their safe social bubbles than they might have been in the past 16 months. Some were dressed normally, some maybe wore more fishnet, lower-cut tops, more shiny pleather-like materials than usual.
It was all in good fun, very Kalamazoo, and even a bit wholesome. There was hugging, with friends meeting friends for the first time since March 2020.
Ursula Chapman-Larson, a Kalamazoo scenester from way back, was dominating the space in front of the stage with her moves.
She says afterward, "I came to see some good friends, and do some dancing." Since COVID, "I've been to a few small establishments, but not much."
Marla LeMae says of the Toxins, "They're friends and neighbors of mine," and confirms that they're just another couple with kids living in a suburb of WMU academics.
Before the set, attendees were dispersed throughout the big room, but gravitated to the stage as A Toxin declared that they got even more sexy over the pandemic (and B Toxin laughing behind the drums).
With lasers, disco ball, and smoke machine all going full blast, they pounded out "You Own the Disco," "Kitty Glitter," "Sexy Toxins Twist" and a cover that shows some of their outrageous disco rock inspiration, "I Was Made for Lovin' You"
People were able to forget the virus, to relax, and for once enjoy a show. A freaky disco rock show, like the normal times in Kalamazoo.