It’s a Friday night and my best friend is in town, so you know what that means, my sympathetic critics: This girl walks into a bar.
It was VulfPunk Night at the Blind Pig, and the menu featured cover songs of Vulfpeck and Daft Punk by four bands, two of which we actually sampled.
My first trip to the Blind Pig may also be my last: This little piggy is on the market. The building was listed by Swisher Commercial just last month, and given that its neighbor Circus was sold to a New York firm earlier this year, the longstanding bars of Kerrytown are one by one losing ground.
That’s a shame, because as a venue, the Blind Pig is a grungy ’90s time capsule, from the neon sign in the smudged windows that gives it that seedy tattoo-parlor feel. The lack of a coat check is disconcerting in the Michigan March weather, but that’s OK, the bars on the windows are purely decorative — We end up piling our coats by the window. “It’s Ann Arbor,” a friend says with a shrug. “Who’s gonna take ’em?”
I order a $4 whiskey sour — the weakest of my life — before seeing the clever use of an iconic poster of Johnny Cash, flipping off any patron who tries to pay with a card. Shit. They hold my drink behind the bar as I trot downstairs to use the ATM and see a similar “Cash Only” tee on one of the overburdened bartenders. Ah, you got me this time, Johnny.
Back upstairs, there’s a guy in a top hat gyrating in glow-in-the-dark pants. The dusty mirrors on both sides make the room seem bigger, but the sloped ceilings and black paint make the upstairs feel like a basement. Specifically, your grandmother’s, based on the disco ball and wooden fan on the ceiling.
It’s hot in the crowd, so we hit the stairs for the visibly less-crowded basement bar, the 8 Ball Saloon. A particularly grotesque ’80s jazzercise tape plays from a television mounted behind the bar as we wait for our drinks, which are whipped out with lightning speed. It’s 25 cents cheaper down here, for no reason we can think of, and the added garnish of lemon feels like a prize.
Speaking of garnish, Christmas lights are a nice touch to the man-cave decor. It seems less like a saloon and more like your buddy’s game room. I see in the corner of my eye, past the rows of booths and dart boards, a vending machine, and a South Park arcade game.
Walking downstairs, we find photographs along the walls that go back decades. I can’t help but think everyone in the pictures looks like they’re having more fun than I’m having now — or have ever had in my entire life for that matter.
No one in the Polaroid history of the Blind Pig looks tired, or bored. No one is checking their phones, because they’re tethered to cords back in their apartments or dorms. The slogan, “When was the last time you were Jägermeistered?” is the centerpiece of one collection. It certainly has been a while, I muse.
Apparently Halloween goes over big at the Pig, especially back when people actually dressed to scare. In a particularly haunting collection from 1989, there’s a photo of a girl positively drenched in blood that will certainly be featured in my nightmares.
We don’t realize at the time, but the first band, the Paddlebots, will be our favorite, mostly because the trombone player looks like my roommate’s boyfriend. I’m on my third sour, feeling nothing, and am glad I didn’t try to order anything with more than two ingredients. There’s free popcorn here, another comparison to Circus two doors down. “It’s so people don’t vomit,” my roommate says, popping some into her mouth. “The popcorn sucks up the booze.”
The club, known for hosting an early Nirvana gig, has also seen performances by R.E.M., Sonic Youth and Soundgarden. The funk-music lineup playing tonight, however, is why I think I’m about two decades too late to enjoy the Blind Pig. The musicians are clearly talented, but I feel trapped in my disdain as the current of those seriously feeling themselves surges around me. What’s playing is basically what you’d hear at any co-op party, but at least I don’t pay $8 for that privilege. I stand in Debbie Downer protest, sipping my drink as the audience rocks like a sea of Bobo dolls with big smiles plastered on their faces.
The pseudo-funk blares as the stage lights cut through the crowd, burning my corneas, to justify the sunglasses worn by every member of the band trying desperately to live up to their name, Act Casual. All that was missing from this generic college-party scene was a beach ball, lazily kept aloft by the beanie-clad and bespeckled crowd.
Though it’s eons away from my taste, the music certainly has people dancing. The tempo is fast and urgent, the crowd writhes beneath the seizure-inducing lights. Abruptly, it slows, and my friend says it’s like coming down from a high.
“It’s like coming down from a high,” a voice echoes behind me. Two guys are reading over my shoulder, clearly not absorbed by the performance in front of us. That’s what I get for taking notes on my phone.
Heralding the Floridian restaurant music is the lead singer, who besides interjecting with an occasional catch phrase hasn’t done much with his microphone. “Let’s get funky,” he sings, about as funky as string cheese.
A metronome beat holds down the fort during the third and final sound-check until we hear the bong of a clock strike. Drumsticks count down the start of yet more funk-a-licious tunes, now accompanied by auto-tuned vocals, but we’ve had enough. We turn to leave, using the cold night to sooth our aching heads.