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The Blank Club Celebrates 10 Years of Rock and Debauchery in San Jose

In Culture, Music

Milestones for rock venues and nightclubs would be better measured in dog years. It seems that each year is elongated by constant battles: noise complaints, bitchy artists, technical failures, unruly patrons and nights that, for whatever reason, are utter failures.

San Jose’s old work dog, the Blank Club, has seen all of the above and more over the last 10 years (53 years in dog years). The nondescript gray building in an otherwise quiet corner of downtown San Jose with a parking garage, auto-repair businesses and a Greyhound station nearby sets itself apart from other spots only with a bright-red neon light—a beacon in a city always in need of more options for live music.

Over the past 10 years, numerous groups that have rolled into San Jose would have had nowhere to play had the Blank Club not existed. This weekend, the club celebrates its 10-year anniversary—an accomplishment for a nightclub in any city—with shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Photo by Jessic Shirley-Donnelly

A partial list of the bands that have graced the Blank Club’s stage includes Fitz and the Tantrums, Passion Pit, X, The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, the Heavy, Gogol Bordello, Dick Dale, Jonathan Richmond and the proverbial “many more.”

The club has also hosted a lot of weirder, less-established acts and has helped serve as a launching pad for locals like the Limousines and Anya and the Getdown looking to take their music to the next level.

There’s no shortage of memories and anecdotes from regulars at the club over the last 10 years.

Lex Van Den Berghe, drummer for the Frontier Wives and Maids of Honor, who has been involved with San Jose’s music scene for over three decades, sees the Blank Club as the equivalent of outlaw music’s last stand in San Jose.

“I’m lucky enough to remember the San Jose music scene’s golden years back in the ’80s, when our town was teeming with shitloads of killer bands and legit clubs like the Laundry Works, Muzzie’s, Marsugi’s and the Cactus Club,” Van Den Berghe says. “It only seems fitting that some of my oldest drinking buddies—Corey, Craig, Rocko and Chris—would be the same guys behind the one club that keeps the San Jose music scene from dying a sad and quiet death.”

The Backstabbers at the Blank Club.

The Blank Club’s barebones, all-black interior stands in stark contrast to the upscale dance clubs that permeate the rest of downtown. It is exactly what a rock & roll club should be: unpretentious and raw.

“My favorite thing about the Blank Club is its stubbornness in trying to stay that ‘alternative’ club,” says DJ Basura.

Of course, by nature, a venue that serves touring and underground acts breeds a certain degree of chaos that just wouldn’t be appreciated—or even allowed—at the other clubs.

Chris Racine, the club’s sound engineer, remembers one of the many times that Dick Dale played the club. Never one to soundcheck, Dale was on the sidewalk with a wireless guitar, ready to start the show from outside, only he hadn’t told Racine his plan.

“I’m quietly waiting for the band to get on the empty stage, when all of the sudden, interrupting and obliterating every living thing for four city blocks, Dick Dale starts playing his guitar—L-O-U-D—plucking away at a wild and crazy solo at +120db—but he’s not here yet! He was outside of the club, unaware that his wireless guitar performance was scaring the crap out of everybody. I almost needed clean shorts after that,” says Racine.

The Limousines at the Blank Club. Photo by Aron Cooperman.

Local electronic duo the Limousines has for the past three years held its annual XXXMAS [email protected]#$FEST shows at the Blank Club—shows that are known for being wild, unpredictable and festive.

“One year, I wore a fat Santa suit with a big strap-on dildo,” recalls Limousines lead singer Eric Victorino. “Last year I had a Spandex Santa suit on. We bring a tree and Christmas lights and give away presents to the crowd. I don’t think there’s any other club where I would want to do this.”

Sometimes, as Johnny Manak recalls, shows at the Blank Club can get downright crazy, particularly when his old band, the Cliftons, played. “We brought spoiled food and condiments from our fridge and showered the crowd with rotten food, mayo, mustard and shortly after, vomit,” Manak says.

The Cliftons, however, were tame compared to the time Extreme Elvis played. “He got naked and rubbed up against people, which really pissed the audience off. Speaking of piss, he pissed on the stage or bar or both. Then he marched the band out front for the encore and performed on the street naked,” Manak says.

The Blank Club’s opening came at a desperate time for San Jose. The Cactus Club, downtown’s go-to rock venue, closed its doors in 2002, and Plant 51 opened up shortly thereafter in the building that eventually become the Blank. Plant 51 wasn’t doing so well, so Corey O’Brien, Larry Trujillo and a few others bought it in 2003 and turned it into the Blank Club.

“Someone had to do something, so we all stepped in and tried to do what we could do,” O’Brien says.

“The Blank Club was a game changer,” Manak adds. “[Before that] the only place to have punk/rock bands play in San Jose was a transvestite bar on Tuesday nights.”

Fitz and the Tantrums at the Blank Club.

Eventually, one of the other partners sold his portion of the club to bartender Craig Yamato. Trujillo’s day-to-day involvement lessened after he opened the Uptown in Oakland a little while later.

The first year was tough. On the opening night, they had barely enough money to put on a show. “We had no change for the drawers,” O’Brien says. “We had hardly any stock. We had money for legal stuff, and that was it. It was really scrappy the first year.”

Things turned up after that. The Blank found success by juggling DJ nights and live-music shows with local and national touring bands.

One of the most memorable shows at the club was a rare appearance by James Williamson, who co-wrote and played guitar on Iggy and the Stooges’ legendary proto-punk album Raw Power. Williamson had quit music for more than 30 years. That show in 2009, with San Jose’s Careless Hearts as his backing band, playing classic Stooges songs, was his first show since the Raw Power days.

“It was one of those things that I couldn’t see happening in San Francisco due to SF audiences tending to play their cards close to their chest,” says Derek See, a former member of Careless Hearts. “After the first few songs faded, the crowd as a whole started getting more and more excited and just cutting loose and sharing in our excitement. By the last few songs, it was pandemonium, and for me it was a victory over those who say cool things don’t happen in San Jose.”

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