Farewell, Berbati's Pan

Our Fondest Memories of Berbati's Pan


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BY THE TIME the ball drops on 2011, Berbati's Pan as you and I know it will be no more. In mid-October the longtime fixture for live music in Portland announced that they would cease hosting concerts at the end of this year (the restaurant and bar will remain). The final show on New Year's Eve will be an ode to their storied past, a set from a reunited Five Fingers of Funk, the very same band that performed during the club's opening night in 1994.

If the closure announcement wasn't devastating enough, it was followed by the news of Ted Papaioannou's passing. The Berbati's Pan owner died on November 8 at the age of 56. Years before the national spotlight intently fixed its glare upon Portland music, Papaioannou's club was a sanctuary for local and national bands alike, a cultural beacon downtown whose very stage hosted an endless array of memorable performers. In honor of so many nights spent at the corner of SW 3rd and Ankeny, we just couldn't resist talking about our favorite shows there, and we asked a few esteemed members of Portland's musical community to chime in and discuss their finest memories of Berbati's Pan.

• • •

Kanye West came by Berbati's Pan after he performed at the Rose Garden. He did three songs with Dilated Peoples and I stood on the stage next to the DJ dancing like an idiot. When Kanye was done, I gave him a huge drunken high five. I'm pretty sure I scared the shit out of him.—Anthony Sanchez, Runaway Productions and former booker for Berbati's Pan

• • •

Back when you could still smoke inside of bars, Swans' Michael Gira played Angels of Light songs about death in a fucking white cowboy suit like a Wild West death knight. Pretty sure everyone in Portland still smoked then, too, so we watched him through a fog veil and let him rub us down with his scythe voice. He was also playing not-corny acoustic guitar in a goth-western fashion, which was a miracle of god. Then we all went over to Berbati's restaurant and ate specialty olives.—Julianne Shepherd, Portland Mercury music editor, 2000-2004

• • •

I promoted Ghostface Killah at Berbati's Pan for Mike Thrasher Presents. Ghostface is waiting backstage and it's him, Ted Papaioannou (R.I.P.), and myself just hanging out and talking about everyday things. It was surreal. A huge rapper, a small Greek dude, and me—a small Jew—just hanging out and talking before Ghostface went upstairs and slayed the audience with his rhymes.—Trevor Solomon, Musicfest NW

• • •

Not that this should be considered a "favorite show," by any stretch, but I thought I'd mention that Berbati's was the location of the first official Decemberists show. We had three songs worked up. I believe it was for a benefit or something. We were called the December Brides at sound check; by the time we got on stage (after a long debate at Shanghai Tunnel) we were the Decemberists. Had to correct the emcee after he'd announced us.

Otherwise, I saw Joanna Newsom there in 2004. The few people who were in the audience managed to nearly drown out the music with their conversation and the sound was terrible. Berbati's sound system: you will not be missed.—Colin Meloy, the Decemberists

• • •

The best show I saw at Berbati's was some sort of touring package bill for Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show in 2006. There were go-go dancers, and I think Phantom Planet and the Mooney Suzuki played. Those bands were ehhh, but the Zombies were also on the bill—yes, the fucking Zombies, the Time-of-the-Season, She's-Not-There, Odessey-and-goddamn-Oracle ZOMBIES, with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone. If, a few years prior, you had told me I would get the chance to see the actual Zombies perform "Care of Cell 44" in person, I probably would have smacked those lies out of your mouth. It was, for whatever mysterious reason, a phenomenal gig. They were old as hell, but they sounded incredible. The crowd was rapturous. At one point, Argent said incredulously, "I think you're the best audience we've ever had!" He meant it. I saw the Zombies again, two summers later at the Wonder Ballroom. It wasn't the same.—Ned Lannamann, Portland Mercury

• • •

Berbati's was a great place to experience live music. Saw so many up-and-coming bands there, as well as legends like Question Mark and the Mysterians, Barry and the Remains, and the Incredible String Band. Berbati's had some great people booking the place like Tres [Shannon] and Chantelle [Hylton Simmons], they were on the pulse. And Tres really knew rock history so when an obscure, respected band of the past was touring he would snag them up to play. It could get hot and sweaty on a packed night but some of the best moments happened then, like when the Little Steven Underground Garage Show and Greg [Prevost] from the Chesterfield Kings jumped up and ran down the bar singing as if he was Mick Jagger in his prime, followed by an overexcited crowd to see the Supersuckers and New York Dolls! 

I never thought I'd ever get to see Roy Harper, as he was now in his 60s, yet here he was coming to Berbati's. A big fan, I showed up with a small box of my records hoping I might run into him before or after the show. Tres Shannon saw me and my box and wanted to see all of them. He told me Roy was eating dinner and I should come back and meet him. I did and ended up talking to him for 40 minutes and ending up mailing him one of the album covers unsigned so they could use the art to put the title out on CD. This was followed by a magical show that I will always remember. It was not your typical Berbati's crowd, as chairs and tables were set out to see this legend play.—Terry Currier, Music Millennium

• • •

There were so many good shows at Berbati's it is challenging to choose just one. But the show that really stands out as a place in my show-going memory bank is not only a top show at Berbati's, but one of the best shows I have ever seen, period. March 12, 2005, KRS-One performed with support from Boom Bap Project (R.I.P.) and OneBeLo to a beyond sold-out crowd. That evening, KRS-One proved that true talent, solid lyricism, and the right beat is all you need to rock a show. This concert in particular captured a special time, as Portland hiphop was in a strong growth phase, and thankfully continues to be. With Berbati's being one of the premier rooms to play in town, these elements created a winning combo that will go down in Portland, Berbati's, and hiphop show history.—Connie Wohn, Stylus 503

• • •

I have two really fond memories that jump out at me from my time at Berbati's. Perhaps the most epic was Shellac's two-day run in the summer of 2009. Steve Albini is a personal hero of mine so having the opportunity to hang out with him, Bob Weston, and Todd Trainer for two days was a post-rock fan's wildest dream come true. Another really epic night was when Deerhunter came through. They were touring with Spoon at the time and Spoon wanted to skip Portland so we were lucky enough to host a Deerhunter headline gig. Not only were the Deerhunter guys super rad, I got a chance to meet Kim Deal at that show, another personal hero of mine.—Matt King, Mississippi Studios booker and former booker for Berbati's Pan

• • •

When I walked into Berbati's the night after I moved to town in the fall of 2002, I knew nothing about Portland, the venue, or any of the bands playing. When I walked out, I had a new favorite city and a new favorite band—the Joggers—who had just played what is to this day one of the best shows I've ever seen. I had picked the show out of the paper because it was an all-local, six-or-seven-band bill, a fundraiser for a never-to-be-built hostel for touring bands called Dixon Manor, and a great opportunity to dive into the music community here. I can't be certain if it was at that first show or one of the dozens of other times I saw the Joggers play Berbati's, but I clearly recall watching guitarist/singer Ben Whitesides hop off stage mid-song, mosey around the corner, and step out of sight into the conveniently located men's room from which he finished the song, guitar cable snaking back to the stage, all without missing even a single frenetic note. There was something wonderfully playful about this scene—a witty, everyman inversion of the rock star theatrics of speaker-climbing or stage-diving. I have to admit that I've always wanted to see someone pull this stunt again, but since it can't be the Joggers, it would give me no greater pleasure than to see Agalloch do this tomorrow at what will likely, and sadly, be my final Berbati's show. Fingers crossed. —Cary Clarke, former PDX-Pop Now board member and Mercury columnist

• • •

I couldn't breathe.

We've all had our own personal Pearl Jam at Roskilde moments at concerts, where the sheer mass of the capacity crowd becomes overwhelming and we fear our ribs will crack, our feet be lifted from the floor, and our breath unceremoniously squeezed from our lungs. The White Stripes gave me such a moment of panic on July 12, 2001, when the duo headlined a comically oversold Berbati's Pan.

White Blood Cells was out for less than a couple weeks and was quickly establishing Jack and Meg as household names, and while I had already seen the band back in the early Sympathy for the Record Industry days—when the band wasn't at war with the label and their crowds barely outnumbered the two people on stage—I was still fascinated with them. (Keep in mind, this was back in the day when there was still quite a bit of mystery to the White Stripes. Were they brother and sister as they claimed? Married? Divorced? Holograms? Bands used to have plenty of secrets back before the internet took over.)

It got crowded. Then even more crowded. And, finally, to the dismay of every fire marshal, even more people spilled into the overcapacity club on that sweltering July night. My comfort level shattered early on, and by the time they blazed through Blind Willie McTell's "Lord, Send Me an Angel," I was fairly certain I'd die on that floor. (It would have been a shameful death. Dying at a White Stripes show is hardly as noble as getting shanked by a biker at Altamont. It's embarrassing, like stumbling down the stairs at the Schnitzer and breaking your neck at the John Tesh show.)

I didn't want to go out this way. Besides, the White Stripes had yet to play "St. James Infirmary Blues." I fucking love that song.—Ezra Ace Caraeff, Portland Mercury music editor

• • •

One of my favorite shows of all-time took place at Berbati's Pan in 2009 at Musicfest NW. It was the Dirty Three, and I was right up front. Warren Ellis is one of the most captivating, soulful, and unorthodox violin players I have ever seen onstage. One of his signature moves is telling poetic stories while spitting out beer between songs. When he said in his thick Aussie accent, "This is a song about waking up dead in a car. It's called 'Sue's Last Ride,'" I was lucky enough to get sprayed.—Caroline Buchalter, former booking assistant at Berbati's Pan

• • •

There are too many great memories to choose one. And it wasn't until hearing of its closing that I was reminded how integral it has been to my Portland music life. Every band I've been in—Joggers, Pseudosix, Shaky Hands—had at least one record release there, including one on my 35th birthday. And Joggers were able to open for just about every musical hero on our list there: Guided by Voices, Polvo, and Mike Watt. And Dave [Hite] is the most attentive, no BS sound guy ever, and always the best part of playing there. Bummer.—Jake Morris, the Joggers


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