A New Venue for Death Metal 

Two local metalheads help revamp West Oakland's historic Continental Club.

In its heyday, West Oakland's Continental Club hosted such famous musicians as Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Cooke. Yet for the last thirty-plus years, the so-called "coliseum of Oakland blues" has largely been dormant, according to a 2010 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. In the last two and a half years, a new owner, a comedian who goes by the name Pharaoh, has tried to reinvent the venue as a comedy club and multi-genre music venue. And now two local metalheads are volunteering their time to also make the Continental Club a place for death metal.

Geoff Pitts lives just down the street from the club, but said he only learned of its existence a couple months ago, when he noticed the club's Sunday-night standup comedy show. When he saw the venue's sprawling interior and huge stage, he immediately called his friend Yusef Wallace, who plays guitar and sings in the Oakland death metal band Rude. "'Dude, you need to come check this place out,'" Wallace recalled Pitts saying. Pitts had hosted a couple metal shows at his house but felt there were "no good venues" for metal in Oakland.

"Bands usually play Eli's [Mile High Club] or the [Oakland] Metro or some shitty basement somewhere, but that gets old," said Wallace, adding that the local metal scene is fairly insular and often caters to the sludge/crust/doom crowd. There are fewer places for death metal bands like his, he said.

So Wallace and Pitts approached Pharaoh about hosting regular metal shows. "I've had a lot of people come up here and want to have a party," said Pharaoh. "Yusef and Geoff were the two hardest-working ones. They cut down my trees and helped me fix my lights."

With Pharaoh's permission, they also rewired speakers and bought professional lights and gels, according to Pitts. They plan to fix the overhead sprinkler system to get the place up to code, which Pitts said will increase the venue's capacity from 300 to 800.

So far, they've only hosted one metal show, but Pitts and Wallace said it was a success, and that more than one hundred people showed up. "Everybody seemed to have a good time," said Pharaoh. As of a couple weeks ago, a DJ spins metal tunes every Thursday night, and the plan is to host live bands maybe once or twice a month. Currently, they have two more shows lined up — a record release party for punk band Agata on May 16, and a metal show featuring Bone Sickness and Rude on May 30.

Pitts and Wallace believe the Continental Club has a lot of potential, considering the large amount of metal musicians and fans in the area. The venue is surprisingly underutilized, with three bars, two kitchens, a mezzanine level, and games such as ping-pong, air hockey, and pool. And Pharaoh has a small bus that he uses to shuttle customers from the West Oakland BART station to the venue, for those who don't want to walk. He estimates there's only been about twenty shows held at the Continental in the last two and a half years. Although he said he's not "a music person," Pharaoh welcomes bands. "This place has too much music history to forget it," he said.

For more info: Facebook.com/ContinentalComedy. To book metal bands, call Geoff Pitts at 530-559-2554.

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