Scalped Tickets to Paradise 

Eddie Money offers us a pair for the Uptown, Oakland's latest Real Rock Club savior.

Let's start off with "Take Me Home Tonight," indisputably Eddie Money's genius moment -- a cheesy '80s one-night-stand anthem of the highest order. Over gooey keyboards and sorta-rockin' power chords, Eddie moans about hating to sleep alone, bellows Take me home tonight! in the resounding chorus, and gets his answer from an equally bellowing Ronnie Spector: Be my little baby! Baby my darling! Oh oh oh oh ohhh!

Beautiful, but confusing for my adolescent Catholic-school-attending self. For a great while I misread the tune as a cautionary tale of premarital sex: Eddie had gotten his way and gotten Ronnie knocked up, and she returned nine months later howling, Feed my little baby.

My interpretation, while incorrect, is far superior.

Imagine my further confusion last Friday night, as Mr. Money, now fiftysomething and appreciably swelled, held court at the grand opening of Oakland's newest nightclub hotspot, the Uptown, plowing through "Take Me Home Tonight" for the fifty thousandth time. Ronnie's vocal part was performed by Eddie's blonde, beaming, teenage-lookin' daughter.

The mind reels.

You should see this place, the Uptown. Especially if you recall its early incarnation, the Oakland Box -- the Telegraph outpost once beloved by nascent Town emcees and fiery poetry slammers. Back-rent woes shuttered the joint last year, and new co-owners Kevin Burns and Bobby Fratti swooped in and spent a solid year transforming it into what Burns excitedly declares to be the "Real Rock Club" we have evidently desperately lacked. Crown City Rockers and Tajai stickers plastered to one inside door are the only real remnants of the old Box -- I feel comfortable using the word pimped to describe this transformation. A massive, opulent bar now dominates the anteroom, a nifty smokers' courtyard looms beyond, and the adjacent performance space is gussied up to epic proportions -- "Big stage, big sound, big lights," Burns crows.

Burns himself spends a few minutes under those big lights -- he, Fratti, and Money are old junior-high chums from Long Island, and he managed Eddie for a while during his 27-year stint as a roadie, manager, and A&R guru for Bill Graham Presents. (Burns left in 2000, a decision he justifies with two words: "Clear Channel.") So there's Kevin, lookin' like a superhip philosophy professor as he thunders a few verses of "Shakin'" while Eddie looks on in amusement. (I don't recall the word tits in the original lyrics, but hey.) The crowd roars.

Oh, the crowd. Burns touts the Uptown's populist appeal: "My clientele is 21 and over, and anyone who wants to come in to a great fabulous bar and see fabulous bands on a fabulous stage and enjoy yourselves." But Eddie's crowd is, shall we say, nostalgic. Mocking these Dad-aged folks for not being into distressed denim and Animal Collective is rather pointless, especially considering most of them could probably buy my apartment complex tomorrow and turn it into a glue factory. Let us simply note that the coveted HMOO (Hot Moms of Oakland) demographic is well served here, and for the dudely forty-and-beyond rock 'n' roller, the hybrid Stevie Van Zandt/Stevie Ray Vaughan look -- giant bandanna, tight black pants, spangly-ass vest -- remains extremely popular.

As for our headliner, the marquee Eddie Money poster advertising this gig featured a photo shot from 1986; "I love the '80s!!!" he declares early on, to vigorous applause. He could look, and sound, far worse, though. He's no Atkins poster boy, and he ain't exactly bringing the vocal pyrotechnics, but he lumbers good-naturedly through one of those Oh, I Remember That Song sets ("Think I'm in Love," "Baby Hold on to Me," etc.). When he pantomimes pulling two tickets from his pocket for "Two Tickets to Paradise," he holds them out to us with a sheepish, weary, gimme-a-break-here grin, like a scalper outside a Raiders game midway through the second quarter.

We'll give you fifteen for the pair, Eddie.

The Uptown is off to a weird but rollicking start; Burns ties it into the long-awaited Oakland/Telegraph renaissance of condos, retro theaters, and picturesque pedestrian walkways. Herein, we get the Rock, which the East Bay has sorely lacked. "There hasn't been a Real Rock Club with a real stage in over ten years," he notes. "We want to give a place for the local bands to play, touring acts. And here it is. It's a magnificent bar, it looks absolutely fabulous, and, you know, after work, come have your drinks."

Furthermore, he says, "With the way the bridge is right now, goin' to San Francisco, who the hell wants to go there anymore?" Excellent point, sir.

Of course, many an East Bay scene savior has come and gone -- several times, if you're Eli's Mile High Club. "I don't wanna talk about any other clubs," Kevin says. "Hey, you know, life is tough. The truth is bands need a place to play, people need a place to drink. It's gonna be fine." He's also disinclined to get specific about who's gonna play this joint -- "Let's not go there," he barks with a cheerful crabbiness.

Local bands? Touring acts? "Yeah. I already said that." He chuckles. "You see, I used to be a manager. Be nice to me."

Sure thing. Let's hope Kevin has a few more big-shot junior high buddies. "Strong drinks," Burns concludes. "Strong drinks. Just come in and enjoy."

Bring your bandanna.


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