Underground no more
After five years in Boulder City, Matteo’s calls it a night
Thu, Jul 3, 2008 (midnight)
Dave Hawkins was there for its birth, and now he’s marking the passing of Matteo’s Underground Lounge in song. “Time to say goodbye to the Underground/Time to raise ’em high for one more round/Though we walk away, our hearts will stay/Lights out,” the frontman for Vegas outfit The Lazy Stars sings as the assembly in the cramped Boulder City club hoist their collective drinks to the sky.
Five years ago, Hawkins’ old band, Psychic Radio, performed on opening night at the basement venue beneath the historic Boulder Dam Hotel. When he got the call to play the June 28 finale—the first-ever show for the now-two-month-old Lazy Stars—he got to work composing “Lights Out,” a tribute to a spot he calls “a home away from home. We opened it as one band and closed it as a new band,” says Hawkins, who also played acoustic shows at Matteo’s during the years between. “Tonight seemed fitting—a full-circle kind of thing.”
In January, the Matteo brothers—Chris, 41, who ran the venue, and Craig, 37, executive chef and head of operations at the upstairs restaurant—received word rent would increase significantly when their lease expired at the end of June. The move effectively “put us out of business,” Chris Matteo explains during a break in the action. “The hotel board and management forced us out.”
During their five-year run, the Matteos—Philadelphians who’d never worked in the restaurant, bar or band-booking business prior to arriving in Southern Nevada—established their Underground Lounge as a home for original music, much of it of the mainstream-rock variety and about 70 percent local-based. (Onetime Beatle Pete Best was one of the more famous out-of-town headliners.)
The brothers also managed to do something many doubted could be done: turn the small, relatively nondescript room into an out-of-town destination for Las Vegas music fans. “When we first got here, people said, ‘You’re not gonna draw Vegas people,’ but we did,” Chris Matteo says. “The majority of people that came here were from Vegas, Henderson, even Summerlin.”
Following an impromptu acoustic set from Boulder City’s own thisisatrainwreck and a punky, comedy-infused performance from the fake-mustached Go Wank the Broom, Vegas mainstays The Day After become the last band ever to take the stage at Matteo’s. An hour later, singer/guitarist Jenine Cali tries to call it a night with a cover of Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything,” but the small-yet-still-attentive remaining crowd isn’t quite ready to say goodbye. And so, for the record, new tune “Our Pet Lion” from The Day After’s in-progress new album goes down as the final song performed at Matteo’s, completed around 2:20 on the morning of Sunday, June 29.
“To be the last band ever to play here is an honor. Chris could have asked anyone, and he asked us.” bassist KC Wells says. “I’m sorry to see it go. The drive out here sucks, but the vibe of the club is cool. It doesn’t take a lot of people to pack it. And it allows people to feel like they’re somewhere other than in Vegas. It feels like you’re escaping your scene and following your favorite band out of town, even if it’s only 20 minutes away.”
As the club clears out for the last time, the finality begins to hit Chris Matteo, who vows to open a bigger, better venue in the near future. “We’ve been so busy getting everything ready to move out, but talking to people tonight it’s starting to hit me emotionally,” he says. “We had a good run, and I think we’ve done everything we can here. The next step is moving into Vegas. It’s all about finding the right location. There’s a lot of availability there, and we’re definitely looking.”