Atlantis Rising: Foo Fighters Open Seth Hurwitz’s Crown Jewel

FF 05
Photo by Lisa A. Walker / @shotsfromthedark

Ten million dollars is a lot to invest in a new venue, especially one as intimate as the 450-cap Atlantis, a new tricked-out, three-level club in Washington, D.C. that pays homage to the original 9:30 Club in all its squalid grandeur. It’s also the latest addition to the venue portfolio of Seth Hurwitz’s I.M.P., the independent promoter and a dominant player in the D.C metropolitan area live market.  

The Foo Fighters’ official opening of the Atlantis Tuesday night (May 30) was monstrous, a pulverizing two-hour-plus affair that could best be described as an over-the-top underplay. From any vantage point in the small club, it was a premium experience seeing a stadium-level act in such close quarters. Roughly two-thirds or more of the patrons were on the first level and the remaining third or so in the balcony.  The open-air roof area, decorated in 1980s F Street squalor (complete with the Washington Post headline Mayor “Barry Arrested On Cocaine Charges…”), is the perfect place to recharge and get phone reception and felt like the venue’s most VIP-like space.

Dave Grohl, Mayor Bowser & Seth Hurwitz Open D.C.’s New Atlantis Club

Apropos of the night, The Foos began their set with the hulking Pete Stahl from Scream, Grohl’s old DC hardcore band, on vocals. He did two frenetic hardcore songs, including the wildly appropriate Bad Brains track “At The Atlantis,” before stage diving away into the crowd.  The band then powered through now-classic standards like “This is A Call,” “Learn To Fly” “Times Like These,” “Monkey Wrench,” “Everlong” and “Best of You” with Grohl on a what seemed extra high-octane fuel. The night also included a spit-take on Foghat’s glorious “Slow Ride” and a cameo by Grohl’s daughter Violet whose exquisite voice graced “Shame Shame“ and “Rope.”

It wouldn’t be an I.M.P. celebration without Hurwitz at some point sitting in behind the kit, which on this night included his admirable drumming on the Foos’ “Big Me.” He, however, is no Josh Freese, the masterful percussion vet who now occupies the drum throne formerly owned by the late, great and widely beloved Taylor Hawkins. The drummer role in Foos is an out-front one under constant scrutiny demanding precision, over-the-top power, insane drum fills, tight grooves and deep pockets. And though it was only his fourth public show with the band, Freese is a drum beast and a great fit for the band who will only get more locked in as they continue touring. (Freese’s first 9:30 show, it turned out, was with the Vandals).

“Far be it for Seth to overdo anything,” Grohl joked as he thanked the promoter for building the Atlantis. He also noted the venue’s 44 underplays which I.M.P.’s programmed to celebrate 44 years of the 9:30 Club and for which the venue is charging a wonderfully reasonable $44 a show.

That, however, works out to a $19.8K gross for each of the Atlantis’ opening shows, which for a band like the Foo Fighters—whose career average gross of $1.2M, according to 402 Pollstar Boxoffice reports—would be impossible to recoup.

But that’s only part of the Atlantis’ interesting venue strategy with many of the initial slate of bookings playing in tandem with I.M.P’s other buildings it either owns and/or runs. This includes the 6,000-capacity Anthem, 1,200-cap. 9:30 Club, 1,242-cap. Lincoln Theatre and the 19.300-cap. Merriweather Post Pavilion.

1. Photo of The Atlantis by Jordan Grobe 1
The Atlantis exterior which is a replica of the Atlantic Building on F. Street which formerly housed the 9:30 Club. (Photo: Jordan: Grobe)

That means, for example, that bands like the Hot Chip, Yo La Tengo, X, Jeff Tweedy and Rodrigo y Gabriela will play both the Atlantis and the 9:30 Club. The Pixies, Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Billy Idol, Jenny Lewis and Darius Rucker will all do an Atlantis night and an Anthem night (with other acts, including the Pixies and Franz Ferdinand on the same bill); Parliament Funkadelic will play the Atlantis and the Lincoln Theatre; The Head & The Heart, Ben Gibbard and Maggie Rogers all play the Atlantis and then the Merriweather with other acts: Head & The Heart with The Revivalists and Jamie Wyatt; Gibbard with Death Cab For Cutie and Postal Service; and Rogers co-headlining two days of the All Things Go Festival. On top of that, several acts are playing two Atlantis shows, including Modern English, Tank & the Bangas, Hannibal Buress and The Magnetic Fields.

While the economics of underplays can be tough for larger touring artists to justify the cost, when combined with other plays, though, it may be far more palatable. And though these initial slate of Atlantis shows are all $44, one can see a point where I.M.P. could package these smaller performances as premium deals. The demand for these larger acts are such that fans would likely be more than willing to pay significantly higher ticket price than $44.

Earlier in the day, amidst all the hoopla at the Atlantis’ ceremonial guitar string cutting, with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Hurwitz, Grohl, a Grohl sculpture and a scrum of media, much was made of all the national acts who came through the original 9:30 Club on their way to the top of the ladder. Bands like R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day and Nirvana were cited. And there’s easily hundreds more who played 9:30 and made their way up the venue pipeline. Now, with the Atlantis, I.M.P. can again establish relationships with artists earlier in their career and better support their ascensions through their venue network. And, at the same time, the promoter can now offer a space for larger acts to reconnect with their fans on a more intimate and mind-blowing level.