Friday, April 5, 2013

My thoughts on Numbers and the urban myths surrounding the place

On its website yesterday, the Houston Press published a blog post entitled "Seven Popular Myths and Urban Legends About Numbers." I thought the post was well-written and informative - I actually learned some things I didn't know - but as a 25-year patron of the club, I felt posting my own thoughts may be appropriate today.

The first time I visited Numbers

I first discovered Numbers sometime in late 1988. I turned 18 that year, and finally could get into all these clubs I had heard so much about. Specifically, a club called 6400 at Richmond and Unity had blown up across town with a Houston top-40 radio station (93Q) simulcasting from the club, turning industrial and alternative dance tracks into a mainstream staple for the teenagers and young adults in the city. There were numerous clubs in town during that period offering that type of format.

I found myself at Numbers by chance one night as a result of a friend forgetting to bring his driver's license to 6400. He got turned away at the door. Wondering what we would do for the rest of the night, he asked if I had ever been to Numbers. Since the doorman at Numbers already knew him, we would have no problem getting in. Sure enough, that's where I ended up. And I never wanted to leave.

What sets Numbers apart

Other than the fact that Numbers is the one remaining Houston institution from that very exciting period in the late 80s and early 90s, the club still feels very much like home. I've been in many nightclubs over the years, and I've never found another Numbers. For starters, the music played there is still excellent, unique, and unlike any other format you'll hear. They have purposefully avoided top-40 and mainstream music, instead focusing on alternative, and at times obscure, stuff that frankly makes for a much more interesting an enjoyable nightclub experience.

The people also set the place apart. The patrons are literally a mix of all different types of folks. Everyone is made to feel welcome. I've seen men dancing in jackets and ties on the same night that I've seen people standing at the bar wearing cut-off shorts. You literally come as you are and feel comfortable no matter who you are. There is no other building in the world I would rather be in on a weekend night with a drink in my hand. Every time I've been away from Houston, Numbers is one of the first stops I make when I'm back in town.

Changes over the years

One of the appeals of Numbers is that it hasn't changed much over the years. Other than a disappointing adjustment to the size of the stage which eliminated much of the seating near the dance floor, the place looks and sounds very much like it did in 1989. Predominately black interior, one big dance floor in the middle, with bars on both sides of the room and in one exterior room (with Lloyd still serving drinks there).

Wes is still upstairs on Fridays, so the music remains the same (thankfully). The patio looks the same. Those black blocks are still outside for seating, and wooden steps lead up to the platform on the far end of the patio.

The main difference in 2013, as opposed to 1989, is a change in the vibe. It's hard to describe to someone that didn't experience that period in Houston, but clubbing seems to be a lot less intense than it once was. Our lives revolved around being in those clubs during that time. The whole week was a countdown, and those clubs (including Numbers) were open and often packed several days a week. It wasn't rare for myself and my group of friends to be at Numbers one evening for nickel beer night (although we were too young to drink in the club), at Xcess or 6400 or somewhere else another night, and then back at Numbers at least one evening during the weekend.

Clubbing now seems a lot more perfunctory. I think that's a good sign for parents. After hanging out and closely watching the dance floor at Numbers for about a year starting in late 2009, I can honestly say most of the youngsters today don't party nearly as hard as we did.

The demographics inside the club seem to have changed a bit. I made a remark to Lloyd one night several years ago that I thought the crowd had become more "Montrosey" (i.e. gay) than in the past, but he said he thought the crowds had stayed the same over the years. Being an alternative dance club in the heart of the Montrose, you'd always expect some gay folks (and we always enjoy their presence).

However, the days of that late-80s club explosion, where scores of young, straight suburban kids (like myself) came into town in droves to party at a Montrose club (or the other clubs in town during that time) seem to be over to some degree. Maybe there is a similar phenomenon in Houston's future. It seems, though, that there was something about the music of that particular time period that lent itself to intense interest. Houston simply had the right mix of DJs and club owners/managers at the right time.

Whoever approved 93Q's simulcast of 6400 needs to take a great deal of credit for what happened at those nightspots during that period (including Numbers). I might not have ever found the place, or I certainly would have never adopted it as my favorite hangout of all time.

My favorite live event at Numbers

Another strong point about Numbers is the assortment of artists and live acts that played the venue, in many cases long before they were household names. I've already placed a podcast online sharing my memories of two Revolting Cocks shows, but my very favorite is still a 1990 Nine Inch Nails show in support of Pretty Hate Machine. We were so excited to see this band that we felt only a handful of us knew about on stage at Numbers. Talk about a perfect evening! "Down in It" and "Head Like a Hole" were already being played often over the dance floor, and almost daily at my house.

My recollection of that night (other than it being a badass show) was that Trent threw down a microphone and walked off stage temporarily during "Something I Can Never Have" because of chronic feedback each time he'd try to sing into his microphone. Seeing that particular band in that venue was unbelievable, and although I've seen NIN in larger arenas since then, nothing compares to seeing them perform that particular disc on that particular stage.

Some strange evenings at Numbers


Over the years, I've made it my habit to watch the dance floor. I've done this since the late 1980s. I like to watch chicks dance. The patrons there know I do that, and on nights when the female population is predominantly heterosexual, I have no problems. About 10-15 years ago, I used to joke with one of my friends that "if you hypnotize with your eyes, the thighs will follow." You may laugh at that, but over the years I've been able at various times to get a female to dance (almost always very tastefully) in front of me on the dance floor for part of the evening.

One night when I was in college, I stood at a table near the entrance of Lloyd's bar. A female friend from high school had walked up and joined me at the table. I noticed a young lady dancing on the other side of the dance floor. I recognized this female as someone who had really tore up the dance floor in front of me one night. I leaned over to my friend and said, "You see that girl dancing over there in the white shirt? Within five minutes she be dancing in front of this table."

I locked eyes on that chick from across the room, and she began slowly moving closer to us. Minutes later, she danced just feet from the table while I stared a hole in her with my eyes. The girl standing next to me leaned over toward me, looking shocked. "You're going to have to tip her," she said, walking away from the table.

I only tell that story to let you know how I've operated in that club over the years. What happened one particular night I'll never forget.

I was standing at that same table years later, having a drink with a friend. As I looked toward the dance floor, I noticed something very strange out of the corner of my eye. Walking in the front door of the club, standing in front of the coat check, was Satan. This may not have actually been the devil, but as I looked toward him, he stared back. I mean really stared back, like we were the only two people in the room.  It seemed to continue for more than a minute. Standing still, facing me, staring right at me.

Someone had apparently put on a full-body Satan costume, including pitchfork and pointy tail, and then decided to mess with me that evening. I leaned over to my friend and said, "The devil's really tripping me out tonight."

He looked at me, laughed, and said, "What?"

"Look," I said, pointing.

Satan continued staring. The look on his face was downright bizarre. I wouldn't describe the look as angry, but wild-eyed and intense.

"Dude, that is weird," said my friend. Another friend walked over from the bar and asked what was going on.

Within several minutes, the devil had walked up and danced in front of us on the dance floor. He danced, laughed wildly and licked his pitchfork.

Looking back, I've often called that evening "devil night."

Sex at Numbers


Jef with One F, the author of the Houston Press blog post, claims that "Of course, there has been plenty of sex" at Numbers. Really? Where? I've been in that place more times than I can count, and I've never seen two people having intercourse inside that club. That's not to say it hasn't happened. I've seen more than one person run into a bathroom stall together. I've seen some pretty erotic stuff on the dance floor. I've seen making out and heavy petting on the stage and upstairs. But I've never, in 25 years of attending that club, seen anything that remotely looked like two people were actually having sex.

I think the sex at Numbers talk is more myth than fact, frankly.

I'm in San Antonio right now so y'all have fun at Numbers, hold down the fort

I can't come to Numbers. I'm in San Antonio, and that's kind of far away. The 6400 reunion last week was excellent, so thanks for partying with me.

Do everything you can to keep that place alive and thriving. I'll visit whenever I come to town. 
 

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