Modified Arts, an all-ages venue in downtown Phoenix that has been a staple of the local music scene and a vital venue for touring indie bands for nearly 11 years, will change direction and transform into a space focused mostly on art. (Read more here and here.)
As such, I am collecting thoughts and memories from the musicians who played there and the fans who attended its many shows. This is less an obituary and more a celebration of a less-than-perfect but charming venue that, as we know it now, will be missed.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Modified, and exactly what memory resonates most with me. I played a lot of shows at the venue, in a couple different bands. I guess what really strikes me is how often things were the same, no matter what band I was in or what show we had managed to hop on. It always smelled bad. Really bad, the sewage smell was consistent. And it was always too hot. If it was a show for a touring band, there would be beer in the fridge, and we would always get in trouble for drinking too much of it. If it wasn’t a touring act, there we had the parking lot. Tailgating bands and fans could congregate there. I wonder how many Stella bottles I tossed into the dumpster back there.
I played a lot of good shows at Modified. I played a lot of bad ones, too. There was one, on a Saturday afternoon, where we literally played to the other bands, and they were all one-man bands minus us. I think the promoter still owes Ami and Kimber for that one. But even if the shows were crap, it always felt good to play there. I grew up in Coolidge, about an hour south of Phoenix. Drives up to the Modified were a special occasion, and I saw some great bands. I saw The Hold Steady while they were touring their second album. They were too loud for the venue, too loud even after they turned their amps away from the crowd. The Modified felt like somewhere. Each time I played there, it felt a little like I had arrived, a pretty remarkable feeling in a place that smelled like ass, with a underpowered sound system, a sagging stage and no paying customers present. It was all the spirit of the place, I guess.
I convinced Jeremiah to let my band Hands on Fire open for Blitzen Trapper there. I was excited; their album “Furr” had been getting a lot of play in my car stereo. I figured their sloppy rock would work well with ours. A newer band called Fleet Foxes were scheduled to open. We played an OK set, and after we cleared off, the members of Fleet Foxes shuffled on stage. We chatted about gear and the Velvet Underground. When they started playing, of course, I was mesmerized. I knew I was witnessing something important, a band that would do more than just entertain a crowd. Within a few months they would release one of the decade’s finest albums. Within a couple months they’d be touring the world and selling out venues far bigger than Modified. But tonight they were playing to a hushed 50 people in downtown Phoenix. I remember Kimber telling Zane, my bass player and best friend, and I to shut up as we tried to explain to a crazy woman over our merch table that no, we weren’t signed to Sub Pop. But it was nights like that at Modified that made me think that maybe I could be signed to Sub Pop, or something equally awesome. Because the bands on stage at Modified shared that feeling, that we were going somewhere, even if it was just another Modified gig a couple weeks later. Especially if it was another Modified gig.