Back in the early ‘90s, I was bragging to a girlfriend’s uncle about a recently acquired Allman Brothers bootleg cassette. He was only half listening, but I got his attention when I told him the show was recorded at a warehouse in New Orleans. “Not a warehouse,” he scolded. “The Warehouse.” I stood corrected.
Conceived as a sort of “Fillmore South”--a reference to concert promoter Bill Graham’s legendary venues in New York and San Francisco--the Warehouse regularly attracted major American rock bands and all of the debauchery that came along with them. The first show at the Warehouse featured the Grateful Dead and Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac in January of 1970. The venue had a strong run throughout the ‘70s, but as rock and roll succumbed to disco fever in the 1980s, so did the Warehouse. The last band to take the stage was the Talking Heads in 1982, and a few years later the building at 1820 Tchoupitoulas Street was demolished.
A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas is a nostalgia trip, and I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of the crowd at last night’s sold-out screening have fond memories of the place. When the lights went down, the audience cheered and shouted rock and roll anachronisms like “Keep on truckin’!” and “Spark one up!” The film and the reception it received prove that the passage of decades can make even the wild drug- and booze-fueled ‘70s seem like a simpler time.
Warehouse has the feel of locally-produced PBS documentary, clocking in around an hour long. Though it was funded by a modest Kickstarter budget, the film has enough substance that it’s impossible to dismiss as a purely indulgent project for those who were there, mostly because of the rock and roll history that went down at the venue. The Grateful Dead’s gig at the Warehouse led to the infamous Bourbon Street bust immortalized in the song “Truckin’.” The Doors played their last show at the Warehouse before Jim Morrison died, and the Allman Brothers played one of the first shows after Duane’s death there. The Warehouse hosted ZZ Top before the beards, the Lester Bangs-approved Southern rock band Wet Willie recorded their classic live album Drippin’ Wet there, and Pink Floyd got their truck full of gear stolen after a gig, only to have it reappear fully intact the next day.
The most noticeable missing element in Warehouse is the lack of live music, which the film address from the beginning. While the usual price of admission for a night of rock and roll at the Warehouse was around five bucks, filmmakers point out that thirty seconds of music for the film would cost them about $10,000. As a result, the film mostly consists of anecdotes from those who were there. Among the talking heads in Warehouse, there aren’t a lot of big names. New Orleanians might recognize musician Deacon John or chef Susan Spicer, but the biggest rock and roll personality in the film is probably legendary Allman Brothers roadie Red Dog, who fondly recalls New Orleans for the ample supply of “hot women, booze, and drugs.” Almost everyone else in the film is identified as “Warehouse fan” or “Warehouse employee.” So the film leans toward locals swapping stories, but the stories they swap are wildly entertaining for anyone interested in this particularly hedonistic period of American rock and roll.
New Orleans can be notoriously insular and provincial when it comes to matters of culture, and the city is often oblivious to mainstream America. It’s not uncommon for New Orleans culture to be absorbed into the greater American one, but this film is a good example of how the city can share in the nationwide memory of riffs and anthems.