Eulogy: The Trocadero – A Philadelphia Music Institution Closes

Friends, family, band members, restaurant owners, and parking meter officers. We are gathered here to mourn the loss of The Trocadero, the place most of you had wondered what went on inside. If not now, then in May, our beloved and derided The Trocadero (aka The Troc) will cease to be. Dust in the proverbial wind. To never again host live music but to serve patrons of new Asian fusion. Or, at least that’s my best guess what its fate will become.

The closing of a storied music venue is never easy to take. Philadelphians and former Philadelphians like myself spent many years witnessing our favorite live acts perform their most treasured songs on the stage of The Trocadero. Last Thursday, posted a story many of us couldn’t fathom. That the long-standing music venue—where the Ultimate Revenge 2 was filmed, where Relapse hosted its Contamination Festival, where Lamb of God recorded Killadelphia and where Tesla famously recorded its cover of “Signs”—was closing permanently. We’ll probably never understand why just only that we were a part of it, for better or worse.

The Trocadero, at the corner of fish guts and gray water, got its infamous start in the 19th century. Too far back for our great-grandfathers to have memory of it — stories, yes! — , the venue hosted “minstrel shows” (there’s something inherently racist here) before turning into a pre-neon and stiletto heel titty venue (aka burlesque) and movie theater for the remainder of the 20th century. This is all Philly lore, tales of a bygone age in nestled in a hardscrabble Chinatown, long before the Friendship Gate became a tourist attraction for stay-in-vehicle passersby of the mid-’80s.

Fast forward to 2000. I had just moved to Philly from a town of 25,000 in Michigan. Culture shock, city shock, food shock, no-personal-space shock set in quickly. There was no escape from anything in Philly. Even houses were glued together unfairly for neighborhoods on end. Everything was everywhere, and it all required acclimation. What helped settle the brutal commutes through the cars-on-bricks, burned out housing, and red light running (Philly folk don’t stand to wait) of West Philly was The Troc. As with any venue, The Troc was a moment of solitude at deafening volumes and brain-bending speed and chest-caving brutality. It was a focal point of harmony, where our cherished bands of death, black, doom, and whatever metals could posit for a time their songs as they appeared (or didn’t) on album.

Too many of you ended up stepping in that mysterious yet profoundly stinky gray water that puddled at the corners of Arch and 10th. Too many of you braved the Greyhound Terminal across the street, out of which crawled coin-eating zombies and other acts of human savagery on their way to neverwhere. Too many of you tried Chinese food — the real stuff — for the first time (and didn’t die). Too many of you joined me in celebration of The Troc. From fans to bands to the gruff bouncers out front looking for car keys (“Hey, that can be a weapon!”) or other mysterious tools non-bouncers use for whatever purpose (“Hey, is this a bottle opener?!”), The Troc was ground zero for a Monday night show, a Thursday night show, or better yet something on the weekend, when getting home after witching hour wasn’t met shortly thereafter with early morning meetings of “synergies” and “co-opetition” and “publifying.”

Some of my fondest concert-going memories in Philly were at The Troc. Getting on the guest list for the first time in Philly, where the window dude asked if I had a different form of ID other than an in-state driver’s license. Nearly falling down the backstage stairs during Killswitch Engage’s opening slot on the In Flames/Sentenced tour. Watching Entombed suck absolute dog shit at The Balcony Bar, the small upstairs venue at The Troc. Trying to interview Decapitated in the men’s bathroom (their suggestion). Hanging with Swallow the Sun on their first Philly gig, where the only thing Juha had to say was how much he liked Duran Duran. How finding parking not in a paid lot was an exercise in strategy, lining up stop lights, and wandering through dark, stinky alleys (like Appletree Street or Quarry Street). How The Troc had a terrible habit of starting shows while most of the audience was waiting in line outside. How The Troc never had consistent sound, even in its pre-restoration days where the ceiling was falling in nightly on a scary net cast across and above the entire floor. But The Troc was home. Our little hovel in Philly that was 50/50 in treating us the right way.

So, it’s with a heavy (but distant) heart that I find myself writing this eulogy from another city in another state. After 19 years of attending shows there, I’ll never see another because The Troc is closing its doors. To never to return. I’ve seen more than my fair share of bands at The Troc. I’ve battled with my fair share of pre-show bouncers. I’ve parked my fucking fairest share in Chinatown. I’ve interviewed bands and best friends at The Troc. I’ve helped bands load off stage at The Troc. The only thing I’ve never done at The Troc is work there. So, condolences to the employees, some aged and grizzled others tatted and aloof, who find their source of employment — their home away from home — now gone.

Goodbye, Trocadero! May the wood of your stage not end up a selfie wall at the latest Stephen Starr “farm-to-betrayal” restaurant.