Few things can get me out of bed early after a handful of post-concert hours of sleep. You concert junkies know what I’m talking about—that feeling every ounce of energy has been vacuumed from your body, and you’re so dried out you feel like you woke up in a sarcophagus. But I had major plans that morning, so faux hangover or not, I was jet-setting out of bed to get back to Seattle for a tour of the Paramount Theatre.
The Paramount is now run by the non-profit Seattle Theatre Group, which holds free tours for the Paramount, the Moore, and the Neptune theaters on different designated Saturdays each month. The tour of the Moore was the Saturday morning of our flight home, meaning we wouldn’t be able to see it. Thankfully, the Paramount’s tour was that Saturday, as it was highest on my list of must-see venues. Not only did the Paramount serve as the site for some notable concerts, it’s one of the most opulent, breathtaking theaters in the city.
Opened by Paramount Pictures in 1928, the theater was originally a movie palace that showed silent pictures. It was designed by Cornelius W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, the same architects who designed the glorious Chicago Theatre; created in the same Neo-Baroque French-revival style with several contractual similarities, the Paramount is truly the Chicago’s kid brother. Hailing from Illinois myself, I had a special appreciation for their resemblances. The first time I visited the Chicago Theatre was in 2011, when I saw Eddie Vedder with Glen Hansard. The theater was so beautiful, I told my husband I wanted to die there so I could haunt it for eternity. (Shooting for the macabre moon.)
The Paramount has a long and bumpy history, full of ups and downs like most grand movie palaces. By the early nineties, the theater had deteriorated into a sorry state. This is significant because it’s not only when Nirvana played their famous Halloween show at the venue, but also around the same time the theater was saved by Microsoft vice president Ida Cole. When Nirvana played the Paramount, it was literally a grunge palace. Though the tour guides didn’t really seem to like to talk about the rock shows at the theater, it was when Ida Cole was attending a Violent Femmes concert with her son she was moved to step in and rescue the theater from bankruptcy and possibly demolition.
Interesting factoid about this Nirvana show: it was supposed to be held at the Moore, but it was moved to hold a larger audience. The Paramount has 2,807 seats, while the Moore has 1,419. This show occurred one month after Nevermind’s release, during the tempest storm of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” taking over the MTV airwaves. This was literally the eye of the hurricane, before the album hit number one, before the band became jaded with media attention. That November, Nevermind was certified Gold and Platinum. Also worth noting is this show was the only Nirvana concert filmed in 16mm, so if you haven’t yet checked out the DVD, you seriously need to check your priorities.
Because the stage was being prepared for the Black Crowes show that night, our tour guides told us even though they usually take groups on the stage, we would have to respect the crew and stay out of their way. We were guided just about every other place, from the balcony to the backstage and dressing rooms, to under the stage where they keep their Wurlitzer organ. For a theater junkie like me, it was utter paradise. We hung around talking to the tour guides so long, the crew was done setting up the stage and was now in the underground preparing for the show, giving us the stink eye. The guides pointed us up the steps for the quickest exit, and the next thing I knew, I was looking out at the theater from the stage. I totally lost it at that moment. Overcome by the view, the history, the gravity of what had happened there, the idea it could’ve been bulldozed, and probably my lack of sleep, I just burst into tears. The fact it was set up for a concert made the view all the more visceral.
I tried to hide the fact I’d totally melted into a weepy freak by the time I got back to the lobby. Whether it was from my over-emotive state, or from our clear appreciation of the tour, we must’ve left an impression on a couple of our tour guides. One of them took my husband and I aside and asked if we’d like to join a private tour of the Moore Theatre. Let me think about that for a second. Um, hell yes!
Built in 1907, the Moore is Seattle’s oldest continuously-operated theater. Though smaller than the Paramount, the Moore is grand in its own unique way. It’s impossible to keep from gawking at the ceiling—the thing yawns up into the heavens. A seat at the top of the second balcony perches you next to Saint Peter.
Of course, Pearl Jam fans will recognize this theater from the “Even Flow” video, when Eddie Vedder was boosted up into the old box windows and let himself fall into the waiting arms of the crowd below. The Moore hosted a number of notable events during that time period, including Sub Pop’s LameFest on June 9th, 1989, which featured local acts Tad, Mudhoney, and Nirvana. This theater would serve as an important stepping stone in the growth of local acts. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mad Season all played the Moore, along with countless other bands that would go on to pack larger venues.
The last of the old seats were literally being removed from the lower level on our tour. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to finagle one into my suitcase for the plane ride home. Now the Moore is outfitted with super cushy ones, which is great for patrons, even though the old ones had a sort of old-fashioned, creaky charm. The Moore is still going through updates, so more changes and improvements will be developing in the coming years. It’s great to see the theater is being fixed up with the intention of supporting Seattle’s art community for years to come.
After our impromptu tour of the Moore Theatre, we stopped by the Pearl Jam pop-up shop at the Showbox. By the time I got there, all of the merch was picked over, but I couldn’t complain. Being able to spend so much time in those old theaters was a way better use of my time than standing in another freezing cold line for a pack of trading cards. On the flip side, I was thrilled to be able to see the inside of the Showbox–I hit a theater trifecta!
Still exhausted from rockin’ at the Pearl Jam concert, we called it a night to get ready for an early road trip the next day. No offense to the city, but it was time for a little escape into the snowy woods to get a taste of what the rest of Washington had to offer.