It must have been confusing for anyone watching that night who didn't know us: a ragtag bunch of 13-year-old boys dressed in spandex, fishnet stockings and wild wigs. By day we were high school freshman, and not the cool ones -- dorks, actually -- but by night, we were the tongue-in-cheek British heavy metal band Leotard Dancer, and it was finally the night we'd been waiting for. Together on stage with our three bassists, multiple guitarists and who knows how many singers, we didn't mind that we were about to play (poorly) for an audience made up mostly of our friends. It was our night, and we were the stars.
Many Tulsa musicians my age have memories like that. Well, maybe not exactly like that - probably fewer fishnets. Still, many of us look back fondly at our first performance in front of an audience, and for many of us, it happened at Eclipse -- the dark and dirty nightclub just east of Sixth and Peoria. That's why so many were heartbroken when the club closed its doors roughly a decade ago.
Back then, the club was operated by a mysterious (to us, anyway) man with a thick but unidentifiable accent. He'd run the place since the late 80s when it was called Club Nitro and had hosted The Flaming Lips' first show in Tulsa. The then owner and operator developed a not-so-great reputation for not paying bands, and for talking over the PA system between (and sometimes during) songs. He was a guy who gave just about any aspiring musician a chance to play, though, and for that he's considered by some to be a godfather of Tulsa music in the 80s and 90s.
Paul Cristiano, bassist for RadioRadio, has told Urban Tulsa Weekly that he learned valuable lessons from the owner.
"I played in a band and we really packed that place out, so I was like 'Well, can I get some money?,'" Cristiano recalled asking.
The owner's response, according to Cristiano: "It costs money to run this club and right now you need a platform. I'm providing that, nobody else is. I make the money, you make the music."
The sun eventually set on Eclipse, leaving young bands searching for new places to play live, original music. Other clubs like PinkEye and Monolith filled the void for a while, but also wound up shutting down.
Then, about a year ago, seemingly out of nowhere, came the exciting news that Eclipse was reopening under new management. Jeff Martinson and Dave Teegarden Jr., Tulsa musicians who had been running the Blank Slate/Exit 6C (now renamed the IDL Ballroom and Electric Circus), were moving to Sixth and Peoria.
The new Eclipse looked a lot like the old club many of us remembered and likely triggered flashbacks for a few aging musicians. With a cool staff and a mix of local and touring bands, the place was a success. In time though, the smoky atmosphere drove some club-goers away and shows at the club became less frequent. Finally, Eclipse closed its doors for what many feared was the last time. It was a strange night that no one seems to remember, aside from new owner/manager Rob Robertson.
"Fiawna Forté was supposed to play that night with a band from out of town," he remembered. "The bands showed up and the doors were locked and nobody was there."
It's not clear exactly why Eclipse closed that night. Then-manager Teegarden Jr. doesn't want to talk about it, but it doesn't really matter. What could've been another loss for Tulsa music was about to become a golden opportunity for one of the scene's major players.
Robertson, aka DJ Robbo, was booking music at Crystal Pistol at the time and was able to save the show by moving it to the downtown bar. He later got in touch with the mysterious Eclipse owner, who it turns out still owns the club and some neighboring buildings, and the two were able to reach some sort of agreement which would allow the club to reopen under Robertson's management.
"The politics behind it are hard to explain," Robertson said. "Really it's more of an organization."
Regardless of the business structure behind it, the recent rebirth of Eclipse is great news for anyone who enjoys live, original music. The club has been given a much needed cleaning and is now smoke-free. Most importantly, Robertson hopes to oversee a return to the club's glory days as a proving ground for young musicians who are just starting out.
"We have lots of different kinds of beer, but we've purposely gone without a liquor license so we can stay all-ages," he said.
Robertson is in many ways the perfect person to restore Eclipse to its former glory. He's a DJ, party planner and, with his wife Lynn and friend Jeff Whitlatch, part of the electronic robot band Recorder. It's a busy schedule that earned Robertson a spot on UTW's latest Hot 100 list of the city's hippest people and things. As that blurb noted, Robertson was a key player in making the Free Tulsa festival happen last summer in the absence of DFest and is also responsible for the annual (and wildly popular ) '80s Prom.
Eclipse is now booked through mid-March. Tulsa's indie synth-poppers Guardant, Norman's bizarro electronic act Chrome Pony (a guy named Steven who performs in character as an alien with a love of pop culture who's just arrived on Earth) and Robertson's own band Recorder are set to perform Saturday, Jan. 22. There's typically a cover charge at the door -- $3-5 -- or a couple dollars more if you're under 21. It's well worth the price to support the next chapter in an iconic Tulsa club that's made so many young musicians' dreams come true -- if only for one night.
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