People bitch all the time about how the music scene in their town used to be better. Clue: It never was. It just seemed like that while you were the carefree 20-something pounding 40s and chasing tail. Scenes ebb and flow, venues close and open, bands quit and new ones form. Nostalgia mostly serves to hold us back.
So let us not be overly nostalgic for the Lab, even though it would be easy. Missoula's preeminent punk house—a show venue, anarchist collective and living space—lasted about 10 years hosting local and out-of-town miscreants blasting loud and irreverent noises. A spacious, multi-bedroom home, by the end it was health-hazard grimy and the yard was strewn with broken bottles.
Punk houses are wonderful things, as long as you don't live there. It serves as both the show venue and the afterparty, all rolled into one filthy package. The Lab ended this summer when the property company kicked out the tenants to renovate it, and the last hurrah was a riotous Total Fest afterparty with several bands, including Brain Tumors, Guantanamo Baywatch, Tenement, Funeral and the Twilight, that went into the morning hours.
While the Lab is kaput, two venues have really come into their own. First, Zoo City Apparel, which offers earlier, all-ages shows in an expansive space. The host of killer bands that graced Zoo City this year included Mike Watt and the Missingmen and Thee Oh Sees on back-to-back nights.
A rare week goes by that a touring band or Thursday night residency isn't going down at the "Ole Beck" VFW on Main Street, home of the mighty 32-ounce dad can and some of the most welcoming (and forgiving) bar staff in town. The VFW hosted one show that stands out in particular, a one-off punk covers tribute in May starring the Total Combined Weight fellas doing Minor Threat's discography. All kinds of riffraff showed up, lured by the timeless appeal of '80s hardcore, and packed the VFW with dancing and sweaty bodies. They then partied into the wee hours afterward. If you had, say, just moved back to town a few days prior and were powerfully reminded how welcoming and friendly this town can be, it was all the better.