count on bob marley to articu-late the glory of music. As he put it in reggae classic Trenchtown Rock, "When it hits you feel no pain."Reggae audiences in Toronto are soon to be without their greatest source of pain relief when Queen West's Bamboo closes its doors today (Thursday, October 31).
Mention of the club famous for booking live reggae, dub and other Caribbean sounds into the heart of the city conjures up memories of evenings filled with thumping bass, ganja and packed dance floors.
But what's avoided as some wax nostalgic about the Bamboo's glorious past is that it's been a while since its dance floor was consistently packed.
"Local acts haven't made money in the Bamboo lately," says Reggae Canada head Carol Walker. "Things were really on the down-slide. And a lot of the acts didn't want to work there because they felt it wasn't worth their while."
Crowds declined in recent years, and what was once a healthy relationship between the reggae community and the club owners had seriously deteriorated.
"The musicians grew haphazard and were rarely punctual. I felt disrespected," explains the notoriously prickly Richard O'Brien, co-owner of the club.
"I don't want to get political, but I think Richard started taking the musicians and their audiences for granted," argues Rupert Harvey, founder of Messenjah, a local reggae band that's risen to international fame since its early days playing the Bamboo.
"He was double-booking acts and not paying them fair value. Local acts never knew if they would show up to play and find their gig cancelled."
In the end, both O'Brien and the reggae community feel they brought more to the table than the other did.
But no one contests the fact that the club made a great contribution to the city.
"It was the first venue that expressed the voice of the Caribbean community and made reggae music available to the general public," says Harvey. "We were discovered there by the producers of Cocktail, with Tom Cruise, and ended up in the movie."
"The Bamboo provided a unique space where people acted on a human level," adds dub poet Lillian Allen, who has a long history at the Bamboo. "On less busy nights you could try anything."
But this isn't 1983, and Queen West is known as much for its retail chain stores and lattes as it is for its music scene. Then again, says Allen, "I'm not the same either."
The space will live on under nightclub entrepreneur Charles Khabouth, who plans to preserve at least some of the vibe.
"I want a homey place, with a diner and lounge for the evening. But I'm not going to continue their booking tradition. It's tough when you try to find talent that will fill the club four or five nights a week."
O'Brien has his own plans.
"Our roots are in reggae, but it's time to move on. That's why I'm opening the Bambu -- note the spelling change -- at Harbourfront. I'm really influenced by Peter Gabriel and his interpretation of world music. The new programming will reflect that."
"It's a sad day for the reggae community," mourns Walker, who despite her complaints still calls the Bamboo the premier venue for Jamaican music.
Reggae fans will feel no pain when the Sattalites, Billy Bryans and others take the Bamboo stage for one last party tonight.
Billy Bryans, DJ Silk, DJ Everfresh and others at the Bamboo closing party (312 Queen West), Thursday (October 31) at 9 pm. $20. 416-593-5771.