Back in the days before Knoxville’s 21st-century downtown revitalization, Market Square didn’t have much going outside the lunch rush on weekday afternoons. In fact, the only consistent after-hours activity provided throughout the entire decade of the 1990s came courtesy of the still-extant Tomato Head and a grimy little post-punk rock venue known as the Mercury Theater at 28 Market Square, now home to Preservation Pub.
For years, the Mercury hosted popular local, regional, and national outfits; its diminutive stage was graced many times over by homegrown favorites like Superdrag and the V-Roys and Todd Steed. A small sampling of the many well-known underground (and some not-so-underground, with time) artists that passed through includes punk icon Greg Ginn; grunge survivors Seaweed; stoner-rock staples Fu Manchu; punk-rock freaks Alien Sex Fiend; and Korn (yes, that Korn).
“There were some legendary shows there,” says Scott West of Preservation Pub. “I talked to a girl the other day who swears she saw the Pixies there.” (She didn’t.) “But it was a great seedy dive of the ’90s that brought all kinds of great music to the tumbleweed desert that was Market Square in the ’90s. It was a ’90s institution, a skate-punk bar on Market Square, something you could never do now, because it was a frontier back then. You could go and watch the Impotent Sea Snakes play and end up seeing a hooker doing unspeakable things to the lead singer onstage.”
As a tribute to the much-beloved little dive, West is hosting a Mercury Theater reunion night at Preservation Pub on Friday, Aug. 30, featuring a lineup of artists who used to play the Mercury in some configuration or other—including his own punk-pop outfit Just Say Maybe, which played the Mercury stage as Boy Genius and as Facedown, with the late Dustin West on drums.
Other bands include Pegasi 51; the band Finkelsteen, featuring members of Mercury familiars Immortal Chorus, Hypertribe, and Sandbox; and Teenage Love.
“A lot of people felt a certain ownership of the Mercury,” West says. “This is our way of saying, too, that we’re not taking their place. But we are trying to continue a tradition. The Mercury was a pretty iconic image prior to the revitalization of downtown. Now I think the Pub is the perfect next chapter in the history of 28 Market Square.”