It’s no secret that for a city known around the world for its music legacy, Memphis has long been lacking in a premier small venue that had the ability to host national acts as well as our own up-and-coming local heroes in the style they are worthy. Known by many musicians as the home of the “side stage,” our fair city has plenty of junior varsity league establishments, such as The Hitone, Young Avenue Deli, Murphy’s, and The Buccaneer, which host live music on an almost daily basis. However, the sound quality of these venues has often been compared to playing in somebody’s basement. And while The New Daisy on Beale has been charging a restoration fee since I was in college, back in the early 90’s, the only makeover the place seems to have gotten in the last decade appears to be the level of talent that’s being booked there. And I’m voting for the “before” picture.
Enter The Complex, a venue located on in Madison in what The Center City Commission calls “The Edge” neighborhood, just west of the UT Medical Center and before you hit downtown proper. While the venue cut their teeth with the all-ages emo crowd, after a sold out show with local darlings Lucero last fall, and a steady growing number of national acts choosing to book shows at the venue, including indie rockers Say Anything, underground hip-hop hero Defari, and old school legend KRS-One, there’s a new player in town and they want to show the local scene how a real music venue should sound.
“Most of the venues here don’t cater to professional level sound systems,” says Adrian Neverez, co-owner of the Complex. “Memphis promotes itself as a place to come see history, but we don’t promote Memphis as a place to come see the new musicians.”
When Nevarez relocated to Memphis from Los Angeles in 2002 to help his cousin Bert Ganboa with his real estate ventures, starting a live music venue wasn’t exactly on his list of things to do. When they first found The Complex, it was filled with offices and a small recording studio that sometimes hosted shows for local rap artists. After they had booked a few small events, they found out the owners weren’t interested in keeping the place, and the wheels started turning.
While Nevarez and Ganboa had a vision for a venue with world class sound, putting together, a sound system wasn’t exactly their expertise. By chance, in the middle of their upgrade, Bert met Angelo Earl, a local session musician known for his work with both Stax and Motown artists, and invited him down to take a look at their new project.
“It was an accident, I was working with a singer-songwriter and had been in Memphis for two years,” explains Earl, “and I was pretty ready to leave again, I ran into Bert, and I walked into the place, and I saw the potential that the place had.”
Earl ended up designing the sound for the venue and becoming a partner in the venture.
“These guys let me use my creativity to put the room together right,” says Earl.
In addition to a great sounding room, The Complex has a growing reputation as one of the best Mexican restaurants in town. Due to legislation that prevents bars that do not serve food from having a liquor license, Nevarez and Ganboa decided instead of just sticking in a fryer and offering standard bar rub; they would ask Ganboa’s father to relocate from Bloomington, CA where he owned mexican cuisine staple El Maya for 35 years. They now boast a full menu of authentic Mexican cuisine with everything from quesadillas and burritos to fish tostadas and avocado tacos.
The Complex is conveniently located directly in front of a trolley stop and is in the same neighborhood as Sun Studios, Club Escape, Delta Axis, and a planned community theater; parking can still be a major hindrance in enticing people to drive the extra mile past midtown to check out a show. There is a gated parking lot next to The Complex that Nevarez and Earl have sought out to help alleviate the problem. However, since it is owned by The University of Tennessee which has a standard policy of not allowing weapons or alcohol on campus property, it’s not very likely that will happen. The good news is that as the area builds more lofts and condos, neighborhood traffic will continue to grow.