Death in June, the musical group that has ignited protests worldwide because it uses Nazi imagery, ended up playing in a secret location Thursday night after its show at the historic Old Town Hall in Salem was canceled because of security concerns.
Promoters told only ticket holders, via e-mail, of the hastily arranged new location Thursday. While those who planned to attend the concert remained mum on its location on a Facebook page created for the event, the show’s promoter revealed Friday that it was held at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester, some 65 miles away.
“The show went off without a hitch,” said Thomas Nola, the Salem musician who promoted the event.
“Yes, I was secretly offered the [already sold-out] show this past Monday when they were scrambling to find a location,” said Erick Godin, owner of the Lucky Dog. “I’ve read a lot about them over the past few days and while all this negative attention was given them in all the things I read, the 200 people that showed up were some of the best behaved folks we’ve ever had at the club.
“Zero incidents, no evidence of any of the controversy listed in the articles. Although the music was not my personal cup of tea, it was played well and all of the fans were so excited to see them. Had I not read anything about them before the show happened, I’d have had absolutely no knowledge they were wrapped in such controversy.”
Michael Marotta, a former music editor for the Boston Phoenix and founder of the online music magazine vanyaland.com, attended the concert and said there were mostly older fans dressed in Goth garb. He said Death in June has a small “cult following,” and traced the group’s use of Nazi imagery to earlier punk musicians such as Johnny Rotten, who used to wear a swastika shirt on stage.
“I just think it’s part of the schtick. No one in there was saluting the band with a ‘sieg heil’ salute or anything like that,” Marotta said.
The performance was the culmination of a weeklong debate about the reason for banning the group in Salem. A representative for Gordon College, a Christian university in Wenham that has managed performances at the city-owned Old Town Hall in Salem for five years, said the concert was canceled because of protests and concern that the 197-year-old building might be damaged.
Nola, the promoter, blames city officials, and said Salem didn’t want any publicity that might deter fall tourism.
Gordon College spokesman Rick Sweeney said the college decided to cancel the concert after it received e-mails about previous disruptions at Death in June concerts, and also after a poster was found this month near the Salem building threatening to disrupt the event.
Sweeney cited what happened in California when protesters who sought to cancel the concert glued the locks and painted graffiti at the Vex Arts Center, a Los Angeles concert hall where Death in June played Sept. 12.
Joe Vex, the club’s owner, confirmed that the locks to the club had been glued before the concert, and also said two swastikas had been painted outside of the club. He said about 1,000 people attended the show, which he called incident-free.
Salem’s Old Town Hall, which also houses the Salem Museum, is the oldest surviving municipal building in the city. It was built in 1816-17.
“We were very concerned that hosting this concert was going to jeopardize Old Town Hall,” said Sweeney, who added that Gordon College invoked a section of the contract that allows it to cancel an event under extenuating circumstances.
Old Town Hall is used primarily for private weddings, recitals, and for Gordon College’s theatrical production of “Cry Innocent,” a play about the Salem Witch Trials, which is performed during the summer and returns for the Halloween season Oct. 5-31.
Sweeney said Gordon did not cancel the concert due to the content of the band’s music lyrics. Death in June is a two-person neofolk group, led by British guitarist and vocalist Douglas Pearce. Pearce typically appears onstage wearing a mask, and wields the totenkopf, the skull and bones insignia also used by German forces in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
The band is known for its controversial ballads and lyrics, such as “Fields of Rape” and “Rose Clouds of Holocaust,” which has been criticized as a Holocaust denial song.
Nola, who booked the Old Town Hall in July, said he chose the venue for its intimate setting and sold 189 tickets, the maximum allowed by the city for the hall. He said he told the hall’s management the name of the band when he filled out the application.
Nola said the concert sold out in 12 hours. “I told them from the beginning who was playing. They’re trying to change the story after the fact,” he said of Gordon.
Nola also booked the band for its previous area appearance in 2005, when it played at the former ManRay club in Cambridge. Death in June is now on an eight-city US tour that was scheduled to continue Friday night in Brooklyn.
After a poster threatening to disrupt the performance was found in downtown Salem, Nola met with Salem Police Chief Paul Tucker, and representatives from the Fire Department and Salem City Hall.
Nola said he agreed to pay for up to six extra police officers to be present during the performance. But on Sept. 13, he said, he received an e-mail from Gordon informing him of the college’s decision to cancel the contract.
“The city didn’t want something slightly out of the ordinary, slightly controversial happening in downtown Salem during the tourist season,” he said.
Salem’s mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, did not respond to interview requests about the show’s cancellation.