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Wave Goodbye

Last call at Honolulu’s finest nightclub


It was 4:30 a.m., the final minutes of the final night of 25-plus years of orchestrated abandon at the Wave Waikiki. Under the roaming colored lights, a few hundred Wavers gyrated to a crazy, upbeat remix of The Doors’ “This is the End,” while video screens flashed images from the club’s history—25 years of live rock and DJ dance music, of pop fashion and fusion, of surreal audio and video mixology.

A couple dozen of us had jumped onstage, including two glistening, shirtless men, a woman baring her store-bought breasts, and three club girls with spaghetti straps and perfect teeth, who hadn’t yet been born when the Wave opened.

Also on stage was Jack Law, the Wave’s owner since the club opened in 1980. He looked happy, partly because it was he who had just pulled the shirt off one of the men. Yet Law—who when asked his age for this story, poetically replied, “N.O.Y.F.B.,”—also looked wistful.

Well, duh. How would you feel on closing night if you’d created what became the venue for any local band playing “modern rock” (i.e. not reggae, blues or metal)? The club with no dress code that was always a crazy quilt of fashion—of dressed-to-the-nines New Wavers and razorblade punks, of Lacoste preppies and frayed-jeans head bangers, of gay boys in leg warmers, of tank-top surfers, pierced goths, voluptuous trannies, buttoned-up techno nerds and barely legal, barely clothed babes dancing beside senior gents in pressed slacks. How would you feel if this were last call at your place, especially knowing the building was to be razed for just another frickin’ condo? No wonder Jack Law was wistful.

A lot of us were. We were among the thousands of Wave recidivists who now partly define a period of our lives by nights spent dancing and gawking there, hypnotized by the pounding bass, the booze, the video monitors flashing dada vignettes and the impossible mix of clientele, where almost everyone got along almost all the time. This was a place where you could inhale endorphins.

The Wave opened the year I moved to the Islands. Soon after, I hit the club to hear its first house band, The Squids, do its quirky, post-punk thing. I couldn’t believe I was in Hawai‘i.

Over the next 10 years or so, I spent many nights at the Wave, sometimes as a music writer, but mostly as a fan of the three bands that variously ruled the roost during that era. After The Squids came Sonya and Revolucion, which was decidedly less than revolutionary, but who the hell cared? Sonya was a sexy, vibrant performer who made you believe in all those covers she sang by the likes of The Pretenders, The Police, Joan Jett and Talking Heads. In 1986, Hat Makes the Man took the stage with its great, power-pop songwriting and the frisson between singers (and lovers) Marti Kerton and Peter Bond. After watching them perform, Bono told them, “You were meant to sing together.”

Interviewing these guys was always a trip. Squids mastermind Kit Ebersbach (a.k.a. Ebisubaku [“Vague Barbarian”] Shotz), in his studiously nerdish outfits, would turn a 10-second exchange into an oblique joke that I never quite got. Sonya spent our first interview with a blasting hair dryer in one hand and a damp bra in the other. The wonderfully sincere members of Hat Makes the Man answered every question as though they were practicing for a future interview in Rolling Stone (as, no doubt, was I).

What the bands had in common was that they all loved performing at the Wave.

Terry Conlan, 65, has been coming to the Wave for years. To him, the club was “the ultimate party place.”

“We were given complete freedom,” says Ebersbach, 61, who now appears as Perry Coma with tropic-exotic lounge extravaganza, Don Tiki, and who runs Pacific Music Productions recording studio with partner in music and life Gerry Ebersbach (former Squids bassist, a.k.a. Rubella Shotz).

Frank Orrall says the Wave was “a playground and a laboratory where I’ve been able to test-run musical ideas.” He has performed at the Wave in probably more bands than any other musician: The Squids, the Hat, Poi Dog Pondering, which he formed in Austin, Texas, and even his solo “electronic alter ego,” 8fatfat8.

For Orrall and many other musicians who played there, the Wave was much more than the best stage in town.

Peter Bond, of the Hat, and, later, Oriental Love Ring, which performed the final night, recalls the club’s opening night. “When I first walked through that door I was in heaven. U2 was blasting out of the amazing sound system, black lights everywhere—man! I knew I’d found home.”

“I was a boy,” says Orrall, 45, and experiences he had there “set my mind on fire.” For instance? “Having sex with my girlfriend on the roof,” he e-mails from Chicago, and “hearing the sound change shape in your eardrums when the amyl nitrate hits your bloodstream.”

“It was the ’80s, and excess was the mantra,” says Bond, now 47 and working at Island Guitars.

Another musician tells of the early days, when guys would use the baby-grand piano in the upstairs lounge to cut lines of cocaine. And she notes that the dressing room was also sometimes used for undressing, et cetera.

Sonya Mendez, of Revolucion, insists she never availed herself of any groupies, but remembers a band member emerging from the bathroom with a girl one night, both of them dripping with sweat. “He was a very happy puppy on stage,” says Mendez, 51, who still sings at special functions, and is now revolucionizing as the president of the Kapolei Rotary Club.

The Wave was also the first local club to feature special concerts by bands from afar, including Grace Jones, New Order, George Thorogood, the Boomtown Rats, Katrina and the Waves, Elvin Bishop, Sugar Ray and They Might Be Giants. And when big bands hit town for gigs elsewhere, they sometimes stopped by the Wave. Sonya sang “Every Breath You Take” to Sting after a Police concert as he stood at her feet by the stage.

Grace Jones exhibited plenty of style while performing at the Wave.

But the live music was only half the story, because the Wave was two clubs: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. The early crowd came mostly for the live music, or to hook up with others dancing to the band. They were all over the map—sunburned tourist girls from Tampa to Tokyo, newly recruited sailors, skinhead punkers, new-wave dandies, hip local Asians and Kailua surfers whose sun-bleached hair and baggies glowed under the black lights.

The club’s second shift was less diverse and more dazzling. They came from clubs that closed at 1:30, especially Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand, the largely gay bar also owned by Law. As this clientele began to float in, the DJs turned the bass up to 12, and the dance floor was soon thick with boy-boy couples and straight girls who wanted to dance wild by themselves.

Every nightclub has its share of friction, and that included an incident outside the Wave on closing night. A guy in front of the club received a surprise ambulance ride after getting clocked by a loyal Waver on a short fuse. The clockee was trying to protect his rude brother, who was handing out a manifesto that said good riddance to the Wave for being “an ineffectual old whore.” Afterwards, Law climbed into the ambulance and apologized to the guy, then was overheard saying, “I won’t miss this shit.”

Four hours later, Law was on stage looking wistful, clearly already missing what still danced before him for a few more minutes. Then somebody with the mic shouted for us all to “wave goodbye to the Wave.”

Bill Harby is a frequent contributor to HONOLULU. He also wrote a story on wine tasting in this issue’s Restaurant Guide.

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Honolulu Magazine November 2019
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