Sunday, September 11, 2005

All Wound Up

The Circle Jerks, D.I., 45 Grave and Channel 3 @ CBGBs 9/10/05
Well even though the show was $40, it was for a good cause as CBGBs is currently without a lease and just received an eviction notice a few days ago. I don't know if my contribution will make a difference in terms of whether the club survives or not (without a lease it's doubtful), but at the very least, I figured that I'd see a show at this legendary venue for perhaps the last time ever. And I sure picked a good one to attend! It's amazing how many great old-school punk and hardcore bands have reunited out of the blue to play these benefit shows and this lineup was one of the best (perhaps the best) out of all these shows. All are legendary and fantastic bands from the California punk scene of the early '80s and as I was too young to have seen these bands in their heyday, I jumped at the chance to see them even at this late juncture.

Channel 3 opened the show and even though I'm not really familiar with too many of their songs (with the exception of the excellent songs "I'll Take My Chances", "What About Me", "Indian Summer" and "I've Got a Gun"), they played excellently and were a good opener for the rest of the show and like most of the other bands on the bill, play hardcore punk with a melodic edge and harmony vocals so typical of Southern California style bands.

Up next were 45 Grave, one of the best and most overlooked bands from that scene. In their original incarnation, they featured singer Dinah Cancer (possessor of the greatest punk name ever; she stills leads the new lineup) and former members of original LA punk bands like The Germs (drummer Don Bolles and sometime guitarist Pat Smear, who among other things who was later in Nirvana and Foo Fighters) and The Bags (bassist Rob Ritter) and sounded not unlike a US version of The Damned or even Siouxsie and the Banshees. Many, myslef included, would argue that they were the progenitors of the horror/goth punk genre in the U.S.. Their 1983 album Sleep in Safety is a classic of the genre. Unfortunately, though, this show was lackluster. Featuring only original member Cancer on vocals and Rikk Agnew of The Adolescents (who also played later, though I left before their set; see more below) on guitar and a rhythm section that I didn't recognize (though I think the 2nd guitarist, Jaime Pina, was in Chemical People), 45 Grave stripped all the subtlety and musical intricacy away from their songs in favor of a punk snarl and bar-band hackery that pleased much of the "punk as fuck" CBGB's crowd (more on them below) but left me displeased. They could've really used a keyboard player and Dinah's voice was really irritatingly screechy live. I don't mean to diss them entirely here. I respect Dinah as she was the chief lyricist and obviously the singer of the great '80s incarnation of the band, but they lose a lot without their key members that I mentioned above as well as chief songwriter and guitarist Paul Cutler.

Next up were D.I. The place was really starting to fill up at this point as it was almost impossible to get down to the bathroom and come back up in time for their set. Wading through the crowd in the oversold, hot and sweaty club was no easy task. To be honest, having only heard their contributions to the Suburbia soundtrack and their overlooked but excellent 1989 album Tragedy Again, I wasn't too familiar with most of the songs that D.I. played (save for "Imminent War", "Richard Hung Himself", "OC Life" and "Guns"), but I did enjoy it quite a bit. Lead singer Casey Royer could've been a comedian in another life as he was so charismatic and plain funny and had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. He did a bit too much complaining about the "system" and their home (Orange County) for my taste (that shit may fly when you're 16, but I'm 30 and it's really old).

Next up was the band that I'd wanted to see the most on this bill, The Circle Jerks. Being a big fan and having never seen the group live, I was really looking forward to their set and the Jerks didn't disappoint. They plowed through lots of songs from their incredible 1st album Group Sex and their subsequent albums Wild in the Streets, Golden Shower of Hits and a surprising number of songs from their excellent but often overlooked 5th album VI ("All Wound Up", "Beat Me Senseless", "I Don't" and their awesome and timely cover of "Fortunate Son"). And then, after security escorted a knife-wielding patron out of the door and an admonishment by singer Keith Morris about "leaving the tough-guy shit for the next time The Exploited play" (I couldn't agree with him more), their set really kicked into full gear as The Jerks turned into a great cover band, playing The Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You" (which they recorded for their 1995 reunion album), The Weirdos' "Solitary Confinement" (bassist Zander Schloss has been playing with them recently) and a mini Black Flag set featuring "Revenge", "Wasted" and the closer "Depression". The Black Flag set was entirely appopriate since Morris was their original singer and sang on the original recorded version of "Wasted" (as well as The Circle Jerks version on their 1st album). He even told a story about Greg Ginn's girlfriend before introducting "Behind the Door", thus further adding to the old-school Cali vibe.

If there was a lowlight to this show, it was the club itself and some of the fans. While Morris was trying to speak about the important issue of schools having to turn over their information for military recruiters, some of the "punk" fans were yelling over him and one of them yelled "fuck your politics". Morris yelled back "fuck you" and finished his spiel and more power to him. The Circle Jerks were always way more intelligent than many members of their audience and it was nice to see him railing against the small mindedness of the beer, spikes and leather set that was one of the things that drove me away from the genre that I'd loved as a teenager. As they closed their set, he told the crowd not to use punk rock to act like an idiot. I couldn't agree with him more. Disgusted with the crowd and tired after 4 1/2 hours on my feet, I left before The Adolescents set. Now, having loved The Adolescents growing up, I wanted to stay for their set, but my body and mind could only take so much abuse. It was really loud in there and I was tired. I know, excuses excuses, but D.I., did "Amoeba", my favorite Adolescents song, to close out their set and I'd gotten to see Rikk play with 45 Grave, so that was good enough for me.

P.S. I have very mixed feelings about the very real threat of CBGBs closing. On one hand, it's a New York institution full of lots of history of amazing music, but on the other hand, it hasn't been a relevant club for new music for many years and it tends to attract very narrow-minded crowds like the one I wrote about above. Regardless, I'd like for it to stay open as a museum of some sort so that people can visit it, as it does generate a lot of tourist revenue and more importantly, it's a landmark, but I won't be sad if they don't do shows there anymore as there are far better clubs that book better bands and treat them better, too. However, the threat of it turning into condos or a Starbucks or something is really sad, but if that's the case, it'll be another step in the inevitable gentrification of the Bowery.


Anonymous Mark said...

Hi Matt,

Again, a great review of the show, you're one of the best at it (reviewing concerts, that is!). I was at this show too, but I did not see you there (?!?). Unfortunately, I was in Long Island with family so I missed 45 Grave and Channel 3; I arrived near the beginning of DI's set.

I can certainly understand you wanting to leave after being there for 4-1/2 hours. However, it's too bad you had to miss the Adolescents as they were absolutely fantastic, perhaps my favorite band of the 3 CBGB's shows (approximately 11-12 bands total) I saw!!! And the crowd thinned out slightly after Circle Jerks (who were also great) so there was room to breathe. It's too bad Zero Boys did not end up playing as originally scheduled, but then it would have been way too many bands to sit (stand) through!

I second your views on CBGB's closing. On the one hand, I hate to see any rock club in NY close down. My hope would be to see them stay open and, perhaps if Hilly's son would take over running the club, reinvent itself somehow. Even if it means not focusing entirely on punk, and booking other types of music, just to keep it fresh. I doubt it will happen, but we can only hope. The music scene is always changing, yet CB's seems too intent to cling to the past.


11:19 PM

Blogger japanesegodjesusrobot said...

Thanks for the compliments, Mark! I think that the Zero Boys played the night before.

11:17 AM


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