Written by Randy Haecker Wednesday, 18 October 2006 03:25
As long as there is a performance space, and people with enthusiasm for rock ‘n' roll, CBGB could live on anywhere on the planet.
CBGB, New York | Final Show
As one of the fortunate few to witness the last concert at CBGB this past Sunday (October 15, 2006), I believe it's only fair to share an eyewitness account. Needless to say, the street outside was a mob scene, with reports that the entry line extended around the corner of Bowery all the way to 2nd Ave.
But first some brief context. Like many rock fans across the United States, I first learned of CBGB through the club's connection to Blondie. When "Heart of Glass," "One Way or Another," and "Hanging on the Telephone" broke big on radio in 1978, every article on Blondie mentioned CBGB. All the alternative rock magazines of the time—Trouser Press, Creem, New York Rocker—regularly covered bands breaking out of the CB's scene. And then Talking Heads came along and immortalized the venue by singing "This ain't the Mudd Club, or CBGB/I ain't got time for that now."
As a teenage music fiend in south Texas, I yearned to go to CBGB, but I didn't get to make a pilgrimage to New York City until 1987. At that time, I took some photos of the club but didn't see a show. My first concert there happened three years later, when I caught the second gig on the Scottish band Teenage Fan Club's debut U.S. tour. July 15, 1990. I was ecstatic to be inside the place and the Fannies put on a bright, warm show. Since then, counting CBGB and its adjacent CB's Gallery, I've attended about 40 gigs.
Fast-forward to 2005. The rumors are confirmed. CBGB is under siege from the landlord. I attend a slew of benefit concerts arranged to pay the club's legal costs, but to no avail. The landlord wants the club out and the point is not negotiable.
Which brings us to this final concert. Sunday, October 15, 2006.
I arrive at 7:00 p.m. and take my place in the ticket holders' line with several friends. I thank my lucky stars that I was one of the precious few who actually was able to secure tickets on the Web before they sold out in nine minutes.
The street in front of CBGB is a mob scene, with several stalled lines apparently feeding into the club. There's a press event going on inside, and nobody gets in without credentials. It's 51 degrees on the Bowery, and most people are feeling the chill. But nobody gives up. Reporters and camera crews are everywhere interviewing fans; you can't move two feet without bumping into a TV, print, or radio journalist, or a podcaster. Everybody feels the gravity of the night. At 9:00, we ever so slowly begin to filter into the club. The door security is tight, and initially only ticket holders and guest list folks make it in. I find out later from one girl inside who didn't have an advance ticket, that she was actually able to buy a last-minute ticket at the door after waiting in line for nine hours.
To my surprise, the crowd inside is sparse upon entry. Instead of punk chestnuts by CBGB legends, the DJ is spinning '60s garage classics like the Sonics' "Strychnine" and the Brogues' "I Ain't No Miracle Worker." Perhaps Nuggets mastermind Lenny Kaye had some input on the pre-show song selection. After securing a spot about eight feet from the left of the stage, my friends and I begin talking to strangers who had also made it in, sharing punk war stories and bemoaning the demise of the club. I realize that was always one of the cool things about going to CBGB: you always had a 90 percent guarantee that if you started talking with the person next to you, you likely shared a lot of commonality.
By 10:00, the club is packed to the rafters and the Patti Smith Group arrives on stage for what will become a marathon three-hours-plus set. On the street everyone had been buzzing about which special guests would be playing in addition to Smith, but outside of guest spots by Television guitarist Richard Lloyd and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea, there are no special guests. Which turns out to be just fine.
I don't think Smith or her band would mind my saying that the show started off shaky. There were several false starts, and Smith cussed a bit that she wasn't able to quickly nail the material. A version of the Blondie hit "The Tide Is High" left most of the crowd scratching their heads, and a discarded attempt at "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" didn't improve matters. The band was back on track by "We Three" from Easter, and a new song about the Guantanamo Bay prison camp hit its mark. Richard Lloyd joined the band for "Marquee Moon" and came back later for a brief excursion into "Little Johnny Jewel" before launching into a searing "Rock N Roll Nigger." Flea played bass on most of the Horses material, and nearly everything off that album surfaced during the set.
There were surprises galore. It was worth the admission alone to see Smith spit and growl over a lyric sheet for "Sonic Reducer," and chant "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" during "Blitzkrieg Bop." Twice she excused herself from the stage to use CB's infamous toilets, and her band used the time wisely by turning up the volume for the Yardbirds' "For Your Love" and a grin-inducing Ramones medley of "Beat on the Brat," "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?" and "Sheena Ss a Punk Rocker." Kaye revised the lyrics from "It's the end of the century" to "It's the end of CBGB."
Throughout the evening, Smith totally avoided the whole rock star trip, and she was just one of us—sharing stories, grinning a lot, and also getting caught up in all the emotion. She told a wonderful story that involved Tom Verlaine, UFOs, and Michael Stipe. She told us about the time when everyone at CB's healed Hilly's dog after a car accident through sheer force of spiritual good will. She railed against Bush, Guantanamo Bay and the rape of the environment, and urged us to keep fighting the good fight. She pointed out that the club was around for 33 years, the same lifespan as Jesus. She expressed that even though CB's was closing, we all had to believe that the spirit of CBGB could manifest itself anywhere. As long as there is a performance space, and people with enthusiasm for rock 'n' roll, CBGB could live on anywhere on the planet.
As the night neared its close, Smith read a roll call of CBGB alumni who have passed on since the club opened in December 1973. Tears were shed, but also a loud cheer was heard for each name. I'm sure I'll miss a few, but the names I remember were Bryan Gregory, Robert Quine, Lance Loud, Lester Bangs, Jerry Nolan, Terry Ork, Helen Wheels, Richard Sohl, Joe Strummer, Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders, and Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. When an audience member called out "You forgot Fred," referring to Smith's deceased husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, she replied along the lines of he's not forgotten, he's in there.
"The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game"
"The Tide Is High"
"Pale Blue Eyes"
new song about Guantanamo
"Pissing in a River"
"Beat on the Brat"/"Rock and Roll Radio"/"Sheena is a Punk Rocker" (without Smith)
"Ain't It Strange"
"So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star"
"Babelogue"/"Rock N Roll Nigger"/"Little Johnny Jewel"
"For Your Love" (without Smith)
"Land: Horses"/"Land of a Thousand Dances"/"La Mer(de)"
SPOTTED IN THE CROWD: Hilly Kristal, Tina Weymouth, Jim Carroll, Steven Van Zandt, Bob Gruen, John Holmstrom, Jesse Malin, Bobby Schayer, Denise Mercedes, Elijah Wood, Bill Flanagan, Tim Holmes, Jason Consoli, Eric Davidson, Robert Vickers, Janie Heath, Jeremy Tepper, Michael Azerrad, Jon Pareles, John Ingrassia, Jim Bessman, and many more I didn't catch.
Thanks to everyone involved in tonight's truly memorable sendoff for this legendary club, especially Patti Smith and her fantastic band—Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, and Tony Shanahan. Plus special guests Richard Lloyd and Flea. Most of all, thanks to Hilly Kristal and all those who have served at the club over the past 33 years.
POSTSCRIPT: As of this morning, Tuesday, I hear that the CBGB awning has already been taken down from 315 Bowery...
Thanks for the memories,
Photo by Randy Haecker. View the complete gallery here.
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