Grazers Not Gormandizers
It is not often that we stumble across a bona fide Media Event, but when tipped on a fairly short notice Ted show by our favourite evil puppet master blogger, little did we know that we would shortly be plunged into a maelstrom of politics, business annd orange. What was most peculiar about this Ted show was the venue: CBGBs. Not once in our five years trawling for truly abysmal garage rock acts had we ever been near the venue. Brownies, Knitting Factory, Irving Plaza, many times. CBGBs always seemed to have old punk acts or the occasional black metal act that we'd need strong nerves and an understanding accomplice to withstand.
The first inkling we had that something was afoot was when we departed the 6 train, scooted down Bleecker, and saw a throng of TV vans outside the venue(s). Fearing fresh boms from the idiotclown tendency, we approached with trepidation. It turned out, however, that the vans were there to take in CELEBRITIES. Turns out that the gig is a benefit to save CBGBs. Their landlord is threatening to jack up their rent, and the venue may have to close.
Now we have nowhere near the hostility to CBGBs evidenced in some quarters. To us, the place has become an irrelevance. The last act the venue broke was Blondie, and since then the fare has been much less uplifting than the slogan might suggest. In fact, we've sometimes thought that the conservative booking strategy might have been designed to create a sort of stasis, so that the venue might remain forever a late seventies time capsule. And branding CBGBs "The Home of Underground Rock", seems less about breaking new music than creating some kind of House of Blues type nostalgia trip for aging punkers.
The doors opened at seven, we trooped in at eight. and there were four punters, five reporters, six bar staff and nine elderly celebrities getting interviewed. And then Ted zoomed up next to us while we were sat at the bar reading and ordered a drink. Ted! Touching elbows with us! We'd promise not to wash the spot again, but the truth is that after a somewhat messy early morning kebab incident we were left with little choice.
Fortunately we were armed with an implacable cool that prevented us from staring at Ted like a sweaty loon. And Little Steven, who divides his time between pretending to be a gangster and pimping garage band music, hoved into view. With a bandana on his head and a grinning enthusiasm for the acts (he introduced all but one), he did not resemble much the lugubrious consigliere of lore.
Turns out Little Steven has a fine line in garage rock. But we didn't see much of openers the Willowz, because of all of the orange fortysomethings stocking up on t-shirts for their offspring before the place closes. In fact much of the wall of the bar in the 313 gallery was taken up with merch, which struck us as a tad excessive. But the Willowz were amazingly good, like a slightly less silly, more tuneful Datsuns. Yes that is a complement.
We ended up chatting with bassist Jessica after a show, if by chatting you mean slurring "your band is absoutely amazing. Didn't I read something about you in Spin? God I'm drunk." They're pretty disciplined, and were plugging the record and mentioning all the press they'd done. Seemed a bit upset they didn't get an intro from Stevie, but we think they'll survive.
Of the other bands, The Charms sounded delightful, if a little too polished, but had a very brief set. They managed to avoid committing a trumpet-led jam session such as slightly marred the Willowz' set. The The Star Spangles, the Swinging Neckbreakers, and The Five Maseratis were pretty good but didn't set our world alight. Ted's set was better than his Concerts for Kerry performance last fall, which was, to our mind, a tad ropey.
But he did play "Dancing in the Dark", presumably as a nod to Steve's work with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. We haven't heard the song since the first time we caught the Pharmacists at Brownies four years ago. In time maybe Ted will learn to recognise us, since we're sort of his biggest fan, and have been pimping his sounds to many discerning limeys over the years.
But the Brownies reference brings us to the last point we want to make. Nothing lasts forever, particularly seminal rock clubs. In the same way that Brownies dissappeared, and Max' Kansas City, and Wetlands, it's probably best that CBGBs not try and buck the gentrification that's overtaking the LES. Probably the easiest thing for owner Hilly Kristal to do would be to move it someplace where the music makers are now hanging out. That it might inconvenience the establishment crowd that now comes out illustrates how far the place has moved from its roots. Thanks for the shows, but time to move on.