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That time Ween opened for Fugazi at City Gardens
07.28.2016
08:58 am
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If you’ve read “Understanding Trump” by the cognitive scientist George Lakoff, you might recognize aspects of “strict father morality” in Fugazi’s code. It was funny, escaping the hierarchies of home and school to attend a Fugazi show as a teenager: You didn’t know which songs they were going to play, but you could be sure they would deliver a stern talking-to about your behavior before the night was over. That was a new development in rock and roll; I doubt Gene Vincent’s audience would have stood still for such a lecture, even if Gene had been the guy to give it.

Don’t get me wrong, they were great. But the values we associate with Fugazi—discipline, hard work, sobriety, authority, frugality, self-reliance—are traditionally paternal.
 

 
That’s why it’s such fun to imagine Ween, the crowned and conquering child of 90s rock, opening for them at Trenton, New Jersey’s City Gardens on March 19, 1991. Then a crazed, wasted suburban duo backed by a tape deck, Ween was still pretty loose back then, and at least as irresponsible as the Butthole Surfers: On that year’s The Pod, they encouraged their fans to believe Scotchgard™ was an excellent high. It’s almost impossible to imagine them lecturing a crowd about stage-diving. All they demanded of their fans was to keep bringing them home-cooked food.

Apparently, the show is briefly discussed in the City Gardens oral history No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes. I had clean forgotten about it until last weekend, when, strangely enough, my copy of Flipside #84, in which I first read about this legendary bill, turned up during a long and fruitless search for my Pure Guava T-shirt. In Flipside reporter Ted Cogswell’s hard-hitting interview with Ween, conducted in January ‘93, Gener and Deaner cleared up some important points: if Pure Guava were a drug, it would be “love boat”; no, they had never really huffed Scotchgard™ (“Sorry kids”); and yes, they really had opened for Fugazi. All typos have been preserved out of respect for the indomitable fanzine spirit:

Ted: Wasn’t there an infamous show at City Gardens (in Trenton, NJ) once when you opened for Fugazi?
Gene: They hated us.
Ted: I heard that you guys just started, like, playing one note over and over again, and were staring into space,...
Dean: No, those are just rumors. We played that Ozzy Osbourne-Lita Ford duet, “When I Close My Eyes Forever”, They hated that. Then we did “Where Do The Children Play” by Cat Stevens.
Gene: And they hated that. It’s not a problem now anymore though, because people are starting to like our shows, so we can’t do “Where Do the Children Play”. We save that for, like, when we’re about ready to get shot.

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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07.28.2016
08:58 am
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‘No Slam Dancing’: Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and… Jon Stewart?


Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn during a Black Flag show
 
I’ve read an absolutely embarrassing amount of books on pop music for someone who’s never read Dostoyevsky, and over the years I’ve learned to make my recommendations with care. I’ve found out the hard way that not everyone is as interested in Ronnie Spector’s autobiography as I am (ingrates), and that it’s difficult to convince someone that you don’t have to be a metal fan to enjoy a book on the history of heavy metal. However, I’m completely serious when I say everyone will enjoy No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens—it’s just that universal.

To give you some background, City Gardens was a music venue in the most unlikely of places, Trenton, New Jersey, a city that’s been on the rapid decline for decades. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots ravaged the downtown, and even the cops were looting (for welding masks and catcher’s helmets to protect their faces from flying debris). Insurance companies began to drop businesses’ claims, deindustrialization exacerbated unemployment, and suburban flight grew in droves—Trenton, NJ remains a pretty dismal place, economically.

However, where there is a void, there is also opportunity, and a giant warehouse in a rough part of town became the site of a musical oasis, all through the tireless efforts of a few committed fans and staff. The actual City Gardens building had been re-purposed many times before, from a grocery store to a car dealership, but when it was reopened as a disco in 1980, local DJ Randy Now approached the owner, hoping to find a venue receptive to his New Wave tastes. What began as a few weekly dance nights quickly paved the way to booking some of the best bands in underground music.
 

The Descendents in front of their perilous tour bus
 
Before you write off City Gardens as just another scummy punk venue, realize two things. First, the Trenton neighborhood it called home was volatile. While slam-dancing can certainly incur some injuries, to say City Gardens was merely “violent” is an understatement. It saw a lawsuit in 1981, not a year after it began booking bands, when a woman was brutally beaten with a pool cue in inside the venue. And this is to say nothing of the skinhead riot that occurred later. The late Dave Brockie, better knows as GWAR singer Oderus Orungus, said City Gardens was so bad, they’d never go there as fans. Second, when I say “some of the best bands in underground music,” I think City Gardens’ booking philosophy is best summed up in Mickey Ween’s forward when he said, “they did not cater to the audience.”

This was not just a punk or hard rock club. For every Black Flag and Danzig (who had their very first show there), there was a Bo Diddley, Sinead O’Connor, Lydia Lunch, Iggy Pop, DEVO, Bauhaus, The Ramones (who played numerous times), Ricky Nelson, The Violent Femmes, RIcky Nelson, or Toots and the Maytals! The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart was bartending during a Butthole Surfers set with a topless dancer and some careless DIY pyrotechnics! The Beastie Boys almost didn’t play and got their tires slashed, presumably for being late! Someone threatened to break down the dressing room door to stab Jello Biafra! The chaos and sheer wildness of City Gardens is what truly made it unique, and it even hosted all ages shows!
 

Al Jourgensen of Ministry
 
Co-Author Amy Yates Wuelfing pinpoints the preposterous success of it all:

City Gardens was in the middle of nowhere. Not Philly, not New York, but it was still a big club.  That fact that it was so close, and in the middle this dead zone, made the community of people who went there stronger and tighter. It was almost like college, you saw the same people all the time so they became your friends. That was the main thing for me. And unlike the clubs in Philly and New York, the pretentious element wasn’t really there.

What’s truly captivating about No Slam Dancing is the story-telling—it’s a complete oral history, meticulously collected from the memories and reflections of bands, employees, regulars, and all manner of City Gardens alumni. Over a hundred interviews were conducted to create an amazing compendium of anecdotes, and they don’t pull punches. Not everyone comes off well, and sometimes everything goes wrong, but the spirit of the moment is exciting and ambitious, and it’s all the more inspiring when you realize the entire fourteen year musical renaissance of Trenton, New Jersey was built from the ground up by Randy Now, the hobbyist DJ with a day job as a mailman. It’s an insane story, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

Below, Jon Stewart, Ian Mackaye and others talk about City Gardens in a trailer for Riot on the Dance Floor: The story of Randy Now and City Gardens.
 

Posted by Amber Frost
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04.09.2014
02:48 pm
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