East Village resident Hilly Kristal founded CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers) in December 1973 on the site of an earlier bar, Hilly’s On The Bowery, that he ran from 1969 to 1972. A fire at the popular Mercer Arts Center in August 1973 had left local unsigned bands with few venues as the burgeoning glam rock scene was getting national attention. These bands began playing CB’s, a dive bar that sat underneath a fleabag hotel for the Bowery’s drunks and addicts. By 1974, a new punk scene gradually emerged at the club, with the Patti Smith Group, Television, Blondie, Misfits, Mink DeVille, The Dead Boys, The Dictators, The Voidoids, The Cramps, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Talking Heads, The Shirts, The Heartbreakers, The Fleshtones and particularly the Ramones making the club a hot local rock spot. Kristal’s two rules were that a band must move its own equipment and play mostly original songs. Bands from around the world made their New York debuts at CBGB’s, including The Police, AC/DC, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and The B-52’s, among countless others. The original A-list of bands either split apart or moved on to larger venues by the 1980s, and CBGB’s became better known for hosting hardcore punk matinees and for selling tons of iconic CBGB t-shirts. Rising rents in a gentrified neighborhood forced the closure of CBGB’s in 2006, decades after its heyday. Kristal spoke of moving the club to Las Vegas before he died from complications of lung cancer on August 28, 2007.
Fashion designer John Varvatos opened a store in CBGB’s former space in April 2008. Three years later, entrepreneur Tim Hayes bought the CBGB’s brand name. Hayes launched the first CBGB’s Music & Film Festival in October 2012, featuring concerts, panels and film screenings throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. This year’s event, headquartered at a former warehouse in Chelsea, hosted events in theaters, clubs, galleries, private spaces, rooftops and hotels from Williamsburg to Times Square. A Park Avenue public relations firm handled inquiries. The event closer was a family-friendly Times Square street festival that featured live music as well as a rock climbing wall, a surf simulator, a Guitar Hero challenge, classic arcade games, a “dunk the punk” tank, a cupcake building booth, a smashing pumpkins kiosk, a velcro jump wall, a graffiti wall, a skate ramp, a pizza eating contest and free haircuts and temporary tattoos. Most of this would have been very foreign during the time of the original CBGB’s.
Highlights Of The Third Annual CBGB’s Music & Film Festival/October 8-12, 2014
Billy Idol/Center 548/October 11, 2014
The opening ceremony of the Third Annual CBGB’s Music & Film Festival featured a keynote address and acoustic set by Billy Idol. It was probably a great event, but space was very limited and we could not get on the guest list. Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan also performed with his new band, Walking Papers.
Murphy’s Law/The Bowery Electric/October 9, 2014
Murphy’s Law formed in 1982 in Queens, New York, and quickly became a staple of New York’s hardcore punk scene, especially at CBGB’s. Vocalist James Drescher, better known as Jimmy G, Jimmy Spliff and Jimmy Gestapo, is the only remaining member of the original band. Reprising many of its songs about pot, beer, girls, cars and partying, the band neither introduced new songs nor broke new ground. Instead of stage diving, fans came onstage to sing along and consume the band’s alcohol. New York has changed, the hardcore punk scene has evolved, yet Gestapo and his crew have performed the same set for more than a decade. The difference is that now the band is less angry and more fun.
The 2014 Icon Award Ceremony/Center 548/October 11
Former MTV personality Matt Pinfield introduced Devo, who in turn introduced Jane’s Addiction. The members of Jane’s Addiction were presented plaques and then performed two songs live.
Devo /Times Square/October 12, 2014
Devo formed in 1972 as a satirical social commentary professing that humankind had regressed or “de-evolved.” Devo recreated its kitsch science fiction stage show, including the wearing of simulated chemical-protection uniforms and, for one song, round, ziggurat-shaped “energy dome” hats. The band’s often discordant pop songs featured synthetic instrumentation and unusual time signatures that, while once unique, now fit in well with the indie scene. The smart and tight set was largely comprised of songs from 1978 to 1982, including “Girl U Want,” “Whip It,” a quirky cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Mongoloid” and one of Devo’s earliest songs, “Jocko Homo,” which raised the band’s ongoing question, “Are we not men?” (Audience response: “We are Devo.”) The show ended with an appearance of the band’s mascot, Booji Boy. Devo’s intricate yet catchy music and deadpan surrealist humor were as enjoyable in today’s world as they were 35 years ago.
Jane’s Addiction/Times Square/October 12, 2014
Jane’s Addiction rocked harder than anything that ever hit Times Square. As the familiar bassline started the opening song, “Up The Beach,” vocalist Perry Farrell came on stage wearing a three-piece suit and fedora, and he spent more time playing up to the audience than singing. It was just as well, as his voice sounded strained. Dave Navarro’s guitar playing was monstrous, however, and shredded crisp and clear blasts on each song, but Farrell commanded much of the attention, even crowd surfing early in the set. In all, Jane’s Addiction performed in succession nine of the 11 songs of the 1988 breakthrough Nothing’s Shocking album. Particularly toward the end of the set, Farrell rambled about it being Friday (it was Sunday), spoke about Jewish observances (“we Jews love you!”), put on a yarmulke handed to him by a photographer in front of the stage, cursed the stock market and its followers, and spoke graphically and extensively about the band members’ sexual appetites. For the final song, “Stop!,” two lingerie-clad dancers hung over the stage, spinning around to show that they were swinging from two rods piercing their backs behind their shoulder blades. Farrell insisted on singing another song, “Three Days,” but it was curfew and the sound was unplugged while he was speaking. Some 25 years after all this music was first performed live, today’s Jane’s Addiction concert was still shocking.