ASBURY PARK, NJ—Three really accomplished cover bands, representing three famous icons of the late ’70s and early ’80s, converged on this venerable music venue in Asbury to recreate an evening of music of an era dear to the hearts of many. Both those old enough to recall the inception days of punk, as well as those young fans who know enough to revere the epoch gathered to honor the three groups of performers who had joyfully revived the sounds and sights associated with three giants of the time, Joy Division, The Clash and the Ramones, but each performed with a unique, artistic spin of their own.
Placing an exact date on the origin of punk will always be arbitrary and controversial, but one fact will not: The U.K. and New York share equal status in birthing this cultural and musical movement. Here in the States, it was primarily the Ramones who gave it primal form and gained it widespread recognition with their performances at now-defunct CBGB’s on New York’s Bowery. Opening the show and representing these originals at the Asbury event was an all-girls quartet from New York calling itself Rockaway Bitch.
The show opened at around 8:30. The physically imposing lead vocalist bore an uncanny, if feminized resemblance to Joey Ramone, which she enhanced by wearing a pair of eyeglasses similar to his and sporting the same disheveled hairdo and of course motorcycle jacket. They performed 20 songs in all, from the unmistakable “Blitzkrieg Bop” through “KKK” to “Sedated” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” And, of course, “Rockaway Beach” from which the band takes its double-entendre name. At the beginning of every song, the bass player, in imitation of Dee-Dee Ramone, screamed “1-2-3-4!” imparting the trademark “do-it-yourself” feel of the original band, which never sought to impress with their mastery of the instruments. With their black motorcycle jackets and denim outfits, not surprisingly, Rockaway Bitch proved to be the most photogenic group of the night.
Contemporaneous with the Ramones, across the pond in the U.K., one of the defining originals was The Clash whose leftist politics and eclectic style helped define the culture of the punk movement. So, up next, and after an interlude of live broadcast from a college radio station, came Straight To Hell, finely tuned cover band for The Clash, performing 18 songs, each one more masterfully than the next, starting with “Clampdown,” off the London Calling album (1979) and ending with “Police On My Back” from the Sandinista collection (1980). Along the way they performed beloved and recognizable entries including reggae-flavored and country & western-styled numbers from The Clash’s large and influential repertoire, rotating vocalists as necessary and as each song demanded. High points came during “I Fought The Law,” “Should I Stay” and “Death Or Glory.”
The largest following of fans was there for the third and final band, Disorder, masters of the British post-punk band Joy Division’s oeuvre. In a stroke of unforeseen luck Joy Division came into existence in 1976 when its members made a blundering attempt to emulate the Sex Pistols, but instead hit upon an unexpectedly imaginative and disquieting musical style that has transcended all genres. Disorder caters to the cult of Joy Division devotees who have survived and grown more avid in the 35 years since the untimely death of frontman Ian Curtis and the disbanding of the band.
Disorder began their 14-song regular set with an obscurity, “Warsaw” from Joy Division’s debut EP An Ideal For Living (1978). Moving through the dark and brooding body of work, they performed meticulous recreations of all the favorites: “Day Of The Lords,” “She’s Lost Control,” “Isolation,” “Dead Souls” and more. True to Joy Division’s tradition, they performed with more power and energy, more emotional abandon, than the studio recordings would suggest. Exhausted, the band tried to end with the heart-breaking and melodious “Ceremony,” but were called back by a persuasive and enthusiastic audience, whom they succeeded in satisfying with the pitch-dark, lamenting “Twenty-Four Hours.”
In the battle of Britain vs. the Bowery, both sides can claim victory as well as the formation of a gratifying alliance that bears witness to the battle-cry, “Punk Never Dies!”