In all honesty, I can't claim to have spent all that much time at CBGB lately; the fact of the matter is that the bulk of the club's programming in recent years hasn't held so much interest for me. But I'd be lying if I didn't confess that there's something altogether genuine and appealing about this grungy nightclub's complete and utter lack of pretension -- regarding its hipster caché, creature comforts or much of anything else.
One thing is certain, though, it was a pretty great place to catch underground punk and metal acts. Shows are more comfortable at B.B. King's, certainly…but since when has metal had anything to do with comfort? Of the three times I've seen Napalm Death, the show at CBGB was far and away the best, in terms of music and experience alike. Other acts whose CBGB sets I remember fondly include Lamb of God, the Haunted, Soilent Green, Isis, Coalesce, Hot Cross, Lickgoldensky and the One AM Radio.
That's probably why I felt a genuine pang when this press release hit my in-box this morning:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CBGB TO CLOSE ON SEPTEMBER 30TH
After over 30 years, the legendary rock club CBGB will be closing for good on September 30th, 2006.
CB's, as it is universally and fondly known, opened its doors in 1973, making it NYC's oldest continuously-operating rock venue. Owner Hilly Kristal originally intended the club to showcase country, bluegrass and blues (hence the acronym), but the lack of places for unsigned bands to perform in New York at the time made CB's a magnet for the punk and art-rock scenes that were emerging downtown. Throughout the 70's, such seminal artists as The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Patti Smith Group, Television and Suicide performed at CB's regularly, and the club served as an incubator for what would become the most influential music of the era.
When punk metamorphosed into hardcore in the 80's, CB's remained on the city's cutting edge, offering a home for The Gorilla Biscuits, Agnostic Front, The Cro-Mags, Sick Of It All, H20, Murphy's Law, Leeway and the other pillars of the NYHC movement.
As the New York nightlife industry grew bigger and more cutthroat in the 90's, CB's remained an endearingly stubborn throwback, sticking firm to the open-door booking policy that first welcomed its inaugural class of rebels - whoever you are, whatever you do, your band can play at CBGB. In a downtown scene increasingly governed by fashion and status, CB's has zealously adhered to the formula that made it meaningful, by refusing to apply stylistic filters to its bookings, welcoming all comers to sink or swim on their own merits.
A much-publicized altercation with their landlord in mid-2005 led to an a star-studded benefit concert in Washington Square Park, and even Mayor Bloomberg vocally led his support to the little club that had developed, over the decades, into a globally-recognized cultural institution.
However, despite the universal outpouring of love, and numerous attempts to resolve the matter legally, Krystal has been unable to arrive at terms with the building's owner, and a three-decade musical legacy will come to an end in just a few short months.
Fittingly, steadfastly independent New York concert promoters Rocks Off have signed on to book CBGB's closing festival, set to take place throughout August and September. They are in touch with many of the artists who made CB's famous, and are hard at work putting together a final schedule that will do justice to the club's enduring impact in the many varieties of rock and roll it has helped to cultivate throughout the years.
Until the final schedule is announced, all press inquiries can be directed to [contact, phone number and e-mail address, available by request -- Steve].
Even if the programming has made the club largely irrelevant for some time now -- and even if the facts of Kristal's public battle against his landlord frankly make sympathy difficult -- it's still sad to lose yet another piece of New York City's musical history. What would make this more bitter still would be if this real estate were to be developed, like so much of the East Village, into another odious high-rise condo like the monstrosity on Astor Place, or yet another N.Y.U. dormitory. So far, however, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Is punk rock too unsentimental to support its own equivalent of the Village Vanguard? Apparently so. On the other hand, from the look of the crowds thronging the streets of Manhattan lately, Kristal has probably sold more T-shirts in the last year than in the entire preceding decade.
Os Mutantes - Everything Is Possible (Luaka Bop) and Ao Vivo (Som Livre/Gala)
Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Vol. 23: Baltimore, MD, Sept. 17, 1972 (Grateful Dead)
The Mars Volta - Amputechture (Universal, due Aug. 22)
Grateful Dead - Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA, Dec. 30, 1989 (Archive.org M3U stream)
Phish - Live in Brooklyn, June 17, 2004 (JEMP/Rhino, due July 11)
Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Vol. 1: Tampa, FL, Dec. 19, 1973 (Grateful Dead)