July, 15, 2011
Better than: most tribute acts in which a member of the original band performs that band's songs with a new backing band (we're looking at you, Axl)
What is it that makes an artist keep performing their band's music, year after year, long after the original band broke up?
Lots of artists do this - take Guns 'n' Roses, for example. Axl Rose is fronting a GnR tribute band (they legally have the GnR name, but let's face it, it's a tribute act). GnR drummer Steven Adler is doing the same thing with the same music. And now, Ramones bassist C.J. Ramone is doing it, too. With longtime Ramones producer Daniel Rey on guitar, Ramone has taken his act, which consists of his three-piece band performing Ramones hits, on the road.
C.J. and company paid a visit to Trees on Friday night, and his performance gave us some insight into why artists do this in spite of skepticism from the general public.
When elder statesman C.J. took the stage, the crowd up front became more mixed in age, although no less enthusiastic. The thing about C.J. is, he's always loved being a Ramone. He joined the band in 1989; at this time, former bassist Dee Dee Ramone had had enough, to the extent that he left the band and embarked on an ill-fated hip hop career under the name Dee Dee King. Dee Dee's burnout caused the Ramones to fill the void with a bassist who relished his role as a Ramone, and C.J. fit the bill. He stayed with the Ramones until they retired in 1996, after which time he played in several other bands, none of which brought him the success he saw with the Ramones.
This begs the question: if C.J. loves the Ramones' music, and enjoys performing it, why shouldn't he go out and play Ramones tunes?
C.J.'s love of performing was evident throughout the set. He had a hungry look in his eyes. Musicians will tell you that being onstage is like a drug for them, and it was obvious that C.J. was getting his fix as the band plowed their way through such beloved Ramones classics as "Judy Is A Punk" and "Beat On the Brat." C.J.'s hunger was reciprocated by the audience. The relationship between the crowd and him was completely symbiotic: the more they moshed, the better C.J. got. The front-of-stage mosh pit continued throughout his set; guys with gray ponytails happily stomped alongside young, mohawked punks, and C.J. ate it up.
The rest of C.J.'s band were polished musicians, although their enthusiasm for the material was doubtful. Guitarist Daniel Rey, the producer on the Ramones' underrated 1984 album Too Tough to Die, had moments where he perked up and jumped around. At other times, though, he looked like he'd rather be somewhere else. The drummer, despite being an obvious pro, looked bored.
It's debatable how good Friday's performance would have been had it not been for the amped-up crowd. Ramones songs are catchy classics, and it's easy to make these poppy greats sound good -- tons of bands have successfully covered Ramones tunes. Last night's show was an expression of appreciation going two ways, between the crowd and C.J., and back again.
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And, as long as said enjoyment is reciprocated on both parts, C.J. can continue doing what he loves.
Openers the Hood Rats provided some perspective on why punk rock is so much fun in the first place. These young local upstarts embody the spirit of punk: nasty, loud, and gleefully offensive. The singer had just gotten out of a stint in jail; their bassist went AWOL, so they had a friend fill in for their Trees show. The Hood Rats' singer threw himself into his performance, beating himself in the head with the mic til blood ran down his face, and throwing himself around the stage . The music felt young, raucous, and energetic, and the youthful, heavily tattooed audience responded, forming a circle pit and happily thrashing along as the Hood Rats blistered through a cacophony of two-minute, three-chord punksterpieces that boasted such titles as "Kiss My Sweetie With My Fist." The Hood Rats' performance was surprisingly un-sloppy, which can be mostly accredited to their capable drummer, who kept the boys in time as they thrashed away. They closed their set with a nod to Dallas' rich punk rock history, in the form of a cover of Pump 'n Ethyl's "Jesus is a Homo." Pump 'n Ethyl founder Turner Van Blarcum, coolly leaning against the bar throughout the show, sported a wide grin during the Hood Rats' boisterous tip of the hat - dare we say it, Turner was nearly glowing.
Personal Bias: I grew up in the late '90s crust punk scene, so I am admittedly biased towards the kind of offensive, noisy punk that the Hood Rats play. Watching the singer bash himself bloody with the mic made me smile. I'm also a Ramones fan. For the record, Too Tough to Die is my favorite Ramones album.
Random Note: There was a guy in attendance who brought his ten-foot pet boa constrictor to the show. He let me pet his snake, although I'm not sure how thrilled he was when I cooed, "What a cutie pie! Hi there, sweetie!" while giving the boa a pat on the head. Is it weird that I think snakes are cute? I was worried about the boa's hearing being damaged by the noise, so I looked it up. Snakes can't hear very well; they hear mostly through vibrations carried through whatever they're sitting on. Whether or not the snake enjoyed the music is doubtful, but the cute little guy probably wasn't too badly bothered by the noise.