Apr 22, 2008

OPENING NIGHT: CBGB/John Varvatos Boutique

My buddy Randy chimes in with his take on the opening of the Varvatos store at CBGB. In contrast to all noise over at Jeremiah's Vanishing New York regarding the same subject (check the comments), the reviews below focus more on the musical events part of the evening:

(Crowd shot courtesy of Randy. For more visit his Flickr link below.)

As you might guess, I had mixed emotions stepping foot into CBGB again now that it's been re-opened by designer John Varvatos as an upscale clothing boutique. But curiosity got the best of me and I appreciated the fact that the opening night party last Thursday was a benefit concert to support the Save The Music Foundation. Plus, the night promised a terrific linuep of talent: IAN HUNTER, RONNIE SPECTOR, CLEM BURKE (Blondie), CHEETAH CHROME (Dead Boys), ALAN VEGA (Suicide), HANDSOME DICK MANITOBA (Dictators), the LOSER'S LOUNGE band, and a rare reunion gig from L.E.S. heroes D GENERATION.

So I dutifully bought my ticket (thanks Lindsey) and took the subway down to CB's.

The interior was certainly recognizable as CBGB. Portions of the sticker-covered original walls still remain, though they are now behind protective glass covers. The original stage is gone but for the night's festivities they had installed a replacement stage in approximately the same location as the original.

I winced at the vast number of security staff inside the place, all wearing headsets and dressed in black designer suits. And then there were scores of people with designer hair running around with t-shirts that said "Varvatos 315 Bowery: Birthplace of Punk." on the back. ICK.

But I can't say anything bad about the concert. The concert ROCKED. I spotted a couple of the original sound guys from CB's and the Continental, and everything sounded perfect. In addition to the aforementioned musical guests, Varvatos and crew managed to gather a jaw-dropping lineup of unannounced "special guests," including JOAN JETT, WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), TOM MORELLO (Rage Against The Machine), PERRY FARRELL, SLASH, JERRY CANTRELL (Alice In Chains), and SEN DOG (Cypress Hill), among others.

I was right up against the stage and documented the whole thing. I got several shots of the new interior, including three of the new "chandelier" that now hangs in the middle of the space. All my photos are here:

Here's an additional take on the night, this one provided by my pal Madeline Bocaro, who was pressed up against the front of the stage all night:

CBGB - ONE MORE TIME! (By Madeline Bocaro)

On April 17, 2008 we stood outside under the new black 315 Bowery awning as ropes were put up, and limos pulled up. I don’t know where these people thought they were, but I was at CBGB! The CBGB gallery next door (now Morrison Hotel Gallery) exhibits a huge poster in its window announcing Bob Gruen’s exhibit Rockers, featuring Sid Vicious smashing a condiment-loaded hot dog into his own face, sporting a badge that says, “I’m A Mess”. A guy approaches me asking, “Where’s the Bowery Hotel?” and I recognize him – former T. Rex/Led Zep publicist, B.P. Fallon.

Elements of heaven and hell and surrealism permeated the evening. Up walked the cowboy from The Village People. The only logical explanation is that he probably has Alzheimer’s and wandered into the most inappropriate place for him on earth!

DGeneration are magnificently sound-checking inside while way too many security staffers are strategizing the guest list/wrist band coordination. When I roll my eyes, someone asks, “Wasn’t it ever like this before?” I reply, ”There hardly was a door – people just stumbled in and out of the cavernous hole all night long.” Tonight, we enter and there’s an eerily empty space to the right where dear old gray-haired owner Hilly used to sit and stamp hands. But the place is pretty much intact. It feels the same. It even looks the same, but a bit cleaner. All the graffiti and historic crap stuck to the walls has been preserved under glass, with lots of cool rock posters and framed photos everywhere. Alice Cooper, T. Rex, the Jam and Iggy Pop music is playing. It feels like the line in Bowie’s song “Heroes”: “We can steal time, just for one day.” A new bar is placed right where the old one used to be, and as we enter deeper and see the stage, it’s just like old times - except the infamous bathrooms are gone. (There were Port-O-Pottys set up outside).

The new tenant, designer John Varvatos, has retained the spirit of the old place. It could’ve become a Starbucks or a bank, but here we are – at CBGB again!

It’s an opening bash for the Varvatos boutique (not a garment in sight) and a benefit for VH1’s Save The Music. The cavalcade of stars begins. First up is a group of kids under age 12 – maybe even 9 – Care Bears on Fire. If I didn’t feel old when I walked in, I sure did now. Next was another group of teen boys, Pop Girls etc.. They were the pimply cretins of the class whom all the girls ridiculed, dressed in pointy boots and too-tight jackets. They had no idea how ridiculous they looked!

Up next was the DGeneration reunion – the first in 10 years. My god did they rock! Incredible memories of how great they were. “No Way Out”, “Frankie” and “Degenerated” floored everyone! Bassist Howie Pyro flew in from L.A. I reminded guitarist Danny Sage that he once told me I’d see them at Madison Square Garden , and I did – when they opened for KISS in 1996. He yelled down to me from the stage at MSG, “I told you!!!” Now he said, “Look where it got us, right back here!” A wild blast from the past.

I guess Debbie Harry had better things to do that night, so Clem Burke backed up the Losers Lounge with some singers who did T. Rex, Blondie and Bowie songs. Then came the redemption of Ronnie Spector! She looked incredible and sang her gorgeous rendition of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. She wiped away tears and said, “This place started it all – so many faces are running through my mind like - Joey Ramone…” At least SHE remembered! Then she sang the most beautiful “Be My Baby” knocking down the confining wall of sound…just her pure “Woah oh oh oh oh.” It was heavenly. I’ve always admired her - a true pop diva from another era who stepped down from her throne to appreciate and befriend the underground creatures of CBGB.

Without hesitation, they announced Ian Hunter. I wasn’t ready for another of my most precious heroes so suddenly, but out he came amidst the loudest cheers of the evening for “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, “Central Park N’ West”, “Roll Away The Stone” and “All The Young Dudes.”

Alan Vega from Suicide, still ever so insane, did a mystifying version of ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” - at once classic and ridiculous. Joan Jett, looking amazing, did “Bad Reputation”. The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome came out for “Sonic Reducer” and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. The Dictators’ Handsome Dick Manitoba, MC5’s Wayne Kramer and others jammed on “Kick Out The Jams”. Then came Slash and Perry Farrell, and later members of Cypress Hill. The evening became confusing as it derailed and degenerated from Degeneration to this. But at least we know that a stage still can be pulled out at any time, and anything can happen in this preserved historic place where we all grew up.


(Thank you Randy & Madeline)

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