Saturday, 12 July 2008

‘BLITZKRIEG BOP…’ 

Concert review of THE RAMONES at
‘Leeds University’ (August 1980)

‘Johnny, Joey, Dee, good times’
(‘The Things That Dreams Are Made of’ Human League)

‘Gabba Gabba Hey! Gabba Gabba Hey…!!!’ Smithereening the complacent veneer of Leeds University the Ramones fracture the ‘Fresher’s Hop’ into a Blitzkrieg Bop. A ‘Creeee-tin Hop’ of relentless riffery, mind-numbing minimalism, and hypnotic repetition. A Uni all symmetrical concrete and glass, a postal date-stamp proclaiming it centre of the ‘Motorway City Of The Seventies’, and through its twisting motor-congealed vindaloo-smeared back-alleys the bizarre misfits and chic underachievers, the curious and the converted, are queuing across a cascade of steps, hustling for tickets. While, deadpan, inflectionless, Joey Ramone leans into the microphone, and ‘it’s good to be in Leeds agen’, perhaps he even means it. The show sold out. Earlier they’d played forty-five minutes at ‘The Rainbow’, now they come back for three – maybe four encores, seguing into ninety minutes, on and on in cyclic permutations of the same inevitable fistful of riffs/chords. See Joey sway, see him jump up and down, poke his finger into the undulating pogoing front row… ‘First rule – IS!’ see Johnny snarl and grimace almost like a REAL punk, ‘Second rule – IS!’ see Dee Dee neatly catch the arcing lager-can, see him hurl it back into the audience, not even noticeably missing a bass-line. ‘Third rule – IS!’ see the hail of ritual gob – marvel that, one hour into the set, not only can they still generate saliva, but also achieve a quite respectable trajectory angling into the lights in silver constellations. Walk on crushed cans, foam exploding and ejaculating as you twitch on sticky sucking-tiles… But wait – first up there’s some old-school support band, a competent Rock set half-audible thrumming reverberating down corridors to the Bar. Then the stage plunges black but for a formation of gleaming amp-lights and the shadowy backdrop, and when the lights slam back the first chunks of “Rockaway Beach” are already chewing out rhythms in solid waves of noise, and just as it dissolves into howls and farts of speaker-protest Dee Dee is already counting one-two-three-four into “Teenage Lobotomy”, and relentlessly, without a break it extends, hurling through “Commando”, “Judy Is A Punk”, “I Remember You”, “I Don’t Care”, and “Don’t Come Close”. The first words on the first track of the Beatles’ first LP were ‘One-two-three-four’. The Ramones are five albums in, plus a spin-off of singles. Joey, pants-knees carefully ragged, contrived shambling aggression – though we all know he’d be pushed to beat on any brat with or without baseball bat! He’s more the school skinny-kid who got stomped on at recess-time. Joey’s hair’s too long and Dee Dee’s pudding-bowl cut too retro to conform to Punk’s year-zero. They sniff carbona and glue because they can’t afford Chinese Rocks. Wear torn sneakers ‘cos charity shops don’t do labels. Formed their own street-gang just to have something to do, because they weren’t cool enough to join anyone else’s street-gang, even though they don’t agree and don’t even like each other much. It’s the same geek-revenge fantasy as Eddie Cochran who couldn’t take the car ‘cos he didn’t work late. If Bakunin wanted to torch the planet, Dee Dee’s just out to incinerate cerebellum. It’s a guise – more blatantly so since Tommy ‘Ramone’ came out from behind leather jacket to become Tommy Erdelyi, and Marky ‘Ramone’ stepped into the aforesaid discarded garment. It’s a ripped fanzine guise frozen around the first tactile ripples of what they spawned as ‘Punk’ when the Ramones first left home, signed with Danny ‘16’ Fields – circa late 1975, when they flunked outta the Pistols legendary first UK tour double-header, but went on to fry ‘The Roundhouse’ instead alongside the equally exquisite Flamin’ Groovies in ’76… all long before Roger Corman’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” movie, before the wimpy Top Ten hit lifted off the Phil Spector-produced album, before ‘The End Of The Century’ when it all corrupted and soured… Sure, it’s a guise, a graffiti cartoon, but a hellishly effective one. A retard’s manifesto pared to the conceptual bone. Viral riff, energy, attitude, hook, haiku-bare dumb/smart lyric – ‘I don’t care/ about that girl/ about this world’, title, and total lyric. What is it they don’t care about? Like Brando in ‘The Wild Ones’, ‘what have you got?’ Surely such postmodern precision couldn’t happen without design, any more than their predecessors the Shangri-Las or New York Dolls could have? But to admit to design would be to blow it. Like with Wagner operas you only need to ‘suspend disbelief’ and ride with it. There’s no single moment of looseness in the entire set, only super-tight, hyper-fast, razored two-to-three minute song-shrapnel ramming at you from the speakers like the kick-start of a 750cc Harley Davidson. Then into the encores with a strangely out-of-phase “Needles And Pins” – too lyrical, too melodic, a long(ish) jaggedy dumb-psychedelic “Surfin’ Bird”, a rousing “D’ya Wanna Dance” from the nerd-gang no-one’d really wanna dance with anyway, and a penultimate euphoric “Pinhead”-chantalong that veers and vibrates, smithereening and spiking into every corner of the hall. Then they’re gone, leaving only retinal after-flashes and audial tinnitus reverberations of a great great gig. Eternal, transcendental, timeless Rock ‘n’ Roll as it’s meant to be done…
REVIEW BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
Published in:-
‘PEEPING TOM no.6’ (August 1980 – UK)

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