Joey Ramone - lead vocals; Johnny Ramone - guitar; Dee Dee Ramone - bass, backing vocals; Tommy Ramone - drums
The Ramones were a great, great American band. If you're reading this, you know that. Fourteen studio albums, several of them classics, 2,262 live shows. A million nights spent banging down the highway in a cramped van, hauling their over-worked butts from one dismal gig to the next. Never breaking through - not big-time, not the way they deserved to - but never giving up.
Their last album, Adios Amigos, true to form, tanked. This is a time when bands like Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid - bands a generation younger than The Ramones, but still fiercely inspired by their music - were selling multi-millions. In 1996, 20 years after the release of their first album, they pounded out their final performances on a Lollapalooza tour. A Ramones reunion was probably never in the cards, but now it's off forever. Joey Ramone died of cancer in a New York hospital in 2001. Dee Dee Ramone overdosed in L.A. the following year (and two years after that, Johnny also died from cancer). Fortunately, the records remain, and they don't sound quaint or dated, not at all.
The first four Ramones albums are indispensable artifacts of the late-Seventies punk world-quake; the first two, especially, with their thunderous fusion of Black Sabbath, bubblegum pop and other pinhead preoccupations, are exhilarating formal triumphs. (If "formal triumph" isn't too poofty a term to impose on four guys who probably couldn't have cared less about such a thing, and might not even have grasped it.) So, you can still hear the records. But if you never saw The Ramones live, well, you never will.
However, you can hear them live. The band put out four live albums over the course of its career, and the first of these, an import called It's Alive, is one of the most explosive rock concert documents ever released. It was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on New Year's Eve 1977, when both The Ramones and punk rock itself were at a dizzying peak. You have this album, right? Let's move on.
One week after the Rainbow show, The Ramones were back home in New York, booked into the Palladium, a wonderful old dump on then-still-scummy East 14th Street. It was a Saturday night, perfect. The Runaways and Suicide opened. The crowd, as you can hear, was mightily jacked up. And I think that's what sets this show slightly apart from the one captured on It's Alive. A New York band, embarked on leading the great punk conquest that never quite happened. A New York crowd, all dizzed out about having them back in town, and about being part of that big punk takeover too (so they thought). A New York vibe, I guess you could call it. If It's Alive is the greatest of punk concert albums, then this one is…what, the co-greatest? Whatever. Be happy we have it.
I saw The Ramones a lot back in those particular days. I don't know if I actually saw this show (it was the Seventies, who can remember?), but I can tell you that this is exactly what they sounded like: no guitar solos, no pointless gab, just a tsunami of sound - great breaking waves of guitar roar. But clean, sculpted, pure. And the songs! Cresting off its first two albums, Ramones and Ramones Leave Home, the band had only recently released its third, the formidable Rocket to Russia. And so every song they played that night was drawn from three of the most flat-out fabulous records in the annals of punkdom. Which is to say, every song was a hit (Well, you know what I mean). And there were 27 of them - 27 songs in a head-snapping 52 minutes. That's our boys!
I guess we can thank the King Biscuit Flower Hour engineers for capturing this performance with such admirable clarity, allowing us to thrill anew to Joey's every lovable faux-Brit vocalism, Dee Dee's inevitable "one-two-three-four" kickoffs (or "ein-zwei-drei-vier" - Dee Dee had a thing about Germany), and Johnny's breathtaking speed-king Mosrite mow-downs. Drummer-by-default Tommy Ramone is still on-board here (he would shortly step back into producing), and his endearingly unadorned thwap-bap propulsion is still a mini-wonder.
As I say, a great, great band. I can understand how some people might pine for those old punk days, bellyaching about why things just aren't as cool anymore, as loud-and-fast, as blah blah blah. Borderline pathetic, but I can understand. The Ramones, though? You can miss The Ramones. They haven't gone away. Listen.
- Kurt Loder, NYC, 2003