fs @ cbgb omg!!!

Right about this time, Footstone played their best show ever.  And I got it on tape.

CBGB was, obviously, a legendary club.  It was right there at the birth of punk in the mid 70s, and always remained a venue that was friendly to local artists.  They’d have these nights where seven or eight local bands would play there.  Footstone played there relatively frequently, if I recall.

The club was an absolute dive, from an aesthetic standpoint.  It was filthy, no door on the men’s room, crap everywhere you looked.  But there was such a tremendous sense of history there that, even for a germ-phobe like me, I was happy to overlook it all, just for a chance to sit in the club.  It was like the anti-ACME: whereas ACME was cool because nobody knew about it, CBGB was cool because everybody knew about it.  

I’d sit in the club and say things to myself like at some point, Joey Ramone probably sat in this seat, or I’ll bet Lou Reed pissed in this urinal.  I couldn’t help it.  Every band I loved – from the Ramones, who got their start at CBGB, to the Mommyheads, who played there regularly as a New York-based band in the mid-80s – owed a debt of gratitude to CBs.  All the people who pioneered the kind of music that was central to my life played at CBGB, and yet so did many local bands that never went anywhere, but could always look back on the memory of playing there.  

They also had the greatest sound system of all the clubs we frequented – every band who played there sounded as good as they possibly could.  Being the tightest band going, Footstone sounded amazing at CBs.  And being tremendously artist-friendly, if you brought a DAT to the show, the sound man would record your band’s set right from the mixing board for just ten dollars.

For the longest time, I wasn’t aware of that.  Somewhere along the line, however, somebody clued me in on the secret, and I promised myself that the next time Footstone played there, I’d bring a tape.  I was still stinging from the failed attempt at recording Footstone’s set for a live CD back in February, and still had it in my mind to do some sort of Footstone live album – even if I wasn’t sure if they were going to be on my label anymore.

Rich picked up a DAT for me on his way to Hoboken, and we met and took the PATH into the Village together.  We stopped for a hot dog at Grey’s Papaya, then walked over to See Hear to check out the zines (our routine for shows in the City).  Once we got to CBs, I found the sound guy, introduced myself, and handed him the DAT with ten dollars.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to record the set without permission from the band, which was the right thing for him to do but messed up my plans to record them in a spontaneous sort of way.  Rather than clue Ralph in that I was recording the set, and get him all self-conscious about it, I got permission from Bishop – but he made me promise that if the show sucked, I’d throw the tape right in the trash.

I agreed.

They played that night on a bill with a bunch of other bands I can’t recall.  I believe American Standard was the “headliner,” as much as a night with four or five bands on the bill can have a headliner.  I also remember that the band that played before Footstone was godawful, with their music so filled with high-pitched squeaking and tinny guitars that I had to actually walk out of the club during their set because they were killing my ears.  By the time their set was over, I couldn’t help but wonder if the sound guy was having an off-night, and if I was wasting ten dollars by recording a set that was going to sound equally poor.  The sound was so bad that I couldn’t tell if the band was any good.  I can’t recall the name of the band, but they were one of the worst local bands I’d ever seen.

Usually, Footstone would take the stage and before the band played a note, Ralph would introduce the band, thank all the previous bands by name, and thank people for coming.  On this night, though, the band ripped right into a new song called “Keep Me Blinded,” before the stage lights even came on.  For a second I panicked because I wasn’t sure the sound guy was even ready – I looked at him and he said “Don’t worry, I got it,” with a smile – thankfully, he had the tape rolling before the band started playing.

They actually played two songs before Ralph addressed the crowd.  And from there, the band was just blistering.  Every song they played sounded great, and by the time they were three or four songs into their set, virtually everyone in the room had made their way toward the stage to get a better view.

I remember that Ralph was super aggressive onstage, and Eric’s playing was absolutely lights out.  I hadn’t seen the band in a while due to our pregnancy, and I recall thinking “Holy shit – Eric is playing solos!”  Dave and Mark were right in sync, and the result was an unbelievably crunchy, loud opening that never lost steam.

About halfway through the set, Ralph walked up to the microphone and said “This one goes out to my good friend Al,” and the band launched into “U.S. Bebop.”

The song was absolutely fantastic.  The band was playing it so fast that Dave was actually having trouble keeping up, and Ralph was signing it with such aggression and power that the song was just brutally heavy and yet poppy and hooky at the same time.  The song’s lyrics still weren’t set, so there were a few times I could tell Ralph was just singing whatever came to mind, but it just didn’t matter – it was an unreal performance.

And he started it by dedicating it to me!  How cool was that?  Ralph was the kind of guy who was forever dedicating songs to people, or saying hello to specific people in the audience.  He carried on conversations during the breaks inbetween songs, joked around, made fun of himself – he was very engaging from the stage, which was a refreshing break from most indie bands that stared at their shoes and were silent inbetween songs aside from the occasional, mumbled “Thank you.”  Ralph actually wanted to entertain people.

And now I was going to have a Footstone live album that actually had a song dedicated to me.  I pretty much figured I’d never have my own music on a CD by this point, so  the occasional credit in someone’s liner notes – and now this dedication – was the closest I was going to get.

The band went on and finished their set, trying out a few new songs and playing a couple of standbys as well.  It was the best Footstone set I’d ever seen, and aside from the Godspeed set at our first release party, the best live performance from any band we ever worked with.  When I picked up the DAT from the sound man, I was thrilled.

“Sounded like you’re going to get a hell of a record out of that,” he said. “They were hot.”

I agreed.  All Rich could say was “Wow.”

The next day I went to Long & McQuade and rented a portable DAT player, then ran off a cassette copy so I could listen to it whenever I wanted.  That week I called Terri, our sometime intern who was a huge punk fan, and played her a bunch of songs, including “U.S. Bebop,” over the phone.

“What did you think?” I asked, after three or four songs.

“I really liked that ‘fuckin’ nimrod on my street’ song,” she responded.

That seemed to be everyone’s opinion.  The show was so powerful that mostly everyone neglected to notice another new song, called “I Will Not Allow,” that I would come to think of as Ralph’s best songwriting in Footstone.  

I listened to the tape so much in the first week after the show that the tape deck in my car actually ate the tape.  Snapped it.  I tried fixing it with Scotch tape (something I’d done in the past with success) but no dice.  The analog tape was gone.

But I still had the DAT.  And it was fantastic.

So fantastic, in fact, that I saved it in a special place, apart from my master DAT tapes.  One weekend, Mark came over with a portable DAT player of his own, and we listened to it in the living room over beers.  But I never made another cassette copy of it.

I figured that it would, eventually, become a CD.  I didn’t need a cassette of it.  I just kept it aside from posterity.

When I started pulling together my notes for this blog in the winter of 2009, I actually went onto eBay and won a DAT player, specifically so that I could post songs from that show, along with one other song from another band that I only have on DAT which will come up later in the story.  When the player came, I pulled out all my digital audio tapes so that I could convert the show to MP3 format.

Except the DAT was gone.

One Saturday, I pulled apart every single box that I had in storage.  Every box of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, posters, notes, files – every box I have.  Boxes in the basement.  Boxes in the attic.  Everywhere in my house, looking for this one DAT.

Gone.

I want to play you songs from this show, I really do.  And I know that I saved that DAT, because it was a magnificent show.

When I told Mark the story of how I lost the DAT, he suggested that maybe I’d built that show up in my mind to the point where I thought it was better than it actually was.  But I don’t think so.  I think it was the high point for Footstone, that one night where everything just came together and the band – ordinarily a great live band to begin with – was at their absolute best.  Other people in the crowd that night said the same thing.

My plan was to win the DAT player, make the MP3s, and then sell the player right away.  I’m keeping the player in hopes that the tape will eventually surface.  If it does, I’ll be sure to post some songs from it.

Until then, you’ll have to take my word for it.  It was great.

~ by Al on September 3, 2009.

One Response to “fs @ cbgb omg!!!”

  1. Lies!!!! All lies I say!!

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