Coney Island High Reunion
featuring The Dickies, Murphy’s Law, Bellvue, and The Kowalskis
Don Hill’s, New York City, NY • April 13, 2001
David Lee Beowülf
I’m typing this up post-Joey, so please bear with me• Once upon a time, from roughly 1995 to 1999, Saint Marks Place in Manhattan (a.k.a. 8th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; East Village) hosted Coney Island High, a nifty little venue for rock and roll music that, in my opinion, filled out the third part of the Punk Rock Club Triumvirate. That would be the Continental, CBGB, and Coney Island High. Hmmm, the “three C’s.”
Granted that CB’s has been there “forever” and the Continental probably just as long, Coney Island High (CIH) came on to the “scene” very late in the game, but thanks to visionary owners who care a lot more about music than anything, CIH was an instant hit. What’s this got to do with the show? Oh, sorry, the purpose of this show was to remember Coney Island High and to preview a new documentary called No Dancing in Manhattan or something like that. There is a lot of scuttlebutt about why CIH closed. One of the theories is that the NYC police, egged on by Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, cracked down on the punk clubs by enforcing “cabaret” licenses. Which basically means you need a license to dance in this establishment. Yep, a license to dance. If there’s dancing, the cops will shut you down.
OK, this is about as much as I’ll say about things: a) I heard with my own eyes (you figure it out) the manager of Coney Island get arrested during Joey Ramone’s Blitzkrieg Bash in 1997. b) Coney Island High had four shows a night. It was a three-story storefront with a main floor, upper floor and a basement. At one time, there were admission gigs on all floors. Just about every night, there were early and late shows on the main and upper floor. c) They sold a lot of alcohol. d) They packed the place with great bands like Iggy Pop, Murphy’s Law, The Misfits, The Dickies, The Ramones, The Beastie Boys, The Donnas, The Fleshtones, The Mentors, The Damned, Hawkwind, D-Generation, King Diamond, etc. EVERYONE — this was a small venue, remember? That meant you could experience these big-name acts “in a club” — breathing was optional. e) They’re situated across from a hotel that rents by the hour. f) They’re within walking distance of New York University and Cooper Union. g) There is a drug rehab center next door to them. h) There was a woman who lived above the place (I don’t see how it worked) who complained of noise from CIH. Apparently, she was a prostitute, as well. i) The police were a somewhat regular fixture outside the club; they are/were not such at CBGB, the Continental, or anywhere else that has extremely loud music and obnoxious fans. j) The place has not been rented since CIH closed.
It doesn’t make sense.
Given: first of all, the place was coining it in on beer sales. I saw people get drunk in the place, and at five bucks a beer and more for a mixed drink, the proverbial “hundred dollar night” — especially if there was a ten-band showcase playing – could be achieved before midnight. Secondly, they held four paying gigs a night. That is, admissions were charged twice a night in two venues in the same building. Thirdly, they, like all clubs, had as minimal a staff as necessary: maybe three bartenders, a couple of bouncers, a couple of ticket sellers, a sound guy, and perhaps a few Mexicans who hosed the place down at the end of the night — say six AM. Fourthly, Admissions ran between $8 and $20. You could get 400 people in the place.
Rumors: 1) The city police clamped down on CIH. 2) The owners didn’t pay their rent. 3) The owners paid a premium price for the bands they hosted, and as such, went broke. 4) This one Jimmy G. of Murphy’s Law had to offer: they gave away too much free beer. 5) They went broke because of their guest lists, always huge; that is, they let everyone in for free.
My verdict: A combination of 1, 2, and 3. The cops absolutely did target CIH. There’s a drug rehab place next door with a heck of a lot of “lurkers” hanging out and making a lot of noise in the street. There are something like twenty bars and restaurants on the block, too. Noise and crowds distinguish this area. Nope, the cops were acting on instructions, otherwise the Continental, half a block away, would’ve gotten just as much of a hassle. Of course, when the police get a complaint (which is what I believe they did — every night CIH was in business, from the hooker upstairs), they have to respond. And if there are underage drinkers or people doing illegal drugs on the premises (note the use of the word “illegal;” that is, it is against the law — meaning you can be lawfully arrested and have your life ruined at your own hand if you’re partaking) the police have a legal duty to shit on your birthday party. The “no dancing” issue is bullshit. So they have a “cabaret” license instead of a “dancing place license.” Spend the extra bucks and get a great lawyer to handle the hassles, eh? Duuuh… I also firmly believe, with no proof whatsoever, that the business wasn’t operated the best — hey, they were punk rockers, right? All parties had bands they were in to worry about and probably day jobs in addition to the club biz. They got major rock and roll acts and did a lot of advertising. That gets expensive after a while, and you just can’t sell enough beer, maybe, to cover flying in West Coast old farts with their equipment. Regarding 4 and 5, a) I NEVER saw anyone get free beer; even with bar tickets someone has already paid in real money for the beer. b) The record companies pay for the guest listees ahead of time or they’re billed. Regardless, they’d make it back on beer sales. Besides, there were enough “sold out” shows that even I paid for (for the record, I paid to get into CIH about, oh, 60% of the time, but hey, I’m an important writer…).
Whew! That’s a mouthful! But that’s the reason for the show!
OK, starting off we had The Kowalskis. Used to be “Killer Kowalski,” but the old wrestler got a bug up his ass and said “cease and desist,” which the band did. Good girl-fronted poppy punk rock that’s mostly about boys and girls acting cutesy with each other. Awwwww.
Next up was the movie about “no dancing.” Well, I couldn’t hear much over the crowd, a pungent gathering of punks ranging in age from 18 to 90, but I recognized a few faces, though I don’t recall seeing any “stars” or notable punk rockers. Then again, I don’t “make the scene” and hang with the transvestite dancers or other freaks who seem to be prevented from dancing (???). Don Hill’s, located right on the southern border of Greenwich Village and TriBeCa on the West Side of Manhattan, is big enough for dancing, though, and there was plenty of it going on tonight.
The wait wasn’t too long for Bellvue to take the stage. This is Jesse (D-Generation) Malin’s new project with Daniel (Ramones producer) Rey. Good band they are, they play hard rock, punk rock, and lots of in-between. Now, to open their set, Jesse held up a novena candle to Joey Ramone and wished him well. Did he die, I wondered? I asked a guy next to me who was wearing a Ramones T-shirt. No, not yet• Scared me for a second• Oh, shit, WFMU’s Dave the Spazz is playing the opening from the Loco Live album as I write this• Sorry, Bellvue• At any rate, their set rocked and was loud.
Murphy’s Law was next. Looks like the only member I recognized was frontman Jimmy Gestapo• I’d seen Murphy’s Law at Coney Island High before, and they are responsible for extremely violent pits. Tonight was no exception. In between shots of whiskey, beer, and a lot of rope smoking, all on stage, they belted out flawless renditions of “Panty Raid,” “Bitter,” and “Quest For Herb.” They played a bunch more, but my mind is going• Actually, their set was pretty short, about half an hour. Jimmy’s voice is clear as ever, as is his hilarious in-between song banter.
OK, it’s getting really late (by now it’s past one AM). Who takes the stage? Some dudes I don’t recognize. Oh, it’s the Coney Island High bartenders reunion (rumored to include Joey’s brother, Jesse again, and Travis from The Dickies) and they did a fine rendition of The Ramones’ “I Remember You.” Whoa, bad omen. Man, this was a show you’d see Joey Ramone at, in the back talking to someone, just hanging out.
FINALLY, it’s The Dickies‘ turn. And it’s about 1:30 AM — early for them, I suppose• Nonetheless, it’s Leonard, Stan, and company. Wait a minute, Leonard’s got a problem with the sound people, they’re not ready. So he tells a joke:
“Lady walks into a Baskin-Robbins and orders a pint of chocolate, a pint of vanilla, and a pint of strawberry. The guy working the counter says, ‘um, we’re out of chocolate, what would you like instead?’ So the lady replies, ‘OK, I’ll have a pint of vanilla, a pint of strawberry, and a pint of chocolate.'”
“‘I just told you we’re out of chocolate.'”
“‘OK, I’ll just have a pint of strawberry, a pint of vanilla, and a pint of chocolate.'”
“‘Lady, can you spell the ‘van’ in vanilla?”
“‘Of course, v-a-n.'”
“‘Can you spell the ‘straw’ in strawberry?'”
“‘That’s easy, s-t-r-a-w.'”
“‘Can you spell the ‘fuck’ in chocolate?'”
“‘There’s no ‘fuck’ in chocolate!'”
“‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!!!'”
The crowd registered their amusement. Leonard is a champion bad joke teller, and in his gray stripped suit and matching watch cap, he took command of the stage, ordered the audience to make a noise that would introduce their first number, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space.” Wow! I’d never heard them do it live, so this was a treat. Also, the entire band was clearly very sober, and in good health, so the set would be great.
Now, it would have helped had I written down the set list, but I was introducing this hot Spanish babe who digs Viking guys to punk rock and had to pay more attention to her…
Right! They blasted out classic Dickies tunes like “Give It Back,” “Nights in White Satin,” “I’m OK, You’re OK,” “Paranoid” — yes, the Black Sabbath cover they’re so well known for, and a bit early in the set, which could only mean one thing: new songs…
They played “Manny, Moe, and Jack,” “Curb Job,” “You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla” (if I had to pick one Dickies song as a favorite, that would be it), and “Waterslide.” A very strange version of “Waterslide,” too. Oh, I’ve heard them play it live before, but not with Leonard wearing a mask, snorkel, and blow-up doll. The effect was devastating on my hot-blooded companion (well, you’re going to get scarred eventually, baby…). They’ve got a new album coming out (All This and Puppet Stew) so they had to play a couple of new songs, one being “Howdy Doody in the Woodshed” and “My Pop the Cat” — not really new, but it’s not been put on a full-length album before. Damn! I can’t remember what they played off Ijit Savant! The club DJ played “Golden Boys” earlier in the night, but what did they play??? Shoot! Maybe they were on crack• Then came “Tricia Toyota,” “I’ve Got a Splitting Headache,” and then Leonard said “this song is about my dick•” The crowd is thinking, of course, “Oh, they’re going to play ‘If Stuart Could Talk,’ and Leonard’s going to get out the talking dick puppet.” No, we were wrong. They did “Gigantor.” Hahahahaha!
As an encore, they spun through their too fast version of that “nobody can do the•” song and “Eve of Destruction.” I was bodily removed from the club afterwards, so I don’t know if they played “Banana Splits” as a second encore…
Did I say the show was great? Well it was!