Opened in 1991, the Continental, located in New York City’s East Village, was founded with the intent to provide a new dive venue where New York’s young punk bands could cut their teeth. At the same time it would benefit from becoming part of the self-sustaining machine of the New York music scene. The club has been, putting it mildly, a success. It has become its own rock scene—a CBGBs of its time.
This is in no small part due to the late Joey Ramone. He lived only a block from the Continental and the club was a favorite hangout of his. He could often be seen at the bar, sometimes as a patron, sometimes as a performer. Others who have performed on the Continental stage include, Dee Dee Ramone (who appears on both Volume 1 and Volume 2 alongside Marky Ramone in the Ramainz), Iggy Pop and other punk and rock legends.
The owner and much of the club’s staff were all in bands at one time and took every necessary step to ensure that the club would be outfitted with the equipment necessary to make bands want to play there and fans want to attend. The result comes through on the compilations, which resound with impressive clarity. Primarily recorded over a week in October of 1999 using the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Recording Unit, what is captured here is meant to be a snap shot of a particularly special time at the Continental; a time made bittersweet by the passing of both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone.
The two volumes include a number of valuable recordings. The Bellvue performances with Jesse Malin are impressive live gems, although Malin sounds even more like Ryan Adams then he does on his solo record. On Volume 1, Lunachicks deliver a great rendition of “Cross My Heart,” that seethes with dark sexuality amidst driving guitars. Volume 2 boasts Joey Ramone performing “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the grooving “Annie” performed by Simi.
But as is the case with most things punk, some of it falls significantly short of good. Here, Sea Monster’s performance of “Psychotronic Roller Boogie Disco Queen Sock it to Me” takes the cake. It sounds like an experiment of acid rock and middle school hormones gone seriously awry. Yet good, bad or indifferent, all of the performances are a celebration of New York’s punk scene. Bands constantly acknowledge one another and banter with the crowd throughout the performances. Not to mention the fury and intensity of the performances comes across as well as punk can translate from the stage to the recorded medium.
Volume 1 and Volume 2 boast 46 songs combined, while many of the performances are from the same artists. With so many acts appearing more than once, the recordings feel as much like historical documents as albums. They capture the bands and club patrons in all of their drunken, rowdy splendor.
In a time when rock clubs are failing or being shut down faster than they can be reopened, clubs like the Continental are becoming more and more important. They are beacons of hope for potential venue owners and live music fans. In the case of Continental, the club’s owners, fans and visiting bands have successfully transformed a dive bar into a central hub for New York’s punk scene and in the process have shown that the tide of local music can sustain itself.