The Star Spangles
The River City Rebels
Forget watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square. Forget visiting the massive Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Forget dodging thousands of drunken tourists as they stagger around Gotham’s streets in gaudy, plastic, holiday hats. The real New Year’s Eve action was on the Lower East Side, tucked away on a small stage in the rear of a famously grimy club.
Perhaps it was the un-seasonably balmy weather; perhaps it was merely a band in its element and hitting on all cylinders. Whatever the case, the wondrous Star Spangles headlined the legendary CBGBs and proved that they are still the best act around still consistently overlooked by the mainstream.
There is no accounting for taste in the fickle world of music, thus the Spangles continue to play and tour under the critics’ radar. Such a trajectory seems somehow fitting, as the band proudly walks in the shadow of their Bowery brethren, the criminally underappreciated Ramones. The Spangles are a damn fine outfit, but it is the organic nature of their music that makes them so appealing: They are unapologetically New York in the classic mold of Joey, Johnny, Marky, Dee Dee, Patti Smith, and Deborah Harry. They are the new Popes of Greenwich Village and CBGBs is their Vatican.
Scheduled to take the stage mere seconds before the witching hour, the Spangles relaxed while the crowd was warmed up by the fascinatingly perverse River City Rebels. Sinking sleazy multi-instrumentation to a new low, this filthy septet was the perfect throwback opener. Somewhere Johnny Thunders and G.G. Allin were affectionately pissing and puking on each other in honor of the Rebels’ commitment to debauched noise.
In any decidedly more upscale club, these semen-stained cretins would have been soundly thrashed, but not in CBGBs. Early arrivals were returned three decades to the club’s mid ‘70s heyday, as the Rebels’ strutted and spewed their way through an energized set of brass and balls. For this true New York born-and-bred concert goer/music journalist/bon vivant, the Rebels represent a musical era gone and nearly forgotten, one characterized by cheap sex, cheaper drugs, and not giving a fuck about offending anyone’s sensibilities. Ah, the good old days
As oddly romantic a vision that the Rebels cast, this New Year’s Eve was all about the return of the Star Spangles, though the endearing pop urchins had really never gone anywhere. Taking the stage in good spirits (no doubt after consuming good spirits) the band closed out 2004 with a set of favorites interspersed with fresh album material in the works for an early 2005 release. The show served as another opportunity for the band to plug in and play, but also as a symbolic moment. Still riding the wave from their stellar debut Bazooka, the Spangles unfurled their catchiest of hooks to the delight of everyone.
“Out with the old and in with new,” as Ian Wilson sang with authority, while Tommy Volume jumped, jived, and power chorded his way through each song with bassist Nick Price and drummer Joey Valentine following close behind.
As the Spangles concluded their forty-odd minutes of exuberance, they vowed to return after a short break for a bit of free-form spontaneity. And that they did, treating stragglers to ragged versions of “Chinese Rock” and “53rd and 3rd” before the impromptu encore set degenerated into an extended and inebriated tuning session. By that point however, no one cared; the night was still young, with a lingering hint of continued celebration.
The remaining attendees gradually filtered out into the crisp morning air, as the streets were still crowded with other travelers of the night, enjoying the waning moments of the evening’s festivities. The sidewalks were littered with colored streamers and crushed beer cups, splatters of vomit, heavy-lidded revelers urinating on parked cars and passed out partygoers; if the setting had been indoors, it could have easily been CBGBs circa 1975, with the Star Spangles providing the soundtrack by firing up a crude version of “Auld Lang Syne.”