With the closure of its endearingly tacky Bowery digs imminent, for the past month New York City's legendary music club CBGB has been throwing itself a sendoff worthy of its 30-plus year history. That's a lot of beers drunk, glass broken, noses split and toilet bowls missed. But you can bet that, if the rumors prove true and owner Hilly Kristal does open a version of the club in Las Vegas, he'll spend whatever is necessary to get the urine stink right. In the meantime, the creaky Bowery joint has enjoyed farewell sets from Bad Brains, the Dictators and Patti Smith, as well as our own Hard Lessons, who brought their youthful, maximum R&B fervor to the stage Oct. 4. New York City gal and Metro Times contributor Stacey K. Anderson was there to chronicle both the milk and the sugar. Johnny Loftus, music editor
Detroit? Sorry, never been there. I imagine it's a magical, overcast place where everyone grouses about the auto industry, apologizes for Michael Moore and tolerates Canadians for drug-related purposes. So, when your prodigal children the Hard Lessons stopped by CBGB in New York City, not only was it an opportunity for me to check in on how the Midwest scene is breathing, but the trio's visit offered a way to mourn the Oct. 15 shuttering of America's Punk Parthenon in the best way possible: loudly.
Thank Christ the Hard Lessons were there before CBGB closed its filthy doors. Their show captured everything I'd assumed about the Detroit scene pinwheeling vivacity, earsplitting feedback, palpable sweat (and, of course, stealing beer from the audience), but there was also some sweetness for the moment at hand. As vocalist and guitarist Augie Visocchi lauded the club's history and grew increasingly sentimental, his hard-hitting trio knew where they were as much as the adoring audience knew where the Hard Lessons were going.
The energy exploded from the beginning. As they sped unannounced into "Carey Says (Alright!)," the sound was cavernous, enormous, like an angry slap that never stopped. Singer-keyboardist Koko Louise Cox flashed imperial Debbie Harry glares into the crowd (in stripes and leggings, she carried the part), and Visocchi flung his frame around the diamond-shaped stage in the frenetic way you've all become used to. The pauses and attacks were startling and precise; in one case, they made a hipster drop his Rolling Rock and squeal with impressive zeal. A similar effect hit the room during the twangy "Move to California," as Cox and Visocchi upped the tension in each stanza and leered at each other with crackling appetite. (Obviously enamored, Visocchi announced his lady to the audience four times, himself and drummer the Anvil only once.)
But it took one prophetic moment to assert the Hard Lessons' antics as sincere, not just flashy. Midway though their set, as the pace was simmering into the syncopated power-ballad build of "I Bleed," Visocchi blurted, "I'll never be in this place again." Darting to the nearest wall, he hugged it in a full-body embrace, dislodging brittle stickers and flyers with the force of his love. "I suggest you do the same," he chirped, and then leaped through the air almost violently, like a spider monkey catching hold of the rafters. He completed the song from up there, swaying manically above the densely packed crowd as they reflected back on him with awed and maybe tearful eyes.
The Hard Lessons closed with their raucous cover of "Out of the Blue," which Visocchi sent out raggedly to the stage's past performers and grizzled old Hilly Kristal. After their theatrics, the group's delivery of the line "rock and roll is here to stay" had to be believed. CBGB may change locations, but it won't go anywhere if promising bands like this keep appearing, inspired by the collective force of its past.
This is Detroit? I'll take it.Stacey K. Anderson is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]