The 10 best CBGBs shows of all time, as chosen by Prong's Tommy Victor
Prong's mainman Tommy Victor has spent the last 30+ years on the frontline of New York's heavy music scene. Here, he recounts the 10 best shows he ever witnessed at the legendary CBGBs
Prong frontman Tommy Victor chuckles as he reminisces on his time as sound engineer at the legendary – and now sadly defunct – New York music venue CBGBs. “You gotta understand, working there I didn’t have a stage manager, so I’d be there by myself, and I would have to walk through the crowd to get to the stage to set up the mics,” he tells Metal Hammer on a break from sound-checking in Germany, where he is on tour promoting Prong’s newest album, Zero Days.
“It was [always] just packed to the gills at CBs,” he continues. “I’d have to push my way through there, quickly set up the mics, then go back to the desk, put all my settings back and then pray to God that everything would work – because if a mic went down or something, I was fucked. There was no way I could get back up to the stage, because I’d get my ass kicked, y’know. We’d [just] hope everything would work.”
Having spent much of his adult life – and a good percentage of his teenage years – making or mixing music around CBGBs, it seemed only right to ask Tommy to give us a run-down of the best gigs he ever witnessed at the much-missed venue.
Damned/Dead Boys (April 1977)
“The very first one that comes to mind is The Damned and The Dead Boys, and I think that was probably 1977. It was the first time The Damned came to America as far as I know. We were waiting for them and they threw pies all over the place – it was a crazy show. I was hooked on The Damned and psychobilly and dyed black hair music after that. The Dead Boys I saw a couple times after that, but that show was really good.”
“I think it was in ‘82 when I first saw Swans – everyone was sort of like, vomiting afterwards. It was so loud and the low end – we’d just never heard anything like it. It was so dark, it was like nothing else I’d seen at that venue. I had a couple of other favourite artists in the Lower East Side – New York people – but I was sticking to CBs. A lot of groups did not play different clubs, so there was CBs bands, there was Max’s Kansas City bands, there was Great Gildersleeves bands. There was other scattered venues, but in that period either you played CBs or you played Max’s. The Dead Boys, Ramones were all CBs bands. So Swans was just like the very pummelling experience – and that was still before I worked there.”
Suicidal Tendencies (1984)
“This blew my mind – I went nuts on this show. That was sort of the beginning of hardcore – okay, this is something different, we knew punk rock but this different – a change; there was something new coming around. It was like crossover – they were almost like a metal band, but at the same time doing hardcore.”
The Ramones (1977)
“I think I was in maybe my first year of high school, and we’d get on the subway and wait on line for like three hours to get into CBs on the early Ramones show. I think the early show was like at 8 o’clock – they would play two sets a night – and we’d get to the 8 o’clock show and we’d wait on line for hours getting in there and they never carded us! We’d eventually go in there aged 13 and 14 and we’d be drinking rum and Cokes and shit, so it was pretty crazy. Several Ramones shows I went [to] there, and the thing I remember about it was this was before pogo dancing, and everyone was sitting down. They had tables and chairs, and there was girls sitting Indian style in the aisle there, and everyone was very polite – it was bizarre. It was almost that the hippy era was still prevalent.”
The Rollins Band (1987)
“When I started working [at CBGBs], I think one of the most memorable shows was the Rollins Band, and I mixed that show. I think that was like ‘87, when they first came in there. That was pretty crazy – I was always a big Black Flag fan, but then actually mixing Rollins was an honour.”
“I was a really, really big Big Black fan, and Rapeman came around, and being able to mix them was really cool. That was another band that was an honour to mix. I mixed so many groups there, because I worked the audition nights, and let’s put it this way: from 11 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday ‘til 4 o’clock in the morning I’d be at the club, because I’d work the hardcore matinee, and then they’d have these ridiculous audition nights. I was the one who’d be participating and rating the [auditioning] bands – and bands didn’t know that. So when they were assholes to me – even if they were good – I was like ‘fuck them’, and I wouldn’t pass them [laughs]. Or if they didn’t tip me – if they didn’t tip me money, I would not fucking pass them. That’s the kind of scumbag I was back then – if you threw me a 20, you passed. I mixed so many bands, but Rapeman was an honour.”
Living Colour (1980s)
"Living Colour were like the house band there for a while, they’d play every Wednesday for maybe three or four months. Everyone loved them, and they’d always draw tons of people, and Hilly, the Owner, loved them, and I loved them. I never mixed them, they had Judy Marinez, who was one of the other sound people at CBs, she would always mix them, even though I would work that night. Even though I was friends with Vernon he never trusted me to mix them and he was probably smart. I never really knew what the fuck I was doing half the time."
Soundgarden (CMJ Showcase, July 1988)
“You know who else I mixed? Soundgarden. They did this CMJ festival, and it was – God, I can’t remember who it was – but it was all SST bands... so I think it was Lawndale and Soundgarden and maybe... Das Damen was headlining? I mean, they [Das Damen] never really went anywhere, but I did mix Soundgarden there. And that was crazy – that was before Louder Than Love and Supernormal – when they were sort of an alternative rock band, before they became a radio band. I was more into them then, so that was another really good one.”
Dark Angel (1987)
“Every once in a while [CBGBs] did a metal thing. I believe it was Death, Dark Angel and Possessed [who] played the same Combat Records day at CBs. You can imagine how crazy that was. That was very memorable, because no one heard anything like [Dark Angel drummer] Gene Hoglan before, and I love Dark Angel anyhow, but thrash and death metal was something new. Holy shit, we’d never heard a drummer like this guy before, ever – no one ever did. Those were the records we were waiting [on] for these bands to come around, so that was very exciting. And then for me to be behind the board was even more crazy – I mean, was nervous as all fuck, as usual.”
“This was one of the first weird bands I was into, and they were essentially a Max’s Kansas City band, I would go see them there, and then Max’s was long gone and Hilly was like ‘I’m having Suicide in here’. Alan Vega and Martin Rev – these are like New York icons, when they came back together that was a totally mind-blowing experience for me, was being behind the desk for Suicide.”
Prong's latest album, Zero Days, is available now via Steamhammer/SPV