It wasn’t as early to the party as Max’s Kansas City, CBGB or Coventry, but Hurrah on West 62nd St. was the first big-time venue for punk and New Wave on New York’s Upper West Side.
Hurrah was open from 1976 to 1981. For the last two years, it benefited from the talents of legendary New York booking agent Ruth Polsky, who shook up the scene before her death on the steps of New York’s Limelight club at age 32. Polsky’s connections to emerging acts in the U.K. added another dimension to a club that already featured up-and-comers from Los Angeles, Boston and other domestic sources.
Five years was all it got … But along the way, Hurrah featured a dazzling array of local acts and out-of-towners and earned more than its share of notoriety.
At a Skafish show on Dec. 5, 1978, Sid Vicious (already on bail for the murder of Nancy Spungen) assaulted Todd Smith (brother of Patti), for which he was arrested a few days later. Like many other U.K. bands, Joy Division was scheduled to make its U.S. debut May 21-23, 1980, at Hurrah before singer Ian Curtis’ suicide May 18.
For a tasting menu of the talent that played Hurrah, you can’t do better than these five outstanding performances recorded for posterity.
With a performance history that stretched from 1973 to about 1984, The Fast were among the most enduring of the first wave of New York punk bands — seminal but largely overlooked by mainstream rock history.
Now Rossi is combining his professional passions with a film project aimed at documenting and celebrating the bands, street artists and poets of New York’s protopunk scene. (The working title is You’re In or You’re Out/Urine or UR Out.) Rossi describes the style — which is in pre-production through his company Tantamount Productions — as “cinéma vérité meets ‘The Last Waltz,’ and he’s networking with his contemporaries and other fans to raise the money to bring the project to a screen near you. (As actor and veteran New York musician Fenton Lawless remarked in a Facebook discussion, the project is “what Vinyl promised but failed sooo miserably. … It needed a Peter Rossi.”)
While many bands that powered the scene have expressed excitement about gathering for a live event 40 years later, Rossi emphasizes that he’s not looking to document a reunion that simply retreads the participants’ back catalogs. “This is about catching up with the artists who still have the fire in their souls,” he says.
Rossi is rallying some of the top acts of the era to top the bill again and demonstrate the chemistry that made New York a catalyst for a new generation of music.
“The Ramones all originated from Forest Hills [Queens,] and kids who grew up there either became musicians, degenerates or dentists,” Tommy Ramone wrote in an early press release. “The Ramones are a little of each. Their sound is not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar.”
Sure, Queens has never had the cachet of Manhattan or Brooklyn, but the borough’s role in promoting New York musicians shouldn’t be overlooked. Consider Coventry in Sunnyside, Queens: The erstwhile Popcorn Pub changed its name at the end of January 1973 — the same weekend it hosted KISS’ first-ever gigs — and went on to feature an eclectic assortment of musical acts.
“It was a big club, around 5,000 square feet, and it held around 700 people,” recalled owner Paul Sub in Ken Sharp’s Dressed to Kill. “Everyone from KISS, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Blondie, Sam & Dave, The Dictators, and Elephant’s Memory played there. I’d put on 10 acts a week, both local and national. The only act we turned down, because we didn’t want to spend $300, was Aerosmith (laughs). The New York Dolls were really the ones that kept Coventry going. They played once a month, and whenever they played, 700 people would show up. They had the main following of all the bands who played there.”
According to Dictators bassist Andy Shernoff, “The Coventry was one of the glitter-rock places in New York, and if you were doing original music, that was the ONLY place to play. If you were a cover band, you could play anywhere; that’s what people wanted to see.”
Many of the up-and-coming local acts to visit Coventry are now more closely associated with Manhattan clubs like Max’s Kansas City; the Mercer Arts Center; and CBGB, which would open later that year. (Before he switched noms de punk, Joey Ramone played at Coventry often as “Jeff Starship” with his first band, Sniper.) Others aren’t so well remembered, but they’re worth more than a casual listen. Here are five bands that played Coventry and you should know about: Continue reading “Between KISS and the Ramones: Coventry and 5 bands you should know about”