“Anyone who has a problem with GWAR realizes pretty quickly it’s like getting angry about The Simpsons.”
Descendents/Fright Wig – August 4, 1985
Milo Aukerman (Descendents vocalist): City Gardens was a very distinctive club, and we always looked forward to playing there. If nothing else, any tour we were on, we could always count on having a show there. Places like Philly, every time we would roll through there would be some new club. It would be something pulled together for a short time, and then a month later the club would be gone. There was never like a stable venue in that area except for City Gardens. Even in New York we would play a whole bunch of different places, but City Gardens was always there. I guess that’s why people remember it so fondly. ’85 was the first tour we had ever done in the U.S., and it was pretty dicey, in terms of booking shows and keeping cancellations from happening. [Drummer] Bill Stevenson was doing the booking, and he had learned the ropes from Black Flag. Black Flag set the standard for where you would play, what cities were cool, who the booking agents were, what clubs you would be able to play, and so on. We would go out, probably for two months, and try to hit the whole U.S. We were always guaranteed a good booking at City Gardens from Randy.
We would tour, go back home and try to regain our sanity, and then we’d go back out. We were in a tiny little van, doing all the driving ourselves, and usually sleeping on top of all of the amps that were stacked up in the back of the van. We had this platform that we built above the amps that we called “the stack,” and that was where we all slept. It was about a foot below the ceiling of the van. You kind of wriggled back into that and tried to get some sleep. I’m kind of a light sleeper, and I would be back in the van, thinking, “I really need to sleep, but I can’t sleep because I’m waiting for this van to flip over.” You figure if that van flipped over, you’re on the bottom, and what’s on top of you is several hundred pounds of equipment, which is kind of scary. I would try not to think about it. Between that and the fact that there was no air conditioning. We had one of these old vans with AC in the front, but that AC was not filtering to the back. I would open up the side window to get some air, but that just happened to be right next to the exhaust. So, it was this trade-off, like, “I’m dying back here, I need some air,” and then you open the window and go, “Okay, now I’m going to die for a different reason. I’m going to die from carbon monoxide poisoning.” It was always fun to make that decision: I need some air, but I may die of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m just going to take that chance. We had another van with a vent on top, and that was better because it wasn’t near the exhaust, so you could get some air through that. However, we sheared off that vent when we drove through the Chicago airport one year. We had to duct-tape the hole, and it became a non-functional vent. Those first vans were crazy, little death traps that, luckily, we never died in.
24-7 Spyz/Vision/Killing Time/Shades Apart – July 30, 1989
Dave Franklin (Vision, vocalist): In ’89 we had booked our In the Blink of an Eye tour. Johnny Stiff from New York City, who used to do all the punk and hardcore tours, was booking everybody. Our tour, Insted, Underdog… everybody’s tours were falling apart. Back then there was no internet and there were no cell phones. He booked everything in all these different venues and got in way over his head, and tours just collapsed all over the place. He booked the In the Blink of an Eye tour, so we made all of our “Tour ‘89” shirts and stuff. We printed twelve dozen of them for the entire tour.
A week before the tour was supposed to start, we played City Gardens. We set up the merchandise. The line came in the door, and went right to the Vision t shirts. We sold every shirt we had. We could have sold more. 144 shirts, gone. Then the show went off and it was absolute, total chaos. The 24-7 Spyz guys, who we had never met before, were up on the side of the stage when we played. They were like “HOLY SHIT, THESE GUYS ARE AWESOME!!!” Even the Killing Time guys were like, “That’s it, man, you guys got it. You’ve got 900 kids here going nuts.” Today, if you are a band that is touring and bringing 900 kids to a venue…you’re a huge band. You’re doing it, you’re making a living off it. Back then it was impossible because City Gardens was the only place that big that did those kinds of shows. The old Ritz was too big. You had to be the Bad Brains or the Cro-Mags to sell out those shows.
Pete Tabbot (Vision, guitarist): We had just committed to our first full-length tour, supporting our first album, which was to last most of the summer. We had a terrific buzz going and were psyched to tour the entire country, and we had made plans accordingly. We also invested all the money we could scramble into a summer’s worth of merchandise for the tour. Johnny Stiff, who was booking the tour, resigned, so we were left with just two shows. We played City Gardens around the time we had planned on leaving for our tour, and we completely sold out of merchandise.
It was kind of mind-boggling, actually, and it took a bit of the sting out of not only losing our first national tour, but also spending any money we had to promote the tour. We had a great show, but what I probably remember most was how absolutely sick 24-7 Spyz were live. The Spyz guys were completely off the hook, hanging from the rafters and slaying the club. What great performers and musicians. Our set was similarly chaotic, and Killing Time was amazing, too. All in all, this one amazing City Gardens show was somehow enough to console four 19- and 20-year-old kids who had put their entire summer, school, and jobs on hold to tour, only to have it fall apart. But good shows at City Gardens had that effect and potential. If you played or attended an epic show there, and I was lucky enough to do both numerous times, you tended to forget that the outside world existed, at least for a while.
Minutemen/Krank – July 25, 1984
Mike Watt (Minutemen bassist): When we started going to punk shows, I said to [Minutemen guitarist] D. Boon, “We can do this.” I never said that when I went to an arena rock show. Those people seemed like the anointed ones from Mt. Olympus. But punk shows were empowering. The idea of playing outside your town was insane for us. We thought it was just an incredible opportunity and a miracle it was happening. As far as the scene went, a big factor was the fanzines, and when you went out on tour you would actually meet these people. The old days were a lot about people. Touring was pretty much do-it-yourself. Punk in the U.S. was very small for a long time, until hardcore, and even the beginning of hardcore was small. For a lot of towns Black Flag would be the only punk band that came around. The idea that anybody can start a band, do a fanzine, do a label, put on gigs… I think that’s great. Really not about a style of music, hardcore did generate an orthodoxy with its sound, but it’s more about going for it and not having a gatekeeper get in the way of you trying to channel your energy and let loose your expression.
On some tours, it was ten of us in one van! Minutemen and Black Flag in one van, pulling shit in a trailer. We got a couple of boards in there to build bunks, and there were layers of people. I was so far up that my nose was only inches from the roof. I couldn’t even read because I couldn’t get my arms up to look at a book, so I would have to lie there. Also, because of the situation, we couldn’t always tour in a logical sequence. Sometimes you would have to double back, depending on the opportunities to play. So, there were major hell rides. Sometimes you would have to leave right after playing to make it to the sound check at the next gig. But it was all worth it. Those things were minor compared to not getting to play for people in other towns. It’s not just about you bringing your music to other towns, it’s about you going to those towns and learning about why all those places were there. For Black Flag, [guitarist] Greg Ginn was into ham radio, so he knew about people in other towns and thought — tour! Don’t keep it in town, take it to other towns. So, that was a whole other experience, and we got into it pretty heavy. Black Flag seemed very industrious and motivated, and I liked that. Those people were from very different backgrounds than us, but they impressed us. This whole idea of taking stuff into your own hands… we never thought it was possible, coming from an arena-rock world. They taught us so much. It was harder for us to tour than it was for Black Flag, since we all worked, and it was tough getting time off. I was a paralegal, I worked at SST, and I was a pot-and-pan boy. Me and D. Boon worked at Jack in the Box for $1.65 an hour. I was a parking-lot man. Even though I got a college degree, I had to take lower-paying econo jobs to be more flexible with my time.
The first couple years we were into punk, we wore regular clothes. We tried the punk clothes that we painted on, and we got so much shit that we went back to high-school clothes. I can’t imagine going to high school back then as a punk. You had a scene that didn’t have rules and allowed everybody, and some people aren’t that together. I was never into the fighting. But I live in [San Pedro], a harbor town, and there was fighting there way before there was punk. There was time in the ‘40s when [San] Pedro was the murder capital of the U.S. Most people are longshoremen, and you have a lot of transients. So, when there was fighting at gigs, it was not new to me. We loved every gig we got to play. And D. Boon would say, “Every pad has got something to teach us.” I’ve been doing diaries for the last ten years, but I should have been doing it back then. Maybe then I’d know the lesson of City Gardens. I’m just glad there was a place for us to play, and a scene that was kept alive. Every pad was up against a lot of adversarial conditions, and they were true troopers. It wasn’t that popular of a scene, and people had to really love it. And it built in them some self-reliance, more so than if things were easier. There was a lot of individuality. It empowered you to try to be yourself, not a Ken doll or a G.I. Joe doll.
The internet is an extension of fanzine culture. It’s a different delivery method, but the ethic is the same: creating parallel universes. I remember in the ‘70s, with CB radios, people were like that, fake names and stuff. So, the mechanics change, but I wonder if the basic way humans operate changes. Other people are sort of doing the same thing you’re doing, so you should be allies, but everything is fraught with dangling duality. The Minutemen were notorious for fighting with each other, but it was kind of a vetting. It’s just part of the human experience.
The following excerpt is taken from “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens” by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico
Bad Religion/ALL/Vision/Shades Apart – June 29, 1990
Dave Franklin (Vision, vocals): Shades Apart opened up, then we went on, then ALL, and then Bad Religion. The night before Shades Apart opened for Bad Religion at the [punk club] Anthrax in Connecticut. I went up with the Shades Apart guys to see Bad Religion, and there were maybe 150 people there, 200 tops. I was hanging out talking to [Bad Religion’s] Brett Gurewitz and Greg Hetson, and they were both like, “Man, I thought we were a little bit bigger on the East Coast.” And I was like, “This is kind of a weird place.” I mean, it was a great place to play—totally cool people—but was hit-or-miss. I said, “Tomorrow night in Trenton, at City Gardens, the show is going to be off the charts.” When the next night came and we pulled into City Gardens, there was already a line around the building. Then the Bad Religion guys pulled up in their van. The first thing Brett said to me was, “You weren’t kidding!” The place was already sold out.
Peter Tabbot (Vision, guitar): This was another amazing City Gardens show. Bad Religion are/were…well…BAD RELIGION. One of my favorite bands, and we were all so psyched to share a stage with them in Trenton. They had pretty much come back from the dead just a couple of years before with the release of Suffer and No Control. This may have been their Against the Grain tour, and they had totally reestablished themselves as the smartest, best punk-rock band around. ALL just had a release or two out at the time, I think, and they were still kind of riding the coattails of The Descendents popularity while generating their own fan base with their kind of prog-punk melodic style. But they were definitely a good draw on their own. With us and Shades Apart, even though we were local bands, we both had a significant following. The show was packed. I would never, ever throw my band into a conversation about the great shows you would catch routinely at City Gardens, but objectively, it was a pretty good bill in 1990. It was typical of what Randy would do: four bands, each of whom has a significant audience psyched to see them for $7 or $8. Randy would put that together every single weekend, for seemingly years on end. You’d get two, three, or even four national touring acts on the same bill, and then the next night you’d get another fantastic show. Maybe it would be hardcore/metal one night, and then punk/indie the next night, but always amazing shows for just a few bucks. What I remember most about shows like this Bad Religion show at City Gardens [is that] you knew a fair number of the people. And you often went to whatever shows were happening on the weekend, even if it wasn’t a band or style that you closely identified with. A place where you knew the bouncers and the bartenders. I would imagine that this happened, to a lesser degree, at places like CBGB or The Ritz in New York, but those places didn’t have that same feeling. As large as City Gardens was, and as many people as you’d see there for bigger shows, it always felt like someone was having a great show in your backyard. That is, if your backyard happened to be the bowels of Trenton. This show is a really good example of Randy pairing great national acts with some pretty decent local bands.
Scott Reynolds (ALL, vocals): I remember the stage smelled like puke all the time. We’d come in and load in and every time we’d be like, “God, it smells like puke up here!” I mean it was really, really strong. It was really gross, and you could smell it while you were playing. It was part of the charm, I guess.
Dave Franklin: That was a great show. I recall I was in back bar and the Shades Apart had just finished. The crew was setting up Vision’s equipment, and [Vision bassist] Kevin was there with his brother and a bunch of other people I knew. I wasn’t in the conversation, but I was probably three or four people away from the conversation, and I could hear Kevin saying, “Wait ‘til Vision goes on, this place is gonna’ go CRAZY!” And sure enough, we went on and the place just went absolutely crazy. Blink of an Eye was out, and we were already like the house band. Everybody knew our songs and went nuts! Bad Religion and ALL were amazed by the crowd.
Scott Reynolds: That was always one of my favorite places to play. We had big shows there.
Jeremy Weiss (City Gardens regular): The show was sold out. This is a true story: I was a very resourceful kid. I knew how [clubs] worked because I’d started booking shows, and I knew back then that bouncers would just as soon check IDs at the local bars as they would at City Gardens. I also knew they were susceptible to bribes. So, I walked around the back, I knocked on the door, and this towering individual popped his head out and said, “What?” I said, “I’ll give you $100 to let us in.” He didn’t say one word, nodded, put his hand out. I gave him $100 and me and four of my friends jetted right into the show while 275 other people stood out front, bummed out. We got into that show and were completely blown away. It was so packed that it was raining inside the club.
Scott Foster (1124 Records): I caught just about every ALL show that came through there. They were one of my favorites. That night we were waiting in line outside, and I saw some guys playing catch with a baseball. One of the guys missed it and the ball rolled over to me, so I picked it up, and, when I went to give it back to him, I realized it was [ALL’s] Karl [Alvarez] and Scott [Reynolds] playing catch. Karl said, “You wanna take over for a second?” and he gave me his glove. I played catch with Scott Reynolds for ten minutes while Karl did something else.
Pat Baker (Mouthpiece/The Semibeings): This was my first time on that stage, and it is something I’ll never forget. To be able to play at the place I idolized was incredible. I think I was 16 years old, and that was odd in itself.
Tim McMahon (Mouthpiece, vocals): We had played with Insted in Reading at the Unisound, and somehow we got on the bill at City Gardens. Randy reached out and asked us if we wanted to open the show. We were floored. It all came full circle. You start thinking about the very first time you did a stage dive there, whether it was legal or not. You start thinking about all this stuff like, holy shit. I’m going to play City Gardens. I had only been going to shows there like three or four years, but it seemed like an eternity. 1987 shows seemed completely different from 1990 shows. Totally different crowd, totally different feeling… it could have been a whole different club. Those early shows I went to seemed so dark and heavy and punk. [Later], the scene looked different. You went from punk rockers to kids who were clean-cut looking. By 1990, it seemed my whole high school knew about City Gardens. Kids who weren’t into punk or hardcore were going to shows at City Gardens because it was close and because it was the place to go.
Jeff “Stress” Davis (Suburban Hoodz): I got jumped, and I got suckerpunched. My buddy, Jay Kilroy, was on the corner side, near the bathrooms, and I was walking toward him. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, but when I turned around, no one was there. I kept walking. Someone shoved me from behind, and when I turned around he fucking decked me. BLAM! He split my lip open. I was so dazed, but I put my hands up to go at it. The security guard came out of nowhere and completely fucked this dude up. It ended up being someone from Vision’s squad who jumped me. They said I went up to two of his girl pals and said, “What’s up?” and punched them in the face. I said, “What are you talking about?” That never happened! It was crazy. They stitched my lip up with no anesthesia, and the douchebag doctor shaved the left half of my mustache off and left the right side on! I think he did it on purpose.
Dave Franklin (Vision, vocals): Insted was out here on tour, and the only way that Randy would let them play was if Vision played with them. This is another funny one. After our bass player Ivo—who had been banned for life from City Gardens—was allowed back into the venue to play and see shows, there was a Circle Jerks show. There was a big pit in the front and a smaller pit in the back, by the bar. The place was packed. Some dude was at the edge of the second pit acting like a retard, running into people and not really dancing or anything. He ran into Ivo, who pushed him away, no problem. He runs into Ivo a second time, and Ivo again pushes him away. Third time he comes around, and Ivo drops him. I watched Ivo nail the dude. He was out cold, nose broken, the whole deal. Sure enough, Ivo was banned again. By that time we had turned Vision into a five-piece. We added an extra guitar player, and, because of that incident, Vin had to play bass. Ivo couldn’t play this show, but we already had it booked. We played a a four-piece that night.
Tim McMahon: I remember thinking, my God, this is it! We have reached our goal and this is the greatest thing ever! I’m up here and the giant City Gardens stage is ALL MINE! I had watched so many bands play on that stage, and I’d be thinking to myself while I’m watching, dude, why isn’t that singer jumping off of that drum riser? Now I’m the guy up there, and I’m going go off. In your mind, you kind of invent what the perfect show is going to be: the band is going crazy, the crowd is singing along, diving, and going crazy. You’ve seen videos of it happening and you want to see it happen while you’re there. I’m up on that stage and I’m thinking I’m just going to go fucking nuts. I’m gonna jump around every chance I get. I’m gonna run all over the place. I’m gonna dive off into the crowd… Oh, and I guess I’m gonna sing a little bit, too… There were no drugs that could make me feel any higher than I was going to feel on that day, on that stage, playing this place where I saw my first shows and where I saw so many great bands.
Dave Franklin: That one really stands out in my mind. I pulled up in the parking lot and saw Lou and Pete Koller from Sick of It All. I was really good friends with those guys, but I didn’t know they were coming to the show. They came all the way from Queens and I asked them what they were doing. I thought they came because Insted was in town. They didn’t even know those guys. They had actually come to see us!
Tim McMahon: I think we had a pretty good show. At the end of the set, our drummer kicked his kit over. We knocked over the guitars, threw them down, and let them feedback. My thing was, at the end of the shows, I would always dive into the crowd. The guitars are ringing, the drums are knocked over, and I’m gonna do a flip into the crowd. The one security guy, Judd, was standing there yelling, “Man, you fucking guys are never playing here again!” I remember hearing that as I’m up on top of the crowd, and I’m just like, “Fuck yeah! We just did it! We just played City Gardens!” That’s how we ended our set. The crowd put me down on the floor and I just walked up, went back up to the dressing room, and that was it.
Dave Franklin: So, when we played, the place went so crazy that Lou and Pete were up on the stage to keep people from smashing up the gear. By that time, Randy had given in and was letting people get on stage. In fact—and I don’t remember if it was this particular show or not— but at one show we cut our set short for some reason, and everybody was like “You gotta’ finish!” We hadn’t played “Falling Apart” yet, and the place was going nuts, chanting for us and everything. So, we start playing it and everybody piles on the stage. Randy was so pissed he came up on stage and pulled the cords out of our amplifiers. He unplugged everybody so it was just the drummer playing the song. It didn’t matter, everybody in the crowd sang along until the song was done! We pissed Randy off many times.
“Punk was standing up against the stage, standing within the splash zone, catching stage divers, stage diving and hoping to get caught, listening to exciting, energetic, emotional, so-real-it-was-almost-insane music being played by exciting, energetic, emotional, so-real-they-were-almost-insane musicians in small rooms like CBGB’s, A7, and Maxwell’s in Hoboken. A bad show just wasn’t possible.”