“The shows were intense and always, always super-hot. We always made them turn the air conditioning off. That’s just our way. You’ve got to sweat. Those shows were high-compression gigs… if you were in there, you were working with us.”
Bad Brains/Leeway – August 6th, 1989
Rob Vitale (Black Train Jack): Leeway had played CBGB and the next show was at City Gardens. [Leeway’s] Eddie came out with this sign that said, “Trenton or Bust.” And then the Bad Brains come on and out comes [Bad Brains frontman] HR with the same sign: Trenton or Bust.
Steven DiLodovico (author): Hottest show ever. EVER. To this day people still talk about how goddamn hot that show was.
Jamie Davis (City Gardens regular): Bad Brains only played about five songs because the power kept going out. It was so hot in there that the power would blow out. Leeway was amazing. The best part about Leeway was that the bouncers were all outside and everyone realized it, and everyone was stagediving like crazy through the whole Leeway set. There were so many people outside trying to get in, so that’s where all the bouncers were. Everyone was going nuts. Leeway blew them away, anyway. The Bad Brains came on late, played, like, two songs, said it was too hot, and stopped.
Rich O’Brien: Dag Nasty cancelled because they wanted to play last. And for a lot of the audience, I think this was their first “punk” show. At least that’s how they acted.
Dave Smalley (Dag Nasty, vocalist): That sounds like a good show. I think what happened is that I quit in the beginning of July. The big tour was going to be that summer, but then I quit. I remember one of my regrets was missing that tour. I think that was Dag’s first tour with Pete Cortner singing. I remember hearing that Pete caught some grief because the album had just come out and all these people were like, “We really like this record.” But then the audience got somebody else singing! That’s not a diss on Pete; it’s just one of those things. I think he was having a bit of a hard time with it at first because some people were not particularly kind.
Jim Norton (City Gardens stage manager/security): I started to show up to the club early. If doors were open at six o’clock, I would get there an hour or two earlier to help the bands load in. I did it because it was punk rock, and who doesn’t want to hang out with Dag Nasty? Since you’d get thrown out for stagediving, what would people do? Well, you wait until the encore and then you go nuts. Now, bouncers are stupid, but they’re not that stupid. They’re not so stupid that they don’t see it coming. I have to say I always hoped that a band wouldn’t take an encore, that they would say, “Encores are for wussies, so we’re not doing it!” But they always did it. The Descendents did it, and by the end of their encore I was carting people out three at a time. I grabbed two kids in each arm and scooped them around with a third kid in the middle, pushing all four of us to the door. I did that a couple of times. Now, that says a lot about the generally friendly nature of the City Gardens patron, when you consider it. It was like, “Okay, I’m getting thrown out. It’s just part of the game.” For us it was like, “Yeah, I’m doing my job. I’m the bouncer and I’m throwing you out because you know you did something you weren’t supposed to do. But if the three of you did not want to be thrown out…” I’m not that big of a guy. You did not all have to be thrown out. That was, to me, the hallmark of my time there, at least from a security perspective: a very friendly, collegial vibe. This week I can throw someone out for diving, and next week I see him and shake his hand. Now, that may not have been everybody’s take on it, but it was mine. To this day, years and years later, I’ll run into people who’ll say, “Hey, you’re that guy from City Gardens. Dude, you totally threw me out for stagediving!” And I’ll be like, “Well, was I nice about it?” They always say, “Oh yeah, totally. It was cool.”
Jeff Weigand (Volcano Suns bassist): I really have no idea why they put us on the bill. I think sometimes the promoter would be a big fan and would want to see us, so he would add us to the line-up. That show was pretty intense. It was a big crowd of skinheads and hardcore guys up front, with lots of repressed homosexuality and groupthink... It was that whole “safety in numbers” thing I hated about hardcore. Anything slightly different that wasn’t loved by the group couldn’t be seen for what it was. Most of those hardcore kids were as bad as their parents in terms of the herd and wanting to be accepted and loved for their mediocrity. They looked different from their dull folks, but they were pretty much running at the same boring, unthinking level. I used to love shows like this with that us-against-them thing going on, which was much more interesting than a love fest. We usually played a lot better in terms of the aggression that was inherent to our music and attitude. The thing about the hardcore crowd is you have to attack and do it in a way that they don’t quite know what to do. It was like facing down a herd of wildebeests who might stampede you. When you walk right up to one of the lead wildebeests and smack him in the nose, they back down as a group, stunned into dumb retreat. That was pretty much that show. We didn’t want to be liked by such morons to be honest, and the last thing we wanted were followers. I never saw myself as a long-term musician. It wasn’t something I wanted to do forever, and it always sickens me to see folks still hanging around trying to squeeze out a few more drops from a long dead and decayed mop. I could mention names but won’t, since they are easy enough to see. To us, the band was a chance to fuck around with the order of things in rock music—a Dada project—and we knew if we carved out anything original, which I think we did, we wouldn’t be accepted. We pretty much disdained acceptance. Fuck that. Rock music, then and now, is a sleazy business. I have more respect for the porn industry. At least they present themselves as they are: a bunch of sleazeballs. When it was time to move on, call it a day, the timing seemed right. The band was talking to major labels and I thought, “Time to get out or you will become one of these people.” I quit and moved to Europe to work on my Ph.D.
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.