The following is an excerpt from the book No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico. All photos by Ken Salerno.
Vision/Underdog – May 21, 1989
(Vision, vocalist): There were a lot of fights at that show. That was the night I knocked out an A.C. [Atlantic City] Skin during Underdog’s set. You know that side door that led to the front parking lot where they threw everybody out when someone tried to stage dive? We had kind of a small pit over there, and this kid Billy,
who used to roadie for us, was dancing while Underdog was playing. He was going nuts. There was an A.C. Skin there trying to start fights. He obviously knew who I was because we had just played. He came swinging, and I shoved him from behind. He went around the pit one more time and came back, and he was coming after me. You know, doing his little “skinhead skip,” and he threw a punch. I ducked, got up, and punched him in the face, and the bouncer grabbed him and threw him right out that side door. It was a crazy show.
Richie Birkenhead (Underdog, vocalist): I actually got into it one night because Chuck Treece was in Underdog, and we a beef with some white-power kids who actually ended up backing down. I knew that City Gardens had a reputation, but there were so many venues with a lot of violence. City Gardens never seemed any less or any more violent than any other big venues that would have multiple hardcore bands play. The white-power thing was really unfortunate, but it seems we encountered it in a lot of places. The [incident] started with a racial slur directed at Chuck. I remember it only in the broadest terms. I think when we tried to confront those people and call out whoever it was, they wanted no part of actually fighting. I think those kinds of kids were more interested in finding some skinny kid who’s at his first show and having five of their friends beat him up at once. If someone was willing to stand there, one on one, and pound their faces in, they’d find all kinds of excuses not to fight.
Chuck Treece (Underdog/McRad): It was crazy back then. There was almost a fight at every show. But the thing I always remember about City Gardens was the fun. It was always fun getting that many random, crazy people together. We used to be at shows with people who carried knives or guns, and there were no fucking cops anywhere. All those times we went there and made it out without getting hurt? That’s crazy! There is way more security at shows now, and people get hurt even worse.
Peter Tabbot (Vision, guitar): This was during a terrific time for hardcore punk music in New Jersey and for our band. We had played City Gardens a couple times, including our first show with The Exploited, and a show opening for The Ramones. Underdog were pretty big at the time, especially in New Jersey and New York. Into the late ‘80s, there was a small contingent of skins at City Gardens and South Jersey in general who were white-power or who identified with that group, and it was confusing to me how such a small number of idiots could, in a way, intimidate or dictate what was to go down—or not go down— at any given show. Especially when they would be outnumbered 10 or 20 to 1 on the average night.
When the second wave of the New York hardcore scene and the whole second wave of straight edge blew up in the late ‘80s, I think those guys finally faded away, and you wouldn’t see much of them at City Gardens or most places. I do remember that [Vision vocalist] Dave was more than happy to give it back to any one of those guys. He didn’t invite trouble, per se, but I think he was more than happy to show a few lunkheads that they were insignificant, both in number and influence, and that no one was going to be made to feel threatened at one of our shows.
At this show, our roadie and best friend, Billy was hanging with us in front of the stage off toward the side. We all were friends with Underdog and loved their music, so we were dancing and singing along. Billy was going off and enjoying Underdog, and one of those moron white-power skins, who had been violent in the pit and looking for trouble, barreled into Billy for absolutely no reason other than to provoke a fight. The next time that kid came around, you could just see him looking in our direction, and he was completely going to hurt someone, probably Billy. I remember Dave got caught in a pretty aggressive shove with the guy and then dropped him with one punch. We were there as fans and also as a band, and that place was kind of sacred to us. It was home in many ways. So some asshole doesn’t come into the house that we revere and share with our friends and cause trouble. Dave believed that and would stand up to anyone at all who compromised the safety of his friends or the place we called home.
Fights and violence were always a part of the punk rock scene and at places like City Gardens, and we weren’t naïve enough to think those things wouldn’t happen…the violence is part of what made the scene so cool, enticing, and taboo when I was a teenager. But again, someone like Dave wasn’t going to let a few idiots, with no agenda but to cause trouble for the sake of trouble, ruin a positive, fun place. It was around this time that the small presence of white-power skins seemed to dissolve at City Gardens.