Irish punks get middle-age kicks all through their night
March 4 and 5
Irish lads the Undertones frequented Derry pubs 30 years back to drown their adolescent sorrows in lager and to blare out garage music amid IRA terrorist attacks. Unlike Bono, Sinéad, or Van, they weren’t on any mythic mystic quest—they were just pogoing Ramones fans, driven by John O’Neil’s tunes of woe and lust and Feargal Sharkey’s bizarre Geddy Lee warbling. With boosters like John Peel and the Clash, the ‘Tones signed with Sire and recorded two wonderful albums (1979’s The Undertones, 1980’s Hypnotised). But after just a few U.K. hits they split apart, briefly morphing into the sobersided That Petrol Emotion and barely making an impression stateside. After recently regrouping without Sharkey (now heading a British task force to promote live music), the band put out the surprisingly fine Get What You Need last year, and thus rewrote their history: In the ’80s, they’d matured too quickly into sensitive soulmen, but they’ve since grown at a moderate pace, wisely returning to powerpop roots but making music lighter on romantic desperation and heavier on Brit Invasion harmonies and soaring guitars. A wise move, because the Undertones’ whole catalog just came back out along with a documentary DVD, and now they have no choice but to face their past.
For their March 4 and 5 Knitting Factory shows (their first U.S. gigs in 20 years, not to mention a supposed “benefit for the Martha Stewart 1”), they stuck smartly to tried and true formula. Drummer Bill Doherty powered them, but eyes focused on new singer Paul McLoone. He shrewdly didn’t try to impersonate Sharkey’s freak-of-nature voice, instead showing more range and swaggering cockiness. The rest of the band seemed glad to be back, teasing their younger frontman and cracking imperceptible jokes in thick accents as they blasted relentlessly through old favorites like “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You,” plus a few bars of “Rockaway Beach,” for a mostly middle-aged moshpit. New numbers like “Thrill Me” and “Oh Please” even improved on the studio versions—other punk old-schoolers (not to mention Rancid and Blink-182) could learn a thing or two from the Undertones about graying gracefully. —Jason Gross
Midnight Records 1984-2004
New York nugget-vinyl vault forced to shut garage doors
On its last day, March 6, Chelsea’s vaunted garage-rock record store Midnight Records was packed for the first time in recent memory. Owner J.D. Martignon—ever the enigmatic Frenchman, with cigarette, rattail, and paisley shirt—chatted with lightly eyelinered Rudolph Grey, who reminisced about using chainsaws in his late ’70s band Red Transistor. Martignon’s son, 10-year old Clovis—ever the ’60s rocker, in a gorgeous mop-top and bemused expression—wandered crammed aisles. Shaggy-haired collectors, some spending upwards of $700, scoured rows of hard-to-find vinyl, grumbling “sad reflection” and “damn shame.”
Part of the cult band Dagon in France, Martignon followed a woman to New York in 1973 and never left. A journalist for the underground magazine Parapluie, he covered the Stooges and the Dolls, interviewed the Cramps and Real Kids before they put out albums, and blew his mind on DMZ at CBGB. Punk bands were playing ’60s garage, he noticed. Martignon began collecting records, but quickly amassed so many that he “had to sneak them into the house when my girlfriend wasn’t around”—so he decided to start selling them. He kick-started a mail order business in 1978, and the store—which became the center of New York’s garage revival in the mid ’80s—opened six years later. Martignon even ran his own label from 1984 to 1993, putting out cult bands and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins live tracks.
Now Martignon is fighting eviction and a lawsuit. The landlord wants to double the rent, and business has not been booming. (The current garage revival “generates zero sales” of his obscure inventory, Martignon says.) Meanwhile, Martignon is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in conjunction with the RIAA for the sale of, to quote one of his lawyers, “what they’re alleging are unauthorized recordings of concerts.” Midnight is the only store of its kind facing prosecution. “A collector’s store that cannot sell some bootlegs is kaput,” the owner sighs. According to store employees, when Midnight was busted in September, Martignon was led off in handcuffs, protesting, “We’re not harmful people! We’re music people!” For now, he’s mired in his court case (famed Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig is working pro bono) and wants volunteers to revamp midnightrecords.com, where the store will now solely exist. —Hillary Chute