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Like some kind of garage-rock Llewyn Davis, when I reach Max Almario, drummer for the Brooklyn band Celestial Shore, he’s chasing down a runaway cat. As with Davis, the cat isn’t his — it belongs to friends he’s just helped move down to New Orleans. “She’s crawling around under the house,” Almario explains. “I’m indifferent, though. She pissed all over my stuff in the U-Haul.”
In a few days, Almario will be back in New York, rejoining the rest of Celestial Shore — guitarist Sam Owens and bassist Greg Albert — at which point the trio will assume the identity of the Ramones for a night, playing a Halloween show at Silent Barn alongside Delicate Steve (as Smashing Pumpkins), Very Fresh (as Alanis Morissette), and a supergroup, of which Almario is also part, that will cover songs from the golden year of Total Request Live, 1999.
There can be a stigma attached to the very idea of a cover band, but groups playing musical dress-up has become a tradition in New York — show bible Oh My Rockness lists five other similarly themed shows happening over the weekend — and Almario is looking forward to it. “It’s fun to play music that will automatically get a whole audience behind you, singing along and freaking out,” he says. “Everybody knows the lyrics to all of these songs and it’s just a different experience.”
The Ramones may not seem an obvious choice at first blush. Celestial Shore’s music is certainly loud, but it’s also nuanced; songs like “Now I Know” and “Weekenders,” both from 2014 album Enter Ghost, feature the same kind of hazy, tuneful psychedelia perfected by early Elephant 6 bands. But listen to tracks like the roaring “Creation Myth,” with its bent-steel guitar and surefooted melody, and the connection becomes more apparent. “I probably heard the Ramones when I was twelve or thirteen years old,” Almario says. “Being an angsty teenager, I was definitely an expert on all things punk. They took something very simple and made it feel new. They created something from nothing. And it’s just fun music, you know?”
The Ramones’ catalog is staggeringly deep — fourteen albums! — but Almario says his band’s set comprises “just the bangers.” When asked to name his five essential Ramones songs, he constructs a metaphor that would have done the “brothers” proud: “If I were to compare it to a food, it would be like a pizza,” he says. “ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is the crust, because it’s a quintessential Ramones song. I think it’s probably the first one I heard. It’s probably the first one many people heard. ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ is the cheese — that’s probably the second song I heard by them.” And the toppings? “ ‘Pinhead,’ which is pepperoni — it’s classic, and ‘Gabba gabba hey’ became a bit of a tagline for the band. ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ is sausage. Also, it’s got a weird structure, and most kids growing up can relate to the sentiment. And ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ is the pineapple — it’s not entirely necessary, but it’s very sweet.”
That last one betrays the Ramones’ affection for the early-Sixties work of producer Phil Spector, with whom the group would eventually work on the famously troubled End of the Century. “I appreciate that there were still some hits that came out of that,” Almario says before wryly adding, “Phil Spector knows what he wants — if you have to pull a gun on someone [to get a good song], I guess that’s what it takes.”
Celestial Shore’s difficulties to this point have mostly been more minor. “I’ve lost my license a few times,” Almario explains. “It wasn’t revoked; I just couldn’t find where I put it. So I don’t contribute a lot to the driving [on tour], I just end up sleeping in the back, which I feel like might cause resentment from Sam and Greg.” When asked if he sees any similarities between his band and the Ramones, Almario laughs. “I think every band is different,” he says. “For us, I’m usually the one pulling the gun on Sam and Greg. I make them play riffs over and over. Or they don’t get pizza.”