“Ramones Reunion Nearly Complete,” announced The Onion just about ten years ago, after the death of the band’s guitarist Johnny Ramone. His bandmates Joey and Dee Dee Ramone had each taken their leave of this mortal coil a few years before, and now, with the passing of drummer Tommy Ramone, all the group’s original members have gone to that big CBGB in the sky. In the video above, you can see the Ramones playing at the small CBGB down here on Earth — way down here on Earth, given the setting of downtown Manhattan in 1974. That year alone, after the revelation they brought about after first taking the stage in their bangs, ripped jeans, and black leather jackets on August 16, they played the now-historic rock club no fewer than 74 times. Show length averaged about seventeen minutes, which means this video, at just seven minutes, includes quite a few songs. The setlist includes “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement,” and “Judy Is a Punk.”
This performance happened on September 15, 1974, six months after their debut at Performance Studios in March of that year. They wouldn’t sign a recording contract until late the next year, but they would do it because the wife of Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein saw them at CBGB. Though the Ramones always prided themselves on the rawness of their sound, this show catches them at a moment when, though they’d already armed themselves with looks and the attitude that made them instant icons, they still had to feel their way through exactly what this “punk rock” thing would turn into. You can see their music taking an even clearer, more distilled form in the 1977 CBGB set we featured last year. They may have lived fast, the Ramones, but they played even faster. Could they have done it without the borderline-unpunklike skill of their drummer?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.