The picture of punk as the domain of boorish nihilists who can’t play their instruments has been as much a creation of marketing (via Malcolm McLaren) as it has been a virtue-of-necessity minimalist pose and a form of avant garde DIY experimentalism. But there have always been, since the coining of the term “punk” as a musical genre, stellar musicians and thoughtful, poetic lyricists shaping the scene. Of the former, we must mention Television, with their magnificent guitar interplay between leader Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. And, of the latter, we need look no further than the godmother of punk herself, Patti Smith, who has always commanded stage and studio with her smart, arresting lyricism and powerful set of pipes.
Years before the Sex Pistols invaded the States, these two bands played regularly at CBGBs (Television was, in fact, the very first band to play there) with a loose collection of misfits who re-invented rock and roll. In December, 1975, Smith released her first album, Horses, a hybrid of punk and spoken word produced by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
But before that record made her famous—in April of that year—the Patti Smith Group took the stage with Television, and two teenage fans were there to record both sets from both bands. First appearing as a bootleg CD generically titled “Early Gig ’75,” the disc has since been reissued as We Can’t Do Anymore… Cause I’m Just Too Tired!, with another set of Smith covers tacked on from a ’78 concert in Santa Monica.
We get classic tracks from both bands, such as Television’s “Marquee Moon” and “Little Johnny Jewell” and Smith’s cover of “Hey Joe” and Van Morrison’s “Gloria” as well as her own “Horses” and “Piss Factory.” At the top of the post, you can hear her do six songs from that night in 1975, the last three with Television joining her onstage: “We’re Going to Have a Real Good Time Together” (Velvet Underground cover), “Redondo Beach,” “Birdland,” “Space Monkey,” “Distant Fingers,” and “Gloria.” You'll also hear the two young tapers chatting it up in the first few minutes of the tape.
Smith’s band, writes bootleg blog Doom & Gloom From the Tomb, “was transitioning from a cabaret-leaning trio to a fully-fledged rock band sound,” and the ramshackle performances show us a talented bunch of musicians still finding their footing as a group. The following year, Smith and band would appear in Stockholm after the release of Horses. As you can see and hear above (after a brief interview) they’d become a tighter, and somewhat more conventional, rock and roll machine, but the early performances at the top—for all the lo-fi murkiness and intrusive crowd noise—have a raw appeal only heightened by the fact that they are now important documents of a now-legendary musical era. See this review of the bootleg CD reissue for a blow-by-blow description of this historic ’75 concert from two seminal, and phenomenally talented, punk bands.
The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)
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Blondie Plays CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vintage Clips
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness