Article and Photo by Jason Setnyk
Ottawa Ontario – On Thursday, June 9th, 2016, I saw CJ Ramone live in concert at House of TARG in Ottawa. I’ve been a fan of the Ramones for over twenty years, but I never saw them live. Unfortunately the band broke up when I was in Grade 9, and in years gone by Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy all passed away. Only CJ Ramone and Marky Ramone are actively touring and playing concerts.
The Ramones last Ottawa show was on June 13th 1992, and the Ramones final show in Canada was on July 7th 1996 in Quebec City. A month later the band hung up their leather jackets permanently. When it was announced CJ Ramone was touring Canada, and that he would be playing in Ottawa, I was so excited that I bought my tickets the first day (and first minute) they were available to purchase online.
I took the roadtrip to Ottawa with Rene Martin, a local drummer, and owner of King Street Percussion. It was both our first time visiting the House of TARG on 1077 Bank Street. Although I was well acquainted with the venue when it was known by another name. 15 years ago I booked and played my very first Ottawa punk show at that venue, but back then it was called The Underground. The two venues that occupied that space couldn’t be more different. The Underground was a dive, while the House of TARG is an experience that entices the senses. It has geek appeal with retro video games and pinball machines, and it has an almost carnival like atmosphere especially when food orders are announced over a PA like a carnie announcing a game.
I had a Beau’s beer (made in Vankleek Hill) on tap and a plate of their world famous perogies. The House of TARG has the second best perogies I have ever tasted. The best perogies I ever tasted were made from scratch by my Ukrainian grandmother. She arrived in Canada after World War Two and worked at a bakery on Bloor Street in Toronto for over thirty years. I would strongly recommend the perogies at House of TARG to anyone visiting Ottawa, they are top notch. Talking about my grandmother in Toronto, it was during a trip to visit her Grade 9 that I picked up my first Ramones album at Sam the Record Man near the Eaton Centre.
Now back to the concert and the review. My friend Sarah Destruction, who spent her teenage years and a part of her 20’s growing up in Cornwall, got to open up the concert for CJ Ramone. She is a is a rhythm guitarist and one of the vocalist for GOAT, the band that kicked things off Thursday night. I remember jamming with Sarah Destruction and Nick Knockoff a few months before she made the move to Ottawa. She has been in a few different bands, and I’m proud to see how well she is doing. When I was a teenager, many punk rock kids dreamed of opening for the Ramones, and she got to experience that dream in a way.
Broken Gold, who feature members of the Riverboat Gamblers, played next. They are a really talented band. They have a big sound, and they would be the perfect band to dance to at a larger festival like a Warped Tour.
Next was CJ Ramone. He wasn’t wearing torn jeans and a leather jacket. Instead his uniform of choice is a black New York Yankees baseball cap, black t-shirt, blue jeans, and Converse style shoes.
Half his playlist were CJ Ramone originals, and half were Ramones song. He played hit songs like Blitzkrieg Bop and Judy is a Punk, but he also played a lot of Ramones b-sides much to the befuddlement of some in attendance. He didn’t play some obvious hit songs like “I want to be Sedated”, however he did play “Strength to Endure” which he was the vocalist for on the Ramones album “Mondo Bizzaro”. Of course CJ Ramone is not a Ramones cover band, and he is not obligated to play Ramones songs. He does it for the fans, and those in attendance were very appreciative of it. Hopefully Ramones fans take notice of his new material too.
His newer songs, like “Last Chance to Dance”, are really good. They don’t have the silly singalong appeal of many Ramones classics. His new material is more mature, and it is not a clone of the Ramones brand of punk rock. However that’s not a bad thing. His new music is thoughtful, more melodic, and definitely worth a listen. Fat Mike of Nofx would probably agree, considering he signed CJ Ramone to his label Fat Wreck Chords.
For the east-coast portion of his tour including Ottawa, CJ Ramone played with some members of the Huntingons, a mid 90s punk band that were heavily influenced by the Ramones. CJ Ramone played for nearly an hour and a half. Beads of sweat and nostalgia dripped from his forehead as he hammered through songs playing on his white and black Fender Precision bass and singing song with his iconic New York accent.
I was standing front row centre enjoying every minute of the show, smiling, and singing along to all my favourites tunes. For a few brief moments I felt like I stepped back in time. Even though I never saw the Ramones live, and even though I never experienced a concert at CBGB’s, I felt like I got a taste of it because I did get to see CJ Ramone at House of TARG. It might not be same thing, but nonetheless, it’s a memory that I will carry with me throughout my life.
By the time the concert was over it was past 1am and CJ Ramone looked tired. However that did not stop him from signing autographs, taking pictures with fans, and talking to people after the show. He was there to play a concert, he was not obligated to do all that other stuff. He could have left, but instead he stuck around, because he cares about the fans. The guy is generous, humble, and kind. That’s pretty amazing.
After the concert I met CJ Ramone, I had the album “Loco Live” autographed (which is now framed on my wall at home). I also had a photo taken with him in which I was holding the newspaper article from our interview. I was fortunate enough to score an interview with CJ Ramone that was published in The Cornwall Seeker Newspaper a few weeks ago. You can read that here.
I shook CJ Ramone’s hand and said thank you. Not just for the photo, or the autograph, or the interview, but for being an inspiration and important contributor to music and to my imagination. The Ramones were my favourite band in highschool, and they are still one of my favourite bands today. The Ramones are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not because they are the most talented band in the world, but because their music was simple and fun, they played with passion, and people loved them for it. They inspired generations of musicians and fans, and they inspired me too. There were people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s at the concert, so I literally mean they inspired generations.
What I learned from the Ramones is that anyone with passion can play and have fun. Music is accessible to everyone regardless of what the mainstream defines as talent, and that you can do what you love without ever selling out. Quite simply, follow your heart, and don’t let other people grind you down. If you want to play, just do it and be yourself. The Ramones taught us a lot, and that is what I am most thankful for, so Gabba Gabba Hey CJ Ramone! Thanks for an amazing concert and experience. I hope you visit Canada again one day soon.