Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Gig Review: CJ Ramone at MK11, Milton Keynes 7/9/17

On Thursday the 7th of September 2017 I saw a real life, living, breathing, singing, bass playing Ramone! The legendary CJ Ramone, who played bass for the most important band in the history of music between from 1989 to 1996. Kind of randomly, he was playing Milton Keynes as the final night of his UK tour supporting brand new solo album American Beauty on Fat Wreck Chords. To say I was excited was a bit of an understatement.

Of course CJ had support for the evening. In fact he had a lot of support. No less than four support acts were playing at the MK11 sports bar. The first three were reasonably local acts We Are Giants, Dead Frequency and Jonny & The Mental Breakdowns. The fourth was a band who I'd only heard great things about and was really looking forward to seeing, Canadian punk rockers the Isotopes. This was my first time listening to the band and if I was going to describe them to you I'd tell you to imagine a cross between Teenage Bottlerocket and Masked Intruder. Musically they definitely have a bit of the Teenage Bottlerocket buzzsaw pop punk sound with the fun gimmickry of Masked Intruder. Unlike Masked Intruder though the gimmick isn't about girls and committing crimes, it's about America's favourite pastime, Baseball. Many of their songs are either about baseball or feature baseball references in the titles. The stage at MK11 isn't the biggest so it was tight trying to squeeze all five members into the tight space. But Isotopes also have a non music playing member, similar to the job Officer Bradford does for Masked Intruder where he paces around the stage getting the crowd even more hyped up. I should point out that this gentleman was wearing just a denim waistcoat and a jock strap, wielding a baseball bat. This was quite distracting from the band to begin with. The Isotopes played an absolutely fantastic set of pop punk. I was slightly concerned that all of the baseball references might fall down with a UK crowd but it certainly didn't stop the good folks of Milton Keynes enjoying Isotopes. A great, fun band who I look forward to seeing again.

Now it was time for CJ Ramone. When the legend took to the stage I began to feel a little giddy, turned to Emma and said ‘that's a Ramone.’ I was less than ten metres away from a member of the greatest band that ever lived. Before the gig I had wondered if he would only play his solo material or would play a mixture of his own songs as well as playing some Ramones classics. That question was answered on the first song as CJ and his band opened the set with the classic Let's Dance. Immediately the crowd that had gathered at MK11 began to sing and dance. Naturally it was The Ramones songs, of which there were plenty, that got the biggest reactions but people also reacted very positively to CJ's own songs. I will be making sure to get very familiar with these songs as the ones that he played live were all great. Hearing CJ play those old Ramone songs made me realise just how many incredible songs the band wrote back in the day and how timeless they still feel. A few months ago I did a Top Ten Ramones Songs for CPRW and I'm pretty sure almost every single one of those songs was played along with countless others. One of the things that I really enjoyed about CJ's set was the enthusiasm he had for playing those songs. He has obviously played to much bigger crowds than the 100 or so people who gathered to see him on this night but this didn't quell the effort he and his band put into their set and were clearly having a ball on stage. This wasn't about a pay cheque, this was about a love of music, punk rock and The Ramones. There were some fun guests joining the band on stage throughout the set. First up was Isotopes singer Evan who joined the band to sing Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, next up Lisa from The Ramonas (an all female Ramones tribute act) who is local to Milton Keynes joined the band on stage for my personal favourite, Bonzo Goes To Bitburg, and lastly for the final song of the night all of the Isotopes came back on stage for a cover of Motorhead's tribute to the Ramones - R.A.M.O.N.E.S.

Seeing CJ play on stage was a bit surreal. I didn't really know what to expect from the night but I have to say I loved every second of it. I'm sure CJ doesn't have to come out to the more unpopular towns on the UK touring circuit but I'm certain every single person there was eternally grateful that he did. Incredible.

This gig review was written by Colin Clark.

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