No one outside of furtive music-geek circles seems to talk about it these days, but the early pre-grunge and pre-Britpop 90’s had a lot of amazing music going for it. Personally speaking, while I was indeed thrilling to the skonky noise that was coming out of New York City’s downtown scene, specifically by bands like Cop Shoot Cop, Pussy Galore, SWANS, Foetus, Helmet, Surgery, Prong and more, I was also super into a lot of the comparatively poppy, user-friendly British indie community.
For a start, there was the whole “shoegazer” scene, spearheaded by My Bloody Valentine (themselves strenuous acolytes of 80’s forebears like the Jesus & Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins), but that also included bands like Lush, Ride, Chapterhouse, Curve, the Pale Saints, Swervedriver, Slowdive and — initially, at least — Blur. I was also quite smitten by The Wonder Stuff (that’s them up top), The Wedding Present, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Eat, Kingmaker, the Senseless Things, the Manic Street Preachers, Birdland, Daisy Chainsaw, the Venus Beads, Pop Will Eat Itself, Suede and literally thousands more. Then, of course, there were some not-easily-categorized acts like Fatima Mansions, Therapy? (both Irish, incidentally), Silverfish, Spirtualized, the House of Love, Levitation, Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie and several others. Let’s also not forget the whole Manchester thing with the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The La’s, James, the Charlatans and more.
Unlike the comparatively impenetrable wasteland of the mainstream American music climate at the time, the British indie scene thrived in its fertile homeland, with new bands routinely championed across colorful covers of periodicals like Melody Maker and the NME. It was hard to keep up. There seemed to be some seismic, new development every week.
I’m not saying that each one of these bands made timeless contributions to the lexicon of music, but there were some truly amazing tunes to emerge from that wave. I loved a whole lot of it, but certainly not all of it. I couldn’t quite understand the adulation enjoyed by, say, Teenage Fanclub, whose sloppily dull power-pop-pastiche paled in comparison — to my mind — to, say, the frantic, proggy-punk attack of the Cardiacs, but whatever. To each their own.
As detailed in this post, in 1992, I was fully employed as an editorial assistant at LIFE Magazine by day, and writing for any number of dubious music magazines on the side, which routinely found me going out to myriad live music venues to see these bands when they swung through town, notably at the Marquee on West 21st (gone), the New Ritz on West 54th (gone), the Academy off Times Square (gone), Roseland on West 53rd (gone) CBGB on the Bowery (gone), Wetlands Preserve in TriBeCa (gone), the Limelight on Sixth Avenue (gone … now a mall and a gym), Woody’s on Second (gone) and Tramp’s on West 21st (gone) and quite a few others. See a trend here? Irving Plaza and the Pyramid are still around, at least.
Product-wise, I was fervently seeking out vinyl and CD’s by these bands at shops like Rocks in Your Head in SoHo (gone), Bleecker Bob’s on West 3rd (gone), Venus Records on West 8th (gone), Smash CD’s on St. Marks (gone), Pier Platters in Hoboken (gone), Route 66 in the Village (gone) NYCD on the Upper West Side (gone) and several others. Amazingly, my favorite shop for imports, Rebel Rebel on Bleecker is STILL THERE, bless’em.
Anyway, this post kind of got away from me (as they often do), being that it was initially only meant to set up the video below.
Herewith a fleeting clip by a band that could easily be lumped in with all the luminaries cited above. If I’m being perfectly candid, I have to say that I was never particularly fond of the Mega City Four, they being of the same ilk as bands I was a bona fide fan of like the afore-cited Wonder Stuff, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Pop Will Eat Itself. I’m not sure why, but I just never really warmed to them in the same way, although I’m sure they’re all perfectly decent fellas …. despite the white-guy dreadlocks.
Much like this video by excellent Kiwi-popsters The Clean from roughly the exact same era, here we see the MC4 pulling into New York City to play a gig at CBGB. You don’t see much of their show, but there’s some tantalizing shots of the Bowery as it was (i.e. prior the banks, bullshit and bespoke boutiquery), and some shots of the cramped little room in the back of the stage at CB’s that served as their “backstage” area. The gent with the mohawk is Rob “Bass Thing” Jones, then recently ex of the Wonder Stuff. By this point, he was starting a new band, nursing some very specific health problems of a certain kind and manning the register at the old Tower Records. I remember buying something there at the time, and boldly exclaiming "YOU'RE THE BASS THING!" to him, prompting a glare that could give an advancing shark second thoughts. Sadly, he — like Tower Records — is now gone, too.
There’s a very good chance I was at this show as well, despite my lukewarm feelings for the MC4. Take a look...