The club scene in the 1980s in New York City




by John Rockwell

The New York Times
August 8, 1980, Friday, Late City Final Edition
Section C; Page 22, Column 2; Weekend Desk

MANHATTAN may not boast a particularly diverse range of pop concerts this week, but the city's club life for youthful forms of popular music remains more active and varied than anywhere else.

Unlike some forms of music, the seasonal cycle doesn't affect pop concerts all that much. During convention week some halls are out of circulation for pop - Madison Square Garden, of course, and the Palladium, one of New York's leading rock theaters. But there is the 15-year-old outdoor-concert series in the old Wollman Skating Rink in the southwestern corner of Central Park. This week, the series, which is sponsored by Dr Pepper, offers Todd Rundgren's Utopia tonight and tomorrow night, the Ramones on Monday and Melissa Manchester on Wednesday. Shows are at 6:30 P.M., tickets cost $3 and $5 and the information number is 249-8870.

Club life is jumping, sometimes literally, because more and more clubs are geared for dancing instead of listening. Even with the closing of Studio 54, there are many glittering discotheques of the conventional sort, although several have now taken to mixing the traditional thumping disco beat with ''dance-rock,'' in response to current fashions. Perhaps the flashiest, most impressive discos of this kind right now are Xenon, at 124 West 43d Street between Avenue of the Americas and Times Square (221-2690); the Electric Circus on Fifth Avenue and 15th Street (989-7457) - which caters to a younger, suburban crowd, and even has a rock-oriented downstairs room for live acts - and the fanciful new Bond International Casino in Times Square at Broadway and 45th Street (944-5880).

Rock-Disco Scene

But if hipness is your game, New York's growing rock-disco scene should be your first stop. The snazzy newcomer here is the Ritz, which is ensconced in a wonderful old Latin ballroom with Art-Deco overtones on 11th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues (228-8888). Like the other rock discos, the club offers recorded dancerock interspersed with live acts, during which most of the crowd stands and listens. The Ritz also has a grandiose video screen; video is all the rage on the underground rock scene. The highlight of this week's live offerings comes Monday, when Fats Domino, the legendary New Orleans rock-and-roller, will appear for two shows with a 16-piece ochestra. In addition, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, a wellregarded folk-rock band from Boston, will be there tonight and tomorrow, and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band will be on hand Wednesday.

If the Ritz is the newcomer, Hurrah, at 36 West 62d Street near Lincoln Center (541-4909), is the doughty pioneer, and can claim credit for originating the whole rock-disco craze. Hurrah has maintained a fine run of live talent and the sound system and dance space are first-rate. This week's schedule includes Helen Schneider, a contemporary pop-cabaret singer, on Tuesday, an interesting progressive-rock group called Material on Wednesday, and 2 Yous, one of New York's leading video rock bands, on Thursday. Another topflight dance-rock scene can be found at Danceteria, at 252 West 37th Street (594-2442), which has three floors for dancing, live shows and lounging. There also is the mysterious Mudd Club, which only recently deigned to advertise, and from which the Ritz borrowed most of its best ideas. Situated at 77 White Street in deepest Manhattan, this club's small size and elitist attitude make it the rock equivalent of Studio 54, at least insofar as despairing crowds left standing on the street are concerned. The telephone number is 227-7777, but only a machine ever answers.

There is a more democratic uptown extension of such dance-rock trendiness at the 80's, which used to be an old German beer and accordion hangout called the Lorelei, at 231 East 86th Street (348-4991). And way downtown TR 3, at 225 West Broadway (226-9299), offers up-and-coming underground rock bands.

On a somewhat different order, but stylistically akin to these clubs, are the Irving Plaza and the Squat Theater. Both are only open when they have a live act. Irving Plaza is a Polish community meeting hall at Irving Place and 15th Street that has been turned over to rock concerts; it is a disco in between live acts, and a bar as well. Two organizations book concerts into the facility, with two different telephone numbers. This week, there is Magazine, a successful British new-wave rock band that ends a three-night round of dates in Manhattan at Irving Plaza (982-4863). The Squat Theater is the home of a Hungarian-American avant-garde theater group, but it also presents concerts of a wildly varying sort, and claims credit for inspiring the fad for jazz-punk fusion music; its number is 691-1238.

Bastions of Hard Rock

Hard as it is for the trendies to believe, there are actually other kinds of clubs beside the dance-rock establishments. For one thing, there are the old bastions of punk and pre-punk hard rock, CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. Both maintain innovative policies for booking young rock bands. CBGB's, the original home of worldwide punk rock, is at 315 Bowery (982-4052). Max's is at 213 Park Avenue South at 17th Street (777-7871).

The leading old-line rock listening club is still the Bottom Line, at Mercer and Fourth Streets (228-7880). With the decline in recordcompany support for touring acts, the Bottom Line's owners have been forced into more varied bookings. This week the club's attractions include new-wave rock - Spider and Nervus Rex tonight, The Motels tomorrow and the Iron City Houserockers on Monday - and traditional jazz artists: Louie Bellson's big band on Tuesday and the singer Betty Carter Thursday through Aug. 17.

Trax is a smaller, uptown record-industry showcase rock club, at 100 West 72d Street (799-1448). There is Jimmy Mack, a blues-rocker, tomorrow, and Neon, a rock band that includes two sons of Tony Bennett, on Thursday.

Other veteran clubs in town include the Other End (formerly the Bitter End) at 147 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village (673-7030); Mary Travers of the old Peter, Paul and Mary group is there through tomorrow, and she can still strike a nostalgic chord. And Folk City, the birthplace of the Village folk boom of the early 60's, is still going strong, although these days it's been at 130 West Third Street (AL 4-8449).

Blues and Country Folk

Folk City, even if it has diversified its booking a bit, is still but one example of the sort of club that exists all over New York, appealing to a particular musical taste. The other leading folk club is Kenny's Castaways, at 157 Bleecker Street (473-9870).

Lovers of the blues will find much to admire at Tramps, 125 East 15th Street (777-5077), where Lightnin' Hopkins will hold forth tonight, followed by Big Walter Horton tomorrow night and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells on Sunday.

Perhaps the most fascinating story on the recent New York club scene has been the success of the Lone Star Cafe, at Fifth Avenue and 13th Street (242-1664). Just a few years ago, country music couldn't seem to find a toehold in Manhattan. Then the Lone Star, working in conjunction with WHN, the country radio station here, began to book prestigious names. More recently, it has broadened its booking to include rock, soul and the blues, yet it hasn't lost its character. The place is full of amusing Texas atmosphere, but its layout seems inappropriate for a successful, big-time club. No matter - the biggies all stop here now, and everybody seems to have a lovely time. This week the offerings include the fine modern-day Texas swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, Sunday and Monday. But the big news is the return of the long-missed Roy Orbison, who has recovered from heart surgery. His plangent, pulsing high rock tenor will be heard Tuesday and Wednesday, and every rock nostalgist in town will be there, too.

GRAPHIC: Illustrations: photo of Fats Domino and Melissa Manchester

Copyright New York Times, 1982


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