CJ Ramone/Dog Party - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

CJ Ramone / Dog Party

Live in Philadelphia (2019)

live show

“Europe was rough…” CJ Ramone shook his head. Midway through his band’s first song, a spirited take on “Let’s Dance” his guitar player’s instrument crapped out leaving the band dead in the water. He shook his head again while various band members and the sound tech fiddled with the guitar. Yup, it was busted. It seemed that the European curse had followed the former Ramones bassist across the Atlantic.

The Philadelphia stop at Milkboy was CJ’s first USA stop since the Euro tour and first USA show since he announce, somewhat surprisingly, that his touring days were over (but not his recording or live show days, though). Was a whacked out instrument going to be CJ’s final Philly salute?

In fact, the time it took people to work on the guitar suggested yes and I’d guess that even CJ was thinking about bailing five minutes into the repair. Yet, just when it seemed all the air had been sucked out of the room, the guitar cracked back to life and perhaps with some frustration, CJ and his band jumped back into the set. Things got better from there.

A road warrior trained by the hardest of road warriors, CJ refocused and the band got to work. For one thing, CJ still applies that classic Ramones hammer down strike, blasting through about twenty five songs in about 50 minutes. But, for the set, he didn’t want to make it a retro-only affair.

Sure, many Ramones tracks got some play. “Shock Treatment,” “Glad to sEe You Go,” “53rd and 3rd” and all the other mega-hits were played. An “encore,” for which the band thankfully stayed on stage circumventing the pomp, featured three ultra-hits in a row. In addition to bass, CJ handled the vocals and it was noticeable at how hood of a singer he has become. Back in the early ‘90s, his delivery was more of a bark-attack. Now, however, he’s found a middle ground between his own voice, Joey’s soul, and Dee Dee’s blown out mania. The man can sing.

Still, as for the Ramones style, the sweetest picks were when lesser known Ramones cuts got some love. “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” had it’s rolling chorus given extra emphasis. “Outsider” as dusted off and the band made an argument for it being a long lost classic. “Strength to Endure” is probably a bit more well known, but it’s live cut was a treat.

Yet, as great as it is to hear Ramones tunes by a bonafide Ramone, CJ’s new and newish solo cuts were equally welcome. Let’s face it. It’s tough to be an ex-Ramone. If you do strict Ramonescore, it can often come off as hollow. If you do something completely different, then that ebgs the question, why are you calling yourself a Ramone? CJ has found a way through this quagmire. His new solo material has the melody and high energy charge of Ramones classics (though the 80s material seems to be a bigger influence than the first three LPs), but he adds a certain melody and perspective that is different than the ones crafted by the original fearsome foursome. It’s the way to do it. “One High One Low” had the classic Ramones bounce while stretching itself out in the style department. “Movin On” had the classic rattle of ‘50s rock n rollers. “Rock on” was a fitting tribute to CJ’s ex bnadmate, the sadly deceased Steve Soto. I’m pretty sure CJ choked up briefly while introducing the songs.

It’s not easy to go toe to toe with the Ramones classics. Yet, in the live context, CJ’s solo tunes held up and I wanted to hear more of them. It’s not easy to hit the ground running in Philly, of all places, after a rough EU tour. But, hell, CJ has held up better than most, weathered the storm, and if this is his final gallop around the states, it’s a fine way to ride off into the sunset.

Before CJ, Dog Party kicked through about 40 minutes of their classic punk meets classic rock meets pop-punk styles. They recently released their best album to date, Hit & Run, and that album got a lot of play at the show, thankfully. The band has worked some darker lyrical themes into the sunnier sound and the contrast really comes out live. Just a guitar and drums, the Giles sister jumped from tune to tune with little to do in between.

“Operator” was given an especially hard smash with its buzzing guitar and heavy drum smash. Though, the band knows that power isn’t going volume 10 all the time and they deftly slipped in a little country-ish style here and there. And that’s not to mention their blazing rendition of “Fujiyama mama.” Perhaps what sets the band apart is that while their songs are forged in a classic punk strike, and while they address a fair amount of downcast concepts, the music itself is really, really fun. Also, there’s “He’s lost control” which is about a pug chasing his own tail.

Dog Party are firing on all cylinders right now. Few bands have paid homage to the classic styles while crafting songs that sound unmistakably immediate. The fact that live, they sound as good, if not better, than their studio recordings tells you all you need to know.

The show opened with a set by West Chester, PA’s own the preps. They proudly announced that they’ve been doing the pop-punk thing for twenty years and they are proud of it. They should be. The band’s tunes were at times silly and at times serious, but definitely deeply indebted to that spirit that is pop punk. If you’re not having fun, why do something? The Preps definitely were having fun and so was the audience.