One of the wonderful, heartbreaking things about this little corner of the world is the obscene number of great bands who never quite made it, or only in a small way. As you know, I never understand why a world which gives Justin Timberlake tacit permission to strip women on television because of his reputed talent, a world in which I am expected to read and/or care about how pregnant sex feels to Britney Spears just because a producer somewhere manipulates her digitally into something approximating music, cannot give a fair shot to unpackaged, intelligent rock-pop songwriters with actual brains. (I think I may have just answered my own question there.)
The Scene: The Continental in the East Village. We're there to see The Remains (later The Ramainz), that is, the remains of the Ramones, fronted by DeeDee and his wife, who looks to be maybe 18. Marky and CJ Ramone are also onstage (so this had to have been December 1996, I guess). DeeDee was in fine form, slagging off cops on Coney Island for open container laws and such. Not quite the comic stylings of his DeeDee King period ("Funky Man" is a stone classic), but pretty good. I didn't really see the show... I never do unless it's pretty empty (or, like Maxwell's, there's a riser on the floor). But I heard it, and The Remains were about what you'd expect. But that night had other surprises in store for me.
The bar was packed, and me and Thersites and Deeptoej were standing in the crowd waiting. Ruth Ruth came on, and I was hooked. Right-behind-the-navel hooked. Was it punk? Well, kind of, but too melodic for that. Was it pop? Yes, but edgy. And though I couldn't hear everything Chris Kennedy was saying, I could tell that it was pretty dense lyrically as well. I bought everything they had for sale that night (not a lot: The Little Death EP and a 45 of "Julia, You Have No Heartbeat" (still one of my favorite songs, ever)) and waited to hear more from them. I was sure I would. After the show, Deeptoej and I studied the liner notes carefully and swapped impressions--I was absurdly pleased that I'd spotted the Elvis Costello influence in there--and I'm always absurdly pleased when I manage to impress Deeptoej with any scrap of musical insight, because he knows everything.
(OT: I think The Remains kind of blew that one, though. Opening acts are tricky: you want them to appeal to the same crowd as the headliner, not to blow the headliner out of the water. But Ruth Ruth opening for The Remains was like having a stuffed artichoke as an appetizer before eating Burger King. Pleased as I was, I think the bill was weird, like when Redd Kross opened for The Presidents of the United States of America.
Dear Venue Owners,
Redd Kross should never open for anyone. When they hit the stage, they are the main event.
At that point, Ruth Ruth had already released their seminal record Laughing Gallery (on American), to which The Little Death (on Epitaph) was a follow-up. They played The Continental a lot and were getting serious buzz. By 1998, they had signed with RCA and released Are You My Friend?. There's an interview with Kennedy from that era here. Changing direction a bit, the band (now under the name Ultra-V) released Bring on the Fuego in 2000. By 2002, they were back to Ruth Ruth, and released Right About Now last year. Like all of their stuff, it's smart and catchy, a little bitter, but rocking. I like this band a lot, in case you can't tell.
(OT: Chris Kennedy was one of the first people I contacted when I started this blog: I asked him if he had any press or reviews that I could link to. He wanted me to interview him, but I was terrified.)
If you don't already know Ruth Ruth, you should. If you've found your way here, this is the sort of thing you'll like. Trust your blogmistress here.