Well, here we are again, stuck at home with no shows to go to, trying to find a way to survive without live music for… who knows how long? I don’t have any good news for you on that front, but I can offer you another collection of great live footage with which to fill your days and nights over the next week and try to ease the pain of social distancing.
This week’s playlist is entitled “Let’s go to shows in Richmond in the 20th century.” It’s all footage recorded here in the river city before Y2K, and while the younger amongst you might not recognize a lot of the venues we stop into this week, they’re sure to bring back some memories for the old heads.
Quick warning: recording technology wasn’t then what it is today. A lot of this stuff might not sound as amazing as you’d like it to. But really, we’re just lucky to have any of it at this point. So if all else fails, turn it up. Let’s rock.
Fugazi at Shafer Court, VCU, April 14, 1996
This 10-song playlist features a significant portion of a live outdoor performance by the most fervently DIY band the hardcore scene of the 90s ever produced. Early on, Fugazi insisted on door prices for their shows being $5 or less. Once they were doing well, they started trying to play for free whenever possible. This performance, held outside on a beautiful spring day in the middle of VCU’s campus, was free to all comers — and a lot of people showed up, as you will see from the various crowd shots interspersed within this video. Current VCU students might not recognize the spot on campus where this was filmed; that’s because this outdoor stage was demolished in the early 00s to make way for what is now the Shafer dining hall.
Fugazi have released high-quality audio of many of their concerts over the years as part of their Fugazi Live Series, and while they only have high-quality audio of part of this performance, footage from the last four songs in this set has been synced with that audio to create an incredible audiovisual document. If the middling-quality video camera audio in the first part of the set doesn’t do it for you, skip ahead to “Instrument” — it all sounds awesome after that.
GWAR at PB Kelly’s, October 11, 1985
This is, as far as anyone knows, GWAR’s first full live performance. Started by the members of Richmond hardcore band Death Piggy as a goofy joke band that could open their sets, the band originally known as Gwarrrrggghhh! eventually became the focus of their efforts. This video captures the very beginning of their path to world domination, and presents a GWAR lineup that even longtime fans might not know about. In the early days, Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, was GWAR’s guitar player, and while he still did most of the talking between songs, it was Joe Annaruma that handled the lead vocals. That lasted until 1986, when Brockie took over the vocal position, and Oderus Urungus was born.
This video captures a very primitive version of what GWAR would eventually become, but does show that even 35 years ago, a lot of the pieces were already in place. As for PB Kelly’s, where it was filmed, this Shockoe Bottom club was wiped permanently off the map only a month after this performance by the 30-foot-high flood waters of Hurricane Juan — so if you’ve never heard of it, that’s understandable.
Black Flag at Hard Times, April 9, 1984
There are two schools of thought about Black Flag, the legendary LA hardcore band who were integral to the growth and spread of American hardcore in the early 80s. The first is that they went to hell once Henry Rollins joined, and everything after 1981’s Damaged is garbage. The second is that if anything, they got more interesting in their later years, as they delved into anguished metallic sludge with occasional mathy prog tangents. Where you land on that spectrum will definitely influence your appreciation for this 1984 live set by Black Flag, captured a month after the release of their divisive second album, My War.
Over the course of this hour-long set, the band plays everything from early hardcore-punk bangers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Jealous Again” to slowed-down torture-fests like “Three Nights” and “Nothing Left Inside,” with a couple of their signature bizarre instrumentals thrown in for good measure. And if you ask me, it all rules. This video was filmed from the back of Hard Times, which gives us all a good look at the inside of this brick building at the corner of West Cary and Harrison streets long before it became a Thai restaurant.
Dave Matthews Band at The Flood Zone, June 17, 1992
Richmond in the late 20th century was definitely a town focused on hardcore, punk, and metal. But that’s not to say that nothing else was happening here back then, and there’s plentiful proof of that on this video from The Flood Zone, a Shockoe Bottom club that became Have A Nice Day Cafe in the late 90s and more recently has been converted into condos. Ugh. Before all that happened, it was the biggest performance venue this side of the coliseum that Richmond had to offer, and in the early 90s, the Dave Matthews Band dominated it with their standing gigs every Wednesday night.
To put it into perspective, this footage was filmed two years before this Charlottesville quintet’s breakout major label debut, Under The Table And Dreaming. And yet they clearly had already completed some of the key material that later made them famous; this set features future hit singles like “What Would You Say” and “So Much To Say.” Several years before they hit heavy rotation on MTV, they were getting regular airplay onstage in Richmond. And back then, Dave still had a full head of hair!
Chisel at Twisters, 1995
Ted Leo went on to make quite a name for himself in the post-Y2k era as an indie-punk singer-songwriter hero, fronting his band The Pharmacists. But before all that, he was leading a hot power-pop trio called Chisel, who swung through Richmond on a summer night in 1995 and played to a mid-sized crowd at Twisters (the club best remembered today as Strange Matter). It’s likely that a lot more people would claim today to have been at this show than were actually there at the time, but no one back then knew who this skinny guy with the Telecaster would go on to become.
This footage doesn’t sound the greatest, and is too dark to give you a good sense of what the room was like (spoiler: it was dim and kinda grotty, just like it was when it was Strange Matter), but it should at least hint at the greatness buried on those old Chisel albums that even a lot of Ted Leo fans don’t know about. Dig em up if you haven’t, you won’t be sorry.
Avail at The Metro, May 1, 1992
We got a set from Avail in 2019 last week, and here’s at least one song from nearly 30 years before. Believe it or not, this performance was billed at the time as Avail’s “last show” — their breakup didn’t last very long, though, and we’re all much better for it. What this footage proves is that Avail shows 28 years ago (can you believe it’s been that long?) were just as crazy as the reunion shows were last year.
As for the Metro, where this was filmed, it was little more than a big empty room with a stage at one end. It was located above what is now Asado and for a long time before that was known as Empire, and was definitely a venue from another time; I know for sure you couldn’t buy food there, which you’d never see at a Virginia venue today. The Metro was shuttered after the fire marshall showed up at an over-capacity Avail gig in 1995, and it has never reopened. Rumor has it that it’s still up there above Asado, exactly as it was 25 years ago, lying in wait for a new generation of Richmonders to discover it.
The Grateful Dead at The Richmond Coliseum, November 2, 1985
It’s hard to explain to a younger music fan who wasn’t around when The Grateful Dead were still kicking just what a phenomenon this band was. The death of Jerry Garcia in summer 1995 ended a 30-year legacy that has only been sporadically captured by various offshoots and semi-reunions over the quarter-century since then. And if you don’t understand it, this fuzzy footage (with thankfully excellent sound) of the group’s second set at the Richmond Coliseum in 1985 is not going to get it across to you.
However, Richmond’s true Deadheads are sure to be stoked to see this trip into our city’s Deadhead past, from way before Cary Street Cafe was a thing. It also reminds us of a time when the city was putting the Coliseum to good use, something it should probably still be doing instead of letting it sit there empty. But I digress.
Richmond VA – Hooray! Live video compilation, 1998
Let’s cap this thing off with an embarrassment of riches from 22 long years ago. This compilation, assembled by Jeff Grant (Flashbulb Memory, Pink Razors, Stop It!) and originally released on VHS, captures performances by 30 different bands active in Richmond in 1998. It features everything from familiar Richmond names, some of which are still active today (Avail, Fun Size, Ann Beretta), to forerunners of modern legends: James River Scratch is Tony Foresta’s pre-Municipal Waste band; The Ultimate Dragons moved to Texas and evolved into The Sword; Disinterment featured multiple future members of Darkest Hour.
There are also some forgotten curiosities buried within this playlist that are sure to bring back fond memories for the lucky few who were around to see them the first time. If you know where to look, you’ll even see me, when I was half my current age, ranting and screaming in a basement. But the hidden gem of this playlist, which makes it worth it even when the audio isn’t the greatest, is the documentation of what Richmond looked like in 1998, as preserved in the introductory videos filmed by Jeff and his then-bandmate Duncan Adams in various spots around the city. It’s hard to believe how much it’s changed since then.