Volume 75, Number 40 | February 22 -28 2006

For those about to rock…the Village isn’t the place

By Ellen Keohane

C.B.G.B. won’t be the only East Village music venue to close this year. Continental, the punk club where Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, D-Generation and the Dictators once took the stage, will no longer host live music after Aug. 26, said Trigger, the club’s owner.

Continental at 25 Third Ave., which opened in 1991, will continue to host live bands until the end of the summer, but will then close for remodeling. New York City hardcore band Murphy’s Law will play the club’s final concert, Trigger said. (Trigger goes by one name — “like Madonna,” he said.) Following the renovations, Trigger will reopen the club as a bar with the stage removed and replaced with seating. Continental will keep its name, he said.

A little after 6:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, Trigger sat in the club’s basement greenroom and talked about his decision to stop hosting bands after 15 years. Wearing a winter hat with earflaps, snow boots and a black zip-up sweater, his deep voice echoed in the empty room. “There’s not much of a scene anymore,” he said. “We have a few great nights a month here, but nothing like the old days.” The club currently books four to five bands a night, seven days a week.

Others also feel the scene is in decline. “The audience for live music is not there anymore,” said Rob Kemp, the bassist for the Punk Rock Heavy Metal Karoaoke Band, which has played at Continental every Monday night for the past year. Feb. 20 marked the end of the band’s weekly residency at the club. Kemp said the simple fact is that the city’s music scene isn’t centered in the East Village anymore — it’s moved to the Lower East Side and Brooklyn.

Back when the club opened, there wasn’t a Kmart on Eighth St. or even a single Starbucks on Astor Pl., and the late Joey Ramone, who lived a block away from the club, was a regular. The first year Continental was open, Iggy Pop came in and asked Trigger if he could book a show. “I told Iggy to bring in a demo,” Trigger said. Pop took him seriously — for a minute — before Trigger told him he was joking, he said.

The neighborhood has changed since then. Continental, which is near the corner of St. Mark’s Pl. and Third Ave., is now sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a kosher falafel restaurant named Chickpea. “A punk rock club on a corner like this — it’s just impossible,” Trigger said. Band members who used to live in the neighborhood have been priced out of the East Village. “Rents have really changed the complexion and energy of the city,” he said.

A little after 10 p.m. on a recent Sunday, about 40 people filled the long, narrow club space. T-shirts, baseball caps and various laminated signs advertising drink specials hung above the bar. Black-and-white photos taken at the club of various musicians, including Iggy Pop, Dee Dee Ramone, the Spin Doctors and the Wallflowers, decorated the black walls. Most people congregated near the bar and in front of the stage.

“It’s sad that places like this are closing, but times are changing,” said Justin Weiner, a 24-year-old real estate financial analyst, who read a newspaper while he waited for his friend’s band, Against the Wall, to play. Now a lot of people hear new music on MySpace.com, not in clubs, he said.

“I’ve been here a couple of times,” said Cinque Schatz, a 29-year-old artist, as he leaned against the bar. “I have a good time, but I’m not blown away or anything.”

“I think it’s a shame this place is closing,” said Karen Bonkowski, a 21-year-old bartender and singer. The East Village has plenty of bars; the neighborhood doesn’t need another one, she said. Bonkowski, like Weiner and Schatz, was also friends with one of the musicians in the band about to take the stage.

A few minutes later, the members of Against the Wall started their set. “Visions of you — they keep me up at night,” the lead singer shouted into his microphone over the sound of wailing guitars and pounding drums. The whole room vibrated and conversation ceased — it was impossible to hear anyone over the noise.

The renovations will not be dramatic, and the overall look and feel of the club will remain relatively similar, Trigger said. He plans to install a jukebox and a flat-screen plasma television screen upstairs and a pool table in the basement greenroom. The greenroom’s benches, red-and-black-checkered floor and sticker-covered walls will stay completely intact, he said.

The changes will probably draw a more mainstream crowd on the weekends, Trigger said with disdain, before pausing. “It will be very commercial and very hard to adjust,” he said. “But change is a constant in life.”

Until the end of August, Trigger plans to maintain a full schedule of bands. He is also planning some special reunion shows, which are still in the works. “This is heartbreaking for me,” he said. “I love this club.”

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