As of last night, another legendary NYC venue, Roseland Ballroom, has bitten the dust. The flamboyance that is Lady GaGa took to its proverbial dais (her final appearance of a seven night stint); after which the union crew tore down the staging, and swept the floors for the final time.
Originally opened on New Year’s Eve 1919/1920 – a block south from its current home on 52nd street in Manhattan – Roseland was actually a whites-only venue intended to host “refined dancing,” whatever the hell that is. Things changed big time during the mid-1920’s thanks largely to the emergence of jazz, with icons like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie’s continuing to appear at the club.
In 1956, the 51st street location was demolished, and Roseland dug itself into a new one, opening for business just around the corner in NYC’s theater district. The new Roseland was a converted ice-rink, turned roller-rink, with a capacity of approximately 3,500 for concerts. While the grand ballroom featured a wide array of public, as well as private events over the years, in recent times, it has become known mostly for live performances by many of the world’s greatest artists. The list of those who have done their thing within its walls, reads similarly to how it would over at Madison Square Garden. U2, Madonna, Public Enemy, the Rolling Stones, New Order, Bob Dylan, Wu-Tang Clan, Prince and Metallica; who for all intents and purposes signed their major label record deal immediately after their first thrash fest there in 1984, have all blessed the joint at one, or numerous points over the decades.
As a modern concert venue, the shows at the Roseland Ballroom always felt more like…well, concerts, as opposed to a club gigs. However, the room felt consistently just intimate enough to give patrons a taste of fan-friendliness regardless of its size. While there’s still the Hammerstein Ballroom to pick up some of the slack, Roseland boasted a mystique as a result of its history that ya’ just can’t fuck with. I’m going to miss the place, so I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite show I’ve witnessed in the Ballroom:
August 3, 1984
Early-days underground metal stomped its way into Roseland with a bill boasting one legendary act in the form of Raven; complimented by 2 of its brightest up-and-comers. In the end, the soon-to-be biggest metal band of all time demolished the packed-to-the-gills Ballroom with its brand of sweaty thrash intensity, and Elektra Records signed the band as a direct result of the show. Game-changing night for sure.
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
November 23, 1999
The final time I got to see Mr. Strummer do his thing before his untimely death only 3 years later at the age of 50. I had no idea I would be treated to so many Clash songs on this night, but holy crap – was I psyched. They opened with “Safe European Home” and never stepped off the gas.
February 22, 2003 – Rock the Vote Awards
This one was SO weird, but so incredibly great. PE headlined the Rock the Vote Awards show during Grammy week to a ½ full room of uptight music business jerk-offs, who were shell-shocked by PE to say the least. But Chuck gave no fucks, and Public Enemy played like it was an arena show in ’87 or ’88. Chuck & Flav & Terminator X & the S1W’s! That’s all you need.
September 20, 2008
The inimitable Lemmy kicked this one off by stepping up to his tilted mic, and uttering the words “we are Motorhead boys and girls, and we play rock ‘n roll!” So rock they did. Old Lem may have a lost a small step over the years; shit, he even forgot some of the lyrics to their classic tunes, but Motorhead is fucking Motorhead. The purist heavy band EVER!
July 26, 2009
I have no idea who else played this show, and I couldn’t care less. I felt as if I was watching The Clash play in their prime. Tim Armstrong and co. blazed through an undeniable set-list of their best, topped off by their “hits” from the outstanding And Out Come the Wolves long-player. The crowd was amped as fuck, and sang every word so that all the Broadway shows taking place nearby would have to come to a grinding halt.