The Paul Green School of Rock Music - December 2nd, 2007 in Chicago, IL
Katherine cautioned me against bringing my camera to the show.
"Did you ask permission first?"
"No, it's a rock show at a bar."
"But they're kids."
"They're on a stage in a bar. It's not called 'The Paul Green School of Recitals'."
With that I threw my camera in my bag and we headed out.
Once we arrived at the Beat Kitchen a similar discussion took place, with Katherine eventually deciding that I did look old enough to be someone's father, so it was probably okay for me to take pictures. Thanks for that reminder. So there I stayed, dead center, behind a few small children, shoulder to shoulder with proud parents (each of them seemingly a budding commercial photographer), waiting for a group of children to perform songs by the Ramones.
At a bit after 5:00, six (yes six) mini-Ramones walked onto the stage and began their set to the familiar drumbeat of "I Wanna Be Sedated." In total, The Paul Green School of Rock students would perform 19 songs, each featuring a different lineup. There were about 20 kids total, with most students getting a chance to perform on bass, guitar, drums, and vocals at some point throughout the set. A few tried their hand at keyboards, and one even played saxophone.
Kids ranged from 7 to 18 years-of-age, and represented all levels of musical proficiency. Inclusiveness is the key, not necessarily prowess. This lead to some sloppy performances, some absolute train wrecks, some gloriously precious moments, and some good ol' punk rock. "Blitzkrieg Bop" was a delight, largely due to the enthusiastic vocal selling of Jack Mahon. Cara Klazura's backing vocals on "The KKK Too My Baby Away" were excellent (as was her bass playing throughout the night). Elijah Smith's vocals on "Wart Hog" were great, and his guitar leads in "California Sun" were spot on. And CJ Rayson drums as well as anyone I've ever played with.
While the school seems to have taught the kids how to play the songs of the Ramones, there was little time spent on helping the kids become the Ramones. Dee Dee Ramone's ubiquitous "1-2-3-4" was seldom heard, and only smallest-Who-of-them-all, Luke Conrad, wore the uniform: black converse, blue jeans, white t-shirt, black leather jacket, and shaggy hair dipping down over his eyes. Frequent-guitarist Parker Worpell snubbed the Ramones by wearing oversized bondage pants, a HIM shirt (and button), and playing with a sludgy guitar tone that befitted his metal obsession, but was completely out of place with the rest of his band. No one attempted the nasally Queens drawl of Joey Ramone; in truth, most seemed happy to just get the lyrics out in time. Cara Klazura stylized her version of "She Talks to Rainbows" with a sharp, yelping chorus that reminded me of Patti Smith. That's quite a compliment to pay to a kid who is probably 11.
The band closed with "California Sun" – a song originally recorded by the Rivieras but a staple of the Ramones' catalog. The players rifled through the song with passion and energy, easily selling the performance. The young Ramones on stage appeared no different than any other band I might see at an all-ages VFW show on any given weekend. They may not be virtuosos, but it's only punk rock, and I liked it.