The Gaelic Club, Sydney
Sunday, May 2, 2004

If the prospect of watching some guy's slide show fills you with dread, you weren't among the 800 Sydneysiders in the Gaelic Club on this slightly chilly Sunday night. They shelled out 30 bucks apiece to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and give their unabashed attention. They lined up for $30 T-shirts and $10 autographed photos (no drumsticks this time). They even queued for 200 metres to gain admission (admittedly, not an unusual event at the Gaelic Club, where the entrance arrangements are hellishly inefficient). A few punters even trawled a nearby pub, trying to convince ticket holders to part with any spares. A case of the Ramones winning out over Sunday night reality TV.

Of course it helps if the person telling the stories is a living, breathing Ramone. They're a little thin on the ground these days, tragically, and don't visit these parts nearly often enough. A supposed Dee Dee visit (in conjunction with some production work for Melbourne's Mach Pelican) was on the cards a few years ago, but was canned.

Drummers don't usually get their kudos, sitting up the back and beating the shit out of everything, but Marky Ramone (real name: Marc Bell) redresses that imbalance tonight. He's a lucid and reasonably entertaining storyteller, even if many of the yarns have been related in other places.

The concept was novel: Marky did about an hour of storytelling, using the occasional video clip and lots of slides to assist. He was preceded by a set from Melbourne all-girl three-piece, The Spazzys, and later joined them for a run-through of a dozen Ramones tunes.

First to The Spazzys. These gals are big Ramones fans (doesn't it show?) Their set was bright and breezy, with enough spark and energy to warm up the room. The new, very addictive single "Paco Doesn't Love Me" was aired and a tightly-sprung "My Boyfriend's Back" showcased their bouncy harmonies. A notch above most punk-pop.

The earliest stages of the spoken word passage didn't bode well. The opening sequence was a long lift from "Ramones Around the World", Marky's collection of tour home videos released in the late 1990s. Confirmed Ramonesaholics like yours truly have seen the clip, where the band's van is swamped by fans who lay siege to a South American hotel. It was an effective scene-setter, but some unreleased footage might have been better.

Ice broken, it was a chronological walk through Marc Bell's back pages, starting with growing up in Brooklyn, two albums with teenage metal band Dust and his graduation to sitting behind the traps for Wayne County. The New York Dolls got their props (onetime audionee for Billy Murcia's place, Marky, approves of their reunion) and on to the Voidoids, the Ramones and hard drinking. Twice, Marky reminded the crowd "I ain't no fucking preacher" in his Brooklyn drawl. His honest appraisal of his own exploits – including crashing his car through a furniture shop window after a couple of martinis and a six-pack of Newcastle Brown- did nothing to shorten the bar queues.

A momentary technical failure opened up questions from the floor prematurely and here's where a roving radio mic would have been useful. Whatever the question that prompted Marky to retort: "Fuck you, fuckface!", it must have been a pearler (with widespread speculation that it concerned wigs - since denied by someone closer to the action who blamed some very drunk Japanese hecklers). It has to be said that the pictures didn't always match the words, but who expected it to be slick?

Surprises? Only a few. CJ Ramone has married Marky's niece and has spawned some mini Ramones. No-one else in the band has chosen to pass on the family name, most of the surviving band members seeming to think their genes would be too damaged. We already knew the Ramones' politics (Marky's a liberal Democrat, if that means much to Australians) and most fans should have known that Johnny and Joey didn't speak for 18 years (it was a fight over a girl – Johnny eventually married her - and bought her implants, by the way, but that one doesn't come up in the monologue).

Johnny's fascination with Siamese twins in jars and other freaks of nature, on the other hand, makes for light listening - and also explains a lot. In the pipeline: A Ramones box set (finally). Let's hope it's not just re-packaging of already available material.

Yes, the Ramones loved Australia and had fond memories of their last tour here in 1994. That being the case, why didn't they include us on their farewell run? Maybe the thought of that long trans-Pacific flight, trapped in each other's company, was just too much.

Marky gave the impression that, when not out of his mind on booze, he was the most pragmatic member of the very dysfunctional family that was the Ramones. It says something of his character (or the others' commitments - Dee Dee was on tour in Europe) that he was the only Ramone to show at Joey's funeral. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Informed sources tell us he wasn't in attendance in fact. If we mis-heard this, we'll gladly correct it - drop us a note here]. The biggest cheers went up whenever Dee Dee or Joey were mentioned.

Come the closing set with the Spazzys, the looks of delight were etched on the band's faces as Marky took his spot behind his own kit and pounded out a dozen or so classics ("Sedated", "Blitzkrieg Bop") told the tale. Spazzys drummer Alice vacated her traps to take lead vocals, dressed as Riff Randell.

It sounded a little like a Ramainz gig (Marky, Dee Dee and CJ) with Barbara Ramone on vocals. The occasional embellishment aside (like extra fills and unnecessary introductions for each tune), Marky remains the drummer he always was - rock solid.

An enjoyable night, if devoid of surprises. The Barman