RIP Roseland: My Five Favorite Shows
The week after its final show, one fan remembers his favorite memories of the fabled NYC ballroom
It was twenty years ago this year that I went to my first Roseland show.
It was the first concert I had ever seen in New York City. As a kid who grew up in Ulster County, the only events I had been to were at either the area arenas, the Orange County Speedway, the Mid-Hudson Civic Center and The Chance in Poughkeepsie, the Bardovan, SPAC in Saratoga Springs, the New Paltz bar scene and, of course the variety of public parks, backyards, basements and living rooms my friends and their bands would play. Looking back, it was very cool to have been able to have grown up witnessing live music in such a wide spectrum of venues. But getting on the Grand Central-bound train from the Beacon platform with my boy Mike Cunningham to go see Biohazard and House of Pain at the Roseland was quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. The show, in and of itself, wasn't the most memorable one, save for the fact that I could say I have been to KoRn's first New York City performance as the opening act. At first I was skeptical of them based on the obnoxious amount of street team promotion Epic had going on them throughout the night but by the end of their short, dark and intense set I was sold. I didn't go in the mosh pit, but a random girl started grinding up against me during Biohazard's set, although she looked a lot better when the ballroom was dark.
I've seen countless concerts at the Roseland during my years in college, then as part of the editorial staff at CMJ on through to my modern digs as a hustling freelance writer. And the fact that I'm writing this on the last night of its near-century-old existence, enduring two World Wars, the Great Depression, New York City at its worst and the Disneyfication of Midtown not only makes me reflective and sad the mourn the loss of my very first NYC rock club experience. It more so makes me angry. The Roseland Ballroom, which has existed in Manhattan since opening its doors on New Years Eve in 1919, should have been landmarked. They are not saying exactly why the venue has been shuttered, but anyone who has been cognizant of the systematic de-culturization of the city in the days after 9/11 can only look upward from the Roseland's rooftop and recognize that no amount of historical significance can compensate for a deregulated free marketplace and the greed of a developer who sees a giant beanstalk of profits by erecting a skyscraper where the charming low-level building stands today.
The last time I was at the Roseland for a show was on September 30, 2011 when some of my best buds and I caught Primus there literally days after they released their comeback classic Green Naugahyde. I've been doing to see Primus since they opened for Anthrax and Public Enemy back in the fall of 1991 and nothing beats the set they dropped at Roseland, busting out gems like "Groundhog Day", "Mr. Know-It-All" and "Southbound Pachyderm" with an energy and freshness that made them sound new to me all over again. I'm honored to consider it my own personal swan song as a longtime patron of the room.
However, writing this tonight knowing that this beloved establishment is being closed out in such a bullshit fashion as Lady Gaga ends her weeklong residency, strangely empowers me to need to speak up and remember the Roseland Ballroom for the eye-opening institution of American culture from its origins as a Yuengling Beer-backed prospect from Philadelphia back in 1917.
And out of all of the great shows I've seen there, here are the five that will forever hold a special place in my long term memory bank. I am certainly going to miss navigating the rose-printed carpeting and faded ballroom floor to find my ideal spot near the one pole center stage left. I'm gonna miss checking out the pin table on my way to the bathroom downstairs. I'm going to miss the treat of landing tickets that gave me access to the balcony area, where I once sat near Anthony Keidis and met Busta Rhymes. I'm definitely not going to miss the obnoxious bouncers nor the Job-testing wait on that line which wrapped around the entire building in order to get inside.
But like all of us who have been to the Roseland Ballroom, whether it was back in the 40s when the likes of Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller held court on its fabled side stage or over the last twenty years of legend-making live shows, this place will forever hold a special place on our foxtrotting, slam dancing, head nodding hearts. Here are five of my favorite shows from over the years. Thanks for the memories, Roseland.