Uncle Monk, Club Passim, April 6, 2007
The last time I saw Tommy Ramone on stage, he was at CBGB’s last stand hopping about, singing the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the Dictators. That was fall 2006. Last Friday at Club Passim, the original Ramones drummer (who’s also worked as a manager and producer under his given name, Tom Erdélyi) didn’t refer to his old band once — in song or in chat. The slight man with a gray ponytail played dobro and sang in a plainspoken voice, accompanied by acoustic guitarist/singer Claudia Tienan. It was an evening of straight-on, no-frills bluegrass. The link to punk?” “It’s home-brewed stuff,” Ramone explained pre-set.
Uncle Monk began as a jam-band trio before paring down to a bluegrass duo, and they now have a self-released homonymous CD on the racks. Ramone sings most of the leads, but he and Tienan hovered around one microphone at Passim, her voice coming through faintly during the 65-minute set. The down-home feel was typical of the club. And the material had a sense of sadness and melancholy. In “Need a Life,” Ramone sang about “people who never had a chance, sinking down, sinking down,” with the title serving as a desperate plea. “Walls of Time” was about “coming for you when I die.” “Home Sweet Reality” had Ramone singing “Down and out and everyone knows/Home sweet reality/Leave me alone.” And in “Mean to Me,” he kept asking the question “Why are you mean to me, why so mean to me?”
Uncle Monk aren’t the sort of bluegrass band who rely on lickety-split runs. — they moved at a measured, mid-tempo pace, no majestic highs, no wrenching lows. It was an evening of contemplative, rustic yet tuneful music, modest by design and in execution. Hard to believe this is the same guy who beat the skins on early Ramones classics like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” “We’re a Happy Family,” and “Pinhead.”
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