The word “bittersweet” was used on more than one occasion at Hollywood’s Avalon on Sunday night. An all-star group of musicians — including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eddie Vedder and Pete Yorn — paid tribute to the Ramones on the thirtieth anniversary of the New York City punk legends’ first show, but guitarist Johnny Ramone, suffering from cancer, was unable to attend.
Host Rob Zombie, a close friend of Johnny’s, said afterwards, “I knew he really wanted to be here. It was heartbreaking to call him,” referring to a call he made to Johnny from the stage. “I really thought he might be able to make it, but the last couple of weeks he started feeling sick again.” Singer Joey Ramone died of lymphona in 2001 and bassist Dee Dee Ramone suffered a fatal overdose the following year.
Still, the heavy hearts did nothing to dampen the music, which kicked off with sets from L.A. heroes the Dickies and X. “All these songs are like X’s Ramones songs,” X frontman John Doe said of his band’s ripping half-hour set, which closed with a cover of an actual Ramones song, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.”
Following a speech from former Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone, and interspersed video tributes to the band, surprise guests the Red Hot Chili Peppers embraced the spirit of the night with a set of Ramones covers. As a shirtless Anthony Kiedis hopped around stage doing his best Joey Ramone, the Chili Peppers delivered scorching renditions of “I Just Want to Have Something to Do” and “I Wanna Be Sedated,” among others.
“Much love to the Ramones,” Kiedis said as the band left the stage, leaving a worked-up crowd and a sizeable mosh pit.
Maybe the only thing that could’ve followed the Chilis as the Ramones was Vedder, Yorn, Henry Rollins and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong taking turns fronting a band consisting of Marky Ramone (drums), C.J. Ramone (bass), and Daniel Rey (guitar), in a Johnny Ramone shirt, to close the night.
Several eras of punk rock were represented during the segment with some dream pairings that included Armstrong and Bad Religion’s Brett Guerwitz teaming up first for “Cretin Hop,” then joining Vedder as he passionately belted out “I Believe in Miracles” and the night’s second version of “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” The other once-in-a-lifetime union came when Henry Rollins and guitarist Steve Jones tore through “Commando” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” prompting Zombie to point out afterwards, “You just got the Ramones, Black Flag, and the Sex Pistols on one stage.”
Among other highlights were Robert Carmine of Rooney, in Joey-esque shades, rocking out on “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” Yorn paying homage to the Ramones’ more melodic side with “Don’t Come Close” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and CJ belting out “Wart Hog.”
The event, which benefited lymphoma cancer research, also included a huge memorabilia exhibit featuring band members’ clothes (including Joey’s faded jeans and T-shirt), guitars and handwritten notes, as well as classic photos.
Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who did “Bonzo Goes to Bitzberg,” best summed up the musicians’ love for the Ramones: “This is for the greatest true rock & roll band, that stayed true from the minute they started to the minute they finished.”