On April 26th, SUNY Fredonia Professor Elmer Ploetz, myself and another volunteer made our way towards the back entrance of the Town Ballroom in downtown Buffalo on April 26th. It was to play host to the second annual Continental Reunion Show and I had volunteered to help Prof. Ploetz record and interview people. At this year’s reunion, 11 bands were set to perform. I thought it would be like any other rock show. I was dead wrong.
The Continental, located on 212 Franklin Street, was Buffalo’s largest goth and punk scene in the late ’80s before ultimately closing down in 2005. Last year’s reunion had nearly 1,000 people showing up for the event.
The clock on the wall struck seven and the doors opened with a wave of people in leather, fishnets, heavy make up, corsets. Soon after, the slight smell of cannabis filled the arena. I stayed behind my set up tripod on the upper level of the venue while I waited for the bands to take stage.
Bob James’ band started out the night with his first single “Lorraine.” The crowd bobbed their heads to the music as they came in with drink in hand to prepare for the rest of the evening. Each band was set to play for approximately 20 minutes. Even between the short amounts of time, the atmosphere was great and the fans cheered and rooted as bands brought up old memories.
The band that caught my attention was The Kevin K Band. With my camera, I zoomed in on the singer who wore purple glasses with a bright vest. The band rocked out one song after another and I found myself singing along to the chorus of each song, cheering loudly as they finished. With their loud and hard guitars and fast beats, they were the definition of an old school punk band.
I was told the bands that everyone was looking forward to were Tension and The Enemies. That night was the first time that Tension played in 25 years and I heard non-stop talk about them performing. The Enemies caused an equal amount of buzz between fans, as they were to perform with two of the original members.
Between sets, I got the opportunity to take a break behind the camera and venture out into the bar area to interview people. For an older, edgier crowd, people had smiles on their faces and were hugging one another in remembrance of The Continental.
I heard stories about The Continental being a safe haven and a place where misfits went and felt like they belonged. A person from our crew sparked a conversation with a man, who as he spoke, painted an image of young, goth girls looking in the mirror, fixing their make up. The interview turned quite a loop when be mentioned that he was blind, something I failed to initially observe. In an instant, he pulled on a leash he had in his hand and a woman immediately came to his side. She had a collar around her neck and my eyes could not stop looking at her golden eye make up. She introduced herself as his “Seeing-eye Bitch.” I was thrown off guard at the sight of the two of them but that gave me a realization that The Continental was all about the strange and the unusual.
And, I was part of it.
Tension and The Enemies took the stage toward the end of the night, and that was the most I heard the crowd cheer. Some people starred in awe since it was years since they saw the bands play. My professor was even rocking out to the music along with the people who waited for the reunion to happen. I, along with two other girls from our crew, went to the front of the stage to watch the two bands perform. From our vantage point, I saw older faces light up and young rock ‘n’ roll hearts unleashed again. We then just let everything loose, threw up the classic horns with our hands and screamed after each song. We didn’t know the words, but the excitement and the feeling of the drums rocking our bodies made us want to be part of the crowd. After their sets, we took our sweaty selves up near the tripods and cameras. We all babbled about how awesome the bands were and almost forgot that two more bands were set to perform.
We watched as the stage was prepared for the next act. A black banner with red, bloody letters read, “SKINBOUND.” We knew the next band was not going to be some classic punk band. The lights dimmed and a red light surrounded the stage. Everyone looked confused when over the speakers they heard the sound of eerie church music and suddenly, the band came out with rough guitars and pounding drums. The singer came out with harsh growls and screams.
At first, I was taken back by the band. I was like, ‘Who would have a heavy metal band at a punk show?’ But, in a heartbeat, the three of us made our way to the stage again and we followed suit with the crowd, heads banging to the beat of the guitars. We yelled and once more threw up the horns. I gasped a few times as I watched the keyboard player do backflips while he stood on stage. “We are going to play Coldplay’s, ‘Viva La Vida’ because we like to piss them off,” the singer announced, and the band proceeded into a metal version, complete with deep growls. It made a lasting impression as I knew I would never listen to the original song without the image of a band dressed in black, a keyboard player doing backflips, and a tattooed covered singer doing intense vocals. As much as the band was intimidating on stage, I met them after the show and observed young guys with humbled hearts as they were asked to take pictures and sign autographs.
Progressively fewer people made their way towards the stage as the last band started to play, which was not until after midnight. Industry of Life Divine took the stage with pink and black balloons filling the stage. We made our way back to the camera and video area and watched as the stage filled with half-naked women in leather, carrying whips. The scene distracted from the music, the music that came through the band sounded like a poppy version of Marilyn Manson, with a psychedelic rock. On the corner of the stage was a girl who twirled around a light up, rainbow hula-hoop and I mentally gave her props for being able to twirl it around her neck, legs and hips. But, that was the only real entertainment on the stage.
All our equipment was packed and our crew got out of the venue before the total chaos of traffic could happen. My ears rang, my throat was dry and the back of my neck sore. I came in there not knowing what to expect and I came out with a real acceptance of what The Continental was: it was a home for the people who were told they did not belong anywhere else. It was a place for the misfits to show their true colors. It was a true punk rock family.