Enjoy your park
A short story about a gig I saw a long time ago.
I solved a not-very-interesting mystery recently.
During my freshman year of college, before I was even remotely tuned into Boston’s DIY scene, I had a friend who was a lot cooler than me and rounded up a bunch of people to go see his favorite hardcore band Ceremony play at Harvard Square’s Democracy Center. From the jump this was a better and more interesting night than me sitting around and watching Doctor Who or whatever loser thing I was considering that weekend. Unfortunately, said friend had banked on punk time rather than the DC’s tight curfew. We showed up approximately 10 minutes after the show ended. Disappointed but desperate to salvage the evening, my friend pestered some of the punks milling around outside about what else was going down that night, and eventually got directed to a semi-secret Ceremony aftershow in Allston, a place most of us then-Fenway-dwellers pretty much never went. It’s bizarre to recall thinking of Allston like this, a far-off land of mystery and intrigue, since I’ve now lived here for nearly six years and consider myself an evangelist for Boston’s most rat-centric neighborhood, but I digress.
We took a bus across the river and walked the rest of the way to a warehouse complex where a rave of some kind was happening downstairs and some suspicious door guys eventually permitted us entry to the hardcore show happening upstairs. Ceremony were touring Zoo at the time, their controversially garage-y Rohnert Park followup and Matador debut, but you’d notice none of the handwringing about whether or not they were still cool during the characteristically wild set they played in this weird half-finished and very brightly lit room in the warehouse. Bodies were flying, it got extremely sweaty, the floor sort of felt like it might collapse – it hit all the marks.
This is what the Ceremony show looked like, some months before I would become interested in concert photography. Thank you to iPhone 4S.
All in all, one of my more fun and memorable nights that semester. I was dimly aware of off-the-radar shows of questionable legality happening around the city at the time, but, as I must stress again, I was not cool enough to be plugged into this stuff. A switch didn’t exactly flip to send me seeking out underground hardcore shows overnight, but there was something eye-opening about the whole experience. Thing is, thinking back on it later, it drove me crazy that I could never remember exactly where this warehouse space was. My memory extended as far as getting off the 66 at the stop across from the Cambridge Street Walgreens and walking into the dark, but it was all Scene Missing from there.
Flashing forward to last month, I was taking a moment to thumb through a copy of Chris Strunk’s “An Incomplete History of Long-Gone Illegal Punk Venues in Boston from 2000-2015 or Somewhere Around There” (which is a fascinating read if you’re even remotely interested in this sort of thing) when the pieces finally snapped together: What We Talk About When We Talk About Us, in a complex on Penniman Road, was the space where I’d seen this mythical Ceremony set. Strunk’s zine also confirmed something I’d already assumed: that the space in question had been knocked down to make way for every neighborhood resident’s favorite new construction: apartments for the wealthier-than-you.
With a free afternoon, I decided to take a walk over one of the bridges from Lower Allston to see what was becoming of Penniman Road. What I found was a strange liminal space between industrial hangover and gentrification – shiny new buildings with a view of the where the infamous Boiler Room once stood, piles of rubble and discarded furniture adjacent to ongoing construction, elaborately graffittied warehouses and buildings of indiscriminate purpose or origin. A weird vibe, in short; the sort that gets you lamenting a changing city and feeling nostalgia for times and memories that aren’t even yours, really.
I don’t mean to spin this story as some kind of in-memoriam for the punk spaces that once occupied this particular stretch. They’re not mine to eulogize, for one. I was merely a one-episode extra in this season of Allston DIY. But they were also, by their very nature, impermanent to begin with. Development or cops or a global pandemic are always waiting around the corner to stamp out the weird loft where you saw Ceremony that time, just as passionate weirdos in this neighborhood are waiting to make a show that will be some future impressionable teenager’s first hardcore gig happen in some heretofore unimagined space.