Perfect Sound Forever


Hilary Jaeger with Bridget, circa 1980 at Tier 3

225 West Broadway (southeast corner of White Street)
By Andy Schwartz
(December 2008)

In the spring of 1979, Hilary Jaeger (who was 23 and had grown up in the East Village) was working at a TriBeCa restaurant called Tier 3; a few months later, she began booking live bands in the 300-capacity space. Hilary's efforts were bolstered by the punk and new wave enthusiasts previously associated with Stinky's, an irregular floating nightspot that was New York's first "punk disco."

Tier 3 (also known as TR3) lasted only until December 1980, but it was a vital and influential venue in which the new music cross-bred with the experimental art and film scenes of Downtown.

Hilary Jaeger: I was waitressing at the L&M Coffee Shop, at Second Avenue and 10th Street, and I had a friend named June Giarratano. Her mother, Kathleen Giarratano, and Kathleen's friend Maureen Cooper somehow got the lease and the liquor license for Tier 3. June told me they needed a waitress, and I started working there in March or April 1979... TriBeCa at that point was just a no-man's-land. There was hardly anybody there.

You walked up a few steps to enter the place, and the bar was on the right-hand side of a sort of narrow room. We built a DJ booth to the left, and behind that a couple of booths with bench seating. The whole space was divided by a half-wall, so you could see over and into the rectangular space where the bands played, to the left and a few steps down. Because of how low the ceilings were, the stage was only about ten inches off the floor and maybe fifteen feet wide.

I don't who named it Tier 3, but in fact it did have three levels. The second floor was a more brightly lit room with tables and chairs. People didn't really go to the third floor—there were bathrooms up there, and a disco ball, and in the very beginning there was a DJ booth there. At some point we showed films there, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. God knows what else went on up there!

There were really very few places to play in Manhattan at that moment—basically C.B.G.B., Max's, and Hurrah. The Mudd Club was open, but I don't think they were doing a lot of live bookings at the time. My sister [singer Angela Jaeger] was in bands and my friends were in bands and I was completely involved in music. Tier 3 was obviously an auspicious space in which to do something.

On my own, I wasn't ambitious enough to do this. It was the coming-together of Stinky's, which had a sound system and sound people. So that filled in that element, and brought in that group of people... Looking through my journals, I see that the Stinky's connection only lasted a few months. They didn't like just being "the sound crew," and were incensed at having to run sound for bands they didn't like!

Joining Hilary in the nascent Tier 3 operation were Jim Geiger (bartender), Amy McMahon (coat check), her younger brother Michael McMahon (bar back), and DJs Bob Gurevics & Simeon Gallu.

HJ: It looks like the very first booking was Angela's group, the Stare Kits, on May 30, 1979 [based on journal entries]. Also a band called Russia—for the life of me, I can't remember who they were... Anyway, once the word went out, the cassette tapes poured in faster than I could possibly listen to them. Soon I was booking almost ten bands per week.

The Lounge Lizards had one of their first gigs at Tier 3 and played many times after that. The dB's and DNA played a lot. The Stimulators. The Bush Tetras. 8 Eyed Spy with Lydia Lunch. The Raybeats.

Hilary Jaeger soon began to expand Tier 3's musical menu, and was able to offer financial guarantees to out-of-town and overseas acts.

We didn't do as much jazz or reggae as I'd have liked to. I tried to book Big Youth, and he just didn't show up! But we did have Oliver Lake & Jump Up, and the St. Louis Creative Ensemble with Joseph Bowie and Luther Thomas— they were incredible. The World Saxophone Quartet played Tier 3.

Among the UK bands, we had the Raincoats, the Slits, the Pop Group, Delta 5, Young Marble Giants, A Certain Ratio, and Bauhaus. Madness' first US gig might have been at Tier 3.

A guy named Lindzee Smith showed films. We had art shows and photography shows on the second floor. People just came in and were like, "can we put up our artwork?" and we'd say "okay." I know that Kiki Smith painted a mural there, and Basquiat painted not only the DJ booth but this incredible mural on the wall between the bar room and the music room. I have a very old fuzzy photograph of it. I didn't even pay him, just bought him the spray paint!

Pat Place, Cynthia Sley and Dee Pop: Bush Tetras gig 1980 (probably spring/early summer 1980)
LIVE AT TIER 3 – NOVEMBER 1979 [highlights]

(1-2) The Senders
Fronted by singer Philipe Marcade, the Senders infused their blues-based songs with the aggressive panache of Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers. In 1989, Marcade and guitarist "Wild Bill" Thompson convened a new lineup to record a live album at C.B.G.B.

(4) Film: Rome '78 (dir. James Nares)
London-born filmmaker James Nares also played music with the Contortions and the Del-Byzanteens. He became a successful abstract painter, working with handcrafted brushes on large canvases.

(9) D.O.A.
Founded in 1978 in Vancouver, this left-wing hardcore punk band is still going strong today under the leadership of front man Joey Shithead (neé Joe Keithley). The singer/guitarist ran for political office in British Columbia, and in 2003 published his autobiography I, Shithead: A Life in Punk.

(16) DNA
The East Village experimental rock trio, a pillar of New York's short-lived but influential "No Wave," was comprised of Arto Lindsay (guitar, vocals), Tim Wright (bass), and Ikue Mori (drums). Lindsay and Mori have established prolific post-rock solo careers; Wright is reported to be living in northern Belize (ED NOTE: Tim also lives in NYC sometimes, doing archeology work).

(25) Madness
The most commercially successful band to emerge from the British ska revival, Madness scored 15 Top Ten UK hits from 1979-1984. The Tier 3 gig is believed to have been their first performance in the US.

There was just so much going on, whether it was equipment breakdowns or just plain old arguments on the floor. We hadn't set out to be a real club, and from my journals it looks pretty much like chaos. A place like Heat, which opened nearby, had these huge sound and light systems. We just had, like, a bunch of wires!

I had no assistant and was booking most of these bands off the pay phone downstairs. Also, Tier 3 gave 100% of the door money to the bands, and that became a big bone of contention once the owners started seeing the money that was being made. They cut it back to 75%, and that created some rifts.

From June '79 through June '80, Tier 3 was going strong. Things began heading downhill, I think, in the summer of 1980. We had competition from new places like Danceteria, and in August we were shut down for the first time.

But we still had some great bands. At a point when the owners wanted to turn it into a country-western bar, we had a benefit for Volume magazine with Liquid Liquid and ESG. That was a great show, for me one of the highlights in the whole history of the place.

[By the fall of 1980] I have to say there was just all kinds of drama going on. A lot of substance abuse issues."

It was really overwhelming, the responsibilities of my job—starting with the sheer number of demos to be listened to. I had so many tapes from people wanting to play. Much later on, I was looking through this huge box of tapes and one was from Madonna. I listened to it and thought it sounded kind of good— I would've booked her! But at the time, I never even got around to listening to it.

Hilary Jaeger and her crew quit Tier 3 in December 1980, at around the same time the club received an eviction notice.

HJ: I could say Tier 3 was never really a commercial venture. It might have been to Kathy and Maureen, but not to me. I made less than $200 per week. The DJs made forty or fifty bucks; the bands made--whatever, $300. But the non-commerciality of it was part of what made Tier 3 unique.

I deejayed a couple of times at Tramps and the Mudd Club. I worked at Rough Trade in San Francisco and for Y America [the U.S. wing of London's Y Records]. But I could never be a sales person. If I didn't like the music, I just didn't have it in me.

[Hilary Jaeger, now a licensed Registered Nurse, lives in upstate New York. Her daughter Lucy lives in her old apartment on East 12th Street in the East Village. Maureen Cooper died sometime in 2007 after a brave fight against cancer. Michael McMahon sings and plays guitar with the NYC-based "Western bop" trio Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Company (SIT&DIE). Amy McMahon performed in Last Roundup (with Michael) and in the Shams. She was married to and later divorced from dB's drummer Will Rigby; as Amy Rigby, she released a series of acclaimed solo albums. In 2008, Amy married singer/songwriter Eric Goulden a/k/a Wreckless Eric and the couple released the duo CD Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby.]

Hilary's notebook schedule, Nov/Dec 1979. Note entries for Madness, 8 Eyed Spy, Lounge Lizards, Polyrock
and back-to-back nights with Glen Branca and Rhys Chatham

Also see Andy's tribute to Tin Palace, Soundscape and his preface to Lost NYC clubs

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER