Monday, February 02, 2009

Heartbreakers - Live at Max's Kansas City

Johnny Thunders’ short-lived Heartbreakers dissolved shortly after the release of their only studio album (L.A.M.F.) for many reasons, not the least being drug abuse and career abuse. But, whenever Johnny and guitar cohort Walter Lure needed some cash they performed some reunion shows to keep the money coming and the fans happy.

This Max’s show has a sit-in drummer (Ty Styx – actually a fairly clever name for a percussionist) as well as Heartbreakers’ bassist Billy Rath. This is actually quite good – quality sound and playing – kinda sloppy but nowhere near the falling-apart disasters that Johnny became known for later. The guys sound f’k’d up, but in a funny rather than pathetic kinda way.

After a noisy NYC street scene intro tape, the band kicks into the appropriately titled “Milk Me”, which was just another version of “Chatterbox”, which was already released as “Leave Me Alone” on Thunders’ So Alone album! He certainly had no qualms about milking his own music!

The Heartbreakers’ are known for their version of the Thunders/Dee Dee Ramone collaboration, “Chinese Rocks”, which is a musical autobiography of drug abuse and NY street living. I know that Dee Dee co-wrote this (some say he wrote it by himself, but i dunno...) and the Ramones eventually recorded it, but this is pure Heartbreakers – noisy and rockin’! Great stuff!

Of course, most of the tracks on this record are from their studio album, such as “Get Off the Phone” – introduced as “get off the fuckin’ phone” by Walter & Johnny simultaneously. While they weren’t exactly lyrical poets, this is another hard-rockin’ tune about the frustrations of relationships and NY living. Thunders had already recorded his fantastic solo album, So Alone, and the cut from that is the biting and hilarious “London”, his response to the Sex Pistols’ “New York”. This is sped up but still vicious with plenty of perfect Heartbreakers’ guitars!

I’ve listened to this record so many times that I didn’t realize that “Take a Chance” wasn’t from LAMF – in fact, I don’t know if/when it was recorded other than on this live album. In any case, it fits in exactly in style and performance. Lure’s pean to Thunders’ addiction, “One Track Mind” is a Dolls-ish riff-rocker and one of the band’s best! Ty screws up the intro to “All By Myself”, which just allows the guys to tune, then remind him of which song this is and then they blast off! They get a little goofy here vocally – “all by myself, goosh goosh”, for example – but the playing is solid.

They do a spot on take of “Let Go” before moving on to an actual love song, titled (with tons of originality) “I Love You”! Again, not much on lyrics, but good rock’n’roll! Thunders has a crude, and not exactly logical introduction to “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You” (“can’t keep my cock in your face”) and the song loses some of its nuances in a live setting, but nuances aren’t meant for live settings!

Ranting at the audience in a very un-PC way for being kinda lame (mumbling something about “Jerry Lewis’ paraplegics”) the band pounces into “I Wanna Be Loved” and towards the end, they quiet down enough for Johnny to encourage the audience to knock over all of the tables – to no effect – before calling it quits. But, obviously, they wanted to do one last song whether the crowd wanted it or not and came back for their ultra-fun take on “Do You Love Me”, one of their best covers. This is sloppy, hi-energy and a total blast!

When Thunders wasn’t too over-the-top wasted, he was a helluva performer and the Heartbreakers were an excellent band for him. This is one of the best live documents I have ever heard from Thunders – get the studio record first but this should be in any respectable r’n’r collection!