Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Velvet Underground-LIVE AT MAX'S KANSAS CITY 2-CD set (Atlantic/Rhino)

For years this "contractual obligation" album has been the most summarily dismissed (and not usually offhandly at that) Velvet Underground rec even by some of their most ardent fans. Well, not exactly dismissed (to get into Mr. Kimball histrionics)...let's just say that LIVE AT MAX'S was one of those discs that most people who listened to the Velvet Underground back in the mid/late-seventies (at least the few I knew) sorta sheepishly shied away from while praising the '74 two-LP LIVE 1969 WITH LOU REED to the rafters. OK, I can see how that plump-buttocked double set would pique the interest of more'n a few Velveetas out there not only with the previously-unreleased tracks, Elliot Murphy's suburban decadent liner notes and the sleekly-intense feel, but it wasn't as if LIVE AT MAX'S was without its own special charm that seemed to turn off even the most serious of Velvet afionados out there.

And charm it most certainly had. and in more ways'n least for a rock & roll acolyte/nut like I was during my mid-teen years when music seemed less like teenage background noise and more like an obsessive religion. First off it was a mysterious rarity (always a good sign for a CREEM-reading blackhead farm like myself) in the days before a surge in Velvets popularity forced major record stores to stock their wares. I mean, the only place where you could find this wonder (as well as LOADED and a load of non-top 40 Lester Bangs-approved psycho-mulch like Amon Duul II) was in one of those outta-the-way record shops that also had humongous loads of imports, cutouts and manhandled bootlegs amidst the $4.99 domestic brew. The kinda shops that John Cougar Mellencamp (in relating a saga about the first time he bought a copy of the Stooges' FUNHOUSE somewhere in Kentucky) said had sawdust on the floors. Second off, the show took place at Max's Kansas City which as any ROCK SCENE or Lillian Roxon-reading suburban blob knew was thee hipster rock & roll hangout (along with the 82 Club) where everything met everything else that was worth its salt on this decadent planet of ours. And third off, this really was a live album of true quality and value...none of that pre-processed cheese that sounded so bad that many live bootlegs came off livelier in comparison. The sound was good enough and although the performances lacked the avant-garde feeling that the Velvets made their reputation with, it was still a fun disc that set the stage for a load of interesting recordings to come out of the New York Scene over the next few decades. Witness a live '76 Talking Heads gig recorded at Max's that has made the tape circuit rounds for ages where a pre-art project David Byrne even quotes directly from Reed's "a tender love song from the early-fifties about the love between man and subway..." which is something that nobody could get away with even three years later, so at least give the artiste credit for doing SOMETHING while it still had a shard of gulcheral meaning!

There was a mention in Richard Nusser's review of the summer-long series of Max's gigs in THE VILLAGE VOICE (a review you can easily-enough pick up in the ALL YESTERDAY'S PARTIES book which I assume is near and dear to your nightstand for those inspirational moments) about how the Velvets had not only borrowed from the likes of Creedence and (I think he said) the Stones, but from their own early selves as well. And y'know, he's right. In many ways, the Velvets 1970 have a lot in common with the whole range of seventies bands that had drunk from the font of the mid-sixties variety of VU which makes them an even bigger punk gryphon than I'd thought. Listening to LIVE AT MAX'S KANSAS CITY is like taking a trip through the gulcheral underside of the seventies, and who'd've thought that by the time the decade clocked out there'd literally be thousands of bands worldwide taking the torch the Velvets were soon to drop, going in just about any direction from doltist emulation to bright innovation somehow eluding the radarscope of "respectable" rock marketability in the process?

Yes, LIVE AT MAX'S KANSAS CITY, this not-so-new 2-CD edition (after all, most of the unreleased stuff has been circulating albeit in low-fidelity for many years now) is a definite must-have. It's also (and not "arguably") """the""" spiritual kick-start of the seventies (with the Stooges and Dolls taking the cue and way too many to count getting in on the verve) and everything good that decade stood for especially in the face of a load of dross that seems to be remembered so fondly these sorry days. And what's best of all is that now the thing's a cheap bargain find if you look hard enough, which sure goes down smoothly especially when you've hadda pay upwards of sixteen smackers for Cee-Dee versions of cutout classics you once snatched up for mere pences! And with rockism kicks getting harder and harder to find as the years roll on, these rehashes sure do work miracles!

BEFORE I TUNE OUT, I must tell y'all that I just happened to latch onto even more Bill Shute poetic wonders, which believe-it-or-not were actually sent me directly from the man himself perhaps due to his graciousness at seeing his earlier wares reviewed on this blog! I haven't had the chance to digest these pamphlet-sized collections yet so expect a more thorough review of these collections with titles like COLORS IN RHYTHM and SLICED TOMATOES in a future post, but from what I've eye-gobbled it looks as if Bill is improving which is always a good thing even if he has started off in tippy-top shape. And although I'm not exactly gonna be an impartial reviewer of these things, I must admit that I even think YOU'LL like Bill's personalist takes on everyday life (y'know, that same life that some above-it-all hipster snob who probably actually reads this blog would think of as total squaresville) and what Bill can lay down for you in poetic form can be enveloping, touching, at-times scary and even funny! I mean, there was one sublimely witty poem here that was so catch-you-off-guard high-larious that I'd swear the spirit of Ernie Bushmiller had guided Bill's hand! Stay tuned for more coverage as it happens.

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