Saturday, April 10, 2010

Various Artists-LIVE AT CBGB'S 2-LP set (Atlantic); MAX'S KANSAS CITY 1976 LP (Ram)

It's not that there's a dearth of new material for me to gab about this weekend, but for now I feel like talking about the "old" even if I am breaking my long-held promise of not rewriting too much material that originally appeared elsewhere...again. And hey, when it come to "old" I remember people telling me back in '80 that the material on the LIVE AT CBGB'S and MAX'S KANSAS CITY 1976 albums was not exactly spring chicken fresh so obviously this stuff must be ancient by now! Of course a musical movement that had gone from such by-then outmoded groups as the Electric Eels and Television to such above-and-beyonds as Bow Wow Wow and Culture Club (true they were more 1982 than 1980) would seem so far advanced that the bands that appeared on these compilations came off like yesterday's papers, but hey I like that old (or, as some would say, "proto punk") stuff more than I do the patented commercial kitsch it more or less "led to." And in many ways these two albums (of which I have already written more than a few reams of paper on in the pages of my old fanzine and elsewhere) typify just about everything that I like about underground rock. Or at least the breed of animal it was before it got tagged with a number of handy adjectives that more or less diluted its original meaning/thrust to the point where THE NEW YORK ROCKER was actually concerned about covering whatever flavor of the week group there was as if it somehow still had any connection, any meaning with 1976.

I remember when both of these albums were making the rounds back '76 way, with Atlantic giving the CBGB one a big push (usually in conjunction with their plugging of the latest AC/DC record which doesn't seems strange since those guys would play CB's within a year or so!) while there must've been a big bankroll pushing the Max's one because you used to see ads for the thing all over such rock publications as HIT PARADER and ROCK SCENE not forgetting some of the higher-echelon fanzines like BOMP! And coupled with all of the much-earned hype that was being churned out of the New York Scene thanks to a variety of publications like ROCK SCENE and THE AQUARIAN it's no wonder more than a few midwestern goofs were ruff 'n ready anxious to gobble both of these albums up considering all of the promise they held w/regards to satisfying their heavy duty rockism needs.

And I'll bet more'n a few midwestern pimplefarms were pretty surprised, nay, angered when these albums eventually graced their ears, especially after these teenage tubs spent night after night reading about how all of those New York groups were supposed to be the "new" Velvet Underground or "new" Stooges. Sheesh, a whole load of 'em had trouble being the new Hullabaloos let alone new Poppy Family. With all of the promise these groups just seemed to ooze only a few of the ones who appeared on these albums reflected any of the outright high energy that was being promised. Or at least they were considered lame enough to the majority of listeners because for years the acts appearing on both efforts used to get tagged as being "bar bands", a term which conjures up greasy blues guys in leather jackets about one step away from a stretch in the hoosegow for various antisocial infractions. And what was so special about En Why See when there were plenty of groups like that in your very own backyard?

Yeah "okay", maybe some of 'em were "bar bands" in the loosest sense, but that doesn't mean I have to HATE 'em! Let's face it, what was being touted as new (wave), underground and punk back in the mid-seventies was a mighty varied doggie that would probably stymie the bandwagon jumpers of the late-seventies on with the variety of sameness that could be found on the stages of many a club during those days. But that won't stop me from championing, even enjoying these groups even if they lacked the ability of crashing on from the promising mid-seventies into the bared-wire latter portion of that decade. And frankly, I don't care how many of the groups on either of these albums were "influenced" by the FM rock dinosaurs or the AM pop fluffsters of the day because although they might have "emulated" them, these groups surpassed them hands down.

The LIVE @ CBGB one has gained a certain amt. of "notoriety" since its release, with people "in the know" either singing its praises or damning it to rock & roll hell for the past thirty-four years. Most people I admire, like Don Waller, loathed it 'cept for certain watermarks like Mink DeVille that appealed to their sense of (West Coast?) punkitude, while I've noticed that many who were on the more localized certainly not big names level of rock writing actually dug it to no end. Maybe it was a provincial thing, with a variety of California fans expecting more hardcore rock & roll and the New Yorkers thrilled to no end, with everyone else in between confused as usual.

But I like this Atlantic Records product to the livin' end since LIVE captures a halfway-decent cross-section of just what good (and yeah, some bad) was going on in the garages of Ameriga and perhaps the world in those days before punk became pUnk became "punque". The groups appearing on this set weren't necessarily presenting anything they thought was going to get the earth spinning in an opposite direction, and sartorially they were still stuck in the long hair and beards groove long before the English had more than a few Amerigans going trend-dee, but that was only part of their success in not trying to jump a whole lotta guns looking like a buncha doofs they most certainly could've in the process.

The live ambiance works perfectly just like every other live tape you've heard (whether recorded via portable cassette or soundboard) with the just right party atmosphere that always made these small club live recordings so nice 'n cozy intimate, not forgetting energetic. And the performances really are top notch even though you know that a few of the groups here snuck into the studio when nobody was looking to overdub and rehash their numbuhs which is why some like the Laughing Dogs' "It Feels Allright" sounds as if it could have been a 1976 AM pop single taken from some cutout-bound album you know never woulda cracked the top 500, let alone 200.

But I gotta say I like it all and, naturally, some tracks more'n others. I find that the way most of these groups take the same popular FM/stoner music or AM pop and do something out of the ordinary with it to be pretty invigorating, a whole lot better'n had they just taken their faves and churned out a pale imitation like some cover band of the day who got to do their one original which was nothing but a pastiche of all of the groups they've been imitating all evening.

And not surprisingly, I think that the material that pops up on this album which captures a scene before the groups involved became jaded in any sorta way (there's still some of that teenage altruistic innocence to be found, but I guess that all changed when the Dead Boys hit New York) shows these groups long before they decided to break up or change their sound and style to fit more of a punk or "new wave" motif. Tuff Darts (one of the few groups here w/hefty hype backing them) still had Robert Gordon in their ranks and sounded like what I would have thought a punk rock group woulda sounded like had I knew what the thing was back in 1976. (I remember asking someone what punk rock was that very year and getting this reply to head straight for the Flamin' Groovies cutouts then going for a whopping 99 cents!) The Shirts, for being part of the beardo breed of groups who were playing CBGB at the time, fortunately weren't honing their sound for the new wave megabucks like they did on their three albums, taking their Yes and Led Zep influences to garage band depths that I'm sure would have shocked members of both acts profusely. Mink De Ville are captured at the time when they went from their r&b/reggae influences to punk and then right back (at Hilly Kristal's insistence) sounding as Spanish Harlem leather as you would have wanted them to. The Laughing Dogs also do fine with two tracks that might have made interesting singles for the teenybop pop charts if that mode wasn't as open to disco as it eventually became.

As for the rest of these so-called also-rans...the Miamis also coulda been late-seventies AM radio contenders but really, their stuff was too good in an era where heavy metal mongers like Kiss were being forced to do sappy ballads and, more shockingly, people were actually buying 'em up! Sun (soon to be Son after the disco group with the same name got their legal machine in gear) were hotcha sub-Hendrix heavy metal though if that clip of a post-Nikki Buzz version of the band recorded at CBGB's two years later (with some Robert Plant clone doing the patented metal mike stand moves etc.) is any indication of what the rest of their act is like no wonder I never read a good review of these guys anywhere! Stuart's Hammer sound kinda Wayne County post-glam/punky which does seem neat in a pre-Sex Pistols sorta way. And as for Manster...well as you know these guys are my fave band on this set and their wild cover of the Yardbirds' "Over Under Sideways Down" as well as an original entitled "I'm Really Not This Way" show that there was at least one act in the mid-seventies who could take their Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin fusion influences (as THE NEW YORK ROCKER stated) and not miss their intended targets 100%, in fact sounding even fresher and more exciting that the originals! If anything, Manster remind me a whole lot of fellow travelers MX-80 Sound, a group who were also utilizing some Mothers/Mahavishnu moves in their act and not looking like total bums in the process, in fact coming off pretty snat to the point where you wonder why more people weren't buying any of this stuff at the time until you remember how everybody but YOU was brainwashed by the dread duo of FM prog and AM disco. And if you aren't PROUD OF YOURSELF for eschewing those hideous musical bowel movements then you really aren't giving yourself ample credit!

It's too bad that the second CBGB album recorded later that year didn't materialize since that seemed to have promise with the inclusion of not only the Dead Boys (during their bass-less quartet days) but the Planets, Just Water, Charles Street Choir, De Waves, the Demons and Orchestra Luna. Rumor has it that Kristal burned the tapes in a fit of anger which I for one certainly hope ain't so, and although there were yet some other "volume two"'s recorded in '79 and even '80 I doubt they would have had the same impact as the original. The closest there actually was to a second CBGB live album came with that sampler of groups taken from the limited edition run of cassette tapes that were unleashed in '86 featuring a couple post-Shirts acts, hardcore punk and a whole lotta new waveiness some good some eh. I've written about these items before in case you care, but frankly "underground" rock music 1986 was nothing at all like it was a decade then it was way more squeaky clean and wholesome, and really any rock bacteria that could grow in such sterile conditions was bound to have something wrong with it. But when it was good, it was something that lasted strong for a long while.
The Max's album on the other hand had a lot more going for it, if only because an act like Wayne County had garnered a lot of publicity via the pages of ROCK SCENE and at least a few rock mag bin scourers knew who he was. Ditto for Cherry Vanilla, who at least was "known" by more than a few disc jockeys nationwide and a lot more than in the "Biblical" sense! Unfortunately the MAX'S KANSAS CITY 1976 album does suffer from consisting of nothing but studio tracks (that is, if you count the Suicide recording as such!) thus lacking the immediacy that can be found in droves on LIVE AT CBGB'S. But don't let that get you down for the selection of groups here was perhaps even better than on that double-header, if only for being reflective of the Max's booking policy which seemed to live up to Lillian Roxon's old adjectival dictum of being "futuristic".

The proliferation of synthesizers on a good portion of the tracks would lead one to think of the album's let alone club's forward-looking attitude, and keeping with Max's ten-year tradition there were heavy references to New York's past permeating throughout these sides, particularly the mid-sixties gutter drive of the Velvet Underground and the Silver Apples' anti-technology electronic drone. County clocks in with three tracks which pretty amply represent his/her party mood stage act with the title track name-dropping a whole load of acts that were playing the club at the time (woulda been really fun if some of the very obscure groups that played there like the Screws or Master Radio Canaries got the mention but at least Day Old Bread did, they later becoming the Rousers and ultimately the Jupiter Jets who surprisingly enough ended up getting released on the CBGB label in the mid-eighties!). One listen to the buzzy power pop synth rock of the Fast'll tell you why many people couldn't stand 'em but I can even if their music wasn't exactly the reason I was following the goings on at Max's in the first place. Nothing offensive mind you, but certainly lacking this kinda oomph of doom and degradation which always made for find music. And Cherry's still hard to define exactly where she was coming from then (this being before she vamoosed to England and got the Police to back her up). Sometimes I'm thinking a nicer looking upscale Patti Smith, yet others a scenemaker who just happened to hop upon a musical career. Maybe the Beauty to Edith Massey's Beast, and by-the-way howcum Massey ain't on either this 'un or the CBGB album anyway??? I'm one who'd enjoy a live album of hers to the max, or from Max's for that matter.

The John Collins Band also fare well. Talk about a career that never did go off like it coulda, or shoulda...this Collins guy was around since the early-seventies and he lasted on the New York scene for quite awhile later ending up in the Terrorists, the Delancy Street Hawaiians with Billy Tony Machine of latterday Dolls fame and Tijuana Bible with Mick Farren. I even recall him doing a solo set at the CBGB Gallery in the oh-ohs if you wanna talk about longevity. But in '76 he was the star of his own group and the guy's strong voice really carries "The Man in Me" as if it were a fifties hit from Frankie Laine, even if the drenching of an ARP synthesizer all over makes this sound like "Dream Weaver" towards the end. (Maybe that was not unintentional...I mean, why argue with success even if it is on the shoulders of a duff single of the day?). Suicide's "Rocket USA" is frightening enough being recorded in a closet, and at least it gave us an idea of what else was going to be happening at Max's (like no wave) in a good year or two. Harry Toledo's one who always seemed to get knocked by the critics at large, but his "Knots" is perhaps another all-defining moment on this platter with a heavy Velvet Underground drone and a celeste-like electric piano sound that reminds me of the one on the Stooges' "Penetration". Of course the presence of Pere Ubu and their "Final Solution" only did more to heighten their notoriety not only in New York but in Cleveland, THE PLAIN DEALER's Jane Scott even going as far to write a small item on Ubu's appearance at the Max's Easter Festival gathering her information from a phone call from former Viking Saloon owner/Rocket From The Tombs drummer Dick Korn (he tagging along for the ride) who gave Jane the lowdown on Max's and how the Warhol crowd used to hang out there back in the sixties, Jane relaying all of the news to us dumboid kiddies who were perhaps hearing about this stuff for the very first time. Talk about eye-opening wowzer epiphanies!

Braver souls might want to try the second in a series of who knows how many (third being NO NEW YORK, fourth being this one unreleased offering that was circulating on tape for awhile, fifth being NEW WAVE HITS FOR THE EIGHTIES, sixth that weird album that came out in Europe 'round '86 and seventh that Rat Cage sampler of a few years back) Max's albums, the one of the '77 variety that actually got Max's owner Tommy Dean death threats from disaffected punks who were expecting something a little more crunchy. It ain't bad, though it's probably worth the $2.00 I spent on a sealed copy back in early '80 (same day I scored PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND as a used Radar reissue!) and not much more with a LIVE AT CBGB'S attitude (none of the groups here being that particularly well known) yet with perhaps a spark of redeeming value. Just Water score well enough with their late-sixties Who-derived stylings as do the Andrew Pearson Band and their commercial-yet-engaging Elliot Murphy-ish suburban takes on electric Dylan. Even Phillip Rambow who stunk up the already odious new wave even more with his 1980 album sounds palatable here with his song about some kids going to a rock club to hear Television. The heavy metal of Lance and Grand Slam isn't offensive like metal was to get in the eighties let alone already was in the late-seventies (come to think of it, just about everything was offensive back then!) and even the Brats doing a Kiss-styled pop metal number sure sounded better'n (again) the soft ballads like "Beth" that we didn't need any retrospect to know was utter crap.

And one interesting aside...the "intro" and "outro" cuts actually were recorded live, the opening one revealing a group ending their set to a round of applause before the jukebox gets turned on to the Troggs playing "Love Is All Around" (a good two years before the Troggs played Max's a handfulla times!), the "outro" being presumably the same group (who turn out to be Phillip Rambow and company) starting their set up!

Both the CBGB and Max's albums are relatively easy pickups via ebay (where I scored an original CBGB label pre-Atlantic pressing complete with autographs of most of the participants on the inner gatefold sleeve!) or maybe even your local flea market which has the standard Cee-Dee dump booth where you can find many an item for relatively feeble prices. The digital versions of both are worth the picking up since the surface noise on the CBGB album is eliminated allowing for at least some clarity while the Max's one adds the Brats track from that failed '77 followup and various other self-released rarities that made up a new wave collection back in '80 just as much as your two-tone and Stiff compilations bought for mere peanuts! And for those of you who haven't picked these up being frugal or just plain too young, they do tend to make me feel a lot better than the kind of music these groups ultimately led to once 1982 rolled around and you'd see the new wave tag being used on everything the way "atomic" was the commercial buzzword of 1956!
Excuse the fuzzy wuzzy photo on the right which matches the sight in my fuzzy wuzzy eyes, but for history's sake here's a snap I think you'll all want to cast orbs upon. Taken at the album release party for the MAX'S KANSAS CITY '76 album here are the two Peters, Crowley and Laughner, acting totally disinterested and nonplussed for the cameras as I'm sure we all would have expected from the two. 'Tis a photo that if anything tells us about the fleetingness of time...within the year Laughner would no longer be with us and within five neither would Max's. Crowley's still alive which is at least one good thing in this ever fragile existence of ours, and if anything I find the entire attitude and devil-may-care attitude of what the mid-seventies were really all about frozen in this very photograph. But I do get sentimental like this sometimes, probably because here in 2010 what is there to get sentimental about?


Unknown said...

Have a cassette tape issue of Live at CBGBs that I don't put on much, but when I do, I listen to both sides all the way through.

Heres a BBC Ditko doc. Unfortunately the first seventh seems to be missing.

Anonymous said...

"..the Delancey Street Hawaiians with Billy Machine of latterday Dolls fame.. "

The defunct Dolls' drummer with the Hawaiians, was TONY Machine.
Guitar: Wild BIll Thompson
Org. Bass: Pete Collins(Johnny's brother)-->Rod Hytonen (me.)
Jo-Jo Hermes also joined on piano for the Tramps days, and Wayne Kramer added on guitar for a while. Many -like Johansen- also sat in, like Ron from around the corner on Irving Pl., Eric Anderson, Tommy Flanders, Moose Bowles...