LAMF Live at The Village Gate 1977 - Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (Cleopatra)
In a world of shoddy, sub-par live releases and infinite re-issues of studio out-takes, this one lives up to the hype. Capturing the Heartbreakers briefly back on home turf after their first stint in the UK and in all their drug-infested glory, “LAMF Live” is the album your mother warned you about and your old man wanted banned.
Where’s the danger in rock and roll? You hear people asking all the time. It’s around if you dig deep enough but it was never so nakedly on display as back in the late ‘70s when the Heartbreakers were in full swing.
These days if a band wanted to change its name to The Junkies we’d bat an eyelid and care very little. It’s hardly a smart commercial mood but, you know, Kayne just whipped out another sex toy on-stage and Miley’s choked on a fur-ball so there are much more important things to occupy media space. The Heartbreakers actually wanted to be called The Junkies after they discovered the British National Health system doled out free heroin for registered addicts- not because they wanted to shock but because it was true.
It was more than just that, of course. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers had the outlaw image down pat and their songs' subject matter was always on the edge, but they they could also play the shit out of tose tunes. On a good night, even whern chemically-altered, they sounded like they wanted to tear the roof off a room and there was always the threat of something going off the rails. (I never saw them live but I have it all on good authority from people who did.)
But onto the record. To set the scene properly…at the time of this recording, ”LAMF” - the album whose shitty sound would soon break up the Heartbreakers - was in the can, having just undergone its fifth or sixth re-mix and diabolical mastering. It was awaiting release by the appropriately named Track Records in the similarly well-titled Old Dart. The band’s UK visas had expired so they’d flown the coop to New York City to meet Foreign Office requirements that would permit them to seek re-entry to England.
For these guys with all their baggage, New York City’s “scene” consisted of CBGB and Max’s. Paradoxically, it was really happening for the band in Britain and they knew it. Manager Lee Black Childers had set up a run of dates at jazz venue The Village Gate as a homecoming of sorts, probably to raise money for airfares and drugs. Scuttlebutt is that he made his charges stay off smack for the NYC dates in return for copious amounts of speed. It may be apocryphal but it sure is believable.
With the exception of “Live at The Lyceum”, this is the most together recording of a show by the full “classic” Heartbreakers line-up that you’ll hear. I’m excluding “Live at Max’s Kansas City”, as great as it is, because Jerrty Nolan was MIA.
It’s much more composed than “Live at The Speakeasy”, whose dynamics declined from sloppy to drug-fucked on side two after an intermission no doubt full of self-administered medication. It rocks royally, the only dead spot being a tentative “Boppin’ The Blues” with guests Robert Gordon and Syl Sylvain.
Johnny Thunders is in rare form, declaring opener “Chinese Rocks” to have been “written by a bunch of egomaniacs” (tell us something we didn’t already know.) His soloing and that of Walter Lure is on the money with the pair bouncing off each other like exposed wires in a leaky Lower East Side tenement.
Jerry Nolan’s drumming is diabolically good and you can hear why he was so integral to the band’s sound. Billy Rath may have lacked the entertainment value of Richard Hell but it’s clear more than ever that the Heartbreakers couldn’t have played this music without him slotting in as replacement.
The set is brief (just 13 songs long) and to the point. The recording is a desktape but not one of those soul-less, crystal clear affairs - it’s a little muddy, in fact, but superbly balanced with plenty of atmospherics via an audience microphone. The crowd is adoring and the band is in murderous form.
And apart from the fact that it's on CD and LP., that’s all you really need to know.