Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
L.A.M.F. Live At The Village Gate 1977
I cannot believe that I am listening to Johnny Thunders in 2015.
There was a point in my adult life — probably round about the time that we all got iPods — that having “Chinese Rocks” come up on shuffle felt incongruous at best, and awkward at worst. “D.T.K. Live At The Speakeasy” was one of my favorite live records, and the one with which I would declare my presence at high volume when I moved into the dorm every fall, but I couldn’t help but wince at the “Say what baby?” dedication with Johnny changing “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” to “Can’t Keep My Cock In You.” (I recommend the entire album for clearing the room at parties.)
And yet, without hesitation I pulled the trigger on the new release from Cleopatra Records, “L.A.M.F. Live at the Village Gate, 1977” when I read the opinions of various People Who Would Know that this was the best run of gigs the Heartbreakers ever played. Now that I’ve listened to it, I can say without hesitation that they are 100% right.
Some people were attracted to the Heartbreakers because of junkie chic, to be sure. Some people were just chasing the New York Dolls because we weren’t old enough to have been hanging out at the Mercer Arts Center on a Tuesday night. But the reality is that Johnny Thunders should have been a bonafide rock and roll superstar. He had charisma for miles, and could roll astounding riffs off his guitar like it was second nature. They were a for real goddamned rock and roll band.
Except, of course, for the drugs. And the drugs were sad and real and huge and not something that you could ignore, and it made them sloppy and difficult to book and manage and, well, you know, the drugs. Jesus Christ, the drugs. Fuck them.
I cared about the Heartbreakers because I hated that I hadn’t been old enough to see the Dolls. But I loved the dirt in the riffs and they made me dance and I had fun. (I was legit too fucking scared of heroin, which is definitely a good thing.) I am happy to report that Live At The Village Gate is as great a document as the initial promotion alleges it to be, and you should purchase it because it so accurately captures a time and a place and a performance that is so high energy you will understand why people were so obsessed with Thunders,. He could have been great, and sometimes he actually was great, and this Village Gate run was one of those moments.
Seeing the Heartbreakers felt to me like how it would have been to see the Stones at the Crawdaddy, before the image and the glamour (yes, with a U) and when they were dirty and scrimping and scrapping and completely immersed in the music. And you get all of that feeling in this recording; the glorious segue from ”Chinese Rocks” to a fullspeedahead “Pirate Love”. They don’t sound bored or tired or going through the motions; I know there’s an allegation that at this point the band had switched from smack to speed, but it doesn’t have that untethered feel you’d expect from a bunch of musicians on amphetamine. The songs are evenly paced, the band is cohesive, and they are TIGHT as all get out. “Let Go” cruises and is executed with something very close to precision, if not exactly that. The entire set can be described with these types of superlative descriptions.
Stop reading, go buy it already.