As released on DVD and LP to chronicle a series of 2016 concerts, and more recently celebrated on a 2017 mini-tour, the iconic punk album proves its staying power.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
L.A.M.F., the only studio album by Johnny Thunders’ infamous New Yawk punk ‘n’ roll band the Heartbreakers, turned 40 in 2017, outlasting its driving force by a good quarter of a century, Thunders, a notorious junkie, having passed away in ’91 in New Orleans. In anticipatory celebration, Heartbreakers co-guitarist and torchbearer Walter Lure assembled a dream team of Thunders cohorts and acolytes to perform the album front-to-back in its original Track Records 1977 order for a short residency in mid-November 2016 at the Bowery Electric venue, recording the shows for a proposed album and video. (For a detailed review of the event, along with the Heartbreakers’ backstory, check out journalist/photographer Caryn Rose’s account at Noisey.) The video rendering recently arrived on DVD courtesy Jungle/MVD.
Joined by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (who played with Thunders in the short-lived Gang War), Blondie/Plimsouls drummer Clem Burke (who came up on the same downtown NYC scene as Thunders) and erstwhile Replacements/Guns ‘N Roses bassist Tommy Stinson (the ‘Mats being one of the few American bands to keep Thunders’ reckless rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning), plus guests, Lure delivers exactly the kind of rock show you’d expect from someone who came up that close to the flame.
The quartet plays like they rehearsed just enough to be on the same page with the songs, but not enough to be anything close to slick. Lure and Stinson share the vocals, with the former keeping to NYC cool and the latter bawling like an out-of-breath animal, while Lure and Kramer faithfully reproduce the original LP’s clashing six-string chaos and Burke calmly makes the case for being the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer alive. The ad hoc band acquits itself nicely on the usual classics like “Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose,” with Kramer singing “Let Go” and Burke doing Jerry Nolan’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.” D Generation’s Jesse Malin guests on a feral “I Wanna Be Loved” and a poignant “It’s Not Enough”; Cheetah Chrome romps through “Goin’ Steady”; up-and-coming New York rocker Liza Colby brings soul to “I Love You”; and Chrome and Malin team up on a blazing “Pirate Love.” The whole thing comes clanging to a close with a Kramer-sung “Do You Love Me,” the Heartbreakers’ roaring bash through a Motown classic.
Production values are catch as catch can, with frequent out-of-focus video, a squirrelly mix that favors volume over nuance, a director clearly flying by the seat of his pants, especially in the editing room, and no effort put into maintaining continuity between the three different performances captured in order to compile the film. It makes one wonder if the decision to shoot it was last minute. But you know what? That’s all fine, even appropriate. Johnny Thunders never chased perfection when he could nail the moment, and Lure and company blast through his legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.
EDITOR’S NOTE: L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric has also been released as a limited edition (950 copies pressed), colored vinyl collectible, arriving in independent record stores for the annual Record Store Day “Black Friday” event. (The LP appears to not be listed on the Record Store Day website for that Black Friday sale, originally billed as a “RSD Limited Run/Regional Focus Release; but the BLURT braintrust eagerly snapped up copies on Black Friday, and as of this writing it appears to be available online but with only 950 copies in circulation, it probably won’t remain that way for long.)
And bringing things up to the present, the real 40th anniversary-of-L.A.M.F. was celebrated this past November 29 and 30, also at the Bowery Electric, followed by shows in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Solana Beach, and San Francisco, where they wrapped on Dec. 4. The mini-tour featured a slightly different roster of players. Lure, obviously, headed things up, and fellow ground-zero punk Burke was also on hand; they were joined by Mike Ness of Social Distortion on guitar, and Sex Pistols/Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock. Malin again was a special guest, having helped organize both the 2016 and 2017 shows, turning in spirited vocals on “Pirate Love,” “It’s Not Enough,” and — in the Thunders-centric four-song encore — the iconic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”