Friday, April 1, 2016

Max's Kansas City

Max's Kansas city was a Manhattan nightspot on Park Avenue popular initially with artists like Robert Rauschenberg of the New York School; their presence attracted other artists (Roy Lichtenstein, Willem DeKooning) celebrities (Tom Ford, Halston, Twiggy, Mel Brooks), and writers (Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams). For more than 20 years Max's was a who's who of Manhattan jet setters from Diane Arbus to Patti Smith. Despite its clientele, it was the kind of club that kept to itself, kept the paparazzi at bay, and in that way remained reasonably obscure.  Most notoriously, Max's was the weekend home of an imploding Velvet Underground from June 24 - August 28, 1970, just before the departure of Lou Reed and the release of the Velvet’s fourth album, Loaded.

Though the Velvet Underground would parry on without Reed, their new label, Atlantic, lost faith in the band upon his departure, and what would have been the Velvets’ fifth studio album (with all new material), was shelved in favor of Live at Max's Kansas City, a shoddy recording on a portable cassette player, keeping in step the lack of production value endlessly associated with VU. Recorded August 23, 1970, the tapes would be the last performance by Reed with the Velvet Underground (sans a very pregnant Maureen Tucker as well). Mostly unlistenable, Live at Max's Kansas City is more a historical document than legit live album; tape hiss and the audience often obscuring the music itself. Reed, btw, took a position as a bookkeeper in his father's accounting firm immediately following those gigs at Max's. Dissatisfied, he left for London before the end of 1970 in prep for his solo career.

Rock 'n' Roll Animal (AM9)
Artist: Lou Reed
Produced by: Steve Katz, Lou Reed 
Released: February 1974
Venue: Howard Stein's Academy of Music (The Palladium)
Length: 40:32
Tracks: 1) Intro/Sweet Jane (7:55); 2) Heroin (13:05); 3) White Light/White Heat (5:15); 4) Lady Day (4:00); 5) Rock n Roll (10:17)
Players: Lou Reed – vocals; Whitey Glan – drums, percussion; Steve Hunter – guitars; Dick Wagner – guitars, backing vocals; Ray Colcord – keyboards

Lou Reed would go on to release three albums, an eponymous debut (AM6), Transformer (AM10) and Berlin (AM7) before returning fully to music originally performed by the Velvets, 1974’s Rock 'n' Roll Animal (AM9). Nothing Velvety about this one, Rock 'n' Roll Animal was the antithesis of Live at Max's Kansas City – polished, stellar musicianship, flawless production, yet it was panned by many critics upon its release as too far removed from the VU intent. Here, kudos must go to Rolling Stone whose review by Paul Nelson in 1974 recognized this classic in its own time: "…So, at the Academy, I didn't expect much and when his new band began to play spectacular, even majestic, rock & roll, the strategy for the evening became clear: elevate the erratic and unstable punkiness of the centerpiece into punchy, swaggering grandeur by using the best arrangements, sound and musicians that money could buy, so that if Reed were merely competent, the concert would be a success…The band does not emulate the violent, hypnotic, dope-trance staccato power and subway lyricism of the Velvet Underground, but rather opts for a hard, clean, clear, near-royal Mott the Hoople/Eric Clapton opulence and Reed sings out most of the songs in his effective street-talk style."

Essentially, Rock 'n' Roll Animal was a squeaky-clean, bring your children version of the Velvets, but say what you will, it is among the finest live recordings ever captured, and alongside Transformer, Lou Reed’s finest hour. And finally, closure for the Velvet Underground.