Before there was CBGB’s, there was Max’s Kansas City. Having opened in December 1965 in NYC and operational until 1981, it is now known as “the first landmark ‘underground’ nightclub” in American history, according to the liner notes of the newly reissued 2CD (40 tracks) and double vinyl edition (25 selections) of the influential punk rock compilation, Max’s Kansas City: 1976 & Beyond (Jungle Records). Despite its legendary status as the place that hosted groups/artists that paved the way for punk, new wave, glam rock, and other trends, Max’s doesn’t have its history and fame on the scale that CBGB’s does. This new and richly expanded release (the work of Peter Crowley), with its 20-page booklet of extremely valuable band biographies (courtesy of Max’s veteran Jimi LaLumia), detailed performance notes, and venue history aims to reinvigorate Max’s legacy.
The initial 1976 edition, titled Max’s Kansas City 1976, contains 10 tracks and was the first indie release to give the NYC punk scene worldwide attention. Highlights on it include the first recordings of then-popular local bands such as The Fast, Suicide, and Wayne County, whose single “Max’s Kansas City” was, in effect, a pride-filled roll call of famous artists who graced Max’s stage at that point in time – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, Blondie, etc. The compilation also sported cuts by Pere Ubu, Cherry Vanilla, and a few others but none of the big names that memorably graced the stage. This (more or less) 40th anniversary edition rectifies that issue and gives a much fuller picture of the Max’s era, and then some.
Among the 30 extra goodies here are tracks by less famous Max acts like Knots, The Offs, Sea Monster, and Cellmates, along with rarities from punk pioneers like Iggy Pop’s “Rock Action” (live and with future Tom Petty Heartbreaker Scott Thurston on guitar/keys), Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ “M.I.A.” (live at Max’s in 1979 and previously unreleased), Thunders’ old band the New York Dolls (an alt. take of “Bad Girl”), and tons more over two discs totaling 150 minutes. Strangely, however, Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” was left off this reissue, yet there are three versions of Wayne/Jayne County’s “Max’s Kansas City.” Things that makes you go “Hmmm.”
The true gem among other treasures here is “Take a Chance,” the previously unreleased live New York Dolls cover by short-lived punk supergroup Sid Vicious and The Idols. With The Sex Pistols no more, Sid jammed with two members of the NYD and on this live September 1978 performance at Max’s (one of his final gigs before his famed death), he was joined by none other than Mick Jones, guitarist of The Clash. Fittingly, it ends this dynamite release in all of its sloppy, feedback-drenched glory.
Max’s Kansas City: 1976 & Beyond is an indispensable source of rock music history. One should overlook the bootleg quality of a few of the live songs here and realize this 40-song compilation is, as they say, all killer, no filler and best represents the spirit of a club that spawned the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, and along with CBGB’s, the NYC punk movement itself and all that followed, including hardcore. If you need any proof regarding the latter statement, just think about the bands that were featured in Max’s final show in 1981: Bad Brains with a very young incarnation of the Beastie Boys.