Thunderstorm in Detroit - Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers (Captain Trip/Motor City Music)
Far be it from me to claim that I had my finger completely on the punk rock pulse of the Murder City back in the late '70s and early '80s, but try as I might, I just can't remember this show ever taking place, but nearly a quarter century of recreational beverages, better living through chemistry, three kids, and a 15-year adjustable rate mortgage may have dulled my synapses a tad.
I do recall seeing The Heartbreakers earlier that summer (1980) at an over-booked Nunzio's (sort of the little sister bar of Bookies Club 870) in Lincoln Park, birthplace of the mighty MC5. While standing around the club that night soaked in our own sweat and that of others, waiting for Johnny and the boys to grace us with their presence, an anemic friend was overcome by the heat and passed out right on his face. Quickly making sure he hadn't swallowed his tongue, we took him outside and revived him, dropped him off at home, and talked the bouncers into letting us back in just in time to see the band take the stage and tear "Pipeline" a new orifice. Have you seen the slides from my last vacation?
It's hard to believe, but at the time this show was recorded (December 21, 1980), Thunders was living near Ann Arbor in the cow town of Dexter, Michigan. For those who have been there, the mind reels trying to imagine what he was doing for fun ? animal husbandry? The previous year he spent some time in boot camp with Wayne Kramer and Gang War, so perhaps this was a period of refocus, er, focus.
Although it's been well documented that Thunders was no stranger to various "medicinal" powders at this point, he was nowhere close to being as drug addled as he was near the end. In other words, he was still able to focus his attention on seeing a song through from beginning to end and hitting his marks. One listen to him muttering "fuck it" before tearing into a jaw-dropping solo near the end of "So Alone" is enough to disprove the popular theory in some camps that the guy couldn't/wouldn't play. Humphh...
For more proof, check out his guest appearance on the Nomads' "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls." Walter Lure is no slouch, either, long rumored to have shown off his grinning guitar during certain Ramones sessions.
It's immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the shitload of Thunders/Heartbreakers live albums out there that two common threads bind them all - little if any variation in set lists and the liberal use of the word "douchebag" by Thunders and Lure in baiting audiences. For the most part, both Thunders and Waldo are like choirboys (relatively speaking) on "Thunderstorm In Detroit," the closest thing to an insult either of them hurls being a snide comment by Thunders about people around here still building cars. This frees them up to do what they do best - disheveled gutter swill raised to art form level.
Beginning with perennial opener "Pipeline," Thunders, Lure, bassist Tony Curio, and drummer Billy Rogers romp through a brief, but deafening white knuckle ride with stops along the way in Thunders ("London Boys," the aforementioned "So Alone"), Heartbreakers ("Too Much Junkie Business," "All By Myself," "Let Go," "Get Off The Phone"), and New York Dolls ("Chatter Box") territory, as well as covers of The Contours' "Do You Love Me," Ramones/Richard Hell's "Chinese Rocks," and George Morton's "Great Big Kiss."
Sound quality is probably best summed up with something Thunders once said: "Rock 'n' roll is about attitude. I could care less about technique." If you're reading this, an audiophile experience probably isn't very high on your priority list anyway.
Performancewise, slot this one somewhere just under "Live At Max's Kansas City," but miles above most of the bootleg quality discs which chronicle Thunders' disintegration into boorish, drooling, buffoon, albeit an elegant and beautiful boorish, drooling, buffoon. But that's heroin - keeps you young and kills you early.