Revisit the Golden Age of Max’s Kansas City With Film & Audio From The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, Devo & Talking Heads

You know the old joke: “if you don’t like the neigh­bor­hood, wait ten min­utes.” New York­ers know it the oth­er way around, too. If you like the neigh­bor­hood, wait ten min­utes; your local haunts will dis­ap­pear. But while the phys­i­cal mark­ers of my own New York era shut­ter one by one, dur­ing said era all I ever want­ed was for it to be the late 70s again, when you could catch such upstarts as the Talk­ing Heads, Devo, the Ramones, Tele­vi­sion, or Pat­ti Smith at Max’s Kansas City. Or even ear­li­er in the decade, when Max’s served as the NYC home base for David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and even a young Bruce Spring­steen.

Despite Max’s hal­lowed sta­tus in the New York rock scene, pre­cious lit­tle footage sur­vives from its hey­day. The film at the top shows us what pro­duc­er David Weis­man says in voice-over nar­ra­tion is to his knowl­edge the only 35mm, motion pic­ture-qual­i­ty film of “the renowned, leg­endary, unfor­get­table Max’s Kansas City,” where Andy Warhol “held court every night from mid­night till dawn.” Weis­man points out local stars of the Warho­lian scene in the vin­tage film, rem­i­nisces about his own time there, and describes a light­ing sit­u­a­tion that made film­ing in the club very dif­fi­cult. Just above, hear what those denizens in the footage heard: live audio of the Vel­vet Under­ground play­ing “I’m Wait­ing for the Man” and “Sweet Jane” live at Max’s in 1972.

Film­ing at Max’s may have been chal­leng­ing, but clear­ly, as you see above, one could get it right, even in less­er for­mats. Here we have clas­sic 1976 film of the Ramones play­ing “Havana Affair” and “Lis­ten to My Heart” at Max’s dur­ing its post-Warhol sec­ond phase, when the club became sec­ond only to CBG­Bs as the home of New York punk rock and new wave.

The Ramones film may not be 35mm, but the qual­i­ty of sound and image sure­ly excels that of every oth­er doc­u­ment from the peri­od, like the short, blur­ry film above of Devo play­ing their bizarro take on “Sat­is­fac­tion” in 1977.

Yet anoth­er pre­cious arti­fact from the late-70s Max’s scene comes to us with­out any mov­ing images at all, but the audio is quite good and rep­re­sents a for­ma­tive moment in the evo­lu­tion of the Talk­ing Heads, only a trio at the time. Hear them do “Artists Only” above in 1976.

Max’s didn’t only shel­ter punks and strung-out art rock­ers. In the ear­ly sev­en­ties, book­er Sam Hood also secured six­ties folk main­stays like Dave Van Ronk and new­com­ers like soon-to-be wild­ly famous Bruce Spring­steen. See the young Boss open for Van Ronk above with an acoustic ver­sion of “Grow­ing Up” in 1972.

Max’s closed down in 1981 with a head­lin­ing per­for­mance by DC hard­core punks Bad Brains, but it has since reopened in anoth­er loca­tion (1998). The new (gasp!—Midtown) Max’s isn’t Max’s Kansas City in any­thing but name, but its web­site at least pre­serves the mem­o­ry of the old club’s heady 70s days with more live audio and mem­o­ra­bil­ia from The Vel­vetsSid Vicious, John­ny Thun­ders & The Heart­break­ers, and many more “Max’s Icons.” Also don’t miss this Fla­vor­wire gallery of clas­sic pho­tographs from 70s-era Max’s.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

CBGB’s: The Roots of Punk Lets You Watch Vin­tage Footage from the Hey­day of NYC’s Great Music Scene

1976 Film Blank Gen­er­a­tion Doc­u­ments CBGB Scene with Pat­ti Smith, The Ramones, Talk­ing Heads, Blondie & More

The Talk­ing Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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