Johnny Thunders: Madrid Memory – DVD Review

Madrid Memory is a live set from Johnny Thunders from 1984, recorded in Madrid, Spain, as the title suggests. Thunders would never make a consistent studio album again after his debut solo offering So Alone in 1978, and so much of his recorded output is mixtures of live recordings and some studio recordings made before his mysterious death in 1991. He would still be a big live draw, although Madrid Memory isn’t certainly not the best document of his live performances.

The set itself is the usual mishmash of covers, including Pipeline, Green Onions and various solo and Heartbreakers songs. Of course “Personality Crisis” from his first band, the New York Dolls, is thrown in for good measure. There are two problems with the recording and video: it’s horrendously mixed, and his guitar is way too low in the mix. As it progresses, the worse Thunders gets. The set ends with Thunders playing acoustically with a flamenco guitarist. He very clearly went backstage and shot up (or did a line) and then stumbled back on stage, and it’s painfully awful in every way that you can imagine. Thunders was also simply better with a full electric band than when fucking around half-assed on an acoustic guitar. The flamenco guitarist is like ‘WTF’ for the short set. It’s been reported that they didn’t rehearse, and boy does it show.

Thunders’ band at this point was most of his fellow New York Dolls, with Sylvain Sylvain on second guitar and Jerry Nolan on drums, so the group itself is pretty tight—it’s just Thunders who isn’t at his best. He is also missing the second key weapon of the Heartbreakers, which was Walter Lure. Lure is the only one left standing today, and would counter the constant mistakes Thunders made with his playing due to his booze and drug intake. At this point I think Lure had finally moved on, and may have already started working as a stock broker on Wall Street.

The DVD isn’t the greatest quality. It’s clearly a VHS transfer, and there is a long introduction in Spanish and interviews with the audience that aren’t subtitled. Historically, they are interesting, but given that if you don’t speak Spanish you can’t understand them, they should’ve been chopped out (or subtitled). It’s not the best edited set either: there are these annoying fire effects that are used as a quasi-dissolve at the start of his songs, which cut into the audio slightly, and they got some of the songs titles wrong. Thunders does P.F. Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction,” but it’s labelled as Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” for some reason. If you are a hardcore Johnny Thunders fan it’s obviously essential, but if you want an utterly brilliant live set, check out the Live at Max’s Kansas City album.

Ian Schultz

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