THE CRAMPS

"How to Make a Monster"

Vengeance

No question about it: Die-hards and completists will eagerly take the plunge. But just in case some poor unsuspecting soul comes across "How to Make a Monster," Lux Interior and Poison Ivy open their liner notes with a little disclaimer: "This THING you are clutching in your claws is a swan dive into the prehistoric origins of the Cramps." You can't say you weren't warned. Sprawling, revealing and unapologetically uneven, this double-CD collection of rehearsal tapes, demos and club recordings spans a dozen years (1976-88) and documents the making of the monster that is the Cramps -- "a rock 'n' roll Bride of Frankenstein," as group co-founders Interior and Ivy put it.

As you might expect, a lot of the early stuff collected here is something only the band's archivist is likely to want to hear very often. Yet anyone interested in tracing the Cramps' myriad rockabilly and R&B influences will find plenty of clues amid the tremulous echo effects and thumping Bo Diddley beats.

The second half of the compilation noisily resurrects two memorable New York concerts in the late '70s. Taped at Max's Kansas City and featuring crudely hammered-out renditions of "Sunglasses After Dark," "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and other band staples, the first show inspires both cheers and heckling. "Get a job!" someone shouts. The second concert, at CBGB, finds the band in a far more welcoming atmosphere. "Can we have a little power up here? You know, this ain't the New Christy Minstrels," complains Interior before turning on the Memphis-meets-Manhattan heat with "The Way I Walk," "Can't Hardly Stand It" and other songs that bring this singular "How to" manual to a happy ending.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Saturday at 9:30 Club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Cramps, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)