Friday, November 12, 2010

The Velvet Underground “1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed” (1974)

"Good evening, we're the Velvet Underground.” It's a far cry from another intro uttered that same year: "Ladies and gentleman, the greatest rock and roll band in the world…” Lou Reed’s intro is obviously more understated and, coming from a notoriously prickly New Yorker, surprisingly cordial. And it goes on for awhile... After asking the audience if they would prefer a one-long-set or two-set performance, we get a recap of a Dallas Cowboys game. Almost a full minute and a half has passed when, out of nowhere, Reed casually states, "this is a song called I'm Waiting for My Man". The band then wastes no time locking into an historic, rock-solid groove.

1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed has always been a VU fan favorite, but it’s overshadowed by the band's iconic studio catalog. Misguided marketing and lame packaging are also to blame for its somewhat limited cult status. Released in 1974, during the most lucrative period of Lou Reed’s solo career, Mercury’s insistence on using his name in the title implied that other members of the VU were little more than his backing band, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The inner gatefold spread is also misleading, depicting an earlier and different (in both sound and appearance) incarnation of the band. Finally there’s the cover itself, which, in the immortal words of Patti Smith, “eats shit”. Despite this indifferent misrepresentation, this record is the first and last word in any discussion about the Velvet Underground as a live act. Almost all of the band’s classics are here, given new life---sometimes even bettered---by Reed's remarkably expressive vocals (one pines for the days when he actually sang), Sterling Morrison’s precision guitar work, Mo Tucker’s majestically simplistic drumming, and the melodic bass-playing of the most under-appreciated VU member, Doug Yule. Surprisingly large amounts of live VU performances were recorded, but this collection---the bulk of which was culled from a multi-night engagement at a tiny club in Dallas---has the best sound quality of any that have survived. It’s a different sound than the sharp and crackly production of the 1967 "Banana" LP: bluesier, and with a bottom that rattles the windows and shakes the floors. It's the sound of a band that’s been honing its craft in divey clubs and ballrooms across the US for over a year, and which, during the last few months of the 60’s, delivers the best live Rock and Roll show on either side of the Mississippi. –Richard P

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