Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Velvet Underground- 1969: Velvet Underground Live

Despite their critical or commercial success, it's strange how a few of the classic bands didn't have truly satisfying live albums during their existence. Led Zeppelin didn't have one until 2003, I would argue, and even something like Jimi Hendrix's Band Of Gypsys is focused on his then-new post-Experience band. The Velvet Underground's 1969 live album falls somewhere in this lineage, too. Released after the band's dissolution, it focused specifically on the post-John Cale/Nico incarnation of the band, culled from concerts that preceded the Loaded album. Precious few recordings and bootlegs seem to exist of the band's earlier, more experimental era, so I guess we should be glad we get anything at all. Luckily the song selection from this differs from the 2001Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes release, which is made up of recordings from the same era as 1969, though it features the lengthier, more improvisational side of the band.

What 1969 shows off, then, is the rhythmic and funkier side of the band, the propulsive rock and roll animal heart beating within. To put it another way, it brings out the band's latent 50s rock/R&B influences, making them analogous to wholly separate from the "lean, clean, and bluesy" Credence Clearwater Revival. Even when the band goes out for a jammy ride, such as on the organ driven, nearly nine minute version of 'What Goes On' on disc one or the 'Sweet Bonnie Brown/It's Just Too Much' medley on disc two, there is a simultaneous looseness and tightness to the band that belies a group of musicians who are comfortable enough playing together to take chances but not too sloppy to lose a sense of structure and restraint. Lou Reed is my pick for most underrated guitarist in rock history primarily because he is equally adept at rhythm and lead playing. What the underwhelming Max's Kansas City live album only hinted at, especially in its original vinyl incarnation, 1969 blows wide open. The lengthy solo breaks on the languorous version of 'White Light/White Heat' prove that he didn't need the brutal-but-admittedly-a$$-kicking distorted snarl of a 'Sister Ray' or 'European Son' to dazzle a listener.

1969 may interest Velvets scholars most for its early versions of Loaded tracks, with different lyrics and slightly altered structures, but its primary value is giving fans a different perspective on who the band were. It's a shame they didn't use the title Another View for this release since it feels more appropriate than it did for that 1986 outtakes compilation. What I mean is, Lou Reed comes close to making 'Femme Fatale' into his song instead of being only known as one of Nico's trademark Velvets songs, and the spellbinding-even-without-John-Cale's-screeching-viola version of 'Heroin' is equally different-but-great. Thus they're both--you guessed it--another view on the band.

In my usual shortsighted way, I assumed that the story about this band began and ended with their legendary first four studio albums. 1969 proved me wrong, and once again I find myself happy that music is the only venue of my life where whenever I'm wrong, I am usually happier for it. The sound quality isn't outstanding, but it's no worse than hearing a parent's 40 year old copy of a Jimi Hendrix album. Besides which I think some imperfections and grit give these performances even more of a raw authenticity than the pristine studio versions. But I digress. This is a must hear for fans, and every bit as key to the puzzle as their studio masterpieces.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

1 comment:

Sergeant said...

Happy New Year !