Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Velvet Underground Live 1972 & 1993

'The unanimous opinion was that we were ten times better live than we were on records'
– Sterling Morrison

The Velvet Underground are famous for their live performances in the late 1960s but two very different and interesting post-60s shows are available (sort of; they're out of print now but can be found on eBay or bought secondhand on Amazon): Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico at Le Bataclan '72 in Paris, 1972, and The Velvet Underground Live MCMXCIII in 1993, also in Paris, at the L'Olympia theatre (about a ten minute drive from Le Bataclan).

I only discovered these two albums recently: the former I'd never heard of until a few months ago, the latter I dismissed at the time but thought I ought to have a proper listen to. You know what? It's not that bad.

After disbanding in 1970 (the album Live at Max's Kansas City was recorded in 1970 but not released until 1972), these two shows are all we have of (most members of) The VU live post-1970. After being a bootleg for thirty years (it now seems prescient for Lou Reed to mumble at the beginning, 'Took us a while to get here'), Le Bataclan finally got an official release in 2003. It's as close as we're ever going to get to The VU Unplugged; there are acoustic, after hours bar-room sounding arrangements of VU classics (Waiting for the Man, Black Angels Death Song, Heroin, Femme Fatale, All Tomorrows Parties), given a laid back bluesy treatment. The trio also play songs from their solo careers; Lou's deadpan introductions to his songs include, 'It's my Barbara Streisand song' before Berlin and 'It's a new song. It's called Wild Child. It's about a wild child... funnily enough' before Wild Child. After three John Cale songs comes Nico's set, and it's as if we've been transported from a basement Parisian bar to an austere German Gothic cathedral. Listening to Nico is an acquired taste. I like Chelsea Girl but albums like The End and The Marble Index can be painful at best.

Just over twenty years later, The Velvet Underground reformed with Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker for a series of live shows, their last appearances together (Reed and Cale had yet another tiff; Sterling Morrison died in 1995). Just seeing them all together again was enough of a minor miracle for most fans; and though the music mostly is pretty good, Reed's vocals are mostly awful. Watching the DVD (released in 2006) of the concert, everyone apart from Lou seems a bit nervous and awkward; Reed looks like he doesn't care at all. I think I caught him smiling once (nothing unusual there) and there are moments when the band gels and it's magic (Pale Blue Eyes); there are other moments when it's embarrassing (Velvet Nursery Rhyme). There's also a new song, Coyote, disappointingly average. Still, over all, it's pretty good if unremarkable.

Recent Lou Reed being troublesome:
I love Lou Reed when he offends people (almost a full-time job for him). My headline of the year so far has got to be: Lou Reed Makes Susan Boyle Cry (he wouldn't let her do a cover of Perfect Day). Priceless.

In June this year 'fans' yelled obscenities and walked out during the Montreal Jazz festival when Reed, partner and fellow experimental musician Laurie Anderson and John Zorn (also pretty experimental) performed an improvised instrumental set of free-jazz (not so free at £62 a ticket though) with no vocals and very little melody.

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