The Velvet Underground - Velvet Redux
Everyone knows the legend of
the Velvet Underground, a brainy group of beatnik New York musicians who
were championed by pop artist Andy Warhol and his hip friends. The
Underground released a few albums that barely sold any copies before
imploding, including an acclaimed debut which featured the vocals of Nico, a
willowy European model with strong Marlene Dietrich inflections.
However, the band's work was discovered in cut out bins and soon most
everyone who purchased it started their own groups. Lead singer Lou
Reed went on to a long, respected solo career, even scoring a fluke solo hit
with "Walk On the Wild Side," his hypnotic 1973 examination of the low
culture of New York. Other band members John Cale, Maureen (Moe)
Tucker and Sterling Morrison also continued working over the years at
differing levels, but the combustible chemistry of the original Velvets was
never revisited due to grudges and miscommunications.
This stand off ended
(extremely briefly) in 1993, when the original members agreed to do a
reunion tour which did rather well, but also reopened old wounds and
scuttled a hoped for return to the studio. Velvet Redux Live
MCMXCIII is a souvenir of one of these reunion shows. If the
strained feelings and anger was pulsing through this show it is hard to pick
up on. Despite the slightly pretentious title (come on, guys, Roman
numerals?) this is actually a tight set of some brilliant shoulda-been hits.
The group may have never
completely caught on due to the drug-usage that was so prevalent in the
lyrics of classics like "White Light/White Heat," "Heroin," "Sweet Jane" and
"I'm Waiting For the Man" -- all of which are given strong run-throughs
here. The Velvet Underground, though always thought of as a precursor
of punk rock, is actually at its best when it is quiet and contemplative.
John Cale's vocal on "Femme Fatale" is still staggeringly beautiful, as is Lou Reed's
devotional "I'll Be Your Mirror." Frankly, both only benefit here from
losing Nico's nearly phonetic vocals. I only wish that they had pulled
the spectacular "Stephanie Says" from deep in their vaults, but all the
standards of the band's repertoire are here and accounted for.
This DVD is vital, if only
because it will likely be the only video of the original lineup of the VU.
It's doubly vital because the band are so on here. Hopefully in
another decade or so, the group will bury the hatchet again for one more
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Posted: January 28, 2006.