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MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
Howie Klein was one of the lucky ones. The esteemed record label executive got to see the Velvet Underground in their prime, in 1966, when they were part of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable and terrifying the avant-garde with abrasive, street-tough rock 'n roll and gritty tales of drug abuse and trans-gendered prostitutes. In April of that year, the Velvets did a month-long residency at a place called The Dom. An underage Klein got in with a fake ID. "I don't think I missed a show. I flunked out of school," he writes in the liner notes to Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII, a DVD scrapbook from the Velvets' 1993 reunion shows at the Paris Olympia. Lou Reed was a better teacher anyway.
If you weren't born in 1950s or the late 1940s, you can't relate. That was a snapshot in time that's faded with age - like a Polaroid in reverse - surviving only in the minds of adventurers like Klein. The rest of us get Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII, a straightforward, vanilla concert video that's completely void of extras. Filmed when Reed, drummer Moe Tucker, multi-instrumentalist John Cale and guitarist Sterling Morrison reformed for a truncated, cash-grab European tour that ended with another breakup, Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII is comprised solely of live footage culled from three shows and the band is in fine form. A little - make that a lot - older, but still riveting on stage, the Velvets rip through revved-up, really muscular versions of "Rock 'N Roll," "Sweet Jane" and "I'm Waiting For The Man." Played with verve and passion, these VU standards are killers. Cale's pounding piano in "I'm Waiting For The Man" is not as subdued as it is in the recorded version, and it drives the band over the edge.
Reed and Cale seem to lock horns in the bluesy "Some Kinda Love," with Reed firing off guitar salvos as if they were anti-aircraft rockets and Cale furiously chaining together slightly off-key piano chords in dramatic fashion. Their heated interplay is infused with anger and wild abandon, as it is in "Heroin," which features Cale writhing in dissonant violin while Reed comes rising up out of the gutter with fists cocked and sharp guitar leads. And yet, when the fighting's over, they'll commiserate on the sad, mournful "Pale Blue Eyes" and get lost in thought in a meditative reading of "Venus In Furs."
For the old guard, VU digs up hidden gems like the jangly "Beginning To See The Light" or "I Heard Her Call My Name" and "I'll Be Your Mirror." But the real finds here are the previously unreleased tracks "Hey, Mr. Rain" and "I'm Sticking With You." Full of doom and foreboding, "Hey, Mr. Rain" is a long exercise in noisy guitar wrangling and discordant sounds, while "I'm Sticking With You" is a sweet, charming little duet between Reed and Tucker. As a fitting ending, VU offers what then was a new song called "Coyote" and it's everything you'd expect from VU - poignant and human.
Though they're playing is tight and often fiery, VU is clearly showing their age. But what else would you expect? They broke up in 1970. They are 23 years older here. That's a lifetime. As a document of a brief period in Velvets' history, Live MCMXCIII is a reminder of just how brilliant and cohesive they were, even if by this time they had succumbed to the siren song of indulgent, aimless jamming. Everybody knows they were always ahead of the curve musically and unappreciated, even ignored, in their time. Perhaps that's why they felt a reunion years later was necessary. The times had caught up to them and it was their moment in the sun. Sadly, the tour never made it to America and Morrison, the stoic giant always off to the side quietly drawing the animal out of Reed with his intricate fretwork, died of cancer shortly after. What remains are their records, the mountains of underground bootlegs circulating between hardcore fans, and this, their final kiss-off. Reed says he was saved by rock 'n roll. Over time, he's returned the favor. SEE ALSO: www.velvetunderground.com
SEE ALSO: www.rhino.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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