The Velvet Underground

1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, Vol. 2

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Maureen Tucker once said that one of her greatest regrets about her tenure in the Velvet Underground is that the band didn't record their shows, and while the live tapes that do survive of the group's performances document an extraordinary band, sadly there aren't very many of them. 1969: Velvet Underground Live, a two-record set released in 1974, is the best and most compelling (legally released) document of the band's powers in concert, but given its length (over 104 minutes), when Mercury Records reissued the set on CD in 1988, they opted to send it out as two separate single-disc albums, rather than as a two-disc set. The three long songs that open 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 2 (they were the whole of side three on the vinyl release) capture the Velvets at their most hypnotically beautiful, easing from the slow but dramatic ebb and flow of "Ocean," through the lovely melancholy of "Pale Blue Eyes," into the slow, unbearable build to manic frenzy of "Heroin." The disc's second half finds the band in more conventional but no less satisfying form, shifting back and forth between mid-tempo numbers like "Over You" and "Some Kinda Love" and charging rockers such as "White Light/White Heat" (a fine version of "I Can't Stand It" has been added for the CD issue). While Lou Reed's passionate vocals and guitar work are front and center throughout, the rest of the band is in equally superb form, especially Sterling Morrison, still the finest foil Reed ever had on guitar, and Maureen Tucker, whose subtle, highly musical drumming is at once minimal and superbly intelligent. If you care at all about the Velvet Underground, both volumes of 1969: Velvet Undergound Live belong in your collection, but Vol. 2 is the one to get if you want to know how much more this band could do than create bracing noise.

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