The Velvet Underground

Ostrich/Hilltop

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This is one of the better Velvet Underground bootlegs, five of its six tracks coming from a live show at the Hilltop Rock Festival in New Hampshire on August 2, 1969, topped off by a version of "Sister Ray" from Philadelphia in the spring of 1970. Despite containing only six songs, it's hardly short on playing time, adding up to 76 minutes, as most of the tunes are done in real, stretched-out arrangements. If this were the only recording of the band from this period, it would be really valuable. But it has to be considered a luxury even for the major Velvet Underground fan, for there's a much better-sounding, classic double-album of live material from the same era, the great 1969: Velvet Underground Live. For that matter, there's even a much better bootleg of live stuff from the same era, Live at End Cole Ave., not to mention Bootleg Series Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes, a flawed but easily available official three-CD set of yet more 1969 live recordings. If, after all that, you really need more versions of "Sister Ray," "Heroin," "Pale Blue Eyes," "What Goes On," "Waiting for the Man," and "Run Run Run" (only the last of which doesn't show up on a whole lotta boots in numerous versions), they're here. The sound quality's listenable, but not great, the vocals suffering from tinniness; the performances are good, but not the best that have surfaced. If you're looking for scientific-like differentiation between these versions and more commonly circulated ones, the band sounds edgy on some of the Hilltop Rock Festival gig, taking "Run Run Run" and "Waiting for the Man" at a jumpier pace than usual. Fans of the strangled "ostrich" guitar sound get lots of it on "Run Run Run," and there are some neat improvised vocal and instrumental bits that deviate a little from the studio versions. And "Sister Ray," as was their wont, gets elongated to its maximum capacity, running a full 33 minutes, though its last five clangorous minutes seem excerpted from a couple other performances of the song.