The Velvet Underground were little more than a rumor when Lou Reed left the band in 1970, but by 1974, thanks to Reed's success as a solo artist, the Velvets had become a bona fide cult item, and that year Mercury Records released a two-record set compiled from tapes from shows in Dallas and San Francisco entitled 1969: Velvet Underground Live. The album featured a generous 104 minutes of music, and when Mercury reissued it on CD in 1988, rather than edit the material or release a two-CD set, they put out the album as two separate discs. While this seemed like a rather curious move, the album's sequence was such that it divided in half quite cleanly, and while any VU fan will want both volumes, they don't work half bad as individual albums. 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 1 rocks a bit harder than its counterpart; it opens with a grooving version of "Waiting for the Man," moves on to a rave-up take of "What Goes On" that features some of Lou Reed's finest rhythm guitar work, and closes out with passionate renditions of "Rock and Roll" and "Beginning to See the Light." And where there are a number of ballads on hand (most notably a lovely take of "Lisa Says" and versions of "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" considerably different from those on Loaded), they sound just as committed and compelling as the rockers. While the Doug Yule-era edition of the Velvet Underground often gets short shrift from aficionados, the performances on 1969: Velvet Underground Live, Vol. 1 prove this band still had plenty of fire, and was playing at the top of their game. The CD also adds a final bonus track, an unreleased version of "Heroin"; while the same song appears on Vol. 2, this recording is a different (and considerably more aggressive) performance.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming