The Velvet Underground

Caught Beneath the Twisted Stars

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A magnificent CD compilation of the most legendary (and deservedly so) of all Velvet Underground bootleg material, Caught Between the Twisted Stars is a four-disc collection drawn from throughout the original band's career (plus the 1993 reunion), lavishly packaged, beautifully annotated by an epic 64 page booklet, packed with interviews and press reports, and just about all the live VU you could possibly need. From 1966, the legendary showing at Chicago's Poor Richards, where John Cale took lead vocals from an unwell Lou Reed for "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs," appears in best ever sound. From 1968, the mystery-draped "Sweet Sister Ray" transforms the band's best-known soundscape into a "Pale Blue Eyes"-esque ballad; from 1969, the truly infamous and utterly devastating "guitar amp" version of "Sister Ray" explodes with such vivacity that even if you know it by heart, it'll still take you by surprise. The performance was taped, apparently, with the recording equipment connected straight to Lou Reed's guitar monitor, rendering band and vocals a ghost in the distance while unimagined chords, riffs, and solos slice the top off your skull. Elsewhere, "A Short Lived Torture of Cacophony," from a New York performance in 1965, turns out to be a gripping rendition of the pre-Velvets Reed composition "Fever in My Pocket," while a pair of performances from Reed, John Cale, and Nico's 1972 reunion at the Paris Bataclan, have a sparse, acoustic charm which stands in absolute polarity to everything else on the box. Occasionally across the four discs, the sound quality lets you down a little -- "Chic Mystique," a rare jam from early 1966, is essentially hiss and drum beat with dissonant ambience somewhere in the distance, while the oft-praised "Venus Heroin" medley is scarcely even discernable. So, not everything in the collection bears repeated listens, although it's interesting that the flattest moments actually come from the 1993 reunion -- and are, as such, the most hi-fi things in sight. Whether the original Velvets rehearsed regularly or not, in concert their every movement appeared to be a step into the absolute unknown. Reformed, there was no room for any kind of unexpected maneuver, and so they recite "The Gift" with weary familiarity, or plod through "Hey Mr Rain" like they left their umbrellas at home. Musically, it's exemplary. Spiritually, it's crushing. Such lowlights, however, are the exception. Regardless of quality, the performances from 1966-1970 (and 1972!) not only capture some scintillating highs, they represent a band going hell-for-leather toward a level of artistic accomplishment which even they were only partially aware of -- and whose actual significance would not be realized for years to come. A murderous mystery indeed.

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