Upon departure from the Velvet Underground camp, following the recording of their debut album, Nico established herself as a solo artist with the John Cale produced Chelsea Girl in 1967. The conventional folk-rock stylings of that album (the songs were written by Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and former bandmates Cale and Lou Reed) soon gave way, however, to the more avant-garde leanings of The Marble Index. Stripped of Tom Wilson's carefully crafted organic arrangements, Nico's voice was immersed in the sort of bleak, icy soundscapes it always seemed to belong in. The new approach would define the majority of her work into the 1980s. Hardly a live reading of Nico's Chelsea Girl, not a single song from that debut is present on Chelsea Girl Live. In fact, save for interpretations of "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrow's Parties," Nico doesn't even rely on the acclaimed Reed/Cale songbook. Instead, she draws largely from '80s solo albums like Drama of Exile and Camera Obscura. At the core of the performance are "Janitor of Lunacy," "The Sphinx," and "You Forgot to Answer" -- songs that set Nico's wintry voice adrift on a harmonium drone (the instrument she first adopted on The Marble Index). Elsewhere her voice is given the minimal backing of a skeletal drum clatter, sickening synthesizers, and keyboards that produce a range of appropriate tones from gamelan-style cascades of notes to Fender Rhodes imitations. As stirring a testament as any to Nico's unique vision, Chelsea Girl Live is also a fine compliment to her album work.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush