The Velvet Underground

Final V.U., 1971-1973

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It is one of history's most cherished truths -- the Velvet Underground died when Lou Reed walked out in summer 1970, and the versions that latter-day bassist Doug Yule kept alive for the next three years, with a variety of sidemen and an awful lot of nerve, were little more than zombie shadows, trading on a name that they had no business borrowing.

Neither, for 30 years, did the evidence contradict that truth -- Squeeze, the Reed-less band's sole album, was indeed a less-than-palatable affair. But then Yule dug into his own archives for this, and suddenly history takes a step back. Remember, after all, that fully one-half of the original group's studio legacy, the Velvet Underground and Loaded albums, featured Yule as all but the band's joint lead vocalist; remember, too, that all three official Velvets live albums likewise feature him prominently. Reed may have been the songwriter, but Yule's was the voice that we came to know -- and that's the voice we hear here. Add Maureen Tucker's equally distinctive drum sound and, across the first two CDs in this four disc box, you do need to keep pinching yourself to remember precisely what you're listening to.

Comprising two complete concerts recorded in London and Amsterdam, during the Velvets' 1971 European tour, those discs are the best, both musically and historically. With Boston legends Willie Alexander and Walter Powers completing the lineup, the Velvets are at least as tight, and just as relaxed, as their illustrious predecessors, while the live set skillfully blends material from throughout their career, including a suitably driving "What Goes On," an adorably frail "Afterhours," and a (surprisingly?) intense "Sister Ray."

Discs three and four, culled from low-fi audience tapes recorded in Wales in 1972 and Boston in 1973, are less intriguing. Yule alone survived from the earlier lineup, and a similarly powerful track listing does not disguise the new group's distinctly bar-band leanings. A handful of ear-grabbing performances do surface, though, including a bizarre medley of "Sister Ray" and "Train Round the Bend," and a more than serviceable "Sweet Jane." The presence of Yule's brother, drummer Billy for the Boston show, too, is of interest -- he depped for Tucker at the New York gigs that spawned the Live at Max's album in 1970, and had lost none of his power in the intervening years.

As eye-opening as the music, Yule's own liner notes open the accompanying lyric booklet with an honesty and pride that, again, history has done its best to obscure. He, too, is well aware that few listeners could ever compare Final V.U. to any of the acknowledged high points of the earlier lineup's recorded output. He just asks that you don't immediately line it up among the nadirs. "It isn't the same band that started out on the Lower East Side," he admits. "But it's where that band eventually wound up." And, as such, it's as enjoyable a document as any.

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