John Cale

Lou Reed/John Cale/Nico

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Long before the so-so Velvet Underground reunions took place in the 1990s, a near-reunion of the most distinctive individuals took place at the Bataclan Club in Paris on January 29, 1972. At this low-key acoustic date, Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico performed unplugged-type sets, with Reed and Cale providing instrumental and vocal backup throughout. On this 65-minute document of the event, Reed and Nico each take lead vocals on five songs, and Cale on three, the material drawn from both the Velvet Underground's early albums and the trio's early solo efforts. This is not a novel curiosity, of interest only to obsessive fans; it's strong, powerful stuff that in some respects outdoes the familiar versions, at least from their official solo records. Reed mixes songs from the Velvets' first album (nonchalantly introducing "Waiting for the Man" thusly: "This is a song about copping drugs in New York"), shining particularly on a stark cabaret version of "Berlin," which he refers to as "my Barbra Streisand song." Nico never sang better than she did on her portion, particularly on the bare interpretations of the Velvets' "Femme Fatale" and "I'll Be Your Mirror"; she also does a few tunes from her first two solo albums. The Cale-sung tracks are the least impressive, but still worthwhile, particularly "Ghost Story." This made the rounds as a hissy, lo-fi tape for years, but the sound on the CD bootleg is excellent, almost up to the standards of official release. In fact, it's well worth an above-board reissue, assuming that legalities were not a hurdle, and that Mr. Reed and Mr. Cale would not obstruct it.