The Velvet Underground
The Complete Matrix Tapes
Extensive live set from NYC legends.
It’s easy to cast The Velvet Underground as dark subterranean nihilists, who spent their entire career inhabiting a twilight New York City netherworld, blinkered by perma-shades, holed up in Warhol’s Factory, opiated into a near-comatose state of ennui as a revolving cast of pan-sexual superstars and sailors inconveniently OD’d at their feet. Posterity delights in the band’s wilful invisibility, that their landmark debut album managed risible sales to an exclusive audience of the artistic elite, but behind rock myth lies inconvenient truth. Eno’s oft-quoted assertion that the Velvets’ first album might not have sold many copies on release, but that all those who did buy it were irresistibly compelled to form their own band hinges on the words “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies”. Now, 30,000 sales of a debut disc is hardly a flop. And as for hiding away in selfimposed Manhattan exile with only a blackened spoon and a Sugar Plum Fairy for company, the Velvets actually toured. In ’69, the band – then comprising Lou Reed (guitar/vocals), Sterling Morrison (guitar/vocals), Maureen Tucker
(drums/percussion/vocals) and Doug Yule (bass/organ/vocals) – played more than 70 dates across the US and Canada. And this eight-vinyl album set captures a gig-hardened, confident post-Cale Velvets, fronted by a decidedly relaxed, talkative and in-form Reed on the last two dates of a November residency at San Francisco’s snug, 100-capacity Matrix.
Many of these recordings – taped on the venue’s pro four-track set-up – previously formed a fair chunk of Live 1969, a double vinyl package that went from much sought-after import to budget knock-off on its initial shoddy CD transfer. But with original tapes ‘rediscovered’, refreshed and expanded, the 43-track, 285-minute Complete Matrix Tapes set is an essential document of the live Velvet Underground at their very best.
With highlights in abundance: fresh takes on familiar greats – a down-tempo Waiting For My Man (sic), blazing What Goes On, brooding Some Kinda Love, an elegantly retold (by Reed rather than Yule) New Age, an immense 38-minute Sister Ray; glimpses into Lou’s solo future (Ocean, Lisa Says); exclusive gems (Over You. Sweet Bonnie Brown) and an intimate vibe in crystal audio clarity – it’s a veritable feast. ■■■■■■■■■■