The Velvet Underground - Velvet Redux MCMXCIII DVD Review
By Travis Becker
Forty years have passed since the Velvet Underground defined the importance of underground music and the malcontent bands that refused to pander to whatever it was that was "it". The Velvet Underground exists as a moment in time, an old photograph of lightning in a bottle, and their influence on Rock music has been immeasurable. Given that lofty integrity, and the fact that Lou Reed and John Cale may collectively be Rock and Roll's first (or at least its most petulant) celebrity feud, the music world was shocked when in 1993, the band reunited for a European tour and a live album. Not surprisingly, however, the joyous reunion was not to last and Reed and Cale tore it down again before the tour could make its way Stateside. Soon after, Sterling Morrison died and all hopes of future Velvet aftershocks were quieted. Thirteen years later, the Velvets have come back up from the Underground again with the DVD release of Velvet Redux MCMXCIII, dragging the corpses of Andy Warhol and Nico behind.
The 1993 live album was issued in two formats, one a single disc sampling and the other containing the entire show. Rhino's 2006 DVD weighs in somewhere between those two set lists and, given the possibilities of DVD, comes out feeling a bit light. At 85 minutes, it's no opening set, but the mind boggles at the notion that the entire set plus who knows how much extra material would have fit comfortably with room to spare for a hundred previews of upcoming Rhino releases. The packaging is sparse with just a single-fold insert containing production credits and a short blurb by Howie Klein. Despite the unforgivable sin of not including "Sister Ray" in the playlist at all for the show, the DVD version additionally snips "All Tomorrow's Parties", "The Gift", and "The Black Angels Death Song" among others. Now, whether there were issues with the film, which has been sitting presumably for almost fifteen years, remains unclear, but surely a band of this importance deserves better treatment than this. This is really a rare misstep for Rhino, a label that is usually tops in reissues.
Regardless of all of the flaws, this is still the Velvet Underground and the last time the original lineup played together, so the historical value redeems the set somewhat-even if the performances don't. "Venus in Furs" gets things going, but Reed delivers the vocals as if he's never heard the song before. "White Light/White Heat" fares a little bit better, as do all of the more up tempo songs. The material from the self-titled album from 1969 actually sounds the best here. "Some Kinda Love" and "Pale Blue Eyes" are both highlights. It may not have been their most inspired album, but clearly the band likes it, given the attention in gets on this release. John Cale surprisingly seems the most enthusiastic of the group. Even on the songs recorded after he left the group following White Light/White Heat he seems genuinely immersed in the performance, and his vocals on "Femme Fatale" are probably the best of the concert, although he appears to be reading the lyrics off of an index card taped to his microphone stand. On a stretched out version of "Hey Mr. Rain" Cale obliterates the bow of the Viola he's sawing. "Sweet Jane" and "Rock 'N' Roll" lighten the mood considerably towards the end of the set and come off sounding like the rock radio singles they were penned to be. For you completeists out there-no there is no surprise appearance by Doug Yule. For those who have heard the CD release of years ago, there's nothing new here but the visual element.
The sound quality is strong throughout, even given the claim in the notes that there were no overdubs. The picture is a little washed out, but it works more like an effect than a sign of poor quality. The grainy feel tints the bands artsy edge of the past with a nostalgic wisdom that's also detectable in the sidelong glances ands smirks during "Heroin". The stage show isn't much to write home about anyways, and honestly no one needs to see these guys (and especially Maureen Tucker) to get anymore out of the performance anyways. Suffice it to say, their best days are behind them. The one really eye catching visual is the intro to "I'm Waiting for the Man", during which the lights fade to sort of a dusty brownish gray, giving the whole stage the look of an old tin-type photo album. The version of that song that follows, however, is god-awful.
The Velvet Underground defies explanation in terms of their place in the rock lexicon. Hundred of bands were no doubt influenced by the band, their music, and their attitude, but much of their music continues to be somewhat inaccessible to the masses. Velvet Redux Live MCMXCIII captures another moment in time entirely, this one a Polaroid of a band, apart for almost 25 years, remembering the times when they did something truly important. And the picture of that memory resonates pretty strongly even after another fifteen years. The corners are cracked and the color is fading out, but a smile still might cross your lips to look at it once in a while. Hell, with a little more care it might even have been worth framing. For now though? This snapshots going back in the box.
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