Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII
March 7, 2010
The original line-up of the seminal band, The Velvet Underground broke up in 1970 because of the mercurial relationship between Lou Reed and John Cale. The individual band members branched off into their own sometimes successful, sometimes not solo careers. They left in their wake a formidable legacy, influencing countless bands (just think, there would be no Meg White without Moe Tucker).
In late 1992, the Velvets suddenly announced that they would be reuniting for a tour in Europe, opening for U2 (sometimes headlining) no less. Anticipation was high to say the least. It came as something of a surprise based on the history of bad blood between Cale and Reed. The first sighting of the original line-up was a one-song one-off for an Andy Warhol exhibit in France.
This concert was filmed live in Paris at the L’Olympia Theater over three nights in June of 1993 with most of the songs culled from their first three albums and two from Loaded. The band opens with the quiet menace of “Venus in Furs” and then moves into the up tempo “White Light/White Heat” with Sterling Morrison’s trademark jangly guitar in full effect. Lou Reed’s voice sounds as good as ever, especially on “Some Kinda Love” where it takes on a smooth, almost seductive quality.
The Velvets are hardly a gregarious group with an expressionless, business-as-usual demeanour. At some points, Morrison looks positively bored while Cale comes off as somewhat comatose. As someone weaned on their studio albums it is kind of odd to see John Cale singing “Femme Fatale” instead of Nico (who died in 1988) but he does manage to evoke the same kind of doomed elegance. However, Reed doesn’t fair as well singing in Nico’s place on “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” failing to capture the wasted chic that she conveyed on the album.
Moe Tucker’s drumming is still brilliant in its absolute minimalism, providing a steady backbeat that the rest of the band can play off of. She really shines on “Rock ‘n’ Roll” providing a punishing beat to conclude the song. The band really hits a fantastic groove on a catchy rendition of “Sweet Jane,” one of their signature songs. Reed actually looks like he’s having fun at one point!
Reaction to their short-lived tour was divided. There were those who did not want to see the band’s legacy tarnished by a reunion and those who were curious to see if they could still cut it after all these years. Sadly, the band broke up again on the tour as Cale and Reed’s acrimonious relationship flared up – this just before reaching the United States (and a proposed MTV Unplugged gig). Then, tragically, Morrison died of cancer in 1995. The last time the remaining members were on stage together was to perform at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when they were inducted in 1996.