I will not be the first and last one to use Brian Eno’s famous quote on the Velvet Underground but this is so true : “the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band”.
Here is a short summary: young man from NY named Lou Reed (chain-composing songs for others and already subject to electro-shock treatments by his parents) meets young man from Wales named John Cale (avant-garde trained musician) in the mid-60’s to create different music. They create a band with Sterling Morrison on guitar and the boy-looking Maureen Tucker on drums (ancestor of Meg White from the White Stripes), hang around the Factory led by Andy Warhol who proposes to produce their 1st album (meaning doing nothing musically speaking but creating the buzz) and imposes German model/actress Nico on three tracks. The band did only four studio albums in their short career from 1967 to 1970, John Cale leaving after two LP’s and being replaced by Doug Yule.
These four LP’s are indispensable for anyone with an interest in the so-called “indie-rock” scene but more generally in songs, music and art I would say. I will not make any comment on them, except that they all deserve a 10/10 (please click on the covers to know more about them and see the incredible amazing songs available on each one). I would recommend a great book that went out in 2009, giving the chance for those who lived this fantastic period of time in NY to talk about their Velvet Underground memories with tremendous pictures too. Apart from the fact that I could hear a “Sunday Morning” or “Sweet Jane” 1,000 times and being as excited and enthusiastic as the first time, The Velvet Underground gives us all contemporary pop and rock music lovers a sense of purpose and history. Remember that this is band that was basically unsuccessful at their period but that went on influencing so many great musicians, like painters did in the past, virtually getting success and recognition much after death.
Last week was a special week in Paris as there were two Velvet related concerts:
- First one took place in “Le Grand Rex” where Lou Reed played in Paris for the first time since 2007 for an entire performance of his “Berlin” album. Now 69, I found him not in physical good shape, as he seemed to have difficulty to walk on stage. However, after a first hesitating track, he and his band (led by the amazing Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums) began little by little to deliver the goods and that was a great show. Excellent setlist as well mixing classic Velvet Underground tracks and solo Reed ones. I felt a particular emotion when he faded out “Small Town” (from “Songs for Drella” on the story of Andy Warhol) and began playing “Mother” from John Lennon Plastic Ono Band. Here is a beautiful and cooled down version of “Sunday Morning”, the first song on the first Velvet Underground album.
- The second one was part of the Days Off festival at la Villette and was a kind of pop/rock fan’s dream. A specific band had been indeed created for this event with the following musicians: Gaz Combes and Danny Goffey (Supergrass), Nicolas Godin (Air), Colin Greenwood (Radiohead), Nigel Godrich (fantastic producer) and Joey Warronker (from R.EM. and Beck fame), whaoouhhh! Two days of rehearsals as Danny told us and here we are, as if 40 years ago. The band played first “The Velvet Underground and Nico” in its entirety and then went on playing other great tracks for the other albums. Two female singers went on helping them playing former Nico songs (Feist from Canada and Soap and Skin from Austria). One has to admit that the show was straight with no major change vs. original songs but were played with such intensity and joy by Gaz in particular that that was a hell of a moment. Great initiative from the festival..to be done again next year. Here is another video and a few pictures from both shows.