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Suppose the Velvets re-united…and nobody noticed?

July 9, 2018

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico

Le Bataclan, Paris, January 29 1972

Spyglass SPYCD3003 (CD+ DVD)

This is a great gig, badly served by the many recordings that have been released thus far. All the legitimate versions have run too slow, making Lou Reed sound like he was on Qualuudes. However this new 2018 release has been pitch and speed corrected, and sounds immeasurably stronger as a result making it a very worthy addition to the Velvets canon.

The setting is a live acoustic gig at the Le Batclan nightclub in Paris on January 29th 1972. For once the three participants all seem to be getting on well, with Reed engaging in what can only be termed “genial onstage banter”’. The opening Waiting For The Man is performed as a stately acoustic folk duet between Reed on acoustic guitar and Cale on grand piano. Next is a highly effective rendition of Reed’s newly-written Berlin, which he described as “a real nightclub torch thing…kind of a Billie Holiday trip”. The piano part is played beautifully by Cale and the song lacks only its final ‘some sweet day’ coda. Then it’s back to the first Velvets LP for The Black Angel Death Song, played so slowly that you can actually hear the words. Cale contributes an undulating viola part, resulting in the definitive version. From Reed’s first solo LP comes Wild Child, which shorn of its studio prog-bombast fits right in amongst its illustrious neighbours. Finally a restrained Heroin, again with Cale’s viola to the fore.

Having done such a Sterling (sorry) job in backing Lou, Cale’s own solo set here disappoints. Only Empty Bottles – written for Jennifer Warnes – stands out. Had the concert featured his Paris 1919 material from the following year rather than the likes of Ghost Story then it would have all been very different. Nico’s set starts strongly with a Femme Fatale featuring backing vocals from the guys. However we then detour into harmonium territory, before finishing strongly with a double whammy of I’ll Be Your Mirror and an encore of All Tomorrow’s Parties, both arranged for voice and acoustic guitar. Two additional tracks are rehearsal versions of Pale Blue Eyes and Candy Says, taken from the 3rd Velvets LP on which Cale was absent.

In addition to this excellent audio documentary the Spyglass release adds a DVD featuring five tracks – Berlin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Ghost Story and Femme Fatale – screened on the French TV show Pop Deux on June 10th 1972. Footage is black and white but perfectly watchable.

The trio never managed to repeat this experience, with a follow-up London gig cancelled. By the time Reed and Cale finally reunited for a full-blown Velvets tour in 1993 Nico was gone.  I saw the re-union tour at L’Olympia in Paris the night they recorded the live DVD and on the whole would sooner have been at Le Bataclan. Six of the eleven tracks of the Velvets debut LP feature here, emphasising their pop-folk tendency at the expense of their monolithic Sister Ray side. These were indeed different times.

In 1972 only a thousand lucky punters saw this gig live.  Now the rest of us can catch up



From → Music

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