To talk about the Velvet Underground can always seem like a topic for another time. While they are one of the most discussed and written about bands in rock history, it always seems like there’s something more to be said. The band simply resists being succinctly described.
Luckily, the band’s history can be cut up into a number of pieces. The multiple incarnations of the Velvets are each a band of their own, their live show, in particular showing ,a number of individual traits that show up nowhere else. Their first live album 1969, released four years after the band split up, is maybe their most under appreciated work.
After the avant-garde musician John Cale left the band in 1968, the band, with the addition of bassist Doug Yule, shifted gears to a calmer, more holistic vision than the experimental bluster of their first two albums. In the two live performances captured on this album, a snapshot of the band can be seen that is both relaxed and glowing with creativity. Every track is unique, from the roaming and bittersweet rendition of their originally pounding “I’m Waiting for the Man”, the calmly expanding sunrise of “New Age”, or the nearly nine minute jam on the simply blissful cord progression of “What Goes On”.
The band’s notoriously various and adventurous live performances seemed to be based on a lot of luck. Somehow, a group of willing and talented individuals who worked perfectly together met one of the most gifted and subtle songwriters in pop history. If anything, this album is a snapshot of Lou Reed at a moment of great productivity, but it wouldn’t matter if their were only three songs to play. Each song shows Reed similarly marveling at the wonderful journey of life. Who else could make a song about buying heroin shine with the same love of human experience as the childlike innocence that the Beatles blueprinted with “I Want To Hold Your Hand”? It’s impossibly corny to say this, but ultimately, 1969 is an album about love, an emotion that is apparent in it from Reed’s jokingly cordial stage banter to the poetically affectionate lyrics of “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. If you like love, you should probably check it out.