“Good evening. WE’RE The Velvet Underground and you’re allowed to dance, in case you don’t know.” So began Lou Reed’s introduction to an album that was once described as “great songs in poor fidelity…and the sound sucks”. While finishing the mastering of their fourth album, the majestic Loaded, for Atlantic, the Velvets?Lou Reed, Doug Yule, Billy Yule (sitting in for the pregnant Maureen Tucker) and Sterling Morrison?played a month-long residency, two sets a night, at Max’s. Some shows were taped by Andy Warhol’s scene-making underground pal Brigid Polk (aka Brigid Berlin), a crystal meth freak and participant in such Silver Factory epics as Chelsea Girls, Trash and Pork.
The resultant LP is unlikely to have been the last VU gig Reed played, but it’s a stunning monophonic documentary of a pivotal New York occasion, an album that has held huge sway over David Bowie, Sonic Youth and R.E.M. among others for the bravura of its mellow, metallic-edged sound, as well as its gloriously decadent atmosphere.
In this deluxe configuration (with six unreleased tracks), Live At Max’s will jolt many memories for anyone who discovered the Velvets backwards, from Loaded to the first album. While Lou, Doug and company turn out rhythmically hair-raising accounts of “I’m Set Free”, “Candy Says” and “Some Kinda Love”, VU freaks will also turn to non-box set takes of “Who Loves The Sun” (sadly, minus its jangly recorded intro) and the gay New Orleans epic “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”. Both are impeccably delivered by the sorely underrated Yule.
The historical/hysterical frisson is bolstered by the asides of NYC poet Jim Carroll as he orders his Tuinol and double Pernods. After “Sweet Jane”, received with the faintest of applause, Carroll gets his priorities in order: “Yeah, I heard it, but it’s pretty new. Did you get the Pernod? You have to go the downstairs bar.” Lazy bugger. August 23, 1970 must have been a great night. You can be there for a bittersweet taste. Don’t forget your 26 dollars.