The Velvet Underground: Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII [DVD]

Jon Langmead

That these concerts happened was an amazing thing and this is a fitting, worthwhile document.

The Velvet Underground

Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII [DVD]

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2006-01-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
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"Some people like to go out dancing/ There's these other people like us/ We go to a Velvet Underground concert."

I just want you to tell me what you think of this guitar solo," Lester said to Leigh at practice one night. He proceeded to blast "I Heard Her Call My Name" by the Velvet Underground on the stereo as the musicians wandered into the kitchen for a beer. "Who was that guy?" Leigh asked when the song ended. "He's the greatest guitarist I've ever heard in my life!" Lester beamed. "Then I caught this little gleam in his eye, end everything crumbled," he wrote. "I am a purdee gullible sucker from the word go. He started laughing -- hell, they all did, my fellow musicians in my band, laughing contemptuously at me -- slapped me on the back and said: "Listen, Lester, I couldn't play that solo. David couldn't play that solo. But you could play that solo in three days and I'll show you how! Hardeharhar."
-- Let It Blurt: The Life & Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic by Jim Derogatis

When we were rehearsing for the '93 tour, we weren't three or four bars into it ("I'm Waiting For The Man") and everybody stopped, like, what the hell's the matter? I knew what the problem was, but I didn't say anything at first. But eventually I was like, "Lou, you have to play all down strokes." He had forgotten that.
-- Maureen Tucker in Modern Drummer

It was during my last year of high school that the Velvet Underground got the band back together and did some very high profile shows in Europe. I had a textbook idea of their influence and importance but had only heard a friend's copy of Loaded. It seemed like a band that was this legendary should somehow be unfathomable to human ears. That you could borrow a record with their music on it from a friend and play it, could contain it and have it at your fingertips, made it common. It seemed like you should have to travel a great distance to hear music that was supposedly so influential and important. I gave the record back and waited three years to start over with their first record.

What broke through to me was the drumming on "I'm Waiting for the Man". Maureen Tucker's playing was like a new way of hearing the instrument. No drummer has ever pushed their set into a guitar player's back more powerfully or to better effect. Her tambourine playing could mean as much to a song as the chorus. No drummer played their parts with so much love for the material. No other drummer seemed to live for their band the way that she did. All of the other stuff; a love for the amazing songs and guitar playing and lyrics and the chaos of it all, came a little later. First was the drumming.

Live MCMXCIII is the DVD re-issue of the concert footage from the '93 Velvet Underground reunion show in Paris, with no bonus features added, previously available only on VHS. The footage is all beautifully recorded and looks and sounds fantastic, though your enjoyment of it is may vary a lot based on your expectations and pre-conceived ideas going in about a reunited Velvet Underground. Anyone prone to criticize it for not being like the "real" Velvet Underground or for not doing justice to the original recordings will be accordingly put-off. The playing is more polished, as it has to be, than the playing on the other Velvet Underground live documents and the sound is run through equipment designed for stadium sound, designed to keep noise and howling in check. Reed's guitar sound is too meticulously controlled to be truly dangerous, anyway, John Cale seems pretty stuffy, and Sterling Morrison unfortunately gets left a bit in the wings. There are no whip dancers on stage or performance artists mimicking mainlining. But would you really want there to be, 25 years on? With the Velvet Underground, there's almost nothing to be sentimental about. Their music doesn't have a touch of the stuff and, besides, very few people have any real memories of their music when it was still new. Our memories and attachments to it, if we have any, were almost certainly invented after the band's moment as a living entity had passed.

In the same interview with Modern Drummer that the lead-in quote comes from, Tucker said that at the time of the reunion shows, she had wished that they could have done the tour using the equipment that they had played through when the band was first together. And this wasn't out of blind nostalgia; her problem is with the obsessive quest for fidelity and desire to obsessively control sound and what it has done to live rock music. The idea, though, of them playing stadium shows with the same set-up they used to play around the Village, is almost unimaginable. Which isn't to say that you almost wish they'd given it some thought.

The balance they have to strike, of bringing a completely stripped-out and brutal electric sound into a stadium, is an almost un-winnable proposition. But they don't lose and in their way they pull it off amazingly. There are definitely points in the concert that you wish Lou Reed would play a Strat and not that silly-looking guitar with no headstock (when Morrison plays it during "Beginning to See the Light" it looks even sillier). And during "I Heard Her Call My Name", when the camera picks up Reed's hilariously overgrown effects board, you almost have to wonder if he remembers how to get by without it. Tucker fulfills her part of the bargain, though, banging away on her upright kit and, during "Some Kind of Love", just laying her cowbell on the bass drum to play it.

Their stage is starker than you're likely to see at almost any other stadium show. The light show is equally restrained and the overall effect is about as good of a balance as you could expect to strike between a club show and a show designed for tens of thousands of paying customers. The audience response is enthusiastic and at points the band seems alternately amused and annoyed. Clapping along to "I'm Sticking With You" is cute, maybe, but clapping along to "Pale Blue Eyes" is just odd (are people that hungry for a stadium rock experience?). You more than half expect to see lighters. When the audience begins clapping along to the build of "Heroin" Reed pauses and seems... what? Bemused? Agitated? It's hard to read.

As a Velvet Underground fan who has never really liked "Heroin", their performance of it here is truly staggering (Tucker and Cale's playing on it are the highlights of the DVD). It makes you wish they had included a version of "Sister Ray" just to hear what they could do with it. Nothing here feels like a dead reading of old material, though there's nothing terribly revealing, either. Reed's scattershot delivery is sure to drive purists out of the window but while it can vary wildly from the originals, it tends to produce more exciting results here than, for example, Cale's straight reading of "Femme Fatale". Cale also takes the lead on "I'm Waiting for the Man" and comes off like he's never spent a day in Manhattan in his life.

Though it was reportedly tensions between Reed and Cale that halted the reunion before it could make it to the United States, I don't think it's is all that evident here. During long instrumental sections of "Hey Mr. Rain" and "Beginning to See the Light" they mostly seem to be fully functioning band mates. And I think that a lot of the criticisms thrown out; that Tucker, Cale, and Morrison come off as Reed's backing band, that the performance is stiff, that the reunion never should have happened in the first place, are just rhetoric. That these concerts happened was an amazing thing and this is a fitting, worthwhile document.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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