Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2006)
Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen plenty of improbable reunions. We got The Eagles in 1994 and The Pixies in 2004. Eurythmics popped up briefly in 1999, and Simon and Garfunkel mended ways a couple of times. Heck, I’ve even heard rumors of a Genesis reunion that might involve both Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel!
Most of these reunions feature acts with a mass audience. The Pixies stand as the sole exception, for they were always much more influential than they were commercially successful. Another band with a similar legacy came back in 1993. The Velvet Underground became legendary in the years after their 1970 split, but they only briefly reunited 23 years later. They played a handful of dates as an opening act for U2 in the summer of 1993 and also headlined their own short tour of Europe. Before they could come to the States, they split up again.
Since founding member Sterling Morrison died in 1995, a Velvets reunion can’t happen again. At least some fans got to see them once more 13 years ago. Shot at L’Olympia in Paris during June 1993, Velvet Redux Live MCMXCIII presents a snapshot of the reunion tour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer a full glimpse of the 1993 shows, as it cuts eight songs from the Paris shows. We lose “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together”, “Guess I’m Falling in Love”, “Afterhours”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “The Gift”, “Velvet Nursery Rhyme”, “The Black Angel’s Death Song” and “I Can’t Stand It”.
Of the 15 songs that do make the cut, we get five from 1967’s debut The Velvet Underground and Nico: “I’m Waiting for the Man”, “Femme Fatale”, “Venus In Furs”, “Heroin” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. 1968’s White Light/White Heat features the title song and “I Heard Her Call My Name”, while 1969’s The Velvet Underground presents “Some Kinda Love”, “Beginning to See the Light” and “Pale Blue Eyes”.
Off of 1970’s Loaded, we discover “Sweet Jane” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll”. “I’m Sticking With You” shows up on 1985’s VU, a compilation of unreleased material. “Hey Mr. Rain” comes from 1986’s Another View, a sequel to VU. Finally, “Coyote” is a then-new song exclusive to the 1993 concerts; I don’t believe the Velvet Underground ever put out a studio version of it.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to get into the VU but haven’t quite been able to do so. I can’t say I dislike their music, but I just can’t connect with it terribly well. For every song I like, there’s another that makes me want to jump off a bridge.
You’ll find both those sides represented in Redux. They often remain an inaccessible band, and that gets displayed more heavily in the program’s first half. A few listener-friendly tracks like “Femme Fatale” appear, but we get others like “Venus in Furs”, “I’m Sticking with You” and “Hey Mr. Rain” that more closely resemble the proverbial nails on the chalkboard. Even the pop-worthy “White Light” sounds rough.
Matters do pick up as the show progresses, at least. I definitely prefer the tracks found in the second half. We get winners like “I Heard Her Call My Name” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” but the show doesn’t saddle us with as many clunkers. The occasional misfire still occurs, but after the painful and interminable “Hey Mr. Rain”, everything else comes as a relief.
Even during the bad songs, however, the band sounds good. I’m not wild about the speak-sing vocals Lou Reed uses, but otherwise everything’s tight. The program also features solid direction. It boasts smooth camerawork and a lack of distracting visual goofiness. This allows the show to appear simple and distinctive.
I don’t expect Velvet Redux will win over many new fans to the Velvet Underground, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile program. It marks a historically significant reunion that also fares pretty well musically. Personally, I find the material to be hit or miss, but I’m glad I gave it a look.