In November and December 1969, in between the release of the eponymous Velvet Underground album and 1970’s Loaded, Lou Reed and co played a residency at The Matrix in San Francisco, an ex-pizza parlour turned venue owned by Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin.
These tapes are culled from several nights of performances, the four CDs featuring multiple versions of tracks like Heroin and I’m Waiting For The Man – though fortunately, like snowflakes, these versions vary from performance to performance.
Nico and John Cale had departed at this point, the latter replayed by Doug Yule, while Andy Warhol was no longer in the picture. Reed himself is running the show, and there are indications that he wants to take the band in a more conciliatory, even pop direction.
His occasionally lengthy intros to these tracks are far from surly, including that for Moe Tucker, stepping up shyly to sing on After Hours. His exchanges with Sterling Morrison are hardly those of an intolerable martinet either. Still, there are frequent reminders of the pitch-black Velvets who brought rock back to first principles and would inspire Can, the Mary Chain and the Pixies, among many others, not least on the 37-minute version of Sister Ray and The Black Angel’s Death Song, which is scrawling and intense.
Diehards will thrill to the inclusion of hitherto unreleased versions of Some Kinda Love, Sweet Jane and After Hours, though perhaps baulk at having to shell out for material they already own. Still, this is historical, compelling fare.