The Velvet Underground As The Counter History Of Rock’n’Roll

The 45th Anniversary edition of The Velvet Underground was released last week, and along with various mixes of the band’s great third album, there is a two-cd live set from shows taped, in remarkably clear four-track stereo, at San Francisco’s The Matrix over the 26th and 27th of November, 1969.

If those dates ring a bell, you clearly are a fan of rock history, for surely you realize the 27th was the first night of the Rolling Stones’ shows at Madison Square Garden, from which came both the concert scenes captured by the Maysles in Gimme Shelter and likely the greatest live album ever, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!

Think of it: in New York, The Rolling Stones were playing sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, on a tour that washed away the detritus of ’60’s psychedelia; The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World playing Chuck Berry songs alongside “Midnight Rambler” and “Stray Cat Blues.”  And in San Francisco, before maybe 200 people, the Velvets were playing a 37-minute version of “Sister Ray” and an early version of “Sweet Jane.”  And 45 years later, we realize that both bands, playing on the same evening, were laying down the epochal music that would influence every subsequent band that we love, that would, each in their own way, change our life, which of course was saved by rock’n’roll, if not “Rock And Roll.”

We already knew that The Velvet Underground & Nico was released the same day as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The notion that the Velvets were opening with “I’m Waiting For the Man” maybe three or four hours after the Stones, on the East Coast, were opening their set with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” reveals the Velvet Underground to be the perfect alternative act to the mainstream of ’60’s music, the perfect counterpoint to the conventional counterculture, their greatness tied up not simply in their music, but symbolically in in their obscurity, their swimming far from the established sea lanes of popular culture.

If you can, you really should buy the expensive “45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition,” of The Velvet Underground, even if it means a second job.  Easy for us to say, we know.  We do not feel the slightest compunction about recommending this extravagance, this extravaganza.  If you wish to know where any of our favorite bands come from, it’s here: both Talking Heads and The Modern Lovers captured in “What Goes On,” Galaxie 500 contained in the included version of “Ride Into The Sun,” The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Jesus and Mary Chain contained within it all.  It’s all worth it, especially when you think of The Velvet Undeground as the counter history of rock’n’roll.

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