Archive for The Velvet Underground

The Feelies Sill Play Crazy Rhythms

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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When the Feelies call one of their rare road shows “An Evening With The Feelies,” they mean it. For their third encore — not their last! — they played The Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It” and Television’s “See No Evil.” Going to see them, you know you’re in for a real cool time… even if fave “Real Cool Time” was one of our few favorite tunes they didn’t play in their 29-song double set.

It took a while to get things right in the first set, as Glen Mercer had some tuning and pedal problems. But once things gelled, it was a reminder of why, all those years ago, a group of normcore suburbanites who’d shlep in from the wilds of New Jersey were the coolest band in Downtown NYC.

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No band we know of has ever so wonderfully bridged the gap between Buddy Holly and Lou Reed, in terms of song structure and style.  And after all these years, they still play crazy rhythms, and not just on “Crazy Rhythms.” Stan Demeski spent some of that time after the Feelies broke up for the second time in the early ’90s playing with Luna, and there were moments when his motoric drumming reminded us of the latter band’s great moments with him.  In partnership with bassist Brenda Sauter and second percussionist Dave Weckerman, there were moments of polyrhythmic perversity and utter ecstasy.

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Since we first saw the Feelies — at the 1979 New York Rocker holiday party — to this day, the band has only released seven albums.  The Brian Jonestown Massacre has released nine albums since 2010!  The Feelies broke up and lost some steam between Crazy Rhythms in 1980 and the quieter The Good Earth, which came out in ’86.  And they were out of commission for roughly 12 years beginning in the early ’90s.  We still think of them as being on a 40-year continuum, because we’ve played their albums so continuously for almost all that time.

Fanatics have their favorites, but ours is 1988’s Only Life, which was a high point of that decade.  That 2017’s In Between not only was a great album, not only provided some of last night’s best songs — “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Been Replaced” — but sounded completely of a piece with all that had come before, tells you something about the singularity of vision shared by Glen Mercer and Bill Million.  They’re an underrated guitar duo, we think, because unlike Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberly Rew, the division of labor in the Feelies is almost, but not entirely, split between Million’s rhythm and Mercer’s lead.  Seldom do they fight for dominance.  They’re just two guys in a glorious band playing lovely songs for an entire evening.

The Summer’s Best Record Is A Compilation of Velvet Underground Covers

Posted in Lou Reed, Music with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Over an embarrassingly long span of time, we’ve made dozens of Velvet Underground playlists.  On cassettes, Mini Disks, and various i-devices, we’ve carried an encyclopedia of music all tied to a single band.  These playlists haven’t just been collections of songs by the Velvets, or covers of Velvets songs, but also that more ethereal if no less important sub-genre of music: songs by bands that would never have existed had the Velvet Underground not summoned them from dank basements and moody bedrooms.

In fact, a little over 10 years ago in this very space, we wrote about the concept of Velvet Underground music as notional, a category that actually exists more through bands they influenced than the four-album entity that broke up in the early ’70s.  That band, the real Velvet Underground of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and, what the Hell, Doug Yule, surely existed.  They were captured on the four original albums, the wildly variable official and unofficial live albums,  plus — and crucially — 1985’s posthumous compilation album, VU, which released so many great songs heretofore only heard as covers by other bands.  But like a truffle dog in pursuit of pungent underground treasures, our life has been enriched by the search for those great bands that, long after the real Velvets were gone, channeled them, brought them to enhanced life, and in so doing created the music we most adore.

If the main highways of rock’n’roll lead back to the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan, to Motown, the blues, and Elvis, to the San Francisco bands and early metal, our favorite potholed city streets go directly to the Velvet Underground via Spiritualized and Galaxie 500, Per Ubu and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Black Ryder, Mazzy Star, and Jesus and Mary Chain.  The Velvets existed, but their progeny did so much more, and no, we won’t repeat Brian Eno’s hoary invocation of The Velvet Underground and Nico as the record that launched 1000 bands.

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C) Joel Meyerowitz 1968

The Brazilian blog and record company, The Blog That Celebrates Itself, commissions bands from around the globe to participate in compilation homages to fave bands, from Echo and the Bunnymen to Spiritualized.  It was just a matter of time before they would get to the Velvet Underground.  Brace yourself.

After Hours, Velvets In Another View, which you can download from Bandcamp, has just come out and is, by some margin, the Album of the Summer.  Hearing favorite bands like Flavor Crystals play that most gorgeous of Velvets songs, “Ocean,” brings tears to the eye.  But everyone steps up, and as is the case with compilation albums, we immediately learn about bands we’d never heard of.  Thank you, The Other Kingdom, for your version of “What Goes On” — we will immediately become your biggest fan. The Tamborines’ version of “Heard Her Call My Name” will forever be on our Velvets playlists, Volume 63-102. Each of the songs here sound bright, as if the bands had money to play with.  And while Iceland’s Singapore Sling are veterans of the studio, as is proved by the pulsating version of “Sister Ray” that kicks off the album, we don’t know enough about Robsongs and Psychedelic Trips To Death and Magic Shoppe to grok whether the ace versions here of “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” “Run Run Run,” and “Heroin,” respectively, are par for their particular course, or just showcase bands getting their shot and going for it.

Maybe the only thing that really needs to be said about the grip the Velvet Underground has had on my life is that, in the final record he made with the band, Lou Reed wrote a song with these lyrics:

Jenny said, when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happening at all
Every time she puts on the radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all, not at all
Then, one fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music
You know, her life was saved by rock’n’roll

Growing up in ear shot of NY AM radio, this was the story of our life.  While most reference to the Velvets focus on heroin, decadence, noise and squalor, to us they always were a band of uplift, of Sunday mornings and pale blue eyes. Of intelligent questions, like what goes on in other people’s minds.  Of wisdom and revelation, when you’re beginning to see the light.  And of beauty, and peace, like the drone of the cosmos in the sound of ocean waves.

The Velvets contained multitudes. After Hours, Velvets In Another View is the summer’s revelation.

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

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 28, 2014 by johnbuckley100

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.

Dylan, Velvets, Beefheart: November Will Be Historic

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 28, 2014 by johnbuckley100

The Basement Tapes in their entirety will be released one week from today in a 6-CD set.  Yes, 138 out of 140 or so songs recorded by Dylan and The Band in ’66 and ’67 will finally be available legitimately (not as low-fidelity bootlegs).

You don’t have to be a Dylanologist, you don’t have to even really love rock’n’roll, to understand what an important event in American culture next week will be.  A victory by Republicans may set the clock back on election night, but our palliative will be to return to the bygone era in which The Basement Tapes were recorded — The Band plus Dylan crowded in The Red Room (Dylan’s place in Woodstock) or Big Pink (The Band’s group house) playing old folk songs, some of Dylan’s most enigmatic originals, Johnny Cash covers and the like.  And it will all be available next week.  (Picture us rubbing our hands together.)

On November 17th, we get to listen to Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970-1972, a four-disk box set that spans Captain Beefheart’s least celebrated, yet hugely satisfying post-Trout Mask Replica period.  For the first time ever, Lick My Decals Off, Baby will be released on CD in its entirety.  And in addition to a new mastering of the sublime Clear Spot, we get rarities from the period.  (Drool forms in the back of the mouth… It’s so close now, how can we wait three weeks?)

The Velvet Underground  — the band’s third, and best, record will be released, along with contemporaneous live tracks never before legitimately set into the wild, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  Maybe the surviving Velvets (John Cale and Mo Tucker) are so concerned with family values, they wish us all to be able to discuss the rarities over dinner with the relatives?)

Who knows.  What we do know is that we have likely never gone into a November believing that we will need to lock ourselves away with headphones to listen to the 16 disks — 16 disks — of music we have longed for years to be able to hear, all to be released in this single month…

Philip Parfitt Is Not The Man He Used To Be

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2014 by johnbuckley100

It may have been a heartfelt stroke of honesty, it might have been an effort to inoculate against the facile criticism he expected, but whatever it is that prompted Philip Parfitt to call his first album in 20 years I’m Not The Man I Used To Be, it certainly seems accurate.  For this album is very, very different from what Parfitt has done in his prior lives, his prior bands.

It’s no disgrace if you don’t know who he is. Parfitt’s last album came out before, oh, Oasis hit the scene. The Perfect Disaster may be best remembered now for having given Josephine Wiggs to The Breeders, but to those of us who remember the late 1980s, they gave us an enormous amount of pleasure.  Some of that pleasure, to be sure, was what a great guitarist Dan Cross proved to be, but it was Parfitt’s singing and songwriting that made The Perfect Disaster worthy of being spoken of in the same sentence with the Velvet Underground.  Here’s how we described them in 2009:

“The Perfect Disaster were an interesting, sometimes thrilling late ’80s British band headed by Parfitt, with the glorious Dan Cross on lead guitar, what had to be Mo Tucker’s illegitimate son Jon Mattock on drums and, before she left for The Breeders, Josephine Wiggs on bass and vocals. Their album Up is what got me started, especially “Time To Kill.” They had a chugging, Velvets sound, had spent plenty of time listening to the Buzzcocks and Modern Dance-era Pere Ubu, and Parfitt was a wonderfully sneering front man, limited in vocal range, but of course that made sense, since the model was Lou Reed. Heaven Scent came out in 1990, and to my ears was stronger than Up (though britcrits seem to prefer the former.) It had a little less urgency than its predecessor, but by now Parfitt’s songwriting craft had more facets and dimensions, yet was more contained. Great things seemed in store, and … poof. They disappeared.”

But then came Oedipussy, whose 1994 album Divan we called “the great lost album of post-punk British rock.”  It was more dynamic, more explicitly commercial than The Perfect Disaster, and while their (his?) lone album was incredibly different from what had come earlier, it was no less satisfying.  Two years after we posted our piece on Oedipussy, this comment suddenly appeared:

““thank you ladies and gentlemen. I am well.its very very lovely that people appreciate my work. i’ve not stopped writing or recording since Divan, just haven’t got ruond to releasing much; I am though planning to get a new album out this year 2011. there! I’ve said it! one step follows another step, even when you are walking backwards.”

It was signed, simply, “philip.”  And for three years, these two Tulip Frenzy posts have gotten steady traffic, as the world hasn’t forgotten about Philip Parfitt.

And then two weeks ago, someone tweeted us that Parfitt had a new album out, and sure enough, I’m Not The Man I Used To Be hit the iTunes store.

 

When you listen to the opener, “Big Sister,” it’s not Lou Reed that comes to mind so much as Nick Drake.  This is a quiet album, handcrafted before the fireplace, as rain hits the window.  It is no less the beautiful for it.  Whether or not Phil Parfitt has changed — and let us simply assume that he was writing in character when, on Up‘s closer, “Time To Kill,” he announced it was “time to pull the trigger and/time to die” — this music is lovely.  And every bit as special as anything he did in his harder rocking past.

The Perfect Disaster has gotten us through many a late evening: car rides, plane rides and the like.  I’m Not The Man I Used To Be is that next album to play on a rainy Saturday after Beck’s Morning Phase is over, you’ve just poured another cup, and the dog is snoring at your feet.  To say this is a quiet album is the finest praise.  We’re glad he’s back.

 

We Were Right That Richard Hell Wrote The Best Essay On The Velvet Underground, But…

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by johnbuckley100

The evolutionary trend by which rock critics become rock’n’roll musicians seems more typical than a rock star becoming a critic, but it’s not like the latter is a crime against nature or anything.  After all, said rock musician probably gravitated toward his calling out of a deep love for music, and certainly we know bands going all the way back to the Beatles and Stones began to bash around on guitars out of the sheer cussed joy of wanting to emulate their idols.  So let’s just take as a given that rock’n’rollers have great knowledge about the music that lit their particular match.  Nonetheless, it’s unusual for a musician to become a rock critic, and highly unusual for one to become anywhere near as erudite as Richard Hell is.

Last week, we wrote with admiration that Richard Hell’s piece on the Velvet Underground in New York Magazine was the best essay ever written about that band.  We were right and wrong.  Hell did write the best essay ever on the Velvets.  The thing is, it was a different essay, published in 2008 in a book called Rock And Roll Cage Match, edited by Sean Manning, in which Hell had the Velvets post up against the Stones, out of which he called a winner.

We’d never seen the book or read the essay ’til Richard pointed it out to us in the series of emails in which he let us know that the new Velvets essay was, in fact, online.  He sent us the earlier essay, and we also went out and found the book.  And we have to say, his piece on the Velvet Underground vs. the Rolling Stones is one of the best essays about rock’n’roll we’ve ever read.   We won’t go so far as to mimic the book and set up a fantasy cage match battle between Hell and Lester Bangs, or John Mendelsohn, or Byron Coley, or Richard Meltzer, or even Robert Palmer.  Let’s just say that posting Hell up against any of our fave rock critters, he’s indomitable.

The Velvet Underground are not our all-time favorite band, but they sit cross-legged near the settee in the middle of our pantheon, and let us give ourselves credit where it’s due, they have been so since we were a mere boarding-school vinyl-head, and we glommed onto Loaded upon its release.  Yes, the last of their albums released while the band was extant, even if the worst of their four core albums (VU, which came out in ’85, had enough good stuff on it that at the time we’d never before heard that it deserves to be considered as one of their original records.)

But much as we have loved the Velvet Underground for more than 40 years, if we had to testify to who our favorite band ever was, it would be the Rolling Stones.  Yes, we’ll admit it, even though  if you look at the Tulip Frenzy “About” section, we make no mention of the Stones.  That’s because, from the moment that Ron Wood replaced Mick Taylor, from the time Nicky Hopkins no longer got their phone calls, and Bobby Keys and Jim Price were no longer paired as the horn section, it has been all downhill.  But no band has ever had that command of our attention, that claim on our affection, as the Stones did in the early ’70s.  We were out-of-our-heads excited in ’79 to see the Clash; it doesn’t begin to compare to how excited we were to see the Stones play in Boston Garden, and then Madison Square Garden, in 1972.

So Hell writes an essay about both bands together, or shall we say, about the Velvets and Stones in opposition, and it is brilliant.  He sets up the hugely successful Stones versus the commercially unsuccessful Velvets in a way that is incredibly insightful and amusing.  And then he does a position comparison like it’s the first game of the World Series and you have to give one team or the other the edge at First Base.  We’re not going to quote it here.  We’re going to try sending you to the book, so you can buy it.  But let us just say that Hell gives the best description ever of what one wants from a front man in a rock’n’roll band, defines the essence of the Rolling Stones — which of course we already knew was Keith, but also — by a single word: soul.  He gets a few things wrong, in our opinion — we are higher on Beggars Banquet than he is.  He gets so much else so right.

Okay, okay, we have to quote, listen to this insight on Lou Reed’s songwriting: “Reed’s lyrics probably do come the closest to poetry of any in rock and roll.  Dylan is his only competition.  Dylan rules, but I’d venture that the lyrics on The Velvet Underground are the best as a suite, as an album set, of any in rock and roll history.”

So true!  If we were a teenage girl reading a favorite novelist, we might even underline that six times and put an exclamation point in the margins.  As it is, we just have to nod and agree.  As we do, interestingly enough, with his ultimate conclusion.  (You already know from what he wrote in New York that he would put the Velvets on the podium just above the Stones.  In our rock’n’roll dotage, we are now inclined to agree.)

Go buy the book.  Better yet, go buy his books, especially I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp.  We’ve long known the man can write.  His essay on the Velvets vs. the Stones is even better than his recent essay on the VU, and one of those pieces of rock critterdom that is as breathtakingly thrilling as even Richard Hell and the Voidoids playing “Time.”

 

 

So Of Course Richard Hell Wrote The Best Essay Ever About The Velvet Underground

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 27, 2014 by johnbuckley100

There’s not much Richard Hell can’t do — practically start punk all by himself, propel Television out of the Bowery before wandering off, put out great albums with the Voidoids, write entertaining novels, oh, and one of the three or four greatest rocker memoirs ever.   But now he’s up and done it: in the new New York, which has a pretty great series of essays about New York musicians going all the way to the middle of the last century, Hell has written an homage to the VU in which he says the magic words: “In my opinion the Velvet Underground are the best rock-and-roll band in history.”

Now, we find this remarkable, in two ways.  We agree with it, of course, even as we argue with those voices in our head that are shouting out “Rolling Stones circa ’72!” and “what about the night in 1979 you saw the Clash and thought you’d achieved satori?”  Yeah, we hear ya.  What he said.

One remarkable thing, though, is how either he — or the phalanx of editors at New York — spelled “rock’n’roll” as “rock-and-roll.”  When we worked at New York Rocker — when Richard Hell would shamble in and drop off copy, being paid the same $25 an article as the rest of us — the house rules were “rock’n’roll,” and we’ve always accepted that as definitive.  Now our certainty is shaken.

But the other thing is, did we think Hell would call The Velvet Underground THE BEST?  I didn’t, but am always happy for the surprises sent straight from Hell.  Like the email I got from him in early December when he presented Tulip Frenzy with the most excellent remastering of The Richard Hell Story.  (Hey Richard, while we did thank you, I don’t think we passed on how incredible it is to hear those Dim Star tracks sounding bright and clear.  Amazing.  Please, release the whole thing, ok?)

We would link to the piece, but it’s not available yet.  And I would quote from it at greater length, but that’s not kosher.  All we’ll say is this one essay by Hell is worth the price of admission.  And is a reminder that, “in my opinion Richard Hell is the coolest man in rock’n’roll history.”  Or is that “rock-and-roll history?”

 

UPDATE: Richard Hell, bless his soul, emailed to inform us that, actually, the essay is available online, right here.  So do go read it.

He also added that, in re: how to write rock und roll properly, “I settled on ‘rock and roll’ some time back (it’s done that way in Tramp too.  The ‘n’ just felt too contrived to me, maybe even condescending, ultimately, now…”

Then moments later he wrote back, “”Wait a minute… They added hyphens, the fucks!”

He went on to write other things, but just as it’s bad form to reveal too much about your conversations with the President of these United States, or like the Pope or someone, we will not reveal all.

And damn, forgot to ask him if they will ever release a remastered version of the epic Dim Stars album, featuring him and Thurston Moore…

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