Archive for Velvet Underground

Velvet Underground Continue To Empty The Cupboard

Posted in Music with tags , , on October 2, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Woo hoo. Now White Light/White Heat gets the three-CD treatment.  We can’t wait to hear the outtakes, but mostly we can’t wait to hear the live album, from 1967, that will see the first light of day.

Since the release last year of the complete The Velvet Underground & Nico offered so much archival goodness, we can only assume what follows: yep, a completists’ dream: a three-disk version of The Velvet Underground, which we’ve already had improved by the alternative vocal tracks in the “Closet Mix” on Peel Slowly And See.

And when we hear the new live album from ’67, bear in mind one of the great moments of kismet and contrast in rock’n’roll history: the cosmic joke that saw both Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and that first Velvets album released on the same day. While kids with longish hair everywhere were groking to the sounds of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” somewhere on the Lower East Side Lou Reed was performing “Heroin” for 22 people.

This is going to be good.


On Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 16, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Tomorrow, after an impressive campaign to reintroduce Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized to an audience that may never have heard of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, the album Sweet Heart Sweet Light at last will be released.  Thankfully, we were able to listen to the epic opener, “Hey Jane,” beginning in March, and NPR has been continuing its public service by allowing us to stream Sweet Heart Sweet Light in its entirety for the past week. Interviews and profiles of Pierce have flowed like altar wine.  The album has been so well publicized it arrives devoid of mystery, but because it is Spiritualized, and because according to most rock’n’roll playbooks, Pierce should have been dead long ago — and also, to be sure, because the music is so good — we still have the transubstantiation of mere bits, bytes and musical notes into something miraculous and fine.

Calling an album Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Spiritualized seems allergic to commas in album titles) and leading off with a song called “Hey Jane” lets you know exactly in front of which God Jason Pierce genuflects.  If they’d called the album White Light White Heat and the song “Sweet Jane,” would it have been any clearer? We wouldn’t ordinarily think of the Velvet Underground, and particularly Lou Reed, in spiritual terms.  But then there are those lines in “Heroin,” which probably inspired Pierce all the way back in his Spaceman 3 days: “When I’m rushing on my run/And I feel just like Jesus’ son…”  No matter how many times he invokes Jesus — and Pierce has walked with Jesus, at least in his lyrics, for some 20 years, and does so repeatedly on Sweet Heart Sweet Light — we don’t actually think of him in spiritual terms, no matter what his band is called.

We think of Pierce as a heroin surviver who has made transcendent music, inspired by the Velvets and Lou to a degree that makes Dean Wareham or Anton Newcombe seem like casual fans. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we have long since concluded that Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was the great album of the 1990s, even as it was overshadowed by other albums from the exceptional vintage year of 1997 (OK Computer, Strangers Almanac.)  Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy may find it puzzling that we think of Spiritualized the way we do, as we’ve been critical of anything that smacks, if you’ll pardon the expression, of heroin chic.  But some years ago we clarified that we view Jason Pierce as nothing so much as an anti-heroin morality play.  His greatest work was essentially all about heroin, not to glamorize it, though yeah, sure, it offers ecstasy and all that, but as much to deal honestly with its aftereffects. Space rock it may be called, but Pierce has always been exceptionally honest, not exploiting his having breakfast right off of a mirror so much as matter-of-factly offering it as a glimpse of his life.   The consequences of heroin have predictably, and we have to say satisfyingly (to someone who despises heroin chic) been borne out over these past many years; the boilerplate about Pierce is all about his near-death experiences, the lingering damage — shot liver, double pneumonia — of a body ravaged by having lived too hard, which is a euphemism for saying he loved putting powder in his nose and his arm.  We are sad this is the case, thrilled by the music, thrilled he’s still alive, admire him for his honesty.  We are relieved, on some level, that he has paid a price, but one that — based on the evidence at hand: a new record, and a great one at that — has not been too dear.  We know that the benefit of this ecstasy and agony, this yin and yang, has been simply incredible rock’n’roll music: dense, sui generis even as it has been dipped, like a celebrant in baptismal water, in the deep pools of the Velvet Underground.

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is variously thrilling, beautiful, a little sappy, uplifting. It is a glorious rock’n’roll album, exciting and pretty in turns.  Pierce’s affinity for taking minimal numbers of chords and drenching them in maximalist orchestration —  not just strings and horns, but wicked guitar feedback and blues harp, trilling piano and gospel choruses — is back, fifteen years after Ladies and Gentlemen. Spiritualized’s music is, at times, so over the top, and also so simple: R&B informed by the Brill Building’s lessons taught to young Lou Reed.  “There She Goes Again” meets “Heroin.”  We find spirituality in the ecstasy that comes from music, not music that comes from Ecstasy.   For us, Spiritualized’s cup runneth over.  We are so glad that Pierce has survived to deliver something this pleasing, both to his old audience and, potentially, given the amazing run of media coverage these last few weeks, to new ones.

Whether Pierce’s current recovery from liver failure, and the regimen that is keeping him from drink’n’drugs, is long lasting or not, we rejoice — yeah, that’s the word — at his clear-eyed current state.  One day at a time.  Easy does it.  But easy as some of the new album may be on the ears — and it is; he has succeeded in creating a pop album — it gets to that same place, that thrilling dangerous place, that Lou Reed and the Velvets also brought us to.  “Street Hassle” may hide within Pierce’s music like a Nina in an old Al Hirschfeld cartoon — it’s always there someplace, from Spaceman 3 to Spiritualized — and he pays it full reverence.  On this one, to use Lou’s words, Pierce is “going for the kingdom if I can.” But it’s not at the end of a plunger, syringe and needle.  Not high, on liver medicine not blurring drugs, Sweet Heart Sweet Light comes from something deeper, and more beautiful still —  from Jason Pierce’s emmense creativity and the deep wellspring of talent within.

Are The Koolaid Electric Company The Great Lost Shoegaze Band?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2010 by johnbuckley100

The Koolaid Electric Company were first spotted by our detective when they were mysteriously served up by Last.FM as part of the black ryder radio stream.  Hmmm, who were these guys?  The sound was something Kramer would have coaxed out of Galaxy 500 on a frozen night in Soho: all Sterling Morrison lead atop crudish rhythm guitar with not much more than tambourine as an afterthought.  Cool!

We started pulling on threads… their MySpace page didn’t give up much… and all we could find on iTunes was a single song in a Dead Bees sampler podcast.  Google, the detective’s friend, linked us to — of course! — a forum.  Naturally, they’d fall in the orbit around the Brian Jonestown Massacre.  From there we were directed by a one-eyed, mohawk-tonsured, uh, short person in a tuxedo to the ApolloAudio site, where, yay, an EP was downloadable (though not without some hiccups.)

The KeepMusicEvil experts tantalizingly included a post from someone who, in April 2008, claimed that the Koolaid Electric Company’s first album was BEING MIXED IN THE ROOM NEXT TO HIM.  And then, silence, the trail cold.

Ah, but the music is very warm: full-fledged Velvets goo mixed in a blender with the BJM, and Spaceman 3, with a sprinkling of Dandys and soupcon of The Darkside.  To be continued….

Notional Velvet Underground: What The Late Show In Heaven Sounds Like

Posted in Music with tags , , , on November 1, 2008 by johnbuckley100

There are times when I listen to a song and it makes me think of the Velvet Underground.  Brian Jonestown Massacre.  Luna. Mazzy Star.  Jesus and Mary Chain.  You get that, right?  The Feelies, Modern Lovers.  That case is easy to make.  And then I’ll listen to a song like the version of Dylan’s “Most of The Time” that’s on the 3rd CD of Tell Tale Signs and it makes me think, swear to God, of the VU.  And then I go and listen to the Velvets themselves and they don’t sound anything like my notional Velvet Underground.  What is that?

There was a story going around in 1969 about the groupie in LA who would sleep with guys and say, “Well, he’s good, but he’s not Mick Jagger.”  And then she slept with The Mick and her take was, “Well, he’s good, but he’s not Mick Jagger.”  Myth and reality.  But in this case, the question is: was there ever a reality to the Velvet Underground?   Eno’s line that only 1000 people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but they all formed bands is, of course, on some level true. And not all the bands sounded like the Velvets, but they’re all connected, in some way, at some level.  But what does it actually mean to sound like the Velvet Underground?  

For me the quintessential VU sound came on the 3rd album, with songs like “What Goes On” and the delicate “Pale Blue Eyes,” and “Beginning To See The Light.”  There’s a residue of folk and Motown and Farfisa organ-based garage rock.  And to me, this sound shows up everywhere from Van Morrison’s “TB Sheets” to the Talking Heads’ “The Good Thing.”  

Is it Sterling Morrison’s guitar sound?  That’s a lot of it.  That and the simple, propulsive drumming of Moe Tucker, the organ overlay.  Sterling Morrision’s echoes can be heard in everything from Luna (not just when he sat in with them) to William Reid of JAMC to the BJM for sure.  But how to account for the fact that when I put together a Velvets-sounding playlist, I put on it bands like the Warlocks, who are of a completely different school, who were beamed to Earth from a whole different constellation?

Here’s the playing order (bands, not songs) of my Velvets playlist: Pere Ubu, Modern Lovers, BJM, JAMC, Warlocks, Luna, The Darkside, Mazzy Star, Dylan, Neko Case, The Stems, Galaxie 500,The Feelies, Van Morrison.  Not a lot in common between them all, but they all plug in, in the songs contained therein, to the Velvets amp.  Who am I missing?

Another thing that’s weird: Lou Reed has a very distinctive song structure, or at least the solo artist Lou did.  And yet few, if any of the bands referenced sound like Lou.  It’s almost like the Velvets sound of mental myth is Lou-less.  Weird.

All I know is that, having never seen the Velvet Underground, but having seen the three fictional film versions — in The Doors, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Factory Girl — I have some sense of what the late show in Heaven sounds like.  Angus McLeish may sit in on drums for a song or two.  Peter Laughner will be there on guitar.  Mark Smith will curse and spit on stage.  Dean Wareham waits his turn near the amps.  And we’ll have a real good time together.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre Slayed All At Terminal 5, July 25

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on July 26, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Months ago, when tickets went on sale for the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s only U.S. show this summer (at New York’s Terminal 5), I said to someone I was trying to persuade to go, “This could be a complete disaster, or it could be transcendent.”  Those are the poles they swing between: the train wreck or the sublime.  And of course, with the news from London last week that Anton Newcombe had been arrested for allegedly knifing guitarist Frankie “Teardrop” Emerson, the odds seemed to tilt toward disaster.  Five minutes into the opening song, “Whoever You Are,” we had the answer to what was in store for us: The Brian Jonestown Massacre were transcendent.

“Whoever You Are” has a slow loping, “Tomorrow Never Knows” mid-’60s feel, and the tone for the evening was set: bright and shimmering guitars in layers — sometimes three guitars, sometimes four — an emollient, occasionally droning organ, and Daniel Allaire kicking the living bejesus out of the drums.  Anton Newcombe, fragile, his back to the audience most of the time, stayed on the edge of the action that he thoroughly controlled.

Like so many others, I got a sense of the BJM’s stage mayhem only from watching “Dig!”  — Program note: “Dig!” is available below via a widget from; you should watch it, snag it, and put it on your own site.   Now it was clear what role Joel Gion plays: we already knew he doesn’t sing, he *just* bangs the tambourine, but he holds the center stage that Anton, for a complex brew of reasons, can’t or won’t.  Anton seemed frail, and even as his guitar gathered strength, his singing was tentative.  You had the feeling you were watching a version of Syd Barrett with both a bark and a bite: a savant who simultaneously exuded reticence and a very sharp edge.  But Anton could afford to stand just outside the glare of the stage lights, for inside them, the band was magnificent.  It all revolved around his songs, his guitar, his singing.  BJM circa 2008 isn’t quite Anton’s backup band, but you get the sense they know the reason they can lay claim to greatness is because of him.

When they played “Who,” the band all wailed their “Whos!!!” like they were auditioning for Jean-Luc Godard’s “Sympathy for The Devil.”  It was 1966 and Brian Jones was out of it, but the San Francisco scene hadn’t taken its inevitable turn toward Jonestown, toward Altamont and the long morning after. Donovan was still wearing shaggy vests and putting flowers in his hair.  And bands played these long sets with guitar lines searching for space like jungle lianas fighting for light.

I think it’s true that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the first Velvet Underground album were released the same week, and if so, last night represented some kind of mash-up between those two Albums of the Week.  There’s no actual connection between the music of “Sgt. Pepper’s” and what these guys do — their “psychedelia” is closer, perhaps, to a jam including John Phillips and Skip Spence and Keith Richards in some farmhouse in the Cotswolds. But their music is a capsule dug up from such times.   And while last night the band bore little resemblance to Lou’s ensemble — there’s an optimism and a brightness to the guitars, a lack of cynicism to the whole effect — if there was a musical God standing offstage, it was, no doubt, Sterling Morrison.

We could have stood not having Anton and Frankie Teardrop leave the stage for a long smoke while a subset of musicians noodled, wasting time.  We could have lived without having some guy who strutted like Roger Daltrey and sang like Keith Moon come on as a guest for a song.  By the time they closed with “If Love Is The Drug, Then I Want To O.D.” it was clear just why it was Music’s loss that the careerist Dandy Warhols, not the screwed up genius of Anton Newcombe and his band, were the “winners” in “Dig!” The Dandy’s are bohemian like you.  The Brian Jonestown Massacre break on through to the other side, at great cost to themselves, no doubt, to their career aspirations certainly, but to the delight of anyone lucky enough to get to see them.

The Black Angels Prove Black Is Beautiful

Posted in Music with tags , , , on July 18, 2008 by johnbuckley100

I wasn’t much of a fan of Black Oak Arkansas, I enjoy but don’t need the Black Keys, and the Black Crowes leave me cold.  Black Sabbath?  Please. Still, I’m ready for a show in basic black.  How ’bout a triple bill of The Black Angels, Black Mountain, and BRMC? The Black Angels would probably have to go first to warm up the crowd, since they’re less well known than Black Mountain or the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Plus, they’d set the proper mood, which is to say, trance.

Austinites, they do not come from the same musical neighborhood as Flaco Jimenez.  It’s nice to know that after Roky Erickson, the words “Texas” and “psychedelia” don’t automatically lead to discussions about Tex Watson.  I think what really got me about these guys was “Bloodhounds on My Trail,” which is mesmerizing.  Think of “Hellhound On My Trail” done by a supergroup starring Lydia Lunch, John Fogerty, and Peter Green.

I’m not just trying to be clever about the links to Black Mountain and BRMC — these guys are jacked into the same amps both those disparate, not necessarily kindred, but nonetheless spiritually linked bands play.  Their debut album “Passover” brought comparisons to the Velvet Underground, Galaxy 500, the Gun Club, and Led Zep.  Can’t go wrong with those references thrown in the blender. Their second album, “Directions To See A Ghost,” adds the Fall’s descending guitar lines to the BRMC dynamic, and cops song structures from “Astronomy Domine”-era Floyd.  Alex Maas has this weirdly androgynous voice, and when the levee breaks, he slightly drowns in Robert Plant’s lower registers.

Missed them at the Rock and Roll Hotel, where I think they opened for the Warlocks — more kindred spirits.  When John Cale wrote “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” who knew that someday these guys would catch its wind?

Down The Rabbit Hole With The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 9, 2008 by johnbuckley100

I like to think about rock’n’roll in terms of families, clans, circles.  Six degrees of sonic separation.  If Tulip Frenzy were a Harvard B School class, someone would blurt out “Ecosystems.”  Yeah, well, connected systems.  There is that.

You know that old story that only 100 people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but they all formed bands?  I like those bands.  For years, it was nearly enough for someone to put the words “Velvet Underground” in a review of a band, and I’d go buy the record.  Why?  Because if they were trying to sound like the Velvet Underground, that was a good start.  From Galaxie 500 to Luna, Dream Syndicate to the Darkside, you really can’t go wrong looking for music made by bands who worship at the altar of his Lou-ness.

There are some obvious clans, systems, circles.  Think of all the bands that want to sound like the Stones, or the Faces.  For all I know, Whitesnake might have an ecosystem richer than the Amazon. Then there are more formal systems like the Elephant 6 Collective.  Bands that sound like or have been produced by Brian Eno.  You know the game.

For me, some of the bands that sound like the Dandy Warhols are more entertaining the Dandys have been since 13 Tales.  You know who I’m talking about: the Morning After Girls, the Out Crowd.  Bands that have that cool Dandys guitar sound, but maybe aren’t so cynical, so self-consciously ironic.

Now, I had long since listened to the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and yes, my angle in was from “Dig,” that documentary that came out a few years ago showcasing the Dandy Warhols as careerists and The Brian Jonestown Massacre as junkie geniuses that could never quite get it together.  Oh man oh man oh man, to have been alive in the 1990s when the BJM were around.  Wait!  I was alive in the ’90s!  How did I miss them?

Are they the great unknown American band?  The band that most jacked into the raw power of the VU? Putting out double albums, three albums in one year, playing 9-hour sets for 10 people.  This is the stuff of myth, and having spent the last month — note the absence of posts here — playing them over and over and over again, yeah, the reality is pretty amazing.

If you’re not an aficionado already, start with Take It From The Man.  Play it for like a week.  Then move on to Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request.  After that, go straight to And This Is Our Music.

Oh yeah, you’ll want more.

Did I mention that they’re still alive and kicking and are going to play festivals in Europe this summer and then play a gig at Terminal 5 in New York this summer?  July 25th.  See you there.  


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