Thursday, June 23, 2011

Velvet Underground 5: Max’s Kansas City

While their LPs weren’t huge sellers, many people who spoke fondly of the Velvet Underground over the years did so on the basis of their live performances. But without much label interest in a professional recording of their shows, it is therefore not surprising but fitting that the few that have been released officially are essentially bootleg quality, with one exception, which will be discussed eventually.
The first live release was both historic and contractual. The band kept busy during the New York Loaded sessions by playing a residency at Max’s Kansas City. While Maureen Tucker had to sit out due to her pregnancy, Doug Yule’s kid brother Billy played drums. One show was captured on a portable cassette recorder by a friend of the band, and as chance would have it, it was also Lou Reed’s last show before quitting. Scene hanger-on Danny Fields pounced on the tape and managed to sell it to the Cotillion label, who suddenly had a defunct band on their roster.
Hence, Live At Max’s Kansas City became something of an official farewell album, touching on all aspects of the band’s work, including such surprising inclusions as “Sunday Morning” and “After Hours”, punctuated by Lou’s wistful introductions and the sound of poet rocker Jim Carroll ordering drinks between songs. It’s more historic than definitive, since the only original members were Lou and Sterling Morrison, and Doug Yule was under the impression he was in just another rock ‘n roll band instead of one of the more seminal entities in the pantheon.
Some 32 years later Rhino reissued an expanded edition of the album, including all of both sets from that night in their original sequence. While the squeak of Billy Yule’s kickdrum pedal is even more pronounced in the digital format, the kid wasn’t a bad drummer, and certainly knew the tunes, even the more obscure ones. There’s even more emphasis on the slow tunes, though to this day we can’t hear an augmented chord anywhere in “Femme Fatale”, no matter what Lou says. (Stay tuned at the end of the second disc for a hilarious Atlantic promo ad for the album.) A slightly truncated sequence of the expanded album was included in the “Re-Loaded” anniversary edition of Loaded, and was released on its own a year later for no reason except to offer it in a cardboard sleeve.

The Velvet Underground Live At Max’s Kansas City (1972)—3
2004 Deluxe Edition: same as 1972, plus 8 extra tracks
2016 expanded version: same as 2004, minus 3 tracks

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