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Mr. Dennis P. McCann
As good as 1969 Velvet Underground Live is, it’s worth reiterating that none of the Matrix cuts are from the original four-track tapes, for which all the instruments and vocalists had a mic. As far as Peter Abrams can remember, “the vocals are on one track, and bass and drums are on a track, and each of the guitars is on a track. [The tapes] were recorded at 15 inches per second, so that makes them very clean.”
There’s definitely yet more material recorded on the Matrix’s four-track equipment. Abrams retains four hours worth of recordings, and notes, “’69 Live was only the tapes from the first two weeks. When they came for another two weeks, I got some more material, and cut out some of the [recordings] that are on ’69 Live. Some of [them], I improved on; I found better performances, so I deleted ones that I had saved from the first two weeks. At the time, our budget was very small; I couldn’t afford to save all the tape. It was just too much tape; it was half-inch tape, and rather expensive. So I edited it down to the four hours that I ended up keeping.”
Those four hours of half-inch, four-track tape amount to 42 songs, including versions of a few tunes that don’t appear on 1969 Velvet Underground Live, among them three takes of ‘There She Goes Again,’ two each of ‘Venus In Furs’ and ‘After Hours,’ and one apiece of ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song,’ ‘I’m Set Free,’ and ‘Sister Ray.’ There are also additional, as-yet unreleased versions of most of the songs that do make it onto the LP, including no less than four takes of ‘Heroin.’ According to the notes of one listener who has heard the tapes, most of these 42 unissued tracks fall into the good-to-excellent category; some are great and inspired, and there are only a few weak or flawed performances.
Two-to-three minute excerpts of nine of these songs and a seven-minute segment of ‘Sister Ray’ (all of which start at the beginning, and fade out mid-performance) have since leaked into circulation and verify that the sound quality on these recordings is outstanding, and in fact notably – if not hugely – superior to the tapes used for 1969 Velvet Underground Live. Of even more interest is the fact that the performances themselves are good-to-superb. They include a version of the rarely heard ‘There She Goes Again’ with more jagged rhythm-guitar than is heard on the studio cut; ‘I’m Set Free’ with a magnificent Lou Reed lead vocal; a really slow ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ with curling, bluesy guitar-riffs and a cool interjection of ominous chords right after the white boy is asked what he’s doing uptown; and a version of ‘Sister Ray’ that starts off slow and bluesy but just keeps accelerating in rhythm and intensity until the tape cruelly cuts off. The other excerpts – ‘Ocean,’ ‘Some Kinda Love’ (introduced as “an alcoholic’s dream”), ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song,’ ‘After Hours,’ and two versions of ‘Venus In Furs’ – aren’t quite as novel, but will likewise make the Velvet Underground fan yearn for the day when the tapes can be released.