History has a funny way of rewriting itself, especially when it is the participants who are doing the rewriting. Forget what people in the media who are too cowed by Lou Reed tell you; the fact is that, when he walked out on the Velvets toward the end of their stand at Max's Kansas City in the summer of 1970, the band did not stop activity. Perhaps an argument could be made that their days as a creative force were over and done but that is not the point I'm trying to make here.
Doug Yule and Sterling Morrison chose to keep the Velvets going, Maureen Tucker even returning from maternity leave to man the drum chair one more time. When the band needed another member to fill out the sound, they looked no further than their second home in Boston, recruitng local musician Walter Powers to play bass. And, when Sterling did leave to embark on an academic career, Walter's buddy Willie"Loco" Alexander filled his spot and it was with this lineup that the band toured England and Holland towards the end of 1971.
For many years now, the final years of the Velvet Underground have been shrouded in mystery; there was no real evidence available beyond one little heard album entitled Squeeze, which was not even granted a domestic release. After that, a few small gigs here and there to decreasing audiences and then, nothing. Now, along comes the Captain Trip label from Japan to provide V. U. fanatics with major piece of the puzzle.
What we have here are 4 discs, each devoted to a particular gig and while the sound on these discs is a long way from high tech., they are certainly listenable enough. The first two discs are devoted to the Tucker/Yule/Powers/Alexander lineup and the material focuses on the third and fourth albums although they felt comfortable enough to tackle such standards as "I'm Waiting For The Man," "White Light, White Heat," and, yes, "Sister Ray."
The band sound relaxed and confident and the audience respond with enthusiasm, especially on Disc 2, recorded at the Cocertgebouw in Amsterdam during November 1971. This show was released on bootleg CD about 10 years ago and the sound on it was rather cavernous, as though it had been recorded from the back of the hall. Too bad because, as a bonus, 4 tracks from this show are tacked onto Disc 4, only taken from a radio broadcast and they sound beautiful. By Discs 3 and 4 we get a Velvet Underground consisting of Doug Yule and a sea of rotating musicians, with brother Billy the only one to boast of any connection to the original band, however tenuous. The third disc was recorded at a college in Wales late 1972; I recall reading somewhere that Lou was on the road in the UK supporting Transformer at the same time Doug was there and he was none too pleased about the situation. The Wales audience is the most vocal of the four here; they didn't care who was or wasn't in the band, they were happy just to hear the songs. Finally, Disc 4 brings the Velvet Underground to a sad close. Recorded at a small bar near Fenway Park in front of what sounds like an even smaller audience, Doug and Co. run through a mix of V. U. classics, stuff from Squeeze, which sounds better played with a band as opposed to the two man band of Doug and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice that recorded the original album, and some even newer material which, given the chance to develop in the studio, suggested that the band might still have had something to offer. But, it was not to be.
Overall, Final V. U. is a rather enjoyable package, despite the fact of No Lou, No Sterling, or No John. Around the time of loaded, Lou was fond of telling interviewers that they were just a "Long Island dance band," much the same way that they started out, playing for tourists and fraks at the Cafe Bizarre in Greenwich Village until Andy came and rescued them. This release brings the Velvet Underground full circle. Granted, this isn't the Robert Quine Tapes under discussion here, but the fact that this exists at all is good enough for me and, hopefully, for all the other V. U. fanatics out there.