The Velvet Underground, “The Complete Matrix Tapes”

The_Velvet_Underground-2015-The_Complete_Matrix_TapesThe Velvet Underground
The Complete Matrix Tapes

November 26–27, 1969: The Velvet Underground played two nights at the Matrix club in San Francisco, California. The Complete Matrix Tapes brilliantly captures The Velvets across those two nights through forty-two live tracks.

This four-disc box set is a great and extensive documentation of those concerts in unusually high-quality sound for live recordings at the time. It’s a pretty exhaustive document, at that, and most likely to be of interest to the fanatics; despite the richly warranted adoration The Velvets demand, hearing Lou Reed drawl for three-plus hours—with many of the songs being repeated three times—is going to truly appeal to those for whom The Velvet Underground are already a way of life. And it’s a great way to live, for in these recordings Reed is at his wry, charming best.

Much of the music here is genuinely untouchable and masterful. “Lisa Says” will break any heart. The warmth of the four-track recordings, the harmonies, the delivery: it’s the simplicity that makes this so perfect. Similarly, the included version of “New Age” is beyond sublime—you can hear New York’s contribution to music changing as Reed cries ”I’ll come running to you / Hey baby, if you want me.” But this version has been released before—in fact, thirty-three of the recordings collected here have been released in some form—and nine new tracks hardly accounts for a flawless bounty, as shiny as the jewels therein might be.

Yes, “Ocean” is huge, the two versions of “After Hours” are ace, and the near-forty-minute thrash of “Sister Ray” is a genuine “you should have been there” moment. But then again, so was every Velvet Underground gig. The Complete Matrix Tapes tries to take you as close to one of those shows as you can possibly be; it’s up to you to decide how long you want to stay.


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