sat 13/07/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground

Great-sounding 1969 live recordings from San Francisco's Matrix which have mostly been heard before

The 1969-edition Velvet Underground: relaxed and playing to their strengths on 'The Complete Matrix Tapes’UMe/Polydor

How many live versions of “Heroin” are necessary? The new four CD set The Complete Matrix Tapes includes, yes, four. One per disc.

If that seems excessive, consider this: one version previously appeared, in the same mix, on last year’s reissue of the third Velvet Underground album; a second and third were included, in different mixes, on differing configurations of the 1969: The Velvet Underground Live album; an audience recording of a fourth was issued on 2001's The Velvet Underground Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes. All four versions are previously released.

Overall, of The Complete Matrix Tapes’ 42 tracks, nine are previously unaired performances. Incredibly, the performance of “Rock and Roll” heard on Disc Four featured on all three of the archive releases noted above. To be clear, this actual performance is issued for a fourth time on The Complete Matrix Tapes.

Velvet Underground  The Complete  Matrix TapesWhether The Complete Matrix Tapes is pointless and/or overkill depends on how much time there is to listen to yet more live Velvet Underground. In the pre-digital era, the band was a mysterious entity and any evidence of what they were like live was a treat. These days, the enticement mystery brings has been stripped away by constant raids on the tape vaults. No other band with such a slim original catalogue (just four studio albums) has been subjected to this amount of archive disinterment.

The Complete Matrix Tapes captures, as the press release puts it, “the highlights” of performances at the San Francisco venue on 26 and 27 November 1969. The Velvet Underground was playing a residency which began on 11 November and finished in early December.

The music is wonderful, but 'The Complete Matrix Tapes' is a footnote

The selling points – and buyers of the third album reissue may feel peeved as 18 of the versions here were included on it – are that these are new mixes from four-track tapes recorded by the Matrix’s proprietor Peter Abrams and that the release represents the entire surviving recordings from the residency. Abrams told author Richie Unterberger that: “I recorded them every night…after we had about a month’s worth of tapes, I went through them and edited the stuff down to about the four hours that I’ve got.” The Complete Matrix Tapes is those four hours. What was previously heard on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live drew from two-track mixes which Abrams admitted to Unterberger were “really quick mix-downs”.

Despite the manifold issues surrounding it, The Complete Matrix Tapes features some of the greatest live rock ever captured on tape. Clearly relaxed and playing to their strengths, this is a band operating on a high. They sound fantastic. Disc One’s “What Goes on” (heard in lesser fidelity on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live) is a benchmark exercise in kinetics and power. The set also showcases a Lou Reed almost as loquacious as he was on the 1978 solo album Live: Take No Prisoners.

The clamshell packaging is good and David Fricke’s liner notes in the booklet are insightful. Nonetheless, making the choice to buy this is hard. The Velvet Underground story is not added to. Nothing new is said. Are there any fans who do not already have most of this in one form or another? The music is wonderful but, as The Complete Matrix Tapes comes after so many dips into this material, it is a footnote.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters