This week, Noise Narcs answers the age-old question: What five bands would you travel back in time to see in their prime? To see other responses, jump in the hot tub.
This is part two of David G’s Hot Tub Time Machine post, listed in chronological order. See Part 1 here.
3. Velvet Underground, 1966-1967
I’m not alone in seeing VU as the blueprint for our current generation’s music. All of the Hot Tub posts have been heavily slated to the ’60s. But if acts like the Stones and Beatles and Jefferson Airplane defined “60s music,” the Velvet Underground deformed it. As other music shot to the top of the charts, the Velvet Underground played music that would bubble up from the sewers: shaped noise, not pretty songs with sass and “substance,” was the real rock of the 1960s.
I can barely imagine the shock of their mid-60s live shows. This was the Billboard top 10 for 1966:
1. "The Ballad of the Green Berets," Sgt. Barry Sadler
2. "Cherish," Association
3. "You're My Soul and Inspiration," Righteous Brothers
4. "Monday, Monday," The Mama's and The Papa's
5. "96 Tears," ? and The Mysterians
6. "Last Train to Clarksville," The Monkees
7. "Reach Out I'll Be There," Four Tops
8. "Summer In the City," Lovin' Spoonful
9. "The Poor Side of Town," Johnny Rivers
10. "California Dreamin'," The Mama's and The Papa
Meanwhile, Velvet Underground was playing with Nico on Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour, with dancers (e.g., Edie Sedgwick), Warhol film projections, and miscellaneous performances by members of Warhol’s Factory. VU would play songs from their upcoming debut, and they would frequently end their shows with a jam they were calling “Booker T” (see my earlier Booker T and the MGs obsession), which would eventually form White Heat‘s chilling “The Gift.” What it comes down to, my fellow Narcs, is what side of the street are you on? The top 10? Or the VU?
Decent sounding bootlegs for this era are scarce, but Youtube user groovemonzter has taken a riotous live recording of “Run, Run, Run” from 1969 and mashed it with Warhol video from the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show. Pick your side wisely:
I know: this makes me the worst, a cliché right out of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” (“I was there in 1968 / I was there at the first Can show in Cologne”). But if, as Matt K observes, the spiritual end of the 60s was The Rolling Stones’ disaster at Altamont, then Can is the sound of the 1960s being torn limb from limb. Even their name is an backronym for “communism, anarchism, nihilism.”
The date range is arbitrary, I’d be equally happy with the 1968-71 lineup that featured Malcolm Mooney as the lead singer (before his nervous breakdown led his psychiatrist to conclude Can’s music was bad for his mental health). But the period from ’71 to 74, with the subdued intensity of Japanese street singer Kenji “Damo” Suzuki at the helm, is when they truly hit their stride. Sure, it’d have been amazing to have been at their infamous six hour concert in Berlin (a walk in the park for the band: classic “Yoo Doo Right” was edited down from a twenty hour improv jam). But I’d rather see them on their home turf of Cologne, drinking Kölsch after Kölsch, as Can played their hypnotic pysch-funk until the world was rendered senseless.
5. Morphine, 1989-1990, Boston
In every way this is a stupid, wrong answer. Go ahead and close your eyes and ignore this; pretend I chose wisely and picked Nina Simone and embedded her un-embeddable “He Was Too Good to Me” from her gig at The Village Gate. But I didn’t. Like many foolish men before me, I got seduced by a fantasy:
I’m in Boston, a town I like but don’t love. I’m alone. After passing dreadful Irish™ bar after dreadful Irish™ bar, I give up and enter one. “Hey, where you going, $5 cover.” Seriously?“Yeah. Band tonight. Morphine.” Stupid name, I think as I pay and belly to the bar. Band has just started its set. Bass, drum, and sax, a stupid gimmick that I ignore. I drink, elbows on the bar, trying to figure out what I’m doing in Boston, what I’m doing with my life, what my next beer will be. And then I hear it. That sound. That goddamn driving sound, that sax slipping into every crevice of a stone rock groove. I push the guy in the stool next to me, sure that this has to be the opener, Who is this? He shrugs. And then they switch gears. A ballad. All that rock drive, all that forward groove, disappears. And my heart drops into my stomach, and any hope of finding whatever I came to Boston for slips from the face of the earth.
You’re probably asking, how would this work? Would the time machine also be an amnesia machine? Don’t you think Morphine would probably have packed a crowd in their hometown even in their early days? What kind of lame variation on the gem-in-the-corner-bar dream is this?
And to that, I say: screw you and your belief in an imaginary time machine. Go listen to Nina Simone, you sissy.
Morphine on a really lame-seeming French TV show:
And the ballad that dropped my imaginary heart:
Morphine, “You Look Like Rain (Live, Bootleg Detroit, 1994)”