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The Velvet Underground 

Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (Polydor)

When the Velvet Underground toured the West Coast with Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable back in 1966, the response was underwhelming, to say the least. LSD was still legal in California, and peace, love, and tripping were the watchwords of the day. During the shows, the hippie hordes greeted the arch negativism and lofty artistic pretensions of the Velvets with stony silence, and by all accounts, the band replied in kind, literally turning its back on the audience while blasting music loud enough to shrivel a turnip.

Three years later, when Lou Reed and company returned to town, the Velvets had at least one fan in the audience: young Robert Quine, future lead guitarist for the Voidoids and possessor of a brand-new tape deck. The new three-CD set The Quine Tapes represents the best of his old recordings, capturing the pioneers of punk playing live at the height of their powers.

In some regards, the Velvet Underground was a band of its time -- the interminable guitar solos and sledgehammer drums wouldn't be out of place on an Iron Butterfly album -- but the group's palpable nihilism and foreboding drone were years ahead of the competition. The through-line from this sinister repertoire to the art rock of Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500, et al has never sounded clearer. Despite its import, though, the Velvet Underground remained a cult band, a dark comet that soon burned out and later kindled the fires of glam, punk, and grunge. In retrospect, The Quine Tapes are the perfect VU document -- as ugly, abrasive, and enduring as the band itself.

More by Lawrence Kay

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