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December 15, 1993

Live VU

Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground, Live MCMXCIII (Sire 1993) -- Long-revered (and dormant) underground band The Velvet Underground resurfaced this year in Europe to record this fine, if somewhat uneven, live set. For the uninitiated, the original incarnation of The Velvet Underground lasted from 1966 to 1970, and was strongly influenced by Andy Warhol and the New York nouveau art scene. Though never commercially successful, The Velvet Underground had a huge influence on subsequent rock.

The band, consisting of Lou Reed on guitars and vocals, John Cale on bass and keyboards, Maureen ("Mo") Tucker on drums, and Sterling Morrison on guitar, reunited this summer for a series of continental concert dates (unfortunately, no state-side shows are anticipated due to a subsequent clash of egos). Live MCMXCIII was recorded in Paris on June 15-17, and consists of vintage Velvet Underground originals performed with gusto by the band.

However, calling the regrouped Velvet Underground a band is somewhat of an overstatement. Because Lou Reed has grown so hugely in stature over the years, it is perhaps safer to call this group Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. It doesn't matter. This is easily the best Lou Reed album in years.

For these gigs, Lou shed his moody and introspective bent and simply enjoyed playing before a live audience. The result is real rock 'n roll, without all of Lou's angst and anger. Thus, cuts like "Sweet Jane," "I Can't Stand It," and "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together" sound invigorated and refreshing, even after 25 years. Lou should quit spending so damned much time in the studio and get back on the stage more often.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the album is "Femme Fatale," a sweet rock song that cries out for radio play. Rock lives, even as its pioneers turn 50. However, be careful when you buy this album. It comes in three packages: a single disk; an overpriced, goofy-looking collector's edition that contains only the single disk; and a double-disk set. Don't cheat yourself. Get the double-disk set and hear all the tunes.

Straight Outta IrelandVarious Artists, Straight Outta Ireland, Vol. II (Scotti Bros. 1993) -- Straight Outta Ireland is a compilation of cuts from ten contemporary Irish rock and alternative bands gathered by independent label Scotti Bros. (who also recently released a new parody album from Weird Al Jankovic). This collection features both signed and unsigned bands, and is a fine introduction to the burgeoning Irish music scene.

Irish rock is different from English rock, and is generally more accessible to a U.S. audience. English pop, such as Crowded House (whose new release, Together Alone, is now available on Capitol) is an acquired taste, as many of the bands have eccentricities. On the other hand, Irish rock is much closer to American rock -- straightforward, no bullshit guitars, bass and drums. Of course, the premier rock band in the world, U2, hails from the Emerald Isle.

Straight Outta Ireland is a diverse collection, and includes cuts both from "discovered" bands such as An Emotional Fish ("That Girl and the Slow Train") and Hothouse Flowers ("Same Song"), together with tracks from lesser known bands like The Coletranes ("She's Got the Face") and Sack ("Super Weirdo").

However, the most pleasant surprise on this album is the group called Zrazy, a two-person outfit consisting of Maria Walch and Carole Nelson (both of whom hail from Tipperary). Their cut, "I'm in Love with Mother Nature," has a techno/alternative flavor that is reminiscent of Neenah Cheery's terrific single, "Move With Me." The ladies have fine voices, and are not afraid to experiment with computers, saxes, guitars, flutes, and tin whistles. The result is a unique and engaging sound, and deserves a wider market.

Thanks to Scotti Bros. for assembling this interesting and entertaining collection of Irish bands.

R.I.P. The Edge -- KKDJ (FM 105.9) recently changed its format from alternative rock to contemporary rock. The change is welcome, and long overdue.

Don't get me wrong. Alternative/college music is becoming the norm. And a moldy oldies format gets old fast. But The Edge went too far. It played (i) too many cuts by obscure, forgettable bands, (ii) too few cuts by worthy, but not commercially successful artists (such as Los Lobos and Graham Parker), and (iii) too much early 80s crapola (e.g., the unfortunately resuscitated Duran Duran).

The Edge was also relentlessly singles driven. This was a big mistake for a rock station. Top 40 is a singles format -- rock is not. A good rock station should play several cuts off a new release, not just the single de jour being pushed by the record company.

BodeansThe new format at KKDJ holds a lot of promise. While remembering the classics, it also plays new tunes from artists like Jackson Browne, 10,000 Maniacs, and The BoDeans. If KKDJ keeps its playlist broad, avoids unnecessary headbanging, and draws from the best aspects of an album-oriented format, Fresno will be blessed by a terrific radio station.

Is This Any Way to Make a Living? -- A recent report states that Emerson, Lake & Palmer have personally signed over 10,000 copies of their new boxed set, The Return of the Manticore. All of the signed sets are for promotional purposes; none will be available for sale.

-- Randy Krbechek

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