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Last Night’s Surprising Velvet Underground Reunion at the New York Public Library

We can’t begin to explain how giddy we were last night as we waited to enter the New York Public Library for an unprecedented Velvet Underground reunion of Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule (ie, the band members who don’t hate each others guts). As we snaked through lines and into the grand room, our excitement built. Two large screens projected a slideshow of images from the newly-released coffee table book The Velvet Underground: New York Art while we waited for the show to start. After the jump, read the five things that surprised us most about the sold-out event.

1. The show started with a recording of “Heroin” (which comes in at a 7+ minutes).

We weren’t shocked by having to wait almost a half an hour. We’ve come to accept it as the norm whenever rock musicians are involved. But following that wait with by playing “Heroin” in its entirety was really pushing it, and more importantly, a downright bizarre way to kick things off. Why not “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (Andy Warhol’s favorite) or “White Light/White Heat”? Did we mention we were sitting in the dark?

It turns out it was Rolling Stone editor/moderator for the evening David Fricke’s record we were listening to, and it completely changed his life. We found that pretty cool, but Lou Reed was indifferent at best when told this. He even took some jabs at RS later on. Which leads us to…

Lou Reed is surprisingly very bitter.

For someone widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of his time, Reed seems to have a chip on his shoulder about, well, we’re not quite sure. He told a story of an engineer who left the room while they were recording because he “didn’t have to listen to this shit.” You would think he would have gotten over that by now. He also interspersed his answers with outbursts about people in the industry being idiots.

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There was a serious lack of wild stories.

Save for a few gems like Maureen Tucker telling the crowd how she created a makeshift drum set out of garbage cans and edited “dirty” words out of Andy Warhol’s writing, there was a hell of a lot missing from the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll we’d been expecting. Primarily the sex and the drugs. Come on, this is the Velvets. There must be some great Factory stories? Messy affairs? At least one good tale of scoring smack a la “I’m Waiting for the Man”?

There was very little talk of the research behind the songwriting.

Reed’s expertly-crafted songs that vividly captured a generation of the subversive New York underground. “Venus in Furs,” is one of the first and only songs to expose the thorny pleasures of the often misunderstood world of S&M. We’re sure Reed and gang attended at least a party or two that sparked their creative interest. And yet, we didn’t hear about any of them.

There was no live music.

We realize this was a library event, but how can you have a reunion without a song or two? It has been so long since the group has played together in any incarnation that a short acoustic performance at the end of the night would have been an amazing way to end the show. Lou on acoustic guitar, Doug on upright bass. Hell, Maureen could break out the garbage cans. Maybe the next time? As Reed said at one point in the evening to wild applause: “To this day, I don’t think there is anything that touches what the Velvet Underground did. Not in this universe.” We’d love the chance to hear it live.

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