The Velvet Underground (partially found live footage of rock band performances; 1966-1970)

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The Velvet Underground from bottom left to bottom right: Nico, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morison, Maureen Tucker.

Status: Partially Found

The Velvet Underground was one of the pioneering art rock/alternative rock bands. They formed in 1966 when singer/songwriter Lou Reed and violist John Cale met and expressed a desire to break the conventions of popular music of the day. Drummer Maureen Tucker and guitarist/bassist Sterling Morrisson joined soon after. After some underground shows caught the eye of artist Andy Warhol, he volunteered to be their manager. Their 1966 album The Velvet Underground and Nico is considered one of the greatest ever made, with its controversial subject matter and groundbreaking textures.[1]

The band broke up in 1970 and remained in obscurity for several years. The Velvets are responsible for starting the movements of punk, dream pop, post-rock, alternative rock, slowcore, and many more. Four of their 5 albums are considered classics. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and The Velvet Underground and Nico was added to the National Recording Registry.[1]

Many bands of the time such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have an abundance of performances on film, but The Velvet Underground has few. The band had limited television appearances and was subject to bans of their material.[2]

Though live audio recordings have surfaced on bootlegs for years, little footage has been found. Velvet Underground rarities have been found in the most unexpected places. A record containing early versions of songs was bought at a yard sale, its seller unaware of its value.[3]

Some live footage has been uncovered, however. Single performances of songs like "White Light/Heat" are easy to come by; however, in many cases, surviving footage is accompanied by poor audio. Some of the surviving footage includes:

  • A rare hour-long performance shot by Andy Warhol in 1966. It notably spends much of its time focusing on a child in the audience rather than on the band itself.
  • A 20-minute performance from the Bataclan in Paris in 1972 from a brief reunion, featuring rare interviews as well as performances of "Heroin", "I'm Waiting For My Man", and a performance from Nico with "Femme Fetale".
  • Footage from Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable", recovered in 2012 featuring dancers and brief clips of the band. It's theorized that this performance featured the Velvets re-arranged in their roles, as Reed was sick.
  • A full performance from their reunion tour in 1993 after Nico's death. It features Cale singing most of her vocals, as well as a song that was written and performed live. Notable for its live performances of songs that are hard to come by.
  • Plenty of low-quality video recordings from the same tour.

It's thought that much more live footage was taken as per accounts from Reed, Cale, and even Warhol. However, many performances have been lost to time. It's hard to know how much is lost and how much survives. Footage featuring Nico is some of the most sought-after, as she passed away before the famous 1993 reunion. It remains some of the rarest live footage in popular music.


The Warhol-shot footage.

Footage from the 1972 reunion at the Bataclan.

Footage of Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" featuring The Velvets.

The 1993 reunion concert.