The Velvet Underground perform ‘Heroin’ at their famous 1990 reunion
We’re digging into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a very special performance with one of our favourites and arguably the most influential bands of all time—the Velvet underground. As as the estranged members of the NYC royalty reunited in 1990 to perform their dark and brooding underbelly anthem ‘Heroin’.
The entirety of the band had been estranged for some years, in fact, ever since Lou Reed fired John Cale back in 1968 the group had never really worked together in earnest again. Though some parts of the group would get together intermittently for small reunion shows, it wouldn’t be until 1993 that the Velvet Underground would go back out on tour as a fully-fledged unit once again.
This performance from 1990 was the seed of that reunion tour on stage and would give a few new bucks a chance to see the influential band. But the roots of the project took the ground through sadder circumstances three years prior.
Lou Reed would come face to face with one half of a creative partnership that had shot him to notoriety, John Cale, meeting his bandmate across the grave of their mentor, friend and band manager, Andy Warhol.
The duo began work on a tribute album for their inspirational leader almost immediately after connecting once more, letting the grudges of the past settle like so much dust. The album would be called Songs for Drella and was the first album the iconic songwriting pair had worked on since White Light/White Heat in 1968.
Cale and Reed would take the album on a very small tour in promotion of the record and when former VU drummer Maureen Tucker joined the pair on stage for a performance of their song ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ at a special Brooklyn show, the scene was set for a full-scale reunion. But it wasn’t until a small show in the French town of Jouy-En-Josas that rumours of a reunion really started to bed in.
The Songs of Drella duo had been invited to perform at the opening of an Andy Warhol retrospective in the small French town and they decided to bring along with them both Tucker and original Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison. As soon as news of the line-up hit the music world the rumour mill would go into overdrive.
Yet, as Rolling Stone reports, the idea of the Velvet Underground touring again was far from Reed’s mind, “You’ll never get the four of us together on one stage again,” he said at a press conference for the event. “Ever. The Velvet Underground is history.” Defiant words from Reed but it’s fair to say he doesn’t give journalists the most amount of respect.
The decision to join up for the performance came just hours before the curtain call, in typical VU fashion. Morrison and Tucker had joined Cale and Reed for dinner where the occasion of the event took over Reed and he gave in to his primal urges for the band. He softened his original stance and was soon suggesting that they perform together. After the choice of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ was batted down because it was released after Cale had left the band, they settled on ‘Heroin’ as their anthem to return with.
The group delivers a purely tantric version of the track. A 10-minute performance that had felt like the slow, encompassing drawl, the veil of cloud that of the song’s main protagonist generally provides. A heavy hit for the stunned crowd to drink in.
“It will never happen again,” Reed said after the stunning show. “It was purely a moment in time … I wouldn’t want to give people the impression that there’s any chance that the Velvet Underground could exist again. It won’t.” Three years later, it would.
Following the return of tensions between the bandmates when they landed back in America, they would soon disband. Only to return just three years later when the surviving members performed at the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996.