Lou Reed’s death got me thinking about Valentine’s Day, 2009. Here’s why, from a live review I wrote for The Other Paper (RIP):
Just about any band that veers off rock’s beaten path owes a debt of gratitude to the Velvet Underground. The band’s Lou Reed-led, Andy Warhol-produced debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and pretty much each boundary-pushing album thereafter conveyed a message: Rock is something to be messed with. It can be a form of art, and, as such, experimentation is a part of the process.
Given that legacy, Columbus’s hometown breakout art-rock icon Times New Viking was the perfect pick to pay homage to the Velvets last Saturday in a Wexner Center concert celebrating the final weekend of the “Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms” exhibition. It’s not overstating to say that Times New Viking (and a host of other bands) wouldn’t exist without the Velvet Underground.
And yet, since TNV’s boundary-pushing comes in the form of fuzzed-out pop songs that rarely make it past the 2 1/2-minute mark, there was a palpable sense of a curiosity and anticipation surrounding this show. How would Times New Viking interpret a seven-minute, dynamic-laden song like “Heroin”?
The band proved right away that it doesn’t mind taking a break from short shout-alongs to get all long and droney, and even (no joke) jam. “That’s already longer than most of our sets,” joked drummer/singer Adam Elliott after the first song, “Run Run Run,” off The Velvet Underground & Nico, from which the band drew the bulk of its material.
Times New Viking also had some help from a couple of friends: Mike Hummel — the white-haired elder statesman of the Columbus rock scene who’s better known as Mike Rep of Mike Rep and the Quotas — added guitar and vocals, and Cincinnati’s C. Spencer Yeh of Burning Star Core contributed squeals, squalls and drones on violin. TNV guitarist Jared Phillips used his usual Strat/Marshall setup, but singer Beth Murphy often took a break from the analog synth to play a bright red guitar. (If you’re counting, that’s three simultaneously strummed guitars at a Times New Viking show.)
The super group’s re-appropriations made for a mostly gratifying Valentine’s Day show. I’ll just get a couple complaints out of the way, the most glaring of which was Hummel’s guitar. It was consistently way too loud, which is a shame since the stuff he was playing added a lot. But he continually drowned out the rest of the band, especially Phillips. And while Yeh squeezed some amazing sounds out of his violin, often making it sound like a digital loop or guitar feedback, his contributions were hit and miss. He sounded great on the beautiful mess of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “I Can’t Stand It” but was inaudible on “I’m Waiting for the Man” and just in the way on “Femme Fatale”; I would have liked to hear Murphy’s synth instead on that one.
But the highlights were plentiful. Aided by strobe lights and a screen that showed mostly pixelated video of the Velvet Underground, the band nailed the loud-quiet-loud and fast-slow-fast dynamic of “Heroin,” which Hummel took growly lead vocals on. It was the best of the night. Elliott and Murphy’s tag-team vocals usually worked well, too, with endearingly imperfect harmonies — pretty, in an off-kilter way. And Murphy’s deadpan vocal delivery was a good match for Nico-led songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”
Ending the night with “After Hours” off VU’s self-titled album — probably the only Velvets song that could be considered “cute” — the band invited members of RTFO Bandwagon to come up while Ron House took over vocal duties. Roses were handed out, and the crowd sang along. It was fun, it was goofy, it was a great ending to the night, and proof that even art-rock doesn’t have to take itself too seriously.