“Waiting” by Man Fighting Bear (2015)

Man Fighting Bear is a hard band to categorize.  In many of the songs on their 2015 album “Waiting,” you hear the influence of artists as diverse as Joy Division, Deep Purple, Brian Eno, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, King Crimson, the Rotary Connection and Leonard Cohen, sometimes within the same song.  But the one band that comes to mind the most when I hear “Waiting” is the Velvet Underground, especially the legendary post-John Cale concerts they recorded at the Matrix in San Francisco that eventually were released as the classic “1969 Velvet Underground Live” album in 1974.

“Waiting” is one of those wonderfully cool albums where you can never tell where the band is going to go next.  For example, the song “Into the Light” starts off as a beautiful Leonard Cohen-inspired hymn and then, approximately 2-minutes in, a wonderfully dirty-sounding organ kicks the church door open like a drunken interloper, though its inclusion is actually more seamless and organic than the opening shock would indicate.   And this is why the Velvets come to mind: Man Fighting Bear blend the sacred with the profane brilliantly to produce a complex sound full of sonic surprises.

Another standout track is “Jupiter” which starts out sounding like a loose, funky Booker T. and the MG homage and then segues into a wonderfully transcendent organ driven-jam that sounds like, yes you guessed it, the climax of the Velvet’s amazing “What Goes On” and “Ocean”  from the “1969 Velvet Underground Live” album.

“Breathe” sounds like Brian Eno producing a Nick Cave cover of a Joy Division song, which is musical heaven by any stretch of my imagination:

If you want to hear the rest of the album, please check it out at the link below and more importantly, if you dig what you hear, you are strongly encouraged to purchase this from iTunes or Amazon.

http://www.manfightingbear.com/#!music/c1mkb

This is a stand-out album that is eccentric in the best sense of the word.  It’s music like this that inspired me to start not only my blog, but Dave’s Strange Radio.  Many kudos to Bill Beach, Chris Beach, and Erik Fagrelius for one of my favorite albums of this year.

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“Velvet Underground” by Jonathan Richman

Just heard this song for the first time on an old episode of Penn Jillette’s podcast (“Penn’s Sunday School”), the one Penn recorded on the day it was announced Lou Reed passed away in 2013. Reed was a huge influence on Richman and this is a wonderful tribute song that not only gives high praise to the Velvet Underground and sounds like them, but allows for a completely charming “Sister Ray” cover during the middle 1/3 of this song.  This is from Richman’s 1992 album “I, Jonathan.”  If you’re not sure on who Richman is, he was the singing troubadour from the 1998 blockbuster hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary.”

Penn was very good friends with Reed for many years during the 1980s and 1990s and if you’re a fan of Reed’s, I encourage you to either stream or download the episode from the link below (Episode 89 from October 27, 2013).  There’s lots of wonderful anecdotes and stories about Reed that’s nearly two hours long.  Re: this song, Penn actually took Reed to see Richman in concert, where he performed this song, avoiding eye contact with Reed because he was such in awe of Reed.  Reed had difficulty making out one of the lyrics, which Penn explained to Reed was “America at it’s best,” meaning Reed’s first band.  Reed paused and said “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.”

http://pennsundayschool.com/episodes/

“John Cale” 1998 BBC Documentary

Here’s yet another terrific BBC documentary … this time about one of my favorite musical/cultural icons, John Cale.  People tend to think that Lou Reed was the dark lord of the Velvet Underground, but these same people often forget that once Cale left the group, the Velvets recorded the considerably more mellow self-titled 3rd album and “Loaded.”  On his own, Cale continued to record beautiful, but frequently disturbing music, as well as producing some of the most influential bands of all-time (Nico, The Stooges, Patti Smith, The Modern Lovers).  A fantastic overview of one of the most under-appreciated geniuses of modern music.

“White Light / White Heat” – The Velvet Underground

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The first time I heard this was on a Saturday morning when I woke up with a horrible hangover. I had bought the album the night before and ran into a female “friend” while I was out and about. After spending several hours of drinking horrendously cheap beer together and having one of those conversations that get embarrassingly “deep” when too much imbibing takes place, I confessed my true feelings for this person and she gave me the “we’re better off as friends” speech. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was expecting. That Rob Reiner – Nora Ephron “When Harry Met Sally” nonsense is … well … nonsense. Every meaningful relationship I’ve ever had has started off on a playing field where both parties are clearly interested on a non-platonic level. Don’t let asinine Hollywood rom-com BS let you believe any differently.

Anyway, nearly 25 years later, I think I got the better end of the bargain with this album. I remember thinking this horribly recorded, but intense song summed up said hangover the next morning pretty well.

“Paris 1919” – John Cale

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This is the title track from John Cale’s elegant solo album, released in 1973. Backed by members of Little Feat, “Paris 1919” feels like an album for a lovely summer afternoon, light and airy and a big departure from his highly disturbing (but brilliant) next three albums he recorded for Island Records. One of the few musicians who can glide so seamlessly between the sacred and the profane and neither side seems out of place.

“Foggy Notion” – The Velvet Underground

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Arguably the most upbeat song about S&M ever written and recorded. From the Velvet Underground’s classic never-released 4th album (which later was released in 1985 as “VU”), “Foggy Notion” has a deceptively mellow vibe … until you hear the lyrics and the sick lead guitar in the background that always threatens to overtake the easy-going groove on top, but never quite does.

“I’m Waiting for the Man” – The Velvet Underground

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The 2nd track from the classic “The Velvet and Underground and Nico” album from 1967, this is a song about buying heroin in NYC when songs about heroin were not chic or cool. This drug song is not about expanding your mind, yadda, yadda, yadda. This is about the cold reality of street drugs and the desperate need for them. The relentless, driving rhythm of this song is infectious, but scary given the subject matter.

“Pale Blue Eyes” – Alejandro Escovedo

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An absolutely lovely cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” by Alejandro Escovedo, former member of the punk group The Nuns and the alternative country band Rank and File. From the 2009 album “Bourbonitis Blues”. I don’t know who the female  singer is who sings duet on this, but her voice is absolutely angelic. If someone knows who this is, please let me know … gotta give credit where credit is due.

The Warhol Party Scene from “The Doors” (1991) dir. Oliver Stone

Drug freakout scenes are one of my favorite cliches in movies.  My all-time favorite drug freakout scene (with the exception of Helen Hunt trying to fly in the 1982 CBS TV-movie “Desperate Lives”) is this scene from Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.”  With the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” and “Heroin” playing in the background, Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison takes a walk on the wild side with all kinds of Andy Warhol characters from Tom Baker (played by Michael Madsen), Warhol (played by Crispin Glover), Nico (played by Christina Fulton), and some unnamed Warhol assistant (played by Oscar winning 70s singer/songwriter Paul Williams).  Seeing this on home video doesn’t compare to seeing this film on a huge screen with booming stereo sound back in the day.  The wobbly, boat-in-a-tsunami camera movements are much more intense and caused me to have a major headache when I saw this in a theater.

“Sister Ray” – The Velvet Underground

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From 1968’s “White Light / White Heat” here is the Velvet Underground’s infamous 17-minute plus epic of noise and decadence “Sister Ray.” A bonafide classic and the last hurrah for the orginal VU when John Cale was still a member.  After this, the Velvets were still a great act, but started to shift away from darker themes.