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The Velvet Underground's Last Show with Lou Reed

The Velvet Underground played their last gig with Lou Reed on August 23, 1970 at their old haunt, Max's Kansas City in New York City.

Despite how popular the Velvets may be today or how many bands they've influenced decades after Andy Warhol produced their first album, during their run they were relegated to clubs culminating in a nine-week residency at Max's from June 24th thru August 28, 1970.

Steve Schapiro, Warhol, Nico, and The Velvet Underground, 1966.

As Brian Eno famously said, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Being the singer and songwriter of the Velvet Underground was so financially unrewarding that once Reed left the band, he took a job with his father's tax firm as a typist where he pulled down $40 a week.

Lou Reed and Nico at Scepter Studios during the recording of the first Velvet Underground album in 1967.

Which would be the equivalent of $300 today. Talk about taking a walk on the mild side.

What wasn't mild was Max's, located on Park Avenue about a mile north of CBGB's. Ground zero for the arty, trans, gay, and drug crowd that Reed sang so eloquently throughout his rich career.

"At Max’s you were welcome, once inside, it was the most welcoming atmosphere," former Max busboy-turned-photographer Anton Perich told Dazed. "Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and Jackie Curtis would talk with you. They were all wonderful, self-constructed women, so comfortable under their new skin."

The restaurant and club had several areas to drink and carouse, most notoriously the back room where Warhol and his posse could often be found.

The Velvet Underground during the filming of Piero Heliczer's Venus in Furs in New York City in November 1965.

"There was Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl in the deepest shades of black," Perich said.

"There was cross-pollination: I saw [Wilt] Chamberlain talking with Gregory Corso. Tiger Morse talking with Taylor Mead. Lou Reed talking with Michael Pollard. Charles James talking with Ray Johnson. Grace Jones talking with Glenn O’Brien...The full list would be hours long."

Lou Reed rehearsing with The Velvet Underground during the filming of Piero Heliczer's Venus in Furs in New York City in November 1965.

So when Reed introduced himself and the band on the last show of the residency, to an audience of his peers, it was with tongue fully in cheek.

"Good evening, we're called the Velvet Underground," he said, before beginning the show with "I'm Waiting for the Man," about a gentleman trying to be patient in an unfamiliar neighborhood as his drug dealer is tardy.

Every Velvet Underground album had a personnel change. The noticeable one in 1970 was when longtime drummer Moe Tucker became pregnant was temporarily replaced with high schooler Billy Yule, the younger brother of bassist Doug Yule.

His youthful energy is all over Loaded and the bootleg from the Velvets' last show with Reed, creatively called Live At Max's Kansas City.

Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Maureen 'Moe' Tucker of the Velvet Underground in 1970.

By the time Loaded was released Lou had already begun typing for his old man. The band tried to juggle the lineup around, but come on, even the record label knew the Velvets - who couldn't sell records with Lou Reed would sell even fewer without him.

The group owed the label one more album so Atlantic took the janky handheld recording along with side talk and hiss, and turned it into Live at Max's Kansas City which eventually made its way into the 9 LP Loaded 45th-anniversary box set.

Nico, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, and Gerard Malanga, at Warhol’s nightclub the Dom in the East Village on April 7, 1966.

That background noise, however, David Bowie would say is part of the Velvet's charm, even when it's been created in the studio.

"There were elements of what Lou was doing that were just unavoidably right for both the times and for where music was going," Bowie said in 1997. "One of which was the use of cacophony in background noise to create a kind of ambience that had been hitherto unknown in rock, I think."

Lou Reed performs at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium on May 22, 1974.

Of that noise, Henry Rollins once wrote in SPIN about one of his favorite albums, The Velvet Underground's 1968 classic White Light / White Heat: "here comes 'Sister Ray,' a 17-minute war that will leave you drained. Play this a few times and the bugs will leave your house and your neighbors will hate you forever."

What's fascinating about this last show, as heard by the recordings, is it was a mellow affair. There were so many "slow songs" as Lou told the audience, when the Live album was originally released, the label put all of the slow songs on one side and the rockers on the other.

Of those more sensitive ones is "I'll Be Your Mirror," which was a gentle adieu to their first album with Nico and Lou's last show with the Velvets.

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