Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico - Live 1972.01.29 Le Bataclan, Paris, France

Artists: Lou Reed, John Cale, & Nico
Venue: Le Bataclan
Location: Paris, France
Date: 29 January 1972
Album: Le Bataclan '72
Release Date: 19 October 2004, 10 December 2013
Label: Alchemy Entertainment/Pilot, Keyhole

Typical tracklisting:
01. I'm Waiting for the Man
02. Berlin
03. The Black Angel's Death Song
04. Wild Child
05. Heroin
06. Ghost Story
07. The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group of All
08. Empty Bottles
09. Femme Fatale
10. No One Is There
11. Frozen Warnings
12. Janitor of Lunacy
13. I'll Be Your Mirror
14. All Tomorrow's Parties
15. Pale Blue Eyes [Rehearsal]
16. Candy Says [Rehearsal]

This is one of the most popularly bootlegged concerts in the history of these three performers. It's quite a special moment, as this trio hadn't performed together since Nico separated from the Velvet Underground in 1967, and they never would again. Here, they share each other's songs, and the whole thing is done acoustically. If that weren't enough, Cale plays two songs he never released ("The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group of All" and "Empty Bottles", which was given to Jennifer Warnes), and Reed's solo songs ("Berlin" and "Wild Child") are played in rather different arrangements than appeared on record. Even if the musicians are clearly a bit out of practice, and the instruments aren't always quite in tune, this is a very special concert.

But everyone seems to already know that, and what I really want to address is the legitimacy of this album in its commercially released form. The 2004 release by Alchemy Entertainment (with a Pilot catalog number) is supposedly legitimate, but I've always been skeptical. Pitchfork, Wikipedia, and the Fear Is a Man's Best Friend John Cale fansite all list it as an official release. But then why didn't the album appear on any of the musicians' primary labels, most of which are major industry players? A bit of research into AlchemyEntertainment's catalog shows a rapid string of releases, all of dubious quality, all circa 2004.

Take for example the Joy Division albums Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979 and Preston 28 February 1980, both live albums with long histories of releases on dubious labels. Both are supposedly "official" releases, yet have questionable quality, idiosyncratic errors, and features common to all bootleg versions. In the meantime, Joy Division enthusiast The Analog Loyalist has notably compiled and remastered a much improved and substantially more complete bootleg version of the Les Bains Douches concert. If the commercially available version was indeed an official release, then why is The Analog Loyalist's version obviously superior in every way? Why do the "official" albums have a history of releases on dubious labels like NMC/New Millennium Communications (some of which share the Pilot catalog numbers) and GetBack?

Note that the Bataclan album has a similar history of multiple labels (including some of the same as the Joy Division albums!), all of which seem dubious. The most recent release (and the one I ended up with) is on Keyhole, which appears to be a relatively new bootleg label, and clearly known as such even to – every catalog item is listed as "Unofficial"!

Furthering my skepticism is that the various versions of this album contain several errors. "All Tomorrow's Parties" is often labeled as an encore (it was not, as far as I can tell). It is also sourced from an audience tape instead of the soundboard used as the primary source. These are the same sources that have been traded as bootlegs for years upon years, and this "official" version is not remastered, more complete, cleaner, or better in any capacity. Worst of all, the whole thing plays conspicuously slow, presumably because it was mastered at the wrong speed.

I am not the only one who is skeptical about the legitimacy of these releases, and according to this thread, John Cale even took action against the pressing of this album at some point. Richie Unterberger's White Light/White Heat also confirms that Lou Reed was not pleased to learn about the album. I am curious to find more definitive answers, so if you have additional information, please share it. It's worth noting that I am certainly not against trading bootlegs of unreleased material, especially if the artists have approved such trading (as they often do). What bothers me is the idea of people making money off of these recordings without anything going to the artists in question. Anyway, why buy bootlegs when trading of lossless audio is so easy via torrents and sites like the Live Music Archive?

Score: B+

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