Berlin 1974 [no label 1CD Torrent: 71926 & Torrent: 72660]

Live at Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Oct 5, 1974.

Quality recordings of vintage live Nico are exceedingly hard to find, and will doubtless remain so until the full A.C.N.E. tapes are allowed out of the archive. This recording doesn't change that dour scenario, but it's priceless regardless, a noisy audience recording that is indicative more of the bullshit that Nico had to put up with when she played, than the stately beauty of her performance itself. 

Even in her homeland, audiences neither understood nor appreciated her music, and what better target for their boredom could there be than a lone woman seated at a harmonium? At first, it's simply bountiful booing between numbers, but the clapping, stamping and whistling increases until it's breaking out in mid-song, and even the onstage presence of John Cale does not calm the uproar. Indeed, a beautiful "Child's Christmas In Wale" seems to be an excuse for the entire room to start chatting with its neighbor - which, in its way, is even worse than the treatment meted out to Nico.

It's a largely unplugged performance, and remarkably verite. There are some yawning gulfs between songs, particularly in the early part of the show, but background noise suggests that this was what was happening onstage as well. Maybe people were just waiting for Eno.

Despite the credits, it is Cale and Nico's show throughout. Eno is barely (if at all) audible until a rendition of "Deutschland Uber Alles" that is itself inaudible beneath the audience's caterwauling, although the legend that this particular performance almost instigated a riot is clearly exaggerated. There is a lot of booing and yowling, but it's "Valley Of The Kings," oddly, that really gets the crowd going, and it's Eno's (admittedly irritating) electronic effects that are the principle target of their wrath. By the time Nico gets round to the version of "The End" that closes the concert some half a dozen songs later, the crowd is almost behaving itself.

As a listening experience, Berlin 1974 is dreadfully flawed. But it's a compulsive listen regardless, and one that says a lot more for the musical mood of the times than we're normally permitted to hear. Read a modern rock history, and it sounds like everybody always loved the Velvets. In fact, most people hated them, and it took a long time for that hatred to die. - Dave Thompson

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March 9, 2007