A look at the enduring legacy of The Velvet Underground through the psychedelic scope of tribute album Reloaded

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This year marks 45 years since the release of the Velvet Underground‘s Loaded – their final studio album with Lou Reed which saw the band exploring new means of commercial appeal and effectively producing one of their most enduring records. This week also marks the second anniversary of Reed’s death, and with it, the death of one of rock and roll’s most enduring icons. It only seems fitting that with these two events coinciding, as they inevitably would, that some sort of acknowledgement would occur. Yes, there is a reissue of Loaded due to come out this week, but more pertinent to us is a little tribute album, aptly titled Reloaded, put together by a local Sydney psych band called Montes Jura.

Velvet Underground tribute

Put together by Sydney psych rockers Montes Jura, Reloaded is a tribute to the legacy of The Velvet Underground featuring The Pinheads, Upskirts, Salvador Dali Llama, Burn Antares, Bad Valley, Dluna, Raindrop, Montes Jura, Lizzy Cross plus The Grease Arrestor.

The Velvet Underground are by far one of the most persevering influences on modern alternative, psychedelic and experimental rock music, cited by artists such as the Black Angels (who even took their name from the Velvets classic Black Angel Death Song), Nick Cave, Spiritualized, the Sex Pistols and The Flaming Lips as majorly impacting their revolutionary musical endeavours. Although mostly shunned by critics in the mid-60s, the avant-garde stylings of the Velvet Underground have snaked their way through decades since, permeating genres from 70s punk to 80s post-punk and 90s alternative rock. Fast forward to 2015 and we still see the Velvet Underground popping up in many band ‘influences’ lists everywhere.

Montes Jura are one of these bands, and for them, Loaded has always been the key Velvets album. Although produced at a time where writing commercial pop songs was at the fore and John Cale was no longer in the band, Loaded was still packed with classic Velvet Underground potency. The album birthed two of Reed’s most enduring tracks to date, Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll, and although he left the band months before the album was released, it still remains attached firmly to the man’s legacy. These reasons, and perhaps because it was the most cohesive Velvet Underground record, make Loaded ripe for a tribute album. Something that Montes Jura no doubt realised with shining eyes. And they ran with it.

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Their tribute, Reloaded, sees ten Sydney and Wollongong acts banning together to create a contemporary adaption of the record, with each band being assigned a track to cover according to their strengths as dictated by Montes Jura. A sort of neo-psychedelic re-imagining, Reloaded covers a lot of ground. From Sydney’s Burn Antares kaleidoscopic take on Who Loves The Sun, to The Pinheads absolutely tearing apart Rock & Roll, Reloaded allowed each band to take their assigned track and make it their own.

What is funny though is that throughout the ten covers – although very different to the originals – there are unmistakable idiosyncrasies within each song that all lead back to the Velvet Underground. The Pinheads’ Jez Player has that unnerving growl that Reed could produce when he wanted to. To him, the chance to cover a Reed classic was unmissable. “Luke (lead guitar / brother) and I first heard VU’s Rock & Roll on a skate movie many years ago when we were young baby dicks and fell in love,” says Player, “so we had to grab it when asked to be part of this.” 

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Montes Jura’s own take on Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ has the core of a Velvet Underground classic – that pop sensibility buried in druggy distortion – while Raindrop‘s version of New Age has all the drawn out experimentalism that John Cale championed within the group.  The Grease Arrestor take Sweet Jane and turn it on its head, dampening the explosive chorus of “Sweet Jaaaane!” and reverting attention to the long, sunny instrumental passages. Salvador Dali Llama turn Lonesome Cowboy Bill into a rolling soulful ballad, while Bad Valley industrialise Cool It Down with a subtle harshness, offset by sweet vocal hooks, akin to something like All Tomorrow’s Parties or Heroin.

Montes Jura have done a pretty damn good job at assigning tracks that play to each band’s strengths. The whole album is a joyful recreation, with innumerable flashes of brilliance that can be attributed to the genius of the original, to creativity of the cover, or to the persevering influence of the Velvet Underground in modern music. Reloaded is not only a tribute to a classic record, it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the band as a whole.

To celebrate the release, the bands will be playing at The Factory Theatre on Saturday 7th November with performances from Upskirts, Salvador Dali Llama, Burn Antares, Bad Valley, D’Luna, Raindrop, Montes Jura, Lizzy Cross plus The Grease Arrestor DJs. Get tickets here!

Also, you can get the entire tribute album on Bandcamp for free.

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