"What Goes On"
Recording: Live Bootleg, The Matrix, San Francisco, November 1969
When the Velvet Underground was on tour in 1969, they stopped in San Francisco to play a number of shows at a club called The Matrix. One of the shows comprised a third of the recently released Quine Tapes, famously bootlegged by Velvet Underground superfan Robert Quine. A number of other recordings were made that month as well and they are the majority of the band’s best live compilation 1969: The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed, released in 1974. The most impressive recording on that album by far is the band’s nearly nine minute rendition of "What Goes On."
"What Goes On" is probably the loudest song on the Velvet Underground's third self-titled album, and even then, it’s remarkably subdued. At The Matrix, it’s another story: a slow build leads into a heavy revolution of the song’s painstakingly abstracted chord progression. Moe Tucker pounds the beat, Doug Yule swirls the organ into unmatched fury, and Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison grind away at their guitars like their scratching an unsatisfiable itch. The performance is something on an enigma. The song is relatively simple, and the playing is strangely uniform, but it's an undeniably explosive listen. One wonders how The Matrix’s ceiling hadn't come to pieces by the time they were done.