Singer/songwriter and The National frontman Matt Berninger debuted a cover of The Velvet Underground’s classic song “I’m Waiting for the Man” yesterday while appearing as musical guest on The Late Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. While the cover does not appear on the record, Berninger was on the show to promote his latest full-length solo studio release, Serpentine Prison.
For the Fallon appearance, Berninger provided a pre-recorded clip of him performing the famed Velvet Underground track backed by a stomping band in a warehouse setting complete with large canvases and sound boards. Berninger’s vocal performance is a thrill and the band does an incredible job of retaining the original song’s energy while providing an uptempo, pop-rock spin full of lush rhythmic guitars, bouncing piano melodies and falsetto backing vocals. For a song about waiting to buy drugs, its vibrant spirit is undeniable.
The Velvet Underground first released “I’m Waiting for the Man” on their iconic debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967. Written by legendary Velvet Underground frontman and rocker Lou Reed, the classic track is a great display of the timeless songwriting Reed was doing from the onset of his storied career.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” has also been widely hailed for its lyrical storytelling, which depicts a man waiting on a street corner in Harlem near the intersection of Lexington Ave. and 125th Street to purchase $26 of heroin, which would be equivalent of about $210 today. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song #161 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Last week, The National announced they will be re-issuing the core entries of their early catalogue on vinyl in February of 2021 including The National (2001), Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003) and the Cherry Tree EP (2004). Berninger, meanwhile, has had a busy 2020 with the release of Serpentine Prison. The album debuted to widespread critical acclaim in October, led by the single “One More Second.”
Photo credit: Sharon Alagna