I take back every negative thing I've in recent years said about Lou Reed.
Last night at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn we witnessed the second-ever on-stage performance of Lou Reed's Berlin
. Flanked by a host of guest musicians to flesh out the lovely and intricate arrangements of the original album, Reed was in command from note one. It was astonishing to see the rocker who always sought artistry to finally - and without pretention - achieve his goal in spades.
Curiously, the only celebrities in attendance were Lou's muse, Laurie Anderson, and his Tai Chi instructor. Which is fitting, as all attention deserved to be directed at the stage.
After a morose introduction by artist Julian Schnabel (who "directed" this version of Berlin
), the curtain swept back to reveal the ensemble. The most noteworthy members included two of the original album's participants: guitarist Steve Hunter (who would cement his reputation for all time on the ensuing tour, which resulted in the live document, Rock N Roll Animal
), and producer Bob Ezrin (whose other credits include Alice Cooper, KISS, Pink Floyd), who conducted in a white lab coat.
All the musicians, however, were top flight, and it was an impeccable sense of collaboration that made the presentation a stunning success. The florid embroidery of the album's horn, woodwind, string and vocal charts (members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus contributed!) were replicated beautifully, bringing larger than life emotion to the songs. Much has been made over the years about Berlin
being a depressing excursion into the underworld of humanity; it is, in fact, a sad story, but one that packs a massive narrative punch.
After idolizing Lou Reed for years since the mid-1970s (yes, despite the insanity of Metal Machine Music
, Take No Prisoners
, et al.), I found myself growing increasingly disappointed with his recent work and mindset. Gone forever, it seemed, was the understated attitude and cool, in favor of a self-aggrandizing bathos (though some might argue that self-aggrandizing bathos has always been part of the Lou Reed experience). I had begun to wonder if my appreciation of his work had landed me inevitably in the middle of the conflict that defines being a Lou Reed fan: to love him is to hate him, to adore him is to be abused by him.
Of course, Reed forewarned of this very concern years ago:Gimmie gimmie gimmie some good times
Gimmie gimmie gimmie some pain
No matter how ugly you are
You know, to me it all looks the same.
Last night's performance was a really good time. Following Berlin
, Reed and band reappeared to play my all-time fave Lou song, "Sweet Jane" (with Hunter ferociously replicating his Rock N Roll Animal
solos), "Candy Says," and "Rock Minuet."
Even The Raven
is forgiven.(Bottom photo by MsAPhillips)