Saturday, May 3, 2008
Lou Reed’s show at Nashville’s Ryman last night was an extremely satisfying one filled with more heart, passion and fire than most Rock and Roll artists could ever even hope to capture. Featuring a top of the line band consisting of iconic guitar players Mike Rathke and Steve Hunter plus Rob Wasserman on Bass, Kevin Hearn on keyboards, and the amazing Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums, Reed’s current USA tour finds him stepping away from the Berlin project that has been occupying him for the past couple of years to set his attention on the many other aspects of his now forty year plus career.
Sans an opening act, Reed and his band walked out on the stage to a huge response from the near capacity crowd just a few minutes after eight. The, just married to Laurie Anderson, Lou looked fantastic and he was clearly pleased by the huge welcome the hungry Nashville audience gave him.
The set begin with a real bang, namely an extended and slow down "Mad" (one of the key tracks from Lou’s 2000 masterpiece Ecstasy). Some minor technical glitches involving Lou’s guitar threw him off a bit during this song but it was made up for with his menacing vocal take and a mind blowing and lengthy guitar solo by Hunter that had everyone in the place on their feet. Its always a guessing game as to which persona Lou might bring with him but last night the ominous electric menace of the Rock and Roll Animal kept popping up.
The pulverizing "Mad" (which I estimate went on at least eight minutes) led into The Velvet’s classic "Sweet Jane" and it proved to be a solid rendition made great by a ferocious guitar break by Lou who seemed more than a bit pissed by the technical problems that had popped up during Mad. Thankfully the rest of the show went smoothly, almost as if any troubles were literally scared away by this searing improvised guitar take by Lou.
One of the nights highlights followed "Sweet Jane" in the shape of a powerful and moving rendition of The Velvet’s "I’m Set Free". Singing with his heart clearly on his sleeve and the band playing like their lives depended on it, the performance literally brought tears to me eyes. What a pleasure to see such a outstanding presentation of such an often-overlooked classic.
"I’m Set Free" was hard to top but somehow the band managed it with a bruising "Ecstasy", easily among the great lyrics that Lou has ever written. Featuring a haunting "The Bells" like opening and Lou’s uncanny ability to slip into whatever character’s persona he wishes to occupy, Ecstasy was an absolute stunner and again had the crowd on their feet.
An off kilter reading of The Velvets sweet "I’m Sticking With You" followed, a song that demands Moe Tucker’s involvement. Lou clearly played up the fact that the song has had such a success on the recent Juno soundtrack and he seemed to be clearly enjoying playing it. How strange is it that many young people are currently getting their introduction to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground with a song like "I’m Sticking With You" courtesy of the Juno soundtrack?
The evening’s one new song followed and it was a real beauty. "Power of My Heart" seems destined to follow some of Lou’s greatest love songs and he sang it with a lot of fervor. Laurie Anderson unfortunately didn’t make a physical appearance last night but her spirit was absolutely in the room all evening.
The evenings most jaw dropping moment followed with a reading of The Raven’s "I Wanna Know". Featuring some astonishing percussive and vocal work by Thunder Smith and Reed’s channeling of Poe, "I Wanna Know" was spine tingling stuff and was perhaps the key performance of the night.
The much-maligned Mistrial album even got its time in the spotlight with a gloriously chaotic "Video Violence" following the monumental Poe track. The band and Lou clearly love the song and they played it to maximum effect, with Lou’s unmatchable guitar playing shaking the historic Ryman’s walls.
The evening’s most emotional moment came next with a lovely reading of New York’s "Halloween Parade". Lou opened the song lamenting the fact that more money is still being spent killing people oversees instead of helping sick and needy people here before launching into on of the best performances I have ever heard of one of his greatest songs.
The emotions continued running high with a gorgeous "Guardian Angel" (I love that Lou visited the epic and tragically underrated The Raven twice) and the main set concluded with an extraordinary and epic "Magic And Loss". A full standing ovation was given as Lou and his band bowed a walked off the stage before returning for the two encores.
The encores featured a series of incredibly well played and emotive fan favorites including "Pale Blue Eyes", a gorgeous "Perfect Day", "Satellite of Love" and the perennial "Walk on the Wild Side". Lou continued to show that he was thrilled to be a The Ryman and he thanked the audience multiple times for the warm reception they were granting him and his band. With a final bow and wave Lou and his band walked off for the final time and everyone’s no doubt emotional drive home followed. It was a really splendid and powerful show.
There isn’t a living artist I value more than Lou Reed so getting to see him again in a fairly intimate setting was very special. With a really cracking band (Smith and Hunter have to be seen to be believed) and a varied and inventive set list, Lou’s current tour is a glorious reminder to how vital he still is…up next is that long awaited Berlin DVD from Julian Schnabel and, fingers crossed, the new studio album Lou has been hinting at lately.