I'm sorry you missed this one. Yeah, I know, it's my fault-- I didn't buy you a ticket, and to add insult to stupidity, I had you drive me to the subway so I could get there on time. I can really be such an asshole.
Lou Reed played Town Hall tonight, a small venue in the midst of the theatre district with seating that a large midget might have trouble squeezing his ass into. His band included long-time cohorts Mike Rathke and Fernando Saunders, but also featured, no shit, a hot female cellist, a big doofy white dude who did backing vocals and spasmodic movements, and LOU REED's TAI CHI MASTER, in a red silk robe, performing rather lethal-looking moves on the left of the stage, a sight almost as bizarre as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable must have been. Yes, Elizabeth, this is the only band I've ever seen with a performing tai chi master.
The setlist was downright amazing. It was like Lou Reed sat down backstage and said, I'll play all the songs I can think of that Freddo doesn't know. The bulk of the setlist came from his forgotten trove of 1970s and 1980s albums, and if he was trying to make the case that there was some good music hidden on these, that the Scottish punks on dope were wrong to dismiss his solo career as that much shite, he succeeded in spades.
Do you go to a Lou Reed show figuring you'll hear such weirdnesses as The Day John Kennedy Died (1982, The Blue Mask), Street Hassle (1978, album of the same name), and Men of Good Fortune (1973, Berlin)? I sure as fuck don't. But that's what Lou Reed offered at Town Hall tonight, along with a healthy dose of The Velvet Underground.
What else happened? Bassist Fernando Saunders sang what was apparently an original composition. The cello girl had a two-minute long freakout on Venus In Furs that would have shamed John Cale. Lou read his new version of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven with hyper-manic intensity. I got the chills a lot. On Sweet Jane-- just the opening lick is better than sex and ice cream at the same time. On Men of Good Fortune, Venus in Furs, Sunday Morning, and especially Street Hassle, which is the best Lou Reed song most people have never heard of. Lou just didn't have the right band, or producer, or something, back in 1978. The riff tonight was played as one monolithic cello-guitar drone, while Lou starts with some light love-song lyrics that somehow end up in a perfectly vicious line like "when someone turns that blue...you know that bitch will never fuck again..."
(This was the point in the show when anyone who wandered in thinking they'd be seeing Cats or Hairspray or whatever-the-fuck knew they were in the wrong place.)
Twenty-one songs. Two and a half hours. A guitar-rock version of All Tomorrow's Parties. No drums!!, except for a few songs where the semi-multi-talented Fernando played an electric drum pad-- sometimes at the same time as the bass. A version of Sweet Jane that didn't want to get started... Lou keeps playing the lick and getting distracted, and sings a nonsense verse about Fernando before going into the song itself. Did I mention that the cellist was drop-dead beautiful?
Anyway, I got to Main Street at twenty past one, and it was raining, and I had to wait for the bus, and didn't get home until two. I deserved that, Elizabeth, and whatever further punishments you wish to inflict on me for having such a good time without you, and I think, to be on the safe side, I just won't tell you about Neil Young two weeks from now....
Yo, yo, yo. A shout-out to Chris-O and LadySun and gloinson and Charles, who was there-- you know how monsterifically splendiforous Lou Reed was tonight. Minga.
Part Two: The Pre-View
Yeah, I know. It's customary to review concerts after they happen. Which is a silly rule, because most people have a pretty good idea of what will happen when they buy the ticket.
I like Lou Reed. I own a good many of his records, including obscurities like The Blue Mask and Sally Can't Dance and Set the Twilight Reeling. I'd never seen him live before-- he doesn't tour much these days. So I decided to plunk down whatever I still owe my friend Charles to go see him.
My expectations aren't all that high. I know he won't suck, but I also know that he's made exactly two good records since 1974, and the last time I caught up with him, 1996's Set the Twilight Reeling, he couldn't sing worth shit anymore. Not that he ever could, but his voice had become a nearly unlistenable gargle. He's pretty much worked with the same band since 1989's New York album, and they ain't the Velvets. They ain't even the bunch of glam nobodies including the blind lead guitarist who did Rock 'N Roll Animal with him and then ditched him for Alice Cooper. I read a story somewhere that Lou pissed on the bassist's leg. That might have been why they became Alice's band. Which is not to say that Lou is backed up by incompetents. They're just kinda, well, faceless.
Now Lou has a new album out called The Raven, which has more than a little to do with Edgar Allan Poe. The thick-glasses-and-sweaters crowd who ran my college's radio station liked it. Which might mean that I won't. But Reed and Poe sounds like a slam dunk of a collaboration to me. Lou was always one of the more literary rock stars out there, even when he couldn't get past page seventeen.
I probably sound a little ambivalent about the upcoming show by now, eh? So why am I going? Why have I spent Charles's hard-earned money on a seat I might not want?
Because Lou Reed is sixty years old. And by the Average Life Span of Drug-Addled Rockers, he ain't got long. Jerry Garcia kicked it at 54 or so, and let's compare... Garcia was a musician who became a junkie. Reed was a junkie who became a musician because it was the best way to pay for all the junk. So Lou is on borrowed time, isn't he? And I've made it a point to see everyone who once was great and might soon be dead. Bob Dylan-- five times. Neil Young-- soon to be three times. Patti Smith seemed pretty healthy, but I wasn't taking any chances, so I ended up seeing her about two years ago with my cousin the crackhead, who wouldn't shut up for two hours straight and probably ruined a lot of people's bootlegs.
Anyway, I don't regret any of the money spent, except maybe the Dylan- Paul Simon show, which cost me $72, and Dylan was almost worth the $72 but Paulie started with a world-beat arrangement of Bridge over Troubled Water that sounded like a fountain of puke and left me feeling very ripped off. I could also mention his duet with Bob on Knockin' on Heaven's Door, but I'd rather repeatedly slam my hand in the door of Chris-O and LadySun's 1982 Ford Crown Victoria-- big door. Hurts more.
But Neil Young was fine with Crazy Horse in 1996, as was Patti Smith, fronting what seemed to be most of the original Patti Smith Group, with Lenny Kaye on lead guitar. Dylan is a little more hit-or-miss, but for chrissakes he's DYLAN and just being in the same stadium with him is better than most of the orgasms I've ever had, and he did write Masters of War and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and Tangled Up in Blue, even if he can't remember the words to them anymore, and keeps pitch about as well as my grandfather at a birthday party.
So there you have it. I'm a ghoul, I guess. But I'll be able to lord it over my brother and some of my idiot friends and perhaps my children, that I saw Dylan and Young... and now, LOU REED, when they were still alive. In my admittedly highly biased opinion, they're the greatest ever. The All Star Team. Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson. Lou Reed in his prime was six billion times better than the crappy artists of today in their crappy primes. I could have gone to see Radiohead instead, which is around the same time, but they take themselves oh-so-way-too-seriously, they're just a louder and shittier Pink Floyd, and their lead singer's lazy eye disturbs me in a way that David Bowie's never did. Oh well. Give them five years and they'll be as irrelevant as Pearl Jam. (Or, given the extremely depressing lyrics they write, as dead as Nirvana).
So on June 11, 2003, I'm-a go down to the Lou Reed concert and see my man before he dies. If y'all are smart, you'll pick your favorite soon-to-be-dead rocker, and do the same.