Photo by Edwina Pickles at the Sydney Morning Herald
I’m writing this several days after seeing Lou Reed perform his Berlin album in sequence with a theatre style stage set with video projections at the final night of three nights only at the magnificent State Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival. I went to Sydney over the weekend to see the show, went home again, then went to Sydney again for work on Thursday.
It’s now Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting in Qantas Club at Sydney airport waiting to get the hell out of hell city and return to the cosy comfort of Melbourne. After 2 glasses of Alkoomi‘s Sauvignon Blanc (delicious crisp Margaret River white wine) I’m in the mood to write. My subject has been drifting around my mind, gradually forming coherent ideas, and I have some time to express them.
I’ve been a fan of Lou Reed for many years. Ironically, I saw his less well known Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale a decade before I got to see Lou. I saw Cale at the Fly by Night Club in Fremantle in 1993 and Lou at the Palais in Melbourne in 2003. It was worth the wait, though it was not a perfect day – his bass player got to sing one of his own songs, which was rubbish (his solo album was recently reviewed in the Australian and it said the same of his song writing abilities).
Lou was great, and his legendary eccentricities are worth seeing with your own eyes. In 2003 he had his tai chi master on stage for one song to perform moves in time with the music. Whatever. In 2007, he was mercurial, engaging and yet completely indifferent.
Throughout the main performance he did not utter a single superfluous word, such as of thanks for applause or to introduce a song. I suppose this is unnecessary when playing an album in sequence, but it is great to hear about how a song came to be. For example, I love hearing David Byrne introduce ‘And She Was’ with a story about taking acid and lying in the grass (I’ve seen him twice and he told a virtually identical story both times).
The arrangements of the songs used a full rock band (drums, 2 guitars, 2 bassists, keyboards) as well as a children’s choir, 2 backup singers (Sharon – African American woman with powerful soul voice and Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, who toured with Lou in 2003), 4 piece brass band and 3 strings. Some were mellow; some rocked hard. Very hard. The album’s original guitarist Steve was the only band member (apart from Lou of course) to play the two gigs 33 years apart. He’s an MBA from the Earl Slick school of ROCK. I approve of this.
Once the album show was over, Lou was effusive in introducing and thanking his large band and the festival for supporting his show, which had previously played a limited run in NYC. That may well have been it, and I don’t know what happened at the first two shows, but on the final night we were lucky to get an encore of three songs – Sweet Jane, with Sharon on lead vocal, Candy Says, with Antony on lead vocal (as per the 2003 tour) and Rock Minuet from Lou’s recent album Ecstasy, which I have been playing quite a lot recently. I wouldn’t say it’s the best song from the album, but it is good to hear him play new material.
Modern Dance from Ecstasy is a wonderful song, but I may never hear him play it. I also want to hear him play Last Great American Whale from his 1989 New York City album, but my friend Matt thinks I’m deranged if I believe that will ever happen. It’s my favourite Lou Reed song! I live in hope.
Overall, it was a great experience to hear Lou play a different show with a different band and to be in a capacity audience thrilled to be seeing a unique event. Playing an album in sequence is a 2000s phenomenon – Brian Wilson may have pioneered it, but it was quickly adopted by David Bowie, The Cure and many others. This was the first time I saw such a show live.
Matt (who saw the 2003 Lou show with me) and I watched Bowie’s super fabulous live digital film broadcast of his Reality album concert in London at the Jam Factory Cinema in Melbourne in 2003. However, this was a film of a live concert (albeit broadcast live through new digital cinema technology), not a live concert. Matt was not able to see Lou this time, so I hope he enjoys my review.