tue 25/06/2024

Lou Reed, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Lou Reed, Royal Festival Hall

Lou Reed, Royal Festival Hall

Veteran art-rocker gets heavy at Meltdown

Lou Reed: He just don't care© Mark Williams

“I would cut my legs and tits off/ When I think of Boris Karloff." Those were Lou Reed’s opening lines at the RFH, taken from Lulu, his recent collaboration with Metallica and his most poorly received record since 1975’s Metal Machine Music. One critic called it a “contender for the worst album ever". Reed’s reply was that he does as he pleases. Last night that meant making it a third of his set .

It was a good call. Lulu has been terribly misunderstood, and just gets better with time. It didn't matter that Metallica were absent for this Meltdown show. Only a light readjustment was required from his touring band to recreate the same giddy mix of a vinegary old man describing the workings of a sexually ripe girl over the sound of an angle-grinder. It was quite brilliant.  

Reed’s voice went to some pretty bizarre places over the night

The evening, however, wasn’t just about Lulu. It was, also, as close as Reed gets to a greatest-hits gig. That meant Velvet Underground numbers rubbing shoulders with songs he felt weren't sufficiently loved, including representatives from albums like Berlin, Animal, and Growing Up in Public, and one song from Transformer. The first treat of the night for casual fans, however, was a netherworldly reading of "Heroin". Reed’s voice went to some pretty bizarre places over the night, yet this was about as close to the original record as he ever got. He sounded not unlike Dylan’s recent offerings.

But things didn’t stay so good. “Waiting for the Man” felt completely wasted in a seated venue, and “Senselessly Cruel” was stodgy. Twenty minutes in things were getting soft, but then guitarist Aram Bajakian started cranking out another James Hetfield impression. “I want to see your suicide/ I want to see you give it up/ for someone… who actively despises you,” croaked Reed, dressed in a black sleeveless t-shirt. For the next song the rhythm section doubled the pace, and the bug-eyed contrarian screamed “I am a woman who likes men.” Why did it feel so cathartic? Maybe Reed was expressing the mental breakdown we are all a couple of disasters away from; or possibly it was just something you just don’t see very often. But “Mistress Dread” was unforgettable. Except for those few who fled to the bar with confused and slightly frightened expressions.

After that the rest seemed pretty conventional, which was what was needed. In a brilliant stroke of timing the euphoric-sounding “Street Hassle” relieved the tension, and led to the contemplative “Cremation” and “Think it Over". Anyone who has ever heard a live version of “Walk on the Wild Side” would know he sings it as if reading from an upside-down autocue, but Rob Wasserman’s bass noodlings made up for that.  

Thank God he has chosen to stay weird

The set closed with Reed in reflective mood. “Sad Song” with its Philip Glass-isms was a treat. "Junior Dad" was something else altogether. Some say it’s about Reed’s father sending him for ECT treatment for Reed's bisexual tendencies. Its lyrics, however, have enough potency to move anyone who has felt like a disappointment. The way Bajakian played the guitar part was just gorgeous.

For the encore Reed picked up where his earlier rendition of the Velvet’s “Waiting for the Man” had left off with “White Light/White Heat”. But now no one was going to let a lack of dancefloor stop them. For over two hours, Reed had taken us on a tour of his febrile, schizoid mind. Now was the time to wig out. Scores of men and women poured to the front of the RFH. Reed thanked his band again and then left.

At 70, Reed doesn’t need to experiment like this. He could be living off his back catalogue. In 1997 the BBC memorably lined-up an all star cast including Bono and Lesley Garratt to make a video of "Perfect Day". Such a ghastly plundering of his hits could easily have been Reed’s pension. Thank God he’s chosen to stay weird.

Watch Lou Reed and Metallica's video for "The View"

For over two hours, Reed had taken us on a tour of his febrile, schizoid mind


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Russ - I think you were sitting in a different Festival Hall to me last night. Over two hours? Well he came on stage at 8.10 & left at 9.50. I make that 1 hour 40. As for the quality of the show, I think TURGID is an appropriate expression. I saw LR at Hammersmith Odeon approx 20 years ago and he was awesome. Last night I would have got more enjoyment putting the £100 (ticket & train fare) in the Salvation Army charity box in my local pub. Mart

Mart I agree with you. Awful...poor 3rd rate sub metal treatment of his songs. VU to Lulu. For folks reference here's the set Brandenburg Gate Heroin Waiting for my man Senselessy cruel The View Mistress Dread Street Hassle Cremation Think it over Wild side Sad Song Junior Dad White Light (Sweet Jane and Beginning to see the light listed for encore but ot played)

Whaa? Turgid? best rythm section I've seen in a year, scorching guitar, a sax player I thought had actually lost his mind playing 'Heroin' - plus the classic hero of rock and roll weirdness. I don't understand your opinion nor did any of the hundreds of people around me. How very unfortunate for you...

i guess you've been home all year

Yes, Russ you must have been at a different show. What I saw in the brief time I was in the RFH was so turgid, dead and overblown that I walked out after a few songs. The ear-splitting volume and the murder of his own songs, combined with what seemed to me like contempt from Reed himself was frankly unpleasant. I had a much better evening across the river at Casa Brasil! A gig best forgotten in my view, if you managed to avoid tinnitus that is.

Thought Lulu songs sounded better than ever, amazing lyrics andn imagery. Sad Song and Street Hassle still gems. I had Mr. Clappy next to me up in the balcony who tjankfully got drowned out by the guitars (he only got really excited when WOTWS came on). If it gave people a headache then it shows that Reed is still way cooler and at heart, younger than many in the audience. Great gig. Only wished it was longer.

The sound came across as distorted which was SUCH a shame, spoilt the whole gig as could hardly hear what he was singing/saying. I'm a huge fan and this was about my tenth Lou Reed gig, I really wanted to enjoy it. Wotws had to be the best as could hear the vocals and yes gig disappointedly short. Maybe is was the venue? Lou is a legendary poet

Fantastic concert from start to finish. Loved Lou's live versions of the Lulu tracks "Brandenburg Gate", "The View", "Mistress Dread" and "Junior Dad". Amazing version of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and a scorching version of "Waiting For My Man". Also loved his live version of the beautiful "Think It Over" from the underrated solo album "Growing Up In Public". And what a great live performance of "Walk On The Wild Side". Great sound, dynamic band (Tony "Thunder" Smith on drums was astonishing). Without question, concert of 2012.

Reed has become an absurd paradoy of New Age in a way. Kind of dug Lulu but over all Reed should just fade away because his work is getting less and less interesting.

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