REVIEW

 

LOU REED
St Ann's Warehouse 2006 [no label 2CD torrent 128534]
Live in Brooklyn, New York, Dec 16, 2006. Full rendition of Berlin. VG+ to Ex- AUD stereo

Lou Reed is no stranger to recreating entire albums onstage; has, in fact, grown quite adept at it in the decade-plus since he first tried it out with New York. Even that triumph, however, was simply a warmed-up reminder of what should have been his greatest triumph. Back in 1973, with his third solo album, Berlin, on the edge of release, Reed talked about performing that set in its entirety, and then abandoned the idea when the reviews rolled in.

Berlin was not simply dismissed. It was destroyed. "There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them," announced Rolling Stone, and the critical establishment lined up to agree. An album that, today, we blithely accept as Reed's second post-Velvets masterpiece (Transformer, of course, was the first), was for many years the pariah in the pack, with only Metal Machine capable of arousing deeper loathing.

He's already rehabilitated Metal Machine, of course, in 2002 with Zeitkratzer. And now Berlin is reborn, with a clutch of shows in Brooklyn and Sydney on either side of New Year 2007… and it is a triumph. With musical direction by the original album's producer, Bob Ezrin, a stage set designed by artist Julian Schnabel, and a band that includes another veteran of those long ago sessions, guitarist Steve Hunter, a magnificent album becomes a towering construct, faithful to the original but building upon it, too. 

A snatch of the closing "Sad Song" is the opening overture, and the bridge between the vinyl's two sides is plugged by the short piano coda that was unique to the 8-Track version of the original album. Choir and orchestra add more to the music than you could ever hope, while Reed and Hunter spar with exquisite, and energetic delicacy. In fact, the only downside to the entire performance is (one hates to say it), Reed's vocals. The beauty of the studio Berlin is that you could forget it was a Lou Reed record, and lose yourself in the drama itself. Live, he's less willing to let you do that.

No matter. This is a fabulous performance, as great as it should be and better than you could ever have dreamed it would be. And if, as the grapevine has suggested, Reed's next DVD release is to be drawn from these shows, don't let it pass you by. - Dave Thompson

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March 23, 2007