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Artist: Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Bio

Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013) was an American rock artist originally from Brooklyn, New York, USA. Especially while a member of the The Velvet Underground in the 1960s, Reed broke new ground for the rock genre in several important dimensions, introducing more mature and intellectual themes to what was then considered a largely simplistic genre of music. In 1964 Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with the single "The Ostrich", a parody of popular dance songs of the time, which included lines such as "put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it." Reed first found prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground. The band, which lasted from 1965 until 1973 (with Reed departing in late 1970 after the Loaded sessions), gained relatively little notice during its life but is often considered the seed from which most alternative and underground traditions of rock music sprang. As the Velvet's songwriter, Reed wrote about such taboo subjects as S&M (Venus in Furs), transvestites and transsexuals (Sister Ray, and Lady Godiva's Operation), prostitution (There She Goes Again), and drug addiction (I'm Waiting for the Man, White Light/White Heat, Heroin). As a guitarist, he made innovative use of abrasive distortion, volume-driven feedback, and nonstandard tunings. Reed's flat, New York voice, stripped of superficial emotions and, like Bob Dylan's, flaunting its lack of conventional training, was no less important to the music's radical effect. One of rock's most volatile personalities, Reed made inconsistent albums that frustrated critics. The reputation he established more than forty years ago with The Velvet Underground has both haunted and elevated him to near-mythic stature. Reed began a long and varied solo career in 1972. He scored a hit that year with Walk on the Wild Side off the Bowie-produced Transformer. For more than a decade he then seemed purposely to evade mainstream commercial success. Transformer was followed by the dark and challenging Berlin, an album that shed his fan base just as he'd cultivated it. Albums such as the one-take low-ball wonder Sally Can't Dance and Metal Machine Music continued his nose-thumbing at mai
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Lou Reed: Royal Albert Hall, London bol.com, May 2000

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THE PREMIER PARAGON OF subterranean New York cool’s post-Velvet Underground career has never been anything other than unpredictable. For every Berlin there’s been a Metal Machine Music, for every ‘Street Hassle’ an ‘Egg Cream’ and for every David Bowie a Dave Stewart.

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Similarly, in the live arena, you’re never quite sure exactly what it is that the celebrated art-rock curmudgeon is going to be serving up for public delectation. Perhaps we’ll witness the unforgiving übermetal bombast of ‘73’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal tour, the consistent berating and vicious vernacular of ‘78’s Take No Prisoners or, more likely considering his advancing years, an uncomfortably dour reading of his latest work (a la Magic And Loss), where to talk during Loopy’s stern-faced performance will immediately occasion instant ejection from the auditorium.

Yet, from the off, it would appear that we’re in luck tonight. Over the years Reed has managed to serve up the occasional tour where he’s surrounded himself with a collection of musicians who spur him to heights way above and beyond his most recent recorded work. Michael Fonfara managed it on ‘79’s The Bells jaunt, and whenever Lou is accompanied on the road by virtuoso bassist Fernando Saunders you know you’re in for a treat. Well, Saunders' familiar bandanna is in the house tonight, Reed’s latest collection Ecstasy is nothing short of brooding malevolent menace-on-a-stick, and so all would appear to be on target for a cracking show.

Lou ambles onto the stage wearing his time-honoured work clothes – plain black T-shirt, black leather trousers and thunderous expression of murderous intent – and it’s quite clear from the rapturous response that nobody in the dome considers themselves to be in the least bit worthy of what they’re about to receive. Those in search of a greatest hits package show are sadly disappointed, but aficionados of pumped-up, adrenaline-fuelled, guitar-driven intensity have most definitely come to the right place. For, from the opening, grinding fretboard-psychosis of ‘Paranoia Key Of E’ Reed is fully on top of his game.

While it’s a widely accepted fact that Lou rarely cares to dignify a live show with his very best vocal performance, when his soul is truly set aflame by the fiery ensemble interplay of a complementary combo he can effortlessly unleash a compelling display of driven geniality far beyond the reach of either his forebears, contemporaries or myriad spiritual god-children. And, thank God, tonight is rapidly unfolding as one such illustrious occasion. The band is nothing short of magnificent. From the gentle bongos and bowed bass understatement of ‘Ecstasy’ through the watertight, up-tempo drive of ‘Future Farmers Of America’, to the implausible drum crescendos of the exceptionally well-named Tony ‘Thunder’ Smith on ‘Turning Time Around’, the band simply serve to accentuate the innate power of Reed’s latest, career-capping material.

Occasional gems from the man’s recent past pepper proceedings: a joyous ‘Romeo Had Juliette’, a strident ‘Dirty Boulevard’ and an extensive, jammed-up ‘Set The Twilight Reeling’ – which features the most stunning bass solo currently available to modern man from the impossibly nimble-fingered Saunders. Lou really loves to try on a riff for size before eventually deigning to sing, and so numbers are occasionally stretched to breaking point, but the electricity sparking between Reed and fellow guitarist Mike Rathke cannot fail to hold the attention. The great stone face even cracks into laughter from time to time as the band threatens to levitate, such is the explosive chemistry between them. And as the material grows ever more malevolent – as on the deliciously gruesome ‘Rock Minuet’ or the towering sonic majesty of the feedback-drenched, jugular-ripping scorches of ‘The Blue Mask’ – Lou’s uncharacteristic grin threatens to get the better of his public façade of impenetrable, inhuman frigidity.

Lou returns for two encores and dutifully unleashes the big guns: ‘Sweet Jane’ remains the ultimate slack-jawed rock riff, while the entire audience are stunned into gob-smacked silence as he chooses to close this most remarkable show with a tear-jerking emotional reading of the ubiquitous ‘Perfect Day’. By turns stunning, inspiring, menacing, incendiary, heartrending, hackle-raising and devastating, Lou Reed is 57, has no mullet, has an increasingly normal-sized neck and more rock ‘n’ roll in his least significant nasal hair than most of us will ever hear.

Lou Reed: Rock N Roll Animal Let It Rock, May 1974

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AND IT CAME TO PASS in the 1970's that rock culture began to doubt whether it existed at all, and every time that two or three people were gathered together to make music, the result was recorded and package in order to convince everyone the music was alive and well, and live albums became as common as turds from the White House.

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But from amidst the live dreck of the last year, Lou Reed has come up with a performance that really does make it...all the way. And in a different way from other outstanding live records. The Band's Rock Of Ages, the Stones' Get Yer Yas Yas Out, Van Morrison's It's Too Late To Stop Now made songs that we already knew come across as funkier than the original, more three dimensional, more forceful. 'Midnite Rambler' became a full blooded pageant of rape and carnage; the studio version of 'This Wheel's On Fire' (from Big Pink) sounded flat and unfulfilled compared to the live version. What Rock N Roll Animal does is take four Reed classics ('Sweet Jane', 'Heroin', 'White Light', Rock n Roll') and one Berliner ('Lady Day') and transform them into something more elegant, more spacey, more disembodied than the originals. The guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner weave fabulously formal tapestries of sound on which Reed is crucified by his own vision.

The album begins with a sinuous guitar intro (by Hunter) sliding and hurtling through the air and coming to earth with the opening chords of 'Sweet Jane' which are hammered out as though opening a ritual Reed's vocals are flatter, less involved than the studio recordings. On Loaded, Reed spat and mumbled and laughed his way through 'Sweet Jane', hamming it up like an actor. Here his voice sounds cooler, almost beyond the grave. On the original 'Heroin' the vocal became more strangled and less coherent, as John Cale's viola piled on the pressure like a blood clot building up in the music. The Rock N Roll Animal version is less like an urban nightmare, more like a shimmering vision. You really hear that strange sailor's soliloquy about sailing "the darkened seas", and Reed's voice repeats the words wearily while the guitars burn with a fierce elegance. Each time Reed returns to the classic punk credo "I guess...I just don't know" they explode in a gothic arpeggio of sound.

The second side is fiercer vocally, and 'Lady Day' has an almost intolerable air of venom and futility. 'Rock N Roll' itself releases the pressure again, and there's a long, tightly snapped out solo which positively refuses to take off, and is the one point where the music is in danger of getting lost. Somehow it all comes back together and by the end Reed is happily howling "Alright... alright..." while the music blazes away like his own private inferno.

When all is said and done – when all the punk rock writers have gone home to tea with their wives – Lou Reed's music remains on the outside, screaming ... in style.

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Top Albums

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Transformer

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Berlin cover art

Berlin

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New York cover art

New York

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Coney Island Baby

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Perfect Day

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Top Songs

Walk on the Wild Side cover art

Walk on the Wild Side

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Perfect Day

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Satellite of Love

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Vicious

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Andy's Chest

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Make Up

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I'm So Free cover art

I'm So Free

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