Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rock 'n' Roll Animal - Lou Reed Live in the 70s

While it was 50 years ago that the Velvet Underground and Nico released their eponymous LP, it was 40 years ago when Lou Reed was truly unleashing the VU on the world through a series of concerts more intent on the VU than on his most recent LPs, Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart. "Sweet Jane," "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Heroin," "Sister Ray," "Lisa Says" and "White Heat/White Light" were all featured on the setlist for the year, alongside "Walk on the Wild Side," "Satellite of Love," "Berlin," "Vicious" and "How Do You Think it Feels?" Reed knew that that these were the songs that would become iconic for the era; his more recent tunes the stuff of a 35 year old too old to (write) rock 'n' roll, too young to die. Both 1976 LPs are sufficient efforts, but Reed, after the ridiculous release of Metal Machine Music, had lost his way, and it was only through the live events that his legacy was sealed. While Rock 'n' Roll Animal so brilliantly captured Reed's new interpretations of the VU, it was the touring in the late 70s that incorporated the 60s Reed with the Transformer years.

It's rare for performance to be more vital to an artist’s career than his studio LPs, but mid-70s Reed, as was his bent, turned the corporate music world on its head. The concert line up consisted of Lou Reed, vocals, guitar; Marty Fogel, sax; Michael Fonfara, keyboards; Jeffrey Ross guitar; Michael Suchorsky - drums; and Bruce Yaw, bass. This was not the RnR Animal virtuoso combo, but an equally stellar version with more grit.

Having first created a stunningly beautiful and perfectly flawed oeuvre with the Velvet Underground, in the 1970s Lou Reed had embarked on his solo career. Following a widely overlooked first album that consisted of reworked versions of unreleased Velvet Underground outtakes and leftovers, Reed had his first taste of solo success with his 1972's Transformer, produced, like most of the 70s, by David Bowie, and containing his biggest hit, "Walk On The Wild Side." The dark and depressing Berlin album followed, which although now acknowledged as a classic, was initially met with extremely unfavorable reactions and virtually crushed the career momentum that had started with Transformer.

Reed, in his iconoclastic way, fully embraced the moment, so to speak, deteriorating into alcohol and drug addiction and recreating himself as the "Rock 'n' Roll Animal," a caricature of what many perceived him to be. His self-deprecation and resentment fueled his performances during this time and the band he assembled helped to revamp his music, taking it to the level of arena rock. Rather than capitalizing on success, Part 3, Reed issued the ultimate middle finger to his record company by releasing Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback, noise, and distortion guaranteed to kill all career momentum. It worked and Reed was released from his contract with RCA, while being picked up by Arista, who would release Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart.

Reed would never re-accomplish what was created in the VU or Transformer years, instead, he would take what was iconic and transform it for posterity through live performance. Only the Grateful Dead did that more successfully.