Something about smoky, sweat-drenched, standing-room-only St.
Andrew’s Hall brought out the best in Lou Reed on Saturday night.
Bassist and Detroit native Fernando Saunders had insisted they play
at the small downtown venue for what was billed as “an intimate
evening with Lou Reed.” The fans did not disappoint Lou, and he
responded with a night of terrifyingly beautiful music.
The age- and gender-diverse crowd endured nearly two hours of
waiting inside St. Andrew’s, staring at a lame cello and wondering
where the drum kit could be. Lou finally swaggered onstage around 9
pm, looking tired and shy, and broke the ice with the shuffling
intro of “Sweet Jane” and a lecture on how to make a career out of
three chords – the secret, he said, is in the “hop.”
With that, the crowd was in his hands. They cheered at every
song, every solo, every smart aside and every wink. When he wanted
it quiet for “Vanishing Act,” he motioned “cut” across his neck,
and the drunks calmed down. When fans got excited over “Dirty
Blvd.,” he stopped in mid-song and urged them with a beckoning
hand, drawing louder cheers from everyone. A high point of the
night came when a man from the balcony shouted, “Lou Reed, you’re
the rock and roll animal,” and Lou paused before giving something
between a curtsy and a bow, looking dignified but playful like a
smiling Zen Master. The crowd erupted in approval. Lou is a genius
of the gesture and a masterful orchestrator of those in front of
him and at his side.
All of the band members had their moments. The jolly piano sound
of Mike Rathke’s Z-Guitar drew laughs during “Small Town.” Fernando
broke the land speed record for bass solos on “The Last Shot” as
Lou shook his head in comic bewilderment. And Anthony, a cherubic
singer whose pained expressions and wrist-wrenching tremors
recalled something of Joe Cocker, sang pure notes in a woman’s
range. The crowd cheered each time he held the high note in “Candy
Says.” The most enthralling moment of the night came when Jane
Scarpantoni turned her cello into a searing, screeching beast for
two minutes in “Venus in Furs.” Lou’s own distorted guitar solos
came close to the same intensity.
In their unbounded performances, the players conveyed a
relationship to sound that went beyond mastery or virtuosity, to
the point where they swam and bathed in it, and occasionally came
up gasping, telling us what they saw in the deep end.
The sprawling song “Set the Twilight Reeling” inspired both
quiet reflection and internal frenzy as it grew into a pounding
crescendo to end the set. Fernando’s chugging bass, Lou’s strident,
sparkling Telecaster, and a seldom-seen synth kick-drum conspired
on such occasions to make everyone forget the sweat on their backs
and the chatter of girls asking their boyfriends to explain
Coming on the back of Lou’s ambitious album The Raven, Saturday
night held some unusual performances. World famous Tai Chi master
Ren Guangyi demonstrated poses during an atmospheric instrumental
from “The Raven” and the encore number “Perfect Day.” Lou also read
his new version of Poe’s “The Raven,” inserting personal
inflections that Willem Dafoe could not accomplish on the album.
When the music was not overpowering, the intimate St. Andrew’s Hall
was a perfect venue for the spoken word, and the crowd hung on each
and every one.