Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Lou Reed 30: Berlin Live

In hindsight, it didn’t take very long for Lou Reed’s Berlin album to shed its status as a grand failure to emerge as a tortured masterpiece, but its author was always defensive about it. So he was very game when his buddy Hal Willner suggested staging a series of concerts presenting the album in its entirety, with accompanying films by Julian Schnabel, as a template, if not an audition, for the Broadway musical Lou always hoped to make out of it.
The concerts in Brooklyn were filmed and released on DVD, and the soundtrack released as Berlin: Live At St. Ann’s Warehouse. The band featured his most recent rhythm section of Fernando Saunders and Tony “Thunder” Smith; an on-stage orchestra, directed by original album producer Bob Ezrin and including the ubiquitous Jane Scarpantoni on cello. provided the necessary baroque touches, but the real draw is Steve Hunter, returning on lead guitar. One might have hoped that, given the opportunity, Lou would finally restore some of those lost segments deleted from the original album, but no. Except for some extended solos, the album is presented the way it’s always been, start to finish.
A choir quietly sings the chorus of “Sad Song” as an introduction before the sound effects begin for the album’s title track. Steve Hunter provides plenty of fire during “Lady Day”, more so than the previous live version, while the choir helps with the chorus. Fernando on electric and Rob Wasserman on double do their best to channel Jack Bruce on “Men Of Good Fortune”, spurring the band to turn it up. “Caroline Says Pt. I” and “How Do You Think It Feels” proceed as expected, though Lou adds his own rhythm guitar for crunch. Similarly, “Oh Jim” gets stretched between the two sections by some underwhelming fret dueling, but is enlivened by some scatting from Sharon Jones (of the Dap-Kings).
The performances of the songs on side two are faithful, though Lou emotes more in “Caroline Says Pt. II” (and the backup singers join in to accentuate “so cold”) and “The Kids” (for which tapes of the crying kids are used rather than drag toddlers onstage to provide the audio-verité. The choir adds natural ambience to “The Bed” and leads exactly into the full-blown “Sad Song”, with more crunch from Lou’s guitar under Steve Hunter’s note-perfect reproduction of his original solos. The crowd politely waits until the last note has died away before cheering. (There is, of course, an encore: Antony provides another reading of “Candy Says”, then Lou offers “Rock Minuet” and ends with “Sweet Jane”, as bound by law, but without the Steve Hunter intro, sadly.)
Live recreations of classic albums, unless drastically reimagined, are often best appreciated in person, most listeners would be better off sticking with the original Berlin album. This new version is fronted by swaggering Lou, who was MIA in 1973, but the suite’s legacy is still respected as well as revered.

Lou Reed Berlin: Live At St. Ann’s Warehouse (2008)—3

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