Lou Reed, in different times

So last night Lisa and I went to see Lou Reed at the Moore Theatre. Amazing theater, almost 100 years old and (except for some peeling paint, and chairs that remind me of middle school) a perfect performance space.

Lou came out about 7:50 leading his band: Mike Rathke on second guitar, the amazing Fernando Saunders on bass, synth drums, and vocals, Jane Scarpantoni on cello (!), and Anthony on backing and lead vocals. (Much has been made, at least in Lou’s web stuff, about Anthony, Lou’s countertenor discovery, and I have to admit that for much of the show I wasn’t impressed. Of course, that could have been because he was blocked by the tower speaker on our side, and I couldn’t see him.

The opening of the show: Lou played three chords: E A G. The crowd went nuts. He paused, then repeated the progression, then stopped. “You know how hard it is to keep playing the same three chords all these years? Well, the secret is it’s actually four chords…” and he played it again: E A G Bm A. Then he launched into “Sweet Jane.” He had to stop again in a second though, and said, “Could you please not take flash pictures? Now I can’t see.” A few more chords and—“Look, I’m not kidding. I tried the nice way, don’t make me try the hard way. If I can’t see, I can’t read the Teleprompter!” Fortunately there were no further interruptions.

After that a brilliant turn on “Small Town,” reimagined as a sort of driving funk tune during which Mike Rathke played a synthed up guitar that sounded like a piano, and which Lou stopped towards the end to ask, “So out of curiosity: Seattle? Small town?” Some cheers. “Big town?” More cheers. “I dunno…” (making an equivocal shrug before playing the final notes). Then “Tell It To Your Heart,” with Antony and Fernando taking vocal duties on some of the verses. I don’t remember the rest of the set list order, but he played “Dirty Blvd,” “How Do You Think It Feels?,” “Vanishing Act,” “The Day John Kennedy Died,” “Ecstasy,” “Call on Me,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and “Venus in Furs,” featuring an extended cello solo from Scarpantoni during which it sounded, particularly in some overtone passages, as though she was chasing away John Cale’s viola with a handful of rocks.

“All Tomorrow’s Parties” and the set’s penultimate number, “The Raven,” were punctuated by Lou’s tai chi master, Master Ren, performing exercises in the corner of the stage in a shiny red gi, which was a bit distracting. Lou’s take on “The Raven” was pretty straight except for a few four letter words, nothing like what I reported some fans imagined during his last Seattle performance.

And I skipped a tune: “Street Hassle,” which with both Scarpartoni and Fernando playing bowed lines, moved along like a brand new song rather than the dusty 25-year-old junkie street poem that it was. The last part, during which a young Bruce Springsteen mumbles something in a fake Southern accent on the record, was redone with traded shouts of “sha la la la la” over a rising extended vamp.

And who would have figured two songs from Berlin? “Men of Good Fortune” early in the set, “The Bed” later, which was bloodchillingly stark.

Missteps were few: I thought Fernando’s song “Reviens Chérie” was okay but out of place, and some of Antony’s vocal turns were forced.

And then “Set the Twilight Reeling,” which comes across on record as a quiet apologia for being an aging rock and roller that tries to become a loud roar, but here struggled to get out of gear, especially during Antony’s verses. (It’s difficult to hear a countertenor warble the line “As the drums beats he finds himself growing hard” without giggling.) But the crescendo at the end, egged on by Jane’s cello, driven higher by both guitars playing like they were possessed, was the key—I suddenly understood everything. Now I’ve forgotten it, of course, but for a second the whole year made sense.

We had to go at this point, the end of the set, since Lisa had a 5 am call this morning. Which means I probably missed the only chance I’ll ever have to see Lou play “Heroin” live. But since I’m grateful Lisa went at all, I can’t complain too much.