Thursday, November 07, 2013

Lou Reed Live - Take No Prisoners

Recorded at the Bottom Line in NYC following the release of Street Hassle, here Lou comes on like the Lenny Bruce of r'n'r - lots of insults, dark comedy, vitriol, and commentary - far more than actual music. So, not exactly an album for the casual fan, to say the least - this is for those who want to learn more about Reed and his acerbic opinions rather than someone looking for a live "greatest hits" package.

Right off the bat, in a rambling take on "Sweet Jane", he insults Barbara Streisand, Patti Smith, Henny Youngman, the audience, and others left unnamed as he more-or-less goes through the tune, with many tangents. His band appears to be 70's studio musicians, complete with horns and female back-up singers. There are some instrumental "jams" as well, such as the intro to "I Wanna Be Black", where Lou then delves into random characterizations throughout the already politically-incorrect lyrics. None of the songs are "complete" versions - if you compare them to the studio takes - though "Satellite of Love" is somewhat closer than most of the others. It is sung in Lou's Street Hassle voice, which is a bit odd, but it's where he was at the time, I guess. The ending adds heavy power chords in place of the original catchy coda.

"Pale Blue Eyes" (as I noted before, this song reoccurs in almost every point of his career) is dominated by keyboards, but (other than his strange voice) is actually a full-fledged song. Lacking the subtleties of the original, "Berlin" is a lot harsher and less melodic (I miss the sweet dual guitar lines) but is pretty powerful. He meanders again in this take on "I'm Waiting For the Man", which is brought down to a simple, bluesy bass line that the band vamps over, but mostly is a background for Reed's monologue. I'm not overly familiar with the original song "Coney Island Baby", though I don't remember Lou rambling about sports in the studio take. Once he gets that out of his system, he actually goes through the song and it is well done and dynamic.

I think that the most successful song off of this set is "Street Hassle", maybe because the original was basically a recitation, and Lou tells a few musical tales of the street, the most chilling is the one told from the perspective of a drug dealer telling a client to get his OD'd girlfriend out of the dealer's pad. The soul sisters are highlighted here and really do have lovely voices and the beautifully noisy rave-up ending is extremely effective, as well.

"Walk on the Wild Side" is another long ramble, occasionally delving into lyrics and explaining a little about the characters before heading off into wild tangents, including introducing and endorsing Bruce Springsteen (who made a brief appearance on the SH album), among many other, wilder rants. This goes on for about 17 minutes before fading away (it doesn't seem to actually end, so apparently this was edited in the studio - I guess it got a bit much even for Lou) but the band comes thundering back for a primal, almost heavy-metal version of "Leave Me Alone" to close out the record.

As I said, don't come here looking for "serious" versions of these tunes, but for an insight into Lou's humorous and sarcastic mind in the late 70's, this is some fun stuff.