Lou Reed has for a long time been a fully-fledged member of that exclusive club for, shall we say, elder statesmen of rock, whose genius is preserved through their ability to adapt, evolve and produce music that is consistently original (other members include Neil Young, Bob Dylan and even Robert Wyatt).
Recorded in 2004 at the Benicassim Festival in Spain, Spanish Fly is a superb example of Reed's powers. Looking fabulous clad in black and surrounded by his band, including the very talented Fernando Saunders on bass, Reed gives us The Velvet Underground's classics along with numbers from the whole spectrum of his solo career, right up to 2000's Ecstacy.
The first track, Modern Dance, is soulful, mournful and hilarious, but its not until Venus In Furs that proceedings become really engrossing. In what is a spooky track anyway, Lou's cellist, one Jane Scarpantoni, discards any classical training she may have had and tortures her instrument with a brutality that would make Jack Bauer wince.
Scraping, raking and bashing the strings, she creates a squeal that provides this concert (along with Ecstacy, later on) with that characteristically-Reed undercurrent of depravity that the great Lester Bangs identified back in the seventies. Then there is the voice, that persistent, mocking drawl that creeps into the listener's brain and settles itself down to some dark deeds in there.
Romeo Had Juliet gives us the liveliest ten minutes of the night, and the greatness of Satellite Of Love endures, if this time slightly lacking an appropriately cacophonous ending. He ends the set with Perfect Day and Walk On The Wild Side, both to the loud approval of an adoring Spanish crowd.
This concert brings to light two more major points about Lou Reed and his contemporaries. In recent years we have had DVD packages from people like, for example, Paul McCartney and Crosby, Stills & Nash, but I'm not picking on them exclusively. These have been indulgent, repetitive and overall bloody awful. These artists play their old material but do not rejuvenate it. They plod their way through it as close to the old recordings as possible in every performance (McCartney) or add a twenty-minute guitar solo in the middle to excuse them from having to create true spontaneity and soulfulness (CSN).
On Spanish Fly, Lou Reed is playing and living for every moment, feeling each track as if he were playing it for the first time, feeding off his gifted band and always probing for new directions with his guitar - a guitar which can still produce searing, jagged noises, in Reed's own ramshackle way.
Secondly, the poetry and articulacy of the man is striking here. His literacy stands out just as much as the music - the combination of the two mark him out as a most genuine and gifted artist. Now, this William Burroughs-esque intellectual element in harmony with his knack for groove starkly shows up what the Coldplays, Keanes and other whiney acts of this world lack. Such as they should be sat down in front of this and taught what true emotive and expressive rock music sounds and looks like.
So very, very cool.