This, by my reckoning, is Reed’s sixth live album and, like all such ventures, offers a snapshot of the artist at a particular moment in time. Well, if this how we’re supposed to regard Lou at the moment then the phrases “treading water” and “marking time”, spring instantly to mind.
It isn’t that this double CD is bad, just rather dull, especially by comparison with the earlier, raucously joyous Rock and Roll Animal (whose title this album consciously echoes). Lou has always been one of the more laconic of performers, but here he sounds, at times, positively narcoleptic.
It must be said that proceedings don’t get off to the most promising of starts, Reed lecturing the audience on why Sweet Jane has a four chord, rather than three chord intro. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had gone on to offer a rendition of this classic Velvets number but he doesn’t. Instead we get a charming, low-key version of Small Town and a beautifully arranged Tell It To Your Heart, which features a viola break achingly reminiscent of Reed’s long-estranged old sparring partner, John Cale.
This show could certainly have used some of the edginess that Cale still seems able to bring to a live performance. Reed’s vocal delivery has always been – let’s be kind – conversational rather than expressive, but too often the deadpan delivery tends to drain any emotion out of the songs. That’s certainly true for Tell It To Your Heart, where, for all the loveliness of the lyrics, it just doesn’t sound as though Lou actually means them.
Extended versions of old Velvet Underground tracks, Venus In Furs, All Tomorrow’s Parties and Heroin enliven proceedings, providing not only familiarity but also a welcome touch of menace. A suitably bleary-eyed Sunday Morning is simply gorgeous.
On the down side, How Do You Think It Feels and Revien Cherie (written by Lou’s bass player no less) test the patience and make you wonder why they were included in the live show at the expense of, say, Perfect Day, Satellite of Love, Vicious, or, indeed any track you care to mention from Transformer. Instead we get ten minutes of The Raven which may be fine as an exercise in monotony, comparable, say, to Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but if anything, lacks the musical variety of the earlier work (just joking folks).
Doubtless this will be an essential purchase for anyone who witnessed last year’s world tour. Casual buyers should, however, approach with caution or perhaps divert their funds towards the recently issued Bataclan 72 Velvet Underground live album where, in the company of Cale and Nico, Reed at least sounds as though he means it.