With the likes of the Don’t Look Back season now a permanent fixture inLondon’s gig-going calendar, it appears we’re never short of a chance to see our favourite records being dusted off and given a new lease of life in the live spectrum. (Or, for the cynics among you, a chance for people who attend two gigs a year to ponder how [insert artist name here] never did better that record.)
One long-player more than worthy of such treatment however is Lou Reed‘s Berlin, repeatedly considered to be one of contemporary music’s darkest albums and a stark contrast to its predecessor, the celebratory glam rock classic Transformer. Given the grand surroundings of the Hammersmith Apollo and the fact that people have paid the equivalent of a monthly shopping budget to be here, expectations are understandably high.
Joined by a 30-piece band, including original band member Steve Hunter, and dressed in a sleeveless top and jeans, Reed ensures all minor aspects from the record remain from the deceptively elevating opening chorus ofHappy Birthday to the chilling cries of children in The Kids (widely and wrongly rumoured to be a recording of producer Bob Ezrin’s children sobbing after he’d told them that their mother had died).
Caroline Says and Men Of Good Fortune both bellow powerfully, the latter accompanied by footage ofAmerican soldiers in conflict.
Also joining the ensemble is a 12-piece children’s choir. Draped in white gowns and swaying from side to side, they add a deeply sinister tone to proceedings. This is most evident in The Bed, undoubtedly the night’s highlight, in which the choir echo Reed’s chorus of “Oh what a feeling” – not quite what’s expected in a song about suicide.
A surprisingly uplifting Sad Song closes the set, and is greeted by an ecstatic and lengthy standing ovation which continues into the encore with a rare airing of the Velvet Underground classic Sweet Jane getting people on their feet. It’s excellent, and a stark contrast to the flat and lifeless rendition of Satellite Of Love that follows, making that awful 2004 remix of the same song seem almost forgivable.
The closing Walk On The Wild Side saves Reed’s bacon and he, who has been silent bar the singing for the majority of the evening, appears humbled and thanks each member of his band individually before wishing us good night.