Lou Reed - lead vocals; Mark "Moogy" Klingman - keyboards, backup vocals; Tom Cosgrove - lead guitar, backup vocals; Ralph Shuckett - rhythm guitar, backup vocals; "Buffalo" Bill Gelber - bass; Chocolate - drums
After releasing a debut solo album largely made up of Velvet Underground leftovers, many wondered if Lou Reed's most relevant work was behind him. However Reed's next album "Transformer," which contained his biggest hit "Walk On The Wild Side" would gain the attention of a whole new legion of fans. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson during the peak of the Ziggy Stardust era, "Transformer" would literally transform Reed's career. The Bowie/Ronson contribution to the sound of the album was unmistakable but it was the strength of Reed's literate, intelligent songwriting that has made "Transformer" such a classic album of the 1970s.
Touring to support the album presented Reed with serious challenges: the most daunting was assembling his first post-Velvets band. Following the reactions to his solo debut, Reed knew that comparisons with his former band were inevitable and he wisely chose not to replicate the artistic and experimental approach of The Velvets. Instead he went in the opposite direction, hiring The Tots, who were essentially a bar band of young inexperienced rock musicians. In many ways The Tots were the perfect starting point for Reed. They brought a straightforward guitar driven accessibility to his songs and little stage presence allowing the focus to remain on Reed. The touring repertoire would rely on the strength of Reed's new material, with several choice Velvet's songs scattered throughout the set. He toured with The Tots for much of 1972 and early 1973 and delivered many fine live performances with the oft-bootlegged 1972 set from Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead, NY being a prime example. Regardless, criticism of the band was relentless and this eventually took its toll. Despite a tour scheduled, Reed would unceremoniously fire his band.
Enter Mark "Moogy" Klingman, who with little more than a weeks notice was handed the responsibility of assembling a new band in time to fulfill the obligations of the remaining leg of Reed's tour. Klingman was a seasoned musician and producer, who at age 16 played keyboards in Jimi Hendrix's pre-Experience band, Jimmy James & The Blue Flames, along with Spirit founder Randy California. Since then Klingman had released his own albums on Capitol Records and had become a ubiquitous presence on the New York City music scene, contributing his keyboard and production skills to a long list of notable projects, including several of Todd Rundgren's most commercially successful albums. Klingman fleshed out the band by recruiting guitarist Tom Cosgrove, bassist Bill Gelber (both session players with Todd Rundgren), a wild African-American drummer named only Chocolate, and Ralph Shuckett (a monster keyboard player) to play rhythm guitar. Shuckett and Klingman would soon become key ingredients in Todd Rundgren's visionary band Utopia, but for now these musicians had only days in which to learn Reed's touring repertoire and prepare to hit the road.
Until now recordings of this leg of the tour have remained practically nonexistent. The mixing desk recording presented here, despite it's somewhat deteriorated state, finally provides the ability to clearly hear an entire Reed performance with Klingman's band on the Transformer Tour before an enthusiastic audience at Kansas City's Memorial Auditorium in May 1973.
Right from the start of the set, which begins with an uptempo reading of "Sweet Jane," knowledgeable Reed fans will notice a marked difference in the sound of this band from Reed's former band The Tots. The primary difference is the introduction of keyboard elements, courtesy of Klingman, adding a new density to the arrangements. Four Transformer tracks follow in succession, beginning with a propulsive electric piano fueled arrangement of "Wagon Wheel" that features a fully engaged vocal from Reed. An inspired pairing of "Andy's Chest" and the driving character study "Hangin' Round" follow one into the other. Particularly on the latter number which addresses resistance to change -- a concept Reed knew all too well -- Reed is also fully engaged and sings, rather than talks his way through the lyric. A rare early live performance of "Make Up" is next which Reed humorously introduces as "my Frank Sinatra number."
An interesting take on "White Light/White Heat" is served up next. This classic VU number is taken at a fast clip, with both guitarists reinforcing the chugging rhythm section. Klingman serves up a frantic electric piano solo, in addition to playing organ here, adding a whole new dimension to this song. Two more "Transformer" numbers follow with a poppy arrangement of "Satellite Of Love," complete with "ba ba ba" harmony vocals, before they deliver "Vicious." Lead guitarist Cosgrove takes a pair of crunchy solos here, but otherwise remains locked into a minimalist riff that he repeats throughout the song.
As the group ease into "Heroin," audible applause of recognition is heard from the audience. Every group added their own dimensions to this song and this band is no exception. Once again, one of the key elements is Klingman, whose organ work greatly enhances the 'rush' feeling following the verses leading into each jam sequence. Cosgrove adds tempered volume control flourishes on guitar and the quiet sequences have never sounded prettier thanks in large part to Ralph Shuckett. Although much of the preceding material sounds under-rehearsed, "Heroin" finds the band hitting their stride and features another inspired vocal from Reed, who actually thanks the audience for their enthusiastic response. Reed, who rarely spoke directly to his audiences during this era, also responds to an audience member who inquires "Will you do Sister Ray?" with an enticing "Maybe."
The "I'm So Free" that immediately follows is another fine performance with standout contributions from the the rhythm section of Gelber and Chocolate. Reed has rarely sounded so happy and he can be heard encouraging Cosgrove to cut loose as Cosgrove and Klingman trade solos. The current hit "Walk On The Wild Side" follows and although it suffers from a splice near the tail end of the first verse this is another strong performance. Reed then announces that the next song will be their last number before they launch into a strong rendition of "Rock And Roll" that features a highly engaged instrumental rave-up at the end of the tune, and a standout contribution from Bill Gelber whose bass is very prominent in the mix.
The audience demands an encore and shouts of, "play another hour!" are heard, rather than the more common exclamations of "more, more, more" or "play all night!" After tuning back up, Reed and the group reengage with the encore many were hoping for, "Sister Ray." Although not as experimental as the Velvet Underground's flights, and somewhat devoid of its druggy ambiance, this is still an intriguing performance that floats along on a slow groove as the band adds its individual stamp to this groundbreaking composition.
In retrospect, 1973 was a year of massive growth for Reed as a performer and this rather brief phase of the Transformer Tour was another critical step in his approach to live performing. Although Reed and this band never had the chance to perfectly jell, elements heard here (like Klingman's organ work and a much tighter rhythm section than The Tots) would become key elements in Reed's next band. In many ways, this collaboration is the missing link between the guitar driven sound of Reed with The Tots and the arena-rock sound he would soon cultivate with his now legendary "Rock & Roll Animal" band. (Bershaw)