Lou Reed - vocals, guitar; Marty Fogel - sax; Michael Fonfara - keyboards; Jeffrey Ross - guitar; Michael Suchorsky - drums; Bruce Yaw - bass
Having first created a stunningly beautiful and perfectly flawed oeuvre with the Velvet Underground, in the 1970s Lou Reed embarked on a solo career. Following a widely overlooked first album that consisted of reworked versions of unreleased Velvet Underground outtakes and leftovers, Reed had his first taste of solo success with his 1972 Transformer album, which contained his biggest hit, "Walk On The Wild Side." The dark and depressing Berlin album followed, which although now acknowledged as a classic, was initially met with extremely unfavorable reactions and virtually crushed the career momentum that had begun building with Transformer. Nonetheless, Reed fully embraced the moment, deteriorating into alcohol and drug addiction and recreating himself as the "Rock 'n' Roll Animal," a caricature of what many perceived him to be. His self-deprecation and resentment fueled his performances during this time and the band he assembled helped to revamp his music, taking it to the level of arena rock. The 1974 albums Sally Can't Dance and a live album from the tail end of the Transformer tour followed next, becoming hits and once again elevating his profile. Rather than capitalizing on this success, Reed next issued the ultimate middle finger salute to his record company by forcing them to release Metal Machine Music, a double album of feedback, noise, and distortion guaranteed to kill all career momentum.
When Reed returned to the studio in 1975, the next result was Coney Island Baby, an album that continued his explorations of underground inner-city life, but in a significantly mellower manner, which would end Reed's relationship with RCA. With his contract expired, RCA issued what they determined to be a greatest hits compilation album that contributed rejuvenating interest in his solo career. When he returned in 1976 with Rock and Roll Heart on Arista, he again began returning to form. On this album, Reed's songwriting took on a new compassion and the result was his most approachable album since the VU days. To promote the Rock and Roll Heart album, Reed enlisted several of the session musicians and assembled the best touring band he had worked with since the 1973 tour. Featuring Marty Fogel on sax and Michael Fonfara on keyboards, as well as the versatile drumming of Michael Suchorsky, this was an interesting time to catch Lou Reed live. Reed also began to embrace the guitar again, adding his distinct, individualistic playing to the mix, which added significantly to the appeal of his live performances. No concerts on the 1977 tour were as highly anticipated as a three-night run of shows scheduled for his home turf in New York City in May of that year.
This performance from the third and final night of that New York City run, recorded at the Bottom Line, finds Reed fiercely fighting his way out of the mid-'70s, post-glam doldrums, and with his new team of certified power-punks brought along to lend a hand. With a set consisting of key tracks from his solo albums, several revamped Velvet Underground classics, in addition to early previews of "Leave Me Alone" and "Street Hassle," two songs destined for future albums, this is Reed plowing through his catalog with renewed focus and aggression. His band pounds out a heavy-browed Neanderthal quake with smooth saxophone administering just enough urban cool to soothe the layers of crunching guitars and pneumatic drums. Meanwhile, Lou's up front mumbling through dope-sick heartbreak and itchy, sweaty angst in his characteristic lazy talk-sing, but he sounds a little different this time—stronger and more emphatic, like he's barking orders on a hopeless battlefield. It's a duel to the death and these electric warriors show no mercy; this is the stuff of which his legend is made.
Figuring out Lou Reed's 1970s output may involve a lot of head scratching, but the rewards for mining the depths of his catalog are incalculable. Here is a true rock 'n' roll individual at just one of his many exciting and confusing peaks.