Lou Reed - vocals; Steve Hunter - guitar; Dick Wagner -guitar; Ray Colcord - organ; Peter Walsh - bass; Pentti Glan - drums
After the remarkable commercial success of Lou Reed's 1972 Transformer album, which contained his biggest hit, "Walk On The Wild Side," he then recorded the dark and depressing Berlin album. Now acknowledged as a classic, this album was initially met with extremely unfavorable reactions. Nonetheless, Reed fully embraced the moment, deteriorating into alcohol and drug addiction and with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust as a rough template, recreated 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, which was met with dismay from many of his Velvet Underground-era fanbase. To this day, Lou Reed fans remain divided over this era and Reed's artistic validity on this tour. Still, it remains amongst Reed's most celebrated and controversial tours. The soaring guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, swirling organ of Ray Colcord and thundering rhythm section of Peter Walsh and Pentti Glan, created high-voltage rock, leading many longtime fans to perceive the band as overpowering Reed. However, in retrospect, Reed and this band were a decade ahead of their time, blazing a path that many rock artists were soon to follow. The live album recorded in December of 1973, Rock & Roll Animal, remains one of the most influential guitar albums in rock history. On this tour, Reed established a sardonic, indifferent and haunted druggy ambience that greatly contrasts with the grandiose and elaborate interplay of the two guitarists, capturing the ripe decadence of the time perfectly.
This set, recorded at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, certainly captures a moment in time, when this remarkable band were hitting their stride and Reed was creating emotionally honest musical turbulence on stage. Although the revamped Velvet Underground material veers toward well-crafted stadium rock, this serves to accentuate the crisis Reed was dealing with at that time - he was now an artist too popular for the small venues and intimate audiences of The Velvet Underground-era, yet disdainful and downright hostile of performing before larger arena-rock audiences.
This recording begins with the band developing the soon-to-be classic opening jam for "Sweet Jane" that would eventually come to define the sound and creativity of this band. The ambiguousness of "How Do You Think It Feels" and "Caroline Says I," both from the Berlin album, follow in sneering style. A tough, undulating "I'm Waiting For The Man" is up next, taking this classic VU song to another level. In contrast, the "Satellite of Love" that follows is a dreamy, downright romantic ballad. This segues directly into "Walk On The Wild Side," followed by "Oh Jim," two of Reed's most fully realized character studies. "Heroin" also receives a revamping, but remains as haunting as ever. The cascading flow of music from this band engulfs the painful lyrics as Reed battles his way through the highs and lows of addiction. This is a powerful closer to the show, leaving the audience clamoring for an encore. The encore version of "Vicious" returns to the raw guitar power of the "Sweet Jane" that opened the show, bringing this performance full circle.
Regardless of how the shows on this tour were perceived at the time, something important was clearly going on here. The melding of Reed's unique brand of decadent, literate music with a big arena rock sound would eventually reach the masses in a way The Velvet Underground never could. The strange contrast between Reed's detached, blase vocals and the hard rocking professionalism of his backup band is the essence of its appeal.
Written by Alan Bershaw