New York City, Man
Lou Reed - Victoria Williams
Chicago Theatre - Chicago, IL
June 13, 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2000, Volume 7, #7
Written by John Metzger
In his days with The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed explored the darker aspects of human nature and the seedier side of city life. He came from New York City and spoke from the streets. His world was not the Giuliani-cleansed, Disney-fied, image-conscious city of today. Instead, Reed knew a grittier, more dangerous microcosm of society — full of the despondent souls that would later populate his songs: drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, transvestites, and the like.
Over the years, Reed’s caustic attitude has remained firmly entrenched in his lyrics, and he has never strayed far from examining the human psyche from his own dark perspective. His latest release Ecstasy continues that trend as he explores the often fragile relationship between men and women. Not surprisingly, Reed’s June 13 concert at the Chicago Theatre drew heavily from his new album, and he used the new material as cornerstones upon which to build the emotional range of his set. His deadpan delivery imbued songs like Turning Time Around with disconsolate sadness. Likewise, his emphasis on certain phrases — growling "Marriage isn’t a must" during Turning Time Around and pausing for dramatic effect after singing "It’s all downhill after the first kiss" and "It’s not a life being a wife" during Modern Dance — dripped with venom and only served to magnify his expressions of dissatisfaction.
Though Reed’s focus was clearly on his new material, throughout the show he did manage to scatter a myriad of songs that drew from all stages of his career. Sweet Jane made a solid, if somewhat perfunctory, encore; Small Town benefitted from a crunchier arrangement; and Perfect Day flawlessly capped off the evening with its majestic beauty and multilayered meanings.
For his current tour, Reed not only employed his longtime guitarist Mike Rathke, but he also brought back the same rhythm section — bassist Fernando Saunders and drummer Tony "Thunder" Smith — that he utilized for his last outing Set the Twilight Reeling. The group clearly benefitted from the increased familiarity both with each other and the material, and they frequently allowed the songs to drift into open-ended, jam-filled spaces.
To conclude Tatters, Reed and Rathke squared off and locked horns, turning the somber selection into a raging inferno. Guitars clashed against each other in a angry series of tension and release outbursts. It was Reed and Saunders who paired up on Rock Minuet, with Saunders taking a bow to his electric upright bass while Reed played along with feedback-heavy guitar. The result sounded something like a chamber orchestra — albeit a demented one — as they moved from a slow waltz into a feverishly animated climax to conclude the song. Smith, too, had his say, adding worldly flourishes to Dime Store Mystery and repeatedly punctuating Rock Minuet with driving shots that slipped like the blade of a knife through the quiet air of the melody. In addition, the band came together to unleash a furious assault on The Blue Mask, turning it into an adrenaline- and testosterone-soaked anthem worthy of the Velvet Underground.
Victoria Williams opened the show with a tepid 40-minute set that was continuously on the verge of derailing. It finally did during her last song — an impromptu, train-wreck of a rendition of Moon River. One would (and should) expect more from the critically-acclaimed Williams and her husband — former Jayhawk Marc Olson. The group delivered an intriguing blend of early jazz, blues, Appalachian folk styles, and ’60s rock, and both Williams’ vocals and lyrics were, at times, reminiscent of Janis Joplin and Carole King Yet, too often, she would overembellish her singing, and she and the band would recklessly veer off in opposite directions, paying little heed to the directions in which they were heading. Further, every time they seemed to recover, each song would quickly fall apart again, making them look both unrehearsed and terribly out of synch.
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