Lou Reed - Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse CD Review (Matador Records) ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lou Reed - Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse CD Review (Matador Records)

Lou Reed - Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse CD ReviewLester Bangs' review of the original 1973 release of Berlin was "What ["Berlin"] really reminds me of, though, is the bastard progeny of a drunken flaccid tumble between Tennessee Williams and Hubert (Last Exit from Brooklyn) Selby, Jr. It brings all of Lou’s perennial themes - emasculation, sadistic misogyny, drug erosion, twisted emotionalism of numb detachment from ‘normal’ emotions - to pinnacle. It is also very funny – there’s at least one laugh in every song - but as in ‘Transformer,’ you have to doubt if the humor’s intentional."

Time has been kind to Lou's uber-dark rock opera about Jim and Caroline and their collective decent into adultery, addiction, abuse and suicide. It is interesting to hear Lou and his band play Berlin through from start to finish as I don't believe that he played any more than half the songs from this disc during his 1973 "Berlin" tour (and these were interspersed between Transformer and Velvet Underground songs). Listening to the story unfold from start to finish gives the material the consistency that it needs.

What is missing though in this live performance is the creepy, claustrophobic ambiance and the over-the-top (Pink Floydish) production of the original studio recording. The studio recording of Berlin was mesmerizing because you came away from it with the unclean feeling that you just wallowed in someone else's filth.

This live recording has an openness and warmth that somewhat de-emphasizes the darkness and power of the songs. Guitarist Steve Hunter, who played on the original Berlin recording, returns to the fold for this live recording and his electric solos bring more of a rock vibe to the performance. Some of the other special guests include Sharon Jones, who sings with Lou on "Oh Jim" and Antony sings with Lou on "Caroline Says, pt. II". Neither of these performances make-or-break either of these songs and the delivery is, again, a bit more upbeat than the subject matter of the songs would suggest. I did though enjoy hearing the songs that include the Brooklyn Youth Chorus as they add a nice flourish.

After the band finishes all of the material from Berlin, there is a three song encore at the end of the disc that closes out the show - "Candy Says" (where Lou duets with Antony), "Rock Minuet" and "Sweet Jane".

While this disc doesn't replace the need to have Berlin, it is a worthy companion piece (and it is better than a lot of Lou's recent studio recordings).

Lou Reed's Website