LIVE from Your Speakers: Lou Reed, ANIMAL SERENADE
Lou Reed’s death in 2013 gave critics and listeners alike a reason/excuse to revisit his body of work and the opportunity to reassess what they heard. Some of the most interesting artifacts could be found on Reed’s live records – the energetic but lo-fi Velvet Underground concert documents; the ferocious back-to-back salvos of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ANIMAL and LOU REED LIVE in 1974 and ‘75, respectively; the jokey but powerful TAKE NO PRISONERS, which confused as many people as it entertained.
Perhaps the widest-ranging live album Reed made was 2004’s marvelous ANIMAL SERENADE. Recorded with a small ensemble during the tour supporting 2003’s THE RAVEN, ANIMAL SERENADE finds Reed in an expansive mood, covering just about every corner of his life’s work in a fresh, ultimately satisfying manner.
He was in a good mood that night, if his initial monologue to the crowd (called “Advice” on the record) is any indication. He starts by playing the intro to “Sweet Jane” – those four familiar chords – and the audience applauds with excitement, before he stops cold. He then proceeds to give a little lesson about the progression and how many bands get it wrong. “As with most things in life,” he explains, “it’s the little hop at the end.”
Reed extends the good vibes throughout the set, through his fine performance and the sympathetic playing of his band. One of the early highlights is “Tell It To Your Heart,” the final track from 1985’s MISTRIAL, which benefits from being freed from that record’s largely sterile production. The melody radiates warmth as he gently repeats the refrain, “Please don’t be afraid,” lulling the listener into a state of total concentration – on his voice and on the music.
Throughout, his band shines. Bassist/vocalist/utility player Fernando Saunders provides highlights aplenty, and combines with the always-haunting Anohni (then going by her given name Antony Hegarty) to make a complex but beautiful background vocal team. Mike Rathke’s guitars and guitar synthesizers provide a fine counterpoint to Reed’s playing, and the cello of Jane Scarpantoni is the constant underpinning that helps make these performances sound different and exceptional. You might find yourself a couple songs into the set before you realize the band has no drummer; it doesn’t need one.
You can’t beat the songs, either. Some of Reed’s best solo material is presented – “Dirty Blvd.,” “The Day John Kennedy Died,” “Street Hassle” in particular – as well as a number of deft runs through such Velvet Underground numbers as “Sunday Morning,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and a ten-minute “Venus in Furs.” Anohni takes lead vocal on “Candy Says,” and gives it the unearthly quality it deserves.
ANIMAL SERENADE is a sublime record, a moody but beautiful collection that stands with the best of Lou Reed’s live albums, even as its tonal and textural qualities make it stand apart from them.
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