As on all the copious reed live albums?and there aren’t many “musicians” you can say this of?it’s the talking bits which stand out. This double begins by Reed teasing us with an unconsummated “Sweet Jane” riff. “So,” he drawls, “I thought I’d explain to you how to make a career out of three chords. You younger bands, pay attention.” He then does the pattern on his beloved guitar. “You thought it was three? It’s really four!” And, lo and behold, he’s not wrong. “As with most things in life,” he smirks, “It’s that little hop at the end…”
And there is still a skip in his step, even at this late stage in one of the most fascinating careers in rock’n’roll. This fan preferred the earlier sex albums, where the music actually does stuff, to the later library albums, but even in his guise of earnest bespectacled academic, Reed’s capable of hilarious entertainment. This set leans heavily on recent albums?let’s face it, there isn’t much left from Transformer or the Velvets that he hasn’t already recycled?but, blessedly, turns up genuine surprises. Like a sincere-as-you-like “The Day John Kennedy Died” (not that the youthful Reed ever, like, voted for him) and a sweet “Tell It To Your Heart” from the dismal Mistrial album.
“Every fucking note you hear is us, right in front of you,” he rants. “You get it? We’re live.” His evangelism for the authentic (how un-Warhol is that?) means it’s a straightforward band, playing the songs in a close-to-unplugged manner, any flourishes coming from falsetto vocalist Marcanthony and some fleshy cellos. On the plus side, we can’t hear the T’ai Chi bloke who made the last tour so funny for all the wrong reasons.
When Reed’s not cracking wise, the set’s po-faced, all pretty arpeggios and tasteful plucking, demanding grown-up reverence. Tracks from The Raven and Songs For Drella are a yawn. Two stand-outs from the mighty Berlin are de-fanged. But, as ever with Reed, when it’s good, it’s blistering. “The Bed”, “Venus In Furs”, “Dirty Blvd” and “Candy Says” all mesmerise. On “Street Hassle” (which was always a classic of sparseness, and so sounds as chilling as ever here), he declares, “I wanted to write a song that mixed up Burroughs, Algren, Tennessee Williams, Chandler…” Ah, no grand claims for it then, Mr Modesty? But, of course, we love the fact that this narcissistic sometime genius (and sometime fool) worships the twin poles of high poetry and simple three-chord (sorry, four-chord) trash. That’s the way it should be. It’s certainly the way it is here. Animal, no, but magic in spells.