Judge Bill Gibron thinks someone should have hit the late Lou Reed with a flower a long time ago.
Oh it's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with…Lou?
There have always been "two" Lou Reeds. There's the artist who takes his muse and his music very seriously, the one who discusses each album like a "performance" and each phase of his career like an actor choosing important, defining roles. It's the Reed who bailed on the Velvet Underground, who was shocked when "Walk on the Wide Side" became a radio hit, the Reed who unleashed Metal Machine Music on a record label that demanded he fulfill his contractual obligations, and the man who used to grumble his way through wholly unnecessary (in his mind) music videos. Then there was the other Reed. Angry. Disinterested. Lazy. It's the Reed that, up until his death, barely sang any of his songs anymore. Instead, he would sing-speak his now famous words in a kind of "if you must have it, here you go" Bob Dylan, couldn't care less, bray. It was the Reed who reformed the Velvets only to let them implode again before they could record and tour again. It was also the musician who undermined his reputation with such slack show business efforts.
So it's great to see Eagle Rock addressing both sides of this bifurcated icon with its release of a double feature Blu-ray featuring the Classics Album overview of his seminal 1972 album Transformer, and a rare live concert from the 2000 Montreux festival. On the one hand, we have a 2001 version of the musician making it very clear how important that LP was to him. On the other, we have a show which stubbornly stays away from many of Reed's best known songs to highlight his then recent release Ecstasy. In fact, for those keeping track at home, half of the 16 songs on the set list are derived from that relatively decent LP. When he does toss in a "hit," they are songs like "Romeo Had Juliette," "Dirty Blvd.," and "Perfect Day." Perhaps this is why Eagle decided to pair it up with Transformer. This way, fans can sample "Vicious" and "Wild Side" while wondering why Reed has spent decades distancing himself from the music that made him the legend he is/was back then.
Let's deal with the documentary first. Like all Classic Album entries, this one offers up the typical backstory, inspiration, struggles, and successes of bringing Reed's second solo set of songs to life. David Bowie and Mick Ronson make appearances, each one touting their producer project's talent, while he is much more effusive about the former than the latter (granted, he has nothing bad to say about the Thin White Duke either). Original engineer Ken Scott shows off a few studio tricks (some proposed backwards echo on "Vicious") while studio musicians Herbie Flowers and Dave Stewart discuss their participation and contributions. By the end, we learn that Reed loved to document his everyday life in his music, that most of Transformer centers on the personalities and people he met at Andy Warhol's Factory during the Velvet's days, and that some—Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro—aren't at all flattered.
As for the concert, Reed remains an enigma. When he is tearing through the rock numbers—the opener "Paranoia Key of E," "Future Farmers of America"—he is electric. He brings a kind of slow burn swagger to even the most current material. But when he quiets down, when his terrific band provides him with a sparse, minimalist backdrop in which to sell a song, he clams up. While he's a solid performer, he's also almost completely uninterested. One can even suggest that he doesn't know the lyrics to his own songs, since he seems to be looking down and reading something off the monitors during every close-up. Even during the Transformer film, you can literally tell when he doesn't care. The familiar melody of "Perfect Day," both there and during this concert's encore, is totally MIA. In its place is a passive reading followed by ennui. It's stuff like this that's made it hard to be a Reed fan all these years.
While Lou Reed: Transformer/ Live at Montreux 2000 is indeed a Blu-ray release, neither presentation is in HD. Instead, we get a standard definition presentation which is good, if not great. The 1.78:1/1080i image is a bit fuzzy on the Classic Albums offering, while the concert is crystal clear. There are no other transfer issues-bleeding, flaring, ghosting-and the overall look is excellent. As for the sound situation, Transformer is LCPM Stereo only, which is perfectly acceptable. The concert gets the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio treatment and the mix really brings out the instruments. This is a four piece, with Reed adding mostly lead guitar, and the merging of these various elements is effortless. You also get a real live concert feel from the aural elements. As for added content, there is none with the concert. Transformer provides about 30 extra minutes of extended interviews.
As someone who followed Reed through his ups and downs, from his Berlins and Blue Masks through Songs for Drella and Lulu, this two-fer is both intriguing and extremely frustrating. Few artists have had such contempt for their canon as Lou Reed. He should be celebrated, and censured, for same.
Not guilty. As complicated as the man himself.
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