June 29, 2012
As far as omens may go, Lou Reed's two-hour performance as the headliner of the freshly spawned Kunst!rassen 's inaugural concert was a dynamic debut for the new festival. Reed is doubtless a major international talent, but he's also drawn very mixed reactions for his eclectic format of material over the years. For organizers in Bonn, a relatively safe gamble paid off as Reed and his crew laid down a straight set of catalogue hits, with very few misses on the night.
This tour, billed From VU to Lulu
, draws equally from Reed's Velvet Underground vault and his 2011 collaboration with Metallica. A mercurial talent with multiple strengths, Reed has garnished heaps of both accolades and antagonists. Sometimes his intentions may be misinterpreted or misfire, but from tonight's assembled lineup and heavy, near-identical set lists, the tour's mission statement screamed rock and roll, and it was more than alright.
Weather forecasts of extreme thunderstorms didn't help the ticket booth. A crowd reported at 2,500 was on hand. Not much merchandise was moved, but this was a devoted demographic that already owned all the shirts and recordings. Perhaps there would have been apt symbolism if lightning struck and unharnessed electricity ricocheted across the stage, but plenty of voltage was unleashed anyway.
There was a well-rehearsed vibe to the proceedings, but that was basic professionalism, as opposed to posing. Bands often repeat the same sets night after night with contrasting results. Musicians either become locked in a positive progression or trapped in too-tight mechanics. In Bonn, the metal music machine that composed Reed's brain was set to flame-on. Just about the whole place lit up.
Reed followed the nonchalant band's understated entrance dressed in the standard regalia of a black sleeveless t-shirt and vest. He displayed solid muscle and sonic feedback tones. As he waved in response to boisterous greetings, a fraulein frolicked from the swarm to fling a flower. It didn't hit him as the song suggests, but it would signal a good, vicious night.
This was a '60s survivors' show, with the median age appearing well over 45. From the looks of many road warriors who danced at the rear of the assembly, they were still on the same long strange trip as when Kansas City was ruled by a guy named Max. There were a few kids, and some well-preserved fossils.
"Lou Reed!," one deep-voiced character near the front of stage right bellowed consistently, like a medieval Rhineland town crier between songs. There were many Warholistic bananas visible, and a couple of worthy Nicos drifting about.
The crowd was a bit too amped for Reed's whispering 12-string solo expository musings, and too many excited voices detracted from the set's subtle introductory chords. Chatter was a repetitive problem all night, ruining some subtle stanzas, but not unexpected or unforgivable in this case. Reed played off the devotees' misguided affection and literally barked, with gentle sarcasm, during pauses as the group roared into "Brandenburg Gate."
Maybe Reed's not so secretive weapons for this excursion were previous playing partners. Saxophonist Ulrich Krieger and programmer Sarth Calhoun recently accompanied Reed in his Metal Machine Trio, reinterpreting that controversial '75 hot potato, Metal Machine Music
(RCA), making them adept at the necessary noise of spontaneous combustion between choruses.
The band was properly tight, but sometimes too calculated in a jam-heavy set where songs averaged ten minutes each. Up front, Reed took many liberated solos. When he launched into short steams of chord progression delays, it got sloppy but rang true with more emotion than too-familiar group phrases that got repeated too many times.
The band was in the tough position of laying down a broad canvas background then improvising interplay off Reed's impulses. The process generally made for some good raw moments, when Reed was at his best. Facial expressions indicated both Reed and the crew were enjoying the rush. Late summer sunsets meant Reed had plenty of interactive gestures and expressions for those within eye contact range of the stage.
Reed's younger blood band of previous collaborators included the prime rhythm ranks of Grammy Award
-winning bassist/composer Rob Wasserman
and explosive drummer Tony Smith
, who has kept Reed's pulse for three decades. Smith earned his "Thunder" moniker behind deep snares that snapped or thudded necessary shots of extra life into some stalled, repeated riffs while Wasserman rolled like the nearby river Rhine.