Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio
Blender Theater at The Gramercy
New York, New York
April 23, 2009
Lou Reed's 1975 release Metal Machine Music (RCA) was a complete departure from "Sally Can't Dance," "Sweet Jane," "Heroin," "Satellite Of Love" and "Walk On The Wild Side." The album was a double LP consisting of over an hour of white noise, distorted organ and guitar feedbackan auditory assault. It would be an understatement to describe the final product as "avant-garde."
On Thursday, April 23, 2009, Reed, Sarth Calhoun and Ulrich Krieger took the stage of Manhattan's Blender Theater At The Gramercy as The Metal Machine Trio. They then proceeded to perform this much-misunderstood and dense musical soundscape. Though every ticket clearly stated "No SongsNo Vocals," many of those in attendance appeared to be unprepared for the sonic assault of the 34-year-old "symphony." Reed (on something called a Continuum Fingerboard, guitar and occasional blurted vocal stray phrases), Calhoun (on many different computerized processors) and Krieger (on tenor sax) took the audience on a crazy, up, down and around again ride that featured discordant sounds, distorted power-chords, saxophone runs and blurted noises that occasionally ventured toward and evolved into something that sounded like traditional music. Over the din, Reed blurted single lines that in actuality were lyrics from some of his most famous songs. When the trio shifted from one musical movement to another Reed would interject his "vocals""Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand" (which falsely triggered the expectations of some crowd members), "Sorry if I made you mad," "Free fly," "I'm waiting for my man," "I went to Avenue C," and "I can't get you back," were some of the more recognizable phrase-lyrics.
Though, the live concert was somewhat more accessible than the original LP due to the visual of the musicians performing the piece. Krieger was a sight to behold gyrating and shaking, hair flying in all directions a while he played his sax; Reed looking very serious, yet pleased with himself behind the Continuum Fingerboard; and Calhoun constantly adjusting computer/soundboard knobs and his laptop's keyboard as well as throwing switches on electronic equipment to make just the right high-pitched squeal. It was easier to listen to the performance live than it is on record, but it wasn't the easiest performance to "get into."
While leaving the theater some "fans" were muttering that the evening's performance was "nothing but a noisy cacophony of bleats and static." That may have been true to some. The composition can be described as brutal and mind-numbing, however, as a performance piece, an attempt to stretch the boundaries of what is widely considered modern music; the evening was a total success. Reed and his trio precisely, carefully and painstakingly performed this radical, conceptual, experimental piece with enthusiasm. The sounds created by the "band" transported the listener across many different aural plains, swirling and swinging back upon itself with a flow and ebb that had to be heard to be fully appreciated. The evening's presentation was a musical experience that was filled with tension, ying and yang and most importantly movement.