Lou Reed, De Montfort Hall, Leicester

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The Independent Culture

The eternal New Yorker Lou Reed has no new product to push, but he's nevertheless undergoing a vigorous European tour, sticking with the long-running band who recorded last year's Animal Serenade live set.

The eternal New Yorker Lou Reed has no new product to push, but he's nevertheless undergoing a vigorous European tour, sticking with the long-running band who recorded last year's Animal Serenade live set.

That release marked the end of Reed's lengthy association with Warner Brothers. He's now in the middle of recording a new album for Sanctuary, the label on which all veteran rock stars seem destined to settle.

The addition of Jane Scarpantoni's sombre cello takes the music in a new direction, creating unfamiliar spaces in Reed's established repertoire, as well as being more equipped to reproduce the layered sound of The Raven, 2003's ambitious study of Edgar Allan Poe's life and work.

After a tentative introduction, Reed gathered his forces by the third and fourth number. Catching hold of the hook that runs through "Ecstasy", he spat out its harsh couplets and started to surge up his guitar levels. Reed's signature style is a meld of primitive daubing and sensitive arpeggios, delivered with a monstrous amplifier bleed.

"Guilty" followed quickly, representing the still-strong presence of The Raven in Lou's set list. It's a newly hatched classic, bejewelled with another brutal guitar solo. Reed doesn't believe in dainty entrances or slow builds; he just reared up and headed straight for the guts.

Even if the set's general structure was well defined, Reed was still committed to leaving openings for improvisation, constantly handing out signals to his bandmates, letting them run when he heard a strong sound, wagging a finger to quieten them, and turning the end of each song into a stuttering explosion.

Fernando Saunders (bass) and Tony Smith (drums) have highly strung soulful vocals to blend with Reed's low, conversational ramble. Saunders played with a distinctive fretless wobble that also had a strong vocal quality. Scarpantoni made her most striking statement in "The Tell-Tale Heart", her cello amplified with a harsh, granular sound.

"Change" was invested with a bleak, deathly obsession, but Reed was revealing more than the usual traces of deadpan humour. He seemed relaxed and in good spirits, willing to take his songs on a looser walk.

Reed doesn't perform "The Blue Mask" very often. It's the title track of an often underrated album, but its seedy guitar extremity was initially avoided in favour of a subtle treatment that made the lyrics more discernible. This was the final number, and the band didn't look entirely comfortable when the guitars started to scream. The structure didn't quite interlock, but it was still invigorating to hear the song again.

After a punchy first half, he entered a quieter, exploratory zone, but struggled to regain intensity. Still, it's significant that so many Raven songs have entered his list of classics.

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