Lou Reed, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Friday 08 July 2011
"We love you, Lou!" shouts a crazed audience member. "You know, by now, I love you too," croaks The Velvet Underground legend, who is notoriously uncompromising when it comes to testing what fans are willing to accept as entertainment. Having endured the unlistenable electronic clamour of Metal Machine Music and the crashing downer of Berlin, none of the audience are expecting a full-blown radio-friendly hits showdown tonight.
Nonetheless, the shows gets off to an unexpectedly tame start. Reed opens with the placid psychedelic doo-wop pop of "Who Loves the Sun", followed by "Senselessly Cruel", a mid-tempo shuffle with lightweight lyrics like, "When I was a poor young boy at school/Girls like you always played me for a fool".
Proceedings get a little edgier with "Ecstasy", whose elegant Eastern feel sounds curiously contemporary. Unfortunately, it goes on for what feels like hours. But it's as if playing the track is a therapeutic exercise for Reed: after this cathartic release he appears to start enjoying himself.
Next we're treated to "Venus In Furs", the incessant droning guitars creating a perfect otherworldly ambience for the succeeding "Sunday Morning". Reed's penchant for monotone delivery perfectly suits The Velvet Underground's lush lullaby, which hypnotises a smiling, swaying audience.
More highs follow with "Femme Fatale" and "Waves of Fear", during which Reed gestures to an audience member to come to the front, encouraging hordes of fans to run like little girls, arms flailing, to fill the aisles for the rest of the evening. By the end, they're singing and dancing joyously to an unquesionably crowd-pleasing "Sweet Jane".
After a quick goodbye, the crowd plead for more, still deliriously excitable following their invite out of their seats. But what is on offer is "The Bells", an esoteric track that's physically impossible to dance to, let alone sing along to. Slow and jarring, it consists of gradually accumulating eerie crescendos with vocals that only become audible halfway through. What might have been an intriguing alternative to the opening number instead just feels tediously indulgent as a finale.
So a generous smattering of Velvet Underground classics suggests, as Reed says, that he does love us. But an unmercifully anti-social encore, now that's just senselessly cruel.
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