Cherwell has already paid homage to Lou Reed after his recent death- Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull was at his last ever gig.
“Is that loud enough for you, arsehole?” This was an apt way for the notoriously cantankerous rock icon to open what was to become his final gig. Yet Lou was far from this image in his performance tonight. Though noticeably fragile looking in a vest (in stark contrast to the gold chain around his neck) in the somewhat stark setting of London’s Royal Festival hall, Lou didn’t fail to deliver an unforgettable performance, relatively free from his trademark moodswings.
Though his recent illness did lead to some reduction in his vocal range and set length (the show was reduced to a mere thirteen songs), his re-workings of his now-legendary Velvet Underground material sounded remarkably fresh, even next to his new offerings from 2011’s collaboration with Metallica, Lulu. Retrospectively, the omnipresent sadness that ran through the bulk of Reed’s work seems to permeate even more in this swansong gig- though the hits were ever present including the crowd pleasing “I’m Waiting for My Man”, “Walk On The Wildside” and “Heroin” to name a few. Also notable was the inclusion of the more obscure “Cremation” from 1992’s Magic and Loss, in which Lou delivered an emotive reflection on his own mortality (“When I leave this joint/ at some further point/ the same coal black sea will be waiting”). I have always been struck by Reed’s ability to create reactive, subversive songs (one need only look at his blatant references to transvestites and oral sex) that are nonetheless deeply emotional outpourings.
On this particular night, this dichotomy was epitomised in the closing track of the main set, “Junior Dad”. From Lulu, a project universally slammed by critics, this song truly goes against this superficial opinion in its deep haunting beauty. Reed’s dramatic monologue-style delivery and beautiful diction was truly tear-jerking, as he frankly reflects on the failure of a father modelled after his own, singing “Sunny, A monkey then to Monkey,/ I will teach you meanness, fear and blindness/ No social redeeming kindness/ or- no state of grace”. Some members of the seated audience seemed to miss the profundity of this song and laugh at the end of this track, but Lou’s stern expression cast out from the stage as the lights faded showed the harsh reality of his lyrics.
Though the encore comprised of the amphetamine-fuelled “White Light/ White Heat”, in which all swarmed down from the seats to the foot of the stage in an attempt to dance like back to the days of Warhol’s factory, for hard-core Reeders then “Junior Dad” was the apt close to the night. To use Lou’s own frank words to sum up the end of fifty years of performance, “Hiccup, the dream is over/ Get the coffee, turn the lights on”. It is true that the world has lost one of its most influential and greatest performers, but Lou would be the first to advocate we move on and try and to find the next rock and roll star.