"We wanted to make some statement from New York City — the center of the universe," said Lou Reed in a hallway press conference for Speak Up!, an anti-war benefit held last night at intimate Brooklyn theater St. Ann's Warehouse. While the sixty-five-year-old NYC icon isn't in any shape to be chaining himself to a recruiting station, he certainly can gather a who's who of the lefty art-rocker geekerati: David Byrne, Moby, Blonde Redhead, Scissor Sisters, Damien Rice, Norah Jones and co-organizers Laurie Anderson and Antony, who helped conceive the event in Anderson's living room. It was a night where every song felt like a protest anthem — even when the Scissor Sisters sang "I ain't got nothing but your seed on my face/You'll put them babies to waste." That could be about sending kids to war, right?
Reed, Anderson, Antony and Moby opened the show with a broken version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Lou's feedback never quite nailed the notes and he mangled the words a little bit ("home of the free and the home of the brave"), but it all made perfect sense. On the fifth anniversary of a war that has been pushed off the headlines in favor of an election, our national anthem was given an appropriate luster of unease and trepidation. Norah Jones performed slinky versions of her "My Dear Country" and Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today." David Byrne, armed with a four-person choir, led an art-gospel sermon full of huge choruses. Damien Rice was on hand to add harmonies (and the shittiest tambourine playing since Tracy Partridge), but Byrne's mesmerizing presence kept his pair of originals spiraling heavenward. The perennially chilly Laurie Anderson pulled out the snarky electrofunk of her recent "Only An Expert," vivisecting corporations and Oprah and weapons of mass destruction and global warming in that arch, scientific, matter-of-fact Laurie Anderson way.
After Richard Belzer (seriously, who isn't in Lou and Laurie's Rolodex?) warned about the end times, New York skronk-rock mutants Blonde Redhead delivered a dark, moody set of churning terror-sex music. The Scissor Sisters hit the stage in typically flashy duds that clashed against their acoustic guitars, closing their set with a campy-but-no-less-pointed cover of Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in Uniform." A dressed-down Moby delivered a somber, fragile version of "Slipping Away," dedicating it to a soldier who killed himself. Even more gentle-handed, Damien Rice worked the audience into a silent froth, playing "Cannonball" with just his God-given volume. When the tension was broken, he got the most riotous applause of the evening.
Reed closed the night with his unflinching "Christmas In February," an unforgiving look at homeless Vietnam vets, which was followed by a perfunctory jam with Laurie, Moby, Antony and eventually everyone else (including Belzer). After a night of sad, unnerving and conflicted song, Reed's classic belches of hideous feedback were the only moments that truly felt like a resolution instead of just more questions.