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Lou Reed Spotlights "Ecstasy" in Seattle

Chestnuts take back seat to new material in Lou Reed performance

June 5, 2000 12:00 AM ET

Lou Reed is a rarity, an artist with more than thirty years worth of songs who is most satisfying and successful performing new material. His current show, drawing primarily from his stunning Ecstasy (while for now omitting the enervating seventeen-minute opus "Like a Possum") is loud, long and exciting. Reed live is not the career cross-section as presented by many of his contemporaries.

He opened his current tour Friday (June 6) in Seattle's Benaroya Hall, the posh home of the Seattle Symphony. This was, incidentally, the first hard rock show performed in the seven-month-old venue. No one trashed the place, so maybe Iggy Pop is next.

The spry four-piece -- Reed, bassist Fernando Saunders, guitarist Michael Rathke and drummer Tony Smith -- fit the music like leather pants as they redefined the power chord. Both Reed and Rathke toss off the occasional tasty lead fill, but their strength is in a teeth-rattling dual rhythm attack. On top of this, Saunders' bass took over the lead voicings. And as the loudness occupies the lower register, the effect is warm rather than shrill.

There was no showoff virtuosity here. The high points arrived as they played the same riffs, louder and faster. A few hours of this and you're either hypnotized or driven crazy. Either trumps ennui.

It should have been no surprise that Ecstasy dominated, as Reed announced his intention to stay away from the hits and concentrate on the latest album. Still, treats like a stripped down "Vicious" and the Andy Warhol-inspired "Small Town" complemented the new stuff. He followed "Small Town" with the acerbic "Future Farmers of America," offering a one-two punch to the gut of America's heartland. Arise, the anti-Mellencamp.

Still, people found it necessary to yell out for that Velvet Underground chestnut, "Sweet Jane." Between each selection three guitar techs would come out to deliver the next song's axe. The fans would yell their requests even louder, and the band would come back with another stellar slice of sonic madness that was not "Sweet Jane." Especially powerful: "Mad," "Set the Twilight Reeling" and "The Blue Mask." And the new "Rock Minuet" is a more prescient portrait of modern depravity than the notorious "Walk on the Wild Side." The "hit" seems flat by comparison.

Two hours after hitting the stage, Reed and Co. stopped and the lights went up. They stood in the spotlight for a few minutes, not really indicating what was next. Then Reed jerked his head -- like a signal from an ancient emperor -- and they left the stage. This happened three times. On the last, Reed indicated there was no more to come with a brusque "see you next time around." (Aside from the band introductions, these were the only words he spoke during the entire show). He is so rude to us, but that's one of the reasons we love him.

And yes, "Sweet Jane" was one of the three encores. This song is a so-called classic, and the crowd went predictably wild. But it paled in comparison to almost everything else played this night. Reed tossed it off in a perfunctory way, as a sop to old fans whose evening wouldn't be complete without an actual hit. But anyone who has listened to Ecstasy more than once would have rather heard even a short version of "Like a Possum."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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