Call Lou Reed’s new live album anything but Rock n Roll Animal II. That classic 1974 concert recording captured the debauched essence of Lou Reed in all his fucked-up rock-star glory. A better title for the markedly more refined Perfect Night: Live in London might be PBS Animal, or perhaps even Rock n Roll Adult, particularly since this mature sonic blast of a record has been released as a companion piece to Rock and Roll Heart, a PBS documentary about Reed. By any name, however, it’s a serious pleasure to hear Reed all grown up and sorta happy at last.
Recorded live during last summer’s Meltdown Festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall — an event organized by noted performance artist (and Reed’s main squeeze) Laurie Anderson — Perfect Night isn’t exactly unplugged; rather, it’s an amplified acoustic affair with moments of real musical electricity. As anyone who’s read Reed interviews in recent years knows, the one-time Velvet Underground leader has turned into a total techie and aural obsessive, and with the crystal-clear sound of Perfect Night, such concern pays off.
Ultimately, though, what makes Perfect Night a night to remember are Reed’s delicate but vital performances from a set list that ranges from the Velvet’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to tracks from 1996’s Set the Twilight Reeling. Reed doesn’t trot out the greatest near-hits again, but instead goes deep into his songbook for material ripe for a little stripped-down rediscovery, breathing new life into Berlin‘s “The Kids,” Transformer‘s “Vicious” and New York‘s “Busload of Faith,” among others. Not everything is perfect — you’d be hard pressed to find a song in his oeuvre less worthy than “Sex With Your Parents (Motherfucker),” an alreadymoldy, political novelty number. Still, take this walk on Reed’s relatively mild side and you’ll discover that the guy’s still pretty wild in his own decidedly nonanimalistic way.