Carolina Theatre, Durham
April 28, 2008
By Grant Britt
Lou Reed at 7:30? The concept boggles the mind. Reed’s music is for the wee hours, set in some smoky, dangerous dive. But the early evening show at Durham’s Carolina Theater Monday night showed Reed in his guise of a hard rock thunderer who could fill an arena with his power-chorded, jammy anthems.
He looked the same as ever, a curly-haired, street-wise waif. Clad in a leather t shirt and jeans and chewing gum, Reed appeared as jaded and world-weary as his song catalogue.
But this band takes Reed out of the dreamy jangle most people associate with his big hits. With lead guitarist Steve Hunter, who’s played with Reed on and off since the ‘70s with stops along the way to play with Alice Cooper Mitch Ryder, Dr John, and Jack Bruce and drummer Tony "Thunder" Smith, Berklee associate professor of percussion who’s played on six Reed albums since '95, Reed’s show was a full-blown rock blockbuster.
Reed still can’t sing, but nobody cares. His throaty chants still sound like nobody else. Smith and Hunter make the walls rattle. Hunter plants himself in a classic rock god stance, and lets it rip, tearing off riffs Led Zep would be proud to claim, but faster, harder and more intense.
Reed seems to be doing some arranging on the fly, conducting the band with his back to the audience, cuing Smith’s percussive bombs. He wrings out a few simple shrieks on guitar on occasion, leaving the heavy work for Hunter.
The crowd hollers for the big hits, sounding like they’re booing when they’re not forthcoming, but they’re only shouts for Lou! Lou! “Sweet Jane” gets ‘em going, and Reed lets it ramble. Reed even reweaves some Edgar Allen Poe as Zeppelin with Smith providing some soulful call and response. Most of the songs seem to go on for 10 minutes or so, allowing room for only 12 songs in the nearly two hour set.
Reed has been accused of being a bit pretentious, but he proves he does have sense of humor when he asks Hunter when the last time they were in Durham. An audience member shouts back a garbled reply. “1870? Ahh. I remember it well,” Reed quips.” I had just invented the phonograph.”
For some of this crowd, Reed probably did invent their concept of a phonograph. There are plenty of conservatively dressed grey heads in the place who are reverting to their wilder past lives when Reed’s sound was blasting out from cars and boom boxes inviting them to walk on the wild side. But Reed won’t go there this evening. Despite frequent calls for his biggest hit, “Halloween Parade” is the closest he’ll get to “Wild Side” with it’s description of street life done doo-wop style in three part harmony. “Video Violence” has enough bombast to satisfy even the biggest rock freak. It’s a simple riff, but the band explores all the crevices, hammering out a groove deep enough to lose a truck in.
Reed exposes a childlike aura on “Guardian Angel: “I have a guardian angel/keep him in my head/when I’m afraid and alone/ I call him to my bed.”
The concept of Reed as a guardian angel may be alien to some, but the crowd at the Carolina believed in him, and didn’t want to let him leave. Even after the “Perfect Day” encore, the crowd stood and clapped till the house lights came on, calling for the angel to return and show them his wild side. But for tonight, the perfect day was over.