SXSW: Lou Reed. Live. For One Song. Lou Freakin’ Reed.

Categories: SXSW

Every damn year, the people who put on SXSW play the same old game. For some reason, there always seems to be a certain amazing musician in town to give a lecture, screen a film or do something else all together that doesn’t involve them performing live. The game is finding out exactly where and when this musician will play some top secret show that nobody, not even his or her mother, has been told about.

Last year it was Pete Townsend, the year before that it was the Beastie Boys. This year, with none other than Lou Reed giving the keynote address and no scheduled performances, the game was on once again. Where and when would Mr. Velvet no-longer-Underground entertain a few lucky sods and, most importantly, me?

I figured chances were the one place he may show his mug would be – wait for it – the Lou Reed tribute show being put on at the Levi’s/Fader Fort on 4th Street. A friend of a friend of a guy, who knew this dude, said that Lou was going to show up. So with no circumstantial evidence whatsoever I bet the bank, cleared my schedule of other lesser bands and headed down to see if the cards where in my favor. Now the problem with this plan was that in attending I’d have to sit through countless bands attempting to cover Reed’s works. Some were surprisingly good while others…

Others like My Morning Jacket made a mockery out of a later solitary Velvet Underground song. John Cale would have surely executed them on sight for such treason. But guys like Yo La Tengo did things right in the afternoon sun. Unsurprisingly, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Steve Shelly both showed up together to perform a cracking take on Metal Machine Music. They’ve made a habit of covering Velvet songs over the years and seem to do it quite well. If you need additional proof, check their version of Sister Ray from their earlier years.

One of the strangest moments of the afternoon came when Moby hit the stage complete with guitar and female vocalist to give a decent and endearing take on Femme Fatale. The only thing possibly stranger than this was when Moby invited a special guest to join him on stage and my gamble had paid off.

Before anyone realized who he was, Lou Reed kicked into a simmering version of “Walk on the Wild Side.” Calm and collected, he gently worked through the song as he has a million times before at this point in his life. But of course this time Moby was there to oddly be playing rhythm guitar. It was my first time to see the man perform, and I’d worried earlier that afternoon that he might not have his chops, that his vocals might be shot at this point in his career, but no, he sounded as good as I could imagine. His voice sounded as if he hardly aged; there were people there with grey hair today who hadn’t even been born when Reed penned the song.

But like most good things, you just don’t get much of it or as much as you would like. After playing only that one song, he thanked the crowd for coming out, then pausing and staring out into the crowd for a moment and with a slight grin, he proclaimed “I love punk rock…I was the first one.” -Brett Koshkin

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