DVD: Lou Reed Berlin
Lou Reed, the Brooklyn-born inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, returned to his stomping grounds for a live staging of his 1973 album, Berlin. Over the course of five evenings, director Julian Schnabel orchestrated a melange for the senses: background film of Jim and Caroline (the characters from the album), sound effects, additional vocals, supporting instrumentals and orchestral arrangements, the Brooklyn Youth Choir and, of course, diligent narration by Lou Reed.
The first time in over 30 years, Reed’s live performance of Berlin at St. Ann’s Warehouse is a reinvention rather than a revisit of the controversial album. With a slight rasp in his voice, Reed narrates–rather than sings–the story of two drug-addicted lovers. The inflection and intonation of his lyrical delivery belies the often-macabre details concerning substantial highs and suicidal lows. Contextually, Reed’s performance combines enough verve with nonchalance to deliver a multi-faceted tale.
The music itself is a buffet of choral (though often errant) excellence, chilling arrangements, and nimble guitar solos. Many of the songs bow out with a serious shred on the electric guitar capable of inducing an aural high. Still yet, “Candy Says,” a bonus encore of simple vocals and a steady acoustic guitar, proves to be the most cohesive track; the soothing melody matches the softness of the vocals (one of which is a falsetto-esque voice reminiscent of the transvestite depicted in the lyrics).
Whether the audience of yesteryear liked the 1973 version of Berlin matters not. Instead, modern listeners should return to the tale of Jim and Caroline and reevaluate what it means to make a rock album in order to know what it takes to be a rock legend.