A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 28 June 2008

A Walk On The Wild Side

In Berlin, by the Wall/You were five foot ten inches tall/It was very nice/Candlelight and Dubonnet on ice Berlin LOU REED

I've got a BA in dope but a PhD in soul LOU REED

There aren't many masterpieces in the rock opera genre. Unfortunately so many stagings of rock concept albums are unmitigated disasters. The whole form - promising so much as it did with The Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia - became unbearably diluted and commercial in the so-called rock musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The more elaborate and baroque these would-be-classical rock extravaganzas are, the bigger they fail - witness Pink Floyd's The Wall or over-the-top The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis.

Therefore Lou Reed's Berlin is a welcome relief from all this overblown froth. Not that there's much of the rock opera about it. It's more of a Kurt Weill/Brechtian song cycle. But with even more depressing bits! Fantastic! I loved it. I was aware of the history - how Reed had given up on the idea of ever staging it after a critical panning in the early 1970s. How it had left everyone nonplussed after the iconic Transformer album. How artist, film director and Reed's friend Julian Schnabel (check out his recent film The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) had become obsessed with the work early on.

Schnabel created the film backdrop to the performance of Berlin we saw in Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall on Thursday - with its Chinese prints superimposing the story of drug-addicted prostitute Caroline (played by Roman Polanski's wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner). Lou Reed himself, lean and gangly in jeans and red T-shirt, delivered as coolly as ever those devastatingly deadpan, ironic, understated lyrics. The horrors he leaves out reverberate even more than what he actually says.

It's easy to forget, amid all this present-day 60s nostalgia, how Lou Reed with the Velvet Underground created a necessary antidote to the stars-in-their-eyes hippie generation (don't get me wrong, I was one of them). His stark musical vignettes of street low-life showed the flipside of flower-power idealism.

Following a standing ovation came utterly stunning encores of Satellite of Love and Rock And Roll, and an emotive new song, The Power of The Heart. A wonderful, unforgettable evening.


John Hee said...

Ah Berlin, one of my favourites. But one where I have to judge the potential listener very carefully, before introducing it to them, if they're not to slide off into the darker side of the themes.

Check the reissue our with the extra tracks.

The Solitary Walker said...

It was a great evening, John. The audience was ecstatic. Dark, yes -but also somehow uplifting.