At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Wednesday, November 1.
Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks
When ushers hand out earplugs, one knows it’s going to be a special performance. But as Lou Reed ambled onstage, it became clear that we were not only in for his trio’s musical onslaught, but also the deafening response that met their arrival. After opening with a barrage of wailing guitar and droning cello, a quick stomp of a pedal led into a striving, bass-laden rendition of “What’s Good” from the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’s equally ambitious film Until the End of the World. Though it might have been in reverse order, Lou Reed’s evening of Songs + Noise was well on its way.
Just as “What’s Good” saw Reed’s two companions, Rob Wasserman and Fernando Saunders, armed with bass guitars, “Who Am I? (Tripitena’s Song)” — a tune drawn from a recent musical ode to Edgar Allan Poe — had each filing away on electric cellos. As the strings moaned and basses rumbled, the musical weight of the night was considerable.
Given their recent work together on an Irish performance of Hal Willner’s Leonard Cohen tribute, it came as no surprise to see local chanteuse Julie Christensen accompany Reed in a sublime rendition of Cohen’s “Joan of Arc.” With Reed’s laconic utterance playing a foil to Christensen’s soaring cries, the song elicited a rousing response from the audience and even a “Wow, a real singer” from Reed.
Within his own material, we were afforded insight into Reed’s incredible ability to convey the essence of life’s experiences. Be it surrealism as seen through the eyes of Andy Warhol (“A Dream”) or the ruthless reality of life on the streets (“Rock Minuet”), Reed threw us wittingly into the mix. The musical experimentation might have sent the show toward more of a jam session than an orchestrated performance, but therein lay its bounty — there was beauty and hostility; it made you sway and it made you squirm. And it was all eked out through both songs and noise.