Lou Reed live in Antwerp May 25th 2003 Sunday May 25th saw me visiting the great city Antwerp in Belgium as part of a weekend trip. It was also the day that my long time hero Lou Reed would give a concertperformance in the Koningin Elisabethzaal. It had been three years since I last seen Reed during his Ecstasy Tour in my homecountry Holland. I visited three of the four concerts he gave back then and two of those still belong as the best performances I've seen and heard from him. This year Reed released the highly ambitious Edgar Ellen Poe inspired double disc The Raven. Only three months after this release a double disc compilation NYC Man spanning Reeds career from The Velvet Underground till The Raven saw the light. To coincide with these albums Reed once more in his 35 year-plus career hit the road beginning with a may tour in Europe which saw him stopping in Antwerp this sunday.
As a long time fan I had the wish to wait for his arrival at the concert venue. A couple of fans were also waiting at the artist entrance with cdbooklets, recordsleeves, pictures, all to get an autograph and maybe a handshake from the 61-year old legend. It was at I think around 17.00 when Reed and his entourage arrived in a small black bus. There he was in blue jeans, New Balance sportshoes, a sportsweater and thereover a halflong blackleather coat. He looked a bit tired to me and he didn't say that much but he took the time to give some autographes. He pointed out that he didn't want to be pictured on camera. There was one fan who had a picture with him and Lou on it signed and Lou instructed singer Antony "to find out the story about this photo". Lou signed my booklet from the Raven and a large close up photo I made myself back in 1997 at the Crossing Borderfestival in my living place The Hague where he did a reading. Reed finally walked in with his bandmates and entourage where he would go doing the soundcheck.
At 19.00 the publicdoors opened and what I always do first is looking for the merchandise. Not that I buy it that much anymore but I still like looking how commerce is affecting the artists. Well this time we are offered two sorts of t-shirts, one with the sillhouette of a recent photograph with tourdates on the back and my personal favourite, the shirt with the Transformer cover on the front. Furthermore there is a Lou Reed cap, a Lou Reed keychain and a Lou Reed coffeemug. How about that last one! Well, I'm sipping from my beer and I'm really looking forward to the concert which starts at 20.00 so at around 19.30 I start walking to my seat which is way upstairs in the venue.
This is the first time I have a "really far away"seat at a Lou Reed concert. A pity on one hand because I don't see the artist that big but on the other hand I have a total picture of the room we're in and I see exactly how the stage is set up. And then again, I have seen Reed numerous times so being here is already great. One things that getst my attention immediately: there are no drums but something that looks like a drumcomputer. Around 20.15 it's showtime. The musicians walk on stage: Fernando Saunders (bass, vocals), Mike Rathke (guitar and midi instruments), Jane Scarpentoni (cello), Antony (vocals) and there's Lou Reed in his black leather pants and black shirt. Cool and easy greeting the audience, he graps a silver Telecaster guitar and starts the unmistakable chords of Sweet Jane. Sweetfully played and with no drums Lou talks/sings his way through the classic song and he is even talking to the audience about the simplicity of the songs structure. In this song the bandmembers are introduced. A very nice opening this is. Lou is very relaxed. What als strucks me rightaway is the beautiful acoutics in this place. Nextup, Smalltown get's a very nice rendition with some extra touches of Jane and Mike Rathke that makes it fuller than the studio version. And than surprise number one is Tell It To Your Heart from the 1986 album Mistrial. It's beautifully played with very nice background vocals of Antony and Fernando and even a verse is fully sung by Fernando. But then comes the real thrill: Men Of Good Fortune and How Do You Think It feels from the brilliant album Berlin. Rarely played by Lou but still one of his best works if not his best. These renditions sound much more basic compared to the more full bodied originals but it fit's in the Reedstyle of nowadays and although I'd rather prefer the originals this is really good to listen to and I would like to thank Lou and the band for playing these great songs. Vanishing Act is as beautiful as on his Raven album and is so intense and intimate that it gives shivers! Ecstasy is as good as on the record and got some extra guitar touches by Lou himself. Great! The Day John Kennedy Died from The Blue Mask is a dull song but maybe I have to listen to it more. One of Lou Reeds darker songs Street Hassle that hasn't been played much during his recent tours is awesome. I would probably even go that far that it's even better than the original. Another song from Berlin, The Bed, and this year also inlcluded on The Raven album in a new rendition is very nicely played. What follows is something that I think doesn't fit in the show: a song from Fernando Saunders for which he get's all space from Lou. A sweet soulballad titled Reviens Cherie is beautifully sung but is almost a tearjerker and doesn't fit in here. Very nice and sweet but please, not tonight. No, then the killing version of Venus in Furs. Last played in 1993 during the Velvet Underground reunion and now in a thrilling version with blistering cellowork of Jane Scarpentoni. I wonder how John Cale likes this version! Dirty Blvd is well played as always and is received like it once was a hit. Two more Velvet Undergound songs follow which in my memory I have never heard live: Sunday Morning and All Tommorrow Parties. The first sounds surprisingly authentic to the original is sung inspired by Lou. The version of All Tomorrow's Parties doesn't thrill me and is a misattempt rearraging this song. During this song Master Ran, the Tai Chi teacher/mentor of Lou, is walking on stage to make some probably sophisticated moves but do we really need that? I still don't understand what his presence should bring for effect. With all respect for Master Ran and Lou Reed. A weak moment in the show. Next is Call on Me from the Raven. Than more than 10 minutes of reading the peace The Raven with slices of sounds backing him. A great Set The Twilight Reeling with blistering basswork from Fernando and great singing of Antony closes the show....almost. After a standing ovation the band comes back and Antony takes over and sings a beautiful Candy Says from the 3rd Velvet Undergound album. Rock Minuet is nothing different from the studio version, good but pretty boring as part of encores. The classic and well played Perfect Day closes two and half hours of Lou Reed. I'd rather would have liked to heard a faster song in the encore as Rock and Roll but hey, let's not complain. We have heard some great history coming by this evening with Lou Reed in good form and having fun playing and what a great band he has! Thank you Fernando (one of the best bassplayers around), Mike Rathke (always great hearing you play), Jane (please come back again, you're a true joy to listen too) and Antony (can you sing some more next time?). Apart from some minors, the appearance of Master Ran (a master you are I believe and it would be really nice to chat with you sometime but what the hell were you doing there on stage?), the weak version All Tomorrow's Parties and that solo song of Fernando a truly great and enjoyable show with lots of surprises from Reeds rich work.