Flying high with Lou Reed in Norway (29/04-01/05-2005)

Andreas Titlestad

This is the story of an unforgettable weekend: Three days; three cities; three Lou Reed concerts. As holy a trinity as possible in my world. Add to that a meeting with the man, the company of my lovely girlfriend and the spring in its coming: Quite something.

In November last year it was announced that Lou Reed would return to Norway this spring, playing no less than three concerts (in three different cities). I had seen him play live three times before (the first time in 1998), so the possibility of a doubling of this number got so tempting that the economical concerns were overlooked (I'm a student living in Oslo). To my satisfaction my girlfriend wanted to join me, partly because Stavanger (one of the cities on the tour) is her hometown (as she would later get the opportunity to tell Lou herself).

In Bergen, Lou's concert was one of the opening acts of the Bergenfest (earlier the Ole Blues Festival) - a music festival who this year had artists as disparate as Jools Holland, Booker T and the MG's, Sleater-Kinney and De La Soul on the bill. On arriving in Bergen, I bought the local newspaper and read that a "hostile and difficult" Lou had arrived the day before, and that the audience should expect an obscure set without many highlights. We couldn't wait to see the "public enemy". Before the concert we spent some time in the city, which I hadn't visited since I was three years old and not a Lou Reed-fan. The concert took place in the Grieghall (named after the great Norwegian composer from Bergen).

My girlfriend and I were definitely among the younger part of the crowd, although we could spot some fellow "puppies" squeezed between the oldies.

The first highlight comes before a note is played; the entrance. The slow motions of Lou walking out on the stage, as straight in the back as an African woman balancing a jug of water on the head. Rock royalty arriving! The first two songs show a Lou more interested in playing guitar (which he does really good) than singing. He's evidently dependent of the monitor (showing the lyrics) in front of him. The third song; "My House" (from Lou's best album(?) The Blue Mask) signals a more devoted Lou, also lyrically (changing the lyric from "I've really got a lucky life/ My writing, my motorcycle, and my wife" to "I've really got a lucky life/ Got rid of the motorcycle, got rid of the wife"), and the following "Ecstasy" confirms this. Lou is underlining the words by making some describing movements with his arms and face. For "Guilty" Lou and Fernando changes instruments; Lou plays the bass and Fernando takes the guitar. What a funky surprise! The whole band is really rocking through this riptide of a song (slightly reminiscent of "Vicious"), and Lou even plays a bass solo! After "Mad", Lou is slowing it down a bit with "Talking Book" and "Slip Away" (during which he threatens his hand with chopping it off unless it does as he pleases), before the intro to "Charlie's girl" makes the crowd clapping hands. "Burning Embers" is another triumph. The solos of the magnificent Jane Scarpantoni (cello) and the ever-smiling Tony "Thunder" Smith is still moving around somewhere in my body, some place between the heart and the medulla. The beatifully sung "Vanishing Act" and "Why do you talk" creates the "quiet before the storm". "The Blue Mask" finds Lou gesticulating manically while singing the line "Take the blue mask down from my face and look me in the eye". He also repeats several times: "This is no play you're thinking you are in", and adds: "This is real life." After this the band leaves the stage. The return is slow-coming, but when the band arrives they're playing two encores ("Perfect Day" and "Walk on the Wild Side"). Lou must have appreciated the audience's response.

After the show my girlfriend and I went to the artist's entrance in the hope of seeing Lou and the band. A member of the crew came out and told us Lou wouldn't come out due to the cold weather, but that he'd be glad to sign any item sent in to him. I sent the cover of Coney Island Baby (chosen because of it's light colours and me just having a black pen) and my girlfriend her ticket, with the man. A few minutes later he came back with the items, and "we were happy and amazed at what we saw, blazing stood the proud and regal name" Lou Reed on them. Because we had to reach another concert (Sleater-Kinney - also a good one), we didn't stay around any longer.

The next morning we read the reviews in the local newspapers (they still found Lou hostile and difficult - obviously no "conneisseurs" of the human race) during the breakfast at the boarding house, before we left for the airport. There things were about to happen. One of the first persons we saw was Tony "Thunder" Smith arriving, and before reaching to say "That could mean…." to each other, Lou himself came walking through the door with his young female assistant. I took the cover of The Blue Mask from my bag and went over to him. My girlfriend followed me. I was really nervous, but managed to say "Excuse me Mr. Reed, would you please sign this one?" He said "Sure", took the cover and the pen and wrote his name, this time slightly more legible than on the Coney Island cover. While doing it, I thanked him for a great concert the night before, and told him we were going to see the show in Stavanger too. My girlfriend added that it's her hometown and Lou said in his typical cool voice with the almost feminine "hop" at the end: "Oh, your hometown?". He thanked us for following him so closely, shook our hands and said "Bye, bye". After leaving us, Lou and his assistant went over to the newsstand, and to see him observe the covers of the newspapers, searching for stories on himself was a priceless sight. He laughed at the picture on the front of the local newspaper, where he's making a gesture to the audience, trying to make them show some more affection.

As it happened, we ended up on the same plane as Lou, but not very close to him. Instead we witnessed at close range the struggle it is being on tour with a cello. Jane had a seat just in front of us, and she had a hard time with one of the stewardesses. After a loud discussion about how to preserve her instrument and its accessories, Jane suggested SAS (Scandinavian Airline System) stood for "Shitty Airlines"…

At the concert in Stavanger we were accompanied by the parents of my girlfriend. They're not very familiar with Lou's music, so I was hoping for the best. I hadn't need to worry. They enjoyed the concert, which was very much alike the one in Bergen, with the exception of "Guardian Angel" being played instead of "Why do you talk". In particular they were amused by Tony and Jane. After having heard both the story of what happened on the plane and her solo, my girlfriend's father suggested she was getting the frustration with the airline out of her system during the solo. Could be; it was even more insisting than the night before. The sound was a little better this night, and we had better places.

After a night and morning (with a delicious breakfast) at my girlfriend's parents' house, we headed for Oslo (this time not on the same plane as Lou). Here we were to be joined by my brother (a big fan of the Rolling Stones and the guy who introduced me to Lou, indirectly, by giving my father The Blue Mask as a birthday gift for some 12 years ago) and his girlfriend. They were lucky. We were sitting on the first row, and Lou did his best concert here, by far I'd say. Although the set list was the same as in Stavanger, apart from "Sweet Jane" as second encore instead of "Walk on the Wild Side", this was something different. While Lou in both Bergen and Stavanger needed som time to "warm up", he came on stage already on fire in Oslo. His guitar playing was even more secure than earlier, his vocal delivery more intense and his mood really, really good - even playful at times. Like when he was dancing around on stage during "Guilty" or making grimaces to his band members and the audience. Before the band left the stage the first time the audience were already up standing (a younger crowd this night…). Lou were also given a bunch of roses by a female (not very young) fan who came running up to the stage. In the break before the encores my girlfriend and I spotted the tour manager giving the man controlling the sound onstage some instructions. We said to each other: "A change is gonna come?" We were right. After "Perfect Day" the band went into the opening riff of what is probably the greatest rock 'n' roll song ever; "Sweet Jane". The lady with the flowers was by now dancing down the passage and I sat beating my hands and legs blue in happiness. It was the ending I could only have hoped for (after having read many a set list before these shows), of a weekend I could only have hoped for. It was now time to rest. "Even a stripper needs her red tasseled suit".