No, this entry isn’t about the ongoing bathroom renovation, but rather the Lou Reed concert in Santa Fe on September 16th. The intimate, open-air John Crosby Theater at the Santa Fe Opera is a fantastic venue. A Lou Reed show can be a life-altering experience. You better believe it man, its true!
Several years ago, I made the mistake of listening to Lou’s "Magic & Loss" album while driving to my grandmother’s funeral. What seemed like a good idea at the time, actually backfired and resulted in me finding that cd practically unplayable. Hoping to change the personal attachment I have to the album, I decided to give it another try while driving from Albuquerque to the concert. Perhaps one of the best features of the Santa Fe Opera is that you are able to get to it via NM Route 599, the Santa Fe Relief Route, so you don’t have to deal with the tourist trap of a city itself.
Arriving at the theater some 40-45 minutes prior to the gates opening afforded the opportunity to listen to the sound check. Lou’s band started the tune What’s Good (interestingly, from the aforementioned “Magic & Loss” album) at least a dozen times as technicians worked on getting the sound just right. The sound check continued after the gates opened, and after obtaining a glass of wine, we wondered around the plaza area until discovering a small area where we could stand and see the stage simply by blocking the setting sun from our eyes with our hands.
While Lou recited some poetry between sips of Diet Coke, the band continued working on the beginning of What’s Good. Just prior to the band leaving the stage, Lou spoke into the microphone “How’s that sound Frank? Not too lifeless?” Soon after that, people were allowed access to their seats in the theater. We continued walking about on the plaza and looking at people. The majority of people wore black, and plenty of it. Still there was enough turquoise to remind you that you were no longer in the real world, and enough cowboy hats to suggest that you were either in the southwest, or at an extras casting call for a remake of Midnight Cowboy.
Once it was dark outside, the house lights were dimmed and the stage lights brightened. There would be no messing around with an opening act of any type. A roar from the crowd greeted Lou as he walked onto the stage with his band mates. Lou wore faded blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a light grey Unabomber-style hooded sweatshirt. He also was sporting a necklace with a red chile pepper pendant. (Um, did I mention that we were in the ninth row? And by the way, 50 bonus points to anyone who can explain why the opera doesn’t have a row “i.”)
Mike Rathke joined Lou on guitar. An energetic Fernando Saunders played bass and Rob Wasserman was on hand to play upright bass. Encased in a Plexiglas shell not unlike to the Popemobile, drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith served as the group’s beating heart, forcing the haunting sounds created by the four guitars to course through the veins of everyone in attendance. The combination helped prepare our brains to receive Reed’s lyrics which were dispensed as if by a pharmacist who suspects the recipients are being overmedicated, but also realizes that there is a 95 percent chance that they will survive the experience.
They opened with Dorita, the ghostly instrumental that is the first track on "Magic & Loss," transitioning seamlessly into What’s Good. Both were amazing! I guess I could say that about every song, so let’s just agree that you will assume that as you continue reading.
Lou’s delivery of my favorite line from the next song, The Proposition, “you won't see my parents honored on any stamp,” alone was worth the price of admission. As the band changed instruments following the third tune, Lou took a moment to chat with the audience. He said, “People ask me, “Have you ever played in an opera house before?” … Yeah, I’ve played in lots of bars. … (pause) … It’s good, but it’s not meant for electric.” They then proceeded to crack the adobe with an earth-shattering rendition of Egg Cream.
The lighting was minimal at best. The contrast between Lou’s metallic blue guitar and the red light that bathed the band during Ecstasy was sublime. It was incredible to watch how Lou directed the band and how well they responded. Fernando Saunders performed as if Ecstasy might very well be the last song he ever played.
Of course it wasn’t. Saunders was right there as the band shifted gears and turned onto the Dirty Boulevard. Leave it to Lou to make you feel great by forcing you to realize how lucky you are to not be a subject of one of his songs. Reed is forever tinkering with his tunes until he gets them just right. In this case, he delivered this modified portion of the third verse while shaking his head.
“You can believe it man its true
Somewhere a president’s laughing till he wets his pants
But this song is from 1989
And look at us today”
Not wanting to wet my own pants, I made a dash for the restroom instead of applauding at the end of Dirty Boulevard. I actually made it to an open urinal before I heard the muffled first notes of Waiting for My Man. While I relieved myself of a bladder full of grape juice, I realized that the restroom air-freshener was pot scented. As I washed my hands I observed that there were so many black leather jackets about that one could easily mistake the gathering for a Sweat Hogs reunion. I made it back to my seat well before Lou took the audience up three flights of stairs of a Brownstone for a taste.
Next, we were subjected to Lou’s interpretation of The Raven that I suspect would manage to scare the Poe out of old Edgar Allan himself. I regret that I am unable to string the right words together to describe the pure energy that cascaded over the edge of the stage and washed through the audience during that number. It made me realize that critics of Reed’s double album that includes The Raven are missing out on some of his best work by shunning the effort. Too bad for them!
Reed switched over to a candy apple red guitar for Coney Island Baby. The decision to play that song next was genius. It begins so mellow and builds to a point where you think something on stage is going to explode. It was near the end of Coney Island Baby when Lou had his first true one-on-one jam session with Rathke. Oh man, let me tell you this… Mike Rathke was playing his nuts off. It was so insane that I saw Lou smile. I swear!
I think it was a common feeling among the audience that each member of the band truly seemed to be excited to be performing with Reed. I don’t even think they were all that concerned about the audience. During several points in the evening, Lou would sort of well… get all caught up in the moment and begin screaming into the microphone. The veins in his neck appeared to be on the verge of bursting. Rathke, Saunders and Smith would exchange looks and laugh with each other, having more fun than the Harlem Globetrotters while running up the score against the hapless Washington Generals. Although considerably less animated, Wasserman also appeared to be having a great time.
After the standing ovation that followed Coney Island Baby, Lou returned to the microphone and said, “Thank you. We have to slow down now… Maybe for a month.” After another round of applause, he added, “But we won’t. Because we came here to play for YOU.” God I love Lou! Even though he said it in that classic tone that indicates that he knows that you know he is bullshitting you, you still want to believe that it is true. The joke is on everyone.
Next they performed Guardian Angel, another tune from "The Raven." It was great, but I had been hoping they would play Riptide, which they had performed in concert in New York 4 nights before.
Dreamin’ was next. Another selection from "Magic & Loss" that Lou dedicated to his friend Rita and his other friend Doc in which he mocks death by stating, “you were no saint, but you deserved better than that.” Seeing him perform such an amazingly personal and sad song definitely made me appreciate that album again to the point that it will be returned to the rotation.
The final song of the set was the ever-rockin’ Set the Twilight Reeling. This performance would get the audience up on their feet and dancing, and prevented them from sitting back down through the double encore that included Sweet Jane and Perfect Day. After playing for over two hours, Lou seemed nearly exhausted as he waved and exited the stage. Maybe that’s the price one pays when they invade.