It’s hard to believe it, but this Saturday, October 27 marks the 5th anniversary of Lou Reed’s death. The rock and roll icon’s influence on music and popular culture can’t be overstated, and more importantly his songs still sound just as good today as they did back when they were released throughout his career spanning over five decades. To commemorate the occasion local stalwart Greg Dear has put together a band featuring some of Perth’s finest musicians for a three-hour show celebrating the legacy of Reed’s music. Accompanying the six-piece outfit is a four-piece horn section and backing singers, so that full justice can be done to those songs that need all the trimmings. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Greg Dear to get his take on Lou Reed’s profound legacy, his most important songs and how they will bring them to life onstage this Saturday, October 27 at Badlands Bar.
Firstly, do you have a preference for the Velvet Underground Lou and the solo artist, or is that too hard a task?
That’s too difficult. Lou evolved since his days with The Velvet Underground, but in many ways stayed the same, if that makes sense. His solo career had some low points, he wasn’t always on song, but he always came back with something very strong to redeem himself.
And what do you think it is about Lou Reed that has made him such an influential artist?
There is no doubt that the uniqueness, power, and sheer creativity of The Velvet Underground is the major reason that Lou has been so influential in rock music. Lou always kept his artistic credibility – he didn’t follow fashions. Another aspect, I think, is his focus on lyrics and keeping the music simple, although some of the arrangements on his songs are anything but simple, so that the music emphasises his lyrics and the emotion, or deliberate lack of emotion in those lyrics. He has that in common with other great balladeers like Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
A lot of the songs are really built around Lou Reed’s personality and, as you say, lyrics as much as the music. Does that make it challenging to replicate them on stage or is it something that you really embrace?
In this show we are not trying to replicate Lou’s recordings – although we are striving for that to some extent with our performance of the entire Berlin album. There are some parts on some songs that really need to be done the way Lou and his band did them, but many songs are being done our way while being entirely true to the original. Sara (McPherson, New Talk) on bass and Malcolm (Clark, The Sleepy Jackson) on drums have some very difficult parts on some of the Berlin songs, and they have nailed those parts. Actually, all of the band members have tricky bits in places. Jaime (Page, Dark Universe) is nailing the guitar solos – it does help that she is a huge Dick Wagner fan (the guitarist who played on Berlin).
If someone hadn’t heard Lou Reed before and you wanted to give them a snapshot of who he was as an artist in one song what would you choose?
I’d say Coney Island Baby. It shows Lou’s introspective approach, and his blunt realism. As emotional as that song is, it never gets anywhere close to becoming sentimental. Lou’s songs can be quite brutal. As he has said in many interviews over the years, he believes that all the best topics for films, novels, or plays like love, jealousy, self-destruction, violence, jealousy, compassion, lack of care, selfishness, etc. should also be the dominant topics in rock and roll songs. Even when he wrote songs about social inequality or the environment like the songs on New York album, he never got preachy. His work is more observational than it is instructional, but still with critical and brutal observations at times.
You’ll be playing the Berlin album in full as part of this set, what was it that made you choose that album out of so many great ones?
I first had a desire to do that album in the early 80s, but couldn’t find musicians among my friends and acquaintances who could play the parts or would give it a go. Lou always intended it to be performed as an entirety, like a play, but even he didn’t get around to it until 30 years after it was released. In a show that celebrates Lou’s legacy, I think it is essential to do Berlin and to do it properly. I am so grateful to have band members who have accepted the challenge and are sharing my vision of Lou’s vision. This part of the show will be what makes the whole night so incredibly special – I don’t think we’ll ever get to do it again.
What more broadly can we look forward to on the night, what musicians have you got on board to bring Lou Reed’s songs to life onstage?
It’s a three hour show with three sets with short breaks between them. Lou’s popular songs and the ones that I assume most people will want to hear are there. There are other songs that would best be described as “album tracks” rather than hits, but I’ve selected songs with two things in mind. Firstly I wanted to cover the breadth of Lou’s career from The Velvet Underground through to his later work, and also to perform the songs that I think are his best from the various eras. I initially drew up a list of the essential songs to do, but I had to cut that list in half or we would be there all night and I would never find a band who would agree to learn that many songs.