Lou Reed - lead vocals; Vinny Laporta - guitar, vocals; Eddie Reynolds - guitar, vocals; Bobby Resigno - bass; Scottie Clark - drums
After releasing a debut album largely made up of Velvet Underground leftovers many wondered if Lou Reed's most relevant work was behind him. However, Reed's next album Transformer which contained his biggest hit "Walk On The Wild Side" would gain the attention of a whole new legion of fans. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson during the peak of the Ziggy Stardust era Transformer would literally transform Reed's career. The Bowie/Ronson contribution to the sound of the album was unmistakable. It was the strength of Reed's literate, intelligent songwriting -- never consistently stronger -- that has made Transformer such a classic album of the 1970s.
Touring to support the album presented Reed with serious challenges; the most daunting of which was assembling his first post-Velvets band. Following the reactions to his solo debut, Reed knew that comparisons with his former band were inevitable and he wisely chose not to replicate the artistic and experimental approach of The Velvets. Instead he went in the opposite direction by hiring The Tots who were essentially a bar band of young inexperienced rock musicians. In many ways The Tots were the perfect starting point for Reed, as they brought a straightforward guitar driven accessibility to his songs and with little stage presence the focus remained clearly on Reed. The touring repertoire would largely rely on the strength of Reed's new material with several choice Velvet's songs scattered throughout the set. He toured with The Tots for much of 1972 and early 1973 and delivered many fine live performances (the oft-bootlegged 1972 set from Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead, NY being a prime example). This previously unheard soundboard tape of Reed and The Tots recorded by sound man Dinky Dawson at Ohio's Ashland College in mid-March of 1973 captures the group several months after the Ultrasonic Studios broadcast.
Outside of his home base in New York City and possibly Boston, Reed and The Velvets maintained one their strongest followings in Ohio. If one could dream up an ideal set list from this era of Reed's career this Ohio show with the Tots just might be it. Performing five choice songs from Transformer and nearly twice as many Velvet Underground numbers including "White Light White Heat," "I'm Waiting For My Man," "Sweet Jane," "Rock and Roll," "Heroin" and an encore of "Sister Ray," this performance may contain the ultimate set list of Reed's era with The Tots. If that wasn't enough to entice listeners, two later-era Velvet's numbers are included and they are "I Can't Stand It," and the Loaded track "Head Held High."
Placing such an emphasis on Velvet Underground material wasn't characteristic of this era and a close listen to the stage banter including the opening tune-up sequence seems to indicate that Reed was not working from a pre-planned set list. Seconds before they begin a band member can be heard inquiring what the opening number will be. Then they kick things off with "White Light White Heat," setting the bar high right off the bat. Without a break this energetic opener segues directly into the undulating rocker "Wagon Wheel," the first of the Transformer songs presented. Then its into another V.U. classic "I'm Waiting For My Man." Presented at a slower tempo here this takes on the feeling of a hymn, despite the subject matter of anxiously waiting to connect with a drug dealer. "Walk and Talk It" is a rock and roll rave-up previously recorded by the Velvets and featured on Reed's self-titled solo debut. "Sweet Jane" follows including the, "heavenly wine and roses" bridge edited out of the original studio version. Based on a similar riff and containing one of his most memorable lyrics Reed next leads the group through "Vicious," one of the standout Transformer songs.
Reed and The Tots go on to deliver the jolting, off-kilter rocker "I Can't Stand It," While it does not reach the raw driving energy levels of the Velvets (found on the compilation of outtakes titled VU and on Reed's self-titled debut) this remains one of Reed's finest rockers. This is also one of the more inspired Tots performances featuring some of this night's strongest guitar work from Laporta and Reynolds. In contrast, "Satellite of Love" that follows is a dreamy, downright romantic ballad conveying a rarely exposed sweet side to Reed's personality. "Satellite" is just shy of being complete due to the tape stock running out during the tail end coda section. When the recording resumes approximately a minute later, Reed and The Tots are just beginning to ease into "Heroin." Rarely less than captivating, this version is no exception but it is not without it's problems. The most obvious issue is a terribly out of tune guitar but seemingly oblivious to this technicality, Reed delivers a remarkably penetrating vocal that battles the way through the highs and lows of addiction. From here on out the set is consistently strong and the audience responds in kind as Reed delivers another pair of Transformer tracks. Beginning with the celebratory uptempo rocker "I'm So Free" and followed by "Walk On The Wild Side," his biggest hit to date, this sets the stage for an invigorating performance of "Rock And Roll" to close the set.
The audience is hungry for more and they let Reed know it by stomping and clapping for more until the band returns to the stage. The spontaneous nature of this set is revealed as the group tunes back up before the encore. Reed seems to catch the band by surprise by calling for the Loaded track "Head Held High." One of the band members can clearly be heard responding, "what about Sister Ray?" to which Reed replies, "we'll see." With that settled, Reed and The Tots launch into a manic rendition of "Head Held High" that conveys all the fun and intoxicated feel of the original. Apparently still itching to play Reed delivers a rare double encore as they begin what at first seems to be a loose blues jam, but turns out to be "Sister Ray." Slow and methodical and with such a blues-based feel, this is an unusual version of The Velvet Underground's most experimental composition. Unfortunately incomplete (a splice is audible at 1:55 and the tape stock ends prematurely), this is still an interesting performance unlike any others until the last minute where Reed exclaims "ok, boys!" at which point the band speed up to a frenzied pace just as the tape ran out.
Despite this flaw and the brief cut midway through the show this recording may be the single most comprehensive example of Reed with The Tots. After a year of working together, playing before a supportive audience and with Reed in good form vocally, this is also one of the best performances by this configuration ever captured on tape. (Bershaw)