Lou Reed - vocals, guitar; Steve Hunter - guitar; Dick Wagner -guitar; Ray Colcord - organ; Prakash John - bass; Pentti Glan - drums
After releasing a debut solo 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, but it was the strength of Reed's literate, intelligent songwriting, which was 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, 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, with the much-bootlegged 1972 set from Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead, NY being a prime example. Still, criticism of the band was relentless and this eventually took its toll. Despite impending tour dates scheduled, Reed unceremoniously fired his band. Enter Mark "Moogy" Klingman, who with little more than a week's notice was handed the responsibility of assembling a new band in time to fulfill the obligations of the remaining leg of Reed's North American tour. However, it would be Reed's third band configuration from that same year, now known as the Rock & Roll Animal band, that would change the course of his career.
After the remarkable commercial success of his 1972 Transformer album, which contained his biggest hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," Reed then recorded the dark and depressing Berlin album, which although now acknowledged as a classic, was initially met with extremely unfavorable reactions. Nonetheless, Reed fully embraced the moment, deteriorating into alcohol and drug addiction and with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust as a rough template, recreated himself as the "Rock 'n' Roll Animal," a caricature of what many perceived him to be. His self-deprecation and resentment fueled his performances during this time and the band he assembled helped to revamp his music, taking it to the level of arena rock, which was met with dismay from many of his Velvet Underground-era fan base. To this day, Lou Reed fans remain divided over this era and Reed's artistic validity on this tour. Still, it remains amongst Reed's most celebrated and controversial tours. The soaring guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, swirling organ of Ray Colcord and thundering rhythm section of bassist Peter Walsh (replaced on the American leg by Prakash John) an drummer Pentti Glan, created high-voltage rock, leading many longtime fans to perceive the band as overpowering Reed. In retrospect though, Reed and this band were a decade ahead of their time, blazing a path that many rock artists were soon to follow. The live album from this tour, Rock & Roll Animal, remains one of the most influential guitar albums in rock history. On this tour, Reed established a sardonic, indifferent and haunted, druggy ambience that greatly contrasts with the grandiose, and elaborate interplay of the two guitarists, capturing the ripe decadence of the time perfectly.
This set, recorded at Loew's Palace Concert Theater in Providence a week prior to the classic live album recording, captures this moment in time when Reed was creating emotionally honest musical turbulence on stage.
This recording begins with the band developing the soon-to-be classic opening jam for "Sweet Jane" that would eventually come to define the sound and creativity of this band. However here it is utilized as a prelude to "Vicious" instead. This opening jam clearly points the way toward the sound Reed fans would soon experience on his live Rock & Roll Animal album. The ambiguous "How Do You Think It Feels," "Caroline Says 1" and "Lady Day," all from the Berlin album follow in sneering style. Despite the first and third of these being incomplete, it is tantalizing to hear these musicians beginning to tackle the Berlin material. A tough, undulating "I'm Waiting For The Man" is up next, with this propulsive rhythm section taking this classic Velvets song to another level.
Following some tuning, the group eases into "Heroin," and audible applause of recognition is heard from the audience. Every group added their own dimensions to this song and this band is no exception. One of the key elements is Ray Colcord, whose organ work greatly enhances the rush feeling following the verses leading into each jam sequence. Although all of the preceding material is engaging, "Heroin" finds the band fully hitting their stride and features an inspired vocal from Reed. The cascading flow of music from this band engulfs the lyrics as Reed battles his way through the highs and lows of addiction.
From here on out, most of the songs segue directly from one to the other. Upon the conclusion of the last frenzied rush in "Heroin," where the group is fully cooking away, an incredibly abrupt transition occurs, where they suddenly ease into the opening bars of "Sweet Jane." Both "Sweet Jane" and the "Satellite of Love" that follows, are incomplete, but the latter song is particularly interesting here. While "Satellite" was a dreamy, downright romantic ballad during the European tour leg earlier in the year, here the song has become far more forceful and upon it's conclusion another remarkable transition occurs, as the band skillfully drops into the opening bars of "Walk On The Wild Side." This segue is so well done that Reed can clearly be heard spontaneously exclaiming "Perfect! Alright!" to his band members. Also of note here is the wonderful bass work of new recruit Prakash John and the entire band providing background vocals much like the album arrangement. Certainly one of Reed's most fully realized character studies, this is followed by another in the form of "Oh Jim." Clocking in at nearly 12 minutes, "Oh Jim" gradually ratchets up the tension before blazing into a searing jam featuring plenty of great call and response guitar work from Hunter and Wagner. Another skillful segue occurs out of "Oh Jim" as the band transitions into the lurching beat of "Sad Song." Once again, Reed cannot contain his elation and he exclaims "Beautiful!" as they begin. This is another great example of this band in top form, with fine vocal arrangements and the guitarists playing unison leads that couldn't possibly be tighter. Just as a brief organ interlude from Colcord ends this number, the group immediately launches into the set closer, "White Light / White Heat." This classic Velvets number is taken at a fast clip, with both guitarists reinforcing the chugging rhythm section. Colcord serves up a frantic electric piano solo, in addition to playing organ here, adding a whole new dimension to this song. This is a blazing conclusion to an extraordinary sequence that leaves the audience wanting more. Reed and the band return for an encore of "Rock And Roll." A strong rendition all around, this features a highly engaged instrumental rave-up at the end and a standout contribution from Prakash John, whose bass is very prominent in the mix. A downright awesome performance, this number becomes an anthem for the only thing that can save Reed's life: rock and roll.
In retrospect, 1973 was a year of massive growth for Reed and certainly a critical step in his approach to live performing. Regardless of how the shows on this tour were perceived at the time, something important was clearly going on here. The melding of Reed's unique brand of decadent, literate music with a big arena rock sound would eventually reach the masses in a way The Velvet Underground never could. The strange contrast between Reed's detached, blasé vocals and the hard rocking professionalism of his backup band is the essence of its appeal. (Bershaw)