Perhaps it•s an oversimplification, but Lou Reed•s career could be summed up as comprising three phases. Phase One began in 1964, and ran until 1972, while he was with The Velvet Underground. Phase Three began roughly around 1982, with the release of his album The Blue Mask (and was fully evident by the time of 1988•s New York), and continues until today, as he became comfortable with his role as one of rock music•s •elder statesmen.• Phase Two, the ten year period that ran from 1972 until 1982, found him wandering through a proverbial wasteland, creating a range of music and embracing a host of styles. He embraced glam rock (Transformer), concept albums (Berlin), industrial music (Metal Machine Music), heavy metal (Rock n• Roll Animal) and even jazz pop (The Bells). Unfortunately, the quality of some of his material was notoriously inconsistent, and among his first three albums, could be positively execrable. For this reason, the release of American Poet is an invaluable addition to this period.
Long available in tape trader circles and as a bootleg, this release is the first legitimate release of a radio broadcast that Reed performed in New York on the Transformer tour in 1972. Featuring his then backing band, The Tots, the band runs through a stellar set of material that highlights some of his best work from his Velvet Underground days and early albums as a solo album (a fact unknown at the time, most of his first three albums consisted of material that was first demoed with The Velvets). On this release, six of the eleven tracks are either songs first performed with The Velvets or songs demoed with The Velvets but used on one of his first three solo albums. What separates this album from the studio recordings on which they were first heard is their raw vitality. •White Light/White Heat• retains its energy in this setting and has yet to accrue the metal bombast it would reach on Rock n• Roll Animal. •Vicious• finds Lou singing the song with a voice that sounds youthful and which hasn•t evolved into his speak/sing delivery yet. •Sweet Jane• retains the bridge section that was cut from the Loaded album, and which Lou gradually dropped from live performances. The versions of •Satellite Of Love,• •Walk On the Wild Side,• and •I•m So Free• are all scorching, and put the heavily overproduced versions found on Transformer to shame.
While this raises Lou•s total live album output from four to five, this album is easily an essential purchase. If you could only buy one live album of his that was recorded in the seventies, this should be it. Also, if you don•t want to spring for one of the many compilations of his works from the seventies, you•d be well served with this collection. This is Lou with a tight back up band that shows he is as comfortable with pop music structure as he is with revealing the sordid world of drugs and decadence. It also makes a nice teaser to whet the public•s appetite for more Lou/VU related gems. This summer, Polygram is set to release a three CD set of Velvet Underground live recordings. Let•s hope we don•t have to wait thirty plus years for the next release.
NMC Music 2000, http://www.n-m-c.co.uk