Tag Archives: Lou Reed

The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade – 7. Radiohead

I’ve gone on record as stating that I don’t really like Radiohead, and I still stand by that statement.  With the exception of a few songs here and there, I find the band to be pretentious and boring.  I’m sure that I’m going to get flamed by Radiohead fans for suggesting this.  However, for as much disdain I have for the band, it’s hard to rule out their significance in the past decade.

Kid A is regarded as a classic now, so it’s kind of hard to look back in retrospect and see how wild and what a risk it was.  True, OK Computer was a left-turn from the guitar rock of The Bends and Pablo Honey. But it was nothing compared to the cold electronic atmosphere that permeated the surface of Kid A.  Somehow an album without a single track that closely resembled any real songs, managed to not only become a critical favorite, but also a hit.  Radiohead managed to do the unthinkable: make avant-garde and experimental music popular.   Bowie, Lou Reed, and Kraftwerk had been put out similar sounding albums throughout their career, but none of those albums managed to sink in through the public consciousness.  From Kid A on, it became clear that Radiohead were blowing out the normal rules out what a popular rock band could do and sound like.  So it’s no surprise that their fans are some of the most militant in existence – take a shot at Radiohead and you clearly don’t understand music.

Of course, Radiohead’s biggest influence over the past decade might not even be musical.  By deciding to release their 2007 album, In Rainbows over the internet letting fans decide how much an album was worth, the band sent a ripple effect through the industry whose waves are still being felt almost four years later.  Many bands have written songs about how terrible their contracts are, and some artists have even sued their record companies.  But Radiohead’s move was the ultimate “fuck you”.   They basically told the companies that they are no longer in charge, and that they have no say in how much music is worth, and how it should be distributed.

Since then, many big artists have tried similar moves – Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins in particular.  While those albums haven’t quite had the same impact as In Rainbows, it’s clear that artists have been inspired by Radiohead’s bold move.  The old model is gone, and Radiohead are the ones leading the charge.  It still doesn’t mean I have to like them, though.


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Top 20 Concerts (Part 1)

I love going to shows.  It’s more than just a passion.  It’s almost a way of life.  The band comes on, and there’s lift-off – a sense of excitement where anything can happen. Nothing else matters at that particular moment in time except the people who aren’t just asking for your attention, but in some cases demanding it.

The best places to see shows, are venues that are almost downright dirty, and grungy.  The stale smell of beer.  Though most of the places I go to see shows now are smoke-free, you can still smell the smoke stained in the floor and the walls.  (This is why I think that Baltimore’s Rams Head Live is a intimate venue, it will be better in about 20 years when it’s been lived in.)

Today I’ll post 20 – 15, and tomorrow I’ll post the rest through the week.

20. The Dirtbombs (April 2008, Sonar – Baltimore, MD)

I never really heard of the Dirtbombs until my friend introduced me to them.  The Dirtbombs mix of R&B, Soul, and funk played with an aggressive twist is made for a live-setting.  It’s a non-stop party – a perfect setting for the dingy hole in the wall of Baltimore’s Sonar Club.  This show holds the record for the smallest show outside of a bar-band that I’ve seen – but it was also one of the loudest, and loaded with energy.  I’m pretty sure that The Dirtbombs only played for over an hour, but their short energized blast made it seem like they were playing for 3 hours.  After the show my friend spilled his beer all over singer Mick Collins while trying to get a poster signed.  A fitting way to end an awesome night.

19. Eddie Vedder (June 2009, The Lyric Opera House – Baltimore MD)

Normally you think of Eddie Vedder as a very serious dude, but at this solo show he was surprisingly funny cracking jokes and telling stories.  The Lyrics is actually the complete opposite of Sonar – I sat in velvet cushioned seats!  It was great to see one of rock’s modern legends in such a small place.  Despite an aborted attempt at the looped vocal chant of “Arc”, Vedder put out on a show that was both loose and tight at the same time.  Most of the material stemmed from the Into The Wild soundtrack, but he also threw in some Pearl Jam songs such as “Porch” and a pretty reverent cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”.

18.. The Recipe – March 2005, 8X10 – Baltimore MD

Normally, I don’t particularly like the type of music that The Recipe specialize in which is jamming.  But, unlike say The Grateful Dead, and Phish this band is fun.  This is a show that I don’t remember much of actually, but this is one of those bands that I’ll always remember seeing because like the Dirtbombs, it was so much damn fun.  My friend and I debated who would be fun to hang out with after the show – the cute fiddle player, or the old dude playing the banjo dubbed “Uncle Eddie”.  I said Uncle Eddie, because he probably had the best collection of music in the band.

17. They Might Be Giants – June 1994- Wolftrap, Virginia

This gets an automatic inclusion just for the fact that this was my first concert.  They Might Be Giants were one of those groups that I grew up by way of my older siblings.  Sure, they’re silly but they’re kind of like The Ramones who were smarter than they actually let on.  I went to the show with my three older brothers, and while I’m not sure if I would enjoy it on the same level, back then it was one of the highlights of my youth.

16. Lou Reed – April 2008, The National – Richmond Virginia

(This is from the actual show I went to.)

With Lou Reed you kind of have to look past the fact that he can be a bit surly, and just appreciate the music.  This show was a case in point.  Reed, has nothing left to prove anymore, so it was enjoyable just to see the man play.  While there plenty of expected moments (distortion and feedback, some biting dialogue – particularly about “I’m Sticking With You”) there were also plenty of surprises including an energetic version of “Sweet Jane”, and a slow-burning take on “Ecstasy”.

More tomorrow.



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Song of the Day: “Sister Ray” – The Velvet Underground

(Note: This video link only has the first 8 minutes of the song.  There’s 9 more…)

I was on my way home from work today, and thanks to Artscape (if you’re from Baltimore you know what I’m talking about) I got stuck in traffic for over a half hour with little less than a quarter mile to go.  Several streets were blocked off, and cars were stuck in the intersection as the lights changed from green to red several times over.  It was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.

To pass the time, I decided to see how many times I would be able to listen to The Velvet Underground’s 17 minute noise opus “Sister Ray” before I got home.  (For the record, I got through it once all the way through and about 8 minutes the second time around for a total of 25 minutes to drive a quarter of a mile.)  I

“Sister Ray” might be the most polarizing song to ever be recorded.  There are those that think it is a work of genius (I fall into this category) and those that think it utter crap (most people I know fall into that category.)  There’s no in between for “Sister Ray”: it’s 17 minutes of noise.  There’s barely a structure to the song at all – it’s essentially avant-garde jazz played extremely loud.  Lou Reed leads the song with his feed-back fueled guitar playing, but it’s really John Cale who drives the song with his distorted organ playing.  Most songs that go on for 17 minutes usually contain ebb and flow.  But “Sister Ray” never lets up – it’s just has varying degrees of noise. Somewhere beneath it all, is a song about drug use, homosexuality, transvestism, and an orgy.  Even without all of the noise, “Sister Ray” would still be remarkably depraved and polarizing.  This is even more remarkable considering it was recorded in 1968.

“Sister Ray” definitely isn’t a song to listen to all the time.  But it certainly helps when you’re trying to pass the time – and it might also make you feel a little bit cooler.

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Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music

Just saw this article earlier.  Lou Reed is apparently releasing the infamous Metal Machine Music album.  Lou Reed is one of my musical heroes, but I could never wrap my head around Metal Machine Music. Metal Machine Music like “Revolution Number 9”, “Self Portrait”  and even Sandinista! is the sound of hubris taking over.  Each of these individuals involved have created some of the best music ever to be made – and these musical projects reveal they can indeed make shit.  The worst part is – they try to pass it off as art.

I like feedback and noise.  I wouldn’t be a fan of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges of Sonic Youth if I weren’t.  But I also like songs – not just meandering noise for no other reasons than shock value.  “Sister Ray” is known for it’s excessive use of feedback and noise (and some deem it almost unlistenable) but it is still a song.  It pushes the limits of what could be called music for sure – distortion pedals pushed to the max, and John Cale on organ.  And the lyrics are even darker and subversive for 1968.

Says Lou Reed about the song: “Sister Ray’ was done as a joke—no, not as a joke—but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of ‘Sister Ray’ as a transvestite dealer. The situation is a bunch of drag  taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear.”

Even at its most extreme music is supposed to elicit an emotion out of the listener.  I’m not sure what a person benefits from listening to Metal Machine Music other than to write to Lou Reed and ask for some time of life back.  And now he’s planning on rereleasing this thing?

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What I’ve Been Listening To

Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

Unlike a lot of other latter-day Dylan albums (mainly Love and Theft and Modern Times) this one never really hit me until recently.   Many of my favorite songs have superior takes found on Tell-Tale Signs. Even though the album was written before Dylan’s 97 heart problem, it’s hard not to contextualize as such – a majority of the songs are depressing.  Death surrounds the album just as Daniel Lanois’ production surrounds Dylan’s songs with a murky, muddy sound.  Dylan seems kind of beaten on Time Out Of Mind but this is what gives songs like “Trying to Get to Heaven” and “Not Dark Yet” their power. It’s no surprise his next album Love and Theft would be looser and funnier than anything he put out in years.    

Lou Reed – Transformer

It’s hard to not to prefer the Velvet Underground to Lou Reed’s solo work.  While I do love the Velvet Underground, I find myself listening to Transformer more than VU.  Maybe because Transformer’s performances are lively and well, fun.  (Not so much the lyrics though.  “Perfect Day” is about coming down from heroin, and “Satellite of Love” is a brutal song.)  Sometimes it’s easy to accuse Lou Reed of career self-destruction, but Transformer is where he created the perfect blend of weird and accessible.  

Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club

James Brown’s Live at the Apollo is often viewed as the greatest live soul album of all time. And really, you can’t dispute that.  That being said though, I feel that a great deal of Brown’s performances were based on the visuals.  The same can’t be said for Sam Cooke.  Where most of Cooke’s studio recordings border on easy listening (and that’s not a criticism)  this album just lays it down.  “Cupid”, “Chain Gang” and “It’s Alright/Sentimental Reasons” are played with such force and power you can almost feel the heat from the sweat from both the band and the audience.  Put this album on, and I guarantee an instant party.  


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Pearl Jam Does Devo

Oh man, this is classic.  I seriously wish I could have been at this show.  And who says that Pearl Jam doesn’t have a sense of humor.  I’m a big PJ fan, but there’s a few of these songs that even I don’t know, or forget how they go.  Since PJ pretty much plays stuff from all over their catalogue on any given night, I doubt they would ever do a tour based on around performing a classic album from start to finish.  

And did anyone check out the collaborations for the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday and Friday?  I’m sure it was cool if you were there, Fergie singing “Gimme Shelter” with U2 and Mick Jagger?   I’m willing to be that she never heard the song before they rehearsed it.  

But here’s one collaboration that is actually better than you would expect.  


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