On Wednesday, Nov. 1, musical innovator Lou Reed played to a packed crowd in UCSB’s Campbell Hall as part of his most recent tour. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Reed first stepped into the spotlight as the guitarist and singer-songwriter of the seminal sixties and seventies band, The Velvet Underground. Now years into his solo career, Reed graced our stage, singing with such a deep, quiet conviction that one could practically see audience members straining their ears to hear better.
Reed performed many unreleased tracks to an anxiously awaiting crowd, most of them older than the typical UCSB student. Many critics praise Reed for his artistry while acknowledging his nominal commercial success. However, although most acts that perform at Campbell Hall do not have enough of a following to incite T-shirt sales after their shows, audience members flocked to the lobby after the concert to grab memorabilia, and in fact the seller had to inform some buyers that there was not enough of “Lou Reed” to go around.
Throughout many of the songs, Reed strummed his guitar and used his natural voice – speaking more than actually singing – accompanied by merely two other band mates, Rob Wasserman and Fernando Saunders, who more than filled the shoes of a full orchestra and backup vocalists. At times, the bass was so strong, I could feel it reverberate reverberating in my own body, rows away from the stage.
Although all the songs were strong, some of them were actually sung like spoken word poetry, and two of them had a particularly strong, as well as positive, effect on the crowd. The first of these stand out numbers was one of Reed’s older tunes, “Femme Fatale,” – featuring the lyrics “though definitely a different version than any heard before.” Reed sang the chorus, “Everybody knows / the things she does to please / she’s just a little tease / see the way she walks / hear the way she talks.” Reed sung this piece with a kind of melancholic conviction, producing the opposite effect for a practically glowing audience that was left cheering with excitement at the song’s end.
The other stand-out number of the night was Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc,” which Reed performed with singer Julie Christensen. She certainly held her own against the wise-cracking, sarcastic Reed and shined brightly as she sang beside him. Reed’s quiet voice accentuated the sensitivity of the lyrics, as Christensen belted with so much power that it sounded as if her parts were mixed in a studio rather than live.
Audience members occasionally clapped their hands to the rhythm of the music, fully enjoying the experience of watching this great performer. However, although this enthusiasm proved that Reed’s music will never go out of style, it was often distracting to have Reed’s songs overshadowed by loud clapping. Despite this, Reed’s performance proved that he is indeed one of the few artists working today who merits a thorough listening.