Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio (Quartet) - NYC April 24, 2009 concert review

About a month ago while doing my weekly checking of new concert announcements I saw "Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio" was doing two nights at the Blender Theatre at Gramercy in NYC. My first thought was Lou was bringing his live orchestration of 1975's "Metal Machine Music" Album to the US.

Not Quite.

Two or Three years ago, Ulrich Kreiger took Lou's album of noise and adapted it for Orchestra. Lou went to Germany and joined Ulrich and the orchestra for one or two performances. I'm not sure if these only ever live versions were released here officially (although I think they were), but I had downloaded an audience recording of one of the performances back when they occurred was interesting.

So I did some investigating and it turns out Mr. Reed has a side band called the Metal Machine Trio (or possibly called Best Seat In The House according to Lou's website that consists of Lou on guitar and electronics, Ulrich on tenor saxophone and electronics and Sarth Calhoun on live processing and fingerbooard continuum - no vocals. They had previously done two nights in Los Angeles late last year and those performances titled "The Creation of the Universe" are available on Lou's website.

There's a two minute sample clips from both night one and night two on the site and upon listening you realize the title is very accurate. The music is very atmospheric and chill. The images brought to mind were lava flows and suns rising and setting - I could hear this as a soundtrack to a Discovery Channel documentary on "The Creation of the Universe".

In a "rock music" sense it reminded me of say a two minute section from the middle of a 1970 Pink Floyd thirty minute jam.

So I'm intrigued...let's see how much tix are...50 bucks! Shit...sorry these tough times I'm not sure I have that kind of green for your experimental is on a we'll see...

So a week or two later I'm checking the Village Voice giveaways and they say they're giving tix away to Lou's shows...I enter...I hear nothing...

Until Thursday April 23...I come home from work...check my email and I see "YOU'RE a WINNER!" I don't get excited as I figure it's a free trial sample of the newest penis enlargement cream (not that I EVER entered to win THAT or need it!), but instead it says I can have free tix to either tonight or tomorrow's show...we'll it's too late for me to hop a train down to the city so I write back, say I'll take the Friday Night tix and lo and behold I'm gonna see Lou!

Show is scheduled to start at 8:30...I grab the train after work, head on down, stop at Manitoba's for my usual pre-show in the city couple of brews and head on up to 23rd street to the Theatre.

This is only the second ever show I've seen here (The Residents last year was the other - evidently it's the place to go when I want to get my avant garde on) and I wonder why, because it's a great place to see a show. A small floor section (they had about 12 rows of 25 seats set out with a small section to stand behind them) and then a permanent seating loge section in the back.

According to the marquee, they were doing half price tix for students and the giveaway list was HUGE! Looked to be about 100 names that won tix like I did and when I got there about 8:15, I only saw one other name crossed off that list...why do people enter contests if they're not gonna go?

It was still a decent turnout...about 75% of the floor seats were filled when I got there. The whole first row and most of the second were reserved for VIP's (I was SO celeb hunting, but saw no one "famous"). Turned out the three seats closest to the aisle in the second row were not reserved so I actually grabbed the second row seat on the aisle! Nice!

While billed as Metal Machine Trio - when Lou walked out at 8:40 it was a quartet because of the additional saxophone of "everybody's friend John Zorn" as Lou announced him and introduced the band.

Sarth walked over to his array of electronics and two laptops right in front of me. Lou sat center stage in a circle of equipment, looking more like he was about to command a spaceship instead of making music. The two Saxaphonists were on the other end of the stage and the music began...

This was not "The Creation of the Universe" was not chill...this was industrial groove...this was loud and meant to be played that way.

Lou is the mad scientist / puppet master of the group. You have to assume there is at least a skeleton to this piece, but that appears to be all - the tempos and sounds change through nods and smiles given by Lou to his bandmates, especially during the first third of the piece before Lou actually plays his guitar.

The piece peaks three times...the first comes about 20 to 25 minutes in with Sarth headbanging and his long hair flying around the stage, Lou looks as happy as I've ever seen him watching this while on the other side Zorn and Kreiger are in many ways doing their best Jimi Hendrix attacks - intense staccato of notes until it can go no higher and Zorn sits down to and steps back while the band reloads...

Ulrich who moments before was dueling with Zorn now takes his Hendrix with Sax to a new level has he uses the Sax against his stage monitor and plays feedback (without blowing a note)...

Everyone slowly joins in with this feedback rhythm and the music once again starts to build...while there are no vocals per se, Lou does shout a word or fragment of sentence out here and there which is looped and becomes part of the piece...the second peak comes soon after the first at about 9:20 and one wonders where they band will go from here...

It's answered quickly as Lou is given a guitar...the guitar at first is just another piece of background but soon rises to the forefront with some great distorted metal rhythm riffing...Zorn who has been more or less sitting out for about 15 minutes soon joins back in and this leads to about 10 minutes of the mellowest part of the set with lou laying back on the six string...some dueling saxophone, the music taken's the only part of the set that somewhat bores me, but it is used to bring on the final ending peak...

As Lou and Sarth re-enter and take control with something of a heavy duty sludge fest, Ulrich turns his sax into a percussion instrument slapping it like a drum instead of playing it with his use a Velvet Underground reference it's like the moment in Sister Ray when everyone realizes they need to bring everything they can, to give every sound their instruments can give and when they reach that point with everyone looking to Lou, he does a chop of the Hand and it ends.

Total time about 70 minutes - just enough for a CD which I bet will be on offer soon!

The band gets a standing ovation, Lou thanks everyone for coming out and says maybe he was onto something in 1975 when he released Metal Machine Music afterall.

(* Picture wise I've come to realize that the camera on my phone is obviously a pure hunk of crap! But these give you a shot of the scene and an idea of how small the joint is *)

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