Out There

Perfect Night: Live in London
Lou Reed
Reprise Records

Lou Reed did not age gracefully--he aged accidentally, clumsily, defiantly. He has been middle-aged forever, worn out before he was ever broken in, and for proof, you need look no further than 1982's The Blue Mask, made when he was just 40--it's a record full of rage and sadness and terror and understanding. He died on The Blue Mask, and he was reborn: By the time of Legendary Hearts in 1983 and New Sensations the following year, he had locked into a solid, deep groove, and even if subsequent records weren't irreproachable, they were full of profound, inevitable, grown-up rock and roll.

And so we end up here, with Lou Reed's fifth live album post-Velvet Underground--and the one that seems to have the most...heart. If it's no gotta-listen along the lines of 1974's louder-than-God Rock 'n' Roll Animal or '78's shut-up-and-stand-up routine Take No Prisoners, that's only because Perfect Night is not so epic and belligerent; Lou doesn't shove his ass in your face and tell you it smells like roses, offering one more bloated rendition of "Walk on the Wild Side." That cynic's dead, supplanted by the guy who now prefers his guitars acoustic instead of electric and his words understood instead of just spoken as though by rote. The music here is solid but a little fragile too, like a whisper right in your ear.

Backed by his longtime bassist and vocalist Fernando Saunders, guitarist Mike Rathke, and drummer Tony Smith, Reed conjures up a weird VU vibe--this is his most Velvets-sounding record in decades, the deceptively simple music ebbing and flowing instead of twisting and turning. But sounding like does not mean recreating: When he performs "Coney Island Baby" 22 years after its initial release, the song becomes less about his sexual preferences ("Different people have peculiar tastes," he once moaned, no doubt while sitting on the lap of his she-male lover) and more about his Long Island childhood ("When I was a young man in high school/You believe it or not/I wanted to play football for the coach"); the cheap-thrill novelty has long since disappeared.

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"New Sensations" now feels more honest and warm ("I headed for the mountains feeling warm inside") than glib and narcissistic. And the sad confusion of "Perfect Day" has turned into the simple pleasures of a man who has finally figured out what he wants to be when he grows up: "You made me forget myself," he sings as the band whispers behind him. "I thought I was someone else, someone good." On this perfect night, he is someone good. He's Lou Reed.

--Robert Wilonsky

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