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Lou Reed Unleashes Metal Machine Music in NYC


“No Songs. No Vocals.” The stern warning was printed on every ticket to Thursday night’s performance of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Trio at the Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan. And besides the occasional moan or grunt from Reed himself, that’s exactly what his fans got: an hour and a half of pure, throbbing — occasionally blissful — noise. This was no “Sweet Jane.”

Reed’s new band, if you can call it that, takes its name from his infamous 1975 album Metal Machine Music — a double LP consisting of over an hour of tortured organ and guitar feedback. Though some critics hail the record as a harbinger of late-century noise experimentalists like Sonic Youth, Metal Machine has for the most part remained a collector’s item for Reed cultists.

Thankfully, the downtown rocker wasn’t simply out to recreate that early sonic screed. Rather, he and his cronies Ulrich Krieger (on tenor sax) and Sarth Calhoun (on “live processing” and something called a “Continuum Fingerboard”) used Metal Machine Music simply as a jumping-off point. Calhoun and Reed — the latter sitting center-stage and surrounded by what looked like a control panel from the deck of the Starship Enterprise — unleashed a barrage of low-frequency distortion using a variety of computers and effects, while Krieger’s sax bleated high and anxious, his long blonde hair flying as he spasmed and shook.

Of course, the audience — largely over 30 and dressed almost exclusively in black — were here primarily to see Lou. All that noise (and the $50 ticket) was a price they were more than willing to pay. And yet Reed avoided easy nostalgia… with some small exceptions. During the show’s opening half hour, Reed yelled snippets of lyrics from his earlier hits in-between blasts from Krieger’s sax: “Standing on the corner…” bleat! “Suitcase in my hand…” bleat!“I’m waiting for my man!” And later Lou broke out his guitar (“I’m just a simple guitar player,” Reed introduced himself earlier) to unleash a string of arrhythmic, atonal solos that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Velvet Underground’s classic White Light/White Heat.

Still, Lou wasn’t about to do his fans any favors. While the Metal Machine Trio may have been many things — most of them all at once and at extremely high volumes — it was certainly proof that Lou Reed, at 66, is still doing exactly what he wants to do. Even if it involves “No Songs” and “No Vocals.”

Lou Reed/ Photo by Jackie Roman

Lou Reed/ Photo by Jackie Roman