Thirty years ago today, I saw Lou Reed in concert for the first time.
The Velvet Underground are my favorite rock and roll band of all time, but I never saw them live ... I was just a kid. I latched onto Lou Reed's solo career, though, and ended up seeing him many times between 1974 and ... I don't know, the late 80s. When Robin and I were first married, our "stereo" consisted of a mono record player that used to be my grandmother's. We only had a few albums, and we didn't really have enough money to go to many concerts ... earlier in '74 we'd seen Dylan with The Band, and Eric Clapton, and that was it, and those were the first two shows we attended together.
Early in 1974, Lou released Rock and Roll Animal, which turned Velvets songs into arena rockers, and did a very fine job of it, thank you. Later in the year he released the studio album Sally Can't Dance, considered by some to be his worst album ever. Me, I played it over and over on that little record player, although I haven't really listened to it in many years and don't think I even have any of the songs on my Karma. The red-hot band from Animal was gone, so the group we saw on November 22, 1974 at Winterland was not the one that had made metal fans happy.
Robin was a few months pregnant with Neal, and Winterland wasn't the place to be for her then ... the smoke didn't help, and I don't think she much liked the opening act, which if memory serves was Earthquake. Arthur Lee then played with a later version of Love ... he sang "Signed D.C." and wondered why the metalheads didn't understand it. Finally Lou came out ... he was 32 years old by then ... he walked onstage to the "Sweet Jane Intro" like he was a robot or something, and proceeded to crap on himself and the audience ... he never played guitar, probably didn't give a shit, but to be honest, I had no idea, all I knew was I was at Winterland, Lou Reed was onstage, and I was happy.
This was the tour where he famously simulating shooting up to introduce "Heroin" ... at the time I thought it was a brilliant artistic statement ... I was 21 years old then ... I was wrong. He sang Velvets songs, he sang songs from "Sally Can't Dance," and sometime during the show Preggers Robin couldn't take the noise and smoke any longer, and she went into the lobby and found an open window where she could get some fresh air ... she stuck her head out the window and discovered that the last person to do the same had puked all over the window sill. Which probably sums up the concert as well.
I saw Lou Reed play much better concerts ... I liked his "Take No Prisoners" band, which came to town about once a year and played small clubs. I never did see the Velvets, and I also missed out on the best of Lou's solo bands, the one with Robert Quine and the incomparable bassist Fernando Saunders. When it comes to live shows, I've mostly worked around the outside of Lou Reed's finest moments. But you can't ever forget your first time ... and now that I think of it, that might also have been my first concert at Winterland, a shithole that I grew to love, more for the great shows I saw there than for anything inherent in the fucking decrepit boxing arena. In the end, Lou Reed '74 wasn't one of the great shows, but what's the point of a blog if you can't indulge in a few memories of a time long ago, when I was working in a factory and had just turned 21 and was awaiting my first kid, and watching Lou Reed pretend to shoot up was my idea of a good time.