Being a very long time Velvet Underground and Lou Reed fan I was really looking forward to this show at The Voodoo Rooms when a band called “Transformer” were promising to play right the way through one of my favourite albums of all time and probably one of the greatest of all time too – Lou Reed’s second solo album “Transformer”. For once, I was actually liking the idea of someone doing something very close to the studio production. What I got was pretty far removed from that.
Transformer are a Lou Reed/Velvet Underground tribute band and they had decided to turn the venue into their version of Max’s Kansas City club tonight and do this live as if we were all in the room. It worked in parts and misfired in other parts for me. Although I have heard bootlegs over the years of some of the tracks from “Transformer” being performed live (and they were close), the problem is that this sound is a studio sound far removed from the sound of “The Velvets”. With David Bowie producing the album and also arranging it with Mick Ronson (who also played guitar) and Lou Reed, this was a lifestyle “Transformer” too for many of the people involved.
Anyone who is a fan of Lou Reed knows what the album is about and will be well aware of the chaos and drug abuse that nearly killed Lou Reed at this period (and did kill many of his friends), so to me the over-emphasis on those issues was a bit unneeded tonight. Also, the over use of “Candy Darling” and her act did nothing for the music…great entertainment though. I say that as a true lover of the music played tonight (I have the vinyl album sitting beside me as I write this review). There are so many great tracks on “Transformer” that all it needs as a homage from anyone is the music itself.
A few of the songs from this album have over the years undergone their own transformation too. For many people “Perfect Day” has a meaning far removed from the one Lou Reed had in mind and was writing about and “Walk on The Wild Side” was originally issued in a much edited form and again many will not connect it with the people of Andy Warhol’s Art Factory. There is nothing wrong with this, the songs have taken on a life of their own over the years. Tonight’s show of course brought them back into sharp focus.
If this show did anything, it did give a taste of the chaos surrounding Lou Reed and everyone at the time and I did like some of the versions – “Vicious”, “Walk On the Wild Side”, “Perfect Day” and “Hangin’ Round” to name a few. “Transformer” as an album for me was a piece of almost musical calm after the loud chaos of The Velvet Underground. Putting that chaos back into it tonight worked only in parts for me.
It would be great to see “Transformer” the band doing some of the earlier “true” Velvet Underground stuff (particularly some of the songs from “White Light White Heat”), and it would be even better if they could find a singer with a voice even close to Nico’s. Nico’s “Sunday Morning” for me was just a beautiful song.
At the end of the day, this album is a “studio album” and I would really like to see this band do “Transformer” again with all the Max venue stuff stripped away and just concentrate on the music. They are all very good and more than capable of it.