Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio is bizarre and difficult listening

Ether 2010 review

published: Tue 27th Apr 2010

around the site - Royal Festival Hall

Friday 9th to Saturday 24th April 2010
Southbank Centre, London, SE1 8XX, England MAP
Ticket price varies depending on event and seating
last updated: Wed 21st Apr 2010

If you came to the Festival Hall tonight for a Lou Reed greatest hits set then you were in for a big surprise. A drone of feedback noise buzzed through the Royal Festival Hall phasing in and out like a engine ticking over... just far louder. A couple of guitars lying against a rack of speakers seemed to be causing the drone that seemed to get louder and louder the longer you sat there and it just carried on... and on... and on... With nobody on the stage for a good 20 minutes admiring the setup was about all you could do while waiting. Talking over the top was a battle lost so staring expectantly took over. A gong, a drum, a few guitars and effects pedals, laptop, keyboard, sax, more pedals, a few more effects thingamys scattered the stage artistically placed clustered around 3 spots, hopefully soon to be filled by the trio.

The show is based on the 1975 Metal Machine Music album, which has NOTHING to do with Lou's other output. Somewhere treading the line between genius and insanity, it devised critics at the time and still does.

After a good 20 mins, there was a little movement. Strolling out nonchalantly came 4 guys. Lou Reed, Ulrich Krieger, Sarth Calhoun and some bloke to move the furniture (instruments) and hand people guitars and stuff. Wow, it might finally begin! The wall of noise didn't change dramatically, just seemed to get out of phase and bend and twist and growl in a very arty way. A bang on a gong here and there shook things up a little while Sarth dramatically hammered away on a pad morphing the sound somehow with seemingly little effect other than do look like he was doing something very important. That or he was playing 'Running Game' with the intention of getting new world record. At some point the guy banging the gong moved over to the sax and then over to the drum. It could have been very intentional in every detail, or it could have been completely random and I wouldn't like to guess at which. Impressive, yes. Pretentious, very. Entertaining, not really. A grimy New York club filled with the likes of Andy Warhol seemed a more appropriate venue for the music - if you can call it that. It was more like an exhibition of sound and a insight into the mind of Lou Reed than a concert. Bizarre and out of touch with reality.

With such a back catalogue it seems a odd choice to reinvent an album thats largely gone under the radar of most people. I'm glad I heard it but I probably wouldn't bother again if I had the chance. Some phrases were striking and beautiful - one beautifully guitar passage stands out above the rest - but on the whole it was pretty much lost on me.

For those that were lost and decided to leave before the end, the exhibition of instruments by Felix's Machines was a good alternative. Built of odds and ends they create electronic music in a very mechanical way. Somewhere between a gallery of odd instruments and a live performance, its definitely something to be seen. Playing with a theramin is great fun, and racing toy cars around with proper engine sounds and squealing of tires piped through headphones is great fun. Truly something for everyone.
review by: Chris Mathews

photos by: Chris Mathews

Friday 9th to Saturday 24th April 2010
Southbank Centre, London, SE1 8XX, England MAP
Ticket price varies depending on event and seating
last updated: Wed 21st Apr 2010

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