Friday, November 01, 2013

Memories of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground

I once had the dream, or daydream - I forget which - that I saw the Velvet Underground. Quite extraordinarily, many years later (1993 to be exact), I did see them play live, at Wembley in London. This is a deeply unattractive venue, about as charming and character-less as your average disused aircraft hanger. And yet, it remains one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to; a strong contender, in fact, for Best Gig Ever (classical aside).

They came on and opened with We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together. Not a terribly auspicious beginning; it's one of their lesser songs. But then Lou Reed said, "We only do this next one every 25 years", and they launched into Venus in Furs. The place went nuts, instantly and very loudly. It got worse: the next song was All Tomorrow's Parties, sung by John Cale, and I was in tears in seconds. It stayed that way for much of the next two hours. Heroin and Pale Blue Eyes were, well, what every gig-goer dreams of witnessing: something you never, ever imagined would happen. They even did a new song, Coyote.

At the end, the ghastly concrete hangar of Wembley seemed like a small club. The applause was unbelievable. I honestly think the Velvets were taken aback by this; it was the nearest I've ever come to witnessing something like Beatlemania. Lou said, after what seemed like minutes of applause, screaming and hysteria, "You have no idea what it means to be thanked like this." That's one of the most heartfelt things I've ever heard a performer say.

Now 20 years on, and it remains for me one of the best concerts I ever attended. It does not get better than the Velvet Underground on a good night. And 20 years on, it's thank you, Lou, and good night, sir. (And thank you too, Sterling.)

To paraphrase the song the Velvets played at their last ever performance in 1996,
"last night, I said goodbye to my friends."

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