Last week, as part of the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX, a four-plus hour tribute concert was devoted to the music and memory of Lou Reed. It was curated, pretty masterfully I thought, by Richard Barone and Alejandro Escovedo.
Neither are household names: as leader of The Bongos, Barone was one of the forebears of the Hoboken indie rock scene alongside The Feelies and Yo La Tengo, while Escovedo, of San Francisco punk pioneers The Nuns and Texas alt-country pioneers Rank and File, is a roots-rock icon and Austin’s mayor of rock’n’roll. But the show wasn’t about a parade of stars. It was a group of Reed admirers — some longtime friends, some just spiritual kin — gathered to celebrate the legacy of a great artist.
“We cast the songs like you would a film or a play,” explained Barone backstage on the day of the show. It wasn’t always what you’d expect, and not every part worked. But for four hours, it rarely flagged, and it was often sloppy and illuminating in a way that was very much in the spirit of SXSW, and rock’n’roll in general.
Highlights included Reed’s old pal Garland Jeffreys, who turned “I’m Waiting For My Man” into an Otis Redding-style r&b workout (cannily appropriate, as it happens), and jumped off the stage to finish the rave-up ending in the crowd.
Suzanne Vega did a gentle acoustic “Walk On The Wild Side” which was spot-on, casting the song in the tradition of folk-blues storytelling.
Sharon Needles, the gorgeous winner Season 4 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, did a perfect reading of “Candy Says”
The Black Lips seared the Velvets’ “Run Run Run,” adding some upside-down guitar riffing for good measure.
There was an was an epic, roughly 30-minute “Sister Ray” lead by Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and featuring a shitload of other guitarists, including house band yeoman Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) and Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & The Voidoids). And things wrapped up, of course, with everyone on stage for “Rock and Roll.”
As Barone told me, getting rights to the songs would be too difficult to make an album out of the performance. But there are plenty of YouTube clips, including these two: Barone’s sweet “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and Lucinda William’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” probably my favorite two Lou Reed songs. Most of the time.