Lou Reed Tribute: An Epic, Weird Night at SXSW for 'One Motherf---er of a Songwriter'
Alejandro Escovedo, Lucinda Williams, Spandau Ballet, Chuck Prophet, the Black Lips, Suzanne Vega and Sean Lennon were among the artists at the first full-scale tribute to Lou Reed since his death
The absence of a full-scale, high-profile tribute to the late Lou Reed has been glaring, and surprising, since his death last Oct. 23. But Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Barone more than filled that void on Friday night at South By Southwest.
The duo's carefully and lovingly curated Official SXSW Tribute to Lou Reed gave the rock icon the kind of lengthy salute his long and creatively cascading career merits, ran a decidedly unSXSW-like two-hours and 45-minutes. Packing in 27 songs by 24 all-star acts, the show was at times uneven – much like the career of its subject – but featured plenty of memorable, one-time-only moments that will certainly become part of SX lore.
"It's the best catalog to work with," Barone told the Paramount Theatre crowd late in the show. "It covers every thought and every emotion." Escovedo, meanwhile, took note of the arduous movement of the production, which led to a few lengthy waits between songs. "I love all the noise up here," he said. "It's great. It's very Lou Reed."
There were, of course, plenty of fond remembrances from those who knew Reed – especially Garland Jeffreys, who choked up during his long eulogy to his former Syracuse University classmate – and a little bit of irreverence to balance it. Jesse Malin, for instance, said that, "I never met Lou Reed, which is a good thing because I probably would've gotten hurt," while Fleshtones' frontman Peter Zaremba noted that "he wasn't a nice guy, but, man, he was one motherfucker of a songwriter and we owe a lot to him."
The tribute's artists repaid that debt with mostly strong and occasionally ambitious performances – none more so than the Baseball Project, which joined members of the equally all-star house band (guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist Tony Shanahan from the Patti Smith Group, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Ivan Julian from Richard Hell & the Voidods) for a shredding version of all 17-plus minutes of "Sister Ray." Escovedo fronted a poetic and open-ended rendition of "Street Hassle," and Barone played "I'll Be Your Mirror" with just his guitar and cellist Brian Standefer, accompanied by a film of Reed reciting the song's lyrics. Barone's performance of "All Tomorrow's Parties," meanwhile, incorporated vintage Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground footage by Jonas Mekas showing above the stage. Bobby Bare Jr. acknowledged that his rendition of "Oh Sweet Nothing" was inspired by My Morning Jacket's version of the song at last fall's Bridge School Concerts, and actor Joe Dallesandro offered a recitation of the "Songs For Drella" track "Smalltown" accompanied by strings.
Other significant highlights included Spandau Ballet's rich treatment of "Satellite of Love," Sean Lennon's unrehearsed by still affecting "What Goes On" and Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3's "Coney Island Baby." Jeffreys nailed "I'm Waiting For My Man," Rosie Flores was well matched with "I Love You Suzanne," Chuck Prophet tore through "Rock and Roll Heart" and the MC5's Wayne Kramer did the same with "Kill Your Sons," and Suzanne Vega added a fresh kind of delicacy to "Walk on the Wild Side." Lucinda Williams' "Pale Bue Eyes" was devastating, while the Fleshtones demolished the divide between stage and audience during "Real Good Time Together," with band members stepping deep into the crowd and leading it through the song's chorus well after they stopped playing their instruments.
The night also had its moments of weird – veteran scenester BP Fallon joining the Strypes for "Vicious" and drag queen Sharon Needles crooning "Candy Says" – while the only outright flop was a botched "Waves of Fear" by Escovedo's Fauntleroys, who had to start the song three times before getting one right, the show's "Metal Machine Music" moment and a running gag for Escovedo throughout the rest of the evening. (Black Lips frontman Cole Alexander said his group wanted to perform Reed's much-loathed "Lulu" collaboration with Metallica in its entirety, "but the amps aren't loud enough.")
But that was long forgotten by the time the show rolled to its finale, with most of the performers onstage for a lusty "Rock and Roll" with Escovedo, Barone and Prophet sharing lead vocals and Spandau Ballet saxophonist Steve Norman lacing in solos. "Lou would've been very happy," Barone predicted at one point. "I think he would've liked the show."
And he certainly would have had good reason for that.
The full setlist from the Official SXSW Tribute to Lou Reed included:
"Sweet Jane" – Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Barone
"Cool It Down" – The Bizarros
"Romeo Had Juliet" – Cheetah Chrome
"Femme Fatale" – Cindy Lee Berryhill
"Vicious" – BP Fallon and the Strypes
"Oh Sweet Nothing" – Bobby Bare Jr.
"I'm Waiting For My Man" – Garland Jeffreys
"Perfect Day" – Lousie Goffin
"Waves of Fear" – The Fauntleroys
"I Love You Suzanne" – Rosie Flores
"Coney Island Baby" – Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3
"Candy Says" – Sharon Needles
"Smalltown" Joe Dallesandro"
"White Light/White Heat" – Escovedo and Barone
"All Tomorrow's Parties" – Richard Barone with Cindy Lee Berryhill
"Rock and Roll Heart" – Chuck Prophet
"Sally Can't Dance" – Jesse Malin
"Real Good Time Together" – The Fleshtones
"Walk on the Wild Side" – Suzanne Vega
"Kill Your Sons" – Wayne Kramer
"Pale Blue Eyes" – Lucinda Williams
"Run, Run, Run" – The Black Lips
"Sister Ray" – The Baseball Project
"What Goes On" – Sean Lennon
"Street Hassle" – Alejandro Escovedo
"Satellite of Love" – Spandau Ballet
"I'll Be Your Mirror" – Richard Barone
"Rock and Roll" – All