Some of our friends have died

Lou Reed proves there’s life in the old boy yet.

Gabriel Shapiro

The lights come up, the crowd explodes into applause and screams, the band rifles into the first song and the night, as they say, is on.

The euphoria of a great live performance, for artist and audience alike, is a thrill that is impossible to capture and contain. The desire to freeze in time a fantastic live event is understandable but more often than not the effort is in vain. The question then becomes: Why bother?

That leads to speculation about the purpose of live albums; do bands only fall back on these releases when they are in a writing slump? Good live albums that are truly live are few and far between. But former Velvet Underground frontman and New York music scene mainstay Lou Reed has taken this often misused and maligned form and given it a new lease on life.

“Animal Serenade” is more than a recital of career highs; it is a retooling of classics and an exhibit of new work. All of which is so beautifully performed that it feels more like deja vu than memory. We might have heard these songs before, but not like this.

Reed’s signature sounds are all over this luxuriant double-disc set. His voice ranges from indifferent half-mumbles to strained cries. His burning guitar tones can just as easily slice you with a lead or pummel you with beating chords, and then all at once be rained in to a rhythmic, jazz-inflected rolling boil. Reed’s musical John Hancock is a spectrum rather than a single point, and every shade is pure Lou.

The sounds that surround these landmarks are different than the familiar studio versions on Reed’s albums. Cello, synths and backing vocals all form an envelope in which Reed can stand out while still being an integral part of the large fabric of each song.

The absence of percussion stands in stark contrast to the original versions of the classics. The bass, cello and guitar are often played in a percussive staccato. The beat is there and it pulses – just not from the typical sources.

There has never been any doubt that Lou Reed was an American classic, a rough gem of a genius. He keeps proving it over and over again. His albums and songs continue to inspire and influence artists of all stripes, even as he himself continues to evolve and grow. This recording is a fantastic use of the live format to showcase Reed in top form, playing songs that, in a better world, would all be hits.