Animal Serenade

Lou Reed

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Animal Serenade Review

by Mark Deming

Apparently the notion of Lou Reed reinterpreting the works of Edgar Allan Poe didn't strike a positive chord with many folks, given the chilly commercial and critical reception accorded to Reed's 2003 album The Raven, and it seems plenty of fans were no more enthusiastic about seeing the material performed in person, since the tour staged to support the album found Reed playing smaller venues than was his custom. And in both cases, the folks who took a rain check really missed something; while The Raven was genuinely flawed, it was also one of Reed's most ambitious and compelling albums in quite some time, and the subsequent live shows found Reed and his musicians in truly superb form. Animal Serenade, recorded during the Los Angeles date of the tour, is a striking two-plus hour document of Reed and a fine ensemble in full flight; Reed brought along a small but potent backing band -- bassist and sometimes percussionist Fernando Saunders, guitarist Mike Rathke, cellist Jane Scarpantoni, and backing vocalist Antony -- and the performances presented manage to merge the intimacy of a small-group show with the force and passion of a full-on rock gig. The takes on "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Dirty Blvd." are both hypnotic and muscular, but the more subtle and measured interpretations of "Venus in Furs," "Sunday Morning," and "The Day John Kennedy Died" easily conjure up the same edgy conviction, and Reed's interplay with his group is marvelous. These folks don't simply back him up; there's a genuine sense of collaboration among the musicians that's one of the real defining points between good and great performances. Animal Serenade isn't the hardest rockin' live album Lou Reed has ever cut, but for the sheer commitment and power of these performances, it's in a dead heat with Live in Italy as Reed's finest concert recording, and makes clear that in his fifth decade in music, Lou can still deliver the goods -- and in some respects is actually getting better. A more than pleasant surprise, and truly fine listening.

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