At a time when the price of concert tickets is rising sharply and public demand is shrinking, a number of veteran artists have sought to make their shows seem more like events by performing one of their more celebrated albums in full as part of the concert, with the All Tomorrow's Parties and Pitchfork music festivals making this gambit a regular part of their annual programming. Lou Reed is an old hand at this game -- when New York was released in 1989, Reed performed the album in full and in sequence each evening on tour, and he followed suit for the shows supporting 1992's Magic and Loss. But it was a collaboration with artist and director Julian Schnabel rather than anything so crass as economics that prompted Reed to revisit his 1973 concept album Berlin for a series of multimedia concerts, with Reed and his band joined by a vocal chorus (including guest singers Antony and Sharon Jones) and a small orchestra directed by Bob Ezrin, who arranged and produced the original album. Schnabel filmed two of the Berlin concerts staged in New York City for a documentary, and Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse is essentially the soundtrack album to Schnabel's film. While in many respects these performances honor both the sound and the intent of the 1973 studio album, the Lou Reed who walked on-stage in New York in 2006 sounds recognizably different than the man who recorded these songs 33 years earlier. Reed didn't play electric guitar on Berlin, but he does here, and the elegant brutality of his soloing adds a new flavor to the melodies, and while three decades of wear and tear on his voice bring a welcome character to "The Kids" and "The Bed," the curious timing of his new phrasing doesn't serve his lyrics especially well. But Reed and his band (including Steve Hunter, another veteran of the original recording sessions) perform this music with skill and empathy, and while the highly polished production of the original album sounded a bit chilly, on-stage this music reveals a warmth and a damaged yet unaffected humanity. As an encore, Reed performs an additional three songs, and while "Rock Minuet" doesn't fare much better here than it did on the flawed Ecstasy, his umpteenth recording of "Sweet Jane" is full of life and Antony's guest vocal on "Candy Says" is a thing of rare beauty. In its original form, Berlin was a work of tremendous ambition that didn't quite live up to its own high standards, and this live recording seems to trade a roughly equal number of new flaws for those of the original album, but this performance sounds like a legitimate attempt by Reed to revisit his past without being shackled to it, and on that level it's a brave and compelling experiment that (often) works.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming