What happens when music made for and from the edge is performed years later in a scientific setting that is more performance art than rock & roll? It's hard for longtime followers of Lou Reed to come to grips with their hero taking sadomasochistic treasures like "Venus in Furs" and delivering them as if he's auditioning for the lead role in a Kingston Trio biopic. And it's not as if they aren't being rewrapped in fantastic, haunting, and creative arrangements. They are. The problem is that the music Reed has written, music that spoke volumes to listeners in the past, needs to be interpreted today with more than just a run-through as if it is, ho hum, soundcheck time. It can't be that tough being an icon. Well, Spanish Fly, a DVD culled from the 2004 Benicassim Festival, does deliver to some extent, and portions of this collection do find their mark. But when another sixty-something Velvets exile, Willie Loco Alexander, can tear up a packed Cambridge nightclub in the new millennium, why should fans expect less from Lou Reed? Jane Scarpantoni offers cosmic anomalies that delight the ear, just as John Cale did when some of this material was constructed centuries ago, and if "Romeo Had Juliette" works better than "Sweet Jane" it's only because Reed engages his chestnut from the Loaded album with about as much enthusiasm as a ground hog being hauled out on a cold winter day to, once again, partake in the eternal search for his own shadow. Perhaps the bigger pity is that those who lust for Lou Reed show tapes from the solo acoustic tour of 1971, the engagements performed by the Tots, and Reed backed up by the Moogy Klingman Band (or, of course, the gents from Rock N Roll Animal) wonder why that magic somehow hasn't translated to this day and age when everything can be caught on high-quality cameras. The rendition of "Ecstasy" has a certain aura, a magic that transcends The Blue Mask and The Bells from days past, but even this important moment in all its playful ambience can't capture the spirit unleashed by the all-powerful "Sister Ray." That tune is always able to bring things to their proper level, and its absence here is felt. As music gets more pedestrian with each technological stride, artists like Lou Reed are supposed to give your brains a good jolt that takes you by surprise. Spanish Fly has power, and some key moments, but the jolts are kind of like a nine-volt battery you put on your tongue only to find the big bang was several hours ago. The beautifully innocent "Jesus" from the third LP, The Velvet Underground, demands more than just sticking it on a set list. Approaching it with the fury of the Lou Reed Live in Italy LP could have unleashed much of the potential. For lesser artists, this DVD would be considered a milestone. For Lou Reed, it falls short of what he's capable of, and what his loyal following deserves.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione