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All Time Lou: A Look at Four Classic Lou Reed Live Releases

In Music

Probably the only person who would think that Lou Reed dying is funny would be Lou Reed himself. Best known for fairly humorless songs about mainlining heroin and shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather, the guy had a wicked wit.

I interviewed him only once, but it was just as strange and hilarious as his appearance in Blue in the Face would make you think. He had one of the biggest personalities rock music has ever seen, and while he usually took a more writerly approach to his songs, the one place he could always be counted on to let loose was in his live shows.

This is why I always made a point of seeking out Lou Reed bootlegs in college, because his live records were priceless—you never knew what he might do. Thankfully, there are several legit live albums that showcase how he brought his weirdness straight to the people—often pulling off versions of his songs that were far better than the studio recordings. Here are my personal favorites, in order of preference:

Take No Prisoners (1978): This double album is hands-down the most entertaining live record you will ever hear. It’s actually more of a stand-up album than anything else—he can barely get through three chords at a time without going off on some ridiculously awesome tangent. He tells Village Voice critic Robert Christgau to fuck off, responds to people who ask him if his music is political (“gimme an issue and I’ll give you a tissue”) and in general gives his take on everything. He once suggested that he should have called the album Lou Reed Talks Ð and Talks and Talks and Talks. Totally.

Animal Serenade (2004): You can argue with some of the set selections, but you have to agree that this last, heavily orchestrated Reed live album features some of his most gorgeous live versions. Even classics like “Street Hassle” and “Dirty Blvd” are better here than on his studio releases.

1969: The Velvet Underground LIve (1974): Absolutely essential for VU fans, this long-after-the-fact live release features the slow version of “Sweet Jane” that most people only know from the Cowboy Junkies cover, and a totally different “New Age,” too.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal (1974):
This was Reed’s Guitar Hero record, and while that may annoy some fans, anyone who dug Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan (or hell, Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo!) will appreciate Lou in epic arena mode. Also captures possibly the best live version of “Sweet Jane” he ever performed.

Cafe Stritch celebrates Lou Reed with a special HaLOUween Tribute on Oct. 31. More Info.

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