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Lou Reed Performed with His Metal Machine Trio, at the Blender Theater at Gramercy

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All Those Sounds From the Stage: Processed, and Not Always Pretty

It was good to have this Lou Reed back: not an American Master nor a Legend of Rock, but a barking, brooding, beneficial irritant. On Thursday night at the Blender Theater at Gramercy, onstage between Sarth Calhoun and Ulrich Krieger, two much younger musicians, he was making noise improvised, loud, heavily processed, and some of it ugly enough to make people leave.

Not many, though. There were extra-musical reasons to stay put. An emotional reason: hes Lou Reed, poet of New York City, et cetera. And a big intellectual reason: Mr. Reed calls this group Metal Machine Trio, which refers to a notorious double-LP he made in 1975. Metal Machine Music is a kind of personality test. Many average listeners, even average Lou Reed fans, heard it as long-winded, discordant feedback.

You couldnt really rely on Mr. Reed to tell you how to feel about it, either. Hed had a hit record the year before Sally Cant Dance which he didnt seem to love. He seemed to propose Metal Machine Music as corrective honesty, almost clinical, as if hed hooked up a mixing board directly to his neurons. No one I know has listened to it all the way through including myself, he wrote in the records liner notes. Im sorry, but not especially, if it turns you off.

Back then there wasnt much of a grid to understand Metal Machine Music. (Mr. Reeds comments elsewhere suggested that it was something like heavy metals Platonic form. Others felt it got closer to the spirit of punk or a more formal, European, composed electronic music like Iannis Xenakiss. None of this was very helpful.) Now theres more than one grid. Thursdays show fell somewhere between noise, as practiced by bands like Wolf Eyes, and electro-acoustic improvisation, as practiced by musicians like Otomo Yoshihide. It had the aggression of noise and the sonic specificity of the improvisation.

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