Graham Reid | | 5 min read
“This'll be my second old rocker
today,” says the photographer. “I just did Peter Garrett this
We're in a small foyer of the Sydney Opera House
waiting for the married couple of “old rocker” Lou Reed and
Laurie Anderson, who have co-curated the Vivid Live component of the
annual Vivid festival. There's a sense of palpable anticipation –
but when Lou'n'Laurie finally appear they are much smaller than
expected and seem polar opposites.
She is fresh-faced, smiling and looks
bouncy; he is thin, has gaunt features, and his mouth is set in what
appears a permanently glum state. He looks bored already, she looks
ready to kid around.
The Vivid Live artists they have
invited – and the ancillary projects around them – is billed as
“Bringing Downtown Manhattan to Sydney for two weeks” but the
line-up includes Boris from Japan, Rickie Lee Jones (LA, right?), the
Blind Boys of Alabama, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos . . .
It's an interesting line-up, but hardly
seems “downtown Manhattan”. Reed's Metal Machine Trio – an
ensemble delivering 90 minutes of unrehearsed, improvised noise –
“Everyone here is someone we really,
really like,” says Reed at the end of the 10 minute meet-the-media,
“ and that's why they are here.”
It's a slightly awkward question time
with someone asking about Coney Island Baby but Reed, in a
tinder-dry, slow monotone fields it amusingly.
“Laurie and I are king and queen of
the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island this year,” he says without
expression. “Coney Island is one of my favourite places in the
world and I think everyone should write at least one song about Coney
“Coney Island Baby . . . they
said I could do that if I promised I didn't do the sequel to Metal
He also takes the chance to wearily
deny, as always, that the feedback-drone Metal Machine Music
double album of '74 was delivered to get out of a contract: “I
really like guitars and feedback, that's all.”
He explains the MM Trio use the album
as a kicking off point and are not trying to replicate the album:
“It's a lot of fun – and it's very loud.”
Someone asks if he programmed the
festival's loud stuff, she the quieter ones.
“Good guess,” laughs dimple-cheek
In the festival she's doing a few
talks, one in her alter-ego character Fenway Bergamot. I ask about
the Fenway character and the voice-processing she uses.
“Fenway,” frowns Reed, looking at
me like I am an idiot child. “It's 'Fenway'.”
Which is what I said. Maybe he's going
deaf having done MM Trio 15 times?
Anderson lets it pass then delivers a
cheery response: “This is an electronic filter which drops the
voice. I invented this alter-ego because you just get sick of the
sound of your own voice after a while. It's also a way to invent a
character who can talk a little bit more like what is moving through
your mind at that moment.
“It is inspired by William Burroughs
and Herman Melville, it was also to get out of my own point of view,
to try to see the world a different way through a seriously altered
Someone asks Lou about plans for his
next album – and he almost concedes that the world is hardly
waiting for it.
“I have plans for Metal Machine Trio
and its various offshoots, but I haven't figured what would be a
great to do right now that would make a difference for me, and for
you. There are an awful lot of bands doing the [band] thing and you
don't need me to do that. And I don't want to do that anyway. “So
I'm trying to figure out what would be a really astonishing to do
The perfunctory press conference wraps
up, photographers crowd around diminutive Lou'n'Laurie, it has been
largely uninformative because of non-sequential questions.
That night Rickie Lee Jones delivers an
apparently under-rehearsed and slightly distracted
lifestory-cum-performance which alternates between endearing,
annoying, moments you were glad to be there for (her version of Rebel
Rebel, the eerie Ghostyhead) and sheer tedium. That old
rocker Peter Garrett sitting in front of me liked it though.
Immediately after downstairs there is
Boris. They offer a thrilling set which shifts between ear-bleeding
volume (huge, rolling guitar psychedelic) and ethereal, mysterious
and melodic soundscapes: noise from him (Takeshi on double-necked
guitar), quiet from her (guitarist/singer Wata).
Much like Lou'n'Laurie have planned for
the festival: loud and quiet.
Metal Machine Trio (earplugs supplied) two nights later is, as promised, loud improvised noise with Reed seated behind a battery of computer technology and looking like Stephen Hawking.
Around the 30 minute mark some leave but that is
when it gets interesting: Reed has a guitar handed him and engages in
weird sonics somewhere between the pedal delays of John Martyn and
the prepared guitar style of Fred Frith.
On the way out I mention to Russell
Baillie from the Herald – who also noted the Hawking
similarity – that it was much like Rossini said of Wagner: moments
of great beauty but boring quarter hours in between.
I liked it but don't want an album and
wouldn't need to see it twice. Festival performances can be hit or
miss. This was both.
One afternoon Anderson -- whose ever-changing light show illuminates the Opera House at night -- offers an
enjoyably digressive talk which covers her period working as artist
in residence for Nasa, designing a garden in Japan, and laughingly
dismisses her opera based on Moby Dick (nobody needed an
opera, it was a perfectly good book). Supported by a few Powerpoint
slides, she is charming, funny, engaging, fields questions – she
won't buy into the political art trap – and the audience loves it.
Except for the wizened guy next to me.
Within minutes his head slumps forward and he falls sound asleep.
It's that old rocker Lou Reed.