Riding a commercial and critical high in the wake of his classic Transformer album, Lou Reed alienated many newly acquired fans with its downbeat follow-up Berlin (1973). Said to be one of the most depressing records ever made, the album flopped in the States and was never performed live. In the UK, where we don’t let a healthy dollop of misery deter us, Berlin went Top Ten. To this day, it remains Reed’s second highest charting album.
In December 2006, Reed fulfilled his long-held ambition of performing a stage adaptation, complete with orchestra and children’s choir. This DVD was recorded at an early New York show, with Julian Schnabel directing the cinematography. Schnabel’s daughter Lola provides the atmospheric movie clips that weave in and out of the performance footage, illustrating the decline and fall of the story’s anti-heroine Caroline.
Reed’s second and final Berlin tour came to Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall in June. For those who attended that memorable, magical show, this DVD provides a useful musical souvenir. As in Nottingham, the album’s original guitarist Steve Hunter leads the band. (If Berlin was meant to be a downer, then no-one seems to have told the irrepressible Steve.)
Those who recall the many extended guitar jams between Lou and Steve at the June show will be either disappointed or relieved by their near total absence from the DVD. Indeed, the whole show is a markedly more sombre affair, the dimly lit stage bathed in tones of muted, sickly green. The album’s second half is a particularly harrowing parade of misfortune, punctuated by crying children and gloomy choral wails.
Things don’t even pick up for the encore. Antony Hegarty (of the Johnsons) adds a mournful guest vocal to Candy Says, leaving even the habitually impassive Reed looking visibly moved.
Never one to shy away from charges of being precocious, 2006 saw Rufus Wainwright embark on his most ambitiously risky career move to date. Almost unbelievably, the decision was made to re-stage Judy Garland’s famous 1961 show at New York’s Carnegie Hall, in the same 31-song running order, with Wainwright fronting a 36-piece orchestra. One could almost hear the gasps (“Just who does he think he is?”) rising in the throats of Broadway’s old guard.
Thankfully for all concerned, the show turned out to be a huge critical success, earning repeat performances in London, Paris and Los Angeles. This particular recording dates from the second London show, which took place on February 25th, 2007.
Despite the musical lavishness on offer, this is a no-frills record of a straight orchestral show. Although the sound quality is nothing short of stunning, there is little to distract the viewer from Wainwright’s interpretations of classics such as Over The Rainbow and Puttin’ On The Ritz. Needless to say, the performances are immaculate, if perhaps a little introverted and over-reverential for the first hour or so.
Following an impassioned rendition of Noel Coward’s If Love Were All, something inside the singer seems to loosen up. The remainder of the set is performed in a noticeably more relaxed manner, with Rufus finally finding it within himself to reach out and connect with his audience, in true Garland style. A guest appearance from Lorna Luft, the late diva’s daughter, gives the final seal of approval to his efforts.