SXSW: Lou Reed Remembered in All-Star Tribute (Video)

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Richard Barone and Alejandro Escovedo host Suzanne Vega, Lucinda Williams, Garland Jeffreys and Fleshtones in warm, but edgy, homage.

The absence of a full-scale, high-profile tribute to the late Lou Reed has been glaring, and surprising, since his death last Oct. 23. But Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Barone more than filled that void on Friday night at South by Southwest. The duo’s carefully and lovingly curated official SXSW Tribute to Reed gave the rock icon the kind of lengthy salute his long and creatively cascading career deserved.  The show ran a decidedly un-SxSW-like two hours and 45 minutes. Packing in 27 songs by 24 all-star acts, it was at times uneven – much like the oeuvre of its subject – but featured plenty of memorable, one-time-only moments that will certainly become part of South by lore.

“It’s the best catalog to work with,” Barone told the Paramount Theatre crowd late in the show. “It covers every thought and emotion.” Escovedo, meanwhile, took note of the arduous movement of the production, which led to a few lengthy waits between songs. “I love all the noise up here,” he said. “It’s great... very Lou Reed.” There were, of course, plenty of fond remembrances from those who knew Reed – especially Garland Jeffreys, who choked up during his long eulogy to his former Syracuse University classmate – and a little bit of irreverence to balance it. Jesse Malin, for instance, said that, “I never met Lou Reed, which is a good thing because I probably would’ve gotten hurt,” while Fleshtones’ front man Peter Zaremba noted that "he wasn’t a nice guy, but, man, he was one motherfucker of a songwriter and we owe a lot to him."

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The artists repaid that debt with mostly strong and occasionally ambitious performances – none more so than the Baseball Project, which joined members of the equally all-star house band (guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist Tony Shanahan from the Patti Smith Group, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Ivan Julian from Richard Hell & the Voidods) for a shredding version of all 17-plus minutes of “Sister Ray.” Escovedo fronted a poetic and open-ended rendition of “Street Hassle,” and Barone played “I’ll Be Your Mirror” with just his guitar and cellist Brian Standefer, accompanied by a film of Reed reciting the song’s lyrics. Barone’s performance of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” meanwhile, incorporated  vintage Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground footage by Jonas Mekas projected above the stage. Bobby Bare Jr. acknowledged that his rendition of “Oh Sweet Nothing” was inspired by My Morning Jacket’s version of the song at last fall’s Bridge School Concerts, and actor Joe Dallesandro offered a recitation of the Songs for Drella track “Smalltown” accompanied by strings.

Other significant highlights included Spandau Ballet’s rich treatment of “Satellite of Love,” Sean Lennon’s unrehearsed, but still affecting, “What Goes On” and Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3’s “Coney Island Baby.” Jeffreys nailed “I’m Waiting for My Man,” Rosie Flores was well-matched with “I Love You Suzanne,” Chuck Prophet tore through “Rock and Roll Heart” and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer did the same with “Kill Your Sons." Suzanne Vega added a fresh kind of delicacy to “Walk on the Wild Side" and Lucinda Williams’ “Pale Blue Eyes” was devastating, while the Fleshtones demolished the divide between stage and audience during “Real Good Time Together,” with  band members stepping deep into the crowd and leading it through the song’s chorus well after they stopped playing their instruments.

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The night also had its moments of weird -- veteran scenester BP Fallon joining the Strypes for “Vicious” and drag queen Sharon Needles crooning “Candy Says” -- while the only outright flop was a botched “Waves of Fear” by Escovedo’s Fauntleroys, who had to start the song three times before getting one right, the show’s “Metal Machine Music” moment and a running gag for Escovedo throughout the rest of the evening. (Black Lips frontman Cole Alexander said his group wanted to perform Reed’s much-loathed “Lulu” collaboration with Metallica in its entirety, “but the amps aren’t loud enough.”)

But that was long forgotten by the time the show rolled to its finale, with most of the performers onstage for a lusty “Rock and Roll” with Escovedo, Barone and Prophet sharing lead vocals and Spandau Ballet saxophonist Steve Norman lacing in solos. “Lou would’ve been very happy,” Barone predicted at one point. “I think he would’ve liked the show.” And he certainly would have had good reason for that.

Set List:

Sweet Jane – Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Barone
Cool It Down – The Bizarros
Romeo Had Juliet – Cheetah Chrome
Femme Fatale – Cindy Lee Berryhill
Viciou” – BP Fallon and the Strypes
Oh Sweet Nothing – Bobby Bare Jr.
I’m Waiting for My Man – Garland Jeffreys
Perfect Day – Louise Goffin
Waves of Fear – The Fauntleroys
I Love You Suzanne – Rosie Flores
Coney Island Baby – Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3
Candy Says – Sharon Needles
Smalltown - Joe Dallesandro
White Light/White Heat – Escovedo and Barone
All Tomorrow’s Parties – Richard Barone with Cindy Lee Berryhill
Rock and Roll Heart – Chuck Prophet
Sally Can’t Dance – Jesse Malin
Real Good Time Together – The Fleshtones
Walk on the Wild Side – Suzanne Vega
Kill Your Sons – Wayne Kramer
Pale Blue Eyes – Lucinda Williams
Run, Run, Run – The Black Lips
Sister Ray – The Baseball Project
What Goes On – Sean Lennon
Street  Hassle – Alejandro Escovedo
Satellite of Love – Spandau Ballet
I’ll Be Your Mirror – Richard Barone
Rock and Roll – All