The footage on Live at Montreux is taken from Lou Reed’s performance at the 2000 Jazz Festival there, another release in Eagle Entertainment’s catalogue of performances from the festival (including Curtis Mayfield, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Johnny Cash, Shane MacGowan, and Ella Fitzgerald). This show was in the middle of Reed’s tour for the Ecstasy album (eight of the 16 songs are from that album), with its equal looks at goofy love and sometimes goofy, sometimes anxiety-ridden, infidelity (“Some couples live in harmony, some do not”). The non-Ecstasy songs in the set are mostly hard-lined and joyous explorations of relationships among adults, “Turn to Me” from 1984’s New Sensation, “Romeo Had Juliette”, and “Set the Twilight Reeling” (“Take me for what I am/ A star newly emerging”). The only hit here is his inclusion of “Perfect Day”, though it’s no afterthought; the beat-up lovers putting their arguments to the side for at least one day (“Just a perfect day/ Problems all left alone”) fit right in with all of the other fractured personalities that Reed brings to life.
This disc comes about six months after the release of the Spanish Fly: Live in Spain DVD, which is probably more appealing if you had to pick between the two because it features more of Reed’s well known songs from before the ‘80s (“Venus in Furs”, “Sweet Jane”, “Jesus”, “Walk on the Wild Side”). The greatest hits format almost detracts from Reed’s continued relevance, though, and the strongest point of this collection may be that the song selection makes a strong case for his work from the past 20 years without putting it into contrast with his Velvet Underground and ‘70s solo work.
The songs here invariably rock hard and true and Reed’s long-time band (Fernando Saunders, Mike Rathke, and Tony Smith) are strong throughout. The foundation that they create is unflappable, allowing Reed to throw in lyrics that come out in ways that rhythmically, should almost never work in a rock song. But, of course, they do work and they run from almost the plain stupid to the disarming. The members of his band are consummate sidemen, fluidly switching styles and instruments without taking your attention away from the star. Not that Reed’s presence necessarily commands attention. The focus is on the playing, sometimes solo-heavy but always melodic, and the sound on the disc is good throughout.
Reed, who embodied cool for an entire generation of bands and is still being channeled by new bands, seems above it all (the sight of him pulling on a between-song cigarette is even more odd than cool); just your average 60-year-old in a leather vest and pants fronting a crunchy rock band with a drummer nicknamed “Thunder”. Probably the coolest thing he could be responsible for at this point in his life is exactly what he’s doing; making some of the most genuinely weird, sometimes cuttingly concise, sometimes funny, sometimes head-scratchingly bizarre songs getting release, and on a major label to boot.
The concert footage features no audience shots, making the show feel like it was done on a soundstage. At some points, the between songs applause, which has a cavernous feel to begin with, dies down to silence while the bands preps the next song. It makes things disjointed and you wonder if the band feels as lonely playing as you do watching them.
The overall feeling can be oppressive, with little variety to the angles, and too many close-ups of the players that end up not really giving you much of a feel for the stage. Concert videos can tend to be a bit tedious by nature, and I’m not sure how may people will be able to take this in all in one viewing. I split it up into two and found it much more enjoyable and the more I thought about it afterwards, the happier I was to have it in my collection. Lacking more recognizable songs, it will probably alienate people less familiar with Reed’s work (the liner notes even claim that it’s more for “avid” fans). It features some fine playing and is a good overview of some of Reed’s less acknowledged, less accessible, continuously worthwhile, work.