A friend of mine is a Lou Reed fan. I asked him if he'd like to come over and view this DVD with me, thinking that perhaps he could furnish me with a few tidbits of information which would assist me in writing this review. He wasn't too keen. "You won't like it," he told me. Apparently it wasn't my "kind of thing". He went on to say that it was Reed's most unaccessible album and that he couldn't understand why Lou Reed had resurrected and toured it.
So, as you can imagine, I approached this DVD with a certain amount of trepidation. And you know what? I reckon my friend was thinking of the wrong album. Surely he was referring to "Metal Machine Music" which was a double-album of guitar feedback loops (and didn't I hear somewhere that this has now been arranged as an orchestral piece?). Anyway, I really couldn't see what my friend's problem with "Berlin" was.
Sure, it's a bleak piece subject-wise, dealing as it does with the inevitable self-destruction of two drug addicts, Jim and Caroline. However, the music is classic Lou Reed and as a performance piece I found it highly engaging.
The visuals of the band on stage are punctuated with specially-shot film footage depicting the characters in the story. This works very effectively as it takes it away from being an ordinary concert video. The camera also gives us some very interesting angles. It seems at times like we're up there on stage with Lou Reed and his band, moving between them and behind them. What we don't get are irrelevant shots of the audience enjoying themselves. That may be all well and good on an AC/DC live video, but here it's really not needed and frankly the film is all the better for it.
Reed and his band - led by guitarist Steve Hunter (who also played back on the original 1973 album) - are joined on stage by a string section, a brass section and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and the sound is magnificient.
Reed hardly seems to touch his guitar on the first few songs, but as things progress he plays some incredible solos and duets with Hunter. I'd quite forgotten what a good guitarist he is.
I'm not going to do a song by song breakdown. Let's just say that it's a great performance from all concerned. Having the Brooklyn Youth Chorus along for the ride was a stroke of genius, especially in those somewhat disturbing moments in the narrative when the children's distress at losing their mother is conveyed.
I'd say this was an essential purchase for all Lou Reed fans and those of the Velvet Underground too (seeing as some Velvets songs had been re-worked as songs in "Berlin"). It also shows quite nicely what a music film can look like given a little imagination.
Visually and musically rich, but not one to view if you're feeling depressed.