Labor Pains

“It’s just work!” That’s the lesson Warhol taught Lou Reed. It guided him through decades of rockstardom and the weekend’s shows at the Knitting Factory, warming up to tour for Ecstasy, Reed’s first studio record since 1996. Art is work, said Andy; Reed made rock into art, ergo: Rock is work. Don’t sit around fussing. Pace yourself. Keep in tune. If it doesn’t happen to be a keeper, make it louder, or slow it down, but man, just play it. The head-to-toe black the band wears suggests uniform more than pose. Ecstasy is genius, sure: 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration. The inspiration is in character (he chuckles at the narrator of “Mad,” a prick who cheats on his wife and blames her) and in theme: love’s failure to make us whole. The perspiration is churning out four monster chords every cut. Lou has no interest in pretending it’s not work.

And it is work to be Lou. Everyone loves him. Everyone calls him Lou. As in, “Lou, we love you!” Which is a lot to fend off for a rock star (“Vicious”) who remade himself as a regular guy. So he ignores it. He doesn’t look up from tuning. Y’ever see an instrument tuned so much? “Lou, I loved you for 34 years!” Now he takes the bait: “I got guitars older than you.” Briefly all this love seduces Lou, as he has been seduced before, by fans, idols, identities: “You can’t even smoke in here? There’s something wrong. I’m thinking of running for mayor myself.” (Hysterical outpouring of approbation.)

But he is the mayuh, skinny Lou in leather, vulnerable and tough, at 58 taking his own solos. There isn’t a rock band in town that doesn’t owe him a favor, from the Dolls to Sonic Youth to Zorn and Charles Gayle. Tolerate his faults, grin at his bullshit. Lou has made a latter-day career talking about what we can’t: that the very hippest among us aren’t hip forever; that our relationships go stale, that we write love songs to people we leave; that it didn’t come out right but let’s not go killing ourselves. That the tunes dry up but the chords hold out. That when metaphors fail there is dialogue. That “despite all the com-pli-cations,” our life is saved by rock and roll. Yeah, rock and roll.

—David Krasnow

Use Once and Destroy

I know how it started and how it ended, but the rest is a blur of noise and chaos and broken bottles. Not that you’d have expected it when . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead stepped on stage at Brownies Saturday: such nice boys—clean, well-fed, matching mod haircuts, polite to the sound guy, and faintly nonplussed by the chanting, cheering crowd. Then they picked up their instruments and all hell broke loose.

Trail of Dead funnels emotional turmoil through sonic fury: The songs let rip, build up, and break down with the immediacy of raw wounds, yet it’s all still note-perfect as the recorded version. Punk frenzy built according to the blueprints of an orchestra or concept album, the music isn’t fueled by unfocused adolescent rage, but the sharp edges of futile hopes and shattered idealism: “What good are promises if nobody honors them?” “What else can I do that I haven’t done?” “Mistakes and Regrets” whirled with screaming white noise and machine-gun drums, guitarist Conrad Keely perpetually about to fall to his knees, the whole band seemingly only held up by the speed of the sound. Even the fleeting breaks in the maelstrom—when the lads switched instruments or the dizzy, march-waltz “Clair de Lune”—weren’t a moment’s peace, but a quick flash in the eye of the storm.

I don’t remember the first bottle flying, but the stage began to rain empty Heinekens and half-finished vodkas. The band roared on, unfazed, tearing through the V-8-powered, guitar-revved hate anthem “A Perfect Teenhood,” shouting “Fuck you!” over and over as broken glass piled up and the bass player collapsed. Someone kicked the shiny red drum kit across the stage, more bottles crushed on impact, and then it was all over. No question of an encore: Everything was broken. —Lissa Townsend Rodgers

. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead play the Knitting Factory April 27.

Spit and Spin

A traveling circus of gabbing “musicians, actors, and activists,” the Spitfire Tour readily lends itself to sarcasm, even more so when you learn that the roster on the New York spitstop included former Newsradio “star” Andy Dick and former MTV “personality” Kennedy. There was a curious fascination in the prospect of the two sharing a stage with ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra and Spearhead’s Michael Franti.

A charismatic speaker, Franti went first, then acted as MC. A man for whom the rhythm of anger is the rhythm of life itself, he riffed on a trip to Big Mountain reservation in Arizona, told about performing in a detention center, rapped poems, and pled for pot liberalization. All nice, all heartfelt, all predictable.

Peppering her talk about the decriminalization of pot (the evening’s recurring theme) and the privatization of social security with stream-of-consciousness asides about nothing in particular, Kennedy was like Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire reading from a Cato Institute policy paper. A conservative counterpoint on the tour is fine in theory, but it was a tad annoying that the lone woman on stage was an attention-deficit-plagued Reaganite valley girl.

At least Kennedy fulfilled two quotas at once; Andy Dick’s presence was a mystery. He alternated between sincere confessions about his much publicized substance-abuse problems and novelty songs. Dick sang like an even flatter Adam Sandler, prompting a woman in the audience to audibly hiss, “I don’t know why I’m so full of hatred for that little man right now.”

After an interlude by special guest Tom Tomorrow, Jello Biafra wrapped it all up with his usual bilious mastery. After years in the trenches, Biafra has perfected a down-home mixture of common sense, anger, and humor, and delivered it with preacherlike accuracy, nasally elongating a syllable (“the buuuuuuullll—”) before smacking another down like a pesky fly (“—SHIT”). But while Spitfire at least made a refreshing stand against disengaged irony, its fractured soliloquies were probably more therapeutic for the speakers than thought-provoking for the audience—many of whom, in the Q&A that followed, opted for rambling monologues of their own.

—Elisabeth Vincentelli