At the height of his popularity in 1973, Lou Reed released “Berlin,” an ambitious, Brechtian song-cycle album chronicling a couple’s drug- and violence-spattered downward spiral. A critical and commercial disaster at the time (“the most depressing album ever made”), platter subsequently attained cult status. Thirty-three years later, in Brooklyn, Reed gave the album its first live performance, with a production designed by Julian Schnabel, who also filmed it for posterity. Less groundbreaking video experimentation than extraordinary concert experience, “Lou Reed’s Berlin” expertly fulfills its function. Limited arthouse exposure followed by extensive DVD rollout seems indicated.
Reed’s complex, stage-filling orchestration incorporates strings, horns and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The performance unites original musicians like lead guitarist Steve Hunter with young guest vocalists like Anthony of Anthony and the Johnsons (whose pure rendition of “Candy Says” offsets the gravel-voiced Reed to perfection). Along with now-classic “Berlin” cuts like “How Do You Think It Feels?” and “The Bed,” Reed includes the Velvet Underground retread “Sweet Jane” and his later composition “Rock Minuet.” As shot by the incomparable Ellen Kuras, the concert retains a rich organic feel, complementing the music without over-determining it.