Gotham’s live music scene has become one of the city’s more mercurial aspects, with the shuttering of a slew of long-standing clubs matched by a spate of newcomers with varying degrees of understanding of what made the originals so special. On this, the opening night of this freshly minted mid-sized establishment, the proprietors signaled — through everything from décor to choice of inaugural act — that they’re tethered rather closely to gritty tradition.
Reed has never been a proponent of the “give the people what they want” philosophy, but he generally manages to have aud members walk away feeling that they’ve just gotten a dose of what they needed. That was certainly the case for this lengthy, largely low-key set, which concentrated on obscurities and spoken-word pieces rather than nostalgic walks on the wild side.
Opening with a slippery version of “What’s Good” that was steeped in his trademark crankiness, a sinewy, invigorated-looking Reed didn’t take long to warm up — after a fashion. For much of the perf, Reed wielded his guitar the way a chef employs a marrow fork, digging out sonic nuggets both jagged and unctuously silky, a pursuit aided by the instinctive counterpoints offered up by fellow guitarists Mike Rathke and Steve Hunter.
The sonic backdrop, while not exactly multi-hued, did reveal discernible gradations of indigo and midnight, imbuing songs as emotionally varied as the muted “Who I Am” — from Reed’s Edgar Allen Poe visitation “The Raven” — and the surprisingly vulnerable “Baton Rouge” with a sense of steely purpose.
Spoken passages were probably a bit too numerous given the setting — although some, like Reed’s interpolation of Andy Warhol’s diaries, were caustically hilarious. Whispers of a guest appearance prompted some to crane their necks in anticipation of a David Bowie spotting. That didn’t transpire, but true to form, Reed’s decision to bring saxophonist John Zorn out late in the set offered a left-field jolt, adding a degree of frenzy otherwise absent from the perf and exuding an edginess that hung in the air for the perf’s remainder.