By 1979, Lou Reed had managed to establish a creative life away from the all-consuming legacy of The Velvet Underground. Following the break-up of that seminal art-rock group. He spent a recuperative period at the home of his parents in Long Island, where he lived an utterly ordinary life as a typist for a law firm. Alas, the quiet life quickly lost its appeal, and Reed soon emerged from the suburbs with a head full of ideas and a hunger in his belly.
Throughout the 1970s, Reed released a series of solo albums via RCA Records, the first of which was Lou Reed, which featured versions of unreleased songs he’d written for The Velvet Underground. It didn’t do well and was almost entirely overlooked by the music press, save for a few devoted writers. In 1972, however, everything changed. The release of Transformer, produced by David Bowie, not only brought Reed back into the mainstream but introduced him to a previously untapped UK fanbase.
Over the next few years, Reed jumped from style to style, morphing and shedding his skin at such a rate that nobody in the music business could quite tell what he was going to do next. While 1975’s hyper-serious Metal Machine Music – a series of avant-garde tracks crafted by combining droning streams of electronic feedback – was regarded as a statement of contempt, his 1978 album Live: Take No Prisoners is positively comedic.
As The New York Times said of one of Reed’s performances at The Bottom, Line, where Live: Take No Prisoners was recorded: “As a composer and a performer he ha’s been rather more erratic. Partly that’s because he keeps switching and extending his styles, restlessly unwilling to settle into formulas—especially formulas that bring him commercial success. Such venturesomeness is admirable in itself, of course, but it has sometimes led to performances that were more abstractly interesting than viscerally appealing”.
This bootleg recording captures Reed performing ‘City Lights’ at The Bottom Line a year after, in 1979. Here, we see Reed at the dawn of his supporting tour for The Bells, an album that sees Reed shift once again, this time into more wholesome territory. Featuring jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and Chuck Hammer on guitar and synth, the performance clearly divided opinion, with half the crowd cheering Reed’s reggae-infused efforts and the other booing him relentlessly. Make sure you check out the recording below.