Lou Reed looks back and plays ‘Sister Ray’ at Capitol Theatre, 1976
Very few artists had an impact on alternative music like Lou Reed. Either in his solo work or as part of the songwriting prowess of the Velvet Underground, Lou’s appeal is unlike any other.
At the Capitol Theatre in 1976, those two aspects of Reed’s life came together as, during a famed solo show, the singer brought out an old favourite and covered the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’.
A lot of artists have tried to imitate the Velvet Underground during their time as the unknown underground royalty. From David Bowie to Joy Division, everyone has had a go at matching the morosely post-modern tone of Lou Reed. But none, and we mean none, can match it.
While David Bowie certainly does a good impression of Reed, the ability to address some of the world’s darkest corners with a gleaming alt-pop light evades most artists. It’s why in 1976, after an already extensively erratic solo career, Reed dipped back into his back catalogue and gave the audience in the Capitol Theatre on the 6th November, a real treat.
‘Sister Ray’ may well be the archetypal Velvet Underground song. Although the track is about drug use, violence, homosexuality, and transvestism Reed has always played it off somehow with a touch of humility, “‘Sister Ray’ was done as a joke—no, not as a joke, but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything.”
He continues, “It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of ‘Sister Ray’ as a transvestite smack dealer. The situation is a bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear.”
It’s always interesting to hear artists speak about their work. More so, when the work is so richly detailed with a juxtaposition in which such foundational moments of despair can be conveyed inside a rock and roll ditty. But while speaking about the music is all well and fine, you will always learn a lot more when you see the artist perform.
It may have been 8 years since Reed and the rest of the band wrote the track but it clearly hadn’t lost any potency for the singer when he performed the song in New Jersey. So, take a look back at Lou Reed’s brilliant performance of ‘Sister Ray’ from 1976.