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Music

The classic Velvet Underground song Lou Reed ended his career with

When Lou Reed passed away in October of 2013, it was a major loss for the music world at large. One of the most transgressive and enthrallingly anti-mainstream artists in rock never stopped his crusade to stay weird, partnering with Metallica on the experimental LP Lulu and reviving his nearly-unlistenable noise LP Metal Machine Music for live performances towards the end of his life. Reed was iconoclastic to the very end, but he also was acutely aware of what people liked.

Despite having a noted distaste for doing what was expected of him, Reed was still cognizant of giving audiences what they wanted. It would rarely be in the same form that they were familiar with, but if you wanted to hear ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ or ‘Sweet Jane’, Reed was more than happy to break it out in the live setting. In fact, those two tracks represent the two most frequently played songs over Reed’s five-decade-long career, with 406 and 577 known performances, respectively.

When Reed arrived at the Meltdown Festival on August 10th, 2012, nobody in the crowd or on stage knew that it would be Reed’s final performance. Reed didn’t play the show like a nostalgic look back either – the first song performed that night was the confrontational ‘Brandenburg Gate’ off of Lulu. Throughout the show, three other Lulu songs would be performed, illustrating Reed’s constant dedication to looking forward instead of looking back.

On the other side of the spectrum, Reed made sure to sprinkle in deep cuts from his solo career that were decades old by that point, including ‘Senselessly Cruel’ and ‘Think It Over’. There were also the tracks that Reed knew his audience was waiting for: the hits, if such a thing could be attached to a Lou Reed song.

During his main set, Reed included three songs that any casual fan of his would instantly recognise. The first was ‘Heroin’, Reed’s stark and slightly depraved song that became legendary as the centrepiece to The Velvet Underground’s debut LP, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Reed immediately followed that with another fan favourite cut from that LP, ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’, another ode to smack. Towards the end of the set, Reed also busted out ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, the biggest chart hit of his career.

As for the encore, Reed and his band careened into another drug-referencing Velvet Underground classic for what wound up being Reed’s swan song: ‘White Light/White Heat’. The title track to the Velvets’ sophomore LP, ‘White Light/White Heat’ is one of the harder rocking songs in Reed’s catalogue. Despite its lyrics detailing an amphetamine high, the song is also one of the easiest songs to sing along to in Reed’s songbook. That dichotomy between lurid subject matter and catchiness was one of Reed’s most potent secret weapons throughout his life as a singer-songwriter, and it serves as an appropriate send-off for a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

Check out the final song that Reed ever played in front of an audience down below.