“Have you ever been given meditation instructions at a concert before?” the emcee asked as the crowd sat down at Chandler Center for the Arts to witness a benefit concert by Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed, his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson.
We had not, but that quickly changed. It was just one odd moment in an afternoon filled with them at the show, which benefited the Yongey Peace Prevails Center, run by Reed and Anderson’s Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. But, hey, when Lou fucking Reed is in Chandler, a city best known nationally as that place where Matt Leinart’s hot-tubbing takes place, playing a show in broad daylight, nothing should be too surprising.
The Yongey Peace Prevails Center is a project by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and the man himself was in attendance Sunday, much to the delight of the many older Asian women in attendance, who smiled and pointed toward him in the same star-struck way the mohawked girl with her lipstick smeared across her face like Heath Ledger’s Joker looked at Reed. Yes, indeed, it was quite an interesting mix of people in the audience. I’m not really qualified to pass judgment on anything about Buddhist teachers, but I enjoyed Rinpoche’s pre-show talk. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I won’t do the disservice of attempting to rehash the highlights (“The Monkey Mind”) and, in doing so, accidentally ridicule it.
After sets by a local husband/wife violin/guitar duo named Lyra husband-wife violin/guitar
duo and an orchestra from the Chinese Cultural Center, Reed and Anderson took stage, holed up in a den-like pile of guitars, keyboards, exotic instruments, amps and monitors set up on the back of the stage, behind where the openers had been. Anderson, who’s been recording since the 70s, started things off by singing “The Dream Before,” a twisted continuation of the Hansel and Gretel story.
The song, like almost everything else played that afternoon, featured heavy distortion and feedback, which Reed has long been almost-obsessively devoted to. To be honest, and with all due respect toward Reed, for me it got to be too much after an hour or so. Next, Anderson tackled Reed’s classic “Pale Blue Eyes,” the best known song played during the show. Reed joined in on vocals part way through, but even on his own songs Reed played second fiddle to his wife. When it was over, the crowd remained eerily silent as Reed left the stage while Anderson performed a spoken-word piece where her voice was made impossibly deep (it sounded like The Devil in a horror movie) while drips of soft electronic music emerged from her keyboard.
Reed came back to sing “Who Am I? (Tripitena’s Song)” from his 2003 album The Raven then Anderson delivered what I thought was the highlight of the night, an amusing spoken-word piece about canoeing in Utah that’s (probably) called “The Green River” (lyrics here). Anderson is a gifted storyteller, and tended to use less wild distortion with her spoken pieces, which really made for some nice moments.
Next, a surprise apperance by Steve Hunter, the guitarst who worked with Reed in his Berlin days as well as with Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder, turned things toward the more traditional, as he belted out blues solos while Reed played the only thing resembling rythm guitar we heard. Then, it was back to Anderson, who played her bopping “Only An Expert.” Even the encore, “The Lost Art of Conversation,” was an Anderson song. Despite the double-billing, this was her afternoon. There are worse fates — like more of Lou’s feedback loops.