“In Berlin, by the wall
you were five foot ten inches tall
It was very nice
candlelight and Dubonnet on ice
We were in a small cafe
you could hear the guitars play
It was very nice
it was paradise”
-Lou Reed, “Berlin”
When I was 21 I got to go with 3 friends of mine to Manchester, UK. As you are at that age, we were like a sponge, just taking everything in with way too much idealism and romanticism, as if setting ourselves up for the perfect heartbreak. Although sponges are indeed not as emotional.
I remember that what pushed me to go, outside of the obvious, was knowing that Lou Reed, that summer at the Manchester Apollo, would be playing one of his only ever live performances of his greatest album, Berlin. Have show, will travel.
Having read what Lester Bangs wrote about it, which is what got me to pay attention to the album in the first place (even though I was already a pretty intense Coney Island Baby lover), I knew the album inside out: its story of love, rejection, drug addiction, prostitution, emotional isolation and suicide…and the controversy surrounding the album, the commercial flop it was and the subsequent classic it became. To me, it was simply one of the best and unique albums I had ever heard – to this day. I could feel this album inside me, I could relate to it but I couldn’t understand why.
And so I remember I bought a ticket to the show before having actually bought my plane ticket, as if to know that no matter what, I would be seeing this happen.
And through that trip, every possible emotion was felt by the four of us: love, hate, falling in, falling out, friendship, loss of friendship, friendship gained again, I could go on, but basically, this was our foray out of adolescence and into something that could resemble what shapes you into becoming an adult. During the trip, I fell in love (more than once actually), I felt heartbroken, I developed a thirst for proper british apple cider, visited 4 different countries, and well, saw Lou Reed live.
To listen to Berlin, for me, is not unlike the trip itself – it brings back memories, yes – but in its brief 45 minute playing time it takes you through basically every emotion the human body can experience.
When I saw the show live, Lou Reed did not spare anything. His masterpiece, shat upon for years, finally gets to be shown to those who have appreciated it. He had never performed the album live before that oh so brief tour, but you could tell he thought about it. Some lines were just that much more poignant live that it felt like he wanted to give the album a second life.
It was a completely unforgettable show, and I remember getting back “home” after the gig, my friend asking me what I thought about it (she didn’t know Lou Reed but it didnt matter)… I remember looking at her actually not knowing what to say until the words “This was the best show I’ve ever seen” came out. I’d said that before, but to this day, seeing Lou Reed live performing this album was the most spectacular, honest, ballsy, heavy, direct, poignant show I have ever seen.
I actually do get asked what the best show I have ever seen is. I often just answer that I don’t know because I don’t feel like explaining all of this, but there you have it. 6 years later, it remains Lou Reed at the Manchester Apollo, 2007, performing “Berlin” in its entirety.