The life and music of Lou Reed was celebrated last night during the city’s first tribute concert since the rock legend died at the end of last month.
Packed tightly from the stage to bar, the crowd in the basement of Bowery Electric was a solid mix of young and old; those who’d experienced The Velvet Underground for the first time decades after the band broke up stood alongside some who may have seen the group or Reed’s solo career in real time.
All of the acts were announced at the top of the show, and from there it was a steady file of musicians taking the stage and paying tribute. The evening started somewhat solemnly, with an almost wake-like feeling: the audience fell quiet for a practically whispered rendition of “Pale Blue Eyes” by Shahzad Ismaily, and remained that way until The Bottom Dollars, before covering “Vicious,” reminded them not to be afraid to move. Kevin Salem, who’d heard backstage that no one was playing “Walk on the Wild Side,” took a chance that, he laughed, could be career ending, and performed a spontaneous acoustic rendition that had the audience filling in the doo-wop-style back-up vocals — the first time they’d chimed in all night.
Other covers came from young New York City musicians like Donald Cummings of The Virgins. Drowners played three songs, one accompanied by The Vaccines frontman Justin Hayward-Young. Members of TV on the Radio performed. Kembra Pfahler seemed nervous, and threw paper plates with song lyrics written on them in to the crowd after thanking them and Reed for his influence. Hollis Brown closed out the evening playing the entirety of Reed’s “Loaded” album.
With proceeds from ticket sales going to benefit the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth, the show paid tribute to Reed beyond just the music. “He wrote about New York’s outcasts. He sang about real people who lived on the outside and he gave them anthems and stories,” said rock musician and native New Yorker Jesse Malin, an owner of Bowery Electric. Malin said the Ali Forney Center was selected to benefit homeless kids who are gay and often have been cast out by their families and are in need of help, especially around the holidays. “We wanted to do something around Thanksgiving because he sang about people in bad situations,” said Malin. “He wrote about the homeless and transgender people and we wanted to give to an organization that related to the tone of his music.”
Correction: The original version of this post misidentified the Bottom Dollars as the Dough Rollers in a caption.