Lou Reed’s Stripped-Down ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ From a 1972 French TV Show Is a Sad, Beautiful Thing
Back in 1972, the same year he released his breakthrough solo album ‘Transformer,’ Lou Reed showed up on the French TV show ‘Pop 2.’ But he didn’t focus all that much on his new album. Instead, along with former bandmates John Cale and Nico, he performed some Velvet Underground classics.
Better still, the trio stripped down the music to its skeletal frames, giving the already haunted songs more spooky ambiance, which straddles the line between sad and beautiful.
Among the Velvet Underground gems they covered, there was an acoustic version of the epic ‘Heroin‘ that makes its lyrical cuts all that more sharp, the noise overload of ‘White Light / White Heat’ wrangled into something a bit more calming and the soft Nico showcase ‘Femme Fatale,’ which doesn’t gain all that much in the setting, but is lovely nonetheless.
But it’s ‘I’m Waiting for the Man,’ Reed’s 1967 ode to a drug dealer, that truly stands out among the set of songs performed. Cale plays a simple piano riff as Reed strums an acoustic guitar throughout. It’s a half a world away from the electric, anxious version on the Velvets’ debut album ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico.’
Re-imagined here as a laid-back dirge, ’I'm Waiting for the Man’ sounds more like a casual, and potentially dreadful, stroll on a pale summer afternoon rather than the jittery and somewhat intense feeling that rages in the original. And that makes Reed’s words — “Here he comes, he’s all dressed in black” — all the more frightening within the new structure.
Throughout the performance, Reed looks, well, stoned, as he drifts through the set — which was recorded at the Bataclan theater in Paris — with little urgency to his words or playing. Quite a change from his 1974 tour, which was hostile, confrontational and angry; most of the 1972 shows are relaxed and relatively peaceful . . . well, for Reed at least.
The ghostly black-and-white footage is an added layer of moodiness on top of all this. And with Nico blending into the shadows for most of ‘I’m Waiting for the Man,’ this partial reunion, recorded a couple years after Reed left the Velvet Underground, makes a fitting and truly haunting requiem for the group.